The Souls of the Living and the Dead
"Adventures in the Sin Trade" Plot Summary:
Xena accosts Hades, demanding to know where in the Underworld she can find Gabrielle, but Hades says he hasn't seen her. Xena realizes that Gabrielle must have gone instead to the Amazon land of the dead, and rides through desert and snow until she is half-mad with exhaustion and grief. A group of young Amazon girls watch her as she takes a murdered man down from the tree where he hangs, beats his attackers, and drags him into the open to be cremated, where she wails in agony. One of the girls recognizes the wail as coming from the woman who rode through with Barias and attacked the Amazons years before.
Xena recalls those same events: she and Barias were having a wonderful sexual relationship but in terms of their emotional connection, things were rocky. She devised a plan to attack the Amazons with the help of a sorceress, Alti, and her apprentice Annika, though Barias wanted to ally with the Amazons and attack the more powerful Centaurs. Alti realized that Xena was pregnant - a fact Xena knew, but had hidden from Barias. The sorceress taught her black magic which Barias distrusted and feared. Xena also had a passionate friendship with Annika, whose death devastated her, leading her to seek entrance into the Amazon land of the dead, but the girl spurned her. Alti admitted that her aim was to use not the good, self-sacrificial powers of nature that Lao Ma had taught Xena, but the dark side of violence and death.
In the present, Xena kills her horse in order to use its blood to enter the spirit world, then puts herself into a death-trance. The young Amazons come out of hiding and their leader suggests killing the former warrior, but one of the girls remembers a prophecy she overheard Alti speak as a child - that one day she would possess Xena's powers - and insists that Xena not be harmed. They move her body inside a cave, where they have also trapped a servant of Alti's.
In the land of the dead, Xena meets Sian, Queen of the Amazons from that region, whom she murdered in her days with Barias. Sian tells Xena that Alti has trapped her tribe so that they cannot pass on to the Land of Eternity, where Gabrielle has gone. The Amazon queen asks Xena to leave quickly so that they don't have to see her ever again. Xena sets out to reach Gabrielle, but realizes that her friend would want her to free the trapped Amazon souls first. Sian warns her that their holy courage could not stop the sorceress and there is nothing stronger than courage, but Xena goes back anyway to find Alti.
When Xena awakens in the cave with the young Amazon girls, she quickly disarms the leader and frees their prisoner, telling him to warn Alti that she is coming. The girls warn Xena that Alti will send the Berserker, a a murderous warrior with dark powers from Alti. Saying, "This one's for you, Gabrielle," Xena leads the young Amazons in battle. The Berserker arrives and fights Xena with her own memory; when she remembers being tortured by Darphus, she feels the blows of the gauntlet, and when she remembers Caesar breaking her legs, she collapses. Still, she manages to mount her horse and kill the Berserker - and his horse, which contains the evil spirit sent by Alti - but she is not certain how she and the girls will beat the sorceress now that Alti can use people's own pasts against them.
In the opening moments of this season premiere, Hades offers to give Xena a few minutes with her son Solon, but she turns him down because Gabrielle is so much more important to her; a few minutes later, she relives memories of Gabrielle which are romantic and even erotic in nature (holding hands, kissing on the lips, bathing together). I hope this sets a tone for the season in which motherhood stops interfering with the relationship between the two women. Throughout this episode, Xena hears Gabrielle calling to her; it's what keeps her going when she's ready to collapse from exhaustion and later when she fears that contacting her dark past with the Amazons may threaten her sanity.
Barias and a few cronies show their faces, but with the exception of Hades who hardly counts because he's a god, Xena is currently in a world where power is held entirely by women. I like that too, and the way it's being handled; the Amazons of this series are no idealized feminist creatures who behave better than men once freed from their influence, while Alti is the second coming of Darth Vader. I found it neat that Xena's initial affiliation was not to the powerful sorceress but to her lovely young apprentice, and that her grief for the girl led her into Alti's clutches; some of the Amazon girls she is currently mentoring resemble fair Annika, who in tern vaguely resembles Callisto.
This was a wonderful episode for Lawless, who was in virtually every scene, wearing heavy furs, keening and stumbling yet having to perform the usual acrobatic maneuvers. I missed Gabrielle, though frequently when she's on the show her simpering annoys me, which just goes to show how much I believed in Xena's suffering. It's not clear from the previews that Xena will find her soulmate next week, since she has to do battle with Alti, confront her past, and save the lost souls of the Amazons.