"Adventures in the Sin Trade II" Plot Summary:
Xena and her new young Amazon friends prepare to battle Alti by purging their darkness through massage and ritual. Xena tells Oteri, the girl whom it was prophesied would inherit her powers, that she spent time with Queen Sian. She recalls that she spied on the Amazon while she was in a similar hut, but she fell through the roof and the naked queen stole her clothes and beat her. Barias saved her and promised to punish her. Oteri tells Xena that she knows Xena killed her father, but she is grateful to Xena for teaching her how to stay alive. The warrior princess weeps and asks the girl to let her help build a new life, as Gabrielle did for her.
Xena proclaims Yakut the new shamaness of the tribe and tells her they must defeat the prison of their own bodies in order to defeat Alti. They perform the Dance of the Spirits over more than one night and day, as they drink blood and work themselves into a stupor. Meanwhile Alti summons spirits from beyond, traps them in whirlwinds, and orders them to attack Xena. The spirits arrive just as Xena's spirit leaves her body, but the girls are not strong enough; the evil spirits enter them and they fight her in corporeal form. Eventually she helps them drive the spirits from their bodies. Xena realizes that Alti's power emanates from the place where the Amazons enter the land of the dead. She asks the girls to set up a charm circle where they make camp, then remembers Sian asking her to join the Amazons. Sian warned Xena that Barias was turning into a good man, then Alti came, but Sian won a mental and spiritual duel with her. The Queen warned Xena that if she chose the Amazon way she would be choosing life, while Alti offered only death.
After telling the story, Xena offers to keep watch while the girls sleep, but she dozes off and Alti comes to her in the form of a spider. She transforms herself into Gabrielle, then takes on her natural shape and demands to know who the blonde woman is. The warrior princess tells Alti that Gabrielle is goodness and innocence, everything the witch will never be. Alti turns back into a spider and bites Xena on the face, poisoning her. In the morning the girls put the unconscious woman on a litter and continue the journey until Xena awakens to tell them what Alti told her: the shamaness cursed her son so that he would never know her love.
The group reaches the sacred site of the Amazon dead, where skeletons hang from trees. Xena stops before Sian's corpse and recalls how the Amazon Queen ended up on the wooden spike. She fought all the leaders in the treetops, killing them one by one by impaling them, until even Sian was dead and there were no leaders for the defenseless Amazon tribe. Because she needed the blood of the Queen to trap the Amazons in the land of the dead and sap their spiritual energy, Alti wiped them all out except for the girls, to whom Xena now teaches the Amazon salute. As she finishes the story, Xena puts the choking "touch" on all the girls because this time they must fight Alti in spirit, which requires a near-death state and they don't have time to dance.
As they fight in the treetops, Alti shows Xena her future - a great fire, a fall down the stairs - and finally shows her that Xena and Gabrielle will be crucifued together. But instead of destroying her, this makes Xena happy - it means Gabrielle is still alive - and even though her hands bleed from the nails of the phantom crucifixion, she regains her strength, impaling Alti on one of the spiky branches sticking out of the trees. Xena returns to her body, still with holes in her hands, uses the "touch" to revive the Amazons, and tells Yakut that the new holy word of the Amazons is "love." In the land of the dead, Sian tells the others that they are now free - they can move on to the afterlife. While the young Amazons dance, Xena turns over her role as leader Oteri, then rides towards home and Gabrielle.
I found this episode gripping but distasteful; it's the bloodiest installment I can recall, with gruesome Amazon deaths and half-decomposed skeletons. I suppose it's a good thing to have this reminder that even the comical fighting on Xena can have horrible consequences, but the fact that we saw the same Amazons "alive" in the land of the dead sort of undercut that message. It was impossible to rejoice over Alti's messy death considering that her torments were on the spiritual plane while the deaths Xena caused in her name were a bloody mess. It's a little hard to believe that the girls forgave her so quickly for murdering all their leaders and causing the deaths of their families, even if they didn't have anything else.
It's also a little hard to believe that Xena didn't have flashbacks of all these events when Gabrielle became the leader of a different Amazon tribe in Greece, which is why Xena thought she would be in the Amazon land of the dead in the first place. This is an interesting explanation of why Xena never wanted to become an Amazon, but it makes her attack on Ephiny and the others when she wanted to punish Gabrielle for Solon's death seem that much more unbelievable, and unforgivable.
I liked the community of girls a lot and wish we could have seen more of them without Xena's influence - I'd like to know how they came together, who led them, what united them in the anarchy in which they seemed to live, how much they knew about what happened to their families and former leaders. The Amazons from these two episodes truly seem to be women without men, unlike the skimpy-clothed, flirtatious Amazons of previous Hercules and Xena episodes. And Alti had remarkable power even if she was a force of evil; in some ways she was a stereotype of an evil woman preying on the blood of virtuous women, but she was also oddly maternal and sexy.
Xena's headed back to Greece (and presumably Gabrielle, though the previews made me wonder if it might be demon daughter Hope intead); maybe she can go back someday. And even if she doesn't, I am sure we will be seeing the future footage of the struggles with Roman soldiers and the crucifixion (with a shorn Gabrielle) later in the season.