"Succession" Plot Summary:
Madican impresses Ares with her skills in the sack, but when she says she wants the God of War to choose her as the successor to Xena, he scoffs that the warrior princess is way out of her league. Throwing a sword to get his attention, the angry blonde demands to know how Xena got the job as his right-hand woman. He replies that Xena never really asked for the job. Meanwhile, the woman in question is whomping thugs while protecting Gabrielle. Although the bard insists that she can take care of herself, Xena defeats all the men single-handedly. Gabrielle to stomps back to town to get water, muttering that she isn't a kid anymore.
Ares pops up. In spite of his annoying behavior, the god of war does get Gabrielle to admit her frustration over Xena handling all the thugs by herself. He admires Gabrielle's new skills with knives, even if Xena doesn't notice them. After Ares disappears, a pair of knives puncture Gabrielle's water skins and Madican appears. She announces that she wants to kill Xena, and she's heard that the best way to get Xena's attention is to kill Gabrielle.
Xena steps in before Gabrielle has a chance to defend herself, tossing her new chakram, which splits in two and forces Madican to flip, jump, fly, and deflect it--a feat that impresses Xena. Raising her sword, the younger woman challenges Xena, and the two knock over a statue and collapse a pillar. Ares pops back in, separating the two women with a thunderbolt. They’re fighting in Demeter's temple and the gods don't allow their lowly followers to make messes in one another's places of worship. He tells Madican to stop fighting Xena because she isn't what he's looking for. She makes one more attempt to defeat Xena, only to be deflected by Gabrielle—a feat that Xena fails to notice.
Finally, Ares agrees that if Madican wants a fight, she can have one. He creates an inter-dimensional portal like the one Hercules used to enter the Sovereign's universe. After Ares promises to rescue her if she needs it, Madican leaps enthusiastically through the portal. Xena, on the other hand, say she won't play Ares' game. The god of war won’t let it be that simple. He tells Xena that if Madican kills her, she can come back - but if Xena kills Madican, she can't come back. Then he creates suction so that Xena and Gabrielle are both dragged into the portal against their wishes.
Gabrielle wakes alone in a huge, dark room, where she calls for Xena but gets no answer. Meanwhile, the warrior princess finds herself in a field. "No weapons, no Gabrielle," taunts Madican, who launches herself into a fistfight. The blonde reminds Xena that she can't kill her opponent if she wants to get back. "You know what, sweetie? You talk too much," snaps Xena, tossing her opponent in a deep pit.
The sun sets and Gabrielle wakes in the woods, while Xena discovers herself in the same dark room where Gabrielle was trapped earlier. Through a portal in the wall, the warrior princess can see her friend's actions. Gabrielle spies a fire and begins to work with a tree root, prompting Xena to wonder aloud what the other woman is doing. We find out soon enough when Madican jumps out of a tree. "Looking for Xena?" The former Amazon queen tells Ares' would-be apprentice that Amazons invented the technique of hiding in trees, so she knew to follow the trail. Then she yanks the root, tripping Madican and warning the other woman that she should be careful because Ares never said Gabrielle couldn't kill Madican and get home. Regaining the upper hand, Madican knocks Gabrielle unconscious while Xena watches helplessly. Deciding that live bait will lure Xena better than dead bait, Madican decides to let the bard live, putting her in a wooden cage.
As the sun rises, Madican wonders why Xena hasn't yet rescued Gabrielle. She inquires whether her captive would be willing to write scrolls about a new leader after she defeats Xena. She doesn't believe Xena's protestations of selflessness, believing instead that the warrior princess does her deeds for destiny. "Destiny?" asks Xena from her vantage point in the dark room. As the sun clears the horizon, Gabrielle morphs into Xena. She and Madican both realize that Ares has merged Xena and Gabrielle into one being, where Xena only operates during the day and Gabrielle at night. If Madican kills Xena, she'll kill Gabrielle and vice versa. This is a slight annoyance to Madican as she was just beginning to like the bard.
Recalling Madican’s mention of destiny, Xena warns the other woman that they’re only fighting for Ares benefit. "No, it's for me," snarls Madican, throwing spears through the bars of the cage. One of the weapons impales Xena in the stomach, or so it appears. When Madican approaches, she pulls it out, tripping Madican and escaping from the box. As Xena whirls, finding herself alone, her foe taunts that she will just wait for sunset...and Gabrielle.
While Xena studies the rocks around her for potential use as weapons, Ares appears. He tells her that during the day, Gabrielle is in dark room, but she doesn't get to watch as Xena did. Ares is impressed with the bard's fighting skills, and with the fact that Gabrielle figured out she could kill Madican even if Xena can't. When he leaves, Xena sets up a trap using vines and the rocks she has crushed to powder, while Madican makes a spear tip out of granite. As evening approaches, Madican follows the trail Xena has set for her opponent, saying she's sorry she will have to kill the warrior princess because she could learn a lot from her. "How do you always know when someone's about to attack?" Xena replies that she always assumes someone might be sneaking up on her and lives her life accordingly.
Xena gets the upper hand when the two women fight, but the sun sets. Gabrielle replaces Xena, and Madican knocks herself free. Gabrielle reaches for a nearby stick, though Madican laughs that she is herself an expert at using the staff. Still, when the bard takes the weapon, it triggers a trap set by Xena that releases a rock straight at Madican. The enemy falls, but not before she hurls a spear tip into Gabrielle's shoulder. Her friend races away while Xena cheers her on, unheard, in the dark room.
Ares closes down the viewing portal, saying, "She's incredible." He means Gabrielle - she is the one he wants for Xena's successor, not Madican. Who better to be Xena's heir than Xena's own trainee? Xena warns that it will never happen, but Ares points out that Xena hasn't been paying much attention to Gabrielle, and Xena doesn't even know what his offer might be.
Gabrielle hides near a deep, vine-filled pit, but Madican traces her trail of blood and approaches through the woods. The bard finds a note written on the back of the bark wrapped around her staff, explaining that they share one body and change places from day to night. The note also begs Gabrielle not to kill Madican: Ares wants her to, and Xena doesn't know why yet, so it must be a bad idea. As Xena watches from the dark room, the god of war appears to her friend, holding out the offer not only of an outlet for her skills, but an honest partnership. Though he knows he has given her reason to distrust him in the past, Ares insists that he can change. He wants to let discretion be the better part of valor from now on, and has chosen Xena's friend as his successor because she knows the strength that can lie in not fighting.
Ares promises that if Gabrielle takes him up on his offer, he will send Xena home to her mother, secure in the knowledge that the fate of the world is in the hands of someone she trusts. Then he offers her a knife, telling her to kill Madican so they can all go home. Just then Madican arrives, sorry only that she will have to settle for killing Xena vicariously. As the warrior princess begs the image of her friend not to murder, Gabrielle fights Madican but refuses to deliver a deathblow and tosses away the knife. At sunrise, Xena faces Madican, who tells the warrior princess that Gabrielle is her fatal flaw. Xena retorts that Madican's fatal flaw is her belief in destiny. When they fight, Xena causes a cave-in. Trapped in a cave , the two will die alone and unsung.
The struggle moves to the deep pit with the vines, where Madican panics and calls for Ares. He appears, creating the inter-dimensional portal that sucks Xena through but not Madican. The god of war sneers to his would-be protegee that he said she could call for him, not that she should. He then vanishes from the realm, leaving the screaming woman suspended from a vine. On the far side of the portal, Xena and Gabrielle reappear in Demeter's temple. Ares soon joins them and announces that they have won.
Xena tells Gabrielle how proud she is of her. Although Ares says that the offer to be his right hand woman still stands, the bard has eyes only for Xena. The warrior princess is surprised that her friend didn't consider the offer. She promises that the next several bad guys are all Gabrielle's.
An episode constructed to let Gabrielle come into her own, "Succession" is well-played but trying. I don't much like the way all the women are placed into competition and the easy acceptance of Ares' recruitment and abandonment of Madican, who is extremely impressive until her abrupt wimpy end. If Xena just spent five minutes recruiting Madican as an ally, they might all have joined together to put Ares in his place, instead of letting him walk away the real winner of the cat-fight he choreographed. Since Madican already has great respect for Xena and her skills, she seems a prime candidate for recruitment.
Honestly, why didn't Xena talk a bit about the destiny she's struggled against, instead of muttering vague warnings in between rounds of fighting? I have the same complaint with Hercules this week. Although the characters learn and grow as individuals, they don’t seem able to us this new knowledge and growth to teach others. Has Gabrielle learned so little that she discards her trademark compassion and entertains Ares' offers without even trying to talk Madican out of her single-minded blood lust? Not that I'm sorry to see Gabrielle fighting as Xena's equal, but someone needs to stop the cycle. Madican is no Callisto. I think she deserves better.