"Them Bones, Them Bones"
by Michelle Erica Green


Ungrateful Dead

"Them Bones, Them Bones" Plot Summary:

Gabrielle hunts for a mushroom-like herb which Xena hopes can cure her morning sickness. When she eats it, Xena screams in pain and collapses. Gabrielle rushes her friend to a healer. But when the woman removes Xena's clothing to examine her, Xena's belly begins to undulate wildly. Then a hole appears, and a baby's skull pops through the opening. Xena screams...and awakes screaming. It was a dream, but Xena insists that the vision was a warning. "I need Yakut," she tells Gabrielle and Amarys. Yakut is the shamaness of the northern Amazons, whom Xena met when she traveled to retrieve Gabrielle's soul from the Amazon land of the dead. Xena believes the younger woman may be able to help save her baby.

After a long journey, the warrior princess arrives with Gabrielle and Amarys to greet Yakut, who had a vision telling her to expect them. In a ritual, the shamaness discovers that the unborn baby is being drained of its life force in the spirit realm. Someone who wears the symbol of the shaman is responsible. "Alti," acknowledges Xena, recalling the evil woman's bitter plans to wreak death and violence with her powers. Since Xena killed Alti in the corporeal world, she can only fight on the spiritual plane. Xena wants to travel to the spirit realm to fight Alti herself, but Yakut advises her to be careful because of her pregnancy. Insisting that she loves Xena's baby as much as Xena does, Gabrielle demands the right to fight for them both.

Gabrielle begins the ritual necessary to cross over, killing a stag so she can use its hide to make clothing and anoint herself with blood. As the Amazons dance and Yakut recites ancient blessings, Xena mingles Gabrielle's blood with the stag's and her own blood with theirs so that her friend will have a link to the physical world. She then gives Gabrielle a ceremonial dagger, If Gabrielle can kill Alti on the spiritual plane, it will destroy Alti's soul. "Don't let go of the dagger," advises Xena. "Don't let go of me," Gabrielle asks in turn, and Xena promises, "Never." As Gabrielle drinks the blood mixture she begins to hallucinate, seeing blood pumping through arteries, a heart beating like a lava explosion, clouds, lightning, storms, finally a tornado-like tunnel which leaves her beside a fire in the spiritual plane. The fire freezes mid-flicker. A flying bird halts in midair.

"Xena's little bitch! Welcome to the doghouse," sneers Alti, welcoming Gabrielle with a warning that things don't work the same way in her realm as they do in the corporeal world. As Xena watches Gabrielle's thrashing body, Alti beats up her friend, saying that while she needs Xena's baby, she doesn't need Gabrielle. When Alti slices Gabrielle's throat in her realm, Xena sees the cut appear in the real world and implores Gabrielle to come back. Gabrielle cannot hear, and tries feebly to crawl away as Alti announces that she will die on the count of ten.

"Gabrielle, this is not your destiny!" cries Xena, administering mouth to mouth resuscitation when Alti completes her count and Gabrielle stops breathing in both realms. Awakening, Gabrielle laments her failure to defeat Alti's mental strength. The former Amazon leader warns Xena that Alti isn't trying to kill the baby - in fact, she wants it to be born. Xena realizes Alti intends to be reincarnated through the baby, replacing its soul with her own.

Though Yakut warns that a burial ritual to trap a soul in its bones has never been successful, Xena insists that it is the only way to stop Alti. She takes the young shamaness to retrieve Alti's remains while Gabrielle and Amarys go in search of powerful amber that will trap Alti's soul in her bones. They are warned that an all-seeing Amazon mystic guards the amber. As they travel, Yakut tells Xena an Amazon fable about a golden tree with branches holding unborn souls. When a woman accepts motherhood, the soul flying from the tree sends her a vision of a dove to thank her. Xena uncovers Alti's skeleton and discovers that the skull is missing. Surprisingly, Yakut pulls it from her bag and confesses that all this suffering is her fault. She took the skull with the intention of harnessing Alti's powers for good. Xena snaps that Gabrielle almost died as a result of Yakut's meddling, and her baby is still at risk.

In the middle of the night, Xena wakes to discover that Yakut has put herself into a trance. Xena drinks the blood mixture and follows the Amazon into the spirit realm, where she finds Yakut...but it's really Alti, who thrusts her hand into Xena's belly and pulls out the glowing soul light of her baby. "I always wanted to be inside of you, Xena," she taunts. Badly wounded, the real Yakut is tied to branches. "If you harm my child, I will hound you throughout time," warns Xena, but Alti sneers that at least they'll be together again. The evil shamaness offers a deal: if Xena can convince the Amazons to reincarnate her bones so she can return to the world of the living, Alti will return the baby's soul. The two women awaken and rush back to camp.

Meanwhile, Gabrielle and Amarys find the cave with the amber, but the guardian Chaiah will not let them both pass because Amarys is not really an Amazon. The girl runs away, but Gabrielle is allowed to enter and get the amber. Outside, a weeping Amarys admits that she had no identity, so she created one as an Amazon, just so she could feel like a part of a group. Gabrielle says that for years she walked in Xena's shadow seeking something similar, but Xena encouraged her to strike out on her own. "Come on, she's waiting for us," encourages the former Bard, so the two return to the tribe. There they learn that because Alti has the baby's soul, they can't use the amber. Instead, they will have to find some way to appease Alti's demand to return to the world of the living.

As the Amazons perform a ritual dance over Alti's skeleton, Xena drinks a blood potion and enters the spirit world. Once there, she tells Alti that she will trade her baby's soul for a return to the corporeal plane; all Alti has to do is take her hand. Awakening alone with the bones, Xena watches Alti's skeleton pull itself together and become animate. "Now the real fun starts," says the skull. "Give me back my child's soul," Xena demands. Alti never intended to do so; instead, she swallows the baby's spirit, which glows inside her ribcage. Furious, Xena rips off her own face to reveal the skull beneath, telling Alti that she was tricked. She's not in the real world but in another dreamscape where strongest mind will indeed win.

The Amazons chant, giving their strength to Xena, while Gabrielle and Yakut watch Xena's unconscious form for a signal. The skeletons fight, with Xena turning cartwheels and whooping despite her lack of skin. In the real world, blood pours from Xena's nose, but she finally smashes Alti's bones, tearing her baby's soul from the shattered ribcage. In the real world Amarys feels the baby move, and Gabrielle pours the amber over Alti's remains, hearing Alti's voice screaming as the bones crack and crumble. A joyous Xena wakes.

Gabrielle tells Amarys that she didn't tell Xena what Chaiah said. She wears a necklace containing mementos of all her Amazon sisters, and she has added one for Amarys because now Amarys is a real Amazon. The girl is grateful, but says she won't be traveling further with Gabrielle and Xena. She is going to stay and learn from Yakut's tribe. Xena in turn tells the young shamaness that she's heading east. As she prepares to leave, a dove flies past, signifying that Xena has accepted her impending motherhood and her baby is thanking her.

Analysis:

After so many weeks of Indian and Christian myth, it's refreshing to see Xena back to her Amazon roots, and terrific to see Yakut again. The last time the girl appeared on the series, she was an Amazon novice who knew less than Amarys. Now, she's apparently the leader of her tribe, and a powerful sorceress, even if she has a lot to learn about not making stupid mistakes regarding Alti. Yakut is certainly not the first woman on this series to make the mistake of underestimating the evil shamaness, who seems incapable of staying dead. Reincarnating Alti this last time made for a terrific story, but I don't think the writers can get away with it any more. How many times can we watch Xena kill the woman before we stop caring? I enjoy Alti and her dark, twisted version of nature-based spirituality, but these endless cycles of having to murder her get wearing.

I'm a little puzzled about Amarys, who seemed to be Ephiny's apprentice when we met her during the Roman attack on the southern Amazons and who seemed to know a lot about Amazon beliefs. Are we to believe that she simply hasnít passed through her initiation ceremonies, if such are necessary? Gabrielle was once an Amazon queen but gave up that title and most of what it stood for, while Amarys appears to have struggled to keep her Amazon identity alive even after leaving the tribe where Xena met her. This twist doesn't seem to have been all that well thought out, though I liked the bonding scenes between Amarys and Gabrielle - reminiscent of the scenes a few seasons ago where Gabrielle felt like a phony and Xena had to reassure her of her value as a warrior.

I know the baby storyline is hugely unpopular among segments of Xena fandom and I'm a little uncomfortable myself with all the soul of the unborn stuff. In most ancient cultures, quickening was the very earliest at which a fetus was considered a person, but even among early Jews and Christians, a newborn couldn't be buried in a religious cemetery until it was several days old. Even now the insistence that a fetus has an independent soul from the moment of conception comes largely from right to life activists, not from any scientific or spiritual evidence, and the Amazon tree legend didn't do much to comfort me about the essentialism of motherhood being propagated. Still, I like watching Xena struggle with motherhood instead of accepting it as a pure blessing or as a fundamental challenge to her lifestyle. Gabrielle seems to have accepted the baby a little too easily, but maybe her own demons will surface later.

The special effects in "Them Bones" were simply spectacular, one of the best uses of CGI I've seen on television and completely necessary for the success of the story. There was perhaps a little too much nature-based imagery in the hallucination sequences - I think we all realized what was happening without the blood, the storms, AND the lava - but the fighting skeletons were amazing. All in all, this was a terrific episode with great performances and a memorable storyline.


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