The Way of the Warrior Princess
"The Way" Plot Summary:
Gabrielle reflects that she loves rivers. Xena jokes that they're OK as long as you don't have to cross them. Her friend rebukes her for always shooting down her spiritual comments, complaining that Xena never asks those kinds of questions, but Xena admits that since she learned she was to be reincarnated as a saint, she's been wondering whether the way of the warrior is the wrong path for her in her present life as well. Suddenly the two are attacked by horned demons who have been ordered to stop Xena from protecting the Avatar. Xena fights them, discovering that they disappear when killed but failing to learn the identity of the Avatar. She does, however, learn that they work for Indrajit, King of Demons, Prince of Darkness..."I get it, he's a bad guy," Xena notes.
The Greek women approach the Avatar in the midst of a crowd, where a man has asked for salvation for his dying child. The Avatar is Eli, who cures the little girl, then flees as the crowd begins to worship him. Gabrielle is happy to discover that he is using his powers as a healer, but he tells her how hard it is to feel people's pain. He says that he has seen The Way - the one true way - and it terrifies him. Realizing that they are being watched, Xena asks Eli whether he has heard of Indrajit and tells him they will protect him on his journey to the shore to travel to his homeland.
A man with the face of an ape comes as the group sleep, but when Xena draws a weapon, she realizes that he is not a demon. He is Hanuman, an immortal who knew Rama when the former Avatar slew Indrajit's father. He suggests taking Eli to the Temple for protection from Indrajit, since Krishna can protect the Avatar. Hanuman is impressed with Xena when she leaps into the trees with him, asking whether she learned from the monkeys. He tells Xena that his way is the Way of Obedience, but he can tell that that is not her way. The two spot Indrajit on his flying carpet in the distance.
Meanwhile Eli tells Gabrielle what he has learned: his way is the Way of Love, meaning that he must revere life wherever he finds it. If someone attacked him, he would walk away until he could not walk any more, but he would not contribute to the cycle of violence which must be broken. As the group approaches the Temple, a crowd gathers to fight for the Avatar, but Eli tells them that if they fight, they strengthen Indrajit and the forces of evil. He can only help them because they are innocent. Eli goes into Krishna's temple with Gabrielle and Hanuman, but when Xena stays outside to help evacuate the people, she is attacked by Indrajit's demons. Eli and Gabrielle rush out to aid her and are both snatched by Indrajit on his flying carpet while Xena is busy fighting the demons.
Hanuman tells Xena that she cannot possibly defeat Indrajit without Krishna's help, insisting that she must pray for assistance in finding the deity within herself. She does, and when she turns to Hanuman she finds Krishna behind her instead. He tells her that she must open her heart to her own way - the Way of the Warrior, which is her true path in this life. He tells her to go and fight, and that if she summons him, he will come to her aid as long as she follows her calling. When she lifts her head to leave, Hanuman has returned.
In the realm of demons, Eli tells Gabrielle that he will not fight Indrajit; though they inhabit mortal bodies, their struggle is spiritual. He asks Gabrielle to follow him in the Way of Love. Indrajit arrives to tell Eli that he, too, loved the father whom Rama killed, suggesting that he wants to be Eli's ally. When Eli disbelieves him, Indrajit asks him how passive he will be while his disciple Gabrielle is tortured. As she prays with Eli, Gabrielle hears Xena's voice calling her, then sees a vision of her friend dying on Indrajit's throne. She approaches as a demon attacks Xena with a pitchfork, using her staff as a weapon. Xena speaks in Indrajit's voice, grabbing Gabrielle's throat while warning Eli that his disciple gave in to the first temptation. He tells Eli that if Eli joins him, the Avatar will never suffer the pain of another.
Xena arrives to attack Indrajit, but when she slices off one of his arms, he grows it back, plus four more. Then he pins her down and chops off her arms. Calling on Krishna, Xena is transformed into what appears to be the goddess Kali, with four arms, dark skin, and supernatural strength. She fights Indrajit and eventually cuts off his head, killing the demon. Moments later she returns to her normal self, with her two arms restored but no more.
Gabrielle apologizes to Eli for turning to violence. He tells her that the Way of Love is hard, but it can save the world. Now he will leave to take the message home to his own people, telling her that he will never forget her because she was the first to understand him. Later Gabrielle throws her staff in the river and Xena says she has always known that the way of the warrior was wrong for her friend; Gabrielle should follow the Way of Love, and go with Eli, because Xena is headed in a different direction in this life. But Gabrielle says that Xena's friendship is what taught her the power of selfless love, and she refuses to worry about their divergent paths because all rivers run to the sea. Then she thanks Xena for not mentioning dams, and they embrace.
Eli's back, and he's turned into the Son of God in two short weeks! I read on a spoiler page that the character's name was originally meant to be Issa, but even without a name that derives from the same root as Jesus, his land of origin and his message are pretty thinly disguised. It's ironic that this episode sparked a massive protest from various Hindu groups for its fictional portrayal of Krishna, because the apocryphal Gnostic scriptures which suggested that Jesus went to India seem to have been primary source material. I can't imagine Christian fundamentalists would be happy with this episode if they knew about it, but the numerous competing divinities and the homoerotic subtext commented upon by the protesting Hindus has probably been enough to turn the religious right off of Xena already.
Timothy Omundson's Eli is admittedly a very compelling character, though it's a little hard to take him seriously as the Avatar since he started out as a charlatan and now he talks like Dahok's followers did initially, when they claimed to be following the path of love. How many times can this series keep recycling that theme - people follow love, people get killed - and how many times must we watch Gabrielle swear off violence, only to learn that if she wants to walk in Xena's shadow, sometimes she must embrace her friend's methods? We know what will happen: Gabrielle will keep preaching nonviolence until Xena feels too guilty to function, but then some horrible crisis will occur where Xena's skills as a warrior save Gabrielle and thousands of others, so Gabrielle will have to admit that maybe she was wrong. Dramatically, it gets a little tiresome, even if it does reflect the life paths of many who want to follow the Way of Love.
I'm still not happy with the way India has been portrayed in this arc, which defines the people as "innocents," as opposed to Eli, Xena, Gabrielle, and the immortal Hanuman, who looks like he was mistakenly costumed for Planet of the Apes - if I'm missing an important piece of Hindu mythology and should have recognized him as Krishna all along, I apologize, but I get the feeling the writers know as little about Hindu religion as myself. I did get a giggle every time the phrase "the Way of the Warrior" was uttered, that being the name for the path of a true Klingon; Xena vs. Worf would be a highly enjoyable matchup, albeit short...Xena would kick his butt. I enjoyed the warrior princess' turn as Kali, and the fight sequence with a total of ten arms at work was truly superb, as was the breathtaking opening approaching the mountains. Visually, at least, the trip to India has been a great success. Now someone at Renaissance Productions just needs to figure out who Xena and Gabrielle are in this life, and let them have a little fun with it.