Caesar Changes History
"When Fates Collide" Plot Summary:
Obsessed with Xena even after his death, Julius Caesar escapes from Hades -- or, rather, a chaotic underworld with no Hades. He imprisons the Fates and alters Xena's lifeline, knowing that it will change the lifelines of everyone she ever touched. Then he finds himself in Rome, where he acts as a magnanimous leader giving grain to the people, and prepares to meet visitors from a Chin ruled by Lao Mah. Xena rides in wearing a gladiator helmet, whoops, knocks out soldiers, and shoots an arrow at Caesar, who greets her as his empress. She goes to supervise the armies while he negotiates, accepting Lao Mah's proposed alliance. But Caesar isn't dealing straight; he watches as Alti, the High Priestess of Rome, kills the emissaries from Chin by showing them visions of torment.
Caesar has had a playwright brought in from Athens to entertain his Greek bride. Xena loves the play, Fallen Angel, and its theme of immortal love; Caesar is bored with the drama, and when he realizes that the playwright is Gabrielle, he becomes nervous. At the cast party, he and Alti both study the empress and the writer with whom she seems taken. Gabrielle tells Xena she thinks everyone dreams of finding someone who can look deeply into one's soul and discovering a love worth dying for. Brutus arrives to warn the emperor that Lao Mah will send assassins when she learns of the deaths of her messengers. Caesar leads Xena away to bed, but she's not in the mood, so he wanders away. Alti, who witnesses the marital strife between emperor and empress as well as the bond between Xena and Gabrielle, takes this opportunity to attack, showing Xena horrible visions of her life from the timeline Caesar destroyed.
Caesar and Brutus stop Alti, promising to have her interrogated. The next day he tells Xena the priestess confessed that the playwright was her partner in the assassination plot. Xena visits Gabrielle in prison, getting the guard Joxer to leave them in privacy. Gabrielle insists that she has never harmed anyone in her life; Xena believes her because of her belief that love is worth dying for. Afterwards Xena visits Alti, who scoffs both at the notion that she implicated Gabrielle and that Caesar is Xena's husband. When Alti touches her, Xena again has visions from her true life. Alti and Xena seem to realize at the same time that these images are not from this world, but from another.
Xena stops Caesar from crucifying Gabrielle by promising to be a true wife and empress to him, ruling the world at his side. She sends Gabrielle back to her vineyard by the sea to write, though Gabrielle doesn't want to go; she was empty until she met Xena. Alti waits for Caesar, saying she'd be a more loyal partner in bed and in power, and agrees to prove it by tracking and killing the playwright. Before the murder, though, Alti shows Gabrielle visions of the true timeline she will never know. Xena arrives in time to save her beloved, fighting off both Alti and Roman soldiers, but she is shot by arrows and taken prisoner by Caesar. Though Brutus advises against it, Caesar sentences his empress to death for her treason. Then he stabs Brutus, saying, "I am Rome."
In prison, Joxer promises to help Gabrielle get out alive. As Xena is led to her crucifixion, Gabrielle rides away and Alti propositions Caesar. While Xena is nailed to the cross, the new Empress makes love to the Emperor, stabbing him to death as he approaches climax just as Xena did in his dreams on the last day of his life. In this timeline, as in that one, Caesar dies as Xena suffers her ultimate torment. At the same time, Gabrielle discovers the Fates chained away from their loom, which controls the destinies of everyone on Earth. She sets it on fire. As flames consume the strands of fate, Alti dissolves into ash. Xena and Gabrielle find themselves in a forest in their own time and place; they ride off together.
"When Fates Collide" begins with Xena's crucifixion from "Destiny," flashes repeatedly to her crucifixion from "The Ides of March," and climaxes with her third crucifixion -- a brutal, bloody reminder that the history of Rome is written in blood, as if we needed another. It's a very powerful, very violent episode with epic grandeur that will be hard to top in the finale; as far as I'm concerned, this could have been the finale, since it pulls together many of the themes and events from Xena's entire run. We get to see both Alti and Joxer, to hear about Lao Mah, and to see who Xena would have become had Caesar not turned her to evil by breaking her legs and her spirit. His assault on fate comes not out of love, as he suggests, but out of the understanding that unless he can somehow harness her, she will forever threaten his power.
Because he's the one who changes history, Caesar alone retains memories of what would have been. Thus he cannot trust his current friend and onetime murderer Brutus...nor can he trust Alti, even though she's a Roman priestess rather than a sorceress in his remade world. He does seem comfortable at first with the Xena he's created -- a version of the aggressive, ambitious, flirtatious woman who existed before Lao Mah, Borias, Solon, Hercules and Gabrielle changed her, but without the evil streak encouraged by Ares. But she still doesn't want to have sex with him.
Interestingly, the gods seem to be dead even in Caesar's altered history without Xena or Eli to challenge them. Xena's feelings for Gabrielle, however, are stronger than ever, and it's nice that she falls in love with the playwright's words before she ever lays eyes on the woman. There's not subtext in this timeline but overt passion, though it's not expressed physically onscreen except in small gestures of affection. Dozens of parallels bind their love across timelines, particularly the title "Fallen Angel" and the play's theme of deathless love. Gabrielle says her stories come to her from somewhere else; "I just write them down." During the play, a character leaps off a cliff for love, which is precisely what Gabrielle did when she took Hope into the pit with her several seasons back. What goes around comes around.
Thus "When Fates Collide" may be a clip show but its impact is far greater than a retrospective. It's the serious side of "Send In the Clones," taking Xena's history as integral canon and reinforcing all the plots and themes that give it power. There's some humor here, particularly when Xena visits Alti in prison and says she wants "your hands on me...like they were last night." Still, the creepiness of Xena reciting Caesar's threat "You can't have a crucifixion without crosses" and the brutal images from "The Ides of March" create gravity that outweighs any levity in the situation. The ending of "When Fates Collide" reimagines "The Ides of March" in Caesar's new timeline, leaving him to die not at the hands of Brutus and Cassius but of another powerful woman like Xena. It's fitting; despite the grisly, bloody scene in his bedchamber, it's impossible to feel sorry for him.
The ending is surprisingly anticlimactic, a feeble attempt at humor after the earth moves. But after Xena's earlier proclamations, "I love you, Gabrielle...I'll love you forever," what is left to say that wouldn't be anticlimactic? "When Fates Collide" is a deeply satisfying tribute to the series and these characters, whether one watches for the action, the babes on horseback or the subtext.