"When in Rome..."
by Michelle Erica Green


"When in Rome..." Plot Summary:

In Gaul, a village is burning, sacked by Roman legions. Vercinix stays behind to defend what's left, sending his family and most of the other villagers to hide in the hills. He is captured by Caesar's men. Elsewhere, Romans facing beheading find swords suddenly dropped at their feet. As they fight their captors, Xena rides in, grabs the Roman leader, and drags him behind Argo to meet Gabrielle, who tells them a ship is waiting. At sea, Gabrielle tells the Roman, Crassus, that any friend of Caesar's is an enemy of hers. Crassus says that Caesar isn't his friend, but Xena identifies him as one of the ruling Triumvirate, along with Caesar and Pompei, and takes Crassus' imperial ring to prove to Caesar that he is her hostage.

In Rome, Caesar warns Pompei that the people are with him, but Pompei points out that the army is with him. Xena marches in, leaving Caesar stuttering, and demands Vercinix's freedom in exchange for Crassus. Later, Xena explains to Gabrielle that she has a plan to trade the two men anyway since she's sure Caesar won't agree to the exchange. Gabrielle says that she will not be a party to letting Crassus be executed, but Xena points out that Crassus is a bloodthirsty murderer and anyway it's Caesar who will have to decide whether to carry out the execution; it's not their concern.

Xena goes back for the formal presentation of Vircinix as a captive to the people of Rome. Pompei is impressed with her and asks why they call her warrior princess. "Because 'Caesar' was taken," she snaps. Pompei tells her that a lot of Romans would not be sorry if Caesar died. Back on the boat, Crassus burns his ropes over a candle and breaks free, but Xena returns in time to capture him and tell Gabrielle that they have to move up their plans - Caesar is planning to hold the execution and coliseum games the next day. She shows Gabrielle a copy of the key to the Roman prison and reiterates her plan to swap the men, though she is sure Caesar will kill Crassus in Vircinix's place. Gabrielle is very unhappy but says she'll play her assigned role.

Gabrielle escorts Crassus to Rome, and agrees to give him back his royal ring so that the guards will know who he is and he won't be executed in Vircinix's place. She puts a drug in his drink and when they enter the city, she pretends that she's drunk and he's passed out from alcohol. The two are thrown into the same jail where Vercinix is being held. When she returns to the palace, Xena is warned by Pompei that Caesar is hunting for Gabrielle. She takes a knife offered by Pompei and hunts down Caesar, but is ensnared in a net and taken by his soldiers just as she gets close. Caesar goads Xena and throws her in the same jail as Gabrielle, Crassus, and Vircinix. Gabrielle tosses Xena the key so that she can switch Vircinix and Crassus, then waits while Xena is taken to the arena.

Caesar calls Xena an enemy of Rome and sends to armed soldiers on horseback to attack her. She manages to disarm one, but the other catches her in a net and drags her. Back in the cell, Vircinix tells Gabrielle to hurry so they can give Xena the signal to end the combat, but Gabrielle stops to put the ring on Crassus' finger. Vercinix says he will have to kill Crassus later: Crassus personally slaughtered his family, as he learned from his niece, who was crucified and still living when he found her. Gabrielle takes the ring and heads into the crowd, signalling Xena, who trounces the soldiers but refuses to kill one of them when the crowd calls for his death. Caesar sends her back to her cell. The prisoner is led to the chopping block, but when his hood is removed, it's Crassus, not Vircinix. Caesar and Pompei are the only people who know this, however, since Crassus doesn't have his ring. At Pompei's goading, Caesar proceeds with the execution, and Gabrielle walks away as Crassus dies. Meanwhile, Vercinix, dressed as a prison guard, frees Xena from her cell.

Aboard the ship, Gabrielle looks guiltily at Crassus' ring. Xena apologizes for putting her in a situation where she had to ignore her heart. Gabrielle says she follows Xena out of her own desire, and the two declare their love as Gabrielle drops the ring into the water. And the ship sails on.


Caesar REALLY needs bigger prisons. This was not a strong episode because he came across so weakly; after his calculating viciousness in "Destiny," it was annoying to see him as just one more unimpressive warlord. Pompei seemed a lot smarter, biding his time and making friends with the right people, plus he has a sense of humor.

I am getting really sick of Gabrielle's standard pleas for compassion. She's right of course, and it's important for those sentiments to be expressed, but someone has got to come up with smarter-sounding arguments for her to be making or the whole point of having her insist on basic goodness is going to be lost. That said, I didn't at all like her deciding to let Crassus die; if the real plan is to end Roman tyranny, it would have made much more sense for her and Vircinix both to give up personal vengenance and let him walk out to the execution as a known member of the Triumvirate, thus forcing Caesar to admit in front of Pompei and everyone that he let the prisoner escape and nearly got his co-ruler executed by refusing to trade for his life. It's impossible to feel sorry for Crassus - he got what he undoubtedly deserved - but watching him die at the hands of Caesar and of Gabrielle was unpleasant. I know why Xena does as the Romans do, but why does Gabrielle?

Once again Roman chronology is pretty much a joke, but hey, who's paying attention? I liked watching Xena fight at the end after she had to lay low both when captured by Caesar's soldiers and when she first entered the arena. And I liked Pompei - I hope we see him again, even though I don't trust him any more than Xena does...or than Caesar does.

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