The Abduction From the Seraglio
"Who's Gurkhan?" Plot Summary:
Home in Potedeia, Gabrielle learns that her parents have been killed and her sister's only daughter, Sara, sold as a slave into the harem of Gurkhan. She vows vengeance, and sails with Xena, Eve, and Virgil to northern Africa. To protect her friend, Xena produces a sleeping potion disguised as a remedy for seasickness, then has Virgil pose as a pirate and put her up for sale. Xena thinks she will be able to spot her adversary at the auction so she can take care of him for Gabrielle, but several different men bid in Gurkhan's name, and one buys her for 220 gold pieces.
When Gabrielle wakes and learns what Xena has done, she demands that Virgil take her to the palace, where he offers her as a gift to Gurkhan. Meanwhile, Xena bonds with the concubines and runs afoul of Gurkhan's number one wife. When Gabrielle dances for the assembled women to impress Gurkhan, Xena spies a knife hidden in her friend's clothes. To save Gabrielle, she tackles her, taking the knife and pretending she wants to kill all competitors for their master's attention. The woman who recently defeated the Devil himself is beaten and tortured, left hanging from the ceiling in the dungeon, until Gurkhan himself visits. She tells him her only desire is to become his number one wife.
After being returned to the harem a bloody mess, Xena is cleaned and dressed up by the women to perform for Gurkhan. Dressed in black veils, she begins to strip, teasing the master with her clothing and her body. When she finishes, she says she has a request: she wants Sara's head on a platter. Surprised that she knows that name, Gurkhan says very well, and sends his number one wife to the dungeon to await execution.
Alone with Gurkhan, Xena says she has an idea, and has Gabrielle brought in. When the man lies down expecting seduction, Xena puts the Touch on him, then hands her friend a knife. Though she screams that she hates him and beats him, Gabrielle refuses to kill Gurkhan because that would make her like him. Instead she and Xena take him to the dungeon, where Gabrielle introduces herself to Sara, her niece. Sara sobs of her shame at her behavior, blaming herself for the deaths of her father and her grandparents at Gurkhan's hands. Xena offers to take all the women of the harem onto the ship. They leave Gurkhan swathed in Sara's clothes so that his head will be chopped off when the guards come to fulfill his orders.
Sara asks how her mother could ever love her after the terrible things she has done, but Eve says she must not know very much about mothers. When Sara says she doesn't understand how she could ever be forgiven, Gabrielle says that on that boat, she's in the right company.
Though this purports to be a serious episode, it's a lot more entertaining for viewers who focus on the eye candy aspects instead of the plot. Both Gabrielle and Xena show off their dirty dancing skills -- I had no idea belly dancing was a requirement of Warrior Princess-hood, but Xena must have trained somewhere, because she does it quite well, while Gabrielle appears to have studied both Indian and Arabian performance. It was pretty easy to guess the abusive first wife would turn out to be her niece just from the blonde hair, but I was sorry we didn't get to see her dance; surely Gurkhan saw something in her other than her ability to make other women bow down.
It was rather disturbing that she came across as the real villain of the household for much of the episode; the murdering pimp just sat around smoking while she kicked other women in the face. The miserable slaves were offset by other gold-digging harem hussies who were quite happy to be surrounded by expensive fabrics and oils, away from drunken or abusive husbands. We didn't see much real sisterhood, nor any females who had bonded like Xena and Gabrielle, which seems an odd omission in a fairly stereotypical seraglio story.
I know I complain when Gabrielle acts like a stereotypical heroine and needs to be rescued by Xena, but it's jarring when she turns into Mini-Xena -- with no sweet sidekick to calm her down. Her hatred for Gurkhan is justified, and her desire for blood isn't unreasonable, but I remember dozens of episodes in the past when Xena went off on a mission of revenge with Gabrielle preaching peace the whole time, and I wonder what happened to that personality since she learned to use sais. Then again, at least we don't have to listen to Eve bleating about Eli's way.
Xena names herself Sophia, which means Wisdom; Gurkhan renames her Fatima, the beloved, obedient daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, an image she quickly sheds. It seems ridiculous that a woman who could kill Mephistopheles and kick Lucifer into Hell would put up with torture at the hands of a petty, abusive thug -- maybe the point is that it really can happen to any woman. It's more disturbing that Sara compares her crimes with those of Eve. They were both children when taken from their families, but the remorseful Sara's sin seems to be using viciousness for self-protection, not fighting for glory. By Xena's standards, she's hardly a fallen woman. Let's hope she can find peace without being mollified in the cult of Eli.