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The Debt II Reviewed

Following straight on, Xena`s shock at seeing Gabrielle soon turns to feelings of betrayal as Ming Tien, the Green Dragon, arrives to send her to the dungeon, "I hear you were betrayed by a friend," says a guard. "No, not a friend," says a choked Xena. Gabrielle pleads with Ming Tien to be allowed to see Xena, while Xena learns that Lao Ma has been executed at the order of Ming Tien. She remembers the amazing powers that Lao Ma had, and how she tried to learn them. We flash back to Lao Ma`s attempts to give Xena some peace and tranquility of spirit. In a shocking return to the present, Gabrielle slaps Xena and yells at her, trying to get her to promise to leave Ming Tien alone in the hopes that they will be banished from Chin and be allowed to leave. Xena will not speak and so is sentenced to death. Going to her in the dungeon, Gabrielle asks for forgiveness and Xena tells her about how Lao Ma saved her soul. She remembers how Lao Ma healed her crippled legs, but how she let her down because she was unable to give up her violent ways. However, Xena tells Gabrielle that she remembered Lao Ma`s teachings much later when Hercules had started her on the right path. Xena`s execution time arrives, but from somewhere, she discovers the purity of spirit Lao Ma told her of, and Xena is able to harness the special powers to free herself and destroy Ming Tien`s castle. As they are leaving, Ming Tien tells Xena that he killed Lao Ma himself, and Xena kills him with a well placed hairpin.

This second part is equally enthralling, and production values similarly high. (I think it was filmed as one long episode. It is unusual for the same director to do two successive episodes.) We see the effect that Lao Ma`s teachings had on Xena. She ultimately rejects her advice, but only because Xena wasn`t ready for it at that time in her life. She is considerably more human than she was in part 1. This part is especially memorable for the scenes between Xena and Gabrielle. The part where Gabrielle slaps and shouts at Xena is a bit unbelievable to be honest, but Lucy Lawless puts in an amazing performance in that scene. She says nothing yet says so much with her eyes and her face. Despite everything it is hard to see Gabrielle actually acting like that and slapping her. Another big question is how she beat Xena to Chin-(although this is answered nicely in a later episode, Forget Me Not). The relationship between the two women is the heart of the show, and some fans were unhappy at this portrayal of Gabrielle as a casual betrayer and beater of Xena. There are also issues about why Xena didn`t explain herself better to Gabrielle. (OK, so no episode if Gab understands it all!) They were journeying for some time in part one, yet she didn`t say that Lao Ma saved her life? Or what she taught Xena and why she owed her this debt? Clearly Xena and Gabrielle`s communications are not at their best.

The scene in the dungeon is another brilliant one as Gabrielle, bedecked in her Chinese finery wades through that muddy water to talk to her friend. The scene is very well written, with Xena breaking her silence to ask Gabrielle to scratch her nose causing Gabrielle to burst into tears of remorse. It`s an emotional scene that both actors play very well.

Opinions vary on a fantasy sequence that has Xena and Lao Ma flying through the air after Lao Ma has healed Xena`s legs- silly or lovely? But the parts of the story dealing with Xena rejecting Lao Ma`s teachings and going back to the sword are nicely nasty. It is clear that she meant a lot to Xena, and her actions in killing Ming Tien, were justified. Indeed, it seems that Lao Ma wanted Xena to kill him, as she sent back her hairpin- a direct reference to a conversation they had about its use it as a weapon. Quite why Xena kept the killing from Gabrielle, it is hard to see. The deception is another factor in the rift between them, but if Xena could forgive Gabrielle for betraying her, the execution of the monsterous Ming Tien could surely have been explained.

Special mention should go to the costume designers once again. After part one`s grunge look for Xena, she looks fabulous in the rags and wooden collar. Quite a good look on Lucy! The guest actors help make this episode work. Jaqueline Kim was a big hit with fans as Lao Ma, Marton Csokas a dastardly Borias- but where was he supposed to be from? Slightly less successful were Daniel Sing as a slightly one note Ming Tien, and Grant McFarland, who did a silly Fu Man Chu Chinese accent. Eagle eyed fans should have spotted a chakram patterned doorway in Lao Ma`s palace. What with M`Lila having the design for Xena`s breast plate on her t-shirt and Lao Ma`s chakram doorway, I hope we get a future episode about where Xena`s costume and weapons come from. Writer RJ Stewart and director Oley Sassone must be mentioned also for this brilliant two part story.

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