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Adventures in the Sin Trade I Reviewed

In a staggeringly ambitious opening to the new series, we get a Xena episode completely unlike any ever before. This two part story is the direct follow on from Sacrifice II. It opens with a desperate looking Xena tracking down Hades to find out where Gabrielle has gone. Rather odd as someone as good as Gabrielle would surely be a dead cert for the Elysian Fields. However, she learns that Gabrielle has gone to the Amazon land of the dead, and Xena knows that she has a difficult task ahead as she seeks to follow her. She remembers back to a time not long after she returned from Chin, when she and Borias met Alti, an ex-Amazon Shamaness with mystical powers, who showed her how to visit the land of the dead. Xena must take on the role of a shamaness to find her friend. However, she discovers that a large group of Amazons that she had killed years before have had their souls trapped by Alti in limbo, not able to cross over to the other side and rest in peace. Xena decides that she must help defeat the evil Alti. This is the cue for much spiritual chanting and dancing as this is a battle to be fought on the spiritual plane.

This story is a daring and dazzling one. Shot like a big screen movie, it is almost unrecognisable as a Xena episode. Joseph Lo Duca`s wonderful music is about all that is familiar. Lucy Lawless looks totally different in her shamaness outfit, and her portrayal of a desperate and slightly crazy Xena is a far cry from the usually totally in control warrior princess. There is no sign of the chakram, Argo is left to wander, no leather, no jokes, a very different set of locations and, of course, no Gabrielle. Instead we have a new set of characters, that are generally very successful.

The one familiar face is Marton Csokas as Borias, who in a nicely developed role, is a slightly altered Borias. He is far less treacherous than he was in The Debt, and has a hard job keeping Xena civilized when we meet him again in the flashback sequences. Xena also meets a group of young and rather rootless Amazons - the remnants of the tribe she helped to kill off. They are ignorant of many Amazon customs, and look up to Xena as they help her. My favourite new character is the mysterious and deadly shamaness Alti. I loved Claire Stansfield`s character. Very tall and hypnotically sinister, she is one of the very few actors who has made me watch her rather than Lucy Lawless in their shared scenes. Her character`s influence over Xena is a terrible one. Indeed, AITST part 2 has Xena committing one of the most barbarous acts we have seen yet. A large scale and brutal series of killings for the sole purpose of gaining a power promised by Alti, the evil Xena truly was a monster.

Part One sets the scene for the forthcoming spiritual battle. It features my favourite scene from the story, a very emotional one as Xena grieves for Gabrielle as she gives a young dead Amazon a funeral fire, in a scene that is beautifully photographed. Maybe it was the fire that did it, or just the rites of death, but Lawless is outstandingly good as Xena grieves for her friend.

I also liked the scenes between Xena and Borias a lot in this story. Borias is more of a businessman than anything here, without the treacherous side we saw before. He is falling in love with Xena and when he learns she is pregnant with their child he is concerned to protect it. We also see him rescue a young girl orphaned in one of their raids. A child that grows up to become the leader of the young Amazons that Xena meets. Xena, on the other hand, is as power hungry as ever. Clearly facinated by Alti, she falls under her influence with violent consequences.

One of the unexplained little mysteries of this story is the young apprentice Anokin that Alti brings with her. She is young, pretty and blonde and Alti seems to offer her to Xena. Then the next time we see her, Xena is crying over her dead body, clearly very upset. Indeed, she makes her first trip to the Amazon land of the dead to see her, where Anokin rebuffs her, claiming Xena poisoned her soul. What is the story with Xena and Anokin? Will we ever know or is it another of the producers little teases?

Another odd moment from this episode is after Xena fights the Berserker, and is discussing the power Alti has to make you remember past battles. "This power she has..it`s a toughie," was a line many fans found rather wierd sounding. A Kiwi-ism by Lawless? An attempt at humour? Whatever, I loved this episode. So different, but a real epic in the style of The Debt. I got the chance to see it on a big screen at a Xenafest, and this is one that REALLY benefits by being seen like that. Containing almost none of the elements that made the show popular, this ambitious episode begins an important season well.

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