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The show opens with Xena trying to use those powers that we saw last week, but she seems to have lost it. However, Xena realises that all is not well in the state of Chin, and returns. Upon arrival, she finds that the people are under attack from a warlord named Khan. Not only does he have the secret of the black powder (given to him by the dead Pao Ssu), but also has the help of Ming Tien. Gabrielle meets up with a dashing young man named Lin Chi, and the pair work together to try and destroy Khan`s supply of the black powder, however, it soon becomes apparent that he has an army of thousands and all looks grim for Xena and the team. Once again though, she discovers the secret to using the power of Lao Ma, and manages to destroy the army by turning them to stone.
For some reason, I enjoyed this one much more than 'Purity' - whereas I know many fans really didn't like this one at all. Even Rob Tapert commented on how the episodes didn't work, and he and several fans referred to Xena killing thousands of soldiers quite so casually. To my mind, this was just one of those quirky nods to actual history - those terra cotta warriors - rather than Xena committing mass murder.
Both of the Chin episodes are actually good stories, but I especially liked the images in this episode. Xena standing up to an army and turning them to stone was a delightful nod to the famous army of terra cotta warriors that date from ancient China.
I was also struck by the odd image of Ming Tien and Pao Ssu as two sides of a single figure. I am told this kind of evil Siamese twins arrangement is taken directly from 'The Bride With White Hair', a film that has had quite an influence over the series, with a number of sequences copied from it and used for Xena. The ghostly figures were decidedly creepy and effective.
Once again, it is Gabrielle who is the warrior. She and Lin Chi make a good team, and it was refreshing to see Gabrielle with a young man who admired her, yet didn`t get killed for his red-shirted-ness! Gabrielle is a very attractive young woman and it is unbelievable that the only male admirer she has had in ages is Joxer! However, I also especially liked the way it was handled. Gabrielle has no interest in Lin Chi as a possible mate, and makes it clear that she knows where (or rather WHO) she belongs with. (Although I believe a romance was filmed but not used in the end...thankfully.)
As with much of the fifth season, Lucy`s pregnancy means she cannot do much fighting. I am repeatedly impressed with how they have got around Lucy`s lack of physical abiblity to fight, and the promotion of Gabrielle to chief butt-kicker has been one of the best things about S5. Renee O`Connor has always been the more athletic of the two actresses, but her smaller stature makes her look less threatening than Lucy Lawless. However, Renee has thrown herself into the fight scenes this year and looks to be having a great time. Gabrielle does not always win, but her old way of peace is long gone now. In Back in the Bottle, Xena is always watching out for her, but it is Gabrielle and Lin Chi who fight. Xena uses her mental strength instead.
Joxer is back to being as annoying as ever. He actually has a little subplot of his own where he helps a young Chinese girl, but it is a very thin storyline and we see little of it. However we do manage to hear him back to bragging about things he never did and battles he never fought. I quite liked his little spurts of jealously when he thinks Gabrielle and Lin Chi are getting just a bit TOO friendly. Not an aspect of their friendship that has been explored.
While Marie Matiko is quite expert at playing two different roles - it is STILL hard to beleive it is the same actress - I still found Kao Hsin to be too drippy and uninteresting. Pao Ssu on the other hand is much more entertaining, even as a spirit.
One final trip to Chin, and a more successful episode than Purity, still not quite The Debt level - but then, what is??
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