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The old alternate timeline story is one that comes up in a lot of shows. One reason why is because they are often very entertaining. (I know I LOVED the Mirror Mirror eps on Star Trek DS9.)
This particular episode has an interesting back story - writer Katherine Fugate has worked in film and TV for a while, but is a big XENA fan, and actively sought a writing assignment on the show. The script was scheduled to be a 2 parter at one point, and it certainly packs an awful lot into its 44 minutes. The altered fate idea is a simple one, but it has to be done well, and in this case, writer Fugate, and director John Fawcett and all the cast and crew produced and episode that is a HUGE fan favourite.
One of the chief fascinations for me was watching Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor play variations on their characters. I especially enjoyed seeing a Xena who had NOT been betrayed and crucified by Caesar. She was more trusting and less cagey looking. We see that she still is a great leader - loved by the troops, and a whizz with the horse riding and archery. Still into leather too. However, she also has a little sob at the theatre and chucks flowers. Not something we can imagine OUR Xena doing. It is interesting to see she and Caesar and watch the balance of power in their relationship. This Xena is a little softer and less involved, but doesn't give the impression of being that attached to him..looks like its been a while since he's got lucky!
Then there is Gabrielle - who has pursued her dream of being a playwright. Apart from a bad hairdo, she's also got an innocence and lack of aggression that OUR Gab lost a while back.
The crux of the episode is that even in alternate timelines, Xena and Gabrielle have a special bond. We see it at their very first meeting as they lock eyes. Caesar realises he is in the sh*t when he sees Xena's enraptured expression, while Alti immediately twigs that there is more going on that literary empathy.
The scenes between Xena and Gabrielle are the highlights of a great episode, as we get a sort of mini-rerun of thier whole relationship, from first meeting, early bonding, to a deep emotional link when faced with imminent death. Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor excel in this episode once again. With only a few episode left to go, both of them do some of their best work here, showing the depth of emotions their characters are going through. Almost every one of their scenes is worthy of discussion, but the strongest is probably the jail cell scene after Xena has been captured by Caesar and is about to be crucified. After a brush with Alti, both have an idea of their true fate and the way Caesar has altered things. Xena sends Gabrielle away, knowing that she is to die...its a tear jerking scene, wonderfully written, and excellently acted. (There was even a kiss scripted at one point for the scene.)
Where I am a touch confused is I am not sure whether they know EXACTLY who they are, or if its just SOME of their other life that Alti reveals. However, alternate timeline eps always have a load of things nit pickers can get their teeth into. However, this ep was the runaway winner in the recent S6 episode Poll on this site, and cleaned up at this years ARGO awards too.
I think what many of us loved was that here we saw an apparently successful Xena and Gabrielle. Xena was Empress of Rome, married (seemingly happily), loved by the people and no evil past or terrible deeds to feel guilty about. Gabrielle has not suffered the losses of Perdicus, her daughter Hope or her parents in this life. She is a successful writer, whose plays are performed before the Roman Emperor. They have it all - yet, they both have a gaping hole in their lives, that is only completed when they meet. It is this depiction of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship that many of us fans enjoyed so much. No matter what their fate, they are destined to be together.
Then we have the treachery and double dealings. Alti is one of the best baddies ever on the show, and her power over Xena is very different to, say, Callisto. Here, she is even more powerful it seems, as we see her used as a weapon by Caesar to kill the emissaries from Lao Ma (ah...if only we could have seen Jacqueline Kim again..)
And when it comes to adversaries, Caesar himself is a pretty major one. It was his betrayal that brought out Xena's dark side - his actions that lead to the death of M'lila and Xena going towards death as a hobby. It was also a nice touch to have the wily Caesar escape from Tartarus after Hades demise to chain up the Fates, and begin the whole thing.
Read writer Katherine Fugate's view on writing the episode
Simply fabulous episode, with a great story and wonderful performances.
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