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A Friend in Need - Reactions and Reviews

That's All Folks..

If you are an online Xenafan (and I'm guessing you must be if you are reading this), then it's virtually impossible that you will be unaware what happens in this final episode of the final season of XENA. The events of A Friend in Need have caused more discussion and debate among the fans than anything since the Gabdrag back in season 3. I think it is fair to say that this episode will replace "In Sickness and in Hell" and "Lyre Lyre" as the one that divides fans the most. Reaction has varied between outrage and anger at Rob Tapert and Lucy Lawless, to poignant appreciation of an appropriate ending for the Warrior Princess.

If you have seen the episode, it is highly unlikely you will feel neutral about it, it is an episode that evokes strong emotions for a number of reasons, and I am not going to attempt to review it as I would other episodes. It is impossible for me to watch A Friend in Need in the same sort of way. It is the end, the final episode, the one where, when those credits roll and when that Mona Lisa cracks in two, it is for the last time.
It was always going to be a tough job, ending a show that has meant so much to its cast, crew and fans. How do you make an episode to please all those people?

Well, it seems you don't! Rob Tapert's decision to kill off Xena and leave her dead as the episode ends upset many fans, as did the way she was killed.

For each of us, there is a different reaction to the episode and I am adding a couple of especially good reviews that were first posted on the Xenaville Message Board by Terri and Laura that really made me think about my reactions to the episode. Please do read them, they are both thought provoking responses.

Read Terri's Review

Read Laura's Review

My Reaction
This won't be like my usual reviews, and may be a bit non-linear and subjective.
Like many non-US fans, I was unable to remain unspoiled - people couldn't NOT talk about it. I caught part of an online news report that mentioned Xena being "beheaded and defiled". I was not happy and was dreading watching the episode. The manner of Xena's death sounded horrible, and I was worried about how our beloved hero was going to bow out.
At Pasadena, Lucy Lawless had commented on this episode, saying something along the lines of "I didn't like it, but I loved it..." At the time those of us there strongly suspected that the rumours we had heard about Xena dying were true. In the way Lucy spoke about it, and her emotional response, it looked likely. But I held out hope.

The plain fact is that I did not want Xena to die, and I think many fans felt the same way. No matter how beautiful that final scene was, and how wonderful Lucy and Renee were in it, we did not want the series to end with Xena dead. No way.

Some of the responses from Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart referred to Xena's past and her quest for redemption, but I think this was dealt with many times before. In "The Way" when Xena realises that she has an important task to do: to fight for the weak and helpless. In "One Against an Army" when Xena says that she is done paying for her past mistakes. In "Ides of March", when Xena refuses to be tempted by Callisto into giving up her fight for the downtrodden and live a life of peace. She knows her way. In "Fallen Angel", when Xena is washed clean and then gives up her archangel status to remove Callisto's pain. For many of us, Xena giving up her life in reparation for her past misdeeds didn't cut it.

On the other hand, if you looked at it as a sacrifice for the greater good, it worked a little more. Xena could not condemn 40,000 souls to torment, just so that she could return to Gabrielle. However, this is one of the places where I think the episode was flawed. Like Gabrielle, we don't give two hoots about 40,000 abstract souls who we never saw, never met and are dead anyway. For me, Xena's sacrifice seemed pointless because it was for something that we couldn't envisage. Maybe if she had sacrificed herself for Eve or for the people of Corinth or Gabrielle, it might have seemed more justified. As it was, to me it seemed contrived. 'We want to kill her, how can we justify/explain it..?'

On the other hand, Xena has faced impossible odds time and time again, and always come through them. OK, so she was crucified (three times I think) but she got better. And yes, she died in Destiny, but got the ambrosia to revive her. As it is, death is hardly a permenant thing in the Xenaverse, so to make the final episode a bold and daring one, to kill and revive her might have been seen as the cop out. The producers have NEVER been afraid to be bold and take risks with their plot lines and characters. It's upset some fans, but that has been one of the strengths of the show too. And they certainly wanted to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, and I suppose you can admire them for that.
I would love to know how the decision making process at Renaissance Pictures went. I wonder whether it was decided early on that Xena had to die, and more importantly stay dead. The reason fans are upset is not that they killed Xena, but that they didn't bring her back. If those last few minutes had been Gab tipping the ashes into the water, Xena returning, and the two sailing off on the boat, then fans would have been teary but happier I think. However, the choice of ending WAS a bold move, and I don't think they were just trying to piss us off, I think Rob Tapert and his team have always strived to make XENA a show to be proud of, a show that takes risks and most importantly, involves you emotionally in a way most other shows do not.
However, I still think there were flaws in the WAY it was done. Akemi, Yodoshi, the 40,000 souls, the second rate Samurai with the dodgy accent, all were not terribly interesting. Remember Gabrielle sacrificing herself to kill Hope? OK, so we knew she would be back, but if that had been real, Gabrielle sacrificed herself for a noble cause - to save Xena, and to stop evil entering the world. She felt respinsible as she prevented Xena killing Hope when she had the chance on several occasions. It would have been an honourable and believable death. Many of us were disappointed that Xena chose to stay dead for what seemed a slim and unlikely reason. For a bunch of people who died by accident, who she has freed from torment anyway.

The death of Xena was a very shocking scene. She faces those archers - and horrible it was to see her being shot full of arrows. The man with the sword comes and a wash of red fills the screen... Bloody hell! However, the death was followed so swiftly by spirit Xena in her red kimono, that it hardly seemed real or even overly traumatic. Far MORE traumatic was the later scene when Gabrielle goes to retrieve Xena's body so that she can bring her back. I really did not like seeing her headless body, and then Xena's head on a block! I can appreciate that it was a spur to Gabrielle and gave her the incentive to defeat the samurai warrior, but I disliked that intensely.

One of the reasons I think reaction to this episode has been so extreme is that for most of us fans, the end of the show really IS a big deal. For whatever reason, XENA:WARRIOR PRINCESS has struck a chord with us. It's a show we have become involved in very intensely. The characters have been like friends to us as we have watched them change and develop, go through all kinds of trauma and yet through it all, a wonderful friendship has stood out. We were always going to be sad that it was finishing, and that we were going to lose these characters. And as it was Xena AND Gabrielle who captured our hearts, to have one left behind without the other was also painful to see. We felt Gabrielle's loss.

For myself, I felt an extra poignancy. I lost a close family member quite suddenly about a month before I saw this episode, and for anyone who has lost someone they were very close to, it's the sense of loss that you feel more than anything. That you go and talk to them is what you miss most, that they simply aren't there. Maybe it's because of that, but I really, really did not want to see Xena gone too. To have her not there - even if Gabrielle could see her at the end. Also, the very final shot was of Gabrielle alone, we DIDN'T see Xena standing there.

What also irritated me in a way, was that they really didn't have to kill Xena permanently. That beheading death was sufficiently shocking, they could easily have had her defeat Yodoshi as a ghost and be brought back by Gabrielle. It would have been a slightly safer ending, but they would still have killed her. The idea that she had to STAY dead for the peace of the 40,000 souls was contrived and unnecessary in my opinion. Rewatching the episode again, when Xena DOES defeat Yodoshi, the spirits fly joyfully away, Akemi tells Xena that she has found her remeption..a happy ending is on the horizon. Then all of a sudden, we hear of a condition that has never been mentioned before - that Xena has to stay dead. It wasn't logical to suddenly chuck that in there, and it seemed a hurried "how can we kill her" scam.

Also on the negative side, I thought for a final episode, there were far too many new characters to try and take in. We find out yet MORE nasty things Xena did in her past, and ANOTHER young (implied) lover. Akemi was not terribly interesting, and a duplicitous little so and so. Glad Xena chopped her head off! Anyone else enjoy Gabrielle's outraged "You taught HER the pinch!"
I found the story from the messenger very long and tedious. Soul eaters? Cheesy SFX? Yodoshi and Harukata and a load of other dull and forgettable characters? Maybe I was missing the link to more Hong Kong action films or attempts to be mystical and meaningful a lá "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", but I thought much of the story was a load of old tosh. Not enough Xena and hardly ANY Gabrielle.

I did enjoy Xena's claiming of the sacred katana however. Lucy strips off.....again! And kicks their asses! Yay! That's more like it..less of the crap poetry and kimonos, more fights! I was also highly impressed with the arrow in the chest that Xena gets - thereby explaining that scar on her right breast that we all know was when Lucy got stung by a bee - but that would not be butch enough for Xena!

Of course, the episode really got going when it dealt with Xena and Gabrielle - which is almost always the case in all episodes. I really loved that scene where Xena finally teaches Gabrielle the pinch. It was very portentous, and you just knew she wasn't teaching it to Gab for the hell of it. Beautifully played by Lucy and Renee, although you would have thought Gabrielle might have been a bit more with it, and guessed what Xena might be up to. OK, so we have one up on her in that we've heard the spoilers, but Xena is never normally sentimental and misty eyed with her.

And what about Gabrielle? Well, she certainly had a more action filled role, but it was all a bit sudden wasn't it. The last time we saw Gabrielle in command - in "To Helicon and Back", we saw how difficult it was for her, and Xena was willing to take the burden of responsibility from her. 'War is tough on the soul'.
Yet suddenly, Xena is asking "what would you do?" I was waiting for Gab to look shocked or say, "Well that's a first!" or something. That water tower scene was the last one filmed, and as ingenious and enjoyable as it was to see them working side by side, it was unusual. To see Xena and Gab as 50:50 equals NOW, in the very last episode?! They could have done it a bit sooner... There was a sort of sadness for me too, seeing them clasping hands up there and knowing that was the last ever scene filmed.. Well, it quite brought a tear to my eye..(again!)

Gabrielle also got to be the 4th person to throw the chakram successfully (Xena, Eve and Callisto being the others by my count - I'm not counting Autolycus in The Quest because that was Xena in there *G*), and that was very cool. Gabrielle also has fitted a little chakram hook to her outfit. Handy.

Then there is the small matter of being able to defeat a samurai warrior in one move. (And that guy has to take the award for "Worst Attept to Hide a Kiwi Accent". Hopeless actor too....wonder if he is related to someone in the casting department?) Wow, Gab *has* picked up a few things from Xena! I enjoyed seeing Gabrielle displaying her skills, but I just thought it was strange to see her quite so adept at everything in the very final episode. Where was the build up to it? Where was the story development leading to Gabrielle: Warrior Princess(MkII)?

Apart from Xena's fate, the other rumour about the final episode that went round was about a kiss between Xena and Gabrielle. The whole subtext - are they or aren't they question has always been well handled by the producers and writers, and once again they just about manage to keep the subtext sub...just. Gabrielle gets water from the sacred everlasting spring of life (or something) and obviously the only way to get the water from the spring to Xena is to drink it up and pass it mouth to mouth...obviously. The result was pretty much a kiss - more so than in The Debt when Lao Ma gave Xena air to breath underwater. This looked much more like a kiss, but if you wanted to see it as Gabrielle giving water to Xena, that was fine too... However, Gab takes a little drink, gets shot in the back and saved by her sacred tattoo, gulps a few times and goes for a big smooch with Xena. She might have had a spit of that water, but not much more!

So, what about that last scene. I haven't managed to rewatch it yet without tears welling up again. How daft. It's a TV show, no one really dies. But in many ways, that makes it even more emotional for me. The last 5 minutes where Xena stops Gabrielle from bringing her body back are hard to watch. I wanted to just reach in, grab that urn and tip those ashes into the water for Gabrielle. On the other hand, I loved that Xena was prepared to make that sacrifice and that the character has come so far that she is prepared to give up the most precious thing in the world to her - Gabrielle - for the greater good. It also struck me once again how many parallels there are with Christ. We saw Xena crucified again recently - in "When Fates Collide" - and by the end of "A Friend in Need", what was she, but the Holy Spirit, there at Gabrielle's side, guiding her. "I will be with you..always."

It was beautifully done and I loved it.

But I didn't like it....

A Friend in Need Revisited

OXYGEN TV - who have the US rights to air XENA for the next few years - recently screened a directors cut of A Friend in Need with 16 minutes or so of extra footage. The episode also aired on UK tv recently, so now seems like a good time to revisit the episode.

Firstly, one of the main gripes I had, was about the way Xena's decision to stay dead was introduced so suddenly at the end. In the new version, there is a scene as Xena and Akemi are following Yodoshi to the mountain where Akemi tells Xena about this. Actually, we don't hear the conversation, but we see Xena's reaction, and her realisation of what this means for her and Gabrielle. I thought this was pretty important, and was glad to see that scene. It made Xena's choice less out of the blue.

Another change was that the final shot of Gabrielle on her own on the boat was cut out. Interesting, as I know quite a few people who DID think that the very last shot of the series being Gabrielle alone WAS too much of a downer. For many, Gabrielle alone was more upsetting that if she had died too. Intriguing that the scene was changed.

I have found that watching the episode again, I was able to get more involved in Akemi's story although, I still think all of that stuff with Harugata (or whatever his name was) and the spirit world was not terribly successful. That guy had such a strong accent you couldn't understand most of what he said, and Yodoshi revealed *his* Kiwi accent in the director's cut too. And yes, there was even MORE of that awful Samurai - possibly the worst actor ever to guest star on the show. Such a shame for a crucial character. The poor acting skills of those three guest stars really did mar things in what otherwise was a beautifully produced episode. Wonderful costuming, beautiful photography, gorgeous music - crap guest actors!!

On the plus side, I realised I forget to mention that really FANTASTIC music by Joe LoDuca. If the music for Fallen Angel got him that Emmy, his work here should win him two! The ending scenes especially have just gorgeous music. How many TV shows have released 6 CDs of music? Joe LoDuca should have a long and successful career ahead of him.
I also forget to mention much about Xena's death scene. I loved the way we returned to Sins of the Past and Xena burying her armour once again before battle. Personally, I loved Lucy in that red and gold armour. Pretty useless though for someone going into battle against archers wasn't it! And was I the only one yelling at Xena to hide behind the tree when the arrows were shooting in. On the other hand, I was NOT impressed with the atom bomb like explosion she caused. Aside from questionable taste to use mushroom cloud images in Japan (or Japa as Xena called it), there was no consistency in its effects. Some men and horses get vapourised, Xena and Gab get their hair blown about a bit.

Several months on from my first viewing, I *still* can't watch the end scene without my eyes watering, but I like it more than I did. However, its not easy viewing, and unlikely to be one I'll be pulling off the shelf to rewatch too often.

Love it or hate it, this was XENA:WARRIOR PRINCESS going out with a bang. An ambitious and bold episode that will be talked about for years to come.

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