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Accompanied by Virgil and Eve, our favourite pair visit Gabrielle’s sister Lila in Poteidaia, only to learn that the family have been devastated by a raider named Gurkhan, who was responsible for killing Gabrielle’s parents and kidnapping her niece. She is set on vengeance, and the four of them head for North Africa. Eve feels uneasy, as she has visited Gurkhan’s lair before: selling slave girls in her bad old Livia days. Both Eve and Xena are uneasy at Gabrielle’s plans – or lack of them – for getting to Gurkhan, so Xena slips her a mickey finn, and gets Virgil to sell her to Gurkhan so she can pose as a slave in his harem. Of course Gabrielle isn’t too pleased to be tricked, and gets Virgil to donate her to Gurkhan’s harem too. However, as Gab is about to launch a knife attack – a futile one – Xena dives in to stop her, and gets a beating for her interference…and a nasty one it is too. However, she survives it by seeing Gabrielle in her imagination. She also draws the attention of the mysterious Gurkhan. When she is invited to dance for him (presumably a few weeks later when her shockingly gross injured have healed), Xena takes her chance to put the pinch on him and invites Gab to take her revenge.
Directed by Michael Hurst (Iolaus from Hercules), this episode is unusual in that there are no fight scenes at all…very atypical. However, there is a very vicious beating for Xena and a beheading, so it’s not like it’s all peace and love and dancing. However we do get both Lucy AND Renee doing their exotic dancing. Another unusual sight is Lucy Lawless getting into her skimpies…the Lucy belly has never really been seen on the show – unlike the ever-present and world famous Gab Abs(TM). For someone who had a baby just a year ago, Lucy looks pretty good, although not quite as toned as Renee…well, who is! I guess Lucy wants to show she is in shape and ready for those post-Xena sexy roles.
So we have established that it is not your average episode already. The rumours we heard about some of the season 6 episodes is that there would be an examination of Gabrielle’s attitude to killing. She has swung from peacenik Eli-follower in season 4, to all out warrior gal in season 5. This episode sees Gabrielle bent on revenge. To be honest, I am not sure how well it worked. It was nice to see Gabrielle catch up with Lila, and obviously it would be pretty upsetting to hear that her parents were beheaded, but personally, I think Xena would have suffered more pain having heard about poor old Cyrene being burnt at the stake by the villagers she lived amongst for years. A horrible, painful and shameful execution at the hands of her neighbours…yet Xena’s pain at Cyrene’s method of death was never touched upon. I love Renee O’Connor, but I am still not 100% convinced that she is all that good at portraying rage and anger. Gabrielle’s reaction on hearing about her parents, and the lightening flashes as she tried to look mean didn’t work for me. She just looked constipated! (Sorry Gabfans…) Far more convincing, were her rash actions as the episode progressed, her determination to kill Gurkhan without thinking of the problems involved in getting to him. That was more believable from a character who has always been an emotional, heart-on-her-sleeve kind of girl. Xena is the plotter and planner.
So while it was pretty illogical of Gabrielle to get herself handed over as a gift to Gurkhan, it did have a motive, apart from a chance to show off a fabulous costume, weird hairdo and her many talents. It showed Gabrielle acting on impulse and without proper thought as she was almost unbalanced by her anger. On the other hand, the more cynical may say the inclusion of the dance scenes were more for eye candy reasons than plot ones…well, that is a possibility.
If Gabrielle was acting rashly, Xena’s actions in this episode were about as unselfish as we have seen for a while. Her main reason for pretty much everything she went through was Gabrielle. She knows that Gabrielle cannot succeed in her vengeful quest, whereas she, Xena - the woman of many skills - can, of course. There is an interesting little dialogue between Xena and Eve, where they discuss their talent for killing. Nice to see Eve and Xena doing some mother-daughter bonding. Xena is prepared to go undercover to flush out Gurkhan and Gabrielle’s niece at the same time. But her really heroic actions come when she stops Gabrielle from attacking one of Gurkhan’s minions (who Gabrielle mistakenly thinks is Gurkhan himself.) Xena knows that this will mean a beating, possibly even death for her, but that she cannot defend herself without revealing that she is no mere slave girl. She must take the blows and keep up her act, all for Gabrielle. What a pal!
The beating Xena takes is as severe as we have ever seen, although we see mainly the results rather than the blows. The make up department give her a really gory bloated eyeball, and Lucy herself spoke about being hung upside down by her ankles. Michael Hurst showed in Lifeblood and Antony & Cleopatra, that he likes his violent scenes as authentic as possible. Xena’s beating is accompanied by the music from The Gauntlet, the Hercules episode when she was beaten by her own army. However, this is a far more savage attack on her in terms of damage done. In a touching sequence though, Xena is comforted by visions of Gabrielle. How sweet. It actually ties in quite well with something Xena says to a fellow slave in the baths. How she has to keep imagining the face of her fiancé to get through the ordeal. Rather nice that in Xena’s case, it is Gabrielle who gets her through the trauma of a damn good thumping.
Xena is the one who seduces Gurkhan into taking her into his bedchamber, and presumably suggests a threesome, as Gabrielle shows up soon after. She then immobilizes him with a pinch and hands a dagger to Gabrielle. Would Xena have let her kill him in cold blood? I think she would have done. Xena never really speaks to Gabrielle about the consequences of killing in this episode. There is a scene where she says that she will let her kill him and that Gabrielle is to be ready. Xena never ever says, "Are you sure you want to kill him?" or "Is this right for you?" Is she just leaving the decision to Gab? I think for once, the focus was very definitely Gabrielle. We are not supposed to wonder at Xena’s motives, it is Gabrielle’s that we examine. Will she kill in cold blood? Despite everything, it would have been a major shock if she HAD. We all knew she wouldn’t really - although there was sufficient rashness in her actions throughout the rest of the episode, that the possibility WAS there. Instead, Gurkhan gets a slapping from her. And not a terribly severe looking one. Hey Gab, remember what he had done to Xena!!
On the other hand, as in When in Rome, Gurkhan hardly gets off Scot-free. He is left in the jail cell in Sarah’s place and gets an accidental beheading - whoops! Unlike When in Rome though, we are not supposed to feel any sympathy. Gurkhan is hardly a well-rounded character, so it’s not as if we feel sorry for him. His death is pretty much incidental.
In a nicely ironical ending, the rescued Sarah finds she really IS in the right company, feeling guilt over her past misdeeds. Eve and Xena know just how she feels..
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