Classic Recap: Destiny
By Alex Cranz
Thus begins four fantastic and nearly perfect hours of entertainment! Cirra, Callisto’s home. Xena burned it to the ground years before and she wonders where it all changed and she became evil. Gabrielle tries to look out for her and comfort her, but some things can’t be fixed with good intent and kind words. Xena rides into the husk of a town and leaves Gabrielle alone on a hill. We see a girl that I suspect is supposed to be a young Callisto. It freaks Xena and she rides away. Only Gabrielle is gone and only her staff remains. Argo kicks the staff up into her hands and she rides off. This leads to us watching some guys dance with swords. What the fuck? Xena sets to kicking their asses because clearly they want to sacrifice Gabrielle and a bunch of other people.
She frees everyone and sends Gabrielle off to escort the hostages. Some bad guys get away and go after the hostages. Xena’s also there though. Fighting goes down. Everyone forgets about this dumb ass little kid who stays to watch Xena pwn face. Is that bad guy using an alligator jaw to fight her? Xena wins. The little girl comes out. The bad guy sets off a booby trap and Xena saves the girl by sacrificing herself. Giant ass trees make a Xena sandwich.
TITLES. Man stupid kids always got to move plots along. At least this one doesn’t even talk.
Xena is out for the count and Gabrielle rushes up and saves her, but not before getting a knife to the thigh. She tries to bring Xena around but she’s completely out of it. It’s almost scary because that’s a lot of blood and Xena is all kinds of broken. All she wants is to be taken to a mountain. And so Gabrielle and Argo team up to take her to a mountain.
FLASHBACK TEN YEARS AGO. Xena watches, pleased as punch, as her men raid a village. She’s so happy! And bright! And yet this is Dark!Xena. The most awesome of the Xenas. One man captured in the raid (Xena is a pirate?) is a Roman soldier (KARL URBAN). Her men don’t realize his worth, but Xena, being brilliant, does. She plans to ransom him and he kind of respects her, but doesn’t like the low price she sets for his ransom. Oh and if you haven’t guessed, this is Julius Caesar. And boy does he have mad chemistry with Lucy Lawless and boy is he a cocky sumbitch.
PRESENT. Xena’s all cross-eyed and out of it and Gabrielle needs directions to the mountain. But again CROSS-EYED. Gabrielle limps off again.
FLASHBACK. Xena’s found a stowaway. Who KICKS ASS. She does all sorts of high kicks and pressure point things and I’m pretty sure she’s Spider-Man.
Even Xena is amazed and maybe aroused? No she clutches her crotch because of pressure point stuff. Caesar watches and you can see he’s all “bunch of shitty pirates.” His judgement spurns Xena into action and she stops the stowaway who is a woman. Why is everyone surprised? Xena’s a woman too! The stowaway tried to explain, in another language, that she’s killed a pirate. Caesar translates. An arrangement is made. The girl lives and Xena learns the neck thingy.
Caesar looks BORED. He reminds Xena that he’s fated to rule the world. They discuss DESTINY. I just realized another, later episode, does a number of call backs to this scene. It ends with Xena inviting Caesar on a date.
The stowaway is in Xena’s cabin. Xena has a sabre? What? They talk about pressure points but they talk with their hands. I love how childlike Xena is here. She genuinely wants to know and possesses this absurd level of trust. She asks the stowaway to do the pressure point thing on her. It backfires. Stowaway watches her all smugly to let her know SHE’S in control. Xena gets all hard, almost Blue Steel like. She turns the table, nearly kills the stowaway and absolutely revels in it. Whatever Xena is charming as fuck.
Cut to scene of Xena on a lion skin thinking about Caesar. Like you do.
Cut to the date. Xena’s on a tiger skin and dressed all in red. Subtle. Reeeeal subtle. Love how bored Caesar looks. I wonder if it was an actor’s choice, how the two play this scene. How cold he is and how hot she tries to play it. Lawless plays it very genuine, like Xena actually believes she’s being clever and worldly and awesome. Urban delivers his lines in this cold monotone, just lowering the timbre of his voice when he’s supposed to get sexy.
Now we’re on a beach. Xena looks over the money from Caesar’s ransom. She looks sad to send him away. And then they make out, again she’s more into it then him. Aw. She genuinely likes him!
She floats around in her boat some more. We see some birds. Get some mood music. Look at some dolphins and fish. A killer whale. Xena looks up at the sky. The stowaway stands at the bow of the boat and sings. Remember this was before Titanic. So it’s only kind of hilarious. She stills sounds better than the entire cast of Glee. Not an autotuner in sight! But a boat suddenly appears. It is Caesar’s. Xena’s excited and the stowaway looks concerned. The boats meet up and both sides try to judge the atmosphere. Caesar’s traded up in breastplates. He and Xena meet at the center of her boat and circle each other like lovers. Then Caesar betrays her, kills her crew and storms her ship.
The survivors are chained up. Xena is seriously hurt and spiteful and so YOUNG. But at least she saves the stowaway and lies about her whereabouts. Caesar does the ancient equivalent of teabagging. He then sets Xena up on a cross, along with all the other survivors. They line the beaches. It’s a great shot. Then, to make sure it’s super gruesome, he shatters her legs with a hammer.
PRESENT. Sup Gabrielle. Been a while! She walks through the snow and boy does she look awful. She nearly passes out near a cave. Xena? Also not in good shape.
FLASHBACK. Xena’s passed out and it’s dark. HOW IS SHE STILL ALIVE?!?! The stowaway races in and frees her. Elsewhere we find out that all of Xena’s wealth has gone to fund Caesar’s invasion of Gaul. Guards come and tell him that Xena’s escaped. He sends out more soldiers to find and kill her.
The stowaway takes the near dead Xena up a mountain to a healer. No, THE HEALER.
PRESENT. Gabrielle arrives at the same hut. The healer has gone gray in the intervening years. He looks at Xena and immediately knows what’s wrong with her. Xena begs him to let her die.
FLASHBACK. He sets her legs. It looks REALLY painful. Xena is all crushed. We find the stowaway’s name is M’lila. She saved Xena because she thought it wasn’t Xena’s time.
PRESENT. It looks like it might be her time! The healer tries to help Gabrielle instead. Gabrielle is not okay with that.
FLASHBACK. The healer is impressed with how quickly Xena heals. Xena and M’lila chat. It’s hard. M’lila ain’t got a clue what Xena’s saying. M’lila asks if Xena’s angry at Caesar, but before she can answer Romans rush in and kill M’lila. Xena, with TWO BROKEN LEGS, goes bat shit crazy. She kicks insane amounts of ass WITH TWO BROKEN LEGS. The Super Xena song plays to perfect effect as she burns dudes alive and slits other guy’s throats. She beats one man WITH HER HAIR. Then she puts the pinch on him and tells him that he won’t be the last she kills. Evil!XENA.
PRESENT. Oh and in the present Xena is dying. Gabrielle begs her to wake up and live. She’s way more upset then last season. Xena turns into a ghost on a cross somewhere. Won’t lie, these effects be assy. M’lila appears to her and speaks normal words with HER MIND. There are bubbles that show her past. And some lava and uh…look it’s better just to show you this mess.
Xena’s all Blue Steel Xena again. We see lots of shots of Gabrielle who then tells Xena to live. Gabrielle pull an Abyss! That’ll save her! Xena realizes it’s not her time. She has to live….if only to escape her CGI hell.
TO BE CONTINUED.
How this episode makes historians weep
Well hello Caesar. We’ve shot about 2000 years into the future! So Caesar really was captured by pirates. He really was a dick to them. He really did come back and kill them all by crucifixion. He did not, however, go to Gaul and use the pirate money to wage the invasion. Instead he returned to Rome, was made a quaestor and THEN went to Gaul. Then other stuff happened. We’ll see it on Xena.
Xena’s sabre. Not invented until the 10th century.
Crucifixion! This is the first, but not the last, crucifixion you will see on the show. They’re better than the crew that made Passion of the Christ when it comes to sticking someone up on a cross.
Crucifixions were performed in a variety of ways (many of which you’ll see on the show!). Simply tying a woman up on a stick with her hands outstretched was one such way. What happens is the victim has to hold themselves up to keep from suffocating. Suffocating, not the elements, is what kills a person in a crucifixion.
Often times, to speed up the process, the Romans would break the victim’s legs. With their legs broken they’d be unable to support themselves and a death that could take days would then only take minutes. Xena supporting herself until nightfall? Superhuman.
Xena was very, very human this episode. Until you know:
- SURVIVING CRUCIFIXION.
- THE SLAUGHTER OF ROMAN SOLDIERS WHILE TRAIPSING ABOUT ON BROKEN LEGS.
Where it stands in the series
First season they claimed the invasion of Amphipolis was Xena’s defining moment. Wrong. THIS is. Her crucifixion and the subsequent loss of M’lila is what set Xena on her path to supreme evilness.
This is also the introduction of the second best Xena villain, Julius Caesar. Historically people tend to be awfully nice about Caesar, probably because he was brutally murdered, and because he actually did some pretty amazing things. But the man was megalomaniacal and a royal bastard. I like that that’s how Xena shows him.
And check out Gabrielle. Last season she shed a few tears and carried on to save the people at all costs. This time she’s well and truly broken up and not afraid to cry and beg.
Julius Caesar was not harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, the Producers deny any responsibility for any unfortunate acts of betrayal causing some discomfort.
This, right here, is the defining moment of Xena. And I mean that for both the character and the show. The question never asked but certainly lingering in the background up until this point was how a kid from Amphipolis could go from earnest girl out to save her village to dark warlord seducing Hercules and Iolaus and winning the love of Ares.
Outside of a silly amnesia episode and a few “could have been” ones this is the youngest you will ever see Xena. She’s still naive. She thinks she’s a big fish and a bad ass because she raids some coasts and has a ship full of pirates, she thinks she’s doing good by keeping the heat on her instead of her village, and she actually considers herself an equal to a well-educated Roman lordling and repeatedly misses his dark looks and idle threats.
When Caesar kills her crew and puts her up on that cross he effectively kills the teenage pirate queen that Xena could have been.
This is Caesar destroying her naiveté and forcing her to look at the “real” world.
And when she enters that world…it’s our first glimpse of the dark and evil Xena. The woman who could burn Cirra with little remorse.
That moment on the cross where Caesar has her legs broken? It’s the most important moment in the entirety of the show. It’s a moment that will be called back to throughout the course of things. And it’s defining not just in how it’s treated throughout the show, but in how violent it is. I’m struggling to think of another major heroine on television with so brutal a past. The woman is crucified. What happens to her would put most characters in a wheelchair. Would sap them of the will to survive.
Instead Xena keeps herself alive long enough to be rescued by M’Lila. Caesar and M’Lila are two halves of a whole. They’re the two extremes of what Xena could be. A tyrant and a saint. M’Lila is angry over being a slave, but her anger doesn’t consume her. It fuels her fights but hasn’t so warped her that she’s incapable of trust or care. Whereas Caesar is completely incapable of trust–or even human connection. He willfully uses Xena for his own means and is so revolted by the concept of being indentured to her he comes back later and crucifies her. M’Lila can be brutalized and forgive, Caesar cannot.
That’s one of the big reasons M’Lila’s death is so important. She’s a spiritual guide and moral compass for Xena. Essentially Pirate Xena’s Gabrielle.
And that brings me to the big problem with this episode (not Gabrielle, she’s amazing). M’lila and the cross and the giant memory bubbles. Look. Up until that point this episode was one of the best the series has ever done. It’s daring narratively. The production values are top-notch. Lucy Lawless is doing fantastic work taking Xena from the Blue Steel wonder we know and love to the young girl untarnished by portrayal. URBAN is smarmy and delicious. O’Connor doesn’t use her hands to talk and makes Gabrielle a badass. Then suddenly Xena’s on a cross with M’Lila floating around mind talking at her and there are big ol’ memory bubbles and a Magic Eye backdrop.
The ball is effectively dropped. The viewer is pulled out of the moment to guffaw at the effects and Xena’s death at the very end, with Gabrielle weeping over her corpse is no longer nearly as effective. It keeps the episode from being perfect.
Episode 13, The Quest.
Bruce Campbell! Amazons! Melinda Clarke! Confusing kisses!