Xena Gets Magical Powers And Ruins China In The Debt Part 2
By Alex Cranz
This week begins with Gabrielle demanding to see the best friend she betrayed and we quickly learn that she was a monumentally naive woman and actually thought they’d capture Xena and then just let them leave. You can be mad at her but remember two things–she also thinks her devil baby can be good, and she just gave up said devil baby for Xena who promptly abandoned her.
Xena, still super naked, has been saddled with a giant wooden headboard to limit her mobility and shoved down a hole into a sewer filled with criminals in the same boat. She’s also told the guard that Gabrielle isn’t her friend. Valid Xena.
TITLES. The Green Dragon may be all powerful but those powers don’t include acting.
Back in the land of the clean Gabrielle is speaking with the Green Dragon and worried that Xena hates her. The Dragon is like, “Yes clearly she hates you. You pulled a dick move.” And Gabrielle is like, “Look I was saving her from falling down a dark path–like The Price. I’m being good. Honest! I’m not motivated by something more sinister!”
Green Dragon then decides to tell Gabrielle just how evil Xena was. And basically her being evil just means she stares at the kid and says boo while eating greasy food. Boy must have been spoiled if he thinks THAT’S evil.
Oh wait. Now she’s sealing him behind a wall. Okay. That’s pretty evil I guess.
But this kid is evil too because he insults his dad and calls him a foolish woman. Between this and his acting I’m okay with Xena going to the dark side and murdering him.
Down in the pit full of tiny poo floaters
the criminals try to dress Xena because they love her and respect her. Because the criminals? Actually political prisoners who rose up against the Dragon. One such prisoner then recounts the very gorgeous and epically scored execution of Lao Ma. How bad was it? Imagine the end of Braveheart but with less anti-Semitic leads and more crazy masks.
The witness to Lao Ma’s death suspects that her fabled powers must have been false if she allowed herself to die and Xena flashes back to her Brooke Shield’s phase where her eyebrows were crazy and she had no respect for anyone ever. And she should probably have some respect because Lao Ma shows her how she can use blunt wooden hair pins to kill a man. Also crush a vase WITH HER MIND.
The trick? Absolute inner peace and acceptance that one has no power (and only then do they get power–this is a terrible path to power for 9/10ths of the population). Something the vengeful, violent and full of rage Xena is incapable of.
Lao Ma suggests a way for Xena to learn this peace is to serve the Dragon’s father. It goes surprisingly well. He doesn’t notice it’s Xena serving him and spends his time badmouthing her and whining about Borias. Xena–proving some improvement–doesn’t murder him.
But she doesn’t get the point so Lao Ma introduces her to her husband, whom she’s poisoned and keeps in a coma so she can run the country. Because Lao Ma is the best and also because she believes the only way a woman can rule in Chin is from behind the scenes.
Xena, as we all know, takes a radically different approach to feminism. Where Lao Ma is content to take no credit Xena craves accolades and power.
SO DOES GABRIELLE WHO IS SLAPPING THE SHIT OUT OF HER WHAT THE HELL.
Oh. She wants Xena to promise not to kill. Xena refuses. She sheds a single tear as Gabrielle promises that she can keep her alive if she makes her oath.
To escape the continued betrayal by Gabrielle Xena revisits the past–specifically the moment when Lao Ma healed her legs. It’s no mistake she’d go to perhaps her most calming, seductive and freeing moment while being bound and humiliated by the person she is closest to in the world.
The escape is lush and sensual and even though Xena’s makeup is out of control her liberating dance of the bajillion veils is gorgeous. It’s the first time we’ve seen the Evil Xena genuinely happy.
But she’s pulled back to the present where Gabrielle watches her with sadness and Ming Tien sentences her to death. She’s escorted away and Tien reveals that yeah, as you and I guessed, he was always going to kill Xena. Gabrielle FINALLY realizes how awful an act she’s committed and asks once more (rather than beg as previously) to see Xena.
Their reunion could have been bitter. But it isn’t. Xena is stoic and Gabrielle gets it. She understands and confesses and even though I personally find it to still be weak sauce because she’s so condescending Xena accepts her apology.
I never ever though a request for a nose scratch could make me get a little teary eyed but it does. Gabrielle moves closer and holds up Xena’s yoke while Xena admits that she could never hate Gabrielle (which begs the question what is she if not a friend).
Then we cut back to a really lesbistastic fabric dance. Women be flying and twirling and getting caught in wind tunnels and junk while holding each other and looking into one another’s eyes.
I mean, it is pretty, but it’s also pretty damn goofy. I suspect because of the aria going on while they twirl and Xena’s ”let’s bone” face.
But the flying abruptly stops when sex on a stick enters. Xena is given the chance to be a super hero like Lao Ma, but her lust and hatred for Borias wins out. I don’t blame her. This is what he looks like without makeup.
Lao Ma leaves them to sort out their differences. So they just bang.
Then she goes and apologizes to Ming Tien’s dad. He will only accept it (and free her because she’s his slave) if they play a game. She, Lao Ma, Borias and Ming Tien’s dad all claim to own her and agree to play, but with the added incentive that whoever win’s gets a body part from each loser.
I do not like their stakes.
Xena wins. Borias offers his heart as a body part because they are like a dirty and sexier version of Sid and Nancy. Ming Tien’s dad decides he doesn’t want to play anymore so they slaughter him and his guards. Lao Ma intervenes before Ming Tien can be killed and schools Xena and Borias. Then banishes them forever.
In the present Xena’s like “maybe I made a bad choice.”
And Gabrielle is all “Yes, yes you did. Now let’s eye sex for ages before your execution.”
One last time Xena is brought before Ming Tien. Like Lao Ma she is laid out to be executed, but as she lies there she hears Lao Ma’s teachings and goes Super Seiyuu on the throne room’s ass with magically acquired super powers. And by Super Seiyuu I mean she gets some serious Carrie telekinesis eyes, frees herself and punches the shit out of everyone in the room.
Then she starts tossing around balls of telekinetic energy and destroys the entire throne room.
Gabrielle remembers she should probably do something useful and evacuates the room. Then she leaves Xena to have one last word with Ming Tien. He admits he is the worst and killed Lao Ma even though he knew she was his mother.
It was the wrong thing to say.
Gabrielle comes back and sees him sitting at his throne. Xena is giving a very traditional Xena speech and Gabrielle assumes he’s still alive. She grateful that Xena managed to protect her soul and whatever. They say they love each other. We all feel warm.
Then we see Xena actually murdered Ming Tien with Lao Ma’s hairpin.
How This Episode Makes Historians Weep
What was discussed last week still holds for this week.
- Is on the chopping block and manages to tamp down all her inner rage, forgive her best friend’s betrayal and ignore the gloating of a chump to find inner peace.
- GAINS TELEKINESIS
- Forgives Gabrielle
- No seriously. She was telekinetic and throwing around balls of air and murdering people Carrie style. That’s as superhuman as one can get.
Where It Stands In The Series
Thus ends the reign of Ming Tien, but if you think Xena’s big ol’ lie to Gabrielle at the end of the episode will never be spoken of again think again. Also I explore it more in the review but this is a major moment in the “Rift.” Gabrielle and Xena are never more at odds ideologically as they are in this episode.
This is the first instance of Xena acquiring awesome super powers. Keep an eye out for it being mentioned again in later episodes.
Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship suffered another blow (although Gabrielle doesn’t know it yet) during the production of this motion picture.
I’ve got this one friend. I’m incredibly close to her. We don’t like the same movies or books. We have vastly different ideological views. We vote for different parties on election day. But she’s one of my closest friends. If I had to hide a body or lay a parent to rest or suffer through something truly awful she’d likely be the first person I’d call.
But sometimes all those fundamental differences between us rear their heads. We’ve gotten better at communicating now but there was, at one point, a vast rift formed simply because we COULDN’T talk to each other. There were some things where our disagreements were just too great. Neither of us could find a way to middle ground–both of us too stubborn in our beliefs to see what another might consider.
That’s the foundation of the Season 3 rift on Xena. These two people have a fundamental difference of opinion when it comes to violence, forgiveness and redemption. Gabrielle is a pacifist but she’s one of those irritating ones you avoid at the coffee shop. She tells you why you’re wrong and refuses to see any way in which you could be right. And Xena, though the story is from her point of view and we’re meant to empathize with her, she’s just as unbending. She’s a Tea Bagger carrying a gun to a political rally.
They’ve bucked against each other before. They’ve fought. Yet here is it just a little different. They’re no longer waging an ideological war over another person’s actions. Their differences have become distilled and their focus is now on one another and they are boiled down to their basest and most unappealing qualities–a dirty assassin in a sewer and a perfumed hypocrite in a throne room.
Gabrielle comes off as incredibly unlikable in this hour. Her condescension, while affable when directed towards Ares or Joxer or a villain of the week, is fairly revolting when directed towards Xena–especially because it’s backed by a real stream of jealousy. Renee O’Connor has insisted that she didn’t play it that way. That Gabrielle was entirely unaware of any motive beyond “save Xena’s soul,” but the text speaks for itself. Gabrielle is jealous and she’s angry
And Xena’s angry too. She couches it in martyrdom. She claims she forgives, but she still has this rage coiled just beneath the skin. Directed towards Gabrielle and directed towards herself. Every way you look at it this whole storyline is Xena’s doing. She warped a young boy and turned him into a monster, she betrayed Lao Ma’s ideologies and she walked right back in and put herself in a terrible position.
When Gabrielle realizes just how off her path she’s gone in an effort to prove a point to Xena that’s when things shift. Like me and my friend finally realizing we were shouting at each other and just not listening Gabrielle suddenly gets it. A lesser friendship would have crumbled under the drama of this episode. Gabrielle in Ming Tien’s bed? Her public slapping? Those aren’t just nasty actions by an angry friend–they’re highlights of the two women’s fundamental differences.
So how much does Xena care that she manages to put away her anger and pride forgive Gabrielle?
A lot. Only the episode ends with Xena recanting on everything. She has a chance to be something better. To be what Lao Ma and Gabrielle envision her to be and she throws it all away to do a very Xena thing. AND THEN SHE HIDES IT. She knows Gabrielle is right there and she talks to the corpse–not because she needs to emotionally, but because she needs to conceal her actions. It’s complicated, dark and gorgeous and that scene alone might have kicked this up to 4 or 5 stars but there are some serious problems with the episode.
Daniel Sing as Ming Tien just isn’t good. Where Renee O’Connor and Lucy Lawless are doing some strong and fairly subtle work (for this show) he’s camping it up like a season one villain and he’s camping it up poorly. Grant McFarland as his father? Still awful. Marton Csokas tries to save the day but he’s barely in this second hour. And between the “SHE WAS YOUR MOTHER” exchange and Lao Ma and Xena’s goofy veil dance there were a couple of unintentional laughs.
A shame as Xena’s initial joy over having her legs fixed is flawless work by Lawless. In fact, with the exception of the “MOTHER” exchange she’s as close to perfect as an actress can be. Her shift from the fidgety, hunted and hungry Xena to the cool and dark lover of Borias to the calm Super Seiyuu in the throne room is seamless.
Finally, let me put on my feminist hat a moment and make some observations. Has anyone else noticed the Lao Ma is our first confirmed victim of sexual assault on the show and she’s also the most fervent defender of non-violence? The only person who compares is Gabrielle, and coincidentally she recently suffered an assault that mirrors sexual assault in many ways.
Lao Ma and Gabrielle both make bargains with the patriarchy throughout the episode. Gabrielle actually attempts to bargain with a sexist and sadistic king and Lao Ma keeps her husband in a coma because she believes the only way a woman can wield power is from behind the scenes.
Meanwhile Xena refuses to bargain. She wants to be an open in her wielding of power. Is it any wonder, after an episode like this one, that Xena became an emblem of the Third Wave of feminism? She’s an absolute radical.
Episode 8, King of Assassins
From some of the strongest episodes of the season and the show we now find ourselves faced with one of the absolute worst episodes of the show. But Bruce Campbell and Gina Torres are in it. So that’s something.