Originally published in 2010.
Edited and republished at Sharonda.net on March 16th, 2017.
This is absolutely one of my favorite Xena episodes from any of the six seasons. And it’s not because I enjoy seeing Xena and Gabrielle crucified, or seeing them die, but because — regardless of the fact that Xena was paralyzed by her own chakram, regardless of the fact that both of them were nailed to crosses, regardless of the fact that they both died — this episode was a triumph for both characters, and by extension, an example of the triumph of the human spirit. So, when I’m sitting here, wondering how I’m going to pay my bills and put food on the table, I can look back and think “Hey! They smiled when they knew they were gonna be FREAKING CRUCIFIED. Surely, I can refrain from breaking down before the next paycheck!”
Folks, that’s kinda the point of literature, and it’s what makes “The Ides of March” great.
But, before we get into the really heavy stuff, there is approximately one lighter reason to like this episode, too. And it’s this bit of dialogue:
Amarice: “Xena, why do we have to go see a preacher? When there are battles to fight? Butts to kick?”
Xena: “‘Cause whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets.”
The accompanying expression on Gabrielle’s face after hearing Xena’s response (while apparently difficult to screencap) is priceless. And as awesome as I thought that little moment was, let this be known: Amarice was right about Gabrielle and the Way of Love. Maybe not in the sense that she seems to expect everyone to take up the sword, but in the sense that you can’t travel with a warrior while refusing to be a part of the violence. It may be a bit of a noble goal, but in reality, what happens is that all responsibility is shifted to the person willing to forego noble goals so that you may both survive. Can you say “unfair”, boys and girls? ‘Cause that’s what that is.
The “what Gabrielle wants” exchange is pretty much all of the light-hearted subtext you’ll get, too. There’s definitely more subtext — Maintext? It looks like maintext to me, a Xenite who views the world through maintext-tinted glasses — but the rest of it is of the “I love you and we’re gonna die and OMG! I’m sorry for what I did but you made my life worth living” variety. This episode makes me cry. The scene in lockup, where they actually cry makes me cry the most. (That’s heart-wrenching, and if you didn’t cry, too, I don’t think I like you, anymore.) Hell, I want to cry just writing about it.
What didn’t make me cry, however, was dead Caesar. Dead, dead Caesar. Watching him get stabbed to lovely, bloody death — while Xena and Gab were simultaneously nailed to crosses (which was just brilliant in terms of tying Xena and Caesar’s fates together, not to mention aesthetically awesome) — considerably lightened my emotional burden. If not for one little thing, I would’ve spent that entire segment alternating between tears and laughter. But that one little thing is actually kind of big, and it was most glaringly obvious from Gabrielle: There were times, when she was being nailed to the cross, when her movements and the expression on her face suggested something other than pain. I have a couple of theories about why this is, but frankly, they aren’t solid, and I’m too embarrassed to write about them, anyway; so if one of you fine folks wants to have at it in the comments… Well, have at it.
An earlier moment of mixed emotional signals comes when Xena’s chakram, wielded by demon Callisto, snaps against Xena’s back, and snaps her back, in the process. First of all, the chakram shouldn’t have broken. We’ve seen that round killing thing slice through things much harder than the Warrior Princess, without taking damage, so why would it break, now? I’m thinking it broke because a) that’s one Hades of a symbolic moment, and b) Xena’s not supposed to break, either. It’s one thing to kill off your hero, especially when your audience has seen her come back from death, before; but to make her broken and helpless? That’s a big freaking deal. (And what an awesome set up was this line from Callisto: “I just keep coming back. In that way, I’m more dependable than your chakram.” Even if the results were painful, that was a nice bit of foreshadowing.)
(Personal aside: Every time I watch Xena’s legs buckle, and see the look on her face, I’m reliving the night my dog got paralyzed. So, my objectivity, in regards to this scene, is for naught.)
Seeing the look on Gab’s face when she sees Xena hit by the chakram is difficult. So is watching Xena struggle to pull herself up from the dirt, while screaming at Gabrielle to stop the killing spree she’s just started (even though that killing is all about keeping Xena from being killed, instead). I feel for her. I feel really, really bad for her, because I know that’s horror, as much as guilt, watching someone you love completely abandon who they are, even (especially?) when they’re doing it for you. At the same time, my own, personal reaction is less “Gabrielle! No!” than “Faster, Gabbycat! Kill! Kill!” And, to me, it’s significant that Gabrielle does so much of that killing with Xena’s sword. She literally picks up the fallen warrior’s sword. Granted, it may have been the most readily-available sword for her to pick up, but come on! FIN, anyone?
There’s another thing that ties in to FIN, too, but this one actually bothers me a bit. Callisto offers Xena an out:
“I can arrange it for you and Gabrielle and all her peaceful little friends to just walk out of here, and no one gets hurt. And you and Gabrielle can live happily ever after.”
Xena doesn’t accept the offer, and it’s not just knowing what Callisto is that causes her rejection. This doesn’t jive completely with the Xena of “One Against an Army”, who would’ve let all of Greece fall in order to save Gabrielle. But it does jive with the Xena of FIN, who was willing to leave Gabrielle alone in the interest of her own redemption. And it’s not because Xena loved Gabrielle less in season 4 (or 6, for that matter) than she did in season 3, but because she loved her more. She gained a deeper respect for Gab’s values. And, that, combined with her conversation with Krishna, and subsequent embracing of “The Way”, led to the warrior who’s willing to go down fighting, whether it means taking Gabrielle with her, or not. (I get it, I think. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.)
In the end, we’re supposed to accept that it was right for Xena to maintain the Way of the Warrior, and equally right for Gabrielle to abandon the Way of Love for the “Way of Friendship”. (What???) I’m not sure I’m good with that. But, since I really do love this episode, I’m ending the post with this little bit of inspiration, and taking us back to where we started: