Season 4, Episode 8
April 10, 1999
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 8.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by R.J. Stewart; Edited by Jim Prior; Directed by Paul Lynch
PASSING PARADE: Kathryn Morris (Najara); David Te Rare (Marat); Roy Snow (Dach).
STORY SO FAR: A beautiful saviour preaching a message of peace captivates Gabrielle with her ways, leaving Xena torn between wanting her companion with her and keeping her safe.
DISCLAIMER: Xena's best chewing tooth was not harmed during the production of this
REWIND FOR: Oooh Gabrielle and Najara obviously go to the same hairstylist in the future. Or is imitation indeed the sincerest form of flattery? Yep, Gabs on the cross has her would-be mentors hairdo.
Okay get those VCRs primed for this one: Look at when Gabrielle introduces Xena to Najara - watch Xenas lips. She gives a very funny split second "I am not impressed" half smile in a totally threadbare attempt at politeness.
Watch for some impressive distressed Xena acting from Lucy in the shot of Gabrielle with Najara by the lake; ironic for she gives little away facially when she actually says goodbye to the bard.
Spot the flashforwards from Adventures In the Sin Trade during the fight scene on the stairs.
Observe the invention of stilts, although possibly the most idiotic thing to take up during a fight with a superior enemy. I guess if the mood takes you though...
The look on Gabrielles face when Najara reveals her soul liberation policy. Though the bard asks "why does that mean", her look shows she already knows all too well. Cool stuff, ROC.
The rock tossed down the cavern in the final fight by Xena - now thats some merry
mischief going on in the Warrior Princesss brain.
"Its a good thing our fight for evil doesnt depend on our singing." Najara inspiring the Holier Than Thou Tabernacle Boys Choir.
"It hasnt always been good for her being with me, I seem to hurt her." Xena discussing with Najara the problems of using Gabs in chakram practice without the stun setting.
"I liberate their souls," Najara on a hitherto unknown definition for wholesale murder without trial.
"Youre so close to being the ultimate force for goodness but the little bit makes you so wrong," Gabrielle to Najara, unimpressed that Yoda didnt match her billing.
"Seems your zealotry is less scary than my dark side. Snivelling ingrate. If I cant have her, nobodys gonna have her." In case youre wondering, Xena gets a mite attached to her friends. Should Joxer be scared?
Xena: Whats your mission?
Najara: To fight evil wherever I find it.
Xena: Can you be a little more specific?
Gabrielle: Xena only kills if its absolutely necessary.
Najara: And I only kill evil people - why is she better than me?
Xena: Did you tell her about the vision.?
Najara: No that would hurt her and I dont ever want to do that. Thats your job."
Well thats how to write a Xena episode folks. This is one show with top writing, beautiful locations, thoughtful cinematography, tension and lightness, a vested interest for our stars and the best new guest star since Cyane whupped Xenas butt.
And the best part about it was it didnt rely on any cheap tricks to get them out of a writing hole, like foreign climes (eg the upcoming India visit); rewriting old myths (Ulysses) or the need to solve problems with magical powers (Adventures in the Sin Trade 2). Nope, this is just about as good as it gets in season 4 so far.
First up, what is it about the women on Xena? What are they slipping into the baby formula over there? Lets look at the evidence here - theres Xena - a woman who can go toe to toe with the god of war; her match, Callisto, Callistos match Valesca; Xenas powerful mentor, Lao Ma; Xenas scary mentor Alti; Altis better, Cyane and now, da da, introducing Najara. Throw in a bard who is getting in three staff whacks for every punch thrown in by a baddy these days and this is a mighty powerful grrl clique you have there. Well whatever it is theyre drinking, Ill have two dozen.
Those with a historical bent probably recognised Najara as straight our of the mould of Joan of Arc, right down to the age group and her hearing of voices. Joan of Arc, now a revered French icon, incidentally, also took an army into battle who adored her and thought of her as some sort of demi-God; and when the authorities (the Spanish Inquisition) caught up with her she had this arrogant, "poor fools, you know not what you do" pitying sort of attitude.
Thats about the end of the comparison, and the difference between this ep and Ulysses is they have not tried to recreate the Joan of Arc myth, just borrowed elements from her character. And, unlike Joan, who was almost certainly a schizophrenic (although some still believe she was hearing the voice of God), Najaras jgin have some sort of special supernatural or telepathic powers to tell her other peoples thoughts.
This episode picks up where A Family Affair left off. Gabrielle is searching for her path. It sounds like shes actually getting quite desperate, too. Listen to the way she delivers the line down by the water with Najara: "The light ... I need something." There as an edge to her voice that shows she is more troubled by her violent life with Xena than shes been letting on. It is actually a fascinating although not surprising insight into what the bard is thinking about all that time she has been kicking butt. I commented on the slightly sick look on her face during A Good Day, wondering what she was thinking. Well heres what she actually thinks, on a platter: "Does the killing ever bother you?" Followed by, when Najara justifies it, Gabs saying "I dont think I could ever get used to that."
What is so interesting here is the writers have sat down and really thought, really asked themselves who/what it would take to lure Gabrielle away from Xena these days. What sort of a person? A mentor, yes. But in what? Goodness, light, someone who has a sense of purpose and is helping people but without a dark side to keep constantly in check. Thats still not enough because Gabrielle still tries to see all the first points in Xena and looks the other way on the dark side issue. No, what this woman has that Xena doesnt is that she is in touch with her spiritual side and she also enjoys all of life happily - she is a person who takes her time to stop and smell the daisies and will arrive late in camp so she may watch geese on a lake. This is something we have been watching Gabrielle trying to suck Xena into for ages - to stop and take in the beauty of life instead of always being on guard. You may remember the opening scene of Ulysses looked at that.
In essence Najara is the perfect mentor for someone like Gabrielle. She is, in fact, in Gabrielles eyes, perfection. Najara knows it and is flattered, Xena sees it and is torn - by jealousy and regret that she cant give Gabrielle what she wants, and a desire to give the bard what she feels she deserves. (Dont even start in on Xenas problems believing in her own worth.)
Xena got a bit of a bad rap in the US when this episode came out with many fans askance at the Warrior Princess ditching Gabrielle. Alternatively, some saw it as Gabrielle once again leaving Xena, and were equally scathing.
I argue neither is really true. Xena did the hardest thing she has ever had to do in her life - you can see it on her face as she watches the bard talk to Najara about being on the wrong path. Xena decides to give up someone she loves to save the young womans life (from that vision) and also to keep her safe and with someone she knows will look after her better than she feels she can.
Its a bit rude of her to do the deciding for Gabrielle, but thats Xena for you through and through. She totally believes in her heart its for the best. Surely fans cant knock the Warrior Princess for that? Is it not the highest form of love to let go of someone you love for their own good - no matter how wrong you may be? Her motives were always pure.
Similarly, Gabrielle, got an undeserved rap for turning to Najara. Fair go, here, the woman was written to be perfection for the bard. Of course she is subconsciously and consciously going to turn to her and want to follow her practices. As for leaving Xena, we never got to see what she would have decided because at each step of the way the decision was taken out of her hands. First by Xena who left her behind; then by Najara who threatened to kill Xena, and only backed down when the bard promised to go with her.
Who knows what would have happened, what Gabrielle might have decided if left to her own devices? She may have stayed to set up that hospice and Xena could well have stayed with her for a bit to see how stuck on the idea Gabrielle was. But this episode can never be put in the same category as the Gabrielle leaves Xena to go home/marry Perdicus/join the Academy of Performing Bards. We will never know.
Even if the bard had decided to follow Najaras path for awhile, itd really be no different from the way Xena followed Lao Mas. Well with a few major differences, namely that Najara is nutty as a fruitcake - but thems the breaks. Chuckle.
My biggest bone of contention I had with this episode is how badly beaten up Xena gets at the hands of the guest of the week. The first time I saw that molar crushing fight I was horrified. Damnation, my hero Xena wasnt supposed to get hurt. Well not badly enough to get knocked out by a mere mortal. What is this? Its like she wasnt superhuman, and after all this time, and all the amazing things weve seen her do in a fight, a mere woman with delusions of zealotry should have been chickenfeed for our gal. Heck, Xena single handedly took on the entire Persian army and won. But no, there she is, bleeding and battered and injured, picking herelf off the floor and making wry jokes to curious inn patrons.
On second viewing, disheartened as I was to discover my hero flawed (these are usually the best kind by the way), I understood why it was this happened. For Gabrielle to have a clear choice between protectors, she needed to be shown that her new protector was as strong as her old one. Someone who could keep her physically safe. It would not have been the same episode if Najara did not fight, because then Gabrielle would not have such a clear choice - she would stay with Xena who could protect her from harm.
Now, suddenly, she sees the woman who would mentor her is not only spiritually stronger than Xena, but physically as well. Ouch, now theres a bind.
Of course by this time, Najara has also revealed her fatal flaw to Gabrielle - a willingness to kill Xena for no other reason than the Warrior Princess really ticked her off (and had the heart of what she wanted - Gabrielle). No three days to think about the light for Xena. No sirree, its just welcome to the darkness, lights out Xena girl. Even if Gabrielle had been able to justify somehow Najaras three-day-bad-guy-conversion policy (which is unlikely) she still would never have been able to get past Najaras attempted summary execution of her dearest friend. Big, big mistake Najara. And so we see Najara is also flawed after all.
This made for such a compelling dynamic - the flawed anti hero vs the flawed hero -- and either women could have fitted either description. All I can say is pity Gabrielle in the middle.
I would also pity Gabrielle for Xenas rather colourful, not to mention highly insulting use of language in her performance. She wanted to convince Najara at the end she is off Gabrielle and has lost the plot and is willing to kill the "snivelling ingrate" bard who was little more than a "millstone" around her neck. Well charming, effective and I hope Xena gives Gabs a few breakfasts in bed for those tender superlatives.
Took awhile for me to twig to the optical illusion Xena had created for Najara that Gabrielle was hanging there by the rope, and there was no bridge under her. Problem with that scene was they showed us the bridge and then cut back to Najara, and most people just assumed she had seen what we saw. She had not and it was a second later we get it from her perspective - Gabrielle just hanging there. Throw in Xenas wayward theatrics and it did take a little longer for the synapses to kick in. It also explained why Xena went to every effort to prevent Najara getting close enough to Gabrielle to see the bridge. (Though where Xena got the wood from to make it on short notice is anyones guess. Especially the right size and all...) So for those similarly confused, it wasnt just you.
That said, it was quite the sight watching Xena drop that rock over the ledge, testing the depth of the hole and saying: "Oooh thats gotta hurt." Ah Xena, what a darl when shes being ba-ad. Mental note: whupping of Warrior Princesses tend to bring out their vicious side.
Another golden moment was watching Xenas face while Gabrielle thinks about Najaras offer to follow her for awhile longer - after they have freed the slaves. Xena is not wanting to influence Gabrielles decision even slightly so says nothing, even though her face is a portrait of pain and angst, begging her to say no. This is one of those few times Gabrielle gets to the call the shots on where theyre off to next, as Xena often seems to be deciding most things. Nope, this one was totally Gabrielles call - and you can see her hesitate and look in surprise, almost, over at Xena - to figure out why Xena hasnt said anything yet.
To me, the scene of the episode was the final one. Najara may look loving and peaceful but when she wants to hurt she does it with knockout punch power in her words.
When she tells Xena that hurting Gabrielle is her job, that was easily the most brilliant line in the last 20 episodes and would have slammed into Xena with more force than a hundred Beserkers. Way to go Najara, and with a smile on the face, too. This woman is indeed the new Callisto - well that was the idea when they created her, so Im not surprised. Thus, dont be too shocked if she does a jailbreak and reappears further down the track. Having said that, no one will ever replace our feral Hudson, but Najara is a mighty intriguing new "villain" just the same.
Its funny using the word villain on her. It just doesnt sit right. Perhaps thats because she is, as one friend pointed out to me, a scary mix of Gabrielle and Xena taken to the extreme, the nth degree - zealotry, goodness and violence in the blender. She is warning to them both of the road not to take, even as they walk it together. She is tragic and deluded and powerful, but anything but your garden variety villain. Hats of to the team who dreamed her up.
Last but not least, the final line of the episode was also brilliant. It was very Biblical - like Jesus on the cross where he says Forgive them father, they know not what they do. Here she is, not quite strung up on a cross, but near enough, with the look of pure saintliness on her face as she says: "I forgive you, Gabrielle."
Awesome - it summed up everything we suspected about Najara. She really believes what she teaches. She is a zealot in every sense. But she truly in her heart believes she is right, and Gabrielle has just made an awful mistake, but she is willing to forgive her nonetheless.
Joan of Arc could not have said it better herself.
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