Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re concluding our chronological coverage of every single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess — both the episodes that I had previously highlighted AND the episodes I’d yet to feature. Complementing my thoughts were the thoughts of those who worked on the series: mostly actors, writers, directors, and producers. I have done months of research for the acquisition of the quotes you saw over these past 67 weeks (as there are 134 episodes and I covered two episodes per week). They came from a variety of sources, including the original special feature-laden DVD releases, The Chakram Official Newsletters, both the Topps and Titans Official Xena Magazines, the fan kits, and other assorted print and video interviews. So in addition to sharing my thoughts, these posts contained information and musings from the Xenites that matter most — the ones who brought this exciting series to the small screen.
133. Season 6, Episode 21: “A Friend In Need (I)” (Aired: 06/11/01 | Filmed: 03/08 – 04/18/01)
Summoned by a long-lost spiritual soulmate, Xena heads for Japan with Gabrielle on a daunting mission to save the city of Higuchi from destruction and make amends for her past.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V1424
I featured this episode as #45 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Now, one of the reasons we decided to take Xena to Japan for the series finale was both R.J. Stewart and myself are huge fans of Hong Kong pictures and, this was somewhat our tribute to Chinese Ghost Story, which in itself was a tribute to Evil Dead 2… so I felt it came full circle and we’d always talked about going to Japan and then it just seemed like the right thing to do for this finale… I vacillate back and forth whether it was a good idea to put [Yodoshi] in makeup because it was so distancing for the audience, it turned him into a bit of a caricature and I’ll never get a chance to play it straight, but I think it would have been stronger in the long run had I not gone with the very heavy, almost theatrical makeup with that character, but in the rush to get to production you go, ‘Oh, that looks great,’ and it did look great … Yeah, it was running with the kabuki mask idea… R.J. Stewart, one of the other executive producers, was a great fan and scholar of Japanese history and culture and the sword is really something that he felt very strongly that should drive the story forward because it was such an important aspect of Samurai culture so this sword plays an incredibly important role in the first part of this finale as a motivator and instrument. The holy grail. It really is the holy grail of the episode.” (“A Friend In Need” Commentary – Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I found bad Xena much easier to play during these two episodes than regular Xena. Don’t know why, maybe because of what I knew was coming… I had trouble making sense of all the things I had to say and all the deception of Gabrielle… [it] was a little jarring for me… I think I went mad through this episode. (“A Friend In Need” Commentary – Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I was playing it straight. Isn’t that funny? I just thought that, well [Xena] must have kept [Akemi] from me because… it was someone that [she] maybe loved more than Gabrielle or as much as…. [But] because Xena’s loss was so tremendous, it had to be about Xena. Xena had to be hurting and it couldn’t be about how Gabrielle was [jealous]… so it had to be about how my friend here is in mourning and in pain because of the loss of her friend that was so cherished… That’s how I played it: non-jealousy.” (“A Friend In Need” Commentary – Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “A Friend In Need (I)” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #21.
134. Season 6, Episode 22: “A Friend In Need (II)” (Aired: 06/18/01 | Filmed: 03/08 – 04/18/01)
Xena and Gabrielle face the greatest threat they’ve ever known when they go up against the evil Yodoshi and an army of 20,000 elite Samurai warriors.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V1425
Part I made my list and Part II didn’t because the first installment has a tighter script. The problem with this installment from a storytelling point-of-view is that there are so many logistical elements of the culture that are only half-explained. (And even in the Director’s Cut, which aired less than three months after the finale and has been released on DVD several times, some things are never clear.) The biggest rule, of course, is that Xena needs to stay dead to redeem the souls of the people she killed 35 years before. In the Director’s Cut, Xena learns this information as Gabrielle’s heading to the mountain; in the official aired version, we never see Xena find this out, leaving the audience to wonder whether or not she knew all along. Either way, it’s the sort of bogus rule that insults fans because it seems like a slapdash ploy to keep Xena dead and imbue the series with some finality.
While many fans hate the ending because it cruelly separates Xena and Gabrielle, my personal problem with Xena’s death is that these Japanese rules fly directly in the face of what the series and Xena had been telling us about the nobility of doing good to counteract the evil in her past, and what a waste death and/or imprisonment would have been. Sure, 40k people dead is a high count, but what about the thousands more she could have saved had she continued on fighting? It’s noble of Xena and perhaps makes sense that she would want to stay dead, but it doesn’t fit for the series, and that, in my mind, is flawed storytelling. As for what’s good about this episode, I maintain that, like Part I, there are some nice visuals, and Gabrielle’s growth as a warrior is satisfying. But for fans of the series, although Xena the character may be satisfied with her ending, the series itself concludes on a weaker note.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “At the time, we thought [this] was a really strong choice. But I think it really hurt the fans. I wish we hadn’t done it, actually… I laughed when I heard [Xena] got her head cut off. It was such a strong choice — I’m perverse like that… [But now] it’s all like telling a bad placed joke, or laughing at some other group’s expense. You’re like, ‘Come on, it’s funny!’ But then it’s like, ‘But it really hurts people.’ And finally the penny drops and you go, ‘Oh. That’s why it’s not funny, because somebody is in pain.’” (TheTorchOnline Interview – August 2009)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Everyone outdid themselves with the hair and makeup and costumes, didn’t they? And the set designs – really well done… I had a great time doing [the final] fight, just because there was so many different levels to it. On the ground and then going up on the rocks… I remember [Rob Tapert] wanted me to have a different [chakram] throwing style than Xena.” (“A Friend In Need (II)” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “This episode, from a script point-of-view, got hurt cause we screwed around with that musical [“Last Chance”] and threw it out… [it] ate so much thought process… [But] I felt lucky as a director to get to shoot [those final] moments… And I loved [that] piece of music, for some reason.” (“A Friend In Need (II)” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I feel like I would do so much differently now… I hate my performance in this, actually. It’s overwrought… [But] I love that [final scene]… ‘I don’t care.’ I love that – that’s so human, eh?” (“A Friend In Need (II)” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “The reason we [killed Xena] is when this series began, it was unique. Xena was introduced on Hercules as a villain with a very high body count behind her, and the first thing I pitched to Rob was the burying of the weapons. But [a heroine who doesn’t fight] is not a series. [Xena] finds her mission, which is to redeem herself. We’ve always withheld that [ability to] forgive herself for what she’s done. She’s had to pay a great price – she was a war criminal, as painted on Hercules. So flash forward to six years later. We wanted to do a Japanese ghost story, and if we do, hell, Xena is gonna be the ghost! We thought, ‘How are we gonna bring her back to life again for the 78th time? Wait a minute – ultimate redemption may be here if she’s not brough back to life!’” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #23 – October 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[Rob] tossed and turned for a long time about his choice of ending. He could have changed his mind at any time. But, in the end, it was the strongest choice and we all supported him in that… Gosh, she’s not a superhero after all. She was human. And they could always bring her back, but I’ll be too old by then and they’ll recast… [But] she doesn’t feel dead. She will never die… [I remember] that Rob got mad at us for [the kiss] because we were clowning around. I thought he was kidding about an actual kiss. I thought you were supposed to see the drop make its way from Renee’s lips to mine. I thought it was important that it was seen. But, in fact, I was just wrong. Everyone got the message from the kiss. My joke was that Renee was going to spit in my mouth.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #17)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “As the series was ending, they approached us about doing four telemovies, and I kind of thought that we were, and I certainly… [thought these two episodes weren’t] the way the Xenaverse was going to end forever. That said, we had gotten ourselves into a terrible predicament of Xena being reedemd… [But] I actually squirmed as we were working on the story forever and a day, but R.J. [Stewart] really kept my nose to the grindstone, saying ‘No, Rob, no.’ And for a character that was about redemption, it seemed like the right thing to redeem her at the end somehow.” (2005 Burbank Convention)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Talking with a friend of mine, I finally understood what that [disatifaction must] be about. For her, it was that so many people in this world have never been in love, or they were in love and lost the other person. They want to believe in the soul-mate concept. Our show kept talking about `the soul mate, the soul mate’ for all those seasons. And I personally don’t really believe in the soul-mate idea, but it never really occurred to me that other people could so need to hold onto that, that that’s what they loved about the show. At the end, what we did was take Gabrielle’s soul mate away from her. Gabrielle and Xena were split up. And I think that had a dreadful resonance for very many of our fans. For that I’m really sorry.” (Entertainment News Daily – October 2001)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The very last shot, for me, on Xena, was a close up. And because the rain machine would make too much noise and it was too far away, they decided to take a fire hose and hold it right over my head, right above the camera. So instead of having the time for the water to warm up a bit in the air, it just poured down me… And that was cold. And I just thought, ‘Okay. Yeah, that’s right. Now I remember. Now I remember what it’s like to be cold.’” (Coffee Talk #1 With Lucy and Renee)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I do regret that we cut Xena’s head off, cause for all the people who loved the relationship and loved the characters, it meant the two were never going to live happily ever after. It meant that Gabrielle was going to roam the earth with this little bloddy urn of ashes. And it took away everything that we had set up. [But] we just thought that it was a strong storyline… but it really pained our audience, the hardcore nutballs who are so loyal. It was a terrible thing to do to them… We were doing 80 hour weeks and I was so strung out by the end… [But] I would love to give the fans back what we took away.” (Archive of American Television Interview – 2013)
Here are scans of an interview that writer/producer R.J. Stewart gave on both parts of “A Friend In Need” for The Chakram Newsletter: #16.
Here are scans of an interview that executive producer/writer/director Rob Tapert (with Lucy Lawless) gave on both parts of “A Friend In Need” for The Chakram Newsletter: #17.
Here are scans of an interview that actor Renee O’Connor gave on both parts of “A Friend In Need” for The Chakram Newsletter: #17.
*Click here to see a behind-the-scenes account on the making of both parts of “A Friend In Need” that was produced by the Official XENA Fan Club and released on the Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD.
*Click here to see interviews and B-roll footage from both parts of “A Friend In Need” from a segment that was produced by the Official XENA Fan Club and released on the Season Six DVD set.
Come back next Thursday for the start of a whole new series of Xena posts! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!
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“The biggest rule, of course, is that Xena needs to stay dead to redeem the souls of the people she killed 35 years before.” – except she didn’t kill them; sorry but that just annoyed me SO much! This isn’t Callisto where Xena made this person so she could feel personally guilty, this is Akimi who was going to kill her father regardless and yeah she used the pinch to do it but then it creates problems like if Xena is guilty for that why does she not die making up for something she did with Callisto? When she gave up being an angel for her shouldn’t that have gotten her in limbo at least? Callisto is much more personal than some girl she met for a hot minute 35 years ago.
Xena drove Ceaser mad when she outsmarted him at times so why isn’t she dying to redeem herself for Roman citizens? She taught Amazon groups how to fight, where’s her dying because of something connected to them? It just feels like such a “Do what now?” moment hearing people fault Xena for Akimi’s actions; it’s also an heir of forceness to it because they want to kill Xena and this is the only way they can do it here so she’s going to fight this dude regardless of how involved she is and that takes you out of it.
If it was Xena who killed the dad because he refused to pay the ransom then I would get it but she wasn’t; yes she set some buildings on fire taking Akimi to be buried but again there’s not 40 people in that scene much less 40,000 and visually what we saw it was one building on fire and they’re surrounded by snow which means wet wood so yeah not buying the fire spread story or they all just stayed inside to die to get that number up. If we had seen a scene like the docks then maybe this would seem believable but as is nope. I just don’t buy Xena needing to fight this battle first of all, if it was Akimi as the spirit ok but it’s not, so it pretty much had the entire story feeling forced and that on top of character choices just makes this a horrible final in my opinion.
It’s not that I mean Xena dying, would I prefer she didn’t – yes, but if you’re going to kill her at least make it something more personal like her dying in Greece fighting the gods for freedom of people or to save Eve who will go on to save many as an ambassador with her message given they were so into doing Christian themes in the last year for sure. Or have her stay dead to bring Callisto back for another shot at life; I know this one was never going to happen post Callisto getting her wings but still it would be more personal! Have her never be redeemed until her last act on Earth as her journey for redemption was life long given the amount she took because another issue with the final is it suggest somehow these 40,000 were more special and others because Xena suddenly needed to stay dead to give them peace where as she didn’t to give other that same respect, it just felt so forced as to say “look she’s staying dead and that’s the way it is viewers” which could have been fine if they had given us a better story for her end – her dying in a far off land for someone we just met and then having to stay dead because you basically say so for the series final is not going to make us happy understandably I feel.
“It’s noble of Xena and perhaps makes sense that she would want to stay dead, but it doesn’t fit for the series” – this! I can totally believe Xena would stay dead to save someone but why these over others is a fair question. Even if you watch the directors’s cut it doesn’t change the fact you first saw the live airing of the episode and you can’t unsee how messed up “I have to stay dead because” moment is; still again it’s all going to come back to why these instead of others if you’re going to use this idea, as you said Jackson it felt like for finality rather than an organic plot and that on top of everything else that’s problematic with this final (part 1 included) is going to leave some people loathing this as an end for such a beloved series.
This feels like the “Mass Effect” video game all over where you have a great build up that fans love, “Xena” has issues at times because the parody episodes aren’t always great and just within regular episodes there’s some duds, but the ending feels like such crap it taints your entire franchise for years to come and even when fans aren’t so full of rage it’s still remembered as the giant let down at the end.
Gabrielle did get some great stuff in this but it’s hard to enjoy her moments honestly because you know the cost of the scenes if you will – Xena has to stay dead for her to get her next chapter and it’s like can we just not, lets go home team!
“But for fans of the series, although Xena the character may be satisfied with her ending, the series itself concludes on a weaker note.” – agreed; there are again just so many problems with this final that I fully understand any fan who says this is not the series final for them and they stop watching the show on rewatches at another select episode!
Hi, Aaron! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Again, I share many of your frustrations regarding the series finale, but I should point out that the show DOES ask us to believe that Xena is responsible for killing those 40,000 people in the fire that she angrily started. (That drama is not about Yodoshi. We know she didn’t kill him — it’s that her anger thereafter led to the death of 40,000 innocents, who are now trapped by Yodoshi, that makes her culpable.) So, whether we find this hard to believe or not, her responsibility for the suffering of such a large population is part of the premise and it’s textually indisputable.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like it one bit either. 40,000 is a comically big number… but I suppose the show felt it had to be in order to justify her choice. And, in some ways, such a large number was probably meant to be representative of ALL the souls Xena was responsible for killing in her career, regardless of where they ended up… It’s just too bad that this point was muddied and not supported better with a more logical narrative, where one singular past event WASN’T used to explain Xena’s chosen execution, since we know that she accrued SO MANY misdeeds in her past, and the body count per incident is typically irrelevant in comparison to the sum as a whole.
“40,000 is a comically big number… but I suppose the show felt it had to be in order to justify her choice.” – my thing is even IF there was just 40 people they said died or heck even 4, how did that happen because again – snow which is water and it was one building on fire…who’s sitting inside a burning building? It just makes no logical sense to the scene we saw and we know they can produce visuals because they did the dock scene and the fire from Callisto’s flashback. And even if they produced an air right reason for a number dying again what makes them special compared to others beyond this is the final and finality as you said; I just can’t get it and it takes me out of the episode which leaves me noticing every little possible issue with the script and getting angry the longer I watch the wreck if you will.
I know we’re meant to suspend belief but I can’t because there’s just such a conflict in my brain from what they’re saying and what they’ve shown.
“And, in some ways, such a large number was probably meant to be representative of ALL the souls Xena was responsible for killing in her career, regardless of where they ended up.” – this is fair; had they had something script wise that alluded to that I think that line would have worked better but sadly there wasn’t. I’m not sure even with that line it would make the plot work because again what makes this time the time she has to stay dead when they’ve killed her before to fix problems then brought her back. It just feels very episode centric instead of series whole centric you know so I don’t get her having to stay dead for this group; there’s also something to be said for her staying dead for just one also because she was one person who changed so many so her saving say Gabrielle who goes on to save more and do change that way would be a nice balance also.
You can never change the fact the people you took out before don’t get to have their full time arguably, I say arguably because this gets into the belief of someone says when you go so maybe they were meant to go when they did in order to save someone else later who will save more until we can be in a better place and do you personally believe in that or not, so at best you can just balance things so had a situation been created where Xena gives her life for Gabrielle because she’s going to go on to do big things herself and with Eve which will help more I could have gotten it or again even if they had the final be Xena staying dead for Callisto like in 5×01 I could get it but for random people like the episode shows because a line about them being Xena’s count on the whole no.
This just felt like a bottle event more than “Xena” if that makes sense?
Again maybe it’s the setting and Japan, it was totally Japan they were in, is like a bridge too far to believe like with most of the Asian episodes but this doesn’t feel like it should be the series final. Killing Xena is debatable but doing it in a far off land is kind of insulting; sure you can argue Xena’s legend spans the world but still it’s not the same as ending it in Greece or even close to Greece to feel like home. Had they said the number was representative of all Xena killed and you could kind of link in Hades this would work more I think but again with the distance from home and the missing line it’s just too much to believe and again takes me personally out of the episode mainly.
I will agree like with most “Xena” episodes, even some of the worst, you can pull out some interesting debate topics with this final such as is death the only way to get redemption for what Xena has done or is it possible that she did enough good along the way that long run she’s back to balance now as those she helped are going to help others and so forth thus she does get to live with Gabrielle but yeah execution wise this is just a miss.
There’s what this episode is meant to be and then there’s what this episode is and they don’t equal out.
Out of curiosity, did you ever have an idea of how you wanted to see the series end? Are you ok with Xena dying, assume they executed the story better where you could believe the build up, or do you think she should have continued until her dying day to try and make things better? Even if you have to look at it from your eyes today because it’s been a while ago since the series ended what is your feeling on their choice to end the series with the lead dead?
IF the continually rumored reboot ever got off the ground would you want them to handle the ending differently or would you be ok with them doing their take on it again assuming the script is better in explaining why she has to die at series end each time?
For me they’ve done dead so I’d like to see the reboot have her live but still always trying to make up for things and never feeling she has even if she went to Heaven she’s always got a bit of that guilt until God says she’s good. I could take dead again if the writing was good enough to explain why she has to die again but I do lean towards live and die off screen even if it’s not in old age. Tell me in a movie what happened so I can ignore that part of the franchise if it doesn’t add up like many an other fandoms have done with some films. :)
And in regards to the original, again I lean towards live with a look of more peace but still reservation because you know Lucy would kill a camera shot of not believing she’s done enough before flashing back to a smile because others around her can see the better person she’s become! I can take her dead but again I need a better story than what we got because dark Xena did some messed up stuff so her dying isn’t out of the realm of possibility but you have to make it believable why now beyond “because final”. Honestly had they ended the series with Xena being killed because she went back to dark Xena for some reason I could have bought that if it was well done because she always teetered on the edge at times to me.
I’m probably alone in that last bit but it would make for some interesting discussion. :)
Again, I share your frustrations with this episode, particularly when it comes to logic. But, remember, the premise is that Xena stays dead to avenge a HUGE number of souls that she is directly responsible for having sent to Yodoshi. The story may be situational, yet it’s also a pretty straightforward redemption narrative. So it should be clear why Tapert/Stewart were drawn to it.
Now, I’m sure most of us would agree that too many of the details are confusing, ill-handled (40,000 seems impossibly large, yes), and, more importantly, antithetical to the premise of the rest of the series, which is that nothing Xena can do will ever exonerate her from her past sins, so it’s therefore better for her to keep righting wrongs than serving time or being executed for them.
To that point though, I think the finale is denied a lot of credit for how it DOES try to meet the terms of this thesis. For instance, the conflict is not just that Xena killed 40,000 people in Japan, but that those 40,000 will NEVER be at peace unless Xena stays dead. This makes the pain Xena caused current and in need of fixing — it’s not just a past sin, like most, that can never be rectified; there’s something she can do. In staying dead, she is ACTIVELY redeeming 40,000 people.
Accordingly, the show can then make the argument that Xena is, right there, saving more lives than she ever could save if she spent the next 20 years fighting on earth. This may be a confusing point, but it’s a legitimate one.
However, I still struggle with that because the show’s thesis also suggested that sins were not quantifiable. And 40,000 deaths is just as heinous as four deaths, so the number is essentially immaterial.
Also, I hate rules that feel circumstantially convenient, and all the exposition introduced about the Japanese afterlife — none of which we knew before these episodes — seems especially flimsy, simply because there’s no other story in the show’s six-year run that is bound by the logic in existence here.
In fact, there couldn’t be, because the show itself never believed that Xena had to die (and stay dead) to right any of her wrongs; if it did, there would have been no series. And so that’s ultimately where the logic falls down for me. There’s nothing Tapert/Stewart could have done to overcome this foundational truth.
As for what I’d have liked to see in the finale, I think Xena’s character arc resolved itself at the end of Season Four (in “The Ides Of March,” the series’ dramatic peak) when she told Callisto that in fully embracing The Way of The Warrior, she was no longer bound by the guilt of her past sins. Therefore, the character’s internal struggle had ended, and in dying alongside the person who taught her selfless love, Xena was getting a happy ending.
Everything thereafter was propped up by situational dramatics and the simple “was bad, now doing good” premise of the series, which was in place no matter what happened to the character. So, I don’t think there was anything left to actually resolve. It had already happened.
Nevertheless, on the set terms — picking an ending for the sixth season — I would have certainly agreed with Stewart that the redemption theme had to return. Whether or not Xena dies is peripheral. I think it’s simply more important that the tortured hero finally finds some peace of mind after having endured a long, difficult journey. And, incidentally, that’s exactly what Xena DID get in “A Friend In Need” (regardless of all the aforementioned problems).
So, essentially, I think this final two-parter (kind of) had the right idea… but went about things in a very strange, premise-rejecting, and difficult-to-digest way.
Oh, and, for what it’s worth, I expect a reboot of XENA to be totally different from the original series, so this ending is irrelevant. There will never be a need to explain it or even move on from it.
I know hindsight is 20/20 they say and it’s easy to talk about something after it happened and writing is hard when you’re under deadlines but thinking back on S6 this is probably how I would have had things go to leave it with a better taste in fans’ mouths. I realize again I have the benefit of time too to “schedule” episodes so it’s easier to say what goes where but I just had to do the exercise after seeing the final! I would love feedback as always on the post. :)
Okay, I’m actually going to start the rework for S6 by editing S5; season 5 now ends on “Looking Death In The Eye”. I know some may say “Another death fake out?” but technically they did die at the end of S4 so this would be the first fake out. :) I’m also pulling “Soul Possession” to be in this season either before or after “Antony and Cleopatra” because I want a nice 20 episode last two seasons; I too miss the days of 22 or 24 episode seasons for some series but in the name of a tighter season I can accept 20 here.
Also bumping SP to season 5 before the end works to play on Ares saying at the end of LDITE how sometimes she was his and other times she was Gabrielle’s.
Season 6 now opens with “Livia”. Episodes 2 and 3 by extension are “Eve” and “Motherhood”. An important note: the opening title sequences doesn’t change because we’re not doing a new title in the last year!
Episode 4 would be “Coming Home” to reestablish the Amazons.
Episode 5 is “Who’s Gurkhan?” because it shows the impact of the time jump on Gabrielle so that’s not just a Xena thing.
Episode 6 is “Legacy” but with the rewrite of Gabrielle not questioning her life path yet again; she’s still upset about killing the kid and accepts death as her punishment but it’s not a repeat of a plot we’ve seen before if you will. She explains her side and says she was blinded by the sand which plays to the tribes being blinded by hate for each other a bit they almost didn’t get together to fight the Romans.
Episode 7 is “Send In The Clones” because it’s filler and each season has to have at least one filler episode if it’s almost 20 episodes long plus it’s close to the episode “Looking Death In The Eye” so timing wise it feels like it fits versus being near the series end and feeling even more like the filler it is.
Episode 8 would be “When Fates Collide” to play on the fact Hades is gone and to give Karl Urban one last goodbye. Also this was a strong episode so even if people thought the start of the season was just okay to good this would be an episode that would hopefully keep them watching! Also this is the best “Joxer” episode and lets Ted go out on a high I feel because he plays a character more could stomach than the Joxer we saw most often.
Episodes 9 – 11 would be the Beowulf arc for schedule filler more than anything but also set up a time lapse later to explain why a clock has run out. Plus this has a legit kiss so you got to have that in the final season! :)
Episode 12 is “Old Ares Had A Farm” because it’s arguably the best episode of the season and plays into the depowered gods plot.
Episode 13 is “The God You Know”; I would do a rewrite script wise here also to say Michael appears at the start to tell Xena about Caligula but then he disappears because he really screwed that up for her and made no sense the more he popped up in the episode. Xena would lose her god killing power still in here so you have her having to trick Caligula at the end but it’s due to a time limit running out, instead of being able to kill gods as long as Eve is alive it’s like a one year thing or even 30 year thing from the time she was born because of her destiny so at that point you can say the time is up and she lost them not because of any issues with Michael.
Episode 14 would be a “You Are Here” type episode but not that episode; I love the questions the reporter asked don’t get me wrong but the episode just doesn’t work genre wise in my opinion, it’s too much of a mash up. If we can change the reporter to a more ancient counterpart like a bard or scribe who’s following then who still asks the same questions then I could take YAH. This position is close to the Beowulf arc to make it seem not just random filler but also gives some space for those who didn’t like the episode and would end that plot here with Xena having to talk Odin into giving her the apples so love can still exists. You can still do the scene where she gives Ares his powers back also and explains why you need the balance of them thus ending the gods arcs on “Xena” in a sense for the most part but also still keeping Aphrodite, Ares, Cupid and Celesta around to have it feel like “Xena” still to a small degree versus being more modern with the Eli stuff most episodes. If you liked the religious stuff fine, but to me it always felt heavy handed execution wise even though it created some interesting discussions so I lean towards limiting the episodes featuring it because again quality wise it just felt forced more often than not. Also Ares does not go back and kill the dog; sorry not sorry Kevin. :)
Episode 15 is “Last Of The Centaurs” for one last Ephany send off and again to bring back in the Amazons before the end.
Coming back to the Amazons for the last time episodes 16 and 17 would be the episodes featuring Varia and company but with some script changes; “Dangerous Prey” would still happen but Varia wouldn’t be as sidelined in this – she and Xena would work together at the end showing she can listen to take down the prince. Maybe it was just me but I really felt they handicapped Varia skill wise compared to how smart she was in “Coming Home” to point out Eve just based on hearing about a move she did and then seeing it so I would make her more like her CH self but still green enough Xena could show her some things to help her become queen and a better fighter to protect the tribe that way. This also allows Renee one more good go at directing like she wanted!
Episode 18 would be “To Helicon And Back” and in this version Varia isn’t queen just yet but she’s clearly next up, people are still looking to Gabrielle for answers as the senior most queen; this episode is one of the final pay offs to the Twilight arc which started the season and is now ending the series again to feel like time has past but it’s still “Xena” at its heart. It plays out pretty much the same way with them fighting Bellerophon because if they don’t kill him then he’ll just keep coming after them. Varia is still kidnapped and she is sent to die with her people he thinks because maybe she does agree to his terms but the big thing is she doesn’t betray them so there’s no Gabrielle questioning her; Varia is meant to be the hope of the Amazons so her betraying such a core element doesn’t really make sense as that would kill them in a different way – she explains what Bellerophon said but replies with that just shows why he doesn’t understand his mother’s love for the Amazons. Gabrielle still has her great run scene but Xena just sees the bomb incoming and yells at her in time. I place this episode here because I think this episode shows the weight of the Amazon title wearing on Gabrielle and sets up Xena taking issues maybe with them even if she says nothing because the culture Gabrielle loves but she’s just not cut out for day to day queenship and this arguably calls back to her hinting at settling down in previous episodes most recently OAHAF.
Episode 18 is “The Abyss” which honestly is just for filler because it gives a break of time between Helicon and Vengeance for that story to work this way; it does have a great cave scene in it though so there’s that!
Episode 19 is “Path Of Vengeance” which works as the wrap up for multiple things, namely Eve, Varia, the Romans, the Amazons, and Ares as well. It plays out much the same way we see originally; Ares uses a desperate to rebuild the Amazon numbers Varia and feeds even more on her rage when Eve returns and we learn the backstory for the new Amazon queen. Varia hasn’t seen Eve since “Coming Home” so her rage over her return to their lands makes sense still and if she’s being used by Ares it works to explain some continuity issues one might feel from how she should have grown from Xena’s teachings in “Dangerous Prey”. Eve still wants to make amends but has things complicated by the Romans show up to protect her given some in Rome still view her as a plus, Gabrielle still challenges Varia to a fight to be queen of her tribe in an attempt to save Eve so we still get that awesome fight, and Xena still saves the day in the end helping Varia see she’s being played by Ares and that people can change so she doesn’t have to become the thing she hated. I would also want some way worked in that we’d still get the line “I thought you might have sprained it on my face” from Gabrielle about the fight because I did love that tease. And with that we say goodbye to the ones listed above.
Finally episode 20, because it’s another 20 episode season only in the name of hopefully bettering the season and series, is “Many Happy Returns”. It’s more of a comedy yes, but it ends with a developed arc for the heroes – Gabrielle becoming someone more than just a small town girl and Xena back to how she was before Cortez arguably corrupted her so in a way redeemed with more work to go because she never feels redeemed; also they save a virgin which is how the series started with Xena saving Gabrielle. Also you have Aphrodite heavily in this which feels like old “Xena” compared to the modern religious vibes of this season. They literally fly off into the sunset together which is a much better way to end things I feel!
Again I realize this is all subjective and some may not like the series ending on a comedy episode but you could arguably bump MHR up a bit to be after LOTC and then end the series on “Path Of Vengeance” in which Xena stops someone from becoming just like her and literally supposedly saving the Amazon nation so either way she’s alive and her actions make more sense than they did in the original series final.
POV also opens the door to a lot of potential spin offs with Eve and then the Amazon nation plus leave room for a movie with X and G so there’s that.
But yeah this is just a post I feel I needed to make because I was just so bummed over how the series ended and because I’m not a writer I wanted to use the episodes we had as my options because again you could kill Xena if you wanted but hopefully it would be better than the logic they try and sale in “A Friend In Need”. Sorry XENA writers, I love you (they really are one of the best writing teams I think ever assembled – certainly in the last 30 years because the way they wrote complex characters and didn’t shy away from consequences is just so good) but that wasn’t one of your best showcases.
Yeah, it’s notable that you didn’t change much. Even though the year is, by and large, unsatisfying (not just the finale) — it’s episodically interesting, particularly if you’re a big fan of Gabrielle’s character arc. (I think once Xena’s journey was resolved at the end of Season Four, Gabrielle became the series’ most emotionally resonant through-line.)
Just a small note of edit: episode 17 is “To Helicon And Back” and episode 18 is “The Abyss”; I got too quick on the numbers there! ABYSS is a time break essentially to set up Ares moving in on Varia while they’re gone.
“To that point though, I think the finale is denied a lot of credit for how it DOES try to meet the terms of this thesis. For instance, the conflict is not just that Xena killed 40,000 people in Japan, but that those 40,000 will NEVER be at peace unless Xena stays dead. This makes the pain Xena caused current and in need of fixing — it’s not just a past sin, like most, that can never be rectified; there’s something she can do. In staying dead, she is ACTIVELY redeeming 40,000 people.”
Ok Jackson I like your wording so I’m going to try and do some rewriting here again to see how it works; assuming that dark Xena personally killed 40,000 people (or you know 400 for a more realistic number) during a raid in Japan and now it’s Akimi coming to her in the series final asking for help to stop someone (maybe her father still) stealing the souls for powers (because magic mortals exists in the Eastern plots) then yeah I could get her staying dead if they make it clear from the start it’s the only way for them to rest in peace since she was personally responsible for them originally. Yes Yodoshi is hurting them now but as you say their original torment is still due to Xena. I still don’t like this being set in somewhere so far from Greece because I just like with this series it started in Greece and thus it should end there because we are in ancient times and getting around takes longer than just popping over to the next country for a visit today, but had your comment been the episode instead I can see it working better.
You still have the fair question of why do these people need her to stay dead but yet it’s assumed all others she killed can move on despite her, but I think no matter how you spin it (most likely they’d say because culture) that question is always going to be in someone’s stable when it comes to questioning the ending and it’s a fair card to play because why does their needs top others? If you say culture then does that create a line of first Xena has to do X, Y, or Z for another culture where she hurt someone so they can rest before going back to die for that group? It’s rare to have a perfect script if you will but still I think the writers would take that one lingering question over the massive backlash this episode probably created back in the day when it aired as is.
Also again I think it’s fair to still ask why does she have to die at all, but again had your statement been the episode to clear things up then it would be more acceptable than what we see.
“Accordingly, the show can then make the argument that Xena is, right there, saving more lives than she ever could save if she spent the next 20 years fighting on earth. This may be a confusing, situational argument, but it’s a legitimate one.” – I agree it’s confusing because you can argue well if person A she saved saves X amount and person B she saved saves X and the amount they save plus so on and so on is equal to more than those here then she should live, but I get what you’re saying in the moment. In the moment Xena is arguably saving more lives than she ever could doing it day to day even if they save some people along the way.
“However, I still struggle with that because the show’s thesis also suggested that sins were not quantifiable. And 40,000 deaths is just as heinous as four deaths, so the number is essentially immaterial.” – point.
I do wonder in regards to the change in lore with the afterlife if this is maybe a result of the religious elements that came in later seasons? Like once they got heavy with Eli and Eve they went for the “modern” take on cultures and thus this is something that now happens because it happened where as before with the gods in play they would just take care of things in a way that allowed spirits to rest easier without her dying. I feel though honestly it’s a case as you said in your original thoughts – because it’s simply the series final and they wanted it to be final and you can’t get more final than an ash body and spirit that won’t reconnect to it.
I don’t know if I’d say there would be no series if Xena had to die for redemption but it would be a shorter one. She could always say she wanted to bring some good into the world before she goes and then you end the series in S4 instead of S6 because she’s not going to fight back against her death here as she defeated Ceaser so it’s not like she’s driven to take him out anymore and even if you stretch it to have 5×01 as the series final then you have her switching places with Callisto and choosing to take that on in the name of being the spot light for her good acts. I know Gabrielle won’t let her stay evil and she’ll keep trying to save her but maybe that’s just how it ends for them with Gabrielle always still trying to save Xena and help her while Xena battles the dark or again Xena is in limbo only seeing Gabrielle at times because she can’t get any higher in the cosmic scale because she has to as this episode suggest stay down so Callisto can get her up.
I wonder if this episode was a last nod to the Callisto effect if you will; people loved Xena risking her eternity for her to set that right so they just took that and upped it essentially?
“So, essentially, I think this final two-parter (kind of) had the right idea…but went about things in a very strange, premise-rejecting, and difficult-to-digest way.” – I have to say you have talked me up from rating the series final “2 giant middle fingers and I’m never watching this again” to rating it “if I saw the series 10 more times I could watch this at least once more”; in number terms it basically went from a 0 to a solid 5 because the acting is good and your concepts of what they meant to do are far and visually there’s some pretty stuff, honestly on the whole this might be a 7 rated episode but it’s still not one I’d rewatch often because what we got as we’ve said does not add up to what they meant to do so it’s not the worst series final ever but for the show comparing it to itself I’m still going to act like something else is the series final and just watch this as maybe something that aired in another season and they brought her back because yeah I can’t have her going out like that. :)
What do you think a reboot of the series would look like today?
I have to be honest and say I feel a lot would be copied just comparing it to reboots I’ve seen of other shows currently; as you say there would be differences that may or may not add to the series history but I think a lot will get copied because it was so successful. Throw in some things to make it not a blatant ripoff but on the whole it would be familiar. I’ll admit I’m kind of worried about a reboot so I’m ok with it not rushing out as for as bad as the series final is and other episodes are straight up garbage, “Married With Fishsticks”, on the whole this is again one of the best writing team I’ve seen for complex characters and embracing consequences into your series for characters…their continuity wasn’t bad either and I just worry about how that would be written today. Would it be worthy of the mantle or would it be a shell of itself to cash in on the reboot craze?
I know the pitch idea Javier had was interesting but as this discussion shows there’s a difference between what’s pitched and what’s on screen at the end of the day!
Thanks as always for the great discussions Jackson, I really enjoy them!
I maintain that if the series’ thesis was that death was essential to Xena’s redemption — regardless of the good she did — then there would have been no point in having her live beyond “Sins Of The Past,” when she initially wanted to die (or, heck, “Unchained Heart,” when she was SUPPOSED to die). By launching Xena’s weekly adventures and having the character commit to doing good deeds indefinitely, the series was making the counterargument: fighting evil was the ONLY thing that might bring her some redemption, and even then, she could never fully forgive herself (see: “Forgiven”), because one life saved ≠ one life taken (a point made time and again).
Death for redemption (the rule of this Japanese afterlife) is the precise sticking point in “A Friend In Need,” because even though this is attached to Xena actively saving a huge number of souls for whom she is directly responsible, the idea goes against what the rest of the show espoused. Death hadn’t ever been the best way to seek atonement… except in Japan, apparently.
As for a revival, if made in the next few years, it’ll probably be darker, more serialized, and without any ambiguity as to the nature of Xena/Gabrielle’s relationship. It will probably take itself too seriously — much less comedy — and rely on more magical, superpower-having, god-like villains. It’ll be less mythological, more science-fiction, and I am pretty sure that it will be far less fun.