This one starts with Xena and Gabi on the road, Gabi regaling Xena with a story about two people turning into intertwining trees. Xena leaves Gabi to scout out their route and runs into some villagers being attacked by ruffians. Apparently, the ruffians have attacked before (some kind of territorial dispute in the valley) and the villagers are pacifists so they can’t fight back. One particular villager (Darius) has three kids we’re supposed to find adorable and naturally one of them gets in trouble during the attack, almost getting a half-built barn dropped on his head. Xena rescues the kid but takes an arrow in the gut (after catching two other arrows) from Sphaerus, the guy leading the ruffians’ attack.
Darius takes Xena home to recuperate, which bothers the other villagers; I’m not sure if it’s because of Xena’s rep, or just because Darius has a woman in his house. (His wife died a few years ago; yeah, you see where this is going.) Darius pulls the arrow out of Xena and she passes out. It’s a pretty intense scene … Lucy said she was channeling the pain of childbirth. In the bandit camp, Sphaerus tries to impress his father with his fighting ability and by bragging that he shot someone who was helping the villagers. Sphaerus’s father (Cycnus) isn’t impressed by him shooting a woman and compares Sphaerus to his dead brother, who was a real man. In the village, Xena wakes up and scares the kids (two boys and a girl, who’s been mute since her mom died), who were discussing who gets her stuff if she dies. Meanwhile, Gabi’s waiting in a tavern a few miles back, wondering where the hell Xena is and dealing with the bartender’s dirty looks when she keeps ordering water. In the village, Xena bonds with the kids and is pretty good at it, considering she’s usually so gruff with everyone; maybe a foreshadowing of the Solan revelation next season? Darius’s neighbours don’t like him having a warrior under his roof, especially one with Xena’s reputation. She overhears and tries to leave, but she’s still too weak. Cycnus’s men show up and burn down a silo full of grain.
The next morning, Gabi returns to the tavern to look for Xena (I wonder where she slept?) and gets hit on by some drunken loser. She notices Sphaerus sitting at a table and pretends he’s her boyfriend to scare off the drunk asshole. Sphaerus goes along with it, since Gabi’s such a good kisser. In the village, Darius tells Xena the raiders have offered to talk peace and want everyone to assemble in the town hall. Naturally, Xena’s suspicious of the people who burned the silo just the night before. In the tavern, Sphaerus talks about his father wanting him to join the family business and do things he doesn’t like. Gabi gives him some advice about choices and being his own person. Gabi asks if he’s seen Xena and Sphaerus realizes she’s the woman he arrowed, but doesn’t let on. In the village, Darius tells Xena she can’t wear armour to the meeting and gives her his dead wife’s dress, which is actually kinda creepy. Before the meeting, Cycnus tells Sphaerus he called the “truce” to get all the villagers in one place so Sphaerus and his men could slaughter them. Sphaerus isn’t too thrilled with that. At the meeting, Xena is distinctly unwelcome and Sphaerus is nervous, knowing what’s about to happen. As Sphaerus tries to stall, Xena notices other raiders trying to sneak into the hall.
Xena pounds the ambushers (ripping the hell out of her borrowed dress in the process), allowing the villagers to flee to safety. Sphaerus orders his remaining men not to pursue them. Darius is ready to take off, saying he’s seen enough of fighting. (Darius and the other villagers fled from Troy, where the Trojan War is still raging, so I guess their rampant pacifism is somewhat justified.) At the bandit camp, Cycnus is disappointed that his son didn’t slaughter a bunch of innocent people like sheep. Xena gets ready to ride out and face the raiders, but forgets to pack her chakram; she was probably distracted by the kids fawning over her and Darius packing her a bag lunch for the road. At the bandit camp, the head villager comes to assure Cycnus that Xena isn’t one of them, which turns out to be a bad move, since Cycnus blames Xena for the death of his older son, Stentor. Cycnus tells Sphaerus that Xena betrayed Stentor at the Battle of Corinth, stabbing him in the back. That rouses Sphaerus to action and he volunteers to help his father wipe out the village and kill Xena. On the road, Xena runs into Gabi, who’s been looking for her. Gabi refuses to stay behind when Xena heads out to look for the raiders, who are headed for the village.
Gabi tells Xena about the great guy she met in the tavern and wonders if he’s her “tree”. When they run into the bandits, Xena puts Gabi on Argo (Xena’s horse) and sends her ahead to get the chariots to chase her. Xena drops from a tree (there’s that Amazon training again) and commandeers the second chariot. After getting Gabi off of Argo, there’s a chariot race/fight that ends with both chariots flipping over in spectacular fashion. During the fight, Gabi recognizes Sphaerus and realizes he’s probably not the right guy for her. Cycnus confronts Xena and she tells him she didn’t kill Stentor; he was killed by his own men when he tried to make peace. Cycnus doesn’t believe her and they start fighting. Xena’s at a disadvantage, since she dropped her sword during the chariot crash. Gabi tells Sphaerus it’s time to make a choice about who he wants to be and he stops his father from killing Xena. Darius shows up with Xena’s chakram and she returns the favour, stopping Cycnus from killing his son. Xena kills Cycnus and Sphaerus tells Darius he’s ready to make peace for real. Later, Gabi and Sphaerus say an awkward goodbye and Xena does the same with Darius and his family, even though they all want her to stay … including the mute girl, who talks for the first time in years. As soon as I found out the girl was mute, I knew she’d end up begging Xena to stay; it’s almost a cliché. Xena tells Darius she enjoyed her time with his family but has to move on. As they leave, Xena and Gabi talk about family … and about how much Gabi hates chariots.
This episode isn’t nearly as good as Sins of the Past (it’s #126 on my list); it’s not really a terrible episode, especially by first season standards, it’s just not all that great compared to what comes later. For me, it’s just boring. There are some interesting scenes, though. Gabi giving Sphaerus advice is cool; it’s nice to see that Gabi can be a positive influence on other people besides Xena. Xena’s cynicism about being stronger by herself is belied by how easily she adapts to Darius’s family life, not to mention how close she and Gabi have already gotten. At the end, Xena asks Gabi if she misses her family and Gabi says “Not so much when I’m with you.” I think Xena probably feels the same way, although she’s too stubborn to admit it at this early stage in their relationship.
I know some people don’t like this episode because they think Xena’s sudden love for Darius’s family is unnatural and too quick. Despite what she implies at the end, I don’t think Xena’s enamored of Darius’s family specifically, but more with what it represents: an end to her quest for redemption and a quiet life with people she cares about. I think that’s something Xena sees as desirable but impossibly far off, like the light at the end of a very long tunnel. As we’ll see later (notably in Kindred Spirits) Xena’s not really the “settling down” type, although Gabi kind of is. And in Old Ares Had a Farm, it seems like both of them are wistful for the simpler lives they had as kids, before things got all complicated, but they realize they’ve found a home in each other . I can’t help thinking both Xena and Gabi would eventually get bored with the quiet life, chafing to be out adventuring again like Tennyson’s Ulysses.
- Xena’s reputation is still bad, so I guess word hasn’t spread about her face turn yet.
- Some people mention how it takes a few episodes before Xena addresses Gabi by name (which she never does in Sins of the Past), but she clearly calls her Gabrielle twice during the chariot scene.
- Sphaerus is Gabi’s first “boyfriend of the week”, which was kind of a recurring theme in the early first season. I’m not sure if they were trying to show Gabi as unlucky in love, a hopeless romantic, or if it was meant to be part of her role as the comedy relief. Thankfully, when the character settles down and becomes more grounded, the boyfriends of the week stop showing up (with one or two notable exceptions).
- When Xena tells Gabi to go to Darius’s farm and wait for her, Gabi refuses, insisting on coming along. This won’t be the last time Gabi refuses to be left behind.
- When Gabi jumps off Argo onto the chariot, Xena gives her shit (“you call that a jump?”), but Gabi’s leap (or the stunt double’s leap, I guess) is actually pretty kick-ass; she leans over and puts one hand on the side of the chariot, then vaults into it. I don’t know what Xena was complaining about, I thought Gabi did great for a novice.
- This is the first mention of the Battle of Corinth, a major event in Xena’s life about which we learn more in future episodes. It sounds like Stentor was part of an opposing army, but we never find out which one. Maybe he was a mercenary.
- One of the producers on the first season of Xena was Babs Greyhosky, who also worked on the A-Team. The chariot crashes reminded me a lot of how the A-Team used to do vehicle crashes, so maybe that was Greyhosky’s influence, or an homage of sorts.
- “ … I’d always be grateful for the way she raised me, but she couldn’t expect me to pay for that with my future.” Gabi’s advice to Sphaerus, telling him why she left home against her mother’s wishes.
- “ … I’ll wind up some lonely, pathetic woman like … well, never mind.” Gabi relating her horror of being single when she’s older and realizing she’s kinda describing Xena.
- “Now, all things considered, I think a surrender would be a good start.”; “I accept. Gabrielle, take their weapons.” Xena, when the bandit leader suggests she give up without a fight. He should’ve taken her offer when he had the chance.