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aka Death is M.I.A.

Season 1, episode 09
Series 109
1st release: 11-13-95
2nd release: 03-18-96
1st USA strip release: 08-05-98
2nd USA strip release: 11-11-98
Production number: 76903
Script number: 110
Approximate shooting dates: October 1995
Last update: 02-12-99

SYNOPSIS by Kym Taborn
COMMENTARY by Kym Taborn

Ray Henwood (Sisyphus)
Kate Hodge (Celesta)
Kieren Hutchison (Talus)
Erik Thomson (Hades)
Leslie Wing (Karas)

Wayne England (Wounded Man)
Chris Graham (Toxeus)
Kelly Greene (Guard)
Gordon Hatfield (Seerus)
Paul McLaren (Streptus)
Beryl Te Wiata (Old Woman)
Allan Wilkins (Thug)

Teleplay by Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster
Story by Babs Greyhosky, Adam Armus, and Nora Kay Foster
Edited by Robert Field
Directed by Charles Siebert.

Coming soon

Hades, god of the underworld, asks Xena to undertake the daunting task of freeing his sister -- the embodiment of death -- from the clutches of a greedy king who's captured her.

When King Sisyphus captures Hades' sister Celesta, Xena and Gabrielle must free her before mankind is doomed to eternal suffering.

Xena must rescue Hades' sister Celesta, or mankind is doomed for eternity.

Xena and Gabrielle reluctantly agree to rescue the goddess of death after they discover the negative effect that eternal life has upon humanity.

1st RELEASE: 11-13-95
An AA average of 5.1
Competition from Syndicated Action Dramas:
(1) STAR TREK: DS9 ranked 5th with 7.1
(2) HERCULES ranked 9th with 6.4
(3) BAYWATCH ranked 14th with 5.5
(4) XENA ranked 17th with 5.1

2nd RELEASE: 03-18-96
An AA average of 5.4; a GAA average of 5.8; 201 stations; 96% coverage.
Competition from Syndicated Action Dramas:
(1) STAR TREK: DS9 tied with HERCULES ranking 11th with 5.6
(2) XENA ranked 13th with 5.4
(3) BAYWATCH ranked 18th with 4.6


This synopsis is by Kym Taborn.

Death is entrapped by Sisyphus because he doesn't want to die. How does this work? When Death is entrapped, no one can die! Sisyphus: smart guy! Xena tries to skewer Toxeus, a randomly appearing bad guy, but no go; Toxeus will not die. Xena is mad. Hades, the wimp, and Death's brother, asks for Xena's help, but with the caveat that whoever touches Death will die. Can you sense that death is a theme? Gabrielle and Xena pick up Talus, a pretty young male thing. Xena goes to rescue Death. Talus and Gabrielle follow Xena when they find out about the death clause, not knowing that Xena knows (heck, they should know by now that Xena knows EVERYTHING). Everyone winds up in the castle. Talus joins up with Xena where they encounter the famous rat scene; meanwhile Gabrielle has her own rat encounter. Xena uses her chakram to break Death's bonds and avoid death for herself. Turns out that Sisyphus was not who Death was seeking after all (that silly guy Sisyphus, all that trouble for nothing!), it was Talus. This really bums out Gabrielle, but Talus nonetheless goes abeam with happiness to his death.


This commentary is by Kym Taborn.

What fascinated me the most about this episode (other than the rarely seen in mass media 'death is good' sub-context) was the exploration of the very practical matter of how to kill someone who can't be killed. Xena, of course, expedited the annoying Toxeus by pinning him down with a tree part, but the conundrum nonetheless captivated me thoroughly. One of the many charms of this series was the way it added these little, almost existentialist, flourishes which, in my opinion, pulled it easily out of the 'Baywatch' groove.


Coming soon


Changing Times is by Debbie White.

In DEATH IN CHAINS (#09), Xena tried to solve a problem without using violence and Gabrielle was her usual spunky and courageous self, but learned about letting friends go.

The Changing Xena

Xena began DEATH IN CHAINS in high Xena form by insulting some men who wanted her to join their roving band. She promptly killed the leader, Toxeus, when he tried to kill her. At least she had progressed enough to note, after killing the low-life scum that it was a waste of life. Xena at last realized there was more to life than marauding and killing.

Further, Xena recognized that Talus was a good person, and later noted how special he was in his courage. Xena proved how perceptive she was by realizing why Talus was traveling home before Talus owned up to it. When Xena was evil, good and bad were determined by her honor code more than actually considering each individual and evaluating them. Since she was now seeing people as humans rather than targets, she acknowledged what made some people good and others not. This may stem from her search in herself for what is good and what is bad.

Another point to ponder was King Sisyphus' perception of Xena and the real reason Xena was trying to save Death. Sisyphus said Xena was coming because she was a warrior and without death she could not kill her enemies. Xena was coming because she realized how much pain people would suffer if death was no longer a release. It is interesting to note that the fighters (the low-life scum killed at the beginning of the episode who did not die) felt the pain, but ignored it. The villagers who where not used to pain, felt it and were devastated by it. Xena is a warrior, and because she could ignore or even work through her pain, she was not freeing death for herself. She did it because the people needed death.

When Xena was working her way through the castle, she tried a new way to approach a problem. Sisyphus met to talk with her and Xena tried to talk him into releasing Celesta (Death). However, Sisyphus merely dropped Xena down a pit. Xena did her token talk before fighting speech, and then proceeded on, ready to whack her way to Celesta. Then Sisyphus' wife, Karas, came and offered to help Xena. At first Xena refused. She did not trust Karas and she was in warrior princess mode. It was only when Karas pointed out that Xena could not get there in time that Xena finally listened. The important fact though is Xena did take the time to listen and try talking Sisyphus out of killing Celesta. In CHARIOTS OF WAR (#02), Xena thought fighting was the only way to handle people that were evil. Now she was not only willing to trust people to help her, but was willing to talk again, even though it did not work the first time.

There were a few more points that stood out in this episode. Hades came to ask Xena to help him because she knew of Sisyphus' tricks, and Celesta, a goddess, was trapped by one of those tricks. The gods not only were noticing Xena and asking her to help them, but they acknowledged that she knew more than they did about a mortal!

Also, we see Xena do some more healing work, but this time she used an herb to numb the pain. This indicated that she had some knowledge of herb usage in healing. Xena also made a big mistake while fighting the low-life scums' leader a second time. She actually told him why he was not dying, so then he started to track her to try and stop her from freeing Celesta and making him die.

Finally, Xena actually fell into Sisyphus' trap, even though she knew he was crafty. At least she figured out how to get free from it, but this shows she could not foresee everything a person was going to do.

The Changing Gabrielle

We learn more about Gabrielle than she learns herself in this episode. Gabrielle always seemed attracted to the kind, poetic type. This time she met Talus, who not only helped her heal a stranger, but told a story while doing it. In fact, he knew quite a few stories and was attracted to Gabrielle because she knew them as well. An interesting point about Talus was that he was the first person we see who complemented both Xena AND Gabrielle for traveling around and helping people out. It was the first time Gabrielle was seen as something besides a tag-along by an outsider.

Another thing we see was that Xena had taught Gabrielle enough about healing that Xena simply handed Gabrielle a pouch of medicine and sent her off to heal by herself. Not only that, but Xena gave Gabrielle a mission to handle by herself: go to the hospital in Athens and tell them about the hurt people along the road. Okay, Talus was going with Gabrielle and Xena was really trying to get Gabrielle to stay behind, but at least Xena was smart enough to give Gabrielle a mission she could handle, rather than simply ordering her away. Xena even told Talus that "when Gabrielle has her mind set on something, there's no stopping her. You'll learn that soon enough" so Xena was slowly learning how to handle Gabrielle.

Gabrielle also showed her courage and trust in Xena, along with her concern for Xena. When at the hospital, Gabrielle said that Xena could take care of herself. Still, when Gabrielle learned that touching Celesta killed a person, she was so concerned for Xena that she was willing to travel to the castle alone to find Xena and tell her. Luckily Talus insisted upon coming along.

Also, when Gabrielle and Talus ran into the fighters tracking Xena, they first tried to fast-talk their way out of the situation, and then they tried to run. Before, Gabrielle had been wanting the right to fight (DREAMWORKER #03), but seems by DEATH IN CHAINS finally to have learned the rules of survival. Also, when Gabrielle was captured and asked at knife-point to say where Xena was, Gabrielle was loyal and courageous enough to refuse to say anything.

Gabrielle learned a few things in this episode. First, she started off by saying that adventure is more fulfilling than love in her opinion. Then she promptly started falling in love with Talus. It is interesting how love and adventure seem to intertwine with her. Also, Gabrielle reluctantly let Talus go with Death at the end because it was what was best for him, even though not what she wanted. Also interesting to note is that she hugged Xena for comfort as Talus left and Xena actually was comfortable enough with Gabrielle to allow her to do that and also hugged Gabrielle back.

Another thing Gabrielle learned was that there were many men trying to kill Xena in order to improve their reputation. She seemed to finally understand that Xena had quite a standing and that men would kill her because of that to establish their own fame. Gabrielle was beginning to understand how evil men think.


This is the infamous Dr. Kevorkian episode where every positive reason for death is laid out in excruciating detail.


These things are by Beth Gaynor.

Coming soon


Prepared by SheWho.

Shooting draft 10/20/95. The script is titled "Death in Chains" a.k.a. "Death is M.I.A." [They definitely picked the right one.] Writing credits to be announced; contributing writers are Babs Greyhosky and Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster. Directed by Charles Siebert.

Don't know if it's obvious from the televised version or not, but when Toxeus attacks after Xena refuses to join his army, "Xena steps in front of Gabrielle and draws her sword just in time to block his assault." [I didn't realize she moved toward Gabrielle, seemingly to protect her, as worded.]

After Xena disarms him, Toxeus lunges at her with a hidden knife. "Instinctively, she spins as the evil thug tries to stab her. She blocks his blow, then twists his arm, driving the dagger back into his own chest." [No biggie, but in the televised version, she nails him with her sword.] Xena tells Gabrielle, "Let's go," then starts away. "Gabrielle hesitates, looking at Toxeus' lifeless body. Then, feeling creepy, she shudders and quickly follows."

The script was a little less budget conscious, I guess: Hades and his chariot appear from a chasm that opens in the road before Xena and Gabrielle.

The next scene between Gabrielle and Xena has some fun stuff, but was omitted from the televised version.

"Xena walks with a stunned Gabrielle":

      Gabrielle: "I can't believe it. Eternal life. We're gonna live forever!"
      Xena: "Not so fast. Nobody's living forever."
      Gabrielle: "So, you're gonna help Hades?"
      Xena: "He's not evil, Gabrielle, just misunderstood. And what he wants is for the good of mankind."
      Gabrielle: "I don't trust him. He has beady eyes. And since when do the gods ask you for favors?"
      Xena: "When the favor is to defeat King Sisyphus."
      Gabrielle: "Sisyphus. Right. I've heard he's the shrewdest man alive. He has this amazing castle, very creepy. Sisyphus and his allies wiped the floor with the one army stupid enough to invade."
      Xena (interrupted): "*We* fought them to a draw."
      Gabrielle (realizing): "That was you?" (then, with a smile) "Did I say stupid? I meant courageous."

"Xena shakes her head."

And, as usual with Armus & Foster, we are subjected to obligatory heterosexual reassurances: During the scene in which Gabrielle meets Talus, "Gabrielle and Talus work together, Gabrielle taking the lead and Talus anticipating her every move. They fashion a rudimentary tourniquet as Talus puts the Second Wounded Man at ease." After Talus tells a story to the wounded man, Gabrielle is "taken with him," and when he says a good story always gets him through the hard times, "Gabrielle's eyes light up. Is this guy perfect or what?" [Do I gag or what?]

While Talus and Gabrielle are at the pond, "They look into each others' eyes, an obvious attraction growing here." [See previous question.]

      Gabrielle (a little embarrassed): "So, how do you know so much about flowers, anyway? Wait, I know . . ."
      Gabrielle and Talus: "Books."

"They exchange smiles, then Gabrielle tucks the flower behind her ear and looks at her reflection in the water."

[In Armus & Foster's world, Gabrielle wouldn't care about suffering people nearby in need of water, when she's got a cute boy to focus on.]

Budget issues again: In the scripted version, Xena loses her pursuers on the way to Sisyphus's castle in a bit more interesting manner than leaping on them from a tree. A giant chasm opens up right in front of her.

"Track Xena as she convinces her horse to do the impossible -- they leap into the void, and come thundering down on the other side.

"Two of Toxeus' thugs, led by Seerus, ride in pursuit of Xena. They see the same ravine and charge forward, only to be undone when their horses stop short, sending the men hurdling into the ravine."

An omitted scene:

"Karis joins Sisyphus as he looks out at his kingdom."

      Sisyphus: "Look at our subjects. They're dancing in the street."
      Karis: "They're celebrating eternal life. And it's all because of you, Sisyphus."

"Sisyphus smiles at Karis, reassured."

      Sisyphus: "I'll check on our guest."

"Sisyphus exits. Just then, a wounded bird lands near Karis on the balcony. It hobbles, in obvious pain. She touches it in sympathy. Then, her face drops. She knows this bird will live in eternal pain."

Another scene difference: When Xena enters the castle, rather than just forearming the guard who approaches her, the two draw their swords, "the Guard raises his sword to strike, but instead of fending him off, Xena puts her sword back behind her head, blocking the blow of the real guard, not his reflection! Xena quickly spins and kicks the guard in the gut. As he doubles over, she knees him in the face, flooring him. She crosses over to the trick mirror and knocks on the surface."

      Xena (to herself): "Not bad."

"The guard moans behind her. Xena crosses to him."

      Xena: "So, what other surprises does Sisyphus have in store for me?"

"He looks at her, fear in his eyes."

"On Sisyphus behind the two-sided mirror. He's secretly watching Xena. A sly smile lights his face."

The opening exchange between Celesta and Karis is omitted from the next scene:

      Celesta: "Please. Help me."
      Karis: "He's my husband. If I release you, he'll die."
      Celesta: "If you don't, the world's misery will be on your conscience, Karis."

"Karis considers her words. Just then, Sisyphus enters quickly . . . ."

In the scene at the hospital, when Gabrielle asks the old woman what she means about how Xena will handle Death, the woman replies, "Ah, of course you wouldn't know. It's one of the gods' little mysteries." She then beckons her closer . . . .

An interesting little change: When Talus attempts to dissuade Gabrielle from going to Xena by telling her about Sisyphus's guards, Gabrielle's immediate response, "It doesn't matter," is not in the shooting script.

There are two exchanges between Charon and Hades in the shooting script, neither of which made it to the televised version. The first follows the hospital scene:

"Ext. River Styx - The Underworld

A heavy mist. Hades stands on the shores of the river with Charon, the boatman. There's no one else in sight."

      Charon: "No one! And winter is our busy season." (then) "By the way, who did you send to rescue her? Hermes? No, Ares, right?"
      Hades: "Xena."
      Charon: "A mortal? Are you crazy?" (off Hades' glare) "I mean, a mortal. How interesting."
      Hades: "If the other gods discover that my sister was stolen, I'll be laughed off of Mount Olympus. I sent Xena so no one will be the wiser."
      Charon: "But what if she fails?"
      Hades: "Then it will be just you and me for all eternity."

"Charon smiles nervously, turning away from Hades."

      Charon (quietly cheering): "Come on, Xena."

Another minor scene difference suggesting that they mellowed out this episode, effects-wise: When Xena encounters Sisyphus, she first sees a large crate in the room, "opened to show it is empty. Xena draws her sword and approaches cautiously. She pokes her sword inside, nothing there. As she turns, a flash lights the crate and Sisyphus appears out of thin air." Xena is "thoroughly unimpressed," btw.

When Talus and Gabrielle approach the castle, it's actually Gabrielle who finds the escape tunnel that Talus knows is around somewhere.

When Gabrielle and Talus are running from Toxeus' thugs, Gabrielle's skirt is trapped in the stairs when they collapse. "Her skirt caught, Gabrielle watches helplessly as Talus loses his footing and slides down the ramp created by the flattened stairs . . . ." [Her skirt wasn't caught on screen; he just falls down the stairs too fast for her to react. I think they wanted to give her a reason for not being able to rescue him.]

Gabrielle hides from Toxeus and his men behind a large shield, rather than a curtain. The rat crawls out from behind the shield, and Toxeus walks over there. "He turns to walk away, then quickly spins and pulls the shield from the wall. Nothing. Gabrielle is gone! Toxeus throws the shield to the ground, then starts down the hall. Stay on the wall a beat, then a stone pops out. Gabrielle peeks her head through and taps on the shield and nods, as if to say 'cool.'" The squashed rat scene, and Gabrielle's reaction to it, is not in the shooting script.

Another omitted Charon-Hades exchange:

"Close on hands playing 'Cat's Cradle' with a piece of string. Widen to Charon. He's the one playing with the string. He offers it to Hades who swats his hands aside. Charon's boat sits idle."

      Charon: "I don't know, Hades. Shouldn't Xena have rescued her by now?"
      Hades: "There's still time, Charon. Don't give up your ship just yet."
      Charon: "Funny." (then) "Maybe she's gone soft. You know her business has dropped off lately."
      Hades: "Perhaps I should send you to fight Sisyphus instead of Xena."
      Charon: "Me?! Let's not get hasty there, Hades. We've got time. Besides, I've got to get my boat ready, that first rush is gonna be a killer."

"Charon rubs a rag along his boat. Hades looks out over the river, hopeful."

In the scripted version, Talus and Xena walk down a hallway, and the walls begin closing in. The rats then appear, "multiplying, becoming two, then three deep; the rat level rising like water in a well." Xena finds a wooden door in the wall, and wedges her sword between the wall and the door. "Talus, exhausted by his efforts, collapses into the rodent pool. The rats swarm near his fallen body. Xena sends a few flying with a kick from her foot as she watches the sword start to bend, then hold. A beat, then the door bursts outward from the pressure. Xena grabs Talus."

Xena and Talus walk down a grand hallway. "Large murals line the walls. Xena spots a mural of Sisyphus and a centaur, then, a little farther down, a mural of a warrior princess with her Army (Xena). Vaguely familiar. She continues down the hall."

An omitted line: When Talus collapses and tells Xena he is ill, he says that he should have told Gabrielle. "But I've been down for so long, and then I meet someone special like Gabrielle, I just wanted to forget for a while."

Omitted scene, including our bard showing her ingenuity:

"Int. Dungeon Hallway - Day. Gabrielle slowly moves along the shadowy wall, keeping as silent as possible. As she watches her back, we see her head towards a table on which sits an ancient marble game (antiquity's answer to Chinese Checkers). Gabrielle mistakenly walks into the table, nearly knocking over the game and sending dozens of marbles to the floor, but she catches it just in time."

      Gabrielle: "That was close."

"She looks at the marbles, then gets an idea. She puts them in her pockets and rushes down the hall."

Omitted scene:

"Int. Grand Hallway - Day. In the ornate hall, Xena and Talus pass a number of lifelike murals with battle scenes painted on them. As they continue, we see something frightening behind them. One of the wall murals seems to come to life! What looks like a painting is in fact a bas-relief camouflage for live warriors!

"Three of them, one with a whip, one with a scimitar and one with a small collection of knives, step out. The Whip Warrior cracks his weapon, Xena spins to face them."

      Xena (aside to Talus): "Wait here."

"Xena approaches them, drawing her sword."

      Xena: "Talk about ugly art."

"Suddenly, the Warriors attack. Xena easily fends off the Scimitar Warrior with her sword, until the Whip warrior, cracks his whip around Xena's wrist. Xena counters by switching hands -- she's ambidextrous! [That explains that little smile on Gab's face.]

"She knocks the Scimitar Warrior unconscious with the blunt end of her sword, then does a back somersault, yanking the whip out of the Whip Warrior's hands! Left unarmed, the Whip Warrior flees. She turns to face off against the Knife Warrior.

"Shirtless, this warrior wears a vest made of leather straps holding an arsenal of deadly blades. He flings two daggers at Xena.

"She drops her sword and catches them in her bare hands! The Knife Warrior rearms, but Xena reacts quickly. She charges at him, flying in the air and landing a kick right to his jaw.

"The Knife Warrior flies back into the painting, out cold. Xena rejoins Talus."

      Xena: "We don't have much time."
      Talus (gesturing): "This hall leads to Sisyphus' private chamber."
      Xena: "Good. Let's go."

Then a remorseful Karis stops them . . . .

Omitted scene:

"Int. Castle Entry - Day. Three of Toxeus' Army of the Dead search the area for . . ."

      Gabrielle (O.S.): "Yoo, hoo! Fellas!"

"Gabrielle stands at the far end of the room, waving at them. Has she lost her mind? The Thugs charge after her; Gabrielle doesn't move.

"Another angle - As the Thugs are almost upon her, we close in on the floor. Marbles! The Thugs unwittingly land on them, sending the Thugs high in the air, then crashing to the ground."

      Gabrielle: "Yes!" [Love it when she says that. Also when she says, "Yessss!"]

"As Gabrielle turns to head down the hall, she spots Toxeus and more Thugs. Gabrielle takes off."

Omitted scene:

"Int. Dungeon Chamber - Day. Celesta's candle fades to almost nothing. She can barely move.

"Widen to include Sisyphus wearing his sword and royal battle gear."

      Sisyphus: "Not much time left. And with my next trap, Xena will have no hope of releasing you."

"Celesta tries to respond, but she is too weak. Sisyphus looks at her, guiltily."

      Sisyphus: "I am sorry, Celesta. I didn't want it to go this far. I thought Zeus would come to make a deal. But now I'm left with no choice."

"Sisyphus exits."

In the scripted version, Xena's rescue of Gabrielle from Toxeus is a little more dramatic. Xena has signaled to Sisyphus, who backs slowly toward the wall. Toxeus grabs a sword to run Xena through, but, "His sword connects with a thunderous crash! Glass flies everywhere. It's a mirror! Toxeus turns back around . . . Toxeus' P.O.V. Xena's foot comes flying right into his face. Toxeus goes down."

      Xena: "Surprise."

"Xena is joined by Sisyphus."

      Sisyphus: "That turned out well."

Then Xena tells him to unlock Celesta while she handles the others . . . .

During the fight scene, the lines "Die, Xena!" and "Not today!" are not in the shooting script. In the script, Xena's chakram misses Toxeus but hits the chains binding Celesta. Toxeus is just about to stab Gabrielle when the pain of death disables him. [The TV version makes more sense: The chakram knocks the knife from Toxeus's hand before freeing Celesta. Xena wouldn't miss a knife aimed at the bard.]

In the shooting script, Xena comes up next to Gabrielle and puts her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder to break the bad news of Talus's illness to her.

A small, but significant difference in the wonderful, VCR-wearing-out hug at the end. In the script, "Xena puts her arm around Gabrielle, pulling her close." The TV version made more sense, and was more meaningful in showing Xena's development as a person and as Gabrielle's friend: Gabrielle turns to Xena, who is at first disconcerted, then adjusts and puts her arms around Gabrielle to comfort her.


Click here to read a transcript of DEATH IN CHAINS.


No Unabating or Severely Punishing Deities were harmed during the production of this motion picture.


Coming soon


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