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COMMENTARIES ON
CRUSADER



COMMENTARY 1 by Beth Gaynor
COMMENTARY 2 by Deb E McGhee
COMMENTARY 3 by Missy Good
COMMENTARY 4 by Xorys
COMMENTARY 5 by Bethany Faison
COMMENTARY 6 by Videntur
COMMENTARY 7 by L.N. James
COMMENTARY 7 by Elad Avron
COMMENTARY 9 by Philip Teo


COMMENTARY 1:

Commentary by Beth Gaynor.

Hmmm, methinks we have a new nemesis. One who, when you get right down to it, might be as psychopathic and even more dangerous than Callisto was. Where Callisto's face was fair and actions brutal, Najara's talk is sweet, wrapping her twisted ideas in enough sugar to make the average villager hug her instead of running away screaming. And instead of being obsessed with Xena, this one's focus is solely on Gabrielle. I'm betting we'll see Najara again - her final shot was awfully similar to the last look we got at Callisto in her introductory episode. Batten down those hatches, this chick might make things reeeaaalll twisted.

Important question: what ARE the djinn? They must be telling Najara something - she pegged Xena and Gabrielle pretty well and knew about Xena's death visions. In real history, djinn were spirits (like genies) that could influence people in all kinds of interesting ways. What are these things that are feeding Najara tidbits of ideas? Hey, Naj: just because something's a spirit don't make it trustworthy. "Ooo, a spirit! Are you a good spirit?" "Uhm, yes, absolutely. I'm a very good spirit. Do everything I say." "Oh, OK!"

I might have taken Najara a bit more seriously if she didn't sound so much like an airport Hare Krishna. Lines like "So much good to be done, and so little time to do it"? Pardon me while I gag. That over-idealism, though, is just the kind of thing that goes right to Gabrielle's soft spot. You'd think after that little snafu in Brittania she'd be a bit more cautious about becoming a cultie.

Najara's goofy talk was interspersed with some SERIOUS competence, both in her fighting and in her manner. I loved the way she flipped that sword around when she offered it to Xena and took it back. I bet she can do some neat party tricks.

Najara is obviously built to be a shadowy reflection of Xena (or vice versa). Same battle skill, same leadership ability, same focus, complete with battlin' sidekicks, faithful horses, and war cries. But where Xena is emotionally closed off and filled with guilt and remorse, Najara is open, can't wait to hug and kiss the villagers she saves, and never feels a shred of doubt or sorrow - even when she should. As Gabrielle notes, Xena may have the more obvious problems, but hers are a lot less damaging in the long run.

That was quite a horse stunt that Najara pulled when we first saw her. I couldn't even tell how Xena got hit; she must have been knocked over by sheer "what the heck is that supposed to be?" force.

Why was it so ominous that Najara caught the arrow headed for Gabrielle? Xena was going to catch the arrow; Najara just got to it first. It wasn't as if Xena had failed to protect Gab. I didn't think the fact that Najara could protect, too, was so astonishing, but the music and reaction of Xena sure made it look like it was supposed to be.

We saw the second of Alti's visions in the fight between Najara and Xena. And for all Xena's cynicism about Miss Sweetness-and-Light, she asks her opinion about the death vision. And finally entrusts Gabrielle to her, although she quickly regrets that choice. Gabrielle's not the only one who got suckered.

Xena decides to sneak away from Gabrielle for her own good just like Gabrielle did so long ago in Ties That Bind. Thankfully, both ideas were equally short-lived. Gabrielle weighs the problem of how she can reconcile her aversion to killing and sticking around with a killing machine, and Xena decides to end the debate for her - and bow out. With the death vision haunting her, Xena figures, by getting out of the way, to stop the past harm she's visited on Gab and the future death she could bring. It's tough to watch. It's one of those "heart in the right place, execution waaaayyyy off course" moves that's wonderfully sweet and painfully stupid at the same time. And Gabrielle will probably never even realize Xena tried to do it, just like Xena never seemed to find out what Gab tried in Ties That Bind. Ah, well.

The splits Xena does in the first fight with Najara are the same that we see her do with such wincing pain in Tale of Two Muses. Guess Xena's been doing some stretching since then. Cute break-dancing move Najara uses to take out the table legs. Hammer time!

Najara and Xena's two fights are both over Gabrielle, pure and simple. Sure, there's the niggling little issue about who we're allowed to kill when, but the swords don't get drawn until Gabrielle gets added to the equation. Then things get bloody. And when Najara claims victory the first time, Gabrielle knows darned well who the prize is supposed to be. She offers herself up to keep Najara at bay - if she hadn't, Miss Sweetness would likely accuse Gabrielle of an insincere conversion and shish-ka-bob the two of them. So Gabrielle goes with Najara, and in a great exercise in futility tries to offer a little reason to make Najara rethink her ideas. It gets nowhere, and the moment Xena shows up, Gabrielle's ready to motor, even with Xena a little wild in the eyes.

In case we were missing the subtlety-of-a-sledgehammer discussions between Xena and Najara about who the bard belongs with and why, Gabrielle's flower garland looks a lot like the one she wore for her wedding in Return of Callisto. Are you feeling like a wishbone yet, Gab?

Xena won the first fight against Najara, then turned her back on the down opponent and got laid low by cheap shots. She gets beaten into next Tuesday (and needs a trip to the dentist - shudder. "I hate that"? How many times has this happened!?), and her attacker takes off with the bard forcefully under her wing. "She likes killing too much" (Mizz Pot, meet Mizz Kettle)," "she beat you up so badly," and toss in a little bard-napping. Three ways to GUARANTEE to honk off the Warrior Princess.

Runner-up line of the episode goes to Nasty Xena for "Ooo. That's gonna hurt." I just loved the "Ooo." Gab takes a close Honorable Mention for the line "Uhh, Xena? Can you get me off this thing?" while offscreen smacking-around is going on.

But for the score point, Najara wins out in the end: "That would hurt (Gabrielle), and I don't ever want to do that. That's your job." Oh, OUCH! That's gonna leave a mark on Xena's ever-present guilt complex.



COMMENTARY 2:

Commentary by Deb E McGhee.

SOUNDBYTE SUMMARY: Dark, Light, Shades of Grey; Confusions, Conundrums, Hypocrisy, and a possible answer to the age old Perdicus question. Rating: 5 quills (out of 5).

ANALYSIS-REVIEW

Ah, I haven't had a good RJ Stewart-style soul-twisting in a long time, and d*mn if it didn't feel good. I don't know that anyone else is as good at getting inside X&G and seeing what they're made of. Crusader is the latest in a series of thought-provoking scripts that includes Sins of the Past, The Titans, A Fistful of Dinars, Callisto, Return of Callisto, Gabrielle's Hope, and Forgiven. All of these focus on the psychology of Xena and Gabrielle, individually and in relationship, and especially their codes regarding power and justice and the roles that violence and forgiveness play in those codes.

From the moment that lone rider appeared on the hill, accompanied by music eerily similar to that which accompanied Xena when we first saw her in Sins of the Past, I knew in the very depths of my soul that Stewart had planned a scary and trippy ride. Indeed, for virtually every millisecond of screen time, and every last word, syllable and punctuation mark, notions of right and wrong, good and evil, self-determination and destiny are brought into the open and subjected to examination and challenge.

As a counterpoint to the morally ambiguous protagonist (Xena), we are presented with an ambiguous antagonist named Najara. Najara hears the voices of spirit guides (jinn), ministers to the downtrodden, is bright and open and enjoys the simple beauty of nature, and shares the name of perhaps the best known writer of Jewish canticles (hymns): Rabbi Israel Najara. On the other hand, she's got a backbone of steel and is a masterful fighter who executes criminals who do not "turn to The Light" within a specified time period.

It would be so easy to dismiss Najara as a crazed, power-mad fanatic, wouldn't it? Surely no one can be *that* good, and surely, because she executes those she finds irredeemable she must be "bad". She hears voices, for gosh sakes! She's got that odd gleam in her eyes! She's a hypocrite! Sort of like Ste. Jeanne d'Arc, no? Or maybe even like "fair trial" Xena, the dispatcher of evil infants.

Seriously, it's hard to for me to believe that Stewart is honestly proposing that Xena can kill any and all 'bad guys' she wants (including many who were probably just like that boy in Remember Nothing, except they didn't have the good fortune of their helmets falling off) and was wholly justified in her mission to knock off Hope based on circumstantial evidence, but Najara -- who gives people who have been caught in the act of murdering, plundering, pillaging, and whatnot some length of time to recant -- is unjust and wrong. Indeed, that would be a very odd double-message for a writer to send, but I see no evidence in any aspect of the portrayal of Najara to suggest that she *is* to be viewed as any more corrupt or wrong than Xena.

On the contrary, Najara's 'morality' is the centerpiece of the story, and it provides a way not only to reflect on the values of Xena and Gabrielle, but also on ours, the viewing audience. That one would label her the Bad Guy who should be sent away in chains says more about the person doing the judging than about Najara herself. What exactly, on the balance, is worse about N's code than Xena's? And why shouldn't Najara think that Xena is bad for Gabrielle? Not only is Najara ambiguous, but her status as antagonist is derived from her psychological and emotional effect on X&G, rather than any outright hostility or active obstruction of goals. From that standpoint, Najara is a beautifully crafted character.

Najara brings out so much about Xena, Gabrielle, and X&G. Xena reacts to her with immediate suspicion and distrust that borders on paranoia. Her closing off is so extreme I was reminded of the reaction of vampires to sunlight -- leading me to wonder if Xena's partnership with Gabrielle isn't a twisted act of penance of some sort. In contrast, Gabrielle reacts like a moth near a flame ("Oooh, pretty!"), and I wonder how and why someone so Light-thirsty stays with the Tall, Dark, and Brooding One unless she herself has a martyr complex. These are questions for thought and for which no answers are provided, but one thing is clear: Gabrielle and Xena are still struggling for balance within and between themselves. The events of last (and this) year have presented the heroes a whole new set of (mostly psychological) issues to work out.

I often think of Xena and Gabrielle as providing balance to one another, but Crusader also highlights how much instability is in the X&G system. This is done not only through dialogue, but also in the pair's actions and expressions. X&G destabilise one another, cause one another to act irrationally and selfishly.

For example, I got the sense almost immediately (during the teaser) that Xena's wariness of Najara was not simply a matter of her possible criminality, and not just due to X's warrior ego being bruised, but rather that Najara was perceived as posing a threat to Xena's place in Gabrielle's heart. Note that Xena constantly monitors Gabrielle's reactions to Najara and is put off or hurt whenever G responds in a bright, sunshiny way, but is positively smug when she feels as if she (X) has bested N in some way. This gets X into trouble in the tavern fight scene: She flashes her self-congratulatory sneer, turns her back on N, and then proceeds to get her butt whupped something good. Jealousy may be normal and commonplace, but it also belies a certain degree of insecurity... and will get your behind into trouble, too boot (like when you go sneaking around listening in on private conversations).

Even when Xena tries to protect Gab from portended death, she is extremely emotional and irrational about it. LL's portrayal of a desperate Xena in the stable scene knocked me for a loop. Her eyes were tearing, for gosh sakes! In front of her rival! And the display came across as perfectly believable and in character. In addition to that, however, X manages this prophecy in a way that completely ignores G's right to self-determination. She doesn't discuss it with G, she doesn't give G the chance to argue her down, rather she manoeuvres behind G's back to drop her off with a new 'caretaker'. Xena's tendency to treat Gab as a fetish continues (also sharply depicted in X's line about her "weakness", the final cave scene in which a slightly mad Xena roughly grabs Gabrielle, and the staging of that scene with G as the prized object).

Gabrielle's disequilibrium when it comes to Xena is also highlighted a number of times. G confesses to N that she is unsure of her path with Xena and desires meaning or "something", yet she can offer no convincing argument in the moment for *staying* with X. It was in that moment I felt like I got more insight into G's decision to marry Perdicus. Gabrielle *wants* to help, she wants to foster goodness, she wants to The Right Thing, but when she is confused and uncertain about which path to take, Xena is basically unable to provide any guidance. Gabrielle continues to look outside herself for answers, still unable to completely believe that she need not look to Xena and the greater good, or Perdicus and marriage, or Najara and an initiation rite to be a "good person".

Twice more Gabrielle is rendered speechless when challenged about her decisions -- first, when Najara brings up flaws in X's 'greater good' methods, and secondly when N tells G that those she and her men killed at Tyre were ruthless pirates. The confusion and shade of guilt that flicker across Gabrielle's face in that moment are painful to watch.

It's also interesting that Gab doggedly tries to defend her and Xena's methods as superior despite her earlier statements of misgivings and despite so much evidence that they are just as flawed as N's. Gabrielle has seen firsthand how misguided, ineffectual, wrong, or downright corrupt "local governments" can be, starting with the town council of Amphipolis, on through the prison at Shark Island, yet she becomes reactionary when it's a matter of arguing that Xena's way is better than Najara's. And doesn't Gabrielle wonder what happened to all of Najara's men (you know, the ones that are lying dead in a clearing)?

What was perhaps most unsettling was G's somewhat-guilty, somewhat-nervous expression when Najara brings up X's history of hurting Gabrielle. I don't know where ROC pulled that from, but I daresay I'd give her a 10.0 for capturing the look of an abashed partner of a violent person. Disquieting, that.

One other thing to consider is that there are a couple of times at least where Xena's and Gabrielle's words or actions are quite ambiguous. Gabrielle wanted to be initiated into The Light, but did she also plan to stay with Najara at the hospice? Wouldn't she have said something to Xena? Second, Just how much of Gabrielle's plea to Najara for Xena's life was honest and sincere? We can surmise that it's true that she could never live with the person who killed Xena, but what of the fear of the darkside comment? Isn't it perfectly plausible that Gabrielle *is* deeply afraid of Xena's rage? Likewise, how much of Xena's behaviour in the cave was an act? She certainly had no need to act the madwoman when she grabbed G's wrist before Najara arrived, but I also have to wonder if a part of Xena doesn't feel that Gabrielle is a millstone around her neck. It seemed apparent in Xena's line "That's gonna hurt" that X was planning on dropping N into the chasm, but Gabrielle denied Xena that satisfaction.

Yet and still, Xena and Gabrielle stay together and go off to find yet another mission. Xena's secret is intact and Gabrielle at least knows that she's not with a person who might execute her if she errs...{ahem}. Gabrielle and Xena are portrayed so humanly -- so blinded by their own biases, so riddled with imperfections and contradictions, so confused, and yet so determined to do right and to find their way.

Crusader was one of those rare gems where everything just seemed to 'click'. The acting on the part of the three principals was very good to excellent. I was especially impressed with Kathryn Morris's take on Najara; I felt she gave the character the dimension and depth necessary for supporting her ambiguous nature. ROC and LL both did great face work throughout the episode. Stewart's scripts tend to be very vulnerable to mis-direction, but Lynch successfully captured the many nuances of dialogue and performance. Most notable was the sequence of scenes starting with Gab observing Najara's interactions with the villagers, the cut to Xena's vision, and ending with the stable scene. The lighting of Xena (all darkness and shadows), Najara (mostly light with some shadows), and Gabrielle (practically glowing golden) was fabulous. The fight scenes were especially well directed and edited and, in contrast to Lynch's earlier work in One Against an Army, believably staged and executed.

Crusader is a koan episode: a puzzle to be returned to and reflected upon for months to come. Now, with all that has happened recently in Gabrielle and Xena's lives, it was time for an episode that specifically and honestly examined fundamental questions about their relationship. Crusader didn't give many clear answers (and it didn't need to), and it wasn't 'easy' to watch, but I definitely found it exciting, intelligent, and very satisfying.

VARIOUS AND SUNDRY

In the teaser, Najara's men report the fight going on over the hill, but then continue on their way...in the direction *opposite* the fighting. Why is that?

My heart did a little pitter-patter when I heard the voice of David Te Rare (Marat, formerly Theodorus).

Did you know: Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon, with adjoining coasts of Israel and Syria) is considered part of The Levant, the seacoast countries of the eastern Mediterranean. The Levant is so named because it is in the direction of the rising sun.

I don't always (overtly) discuss possible sexual subtext interpretations in these reviews, but Crusader was practically slapping me in the face with it! {g} I mean, really, for the Initiation, Gabrielle dons a flower-for-flower copy of the wreath she wore when she married Perdicus... and does a nicely symbolic doffing when she finds out Najara executes her prisoners. I could go on, but that would increase the length of this review by half, and isn't it long enough already?

The Understatement of the Epoch Award goes to Xena for: "I seem to hurt her." (regarding her relationship with Gabrielle)

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention campfire scenes in a Stewart episode. Whoo doggie! Gab and Xena start off with their own campfire where they insulate themselves and evaluate the natives and one another, then Najara comes along and a wonderful bit of character study ensues, and later Gabrielle ends up snuggled like a bunny amongst the Phoenicians at *their* fire whilst Xena bids her a wistful adieu. {sniffle}



COMMENTARY 3:

Commentary by Missy Good.

One of the things Dahak and Hope said they were going to do is take away everything Xena cares about and if they take away her unmatched skills, and Gabrielle's regard, what does that leave her? Not a whole lot besides a ton of bad memories and a history of angry women with grudges chasing her down. Xena was a bad*ss, and a killer, and everything.. but in this moment, I felt for her. Killing Gabrielle didn't do her in - she kept to her path, slogging against the darkness, but what would the effect be if Gabrielle just abandoned her? Decided on a different path that didn't include Xena deliberately? That would be, imho, a lot worse than Gab's dying.

When Xena decides that Gabrielle should be in a safer place is the most selfless thing I"ve ever seen Xena do.. she's willing to leave Gabrielle in Najara's care to avoid her dying and never return. Or maybe it's because she senses what's going through Gabrielle's mind, and it's easier on her if she leaves, rather than have to live through Gabrielle leaving her.

It's an interesting new villain, one who shares the same hair cut Gab had in the crucifixion scene. I can see what they mean about her not being totally evil.

Based on Gabrielle's speech in the cave, I'm going to assume she was telling Najara she'd go to live with her to save Xena's life, and not because she actually was going to leave the poor warrior, because if that's how Gab really feels, then what's the point? I think Xena's made it pretty clear how important Gabrielle is to her - to the level that she's willing to give up one of the few things she values in life to ensure Gabrielle's safety, and she gets paid back by the knowledge that Gabrielle is just basically going along with her till she finds something better?

Ouch. I sense some Xenaverse Gab Bashing coming shortly. However, I have a smiley face tattooed on my forehead, so I'm going to believe Gabrielle was doing this to save Xena's life, even though she really didn't show much interest in where Xena was after the attack, and immediately jumped to Najara's defense when Xena accused her.

I had lots of logic, and character consistency problems with this one and I ended up feeling terrible for Xena, and more than a little annoyed at Gabrielle, which is not how I usually end up an episode. Especially after last week, where Gabrielle pretty neatly proved her loyalty, and ended the ep assuring Xena she'd be all right "As long as I'm around."



COMMENTARY 4:

Commentary by Xorys.

Well! I'm not really quite sure what to make of this ep. A bit of a roller-coaster, eh, from the opening music to the closing "I forgive you, Gabrielle...

I liked that opening music (Narara's theme, is it perhaps?) the instrument featured sounds very like the Indian Shehnai, of which I own a few examples, and on which I've been known tootle from time to time - although it may be some middle-eastern instrument of similar type... an external double-reed pursed between the lips, played through a simple wooden tube with finger holes, and with a bell shaped metal mouth piece - basically a small, modern member of the shawm family.

And as we hear it play we see a lone rider on a dark horse (hint, hint - remember that comment about how Xena switched from a dark horse to a lighter one after she reformed...) riding over hills through a lush landscape. Is anyone else reading possible significance into Najara being accorded the honour of this opening shot...?

And then she meets three men ambling along a path, who complain that "our men" are being destroyed on the other side of the hill. Err yes.... so why were they just wandering away from the fight - lost interest, did they?

Interesting exchange of fancy horse manoeuvres as Najara and Xena engage for the first time - Najara somehow hangs right off the side of her horse in order to knock Xena sprawling, and, not to be outdone (yet...) Xena does one of her patented flying leaps, to descend from the air and unseat Najara. Some more vigourous combat ensues (with Gab right in the thick of it again, as she seems to generally be this season), culminating in Najara poised to try and impale Gab and Xena poised to give her a chakram in the throat for her trouble (which would have made this an *awfully* short ep...)

But Najara has a djinn problem... (so do I, but more of that later) - and she pauses in mid stroke, communes with her inner voices, and then apologises profusely to X & G. End of teaser.

So why did Dack & co. start the fight with X & G? "We thought they might be on their way to Zoros." Err.. seems like a pretty thin excuse. After all, they all speak English, don't they (ridiculously enough)? So why couldn't they have just asked?

Najara's costume looked impressive, but did anyone else think that it started to actually make Xena and Gab's attire look practical for fighting in? I mean, X & G may show rather a lot of skin for warriors, but at least they can move! Can you imagine trying to fight in an ankle length leather skirt? For that matter, can you imagine riding all day in it in a hot country? Pffeww! And earrings! I know first hand the dangers of dealing with an excited cat wearing dangling earrings like that... I *certainly* don't think they'd be a good idea in any kind of a fight!

And what is the mission that Najara invites X & G to join her on? "To fight evil wherever we find it." "Can you be a little more specific?" Fair question... but the original answer sounds pretty much like X & G's own standard operating procedure. Except now, aren't they on their way somewhere? Is anyone *ever* going to tell us about that??? At least now we know exactly where they are - in Phoenicia, which corresponds roughly to modern western Syria, Lebanon, maybe as far south as Israel. The Phoenicians were known as great sea-faring people in the ancient world - remember we encounter Hasdrudaal the Phoenician when Xena negotiated with him in Britannia for a passage back to Greece, in Gabrielle's Hope. If Xena and Gab are actually making for India, it's hard to see why they'd be in Phoenicia, unless they started out by taking a boat - going straight overland from Greece to India the direct route is through Turkey and Iran (I've actually done it, in my time...) - to get to Phoenicia, you'd have to swing needlessly far South.

Was Najara scary? I certainly thought so! But still, as Gab said, I didn't quite know what to make of her. Where do the Djinn come from? "The Light. They're sent to me so that I can fight the Darkness. It's quite a Responsibility!" (Did anyone else feel that Narara was definitely the type of person who spoke her words capitalised... if not in italics?) And that campfire singing? Scary man! It reminded me of the evangelicals I used to hang out with in my youth (I was their pet atheist... in some ways I haven't changed that much) - and I'd have been scared of *them* too, if they'd carried swords and known how to use them. "Oh there's so much Good to be done, and so little time to do it!"

But Najara is certainly *very* canny... she knows exactly how to play her hand. Whenever Xena or Gabrielle question or challenge her, she immediately comes up with the most disarming response... as in the "trust" dialogue after the campfire song, where she offers Xena her sword and command of her army, cautions Gabrielle not to trust her too readily, and concludes "Wonderful! I can't tell you how much I love the challenge of winning your confidence!" This lady may be one egg short of a souffl=E9, but she's sure smart as whip!

So G says to X: "You're a tough sell..." "I'm not going into any village with any army unless I'm sure I'm doing the right thing!" Yep, I'm definitely with Xena on that one. And then we have Gab's "I don't know what to make of her..." And oooh, that *look* from Xena!

"It's too quiet!" (Well at least nobody got an arrow in the chest...) Xena's reconnaissance technique doesn't seem very subtle - she just wanders into the middle of the village, hears a lot of noise from a barn, and goes and opens the door...

At Xena's signal, Najara calls her horse, and leads her troops into battle. I believe Najara's horse is called "Fedokar" - she calls it by name twice in the ep... unless this is meant to be some word with a mystery meaning. I think it's just the horse's name.

Xena and Najara kill a *lot* of people in this attack, compared to the traditional XWP battle (let alone the HTLJ ones, where, at least until recently, hardly anyone ever got killed). I tried counting, and I made it Xena 9 and Najara 6. Dack killed a couple, too. Gab, of course, managed to effectively remain her usual non-lethal self...

And Najara moves one more pace onto Xena's territory with the arrow-grabbing. Comparisons with Callisto's chakram grab, anyone? See my summing up on this issue below... Great facial acting from LL and ROC again here!

More of Najara's patent line here... "Let us help you!" "Don't let hatred poison your hearts. Now go to your homes and live good lives!" Interesting that one... the first part is something Xena herself might well say - but Xena would *never* say the second part! And through all this Gab keeps, er, "looking" at Najara....

That darned crucifixion scene again! Well I suppose it *would* rather prey on X's mind... "It's a great curse to have seen one's own death." And Xena now confirms quite explicitly that Gab doesn't know - so this *hasn't* been dealt with in one of those famous "off-camera chats" that Steven Sears is always telling us about. "Do you think it can be avoided?" *Very* interesting that Xena regards Najara enough to ask her this - of course Najara's demonstrated powers of insight are undeniable... "I believe our Destiny is in our hearts." (Well Xena has previously said our fate is in our own two hands...) But it is going to take "drastic measures" to alter this future....

Najara looks a lot better without that hat. And isn't her hair basically the look Gab is sporting in the crucifixion scene? Ouch! I wonder what *that's* about?? It can't be a coincidence, surely? On a more mundane level, someone mentioned that Najara, sans chapeau, looked rather like Ellen Degeneres, and I'd have to agree...

Another fascinating little interchange. About the attack on Marot's slave centre, Najara says "Would you like to join me?" carefully looking at both G and X. G raises her eyebrow interrogatively at X. X carefully keeps her expression *absolutely* deadpan, giving *nothing* one way or the other. G says "Yes", and looks at X again. X gives a weak little smile and says "Sure.." Well *that* couldn't be spelled out much clearer could it? Surely we've all experienced these dynamics at some point in our lives (well, except those of us who are very young...) - it's the classic triangle, and Xena's playing the part of the completely uncertain, "I just want whatever will make her happy..." lover. (Believe me, I've played that one a couple of times myself...)

More of the same in the next scene. "Swans. Looks like they're headed for Koota Lake. Let's go see them up close!" And Gab mounts up on Fedokar (come on! how significant can you get?) Of course, Najara invites Xena too - "Will you join us?" "No thanks. I'm not one for bird watching." Been there. Done that. And let's face it, best intentions or not, it hurts, don't it?

And Xena is *so* weak and uncertain again. So unsure and full of doubt. And it's *so* hard to separate her suspicions of Najara from the jealousy she can't deny. So she just can't trust her judgement, and her legendary "focus" has deserted her. ....You'll have to excuse me - as some of you probably know by now, I suffer from a *very* severe case of identifying with the Warrior Princess!

But Xena follows, anyway. It can't hurt to keep an eye on Gab, now can it?

Gab opens up to Najara, and explains her problems to her. Najara agrees with Gab's enthusiasm about the hospice idea, and suggests she go ahead: "I don't mind if you start without me." "You see if I do that, then Xena and I have to go our separate ways... She's not the hospice type!" "Well perhaps you need to commit totally to your life with Xena" OOOOH! Anyone else writhing, and thinking about metaphors involving snakes and grass by this point? And Najara has killed before? (Err... c'mon Gab, you just saw her in action yesterday!) "Yes. As little as possible. But sometimes it's inevitable..." (This, BTW, is a blatant lie on Najara's part, isn't it?) "You need to make a full commitment to the Light." And the swans finally come... how symbolic! (Although *we* never get to see them, I notice!)

Have we *ever* seen Xena this uncertain? She is *so* torn! She just doesn't know what to make of this. But despite her own misgivings and her own unhappiness, she overrules her suspicions of Najara, and makes the decision to try to leave Gab with her. I can't say I was surprised by this. I've been predicting for some time that Xena would try and leave Gab... she wanted to get Gab back and to make sure Gab was safe. But increasingly she is unhappy with the danger and pain that come to Gab from life with her, and the crucifixion vision is the deciding factor... can she really, for Gab's sake, stay with Gab anymore? So she makes her plan to head out and take on Marot alone.

A digression for a moment here. I've seen that some people spell this name Marat. The closing credits are not really clear enough to distinguish between an "a" and an "o" readily. But *surely* they wouldn't call a minor character Marat? After all Marat is an extremely famous figure from the French Revolution (the "Marat Sade", David's "The Death Of Marat" etc...) It would be like calling a minor warlord Robespierre and then having all the cast pronounce it "Rabbeespore"...

"They need you there to make sure those children are safe..." "Ah, now I understand. You don't plan to return after your mission against Marot. You want a place to leave Gabrielle." "I see such joy in her eyes when she talks to you about your mission. She's been looking for meaning - I think you can give it to her. It hasn't always been good for her, being with me. I seem to hurt her." "I know she forgives you. I promise I'll do everything I can to justify your trust." "You better! Thankyou." Ah, it makes you weep, doesn't it. Xena is so uncertain here. She's wrong, and part of her *knows* she's wrong, but she just can't trust it. She's choosing to go against her own feelings and her own instincts, because she's *decided* it should be better for Gabrielle. A dangerous situation...

"Goodbye, Gabrielle." ...And by this point, was there a dry eye in the house?

"I want to forgive you and love you as brothers! Just let the Light in and the Darkness will be gone!" This is one *scary* dude! And honestly, Gab is *such* a sap! "I want to be initiated into the way of the Light..." You'd have thought she'd have learned *something* from last time - I mean look what following an unctuous type into some ill-defined new religion got her into then!

Marot's announcement about Najara's habits seemed a bit contrived, but hey... they've got to move the plot along *somehow*, so I'll excuse them throwing in the odd expository captive now and then.

Another classic Gab bit, when Xena braces Najara about killing her prisoners: "Definitely not!" "You see Xena..." "I liberate their souls." I'm sorry (and I *do* love her), but that is *so* Gab!

Well now... I'm sure *vast* amounts of verbiage are going to get expended about this fight. And I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to resist contributing my share. Xena certainly didn't seem to be fighting very smart... even I know that you don't try and fight your way up a staircase to an opponent. And when Xena did the stilt thing, did anybody else think "Jackie Chan"? But then turning her back at the end was plain dumb again... we don't expect this sort of thing from our WP! "In the name of the Light, I smite the Darkness!" "What??!!" - from Gab, that is... well did she still expect Najara to play nice? At least she came through - and she understood enough where Najara was coming from to know how to save Xena (which proves that she isn't as naive about what's going on as she sometimes pretends to be, still). First the "you'll have to kill both of us" thing. Then "Najara, you and I will walk out of here together." "You're just saying that to protect her." "Xena's dark side frightens me. I need to move on. But I could never live with someone who killed her. There would be no going back from that." Yes, it seems like Gab understands Najara pretty well. And walk out, they do...

I have to admit, I was *most* unhappy about Xena's defeat. And her tooth. But I'll return to this in my concluding mumblings, below... "I hate that! I got my butt whipped, didn't I?" (I loved the nodding children...) "Well it serves me right for trusting someone who talks about being *good* all the time!" Oh yes! This is my Xena! She's waking up, she's getting her focus back. "She's a tough girl. But she's got a weakness. It's the same one I've got..." Smiles, I can only say "evilly", at self in mirror... Some *very* tricky stuff here. Xena's desire to do good, to act for the best, nearly got Gabrielle and her into a whole mess of problems here, indeed nearly got her killed, and possibly Gabrielle too. Whereas the return of the evil Xena here (and who can deny that that's what we're seeing peeking through) signifies a return toward balance, a better chance of resolving the situation. So this might almost be seen as a restatement in much more dramatic form of the principle introduced in Dreamworker - that the evil Xena is the "key"... not that Xena should go back to *being* evil, but that Xena *needs* to acknowledge, accept and work with the "evil Xena" in order to *be* "Xena". Xena's famous "focus" is a very strange thing - and it just can't function if she tries to second-guess herself, to be a self-conscious "do-gooder". And although they grow somewhat more like each other over time, Xena and Gabrielle's relationship is based precisely upon the *difference* in their personalities... and I don't believe that can, or should, ever ultimately be bridged.

Ah well, back to the plot! So Gab, of course, interrogates Najara about her "problems". Hand them over to the "local authorities". "What if the local government supports slavery?" "Don't you think those people deserve a fair trial?" (A *stunningly* anachronistic concept.) "But some fools may find them innocent." (Najara is starting to sound like Charles Bronson here...) "I'm sure I've made mistakes before. But all I've done is send them to the Light. The Eternal Powers will correct any mistakes I've made." (Actually this "kill 'em all and let god sort 'em out" attitude has frequently been expressed historically, especially by warriors fighting in the name of one or other of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions...)

And Xena sneaks right in. "I lost one of those good chewing teeth, but other than that, I'm fine." BTW, does Xena *know* how come she's still alive? Is anyone going to tell her?

Gab is quite ready just to leave. But "No. She's too dangerous a girl to leave on the loose. She likes killing too much!" (Pot, kettle, black, anyone?) "But she beat you up so badly..." "Well that's another reason!" Xena is definitely looking a bit wigged-out here. Indeed I think it would be fair to say that she's let the "evil Xena" closer to the surface here more than she has at any other point since her encounter with Hercules, other than... you know what...

Now I *know* they wanted to make sure we saw the "tracks" that Xena left from where she knocked out Dack & Co... but didn't anyone else laugh out loud at those great holes, right through the underbrush to the mud?

And the climactic fight is.... basically a replay of the Xena vs. Callisto "ladder fight" with Xena playing the Callisto role. Except, of course, that Gab was standing on a bridge. But I guess Najara wasn't supposed to be able to see that (mind you, I only figured that out when I rewatched the ep - the first time, I was just confused). "You see, it's a little more difficult with a millstone like her around your neck, isn't it? You probably wouldn't care if one of your soldiers died - they'd just go up to that big old light in the sky. But you might *miss* Gabrielle, huh?" Wooah! And what is Gabrielle supposed to feel about this? She doesn't seem to mind playing along though - "Najara, hurry!" "If you don't mind my saying, your focus is a little off..." This is a really weird scene, all round. Xena's deliberately playing the "evil mad warlord", but she's not entirely playing, now, is she? And Gab is luring the woman she was, well let's face it, recently thinking of leaving Xena for, to her defeat. And Xena would have killed Najara, wouldn't she? Or do you think, if Gab hadn't been there, that Xena's own "inner light" would have stopped her before Najara actually dropped? Anyhow, we'll never know for sure, because Gab herself was there - "Xena, don't kill her!" "Looks like she's saved both our lives today..." And how come there were cuffs and chains conveniently in easy reach at the edge of the precipice?

"Er, Xena... Can you get me off this thing?"

And so, Najara is handed over to the "local authorities" for trial. And honestly, I've got agree with crazy N herself in doubting how effective a solution to anything *that* is.

"Did you tell her about the vision?" "No. That would hurt her. And I don't ever want to do that. That's your job." Ooooh!

"I forgive you, Gabrielle."

So, what do you say? Najara sure looks like a "Callisto Replacement" to me! And although she does some of Callisto's tricks (cf. arrow catching / chakram catching), she different enough that no one could accuse her of just being a rehash. Najara looks to be carefully calculated to be just the ticket... she's essentially equally matched in power to Xena, and her motivations are strange enough, her "extremism in the name of The Light" an ambivalent enough idea, with enough depth to it that an awful lot can be done with the character, and with her and Xena's opposition. Then throw into that the element of jealousy over Gabrielle, and Gabrielle's attraction to Najara. Oh yes, I think we've got our "new female adversary". And the clincher for me is that Crusader was written by R. J. Stewart, who, those of us who pay attention to such things will remember, was pretty much single-handedly responsible for writing the character of Callisto - he wrote Callisto and Return Of Callisto... essentially I don't think the writers of the later eps in which Callisto featured handled her as well as her creator R.J. did. And of course, the way Najara was left at the end of the ep was a classic way to leave a returning adversary... "neutralized" you say? It is to laugh!

So anyone want to bet that we won't be seeing Najara again?

Much of what I felt about this ep I've gone into whilst discussing the details, above. But there are a couple of points I think need further comment.

Firstly, what about these Djinn? I have a bit of a problem here, myself. As a psychological portrait, I have no trouble at all accepting Najara - heck I've know people pretty close to that (though not as good at sword fighting in long leather outfits...) But the Djinn are clearly not simply a figment of Najara's imagination, since they supplied her with all sorts of information that she would have no normal way of knowing. "Djinn" by the way, is just an Arabic word for a spirit, with no real moral connotation one way or the other - although if anything Djinn in Arabic stories are often mischievous and not to be trusted, more like Robin Goodfellow than angels. The word Genie (as in bottles, and I dream of...) is just a corruption of Djinn.

So how are we supposed to interpret this. Are the Djinn *really* good spirits informing Najara's life. In which case, why don't they do something to guide her away from her excesses? Or are the Djinn malign spirits, deliberately misleading Najara? But in that case, you'd think they could easily have made her worse... Or does Najara just have some sort of psychic ability, which she projects onto the Djinn, in the manner of a split personality?

I can't say that I really find any of these answers very satisfactory, so this element of the characterisation of Najara bothers me rather. And this is not a superficial nit-pick... it cuts very much to the heart of her - how much good is there in her, how much gift does she have? And on the other hand, how dangerously deluded is she? I would have been a lot happier grappling with these questions without having to worry about the nature of the "Djinn". For now, I think the best I can do is to suppose that the Djinn are just some sort of muttering spirits that have chosen to speak to Najara, neither especially good nor especially bad, just telling her about things she wouldn't otherwise know... and that the rest of her make-up is just the product of her own psychology, and how she has dealt with the presence of the Djinn.

The second point still bothering me is how I feel about Xena being defeated by Najara. I imagine those who have been saying that they wished Xena were portrayed as more mortal and fallible must be pleased by this. It certainly seems to make the oft floated idea of Xena possibly being a demi-god considerably less tenable. Xena has taken her knocks over the years, certainly. But we've never really seen her beaten in a fight like this. Not the present, "reformed" Xena, anyhow. Cyane certainly took Xena back in the sweat-hut - but that was relatively early in her development. And Hercules beat her - but he's definitely a half-god, with superhuman strength, and even he only beat her because that boy jumped her from behind in the middle of their fight. I'm certainly not saying that I can't believe Xena could ever loose a fight... one way or another, of course she's going to loose fights in her life. But this seemed a bit... strange - she seemed to loose too easily. Of course, as I said above, the critical factor was probably that she had been heavily conflicted, had lost her legendary focus, and presumably she hadn't properly regained it for this fight. It still niggles me a bit though. And I'm sorry about her tooth... if anything's a symbol of mortality, it's teeth - the various cuts and bruises she's suffered all healed up, but you loose a tooth, and it's gone for good. It doesn't mend. And the ultimate inability to mend is what mortality is all about.



COMMENTARY 5:

Commentary by Bethany Faison.

1. No one has commented yet on the significance of Njara taking Gabrielle down to the lake to watch for swans. (Neither Gabrielle, Njara nor the Jinn seem to know much about swans and their symbolism, but now YOU will, gentle reader).

Swans have a rich symbolic meaning. Like cranes, they are known for their longevity and can live for several decades. They are also said to mate for life and when that mate leaves or dies, they have been observed to go into deep mourning. In this state, swans will stop eating and may die in their sadness. Except for humans and certain birds of prey, swans are the only creatures that I know of that have actually been known to mourn unto death. This is why, since ancient times, swans have been a potent symbol of love and fidelity.

Gabrielle says she needs something more to believe in, to hold onto. Hope she finds it. When she does, I wonder what it will turn out to be?

2. Never fear. By the time Gabrielle saves Xena in the tavern (by flinging herself between the warrior and Njara's blade) she has already noted that evil "little bit" of Njara hidden underneath a Crusader's mantle. No..No..No..Gabrielle isn't leaving the tavern with the idea of basking in Njara's glow long-term. (Whether or not she needs to "move on" from a life with Xena is a separate issue). What Gabrielle IS doing is saving our (other) hero's life. So whatever happened to the innocent country girl from the village of Poteidaia? Seems that somewhere on her road-trip with Xena, she has learned that evil can sometimes be very subtle and hard to perceive. Could this be why Njara is potentially a much more interesting adversary than Callisto ever was? What do you want to bet we see more of Njara (Kathy Morris) in upcoming episodes?

I noted with great interest the way the director chose to close out the tavern rescue scene. After saving Xena's life, Gabrielle pops up, grabs her staff and shoots out the tavern door without a moment of hesitation (in no way acknowledging Xena's battered body on the floor). Odd.

3. No need to be confused during the scene in the mine. Gabrielle was clearly in on Xena's trap for Njara (actually playing the part of the squirming bait).

4. Either someone told her about it, or Xena wasn't completely unconscious when Gabrielle saved her life at the tavern. Xena acknowledges Gabrielle's heroic act later on during the mine scene. If she was partially conscious, I sure wonder how much Xena heard of Gabrielle's speech.

5. I loved the vision of the crucifixion (simply the way it was filmed). Slow motion, in the blowing snow, great stuff! Xena is being executed by crucifixion. But what about Gabrielle? Is she being put up or taken down from a cross? Guess we'll find out.

6. Why are people always so surprised and horrified when Xena's evil side is revealed in the show? The first and second seasons lulled people into one view of her and then the third and forth seasons shocked the hell out of a lot of people. So what were they expecting, the usual television hero?

The struggle to overcome sociopathy is a long and extremely difficult process. So...surprise...it doesn't happen overnight. Does Xena have the stamina and ability to pull it off? She has already demonstrated more intellectual honesty (insight) and courage than most people with her disability. Will she manage to keep her anchor and teacher (Gabrielle), or will the evil, frightening Xena ultimately drive Gabrielle away? If she loses that anchor, she will lose her struggle. And, by the way, it's no duh that Gabrielle suffers, because living with and loving a sociopath is one of the hardest tasks any human can do.

I find it quite amazing that all of this is being portrayed on television at all, especially within the main character (hero) of a weekly action show. You think Xena's bad? This ain't nothin. She's actually doing very well, having been given (by the writers) more empathy and humanity than we should actually expect (mostly manifested in her caring and concern for Gabrielle). I'm rooting for both of them in their quest. I'm telling you, this show can be interesting on MANY levels.

Hated: (1) Kick-boxing on stilts. I realize there's a desire to add "something new" to the fight scenes, but this isn't it. (2) The "Yo-Yo" camera work during some of the fight scenes. I was starting to get motion sickness.



COMMENTARY 6:

Commentary by Videntur.

Usually I look at an episode more than once before I write a commentary; however, I can honestly say that this episode was too painful to watch more than one time. I ended up feeling very sorry for Xena, cynical of Gabrielle and very happy that at the end of the episode, Najara received the beating she well deserved. However; let=92s still try to look at the episode with a little objectivity.

Lessons to be learned: You cannot always trust outward appearances and if your enemy knows your weakness, they can and usually will, use it to hurt you.

From the very beginning, we could see that Najara definitely wanted Gabrielle to join her. She knew that in order to achieve this, she needed to gain Gabrielle's confidence and Xena's trust. Najara also knew that Gabrielle was Xena's weakness and shrewdly used Xena's need to stop hurting Gabrielle to obtain Xena's approval of Gabrielle joining her in her hospice quest - a decision that would result in a separation of our two characters. Najara achieved Gabrielle's confidence by talking with Gabrielle and finding out what would make her happy (ex: helping with the hospice) and keeping that vision alive in Gabrielle's mind and letting her know that she too shared this same need to help people.

She achieved Xena's trust by questioning Xena about her death vision (the crucifixion)and in so doing bringing to mind that Gabrielle is a part of that vision and that maybe, just maybe Xena might be able to change Gabrielle's future (the implication being that if being with Xena hurts Gabrielle, then Gabrielle should not be with Xena). Najara knew that Xena had seen how happy Gabrielle appeared to be in her company and up until that time Najara made sure she was consistent in her appearance of being a crusader of good. Of course, it wasn't until we find that Najara killed defenseless people because she felt it resulted in their souls being spiritual healed - that you get the impression that the Crusader is mentally off-balance. Again, Najara's mental state was shown when Xena beat Najara in the battle to take Gabrielle back and mistakenly turned her back on her - subsequently, we see Najara go into berserk mode ready to plunge a sword into an unconscious Xena (who let us not forget is also fighting good) confirming that Xena's original suspicions were correct - Najara is not all she appears to be.

Gabrielle's loyalty is very schizophrenic. Last week in "Locked up and Tied Down" she couldn't stand for Xena to leave her. This week it was as if she had found what she was looking for and it was "so long warrior princess it was good to know you". In all fairness, I must admit, Xena did the same thing to Gabrielle last week when she voluntarily went to prison against all of Gabrielle's protest. The difference here is that Gabrielle voluntarily leaves Xena to go off with someone else who is fighting evil just like Xena. Maybe we are less tolerant of Gabrielle because her loyalty to Xena is constantly in question.

In the first season, Gabrielle left Xena twice to pursue her own interest: the first time in "Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards" and the second time in the "The Prodigal". In the second season she goes off to marry Perdicus in "The Return of Callisto" (although at least here she had a legitimate reason) and the worst of all acts of questionable loyalties was in the third season in the episode "The Debt aka The Betrayal". I find that I am less tolerant of Gabrielle because Xena's loyalty to her is true-blue and Gabrielle is the most important person for her. One week Gabrielle feels the same way and the next week she's off pursuing her own interest. Xena needs a loyal side-kick and I wish the writers would stop this nonsense and make Gabrielle's loyalty an unflinching one.

In giving credit to Gabrielle, she did throw her body over Xena to prevent her from being killed and again stated that Najara would have to kill them both - again showing the loyalty she showed in last week's prison episode. However, when Gabrielle left with Najara, leaving an unconscious Xena laying on the floor, Gabrielle never even tried to help Xena's bruises or even just lay her hand on her forehead or face before she left to show that she cared.

It hurt to see Xena getting hurt both emotionally and physically throughout this episode. This is our hero and the one who makes things right. We expect Xena to get hurt every so often (physically) and emotionally we know our warrior is vulnerable - but to be beaten down by both in the same episode at a constant rate was too much. In the episode "The Deliverer" Caesar mentioned to Gabrielle that Xena's weakness was that she feels. We see that to expand upon this more, her biggest weakness is that she feels for Gabrielle.

This episode left you wondering - why? Xena didn't want to change the crucifixion vision for herself, she wanted to change it for Gabrielle - if it meant leaving her behind she unselfishly did it. It was hard for Xena to leave Gabrielle, you could even see this in last weeks episode when she tried to touch Gabrielle's face before she was pushed onto the ship. Gabrielle on the other hand didn't seem to have any problems following the light even if it meant without Xena. She had mentioned to Najara that if she built a hospice it would mean Xena and her must go their own ways but yet she jumped at the chance when Najara mentioned building one. Another thing, when Gabrielle climbed on the horse behind Najara just like she did with Xena, you could see that Xena was hurt by it. How could Gabrielle not know what emotional turmoil she was causing. Yet we see our loyal warrior princess coming back to get Gabrielle when she finds out that Najara is indeed not all she appeared to be. Even after Xena is beaten into the ground, she goes to find Gabrielle. If I were in a battle or on the road, and could have a travel companion by my side, it sure wouldn't be Gabrielle. Her loyalty to Xena is too flexible. I felt very sorry for Xena in this episode and definitely did not feel that our warrior deserved the physical and mental abuse she was definitely receiving.

My disappointment is not directed at the character of Gabrielle, it is directed at the writers who seem to enjoy some sadistic pleasure in putting the viewers of Xena through a rollercoaster of seeing a faithful loyal Gabrielle one week and a unloyal, selfish woman the next week. Xena and Gabrielle are a team, I enjoy the show more when they work, fight and act like a team and show that they do indeed care what happens to each other. Our two heroes have been through too many adventures together for the writers to keep this sort of nonsense up. I only hope that the next episodes for this season do not display the same character flexibility that we have now been exposed to in several Xena episodes.



COMMENTARY 7:

12-10-98. Commentary by L.N. James.

So I finally watched Crusader last night. While I was away, I set up my VCR to tape it like, seven times, just in case I screwed up. No screwage happened so all is well with the world. Now, here's what I thought about it...

Najara! Najara! There's a hull breach on Deck 4! The warp core will explode in less than thirty nanoseconds! You must put a containment field around the Plasma Light! Save us, Najara! Save us!

Oh, wait..sorry! The name threw me...Najara, you crazy and wacky pre-Mycenaean crusader, you! You're not in the Delta Quadrant, are you? No, you're traipsing around the Greek countryside Doing Good and helping convert the Heathens. And wow, where did you learn to fight like that?! You're almost like, a regular hero aren't you? You're kinda like Xena, huh? All sorta tough and stuff, beating up the bad guys. Except, you've got this really scary Julie Andrews thing going where you say all these sappy lines and people eat it right up! Cool! And it's really interesting how you set your sights on that Gabrielle chick. You must think she's like, some sorta..Important Person Whose Greater Destiny Is Unknown Right Now. I mean, you really, really laid it on good, didn't you? You really, really wanted Her to see the Bright Shining Light. And like, you would even fight Xena, the Warrior Princess to have Her. She must be something special, huh? Yeah, and oh, um, did you miss the memo scroll where it's written that Gabrielle kinda doesn't like people who slit the throats of non-believers? Yeah, that's a toughie, isn't it. Certainly, not some peccadillo on your part, I'm afraid. Well, you gave it the old Academy try...win some, lose some. You just keep working on it and you'll get there. Next time, try offering Gabrielle a pony or something. She's such a softie...

So, Najara the Crusader. Interesting in that her arguments sounded so reasonable and she knew how to win the heart of Gabrielle. She believed in what she was doing..she had that greater good thing down pretty well. I found it noteworthy that she was Very much wanting to convert Gabrielle to the Light. Does she see something More in Gabrielle that she's willing to fight for and spend effort getting Her than she does, say, with the common villager? Why Gabrielle? Well, naturally, I think it's because Gabrielle is the Key to Something Important and Dahak knew it, Najara knew it, and Xena knows it. This is not some Mere Sidekick..if she were, there wouldn't be such the fuss, you know? What makes Gabrielle different than anyone else?

I'll tell you what it is...Gabrielle has a Higher Calling...but she doesn't know it. Currently, she knows she's 'supposed' to be with Xena. She's studied the stars, spoken with philosophers, listened to her heart. Being with Xena, supporting her, fighting for the Greater Good..that's what it's all about, isn't it? Mmmm..makes for some interesting speculation when one considers that Gabrielle has been the center of some pretty serious spiritual stuff. 'We worship thee, we adore thee!', indeed. (The encomium of whacked out tree nymphs shouldn't be dismissed, I say) Najara was trying to cash in on something Big to get the bard in her little lovey-dovey-do-good-but-carry-a-big-stick harem if you ask me. Now, doesn't this just smack of there being more to the story of who this Gabrielle chick really is? Can't wait to see how this all unfolds.

Does she stimulate you, attract and captivate you....Like the way I do?

Xena, it's hard to let someone get so close, isn't it? Your greatest strength is also your biggest weakness. That's how it is when you love someone. Ah, but the world has been hard on you and you've gotten by pretty well with not trusting everyone with a Message. Better to err on the safe, cautious side, huh? Yeah, but have you ever noticed that you work the best when you're balanced out by a Certain Someone? Sure you have a Dark Side, everyone does. But no one else has seemed able to temper you, guide you, help you, understand you quite like the way She does, right? Right.

Xena is at her best when she plays that line between stoic strength and emotional vulnerability when it comes to the bard and the world they find themselves in. Sometimes, there is nothing more compelling to watch than when Xena is torn between watching Gabrielle make her own choices and wanting to protect her from those very choices. What I find to be one of the most reliable (and endearing) of Xena's characteristics is her focus on Gabrielle. Aside from a few random outlier-ish episodes (e.g. 'Forgiven'; 'The Deliverer'), there is an almost constant monitoring of Gabrielle's well-being and whereabouts that is unparalleled in consistency of XenaCharacter. Xena's checking-in behavior no matter what's going on around them, be it fight, or, say, shipwreck, speaks of how important a Certain Someone is to her.

Now, were I to put stock in all that psychobabble stuff, I'd be willing to believe that Xena 'knows', on some unconscious level, that keeping Gabrielle safe might be more than just a friendly gesture on her part. If we entertain the possibility of Gabrielle having a Higher Calling, is it not unreasonable to consider that Xena's role is as Guardian? I'm not up on my mythology and I only speculate on the power of archetypes over the ages, but there's something vaguely familiar about the whole arrangement and combination....Priestess/Protector; Queen/Warrior; Philosopher/Sentry; and maybe even messiah/mentor .

When push comes to pull, Xena's uncanny ability to set up a situation with an elaborate ruse and act the part is remarkable. I enjoy that about our favorite warrior princess...she's always a step ahead of the rest of them, isn't she? Ah, but what makes her reachable and relatable is how humanly she reacts to Gabrielle and how we see the effects of the bard on the Tall, Dark, and Deadly One. I guarantee Xena would have relished stepping on Najara's fingers and smirking at her all the way down that crevasse BUT because Gabrielle tempered her, almost like soothing the proverbial savage beast, she didn't give in to that notorious Dark Side. How many people out there have that kind of Power over Xena?

Gabrielle, go into the Light! The light is Gooood! Gooo into the Light, Carolanne, the light is good! All are Welcome, all are welcome. Go into the Light...

Gab, honey, come here. Let me put my arm around you and have a little chat. Listen, I know things are hard for you right now. You've been through a rough couple of years, what with losing your blood innocence and that devil spawn baby, Hope and all. Oh, and Crassus..and your poor grandchild..and..that Good Day you had. It hasn't been easy, I know that. I know you're looking for answers and you're on this spiritual quest. I know that. But Gab, dear...sweetie, sometimes the best answer to Finding your Way is to look inside yourself. Shhh..it's ok. I know that lots of people want to tell you all about the Truth. It's hard to know whether to trust them because they say all sorts of good things..things you believe in. Honey, I don't know why everyone wants You to believe Them. You must be something Special. I wonder if maybe...if you want answers and meaning to your life..I wonder if it's better to ask yourself the Questions? Maybe sit down somewhere by yourself on a mountain and kind of think about things on your own? Finding your own Way is hard, I know, but when people say They've found it for you, I wonder if they always know what's best for you. Gabrielle, there are some stars out tonight and I bet they'd tell you what you want to know.

Ah, Gabrielle. A woman faced with some serious moral dilemmas in her life since she left her Panacea. What I want to know is some backstory on this chick, like, what was her childhood like, was there something 'special' about her birth...was she really just a common villager until she met Xena or was she More, just waiting for the catalyst of a certain warrior princess to begin her journey towards something Important? I'll tell you what, I would give a Queen's ransom for an episode showing us what X&G were like as children. Were these two Ordinary to begin with or were they Extraordinary just waiting for their Destiny to unfold? I think the latter is incredibly romantic to ponder and with the growing little pieces of their Quest coming together, it's not unreasonable to speculate on some really cool potentialities. Call me a Gabfan, but oh, how I love thinking that there's something More to her than that dreaded Mere Sidekick to a Hero label.

The real question in this spiritual quest she's on is whether or not Gabrielle will ever recognize her role in the world. I speculate that role is one of a Higher Calling, but no matter if it turns out not to be the complete truth, Gabrielle's influence and power on one of the Greatest Heroes in their time, Xena, is undeniable. Perhaps _that's_ her Higher Calling. Or perhaps it's something More.

Concrete Blond: As interesting as the character Najara was, I had a bit of trouble with the acting spark of this one. There was something off in the delivery of the lines, something too stilted and forced about the way she said some of the things she said..esp when giving speeches to the masses. And the singing around the campfire! Oy...half of me really wanted to watch her fall down that crevasse so that we might be spared future Marie Osmond/Katie Couric/Ohlsen Twins saccahrinity.

Never Let Them See You Sweat: I couldn't make sense of why a cautious, suspicious Xena would tell Najara something so MAJOR (i.e. her dream vision with Gab and her fear about that). I mean, this is the same warrior who has trouble sensitively chatting with her Best Friend, Gabrielle, why all of a sudden is she trading secrets with the Enemy?

It's For Her Own Good: Other minor quibble was Xena doing the 'I'm no good for her, I'll only hurt her more' routine halfway through the episode and the susequent leave Gab behind her back planning. The first sentiment is so alt.fanfic cliche', it's not even funny and the second is so Season 1. Otherwise, I was all over Xena in this ep...loved how LL played it in this one.

Goo-Goo Doey-eyed Adoration Award: As someone else pointed out, What was UP with Gabrielle's gushy facial expressions every time Najara looked at her/spoke? I mean, it was bad enough watching the bard practically FLY up on that horse with her but to watch her go all Hanson/Leo-fannish with the Light chick was disconcerting. But, I have to tell you, I was ALL over ROC's little eyebrow raises to Xena when she was nonverbally asking if they could continue on with Najara to the next city. Her eyebrow action is completely UNDERATED, I tell you!

ps. You know, I heard the Jinn speak once...but all they ever said to me was 'Hey, where's the Tonic?'..



COMMENTARY 8:

Commentary by Elad Avron.

This must be one of the best episodes. Just what is a good XWP episode? One that makes you think...

I think that quite from the first moment you can tell Xena suspects Najara, but plays along for Gabrielle. Xena knows Gabrielle is quite naive, but she tells to herself she can give her a chance, knowing Gabrielle is in a constent look for her inner self.

From the begining I knew this was going to be an episode where Gabrielle'd be very confused about her life, knowing Najara is a fighter for the light, and knowing things like that fascinate Gabrielle, while Xena doesn't like those things, maybe because she feels that Gabrielle's spiritual look will one day take her away from her.

In the big fight in the village, when Najara stops the arrow shot at Gabrielle, you see Xena surprised. I think she was offended as well, and this is where things heated up. Xena knew now that Najara might be a fighter for the good, but she had to fight her anyhow, for Gabrielle's heart.

When Najara preaches everyone about the light and stuff like that you can see that Gabrielle is caught up. Like if she was falling for that woman. Just to clear this up, In XWP, love is not the way it is today. Love is about the person. Love, at least, Gabrielle's and Xena's love, is greater than anything perceptible by mind, and is stronger and greater than one's hobbies, looks or sexuality.

When I first saw Najara fight I thought "This Najara girl is a perfect combination between Xena and Gabrielle". Najara: Warrior Light Crusader. She faught like Xena, with Gabrielle's heart and ideals. I saw her as a threat to myself, because whenever Gabrielle's and Xena's connection is in threat, I feel in threat, don't ask me why, it's this psychological madness I have....

And then I suddenly saw what everyone in the series and at home fear the most: Xena seeing her face on one a roman soldier's shield, followed by Gabrielle on a cross, and the camera moving in brillient coldness towards her face, and she say "I love you Xena". Quite surprisingly, the vision ended here, and in came Najara. I found this ironic, I mean, after all the episode IS named "Crusader". They talked about is their future changable, and I thought that no matter what happens, it will lead them to crucifixion, since otherwise this entire vision is useless. I always wondered what will end up with them. Will we ever get to see the actual crusifixion in this season? or is it a scene not yet planned, and it just tells us about Gabrielle's and Xena's end, one of those days, at the end of the road. However this question is better not answered now, since it might spoil some things to some people...

When Najara and Gabrielle took the trip to see the Swans, that is when I felt like Xena was going to cry. She felt now more jealous than threatened. She felt like if she lost Gabrielle she knew forever, which was quite a silly thing to think, but I know she thought it. We all think silly things sometimes. I could see Xena crying inside when Gabrielle started to doubt their relation. More like heart break. I think that what broke Xena even more was that she found a good point in Gabrielle's doubt. Here it was like everything stopped, like if the TV went pause, and I started thinking. What is it about Xena and Gabrielle. What is it that keeps those two together. Why do they love each other so much? After all, Xena's a fighter, and Gabrielle's a peacekeeper of some sort, they have almost nothing in common, and their love seemed to be one of those loves that develops out of regularity. Xena and Gabrielle were so used being together, they couldn't think about not being together. I cleared that though out of my head, telling myself Gabrielle and Xena love each other more then anyone I have ever met loved anyone, and that thinking in general is bad for my health. However, when Xena's heart broke, my heart broke.

When Xena told Najara she was about to leave Gabrielle, I said to myself "Well this is it". I of course knew that wasn't the way it's gonna be, but it broke my heart. I won't try to imagine everything I felt, because I'll both start crying about it again, and it'll take years, so it's enough to say my heart broke completely. No need to say it was worse when she whispered to her "Goodbye Gabrielle". When Gabrielle was in the hospice, I felt like Xena lost her completly. For some weird reson it felt to me like if I lost her. My feelings about the Xena-Gabrielle relationship is never on one side. Sometimes I identify with Xena, and sometimes with Gabrielle. Anyhow, I felt like... Ah... WE completly lost her when she was initiated. Or was it when Xena was knocked unconscious and Gabrielle left with Najara instead of staying with Xena, when Gabrielle already knew all about Najara. I suspected Najara from the begining, but that thought got lost in my mind during the episode, which as I said, made me think alot.

I think what bothered me the most about Najara is that she was a too perfect combination of Xena and Gabrielle. A combination almost impossible. We can't however ignore Najara's hair...

The final battle wasn't that much, however in many of the Xena-Najara fighting scenes I found a strange resemblance to that fight between Xena and Callisto, where there were lots of ladders, Gabrielle was hanging high on a rope, and there was a torch frying the rope. Another thing that reminded me of that was the fight where Xena was knocked unconscious, especially when she was standing on that table trying to keep balance. However I found that table legs thingie so unbelievable it was ridiculous.

Yet another brilliant episode from XWP, that makes you over think. I love thinking about Xena stuff. It's very bad for my mental health, but I still do it. I guess that's what people who smoke think: It's bad for your health, and still you can't do without it, and you still do it. XWP: The perfect cigarette!



COMMENTARY 9:

03-29-00. Commentary by Philip Teo.

I have been anticipating this episode for a long time. This is the episode where our warrior princess finally meets her match in combat. However, after viewing the episode, there were some disappointments. Let me tell thee thy ways.

I was a little disappointed that in the opening teaser, Xena failed to dodge Najara's attack and even fell twice. Is our warrior princess slacking in her combat skills?

Najara seems to know Xena is a worthy opponent to fight. Notice she barely paid much attention to Gabrielle after knocking her down. Guess this must be some kind of warrior's instinct.

I was just wondering from the beginning, did Najara expect to find Xena and Gabrielle? And did she predict that Xena would join her? The "jinn" certainly seemed to have told her a lot of things. Xena appeared very guarded against Najara, and she has every reason to. After all, this woman just knocked down her best friend, and gave her a wallop or two, and suddenly, the next moment, she asks for your forgiveness. Which sane person wouldn't be at least somewhat suspicious?

The campfire scene in which Najara is singing merrily with her men struck me as odd after I view this scene a second time. At first view, one would think that Najara's relationship with her men was rather close and intimate. They all seemed to respect her and worship her attention. But considering what Najara has really done, why did her men still stuck by her side and sing those songs so merrily? I mean, it's one thing to work for someone, but it's another to join in these so called merrily singing. Unless those men also believe in the light and whatever Najara preached, they have no reason to be so happy about singing too.

I thought that Najara was rather clever when she delivered the line to Gabrielle, telling her not to trust her(Najara) yet. It sort of gave her creditability. However, we could see that Xena was still rather skeptic towards her. It takes more than just a few words to get through our warrior princess, Najara. Clap, clap.

The scene when Xena and company got ready to infiltrate the village raid struck me as odd. Why would everybody gather in the barn, bad and good guys? Anyone could see that the village appeared rather deserted on the outside, but inside the barn, was total chaos. This just doesn't make sense.

I thought it was rather brutal for Xena to keep slicing away at the men attacking her. This just wasn't her style. I know that Xena kills for justice, but we have seen in past battles that Xena only killed when necessary. Most of the time, she just gave them a good beating which left them out cold. So why so violent this time? Was she trying to show Najara that she is better than her? And Najara seemed to enjoy hacking away at those men. She was practically laughing away each time she killed every guy.

Gabrielle was as good as ever. Despite all the chaos, Gabrielle defended herself rather well. However, when Najara caught the arrow meant for Gabrielle, I was wondering how did Najara know about the arrow. We all saw Xena came out of the barn, but what about Najara? Najara seemed to know that such a situation would occur and came flying to the rescue.

When Najara received those hugs from the villagers after the fight, I thought that it was rather sweet. That moment projected Najara as some kind of Mother Teresa, so caring and sweet, though we later know how false that was.

Najara's jinns certainly is powerful. She also knows about Xena's vision of death. Xena was acting totally out of character too. She was so guarded towards Najara before this, but when Najara revealed she knew about the vision too, Xena trusted her completely and even asked for her advice. Was this because Najara had shown Xena proof that she wasn't a liar and thus Xena finally trusted her?

I thought it was rather ridiculous that Xena could overhear every word that Najara and Gabrielle were talking when they were walking by the lake. From what I saw, Xena was standing close enough to see them, but too far to hear anything they were saying!!! Was she reading lips or something? (Recall teaser of "Sacrifice Part I")

And I thought it was rather odd for Xena to give up Gabrielle so easily just because some kind of crusader like Najara came along and showed her how much Gabrielle was different from her. If this was the last episode of the season or something, I might think this could be a dramatic ending for the series. Our warrior princess going solo and doing what was best for her best friend. But this was not! It was only the 8th episode of the season! I cannot accept that Xena would abandon Gabrielle so easily. After all, she had not even made any attempts to actually work things out to prevent the vision from happening. This was like running away from her problems.

When Xena confronted Marat, he told her about Najara's true ways. I was finding it rather odd that Xena would trust slave trader's words so easily and yet not believe Najara at first. Xena is being rather inconsistent here. It seems she was all too ready to accept that Najara was a baddie.

The Xena-Najara fight was spectacular and disappointing. The fight scene could have been stretched longer, since this was supposed to be the episode where our warrior princess finally gets defeated by someone mortal in combat.

Which brings me back to this one issue. I cannot accept the fact that Xena was defeated so easily. We have seen Xena fight countless battles, and she has never lost a battle before, other than Hercules and some other gods perhaps. But those were not to be compared. They were gods. But for mortals, Xena had never lost before. The only person who came close to her skills was Callisto, and even then, Callisto never really won Xena. So how could Xena be defeated by Najara so easily?

Recall how much beating Xena took in "One Against An Army". It was a long and tough battle, but Xena still came out victorious. And back then, she was all alone, since we know Gabrielle was in no shape to help her friend the last time. But now, with Gabrielle by the sidelines, and with only one opponent, Xena could still lose.

And what struck me odd was that Xena never really fought back after getting bashed by Najara with that stupid stick, other than to throw that useless chair at her. What happened to her? Why didn't Xena fight back? Yes, those beatings Najara gave her were rather bad, but this is Xena we are talking about! She should have sufficient time to recover and deliver kicks and punches of her own, instead of standing there, waiting to be beaten up! Xena had taken considerable beatings in her past battles before, "When In Rome", "Between The Lines", and both times, she still got to her feet and fought back. Why not this time? It was too disappointing. If Gabrielle was not present then, would this have meant the end of our warrior princess?

The final fight scene in the cave had some flaws too. When Najara saw all her men unconscious, she appeared rather lost and vulnerable. And did Najara really care so much for Gabrielle? Gabrielle certainly had an impact on her. Najara was totally distracted during the fight. But considering how much Najara knew about Xena, wouldn't she have at least suspected something? Would Xena really risk her best friend's life? Caesar never fell for Xena's tricks directly, but Najara seemed really stupid this time, believing in whatever she saw. I would have preferred a fair fight between the warrior princess and Najara, in which Xena finally defeated her opponent through her own skills. With the way Xena defeated Najara here, it just let viewers come to one conclusion. Xena was only able to defeat Najara because of the added advantage she had using Gabrielle to distract Najara.

Did this mean Xena's combat skills were not as good as Najara? Would Najara have defeated Xena in a fair fight after all? We saw that in a later episode that this was corrected. (See "The Convert")

Bringing criminals to jail doesn't seem to be a good idea. Doesn't Xena ever learn her lesson? We all know that later on Najara would return, having broken out. This same incident happened with Callisto. Letting these baddies survive was a bad idea. Callisto had escaped jail and killed Gabrielle's husband. Did Xena want history to repeat itself? I mean, considering how good Najara's combat skills was, it would not be surprising to find her roaming in the streets one-day. It's as good as locking away our warrior princess in a prison and asking whether she could escape. Sure, she could! Perhaps the writers could come up with something more practical and new?

"Crusader" was generally a good episode. It brought out a new female foe for Xena, someone new whose combat skills equal her own. It was practical in the sense that it let people know that though Xena was an excellent warrior, there were still many out there as good as her.




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