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First released: June 11, 2001

COMMENTARY 1 BY Beth the Gaynor
COMMENTARY 4 BY Josh Harrison


This commentary is by Beth Gaynor.

The Debts. The India arc. The Ring cycle. I love it when XWP gets epic, when they make everything new for a new land, new people, and new legends to serve as story fodder. I think it's a little strange to go somewhere new for the end of the whole show, but I can run with it, especially when the result looks as majorly cool as this does.

Since a lot of the storyline has yet to be tied up, since I've always thought about this and we now have all the pieces we're going to get, and since Demeter requested it, here's the best timeline I can suss out of Xena's life:

Amphipolis and Cortese's raid (Death Mask, Remember Nothing)
Piracy, meeting Caesar (Destiny)
Chin - Borias, Lao Ma (Debt)
Timbuktu - Alti, Cyane (Adventures in the Sin Trade)
Japa - Akemi (Friend in Need)
(Note: the previous two could be in either order, but I'm guessing that Japa came second, because by then Xena seems in charge over Borias)
Centaurs and Battle of Corinth - Borias books (Past Imperfect)
Hercules, Darphus, and the Gauntlet - the show starts
Friend in Need starts out almost exactly like another epic episode, The Debt, and mirrors it closely throughout. (Not surprising, since it's written by the same people.) Xena and Gabrielle find a messenger from a woman in Xena's past, who bids them come east to deal with long-brewing trouble that all got started by the Warrior Princess. It takes the entire journey to fill Gabrielle in on how all that happened, weeks and weeks, as Xena is the slowest story-teller on the face of the earth.

The monk's story sounds like an old "You can stay in my farmhouse tonight to avoid the storm, just don't sleep with my beautiful daughters" joke. I wondered for a moment if we would get a punchline.

Loved the compensatory glamor shots of Gabrielle on the boat: Gab's arms, her shoulders, a foot... all lovely distraction from the abs that are three months pregnant during this episode's shooting and can't be shown in their usual loving detail. And also to make up for it, Xena dons a seppuku-ready-belly-baring outfit by the end of the episode. Those abs have big shoes to fill!

Give the monk some serious points for getting the "she's a ghost" drop on Gabrielle in sword practice. That was a pretty nifty move.

Akemi is one amusingly, astonishingly precocious kid! She gets a gorgeous introduction with her bow nicely displaying all the folds of her robe, to be brought up by the toe of Xena's boot. And the gal has Xena's number before she even gets through the door.

Borias has learned to play excellent counterpoint to Xena. That warlord dude really was stupid for not heeding their good cop-bad cop "take the money and run" routine.

Nasty arm breaks and crunches in that first fight against the warlord who had Akemi. Notice that Borias doesn't even bother with lending a finger to the fight. He's busy stealing the guy's tea.

In fact, Borias doesn't get to do much in this episode beyond laughing patronizingly. But he's so cool when he does it, that I don't really mind.

Xena flunks her first teaching attempt, but does well when she doesn't mean to as she tells Akemi about listening. Interesting contrast here: Xena hears war. Akemi hears the future/the spirits (oh no! the djinn!). Gabrielle used to hear the spirits - she had a touch of prophecy back in the early days, but now she hears war. Gabrielle really has traveled from Akemi all the way to Xena.

All hear the poetry of Akemi:

The moon took lodging on my sleeve
I have hope for even the broken-hearted stars
It ain't haiku - for a minute I thought it would be - but it's still decently pretty.

It takes quite a kid to lead a partially-rabid Warrior Princess on a trail of bread crumbs, first to a dead granddad (to get vengeance-blessing), then to get a katana (suitable for proper seppuku) and then to daddy, to finally show that rabid princess why they've been traipsing all over the countryside. Akemi is most definitely the one in charge as she and Xena cover the Japa terrain.

RabidXena is always kind of funny to watch. Loved her "Oooo. Gimme gimme!" line when a katana destroys her sword.

Lucy Lawless really does have a mark on her chest where they gave Xena that wound during the fight for the katana. Cute touch to explain it now, but was it really necessary? I've never sat up nights wondering how Xena might have gotten a mark I don't generally see on the show. Maybe it'll be important next week.

Shame on the blacksmith for dishonoring himself by going after Akemi. That dishonor must have been slowing him down; it must be why it took him about five minutes to finish his sword swing at her.

All hear the poetry of Akemi:

In a flurry of snow
Two breaths of wind unite
And become as one
And then disappear into each other

This is possibly one of the most erotic things ever said on the show. And I hate to ruin such a beautiful scene, but I just have to say this: D*mn, Xena has a serious cradle-robbing streak in her! Akemi, Alti's little offering, and, of course, a baby-faced Gab. Young lasses flock to Xena as if she's the pied piper.

"Snow falling on cedars." I haven't read the book or seen the movie, so the only context I can give for this quote is that it's a peaceful moment in a story about an interracial (and doomed) love story. So it COULD be a reference to the book/movie, but I don't know for sure.

Akemi points out that Xena is a master of war who knows no words for love. But then she points out a way that Xena can show love by teaching war, with the pinch. And Xena's still doing it nearly 50 years later with Gabrielle.

Xena decides to let Gabrielle take the lead in a battle for a change. I saw two possible themes in that; a proving of Gab's ability, and a willingness by Xena to be the taught instead of the teacher. Whatever it was, Gabrielle hatches the most complex plan ever for climbing a water tower:

1) Swing to an awning.
2) Trampoline to a roof.
3) Run to another building.
4) Knock over a ladder.
5) Vault to a third building.
6) Xena swings on a pole, Gab walks a tightrope to a ladder.
7) Ride the ladder to the tower.
Geez, ask a pair of bored teenagers on a Friday night and they'll get you, plus a few cans of spray paint, up that tower in about two steps. Maybe Gabrielle should leave the plan-making to Xena.

The water tower spray was pretty cool and a nifty idea, but I wasn't sure that it was worth quite the hubbub that it got. The army retreated and the city was declared saved, even though all they did was spray water around and get some of the fire (although not all of it, from what I saw). The scene was fun, but I didn't quite get the importance of it. Neat example of teamwork, though.

I'd be interested in hearing more about what the heck Yodoshi had against Akemi's family. Was Akemi's mother not his wife, that they all got such horrible treatment? Did Akemi get sold into slavery instead of kidnapped as Xena and Borias had heard?

Even as a rabid warlord, Xena always has her focus on her goals. "WHAT ABOUT THE RANSOM?!?!" "I don't suppose there's any inheritance in this?!?"

Bummer news: Akemi doesn't make it to her family resting place, so it fits that she joins the rest of Higuchi's souls in Yodoshi's grasp. (Although I'm not sure why Yodoshi ended up in Higuchi.) It also fits that she'd get a special job of bringing him more victims, just for spite.

40,000 people killed with one fire-breath? When every town we've seen so far has maybe a few dozen people in it? I cry bull puckey. The number's only that big to make Xena's actions more imperative. She wouldn't be tempted to kill herself off for the sake of 20 people. But for 40,000, we have a mandate... and a highly improbable setup.

And while I'm quibbling with that motivation, wouldn't saving the town from a fire-bombing be some pretty decent karmic payback for setting a blaze that took the town? Ah well, no arguing with moral imperatives, I guess.

Gabrielle says "I understand why you would never teach me the pinch." Then explain it to me! So Gab can't kill anyone with it? A bit late for worrying about that, Xena.

"If I only had thirty seconds to live, this is how I would want to live them; looking into your eyes. Always remember I love you." Homina! It doesn't get much more heart-felt than that. I'm amazed that the idea of Xena dying could still hold the slightest punch after how many times we've seen it happen already, but darn if this didn't tug my heart-strings.

Gabrielle gets the Oblivious award of the week, though, for being so baffled at what Xena's trying to do. Granted, it's been a while since Xena's tried to foist Gabrielle off for her own good, but it's still happened so many times that you'd think the bard would recognize it by now.

Even the sad home music and the samurai armor at the end are perfect. Xena's in gold with a convenient open belly for easy access. Gabrielle is in black and ready for butt-kicking action.

We're left at the end of this episode in only the halfway point of the story, and yet the ending *seems* to be a foregone conclusion. Xena's going to off herself so she can become a ghost and kill Yodoshi. The episode has given Gabrielle lots of time to prove that she is now very capable of fighting the good fight on her own. Xena needs to amend 40,000 souls in torment. But since we're only at the halfway point, there's still lots of room for maneuvering. Let's start with this: only a ghost can kill Yodoshi? Here's a brainstorm: *Akemi's a ghost.* Has been for 50 years. Maybe Xena ought to stop making it all about her and let the kid finally off her pop for good.

Whatever's going to happen, I'm looking forward to the wrapup. So far, this episode has really cooked, and I'm buckled in for the blaze of glory finish, which can start... right about now. Any time now. Any minute. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, FIVE MORE DAYS?!?


Yodoshi gets the coolest monster entrance I've seen in a long time. Creepy soul-swallowing burp that guy has! I guess 40,000+ souls gives you a pretty nasty case of heartburn.

Overriding series theme alert! "You'll take me with you. You'll teach me everything you know." The only difference between this line from Akemi and Gabrielle's first lines to Xena are that while Gabrielle pleads, Akemi prophesies. Gabrielle was another Akemi, another student full of love. And when Xena teaches Gabrielle the pinch, she tells her not once but two times that it's because she wants to "teach you everything I know." My money says that with the pinch, Xena figures she's done that with Gabrielle.

My favorite visual of this whole episode is when Xena stumbles, drunk and half-mad with grief, through the streets of Higuchi with Akemi's ashes. She's gaunt, with short, wild hair, her face covered in white tear-streaked makeup and painted-on eyebrows that look like horns. (Was the makeup some drunks in a tavern having kabuki fun with Xena, or was the white a mark of mourning?) She honest-to-God looks like a ghost or demon staggering through the streets. What an amazing image.


This commentary is by deb7.

I watched A Friend in Need, pt 1 last night. I've only watched it once, and these are my raw, disjointed comments.

During the ad break between Acts III and IV, I said aloud to myself, "I find myself strangely unmoved." Then Act IV arrived with its pinch instruction scene and I laughed at myself for speaking too soon.

FIN, unlike most -- if not all -- of the previous XWP 2-parters is structured like a 2-hour movie, so it's hard to get with the rhythm or know what to say.

FIN is reminiscent of The Debt, but it seems most like RJ & RT's re-production of the S5's Purity & Back in the Bottle -- eps with which RT has expressed great displeasure and disappointment. I'm relieved to know that I need never watch those eps ever again. As befitting a finale, however, there are no recurring guest stars to take time away from X&G (well, mostly G...but don't get me started ). That "hawk and the dove" business has been recast with the *correct* players, and we're revisiting the question of how does Xena save a very large number of souls and defeat huge armies which have supernatural backing. Love seems to have something to do with it.

FIN is reminiscent of The Debt not just because it takes place in the The East, but because it is reminiscent of nearly every RJ script. In prep for the finale I have been reviewing as many RJ-penned eps as time will allow. The resonances are so strong as to cause my teevee to vibrate.

Did you know that The Pinch is in nearly every single RJ script? This must be distinctive (of RJ), otherwise Xena would be doing the pinch every single week, and we know that's not the case. What's more, when he can arrange it, Gabrielle is often suggesting or commenting upon the manoeuvre; in Forgiven it was Tara the little mentee who was all over it. RJS & RT made The Pinch something special in their first flashback ep, Destiny, and they give it new meaning here in FIN. Whether RJS had Big Plans for the pinch all along is irrelevant: The neat thing is that he saw that thread and used it.

The Pinch was a 'sacred trust' and it became symbolic of Xena's trust. Akemi was hot to learn from Xena because she had a specific mission in mind, a mission she did not share with Xena. She violated a trust and broke Xena's heart. But Akemi also broke Xena's heart by fostering Xena's love with the aim that Xena would, therefore, later do what must be done to restore Akemi's honour. Akemi and Xena were both using one another but, weird as this may sound, at least Xena was honest about it.

"Serves me right for trusting someone who talks about being good all the time." -- Xena, 'Crusader'
FIN gives us one more reason for Xena's trust issues, but R&R do not content themselves with staying in the past. As in their better scripts, they tie these past events to Xena and Gabrielle's current conditions. Now we have the whole story as to why Xena always held back with/from Gabrielle. It was not simply a matter of trying to protect Gabrielle's goodness; Xena was also trying to prevent having her lessons used wrongly or against her. Thus, the overarching issue has been one of Xena allowing Gabrielle to grow.

Gabrielle has used Xena's lessons against her; we saw this most clearly in S3 and most recently in Who's Gurkhan? R&R do a fairly good job in FIN of showing how Xena, Gabrielle, and X&G have changed over time. Gabrielle is in a better position to hear and accept Xena's past, Xena is now able to let go (i.e., 'stop willing'), and not only is their partnership stronger than ever, it blossoms even more in FIN under these conditions of greater openness and mutual respect.

Consider another motif that has been a hallmark of RJ's scripts: Xena leaves Gabrielle behind, usually 'for Gabrielle's own good' (cf Sins, Titans, Prometheus, Mortal Beloved, Destiny, Debt I, Crusader, Ides, Who's Gurkhan, Rheingold). X&G also separated by Gab's instigation in RJ's Athens Academy, Return of Callisto and Gab's Hope; there was forced separation in Sin Trade and Fallen Angel, and emotional but not physical separation in Ulysses and Forgiven. Some people don't like this device, but it seems to me it has been used quite consistently to show either to the audience or to X&G themselves something about the state of their relationship. True to his blessed nature, Father RJ invokes that motif in FIN, but there are no arguments, debates, discussions, or rationales: Xena says she's going, Gab says she's right there with her, and Xena smiles her acceptance of the way of things. ::satisfied sigh::

OTOH, as with most good drama, the protagonist(s) cannot be perfect. I fear that Xena is re-invoking past experiences by teaching Gabrielle something that may come in handy in the near future but not telling Gabrielle exactly why she's doing it. Gabrielle is terrified of this (and, ironically, does not want to learn what she's wanted for 6 years), and her fear keeps her from delving into the meaning or purpose of Xena's lesson. In these flashback eps and eps in which Gab and Xena are separated, it's hard to keep track of who knows what. It is important to remember that Gabrielle does not know that Hodoshi cannot be killed by someone operating on the mortal plane. Shades of 'Haunting of Amphipolis', only here, Gabrielle is not just learning how to bring Xena back: She's getting the whole package.

They replayed 'Sins' and 'Callisto'. Why? 'Callisto' also featured a "terrible accident" for which Xena is, nonetheless, culpable (in the U.S. we call this criminal negligence). Xena takes responsibility for her mistakes, be they inadvertant or the by-product of other unsavoury acts. FIN featured a burning town and ladder acrobatics, just in case we hadn't had a chance to review 'Callisto' beforehand. 'Sins' showed us where we started and it would seem that R&R are going to come back round to some of the ideas central to that ep. I am fearful.

G: Take me with you. Teach me everything you know.


C: I don't think anything'll ever take away the shame and sorrow you've brought on your kinsmen.
X: Probably not, but I'm gonna spend the rest of my life trying.


X: You know, where I'm headed there'll be trouble.
G: I know.
X: Then why would you want to go into that with me?
G: That's what friends do: They stand by each other when there's trouble.
X: All right, friend.
All of those sentiments are reaffirmed in FIN I, but I am fearful because there is a spectre of death in the air. In Japanese and in warrior traditions there is nobility in death, but I am not so noble as that, nor am I as noble as Xena. At the beginning of 'Sins' there was a suggestion that Xena was considering suicide, but she realised that then was not the time to die and that her death would not serve the greater good. Times have changed, though, haven't they?


Gabrielle sure can be butch at times, can't she?

I don't know if this was made clear in FIN I, but the wearing of white is associated with death in traditional Japanese culture. Hence the reactions of the household (and me) when Akemi arrived in her father's house in that 'aweful' outfit.

I watched the Quicktime promo for FIN I/II earlier in the week. As I played it backwards while trying to find a particular moment, I noticed that one of the shots was inserted in reverse. I didn't know what to make of it then, so I tentatively latched onto the idear that I could dismiss it since my actions were too much like finding hidden messages from the devil in Black Sabbath LPs or Paul in Beatles LPs. I knew this was a defence mechanism -- not unlike Gabrielle's in the fourth act -- and now that I've seen FIN I and written this piece, I wish I'd never noticed.

"I ain't like that no more. I ain't the same, Ned. Claudia, she straightened me up, cleared me of drinkin' whiskey and all. Just 'cause we're goin' on this killing, that don't mean I'm gonna go back to bein' the way I was. I just need the money, get a new start for them youngsters. Ned, you remember that drover I shot through the mouth and his teeth came out the back of his head? I think about him now and again." -- Bill Munny, _Unforgiven_


This commentary is by Beboman.

By the Gods, what an episode! I need a few more minutes before I can collect all my thoughts and be able to make some kind of sense of my emotions. As soon as my heart stops hurting and I stop crying, I think I might be able to do some justice to this episode.

Yes, we have come full circle. The teacher now gets to put the final touches to her student's education and the student will then be a totally true warrior. Now the path will be opened for a new Warrior, one with the great ability to fight, but at the same time, with the ability to be kind and generous to her enemy.

I understand now why it took Xena so long to warm up to Gabrielle and it took her so long to start teaching Gabrielle to be a warrior. Xena's heart was once again broken and, in a way, also betrayed by someone who professed her love for Xena. So yes, Xena wanted to take her time at teaching and giving. She did not want to once again be betrayed.

Akemi broke her heart in two ways. She used Xena to get to her revenge against her father and then she used Xena to do the right thing by her. Young Xena was upright with this young girl. Xena was there just for the money and nothing else. Yes, Xena enjoyed the company, the gifts and the poetry (in a Xena kind of way), but nothing else. But Akemi kept feeding the young, rebel Xena's ego and made her believe that Akemi truly cared for Xena when, in reality, Akemi just wanted to use Xena's ability for her own purpose. This is something that greatly hurt Xena later on, but the bad thing was that Xena did not adhere to her own preaching, "Trust no one".

As time went on in their journey, Xena began to feel some type of bond with this young woman who was so self-assured and confident. But at the same time, we are able to see that Akemi gives Xena just enough information to keep Xena interested and focused on the idea of returning her home.

Akemi needed Xena to get her out of slavery and she did that by being blunt and prophetic with Xena. Then she needed to get this supper great sword and she used Xena's ego and pride to get that. She also needed to learn the pinch and she used flattery and love to get that. Finally, she needed her honor restored and she used Xena's misplaced guilt to do.

Akemi is an interesting character with some very definite parallels to Gabrielle. They both were about the same age when Xena found them. They both wanted to learn everything from Xena and they both were bards in their own way. This is about where the similarities end. Gabrielle really loves Xena and has shown that in many ways and on way occasions.

As I sit here trying really hard to write a commentary that will do justice to this super great episode, I feel overwhelmed by the love and dedication from this show's cast and crew. They put all their soul and energy into doing one of the best shows they have ever done.

I have to definitely take of my hat off to Ms. Lawless and Ms. O'Connor (I refer to them this way out of complete respect). These two wonderful actresses have given themselves totally to these two characters in this episode and the result was one of the strongest and most solid acting jobs on television. The supporting cast was just as fabulous as our leads and that made the show even more satisfying.

Well, I have to admit, I really love the young, reckless, mean Xena. Every time I see that young Xena, I realize how far Xena has come and how much she has learned. Ms. Lawless once again did a fabulous job of portraying the young, reckless, wild warrior.

I would like to say something about everything that I loved about this episode, but if I did I would end up writing a thesis and that is not what I'm here for.

So, after a bit of soul searching, I am just going to touch on a few scenes that helped drive the episode home. First of all, the scene where Akemi kills her father and after that asks Xena to restore her honor. That was such a strong scene with such great acting by both actresses. We could see the pain in the young Akemi, knowing what she has done had to be done, but it didn't make the fact that she killed her father any less hideous. Then to top it all, she used the pinch that Xena had taught her to do the deed. Her final good bye to Xena was very powerful and the last straw used to break Xena's heart.

Also in that scene, Xena feels great pain when she realizes what her young friend has done. She feels anger at the fact that Akemi had not only killed herself but had used her (Xena) to accomplish her mission. Xena realizes that Akemi has shown her the face of a friend as she is turning around with her sword in her hands. At the same time, Xena sees that this angelic woman has just used her as a means to get what she had set out to do done. Akemi not only killed herself, but she also killed any possible trust Xena might have had left within her. Then, to top it off, Xena was left with the duty of fulfilling this dying woman's wish. This wide array of feelings and emotions was so extraordinarily well expressed and acted by Ms. Lawless.

Xena's transitions from "I bet there is no inheritance" to realizing what the young Akemi had done and was asking for her to do was superb. Then the transition from there to doing what needed to be done was even more powerful. Xena's pain, sorrow, frustration and anger were all so well timed by Ms. Lawless it made the scene very emotional and powerful.

Before I move on, I have to say that Michelle Ang did an excellent job with Akemi. Her work was perfectly timed, she had great stage presence, the camera loved her and she is a very good actress.

Another super scene for me was the challenge for the sword. That was a very good scene that finally explained Xena's scar on her breast. This scene was well written and very well performed by all involved. That whole scene shows a very cocky, full of herself young Xena. She enjoyed the fight and the challenge and once again Ms. Lawless was able to magnificently portray the young warrior.

But the scene that held my heart in pain was when Xena was teaching Gabrielle the pinch. This scene said it all: the need for one last time to tell the person you love how much you love them; the unsaid goodbye to that person who means the most to you; the realization that the person you love, in their own way, is saying goodbye to you; the knowledge that this time is going be the last time you hold the person you love. All those feelings and many others were there and were perfectly executed by both actresses involved.

Xena's need to show Gabrielle everything she knows was compounded with Gabrielle's need to know, as a way of stopping the inevitable, was just excellent. Ms. O'Connor had such great control of Gabrielle in that scene. She was in such perfect harmony with Ms. Lawless' Xena that the scene was extremely emotional and absolutely superb.

These two wonderful, dedicated actresses were so in tune, not only with their own characters during this scene, but also with the other character that words many times were not even needed. Their physical interaction was more powerful than their words, but at the same time, every powerful word in that dialog was so precisely and magnificently delivered by both actresses. You could see the love and feel the need that these two heroic characters had to let the other know what they were feeling. The energy in that scene was totally out of this world.

That scene was so beautifully done with such great timing that it held my heart and twisted it in so much pain. I felt the pain they both felt at the reality of what was inevitable. I felt every ounce of love these two women had for each other. Above all, I felt the need that this great and heroic woman (Xena) had to assure her just as great and heroic Gabrielle that she loved her. Xena needed and wanted Gabrielle to understand and know everything she knew, because they had a battle to win. This was a battle against the forces of evil, a battle Xena was going to fight alone for it was her doing that created the problem to start with. It was all this and maybe even more that Xena wanted Gabrielle to understand.

Xena has to do all she can to fix something which is totally wrong. This did not mean that Xena did not love Gabrielle. It just meant that she loved her so much, she had the strength to do what needed to be done.

This episode had so many great scenes that, as I said before, I will never finish if I hit every single one of them. But to hit one last scene I found so interesting, it was on the boat on the way to Japan.

When we see Xena sitting on deck watching Gabrielle as she practices, there was a touch of real peace within Xena, while at the same time, there was a great sense of the warrior in Gabrielle. It was like somewhere in time these two women had changed roles and each one had absorbed something from the other. Gabrielle's moves and her body language said this is a true warrior who you will have to content with. Gabrielle's moves and looks were just fabulous and that transition when she finds out that Akemi is a ghost was so perfectly timed. A marvelous job by Ms. O'Connor.

Then there was the lighting and make up. It did a super excellent job at giving us young Xena, as well as a more mature Xena, especially when they cut Xena's hair for the mourning scene after the death of Akemi. The lighting and makeup in that scene was just perfect. The costumes so far were very good, especially that samurai outfit that Ms. Lawless wore at the end. It was breathtaking. The special effects were also very good, especially the entrance of the soul eater. That was just too good how they did the whole scene. The music in this show was perfect, adding to the scenes the perfect frame that made the scene even better. Finally, the script and directing were very solid. This episode definitely showed how much pride and hard work went into making a class act episode. Almost every single possible detail was taken into consideration to give us, the fans, something to remember this wonderful series forever.

So, I speak from my heart when I say that I thank the cast and crew of this show for such a great and memorable episode. Thank You.


This commentary is by Josh Harrison.

As should be expected for the finale of the series, R.J. Stewart and Rob Tapert wrote the story. Even less of a surprise, Rob Tapert is behind the camera. This episode is important on so many different levels; I doubt they wanted to let anybody else get their hands on it.

A scan through my Encyclopedia of Mythology hasn't uncovered any direct connection with Japanese (or Chinese) myth, but wandering monks, evil demons, beautiful maidens (dead or alive) held against their wills, revenge, and honor are all staples of Japanese folklore. Indeed, I have found that ghosts factor more heavily in Japanese myth than any other culture we've seen in the six-year run of the show.

This episode most closely recalls The Debt in both structure and style. A young Xena encounters a woman who touches her heart. Years later, Xena returns to the area to repay an old debt.

The woman who touches the heart of the young Xena is Akemi, played by Michelle Ang. The character seems to have a peace about her -- a certainty that recalls Lao Ma. Unfortunately, Michelle doesn't have the poise that Jacqueline Kim brought to Lao Ma. Akemi comes across as more smart, and less wise. I can understand how she weasels her way into Xena's heart - there are many similarities between the characters, and Xena has just left the company of Lao Ma (so she's emotionally vulnerable).

All around though, I'm not quite fitting this time into the emotional development of the Warrior Princess. This happened after the flashbacks in The Debt but before the flashbacks in Adventures in the Sin Trade. If she trusted (and loved) Akemi enough to teach her the pinch (and I thought Gabrielle's reaction was wonderful when she learned), then why would she revert to the heartless warlord in Sin Trade? Akemi's betrayal might explain that - but Xena cared enough to try and honor her final wish. It isn't a huge bump in the road, but it is still a bump (at least in my opinion).

It may be that there is more back story here that will be revealed next week, and all my worry and speculation will be moot. After all, we still don't know why she doesn't have the katana anymore.

What I find most ironic in this episode (and the series in general) is that Xena feels most responsible for events that she had little to no control over. Xena had no way of knowing that teaching Akemi the pinch would result in Yodoshi becoming a demon lord. She didn't know that Yodoshi would hold the people who died in the fire captive. It was a series of coincidences stemming from a disastrous accident.

I'm not going to say that Xena shouldn't right this wrong. She is, after all, the hero; that's her job.

There are two beautiful moments in this episode. The first is when Xena teaches Gabrielle the pinch. It is, in my opinion, the final lesson from the master to the pupil.

The other moment is at the very end -- you can almost read Xena's thoughts. As Gabrielle fades into the mist, it seems clear that Xena doesn't expect to see her again. It is the finest moment of the episode, and a cliffhanger that is perhaps more powerful than any other the show has had in six years.

I'm not sure what else to say about this episode, except that I am really looking forward to the conclusion. So far, there have been plenty of moments that recall the best of the series - humor, action, love, and drama. While in the end it may not rank as highly as The Debt in terms of sheer quality, it seems a very fitting end to the series.

I am giving this episode a tentative "A-minus"; conditional on the way they handle the second half.

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