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2nd & 3rd SYNOPSIS ON
First released: June 11, 2001

Synopsis 2 by Shana
SYNOPSIS 3 by John


This synopsis is by Shana.

The episode starts off with a wonderfully charming moment. Gabrielle is sitting, a campfire at her back, staring off into the night sky which has a white vaporous pattern blowing across it. "Looking out at the cosmos makes you think," she intones with a warm smile, "about where we are, where we've been, where we're going now." I've been thinking about that for the past couple of months...it was nice to hear it voiced so eloquently by the bard. Beside Gabrielle, Xena suddenly sits up with a "Yeah." Gabrielle looks over at her, surprised she's been heard. Xena continues, her eyes squinting as if she's just awakened, "Like the bigger now. I mean, Gabrielle, what are we going to do? Wander around Greece our whole lives, looking for trouble? Why don't we go away, far away, what do you say?" Gabrielle looks back at her with another smile. "I can't believe you're awake much less listening to me." Xena suggests going to the "Land of the Pharoahs." I hear they're in need of a girl with a chakram." Wouldn't that be Egypt? Been there, done that.

Gabrielle suddenly senses something. Turning her head, she asks, "You know there's somebody out there?" "Yeah, he's been trying to find us the last half-hour." (Not "last half candlemark." Thank you, Xena! Sorry, that was personal.) An off-screen sound is heard, and Gabrielle is on her feet, followed by Xena. I point this out because of a couple of things that come later on. At any rate, there is a Japanese man, who has stumbled near their camp. On his shoulders is a contraption which must serve as a portable sunshade. It looks pretty ridiculous on this dark night. Gabrielle asks if he's all right, and he tells her he is before bowing. "Whoa!" Gabrielle laughs, as she dodges backward to avoid being hit by the canopy. The man looks at both of the women before him. "Are you Xena?" Xena stands armorless behind Gabrielle, her hands on her hip. "Who's askin'?" The man says he was sent by Akemi. The pleasant look on Xena's face disappears as she steps forward, shocked that the man has seen Akemi.

The man confirms it. He is a monk, and he and a fellow monk saw her a few weeks ago while travelling through the forest near Higuchi. The scene fades to the man's description. There is a teahouse lit up against the night sky. It's going to storm, and the two seek shelter there. They enter to see three lovely young women in white robes, bowing in the center of a large room. They raise their heads and smile at the monks. The other monk smiles warmly, and says, "Kenji, not even you can be frightened of this." Kenji, the monk who is telling the story, is now sitting next to the most noticeable of the three women. She is playing some long stringed instrument, and Kenji is giving her shy, adoring looks. Her kimono slips and exposes one shoulder. He tells her that her playing shows great beauty. She modestly smiles, and pulls the kimono up.

Kenji tells Xena and Gabrielle that he knows what it is to remain a monk. His companion, however, didn't. Said companion is in a hot tub with the other two women, being bathed. He gives a grunt of pleasure, and the two women exchange looks, then one elegant leg lifts out of the water. Around the ankle are some tiny bells, which she shakes to give off a soft noise. In the other room, Akemi looks up startled. Cut to the outdoors, and a camera angle of someone approaching very, very fast, with a sound of rushing wind. It is shown in the first person, and it seems to pick up speed as it continues. Akemi tells Kenji, "You must move, now," and as he does so, Akemi picks up a long sword. The figure continues. The monk in the hot tub, luxuriously stretches, and opens his eyes, surprised to see he is now alone. He hears a strange sound, and is staring dead ahead, as suddenly, a head roars through the large glass door ahead of him. In one of the coolest things I've ever seen on television, the head rapidly shrinks to normal size as a body instantly forms beneath it. It is the figure of a man, but the face is covered in some sort of bizarre mask-like material which is lined with a wicked design. It is obviously malevolent...and apparently, hungry. Kenji watches on in horror as the demon smiles wickedly, then inhales a deep breath. It blows forth a freezing stream of air which instantly freezes the monk in the hot tub. It could have appeared silly, but doesn't. It's frightening. The demon inhales then, and sucks the frozen monk back into his lungs. He chews a bit at the end, and looks very satisfied with his meal. Kenji is scared to death, now, (cannot blame him!) and takes off running. The demon continues to savor its morsel.

Kenji is outside the teahouse, and struggles through a shallow pond of water to escape what he has seen. He is stumbling, and is startled by two hands on his shoulders. It is the woman who he was with earlier. She smiles calmly at him, telling him she knows he's good, with compassion in his heart. Kenji asks who the demon was, and she tells him it's the "Lord of the Darkland." "He's preparing an army to wage war on Higuchi." He will slaughter the populace. The woman holds up the sword, and begs him to do what must be done. "But I am no swordsman," he tells her. The woman tells him there is one in the West. "Far behind the setting sun." Kenji is still terrified as he asks, "A samurai? A priest? A god?" "No," she replies. Now say it with me... "A Warrior Princess." She smiles confidently as the scene fades.

This teaser is already getting me to think along the lines of the Debt...and it continued as the next scene starts on a boat. A red boat, with a red sail. Gabrielle is dressed in some kind of gray dress, her midriff showing. I suspected Renee's pregnancy might be showing a bit while the filming of these last few episodes were done, and it appears her abs aren't quite as pronounced as usual, but she's still very trim. Using bamboo staffs in place of swords, she is sparring with Kenji. Behind, her, on the bow of the boat, a barefoot Xena is looking rather relaxed in a wide Japanese hat and a black bikini. She has her legs stretched out, apparently catching some rays. She is holding the sword Akemi had earlier, and is watching Gabrielle.

Gabrielle is learning about the Samurai traditions from Kenji, and asks him what he knows about Akemi. Xena suddenly averts her eyes from Gabrielle's back, looking very saddened. VERY saddened. She studies the blade of the sword as Kenji begins. The camera focuses on various golden highlighted parts of Gabrielle anatomy (she's barefoot too), as Kenji answers: "She was forced by Yudoshi, the Lord of the Darkland, to seduce souls into his grasp." Xena sheaths the sword with an abrupt move. "She's very beautiful, " Kenji says, "and she's a ghost." Gabrielle lets her guard down, and reacts appropriately when Kenji thrusts his bamboo toward her throat. "She's a g-" Gabrielle echoes, and then her eyes find Xena's. Xena speaks slowly. "Gabrielle, before we reach Jappa, I should tell you everything that happened there last time." Gabrielle stares at her for long seconds.

Gabrielle goes to sit by Xena, and opens an umbrella above her as they sit away from the others. Xena is very somber as she tells Gabrielle that many years ago, Borias told her about a woman taken hostage from a mighty island, even further east than Chin. "Being the kind of person I was then, the challenge of finding a new island to plunder was just too much for me. I had to meet her."

The scene fades to Borias and Evil Xena (EX), in all their glory. EX doesn't limp at all during this one, so it takes place after The Debt. I love EX!!! She and Borias enter a darkened structure. EX says, "So her daddy's rich, you say?" As Borias confirms that he would pay well for his sweet daughter, EX chuckles. A Japenese man leads them forward toward a woman, bowed low to the ground. The man starts to introduce Akemi, but she cuts him off, her eyes still lowered. "Xena...the warrior princess." EX seems a little surprised, but steps forward and uses the tip of her boot to raise Akemi's face with a "You know me?" Akemi smiles adoringly. "Oh yes, I've heard that you're afraid of nothing." The man who keeps her is afraid of many things. EX smiles her big smile as Borias nods, approvingly. "This girl has spirit." The man disagrees. He thinks Akemi deserves to die for speaking that way. Akemi gracefully sits up, telling the man that he won't kill her, because EX won't let him. EX just continues to beam as Akemi adds, "Because in her heart, she knows that she will soon love me."

"Xena loves no one," Borias tells her. EX shoots him an annoyed look that clearly says, "Shut up." Borias just smiles back wickedly...he knows he's hit a sore point. Akemi isn't listening. She wants to be EX's student. "You'll take me with you. You'll teach me everything you know." EX isn't smiling anymore, but she is studying the girl. The Japanese man has had enough and raises his sword, grabbing Akemi's arm. EX grasps his raised arm, and thrusts something at him. "Here, fifty pieces of gold. The best offer you'll get for her." She says the "her" with almost distaste, but it's obvious she is already taken by the young girl. The man says she's his property, and it isn't a good day to trade. EX shoots daggers with her eyes. "Is it a good day to die?" Borias quietly adds, "It is unhealthy to negotiate with this one. I'd take the gold." The kidnapper thinks about it, then throws the bag down, shouting "Guards!"

EX springs into action immediately. She puts the pinch on the man, then somersalts backward to move into a brutal battle with the two guards. Akemi watches on in awe as the fight goes on. The kidnapper just lays there and twitches. Two thoughts struck me as I watched Xena use pressure points and crunching fists to take care of the guards. #1. Where was Borias during all this? He seems to be standing near the fallen man, drinking casually. #2. I would not want to have to comb EX's hair after this...her thick head of hair is flying all over the place!

When the guards are disposed of, EX stalks forward and kneels before the dying man. "I"ve shut off the flow of blood to your brain...you've got ten, nine, eight...aw, forget it." Akemi is watching EX, her eyes looking a little bewildered. Slowly, she lifts her hand. EX hesitates about a second, then takes Akemi's hand, pulling her to her feet. They leave. Borias leans in, and takes back the bag. "I would have taken the gold," he muses, before taking a drink of something and throwing the glass to the floor. As Borias leaves, the man dies.

Man, all this has happened, and the credits are just now finishing! We're on a boat now. EX stands near the mast, watching the sea before her. She is smiling a very satisfied grin. Behind her stands Borias. "You know, Borias, I have a dream," EX says. "The dream to conquer every land between here and Britannia." Borias replies, "Xena, you're always looking for green pastures to rape and pillage." "Yup," EX grins. She thinks they can get more than a nice ransom for Akemi. Her father can help her get a nice toehold on Japan. Borias's next line makes me laugh..."What makes you so sure she'll lead you to Daddy?" The way he says "Daddy", it sounds more like "Debbie." Xena is approaching Akemi, who is sitting on the deck, writing something. True to form, EX replies confidently. "She wouldn't lie to me." She chuckles. "She worships her teacher." Akemi smiles up at her, then peers behind Xena as Borias laughs mockingly. EX turns to Borias. "What's so funny?"

It occurs to me, that with the exception of Gabrielle, only Borias could get by with the next line, "Xena, you couldn't teach a dog to bark." He tries to put a hand on her shoulder, but EX angrily shrugs it off. She whistles, then calls for Akemi, who is only about six feet behind her. Seems EX is treating Akemi much as a dog, at least at this point. Akemi walks forward telling Borias he is wrong. "Xena will be a great teacher." EX flashes Borias her pearly whites, with a smug sound, before turning back to Akemi, who is ready to learn.

EX is ready to begin, rubbing her hands together with an "All right." . She shows Akemi what to do if someone comes after her with a right, left combination. As EX explains she wants Akemi to feint back in the direction of the blow with a "vicious spinning back kick," the uncertainty flutters in Akemi's eyes. "Right, a right, a left, feint back, a jumping...." "Jumping spinning back kick," EX supplies, with a hand gesture that says, "try not to make me look bad." She glances back at Borias one more time, before nodding at Akemi. "All right, now I'll be the bad guy." Never doubted it for a moment! Akemi nods she's ready. She dodges Xena's right, avoids the left, but when EX kicks with her right, she catches Akemi squarely in the chest, knocking her backward. Behind EX, Borias throws back his head and laughs. EX sneers at him, and before moving to Akemi, tells her, "Lesson One...Trust no one."

The next scene is the same boat at night time. Borias is kneeling at the side of the ship, and he tells EX, who is now in a small boat with Akemi, "Remember, Xena, I get 10% of the ransom. Good luck, Teacher." He chuckles again as the smaller boat leaves the shelter of his. That's the last we see of Borias in this episode, which surprised me. Considering Martin Csokas placing in the credits (second), I thought he'd be all over this episode, but this is EX and Akemi's story.

EX and Akemi are trekking through a frozen forest. EX is wearing a voluminous black cloak, and draped in animal furs. Behind her, Akemi is dressed similarly. She is lagging though, and EX ALMOST whines, "Come on, Akemi...Keep up!" Akemi is holding her side. "My ribs are still a little sore." EX's tones gentle as she admits, "Next time we'll start with something a little simpler...like listening. Listen to that." She stops and perks up her bionic ears to listen to the quiet sounds around them. Akemi doesn't hear anything, but EX wants her to hear, "Life and death." "Every sound, every movement is a message." EX hears a wagon just crossing a creek up ahead. She closes her eyes and smiles beautfically. She hears a deer grazing nearby. I think I was staring in awe, and I know Akemi was. She tells EX, "When you listen to the kommi like that, you must be at peace." EX turns to Akemi, asking, "What's that?" Akemi smiles sweetly as she explains the kommis are the power behind nature. They make the sun shine, and they brought Xena to her. EX isn't amused. She tells Akemi when she listens like that, "I'm at war. Every sound is a possible warning of an enemy approaching." Akemi's next statement can only be prophetic. "I believe that one day, Xena, the kommi will help you know peace, and I would be honored, if you would accept this." She hands Xena a scroll.

EX makes me laugh so much. She unrolls the scroll with an oh!, and looks at it, her eyes darting in a sign that tells me she has no clue what it is. She quirks a smile with a confused, "It's really pretty." The scroll is long and thin, and has Japanese writing on it. Akemi smiles with delight, and turns the scroll in EX's hands so she is looking at it lengthwise. She tells Xena it's her people's scripts. "When our people are overcome with a feeling that we want to be preserved, we write verse."

I had already been struck with the similarities between Akemi and Gabrielle, and now was struck even harder. Both were seemingly gentle beautiful young women, who a confused Xena was immediately drawn to. Both looked at Xena with wonder, wanting to be taught her great secrets. And now, both are writers, expressing themselves on parchment in ways that Xena never thought of.

EX turns to study the scroll, wanting to know what feelings Akemi is talking about. Akemi doesn't hesitate as she answers "Love" and EX whirls back around. "Love?" Akemi reads the verse...

"Today, the moon took lodging on my sleeve.
Today, I have hope for even the broken-hearted stars."
EX turns away from Akemi again, her eyes rolling in the expression that tells her she doesn't have the first iota what Akemi is talking about.

Gabrielle does, though, as the scene fades back to the present. "It's so beautiful," she is smiling. "To write something like that, she must have loved you very much." There is no jealousy in her voice. It occurs to me that only Lucy could wear a hat like that, tied under the chin no less, and not look silly. Xena isn't looking pleased by Gabrielle's statement. She looks...pained, and Gabrielle notices. "What's wrong?" The music fades out as Xena continues to stare ahead. Tears fill her eyes. "The truth is, Gabrielle...she broke my heart."

After the commercial, Gabrielle is saying, "She broke your heart? I don't understand." Xena says she didn't understand herself at first. The scene fades to the past as Xena says, "When I travelled with Akemi to her island for the ransom, I was still learning that my heart was seeking something else." The snow is falling harder as the pair reaches the front of an old looking house. EX turns to Akemi, saying she thought they were going to Akemi's father. Akemi gathers her courage and admits that they were there to visit her grandfather who died here many years ago. EX's reaction is immediate and angry, "Are you telling me we've walked days in the wrong direction to see a dead guy?" Akemi sticks to her guns. Yes, her grandfather is dead, but she can still speak to him, and they must seek his blessing. EX watches in astonishment as Akemi walks to a ornate post stuck in the ground, claps her hands three times, and kneels before it. As Akemi begins to pray, EX is growing more surly behind her. "All your talk about moons up your sleeve...you were playing me for a fool!" she snarls, drawing her sword. She raises it to kill Akemi, and the girl brushes her hat upward on her own head, exposing her neck. It stops EX, midswing, as Akemi turns calmly to look at her. She tell EX that just as the warrior princess hears the kommi, Akemi can hear sounds that Xena can't. EX just stares as Akemi continues to pray, then lays a scroll in the hole in the post. She stands and turns to face EX.

Akemi tells EX that her grandfather says that EX is "a wise and appropriate teacher, and he feels your sword is not good enough." EX eyes the blade. "There's a string of widows from here to Greece that says differerent," she replies, in EX's wry style. Akemi tells her that compared to a "katana, all other swords are toys." EX fixes her mouth in a determined line. "Well," she says lightly, "then get me one of those." She uses her sword point to abruptly shift Akemi's hat back a bit. Akemi nods, and tells her they can get one, but Xena must know...she walks away issuing the challenge, "In our country, women are forbidden to own katana." EX watches her walk as she takes on the challenge, "Well, they're just going to have to get used to it, aren't they?" She follows Akemi.

Cut to a building with a forge, and buff, Japanese shirtless men working away hard. Akemi is inside, and she speaks to the older man overseeing the action. Her master wishes to fight him for possession of the katana. The man stares at Akemi, saying, "Your master must be a mighty samurai." "Oh no," a voice purrs from the doorway. Xena pulls off her cloak revealing the black bikini top and long black harem pants underneath. "I'm just a girl...in search of a really good sword." She smiles tauntingly.

EX watches with curiosity as the man displays his offended nature. "A woman? A foreigner? Challenging us for the sacred katana? This ia a great insolence." EX draws her sword, which she is carrying at her hip. "Well, I guess you're gonna' have to teach me a lesson, hmm" she replies, stepping forward. The old man draws his sword and they square off. With the first clash of the swords, EX's breaks neatly into two.

EX stares at the remains of her weapon, as the men all laugh. She smiles, really intrigued now. "Oooo...gimme gimme," before attacking. EX tears into the men with a vengeance, even using the "bring it on" hand gesture as she shows she doesn't need a sword to kick behind. At one point, two of the men each grab an arm, and try to shove her against a wall that conveniently has blades sticking from it, but EX literally strongarms her way free. The fight continues. Akemi tries to take on the old man, but isn't having much luck, and EX swings to her rescue, Tarzan style. When the fight is finally over, and EX stops moving, there is blood on her chest, in the exact spot where Xena has the small scar. Is this supposed to be the origin of the mark? Dunno, but I'd like to think so. It would be kind of like Indiana Jones showing how he got his chin scar in the Last Crusade. EX grabs the katana and tries it on for size. "Oh yeah, Grandpa was right...now this is a sword." She gives the full lipped smile as the scene fades.

It is night again, and EX and Akemi are sitting under a makeshift shelter. Thunder rumbles, as Akemi reads to EX what she is writing:

"In a flurry of snow, two breaths of one unite and become as one, and then disappear into each other."
Uh huh, methinks I know what Akemi is wanting. Does EX? Nope. "Listen, Akemi, I don't want you to take this the wrong way. (Uh oh. Who breaks whose heart?) I really love the sword, and you're a nice kid, but I just came for the ransom." Akemi's smile fades, and then EX's does too, as Akemi tells her she doesn't believe that. Akemi asks EX what she hears now. EX hears "snow falling on cedars." But then, "No, your heart...beating harder than normal." A look passes between them that's difficult to describe. Akemi speaks in wonder, "You're a master of war, yet...you know no words to speak of love, and then you go and save my life. There's no greater gift of love a teacher can give a student than that." EX is speechless. Akemi continues, saying she has another gift she wants of EX. She wants to learn what EX did to Kao, the kidnapper. "It's a sacred trust," EX whispers back. Akemi would be honored if EX would teach her. EX's face slowly brightens, her eyes softening. I swear, I was expecting a kiss at any second, but EX just says, "All right."

Back in the present day, Gabrielle's voice does sound a little jealous now. It is nighttime, and they are dressed in their regular clothes, as she is asking Xena, "You knew her for a few weeks, and you taught her the pinch? Xena, in all the times-" she's cut off as a man rapidly approaches and tells them Higuchi is under siege. They're going to have to turn back as there's no place to dock. Xena and Gabrielle look toward the shore. Fire has broken out and is spreading rapidly. Xena looks at the bard, "Gabrielle, I've gotta go ashore." Gabrielle nods. "I'm with you." Xena quirks the half smile. "I knew you'd say that," with an answering nod, before jumping ship. Gabrielle follows suit, after one unsure shake of her head.

There is chaos in Higuchi. The town is in flames, and men with swords are clashing everywhere. Xena and Gabrielle surface and climb to shore. They check out the damage, and are appalled by what they see. A catapult sends a flaming mass toward their direction. "Fire bombs," Xena says amazed, and Gabrielle agrees, "They're going to burn Higuchi to the ground." Xena eyes the surroundings and spots something in the distance. She says they've got to release the water from the tower she sees. Then she puzzled me as she adds, "Gabrielle, what would you do?" Gabrielle looks a little surprised too, but starts to tell Xena about some acrobats she saw. Xena cuts her off. "Show me, Gabrielle." Gabrielle steels herself, then takes off, Xena at her heels. A Japanese man somberly watches their actions.

Gabrielle gets hold of a rope, and tells Xena to grab on. She does, and they propel themselves in a lengthy flight around the city. They release the rope simultaneously, and with Xena's battlecry echoing, BOTH of them, do a long high somersalt to land on top of a burning building. It's great to see Gabrielle doing some of the acrobatic moves! Xena is pleased. "All right, what's next?" "This way!" Gabrielle charges, and takes off again.

Somehow, they get separated, and Gabrielle disappears from Xena's sight. The firebombs continue as Xena screams out Gabrielle's name, and then sees a man climbing up a ladder to get to the top of the building she is on. From a doorway beneath her, Gabrielle appears, and kicks the man, ladder and all, backward. Go, Gabrielle! The ladder levers itself on some rubbish on the ground, and Gabrielle makes a mighty jump, landing on one end of the ladder. She grins at her handiwork, then calls up to Xena who is grinning too, most pleased. She knows what Gabrielle wants. She takes a mighty leap off the building, lands on the far end of the ladder and launches Gabrielle into the stratosphere. Gabrielle isn't quite as graceful this time, her arms and legs flailing during her flight, and she lands hard, but safely, closer to the tower. Xena continues to smile, seeing it worked, but as men approach her, she cartwheels away to finally grab ahold of a bar. She begins a full body swing, up and over, to gain momentum.

Gabrielle checks out the situation, then yells, "Go for the ladder!" as she spots one within striking distance. Xena, who would put Olga Korbut to shame, stops in mid-swing, so she is upside down on top of the bar. She now has time to find the ladder Gabrielle yelled about. She's waiting for Gabrielle to move, and she does, making a dash toward the ladder. Gabrielle gets to put on her own gymnastics show as a balance beam stands between her and the equipment. Xena sounds her warcry, and begins to swing again as she works at her timing. Gabrielle gets to the ladder as Xena releases and flips through the air. Gabrielle has hold of the ladder, and as Xena grabs the opposite side, they use her momentum to spin the ladder across the ground, safe from the duels below them.

They're at the tower finally, and Xena watches as Gabrielle begins to turn the huge valve. I was struck again by Xena's letting Gabrielle run the show, not because I don't feel Xena doesn't trust her...it was just...odd. Gabrielle is slowly turning the valve, but apparently not quick enough for Xena, because finally, she draws her sword and strikes the tower beneath them. Water gushes forth and quickly widens into a torrent to douse the fires burning all around them. Xena's mouth and eyes open wide in a joyous laugh as the sound of "Retreat!" is heard. Her eyes are on Gabrielle for the longest time, but finally she turns at sounds "Whoo hoo!" with a raise of her sword. There are relieved cries of happiness all around them.

Gabrielle finally looks back at Xena, and steps forward. Their hands clasp in triumph, and Xena slides her other one around Gabrielle's shoulders. For anyone who has seen any reports on the last day of shooting, this is the very last scene filmed, and because of that, it was almost sad to watch. The camera slowly pans out, as Gabrielle proclaims, "Higuchi is saved." "Not quite the way I would have done it, Gabrielle, but it sure worked." Even the delivery sounds forboding to me, and while the commercials ran, I figured out what was really bothering me.

I could not figure out why Xena wanted Gabrielle to get them to the water tower. It's not because Gabrielle had a greater knowledge of the danger...it was simply because Xena wanted Gabrielle to be able to get herself out of a similar situation without Xena's help. The only reason Xena would want that, would be because she doesn't think she's going to be around to teach Gabrielle much longer. Oh gods!

It gets worse. Xena and Gabrielle are walking through the still smouldering village. Gabrielle still doesn't understand why Xena showed Akemi the pinch. "Did she ever use it?" Xena stops. "Unfortunately, she did." She tells the story as we move back to the past. After many days of walking, they reached Akemi's father's fortress. Inside a large room, two Japanese men sit on stools. They are surrounded by geishas, and there are guards there. Apparently, the men are being entertained, but everyone in the room is startled as a person in a white kimono enters, a menacing mask on its face. The figure seemingly floats about, then stops and points a finger at the younger man, who looks very familiar. The masked figure beckons for the man to come closer, but he doesn't move.

Slowly the figure removes the mask. It is Akemi, and she doesn't look happy. The man calls out her name, and a sword is thrust through the cloth material on one of the walls as EX enters the room. She doesn't look happy either. "Akemi, what are you doing?" Her anger grows as she watches Akemi put the pinch she has just learned on the man. EX can't take the time to react though, as the guards now rush her. EX uses the sword to slice and dice as Akemi calmly kneels by the man, telling him he has thirty seconds left. She claps her hands three times again, and takes the prayer position. "My brothers, my sisters, my mother, and my gentle grandparents, I avenge all your deaths at the hands of this monster." EX finishes off the guards, and stalks forward, obviously to release the pinch on the twitching man, but stops cold when she hears Akemi say, "Father." "Father?" EX echoes, but Akemi continues, "I pray you suffer in death, the way your family suffered in life." EX watches in horror as the man dies, and Akemi stands and tells her, "It is my duty. He had to die." But EX has a one-track mind, and I was almost relieved when she called angrily after Akemi, "I don't care about that...what about the ransom?" Akemi is outside now, making some graceful movement, then sinking to her knees. "Where' s my money?" EX demands behind her, like a petulant child.

EX is circling Akemi now, who asks for foregiveness. "I don't suppose there's any inheritance in this?" EX snarls, still sidetracked. Akemi's got a lot of guts though. She has still one thing to ask of EX. She wants her honor restored. Akemi looks toward EX's hand, saying, "The sacred katana." Then she pulls her hair away from the back of her neck, once again, baring it towards EX.

EX's anger fades rapidly. "You want me to cut off-" she stops, with a shake of her head, as if she can't say the words. "That's why you wanted me to take the katana?" Akemi doesn't disagree. After EX's work is done, she wants EX to take her ashes, and place them in the family shrine. EX is taken aback. She's telling Akemi she won't do that, but Akemi apparently expected that. She draws a hidden sword and plunges it into her own stomach before EX can stop her. Akemi is suffering, but she smiles..."The snow melts, the flowers fade, and I pass." Behind her, EX is overcome with emotion. She tries to speak, but cannot. Somehow, I find prophecy in Akemi's final words. "The time...thy love...they go on. Restore my honor, Xena." Akemi gasps and shivers, and behind her, EX's face changes. She slowly draws back the katana, and with a mighty cry of pure anguish and brief shots of her travels with Akemi, she whirls in a complete circle and beheads the young woman. We see a splash of blood hitting water, and then we're back in the present.

Xena and Gabrielle are still walking through the town. Behind them, Xena's name is being cried out in triumph and the people of Higuchi are following them almost like a parade. Gabrielle asks Xena how she will feel when Xena comes face-to-face with Akemi's ghost. They stop walking though, because the man who had been watching their actions earlier is standing in front of them. He has a better question. How will Xena feel when she comes face-to-face with all the ghosts of the people of Higuchi that she killed? Xena is shocked. "What?" Gabrielle asks who the man is. He says his family name is Harokata. Kenji, who is beside him adds, "But he is known as the Killer of Ghosts." Gabrielle is nonplussed. "Xena saved your city." "This time," the ghost killer agrees. But it can't make up for what happened the last time.

Gabrielle looks doubtfully at Xena wanting to know what the man is talking about. Xena doesn't look very comfortable as she explains, "I was fulfilling Akemi's dying wish." She was taking the ashes to the family shrine in Higuchi. The scene fades to a woman stumbling on an ice covered street. She has some kind of awkward sandals on, and has on white geisha makeup and it is smeared. Her hair is shorn very short and ragged, and the woman is drinking from a wineskin. Xena's voiceover explains that word had gotten out that she had gotten the ashes of a girl who had killed her father. The townfolk felt she would be defiling the graveyard and banded together to stop her.

If it weren't for the cranky sneer on her face, and the way she spit the alcohol at the men, I never would have believed that was Lucy Lawless in that getup. This is a grieving Xena, a drunk Xena, and a broken-hearted Xena, as I've never seen her before. Was it a show of her mourning that made her cut her hair so short? She looks lost and disoriented. The men are approaching with torches as Xena says, "I tried to ignore them, but they came after me." EX may be dazed, but she had the presense of mind to toss the urn from one hand to the other, while simultaneously delivering a kick that procurs her one of the torches. But the angry mob strikes her repeatedly from behind, and as she jumps to avoid the attack, the urn slips from her grasp and breaks on the ice before her. EX cries out in sorrow as the ashes blow away, her hand catching just a trace of the dust. The music in this episode is phenomenal! It swells up as EX pushes herself to her knees, her face changing from sorrow to determination, and she takes a long drink from the wineskin. She whirls on the men, and blows fire at them, setting two of them on fire. They stumble backward, and the building they crash through begins to burn. As EX staggers away, taking another drink, panic breaks out in the city behind her.

"The wind took the fire," the ghost killer is now saying in the present, 'from house to house. 40,000 of my town's folk perished in the flames!" "No, it's not possible," Xena gasps. The ghost killler snaps back that it was only the beginning. Kenji speaks up again, telling Xena and Gabrielle that Akemi told him that her father's spirit was not allowed to enter the underworld, for he was too evil. He became Yodoshi, the Lord of the Darkworld, the Eater of Souls. That's why Akemi's father looked so familiar. His face was contorted to become the Demon that appeared at the beginning of the episode. He holds the 40,000 spirits of Higuchi inside him now, enslaved.

Xena is shocked. "Then I am guilty of a greater evil than I ever thought possible." Gabrielle, in true Gabrielle fashion, tells her "Xena, it was a horrible accident." "No," is Xena's heartfelt response, "No, I must put things right."

It seems like every shot after the commercial breaks is of a misty landscape, and this one is no exception. Gabrielle is standing facing the horizon, but her eyes are closed. Xena is behind her. "Can you hear them?" she asks Gabrielle. Gabrielle concentrates and she says, "I thought a heard a horse before." "Listen not just to the sounds," Xena whispers behind her, "But to what's behind the sounds." She's studying the back of Gabrielle's head, and I felt my heart sink a bit. Gabrielle' eyes are still closed as she hears, and we see, an approaching army marching steadfastly toward them. Xena and Gabrielle are standing in some kind of forrtress, and Gabrielle eyes open as she turns to Xena, letting her silently know she has heard.

Gabrielle asks Xena how many there are, and Xena watches her as the blonde turns toward the horizon again. Xena's eyes blink rapidly, as if she's fighting back tears, but she answers three armies are gathering. Gabrielle tells her she'll warn the others, and goes to do so.

Behind Xena, the Ghost Killer approaches. Kenji watches from a distance. Xena tells the man she knows he thinks of her as the enemy, "But you must believe this, my spirit aches for the torment that I have caused." The Ghost Killer gives her the once over, and slowly nods in agreement. He knows they both want the same thing. Xena looks relieved, then asks if the man has devoted his life to stopping Yodoshi, why hasn't he succeeded? GK tells her he has the power to kill the Dark Lord, but cannot get close enough to do it. "Why?" Xena breathes, and my heart really sank when he responded, "Because...I am mortal." Xena listens intently as GK continues that only another ghost could stop Yodoshi. Xena's eyes scan the horizon. She gives a look back at him, a brief nod, and leaves. Oh gods! I do not like the feeling of dread I have!

Xena has sought solace in a large room. She is kneeling in the center of it. Her eyes stare before her as she whispers, "Akemi, I know what I must do. But I am afraid that this day, what's done may not be undone." She is in the black abbreviated outfit again, and by her side rests a golden piece of armor, in the shape of a bikini top. Xena stares ahead with tear filled eyes, as Gabrielle enters. "Xena, the militia is prepared." She stops. "Why aren't you ready?" Gabrielle is wearing her own silver colored armor. It covers her torso. She's wearing her regular skirt and looks great.

Xena sniffles, and tells Gabrielle to come to her. "Give me your hands." Gabrielle kneels before her and does so. Xena pauses again, and then pulls Gabrielle's hands to her neck. She wants Gabrielle to feel the surge of blood under her skin..."and just behind." I started to protest immediately, and thank the gods, Gabrielle did to! "Xena," she says, trying to jerk her hands free. "You don't have to do this. I understand why you never wanted to teach me the pinch." Unfortunately, Gabrielle was on the wrong track. Xena wasn't showing her the pinch so Gabrielle wouldn't be jealous of Akemi. Xena voices it for me. "No, today, more than ever, I want you to know what I know." She places Gabrielle's hands back on her neck.

Xena gives a small reassuring smile, then jerks the hands forward, and reacts as the pinch works. Gabrielle stares into her best friend's face. "Why are you doing this?" Xena is SO noble. She manages another smile as the tears shine again. "If I only had thirty seconds to live, this is how I would want to live them," she answers. Gabrielle is searching her face, "Stop this!" she whispers, as she begins to panic. Then a little louder, more scared now, "Stop it!"

Xena is beginning to sway a bit, but the smile returns yet again. "Always remember that I love you," she tells Gabrielle. I really thought she was going to to it, but using Gabrielle's hands again, she releases the pinch, and leans forward coughing for air. Gabrielle grabs her shoulders. There are tears glistening on the bard's face. "Why would you teach me this right now?" she asks angrily, shaking Xena's shoulders. "I don't understand!"

This is so hard for me to write about. Xena regains her bearings and wipes the trickle of blood from her nose. "There's nothing for you to understand," she replies. "I just want you to know everything that I know." Her tone changes then, as she moves to stand. "Let's go, we've got a battle to win." Gabrielle stares after her, her mouth open, shaking her head as she looks devastated.

The episode gets worse...much worse. Kenji and Gabrielle are marching forward. Kenji asks Gabrielle if it wouldn't be better if they went with Xena. Gabrielle's response is, "Xena wants us to lead a contingency to the east flank.She says a group of Yodoshi's archers are gathering there." Gabrielle sounds fearless and self-assured. A few men march behind them.

As they disappear from the screen, Xena appears out of the mist, looking glorious in her golden armor. I have never seen her look more magnificent! She holds at her waist, the katana. She watches Gabrielle march ahead, and as the music swells up with a very familiar Amazon song of mourning, Xena's look is full of pain, regret, and bitter sadness. It is the single most tragic look I have ever seen on Xena's features. She walks off camera as the ominous words "To Be Continued", appear in the mist.

This episode was superb, from start to finish. No doubt about it. But as some of the more angst-ridden episodes before it, including The Ides of March and The Debt, it is also extremely difficult to watch. One of the hardest things to accept is the fact that Gabrielle doesn't seem aware of what Xena has in mind. If Xena truly does become a ghost, will Gabrielle feel betrayed? Dunno, but whatever's in store, this episode is easily living up to the hype. Most of the shots in the finale preview haven't been shown yet, and it's already easily one of the finest episodes of television ever.


This synopsis is by John.

A Friend in Need - Part I (or Underaged Japanese Girl's Crush)

We open with X&G stargazing, and talking about their future. Xena wants a change of scenery, seems Greece ain't good enough for her and her girl any more. Gabs mentions, kinda off hand that there's someone stalking them, Xena's known about him for the last half hour. [Sigh] poor Gabs just can't catch a break. They grab him, and we see an asian guy with a shaved head, who always has a roof over his head.

The guy has a message for Xena, and a ghost story to tell. He drops a "Name from Xena's past" to get her attention and then goes into his dark and stormy night routine. Standard set up, two weary travelers, seek shelter in a teahouse, and find three beautiful girls who want to cater to their every whim. (I've had that fantasy) Our narrator, being such a virtuous monk, is merely listening to music, and reading poetry. (What's the name of that Japanese string instrument? Soundtracks use it every time they want to make a Japanese reference.) His buddy on the other hand is gettin down and dirty in the hot tub with two girls. Is it just me, or does this not ring true? Methinks our monk is engaging in a little creative editing of his tale. One of the less demure girls in the tub rings some bells on her ankle, and the spirit from The Evil Dead, comes rushing through the woods to get them. The good girl tells the virtuous monk to get his *ss dressed and get out. (Oh wait, I mean to put down his scholarly reading and leave) Then she grabs a sword.

The spirit is getting closer, and the bad, naughty monk finds that his bath companions have scarpered. A big, giant, head bursts through the door, soon followed by its body. We end up with a burly guy in Kabuki makeup, standing there looking mean. He huffs, and he puffs, and he blows on the bad boy, who screams when he sees it coming. I don't know why. If some guy interrupted my bath with a couple of lovelies, I'd yell a lot, but I don't see any reason for him to scream. Unless of course he's seen the script, and knows that this is magical freeze breath, and that the guy's going to suck his frozen corpse back into his mouth. (It sounds almost as weird as it looks) The virtuous monk course sees this and makes a run for it. For some reason, as he's leaving, he leaps off of the little bridge, into the shallow stream, then splashes across the stream, and gets out at the other end of the bridge. I'm really not clear on what he thought he was accomplishing with that little maneuver.

His girlfriend shows up, with her sword, and tells him what's been going on. The Kabuki guy is a demon, who is raising an army to attack a place called Koochi-Koochi. She wants him to take the sword and stop this. He very reasonably declines, and she tells him that she just wants him to go get the real hero. Is it a Samurai? A Priest? A God? No, It's a Warrior Princess!! (Gosh, doesn't that sound like someone we know?)

After the opening credits, Rob gets another chance to use his boat; Gabby and the monk are practicing with kendo sticks. (I thought the monk said that he wasn't a swordsman) Xena is looking yummy in a bikini and sunhat. Gabby asks the monk about his (totally platonic) girlfriend who is also the "Name from Xena's past". She's being forced to lure souls to Kabuki guy, she's beautiful and she's a ghost. That surprises her enough for him to get a hit. (Gotta focus Gabs.) Xena calls her over for a flashback to Jah-pone. (Why would they bother mispronouncing the name of the place? Either call it Japan, or more correctly Nippon.) Gabby opens a parasol so they can both look like ladies of leisure. (The two of 'em do look nice in those bikinis) Xena just says that it was many years ago, but we know it was ten. She and Borias decide to take a Japanese girl from a Chinese warlord, and collect the ransom themselves. There's a neat little bit with the girl not quite licking Xena's boot that pretty much spells out their relationship.

Pity the actress can't quite manage the American accent; she's still sounding awfully Kiwi. While she's singing Xena's praises, Borias gets a good line. "Xena loves no one". Ya think maybe he has issues? The warlord doesn't want to sell, despite Borias' advice. "It's unhealthy to negotiate with this one, I'd take the gold" -- I like that line too. Xena puts the pinch on him, and starts killing his guards. (About time we got some fighting in this ep) It's a pretty standard fight scene, no particular gimmicks; Lucy could do this in her sleep. When she's done with them, she starts counting down the warlord's last ten seconds, but gets bored. (Attention span? What's that?) She takes the girl, and on his way out Borias finishes the tea, and grabs the gold.

Nice little transitional of a dolphin jumping, before we're back on the boat hearing Xena's version of the I have a dream speech. It's a little more direct than Martin's. She just wants to conquer the known world. Borias makes the usually fatal mistake of laughing at Xena, and her teaching skills, so she decides a quick lesson is in order. (Interesting, Borias says "You couldn't teach a dog to bark" and Xena whistles for her little 'student' very much like a dog.) We're treated to a textbook example of how not to teach martial arts to a young girl. (Much to Borias' amusement, he's a cheerful guy.) Xena salvages what she can from the lesson by quoting X-files. "Trust no one". Later on, as they're leaving the boat, laughing boy reminds Xena that he gets a share of the ransom. (Only ten percent?)

As Xena and her protege walk through the snow Xena decides to try a less physical lesson. Listening. She can hear all manner of interesting, and very quiet things. (A wagon just crossed a river up ahead, a deer eating grass nearby, a butterfly just f*rt*d...) The Japanese Lolita waxes philosophical, and gives Xena a scroll in Chinese. (Yes, Chinese, I have it on good authority, and apparently it doesn't say anything like what she says it means.) She confesses her love for Xena, who reacts about the way you'd expect a woman of Xena's experience to react when a teenager reveals her crush. Gabby finds it all very romantic, I guess she's more secure in their relationship now, there's none of the jealous girlfriend stuff here.

After the commercial, Xena continues her story. She and Lolita come to an abandoned farm, where her grandfather died. But she can still talk to him. Creepy. Xena gets a wee bit irate at the idea that she's been wandering around to visit a dead guy, and very nearly takes the chickie's head off, but she pulls her hair aside to make it easier, and mutters something else philosophical. For whatever reason, that puts Xena off. The kid puts a scroll on granddads grave and says goodbye. Can anyone else think of a young, innocent, beautiful and spunky girl with a lot of scrolls in Xena's life? Granddad approves of this woman who nearly killed his granddaughter, but thinks her sword is a bit chintzy. They go off in search of a Katana. I did like Xena's reaction to the idea that women aren't allowed Katanas. "They're just going to have to get used to it, aren't they?"

The weapons shop reminds me of the first scene from "The Warrior Princess", the Herc ep that started it all. I'm not sure if that was deliberate or not, but it worked for me. Lolita comes in, and tells the master that her master is here to challenge for "The Great Katana". (I didn't know there was a special one) He's impressed, until Xena saunters in, strips down, and purrs that she's "Just a girl in search of a really good sword" -- Gosh, nothing suggestive in that, was there? She's not particularly dismayed when he cuts her sword in half, "Gimmie Gimmie", and fights on bare handed. In the end, of course, there are a lot of unconscious sword smiths, and Xena's got a new toy. Pretty good fight scene, I particularly liked the bit dancing around the blades on the table.

That night, Lolita is getting philosophical and romantic again, when Xena tries to set her straight, she doesn't believe her. I didn't see the point of the 'Snow falling on cedars' reference, probably because I haven't seen that film. [Shrug] If anyone wants to explain that to me I'd appreciate it. Lolita wants to learn the pinch, which Xena says is a sacred trust. But, seeing as Lolita would be 'honoured beyond words' at all, she'll teach 'er. That bit of the story gets a rise out of Gabby, after all, she's been trying to find out about the pinch for years. While Xena tries to come up with an answer for that, the Captain tells them that Koochi- Koochi is under siege, so he's turning back. Naturally, our gurlz jump overboard and swim in. They surface in a visual quote from Xena's attack on Ming T'ien's fortress, and while a weird old guy with a sword looks on, they take in the scene.

The attacking army is using firebombs to burn the city, so they've gotta get the water from the water tower onto the buildings. (At least the catapults look more realistic than usual). The whole next sequence strikes me as a graduation exercise for Gabby. Xena asks her what to do, and follows her lead in a needlessly complex trip through the battle, over the rooftops, on a ladder (remember the ladder fight from Callisto?) to the water tower. Gabby tries to open the valve (Giving Renee a chance to show off her arms) and Xena just chops the pipe, spraying the town. Naturally, the attacking army retreats. (Oh no! I've got water down the back of my armour! Run away! Run away!) Koochie-Koochie is saved. Seems that this was the last scene they filmed, which kinda choked me up a bit. (Yeah, I'm a sentimental slob)

While they're wandering around the steaming remains of the fire, Gabby asks Xena to continue her story. When Xena and Lolita get to her father's place, we see Kabuki guy, without his makeup, sitting and relaxing. (Is it just me, or does this guy remind anyone else of Bruce Campbell?) He's watching a rather matronly woman dance for him, while his masked guards look on. (Why are they always masked?) Another dancer shows up, wearing a really ugly mask, and points at Kabuki guy. She raises her mask, and it's Lolita! I was actually expecting Xena, but I didn't have long to wait. As soon as Kabuki guy recognizes her, Xena cuts open the fabric wall and comes inside. (For some reason, when she cut it, the lights came up outside, allowing us to see through the wall.)

Lolita puts the pinch on Kabuki guy, and Xena fights the guards. While she's occupied, Lolita says a little prayer over the dying Kabuki guy, telling her family that she's avenging their deaths by killing him. Seems that this is her father, and he's a really bad guy. Xena's really p*ss*d now. It doesn't look like she's going to make anything at all on this deal. Lolita goes out into the yard to commit Seppuku. She wants Xena to finish her off. (Traditionally, I'm pretty sure that women didn't get to use Seppuku, but I'll let that pass.) She's been manipulating Xena all along. When she starts disemboweling herself, she recites poetry. There's a quick montage of the time she's spend with Xena, and a shot of a drop of red liquid falling into clear liquid. It's all very pretty, and to my mind, very effective.

Back in the 'present', Xena's being cheered by the peasants but suddenly she's confronted by the old guy with the sword. He says she killed a bunch of people in Koochie-Koochie. The monk, who has turned up somehow, says this guy is called Killer of Ghosts. I say he's Killer of Party. Another flashback. When Xena brought Lolita's ashes to Koochi-Koochi to be placed in the family shrine, the villagers objected. For some reason, Xena had cut her hair, but on really weird eye makeup, and was wearing some deeply impractical shoes. She was also drinking from a little bottle. (Sake?) When the villagers showed up with torches, and Xena spat a little bit at them, I think we all knew what was coming. She gets knocked down (those shoes) the urn gets broken, and she torches some villagers with her flame breath. They stumble into some buildings, and the whole place goes up. In the present again, Killer of Party says that in the resulting fire, 40,000 people died. Xena's first reaction is that that's not possible, and I gotta agree with her. Just how large is this city? Just how slow are these people? That number seems way high to me. The monk pipes up with the helpful info that Kabuki guy was so evil his soul became a demon, the eater of souls. Those 40,000 people were eaten by him and now are enslaved within his body. Um .... Okay.

Wouldn't this plotline have worked just as well with a more realistic number? Like 400? Naturally, Miss Guilt Trip decides that she must put things right. (Criminies, all she did was set fire to a couple of guys who were trying to kill her, now she figures she's responsible for all that?)

The next day (I assume) Gabby is trying the listening trick. She hears an army approaching, and asks Xena how many there are. Xena says there are at least three armies. [Sigh] So how many men/horses/catapults/what-have-you to an army Xena? Let's get some useful information going here. Gabby goes off to play Paul Revere, and Xena makes her peace with Party Killer. He explains that only another ghost can get close enough to kill Kabuki guy. (Here we're supposed to figure that Xena's going to die, but I don't see why the ghost of Lolita couldn't do it.) Xena's sitting alone before the battle, and getting morbid, Gabby comes in to get her, and asks why she's not ready. Xena teaches her the pinch, so she'll know everything Xena knows. It's all very touching and portentous. Nice romantic line in there when Xena says that if she only had 30 seconds left to live, she'd like to spend them gazing into Gabby's eyes. G'wan, try to call that subtext. These two are out of the closet gang.

Incidentally, Gabby's wearing some very cool looking armour, but when we get a proper look at Xena's gear, it's a little impractical. Why on earth would she want to fight, in winter, with most of her torso bare? Just a gold bra to cover the essentials, and a skirt of lacquer armor.

Gabby and the monk are off to the east flank to deal with some archers, Xena is looking pensive, and it will all be continued next week.

Not the best ep I've ever seen, but it's really just a set up for next week. I liked it, lots of good visuals, Lucy in a variety of skimpy clothes, Evil Xena, Borias, and some great sets. Next week? Looks good, we'll see.

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