Tension and Drama (04-12)
Xena's Heart of Darkness (13-19)
Gabrielle Shows The Way: "Kaltaka, Anyone?" (20-23)
A PRICE SECOND TO NONE
Xena and Gabrielle try to catch up with Frodo and the eight other Fellowship members before it is too late...
 What is my favorite Xena episode ever? There is no doubt because it is also the best Xena episode ever made. Why is it the best episode ever made? It shows the dark side of the Warrior Princess better than all the other episodes. We do not see the Dark Xena in some flashback from ten winters ago, but in Xena's current real time and consequently, right before our eyes. It is the most tense and dramatic of all episodes.
 This episode has no shortage of kick-*ss action. It is full of excellent scenes between Xena and Gabrielle. It has Gabrielle doing what she did best, which was putting Xena back on the right path. It features one of Xena's best chakram tricks. It places Xena against a terrifying opponent that, unlike most of her usual antagonists, is truly worthy of her. It also draws a valuable moral lesson. This episode is THE PRICE.
Tension and Drama
Gabrielle is a weapon magnet. This keeps Xena ever alert.
 THE PRICE packs more changes of tone and emotion in its first few minutes than most episodes ever do in 45 or so minutes. It begins with one of the best New Zealand Ministry of Tourism shots: a fast-moving overhead view of a verdant river valley. It then cuts to Gabrielle apparently engaged in a desperate battle, telling Xena, "He's mine!" Tension is abruptly relaxed when we see that Gabrielle is battling a fish and this leads to engaging word-play between the two friends, with the Warrior Princess at her most playful.
 The mood instantly changes when a man's arm reaches out and grabs Gabrielle just as she is talking about reaching out and touching. The dying Athenian soldier at the end of the arm gasps out the news about the surrounded garrison and the Horde. Xena's look of natural concern suddenly turns into a mask of outright fear, something we have never seen from the Warrior Princess. Before we can even take that in, more bodies float down the river, the Horde canoes arrive, and Xena's response is not to whip out her sword but to tell Gabrielle to run.
 Within seconds of fleeing the river, however, they run into more of the Horde coming up from the landward side. Xena only fights in order to make their escape, when, in a lesser episode, Xena would have simply vanquished most of the attackers and driven off the rest.
 Xena and Gabrielle steal one of the Horde's own canoes, but this only leads to more danger as they are hotly pursued by another canoe. The mounting tension, however, is suddenly relaxed when Xena makes one of her most amazing chakram throws and sinks the Horde canoe. This is more like it, we think. Unfortunately, the respite is only brief. Having evaded the Horde, Xena tells Gabrielle the story of her first terrible encounter with the Horde and the grisly fates of her soldiers at the Horde's hands.
 The lack of a visual flashback at this point, with Xena telling the story in voice-over, should have been a weakness, and one suspects it was due to budgetary considerations. However, the choice is very effective. Xena's words and expression as she relates the story are more than enough to convey her abhorrence and fear of the Horde. Gabrielle's question about what the Horde wants and Xena's response that no one knows, makes the Horde seem even more frightful as it adds the element of fear of the unknown to the equation. Further increasing the tension is Xena's own statement, "Things are gonna get worse, especially with what I have to do to get us out of here."
 What does Xena mean by "What I have to do to get us out of here"? We shall soon find out, though not quite as soon as one would have thought.
Xena is a bit of a weapons magnet herself
 The first part of Xena's last words soon proves prophetic and their resumed trip in the canoe quickly becomes a voyage down a river of horror and death. The mood becomes one of increasing unease as Xena fearfully scans the riverbank for more signs of the Horde, and we see a Horde warrior emerging from under the water like Rambo. The two women then come upon the tortured and dying Athenian soldiers. Then the Horde begins to pursue them again by canoe. They paddle into a terrifying ambush with the Horde flinging their deadly throwing axes at them, leaving Gabrielle glaring horror-stricken at her severed paddle. Things just keep getting worse, and even more intense, when Xena sees a giant Niagara-like waterfall blocking their path.
 Their plight is truly desperate and Xena decides to head for the riverbank, which is swarming with the Horde closing in for the kill. Suddenly the Athenians ambush the Horde, Xena and Gabrielle are saved, and for a moment a vestige of hope appears. Then a Horde member throws an axe at Gabrielle. Xena saves Gabrielle with her amazing whip trick, snapping an axe back into the Horde warrior who had thrown it and causing his partner to make a hasty retreat.
 We feel a sense of relief when Xena, Gabrielle, and the soldiers safely arrive at the Athenian fort. However, that relief quickly morphs into unease when Xena and Gabrielle see how ramshackle the fort is and observe the soldiers' defeatism and hopelessness.
 The fort is no sanctuary, especially since the Horde warriors throw their axes at any head at appears above the ramparts, including Gabrielle's. Fortunately, Xena begins her transition into military commander mode. She easily beats off a few resentful soldiers, catches a Horde axe in mid-air, and reveals her identity, thereby differentiating herself from all the other six-foot tall sword-armed women running around Greece at the time. When Xena starts giving the soldiers sound military advice, we feel relieved again: Xena is going to take command and save the day. Just as we are relaxing again, Xena suddenly, and shockingly, shouts out her plan: "We're gonna KILL 'EM ALL!"
Xena's Heart of Darkness
Gabrielle starts to suspect ... that Xena may have been reading too much Conrad
 Despite that shocking outburst, Xena still seems to be Xena. We always knew that she had been an extremely competent commander and she soon displays her expertise and ingenuity when talking to Mercer and Menticles, the two surviving Athenian officers. It is not until Xena enters the hospital and talks with Gabrielle that we begin to learn that there is something not quite right with our hero when she orders Gabrielle not to give food or water to anyone who cannot fight.
 That is extreme, but it is understandable under the circumstances. Yet, Xena does not stop there. Having lured the Horde to an ambush inside the gate of the fort, she shows even more relish than usual in combat, and almost scornfully uses a bow as a club against them rather than her sword. She clearly enjoys slitting the throat of a Horde warrior with his own axe and caps that performance by gleefully throwing the axe into the back of a fugitive. The look on her face after killing the fleeing warrior looks orgiastic, and she actually struts as the Athenians celebrate this victorious skirmish by shouting her name. However, seeing the look of horror on Gabrielle's face sobers her.
 Gabrielle's horror proves well justified. "This is war. What did you expect? Glamour?" Xena exclaims. Her talk of no good choices, only lesser degrees of evil, makes sense, yet her explanation for axing the Horde warrior in the back is a mere pretext. She did it because she knew she would enjoy doing it. She also thunders at Gabrielle: "There is nothing about them that we can or should understand." When Gabrielle pointedly asks whether she had ever tried to understand the Horde, Xena snaps, "I know them, there's nothing", and curtly orders her to get back to work, giving her a gratuitous push. Her close-mindedness and unwillingness to put herself in the enemy's place is a hallmark of military incompetence. Therefore, it is worth noting.
 Xena's conduct becomes even more outrageous with the Horde prisoner she has taken. She gives him a slap that would almost knock down a horse. She then puts the pinch on him and reveals what can only be a sadistic streak when she says with almost lip-licking relish, "He'll be dead in moments, and he knows it. He can feel his life draining away." After taking off the pinch and ordering the prisoner chained, Xena sighs and turns her attentions to Gabrielle.
On a good day Xena can eat the whole Athenian army AND The Horde for breakfast
 Gabrielle misjudges the situation and thanks Xena for showing mercy, but Xena chastises her and snaps, "Don't you ever question my authority or methods in front of my troops. I told you I'd do whatever it takes, and if that means killing him later -- I'll do it . . . If they want a fight to the death, they're gonna get it. What part of that didn't you understand?" Gabrielle shows maximum spunk when she dares to respond to that scornful rhetorical question: "You!" She plaintively adds, "Who are you, Xena? What happened to the Xena that I know?" It is at this instant that we see that the Dark Xena has taken complete possession. Her anger disappears, but an icy yet weird pleasure replaces it as she deigns to explain: "That Xena can't help us now. If losing her is the price for saving us all, I'll pay it. It's just a part of me I didn't think I'd need anymore." She curtly adds, "Get back to work", and pushes the terrified Gabrielle aside. Gabrielle's terror is not misplaced. Gabrielle now has two things to fear: the Horde and the monster her friend has become.
 The full emergence of the Dark Xena is not just a scripted contrivance, unlike other episodes in which Xena's dark side surfaces. Xena has genuine reasons for reverting to her old evil self, and saving the lives of Gabrielle, the Athenians, and herself is the least of them. Xena has two grudges against the Horde. First, she is truly afraid of them, and being afraid of anyone is a novel and humiliating experience for the Warrior Princess. One that she cannot tolerate. Second, she had met them before and they had defeated her, which was even more intolerable to her.
 The dark side of Xena comes from a colossal ego: she has to be better than anyone else at almost everything, especially in military and combat matters, and she wants people to know it. Her strutting reaction to the soldiers shouting her name is clear evidence of that. That colossal ego now means that Xena is hell-bent on showing the Horde that she is the boss, even if it kills her, Gabrielle, and the Athenians. The plan that it engenders is good for the short term, for it persuades the Athenians to stand up against the Horde with renewed vigor, but it would probably prove disastrous over the long term. As Xena herself admits, all that the Horde had to do was wait until the garrison had exhausted its supplies of food. One also has to wonder whether any reinforcements summoned by a messenger from inside the fort could reach the garrison in time.
Gabrielle Shows The Way: "Kaltaka, Anyone?"
Kaltaka, the pause that refreshes
 So repelled and bewildered is Gabrielle by Xena's appalling ruthlessness and full embrace of her former evil ways that in her own way she becomes as grimly determined as the Warrior Princess to have it her own way. She would rather die doing good than being dragged down the road of evil. No doubt smarting from Xena's verbally and physically abusive treatment of her, Gabrielle also wants to prove Xena wrong.
 Although the "kaltaka" business seems a bit obvious to us, it says much for the fearsomeness of the Horde that no one in the fort even suspects that the wounded warriors are crying for water and not for some barbarous god of war. In this, the garrison is not being stupid, at least not in the usual sense, but they are allowing their fear and loathing to blind them to the Horde's humanity. They have become accustomed to thinking of and referring to the Horde as things or animals.
Xena sees the light...
 Equally blind, of course, is Xena herself. By talking her way out of the fort and giving water to the wounded men, Gabrielle also snaps Xena out of her dark mode. Imminent danger to Gabrielle causes the real Xena to burst to the surface again. Once that happens, Xena notes that the Horde have a concept of the rules of warfare. They are not simply a bunch of murderous savages. This means that she has lost her closed-mindedness and become a supremely competent commander once more. This leads her to work out a plan to save everyone through a duel with the leader of the Horde.
 This epiphany reveals that Xena needs both her dark and good sides to be a fully effective warrior and commander. It further demonstrates just how critically Xena needs the inherent goodness of Gabrielle to keep her from reverting to the nihilistic Destroyer of Nations she once was. Finally, it teaches that prejudice born of fear and hatred is not only morally rotten but, even from a purely military standpoint, is extremely dangerous and probably disastrous.
...but she can still be really scary, both to the Horde and fan alike
 Lets face it, Xena: Warrior Princess should have been a silly comic strip of a show like most TV shows in general and syndicated action series in particular, yet it turned out to be much, much more than that. Part of that, of course, is the superb acting talents of the two stars, but another is the dramatic qualities and psychological insights of many of its scripts.
 THE PRICE reveals more of those assets than any other episode of the series.
Whew! It was a close one, but the ladies survive with their soulmatedness intact
Born on an Army base in Washington State, I have spent most of my life in California. I hold a Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Southern California and have taught that subject and other history courses at various universities in California, Utah and Wisconsin. I have also published scholarly articles on Ancient History, specifically the Late Roman Republic. I currently have a book on the Hurrians and Hittites under consideration for publication by a major university press in England.
Favorite episode: THE PRICE
Favorite lines: Xena: "Do? We're GONNA KILL THEM ALL!" THE PRICE; Meg to Gabrielle: "You kinda look like her, but Gabrielle wasn't so butch." LIVIA
First episode seen: DEVI
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS