Season 1:21 The Greater Good


Reviewed by SLK

Rating: 7 chakrams



My local butcher makes a special dish he calls Chicken Surprise. Once you get past the bright and cheerfully herbed outer chicken skin you discover chunks of lamb and beef. Every time I see this dish’s bizarre ingredient list I can’t work out whether to be charmed by its amusement value or faintly disturbed on some deeper level.

So, too, it goes with The Greater Good, the Xenaverse’s own Chicken Surprise.

On the surface is the usual silly nonsense of bad guys plotting dastardly conquest schemes and bellowing “arrrghs”, while Xena and Gabs ham it up with them, each other, and now even Argo. But cut through that goofy comfortable layer and there’s a surprisingly dense and dark plot underneath to affect its startled viewers.

To cut to the chase – a hero, Xena, (seemingly) dies. Her friends must cope.

But unlike many other shows, there were no long gazes off into the distance while everyone just strikes a dramatic pose for three beats and then just moves on.

Although the plan was indeed for everyone to move on, the fact is, in The Greater Good they didn’t let us process anything in the usual way. We were forced to dwell in uncomfortable corners and look at things when we’d rather turn away. They lingered on Xena’s “death” and the pain of her friends. The zoomed in on the loss and the awfulness when it would have been easier to cut to “NEXT DAY, EXT, VILLAGE, SUNSHINE.”

Instead we were left there, right there, heart in mouth, with Salmoneus as he stepped over one dead thug and turned to see another form on the floor, a dawning horror crossing his face. We felt his awful shock of seeing a broken, bared, vulnerable Xena tossed aside on a scattering of old, dirty straw lying so unnaturally still. Without her armor on, she seemed so small, so lost and yet, so beautiful. No longer was this a larger than life legend favoured by the gods – she was just a broken human being.

Salmoneus gathered her up in his big bearish arms, his shaking hand seeking a pulse, a breath, anything, and then cradling her more gently than you could ever imagine the man could, and telling her he would miss her. It’s significant he was one of the few people who knew her well as both bad Xena and good Xena. And we were there, right there with him, holding her too.

Then we felt his agony of having to tell Gabrielle – and the man, being as astute as he is, knew exactly how much her heart would break.

We watched her struggle with her composure, kiss Xena goodbye, try to keep everything together as Xena would have wanted and then, finally, we felt every bone shuddering thwack as Gabrielle rained blows into a tree. And it all felt so uncomfortable, so sad and -so real.

Yep, those naughty Xenabods put us through the wringer.

These were emotional depths that the show Xena had never really gone near or hinted at before, and suddenly realizing they would even do this was a huge revelation. It must have made an awful lot of people, who had been dismissing this as Herc-style kiddytainment, sit up and pick their jaws up off the floor.

This episode made clear the show’s potential from that moment on.

Serious stuff over – time to look at the odd bits of stuffing that held this Chicken Surprise together.

I have to laugh at how Xena takes out a row of bloke’s phallic symbols – swords and arrows, in a single chakram throw. Some of the soldiers looked most deflated.

Witness Xena’s worst ever fighting maneuver which I will dub Windmilling Arms of Destruction. How did the extras not laugh? How did a dizzy Lucy/stunt double not land on her face? The mysteries of it all.

Best moment ever – Gabrielle unequivocally saving Xena’s life in a fight – and not through words. She javelin-tossed her staff right into the thug who was about to skewer Xena with such power I kept waiting for a little Olympic official to run out with a tape measure. Gold!

Weirdest exit ever – OK now I have seen some weird things in my time, but nothing beats arrow-poisoned Xena hanging off Argo on one side, both feet dangling, and Gabrielle mirroring her on the other, and the mare affecting the big getaway with no one in the saddle. Like the Windmilling Arms of Destruction, above, I suggest the stars Just Say No.

Sweetest moment – Gabrielle furiously telling off Xena because the big WP hadn’t told her earlier about her poisoning. That doesn’t sound too sweet but it is when you consider Xena let her do it. This finally confers some actual relationship status on Gabrielle. Mere tag-alongs who may be given their marching orders any moment don’t get nagging rights. Only a real partner can say such a thing to the Warrior Princess and get away with it. I also love Xena’s droll comeback: “Gabrielle? Yell at me later.”

Gotta love, love, love Salmoneus, now and forever. In this episode he leant a touch of class, and the way he dealt with Xena’s “dead” body was so beautifully acted. That man was woefully underutilised in both RenPic productions. Pity.

Meanwhile, Argo – this episode marks the start of a beautiful friendship. Gabs and Argo make peace, and who knew the horse was so super? Laughed at the mare kicking warrior butt.

And while we’re on the topic – wasn’t Gabrielle stunning in her fight scenes? Now if she could just work on not picking her fights when an entire army is between her and her goal, she might have a bit more luck. As it turns out, yet again, she winds up with a knife held at her throat. Will some things never change?

Subtext alert – well where to start? There was Xena’s hand on Gabs’s shoulder and her empathic squeeze when the bard is telling her about her pony, Tippany. “That’s what happens to things you love - sometimes they just leave you,” Gabrielle says in an aching voice. And then looks pointedly at Xena.

Um, I don’t think they were still talking about the horse. In which case, Gabrielle just told the big lug she loves her. Hence the cute shoulder squeeze – assuming Xena was astute enough to get the message. And no one has ever accused Xena of being dumb. *grin*

On a similar topic – the last line of the episode was always bittersweet for subtexters. Gabrielle jokes she might be going all soft on Xena. The WP replies “Wouldn’t want that, would we?” It’s not what she says - clearly she’s smiling and joking - it’s what she does next. Xena actually winces, as though the thought is icky to her. It’s not like she’s doing that for Gabrielle’s benefit as the bard isn’t even looking at her. So I hope those worried studio chiefs were sufficiently pleased by that grimace, which was probably done for their benefit. i.e. Please observe, there’s no way that woman likes that other woman, got it?

Next - I know many a fan regards Gabrielle kissing Xena on the lips as a big subtext moment – me, I tend to think it’s just what you might do when a friend passes away. But true it is the first lip-on-lip touch for the pair, especially given Xena is so prone to plant kisses on the top of Gabrielle’s head all the time, but never anywhere one might construe as romantic.

Actually what I loved about that scene was the way Gabrielle played with Xena’s hair. Straightening it, smoothing it, as though trying to make it right. To me that was far more loving and affectionate than the kiss. And we’ve all kissed aunties and uncles we don’t want to, but who plays with their hair? It was so heart breaking.

As a result of how tender that farewell was, I felt we were a little robbed when Xena bounces back to life, literally, and they decided to play her resurrection for laughs. Gabrielle appears like a perky cheerleader and announces: “Glad to have you back. Don’t you ever do this again”, while Xena smirks and retorts: “Gabrielle we’re in the middle of a fight.”

After all that draining emoting earlier it was a bit of a let down for the reunion to be two smart-alec lines delivered as a joke. Ah well.

Now then, quibbles time – Is Xena part of some religious sect that prohibits medical treatment? Why did she not even try to look for an antidote? It’s not like she knew she would live – she actually discussed funeral arrangements with Gabrielle.

I wasn’t a fan of dressing Gabs up in Xena’s costume – she always looked ridiculous to me. She also seemed to be wearing Xena’s getup for an inordinately long amount of time (can anyone say coup?).

They also wasted an opportunity for a big reveal when doing the slow pan up of Gabrielle slapping on the leather gear, by having Xena watching on in the background. It would have been a much greater tease to have Gabs revealed in the last moment, as we’d have been half convinced it really was Xena.

Quibbles over. It really wasn’t about the flaws anyway. The point of The Greater Good is the potential it unveiled, the mission plan laid out (now we all officially know why Xena does what she does and how Gabrielle will follow suit) and the show flirting with a breathtaking depth of emotion.

I know the first time I saw this episode  I simply couldn’t believe how much they’d made me feel for characters who, until that moment had been roughly sketched out 2D cartoons. You know - The hero and her sidekick – woohoo, watch them kick butt, defy gravity, flirt, and do things with a metal disc that are just impossible. That pretty much was the extent of it.

And then along came The Greater Good. It made the leap away from the two dimensional and into the 3D, where the show has stayed, give or take a few detours, ever since. There’s little doubt it finally began to start living up to its potential from this moment on. And what a turning point it was.

So while I never could bring myself to try my butcher’s Chicken Surprise, the Xenaverse’s version is definitely worthy of seconds.



SCROLLS & SCRIBES: Written by Steven L. Sears; Edited by Robert Field; Directed by Gary Jones.

PASSING PARADE: Robert Trebor (Salmoneus), Peter McCauley (Talmadeus), Jonathon Hendry (Ness), Natalya Humphrey (Photis), Timothy  James Adam (Kalus), David Mitchell (Gorney)

DISCLAIMER Excessive belching can cause brain damage and social ostracism. Kids, please don’t give in to peer pressure. Play it safe.

STORY SO FAR While Xena is struck down by a mysterious assailant, Gabrielle is forced to play Warrior Princess for a day in order to save a defenseless village, and Salmoneus.



The metallic hollow twang the tree made when Gabrielle beat the Tartarus out of it until her staff, obviously fashioned from a different kind of tree, developed a pronounced droop.

Check out the red curtain Gabrielle sends her Molotov cocktails into – they’re already partly wet from being smeared with accelerant. I’d get the arson squad involved – this smells like an inside job.

They did an atrocious job matching Gabrielle’s redder than orphan Annie hair with that of the stunt double. In the final fight after Xena rises from the dead, you’ll see a badly matched shot of “Gabrielle” with brown-blonde hair!


 “Sweet people – not a bit of brain between them.”
 Salmoneus ‘the entrepreneur’ reveals the secret of his success.



“Change the subject – I’m going to get all soft on you.”

“Wouldn’t want that, would we?”