By: Lord Nelson
Perhaps I should have learned to keep my Eudora closed. Last week I raved all over the place that Paradise Found was the best script by Chris Manheim yet. Well, I'm kinda embarrassed because Ms. Manheim went out and TOPPED HERSELF! "Devi" had nearly EVERYTHING a fan wants from a Xena script---an intriguing mystery, immense excitement, great fights, a wonderful new male friend for our ladies, strong character development for nearly everybody, and beautiful, deep feelings from and between Xena and Gabrielle. Not only did this lovely story have these themes, but it also had the first glimmering of the eternal mysteries of Hindu Indian culture, and all it portends for Xena, Gabrielle and the future of Xena: Warrior Princess as a show.
The episode was also one of the most beautiful in the history of the show---a true production design and costuming tour d'force. It was directed powerfully by Garth Maxwell and edited with zeal for maximum effect by Robert Field. Additionally, the episode was beautifully performed by newcomer Timothy Omundson, Lucy, and especially Renee O'Connor, who made a shocking, and brutally effective character change from Gabrielle to the seductive, gorgeous, and brutal demon, Tataka. The episode was also an affectionate exposition of Indian culture promising wonderful new experiences both spiritual and temporal for our heroines and for us fans. Last and certainly not least, it let Joe LoDuca turn his great talent loose with the cadences, tonalities, rhythms and instruments of the Indian subcontinent to lovely effect.
This trip I think is the best possible thing for Xena. Has anyone stopped to consider that this is the first real vacation that she's ever had? It's clever that Gabrielle formulated this trip into a MISSION for Xena, a concept that Xena, ever driven, can accept. Xena is a villian magnet; trouble finds her, even when she's not looking for it. (It's kinda like Batman. Costumed goons come out of the woodwork when he shows up!)
Gabrielle is clearly in her element, she's curious, full of wonder, and always willing and courageous enough to try new things, even though they may be inherently risky. She finds India fascinating. (who don't?) She has also remembered and used Aiden's yoga teachings to build up her own power. She also observes a master yogi hold an extreme pose with awe. Xena is underwhelmed by that sight.
Even Xena finally relaxes when she encounters Eli the magician. When Gabrielle swats Xena on the behind to get her to go up on stage, you could almost hear Gabrielle thinking "Come ON Xena, have some FUN for once!) Maya, Eli's lovely assistant, (nothing new under the sun, even in magic) is suddenly possessed by a demon, BOTH Xena and Gabrielle jump to the rescue---Xena to fight the spiritual Cuisinart Maya had become, and Gabrielle to try to stop Maya's convulsions after Xena cold cocks her. Eli prays and Xena touches the woman. The demon is driven out, then disappears. The crowd becomes convinced that Gabrielle has become a Devi or a healing deity and that she'd driven out the demon. From that moment on, Gabrielle is heaped with adulation.
This is the first part of the mystery. IS Gabrielle the Devi? Nobody knows at first. Then Gabrielle seemingly restores the sight of the missing eye of a warrior. From the moment Xena finds out about that event, Xena gets VERY worried and Gabrielle gets swept away. This is fascinating stuff, for Manheim is exploring what I believe is Gabrielle's greatest weakness. Gabrielle loves power. She has demonstrated this repeatedly since the first season episode "The Titans." She wants to change the world for the better, AND SHE WANTS TO BE RECOGNIZED FOR IT. Gabrielle thrives on adulation. Gabrielle's motivation is always well meaning, but this is a very serious and dangerous desire. Desire for power is extraordinarily corrupting and eats away the soul. Xena knows this all too well. It happened to her. It's Xena's worry about this character trait of Gabrielle's, AND Gabrielle's resentment of Xena's attitude towards it, that is the last remaining barrier between Xena and Gabrielle. Lao Ma's teachings have to be ringing in Xena's mind at this development.
Xena now engages in an investigation. She's got to find out for herself if Gabrielle's purported power is real and good, or evil. She gently tests Gabrielle to see if she's still Gabrielle. Her first indication of the real possiblity of evil is when the Priest, Vikram, who had warned Xena earlier, is found dead hanging in his temple. From that moment, Xena is on full alert and knows that both Eli and Gabrielle are involved.
Eli is a nice man. He's sensitive, kind hearted, and knowlegeable, but he's scared. He wants to get out of town. When Xena and he sees Gabrielle surrounded by body guards, he knows something nasty's up. He knows it when right after he's nearly runned to death by hell hounds, and Xena saves his life.
Gabrielle is carried away by the adulation. Her pride grows and grows as the people of the village bury her under gifts. The higher her ego flies the more worried Xena becomes. When Eli admits that Vikram's warning of evil is right, he shows Xena pictures of well known Indian demons. One of them is Tataka, who has an amazing resemblence to Gabrielle, AND loves pearls. She is a trickster of a demon. She lures worshippers by healing the sick and doing other good works. When Tataka has all the worshippers she wants, she kills them. After Xena finds out, she sees Gabrielle surrounded by worshippers and dressed in the most amazing, pearl encrusted costume I've ever seen. Xena's really worried. It's Xena's decent into desperation for Gabrielle, AND herself contrasted with Gabrielle's increasing ego that creates the incredible suspense built up in the episode.
Next comes one of the most potent and beautiful scenes in all of Xena. Xena comes back to their room to find Gabrielle in her new clothes. An argument develops when Gabrielle finds out that Xena has holy Ganges water with her. Gabrielle jumps to the conclusion that it's to test her. At one point Gabrielle yells "You take the word of a street magician, a stranger, over mine!?" Angrily, Gabrielle throws the water on herself screaming, "Is it sizzing? Am I burning?" Xena says that only priests or devis could make a demon burn by throwing holy water. Gabrielle is again awash in the resentments that she's suffered by her life choices. The scene ends in Gabrielle bursting into tears when she finally understands why Xena had the water. She's full of regret, and hugs Xena for comfort and forgiveness. This Xena does with tremendous tenderness. This entire scene is fabulously performed and intensely moving.
Manheim expertly leaves clues for us to follow. Eventually Xena figures out exactly what's going on. It's ELI that's the Devi, and that inadvertantly he's driven Tataka into Gabrielle. Desperately, Xena demands that Eli drive the Demon out of Gabrielle. The poor man is terrified he has such a potent spiritual power and quails. Xena then decides to hold an exorcism. Eli disappears. This is a fascinating mystery. How much of Gabrielle is expressed in that body? How much is it Tataka? We may never know. I'm convinced that it was Gabrielle in the holy water scene with Xena. The feelings were far too real to be the demon.
When Xena confronts Tataka, this leads to one of the most terrifying fights in Xena. Renee is awesome. The change in her character is total. Gabrielle becomes a vamp. She shows off her body (GODS!) like a pole dancer. Renee is incredibly entrancing. Soon Xena and Gabrielle are at each other's throats! When Xena demands the demon leave, seductively, Tataka resists. "You want me to give up this strong, firm body? FAT CHANCE!" She licks Xena's cheek and it burns like ACID! At one point, Tataka purrs "You'll have to kill this body to get me out of it, and I know you can't do it!" Tataka doesn't know Xena very well. She's stopped tapping into Gabrielle's memories.
This fight is a marvel. Tataka in Gabrielle uses the methods and poses of Indian deities in her fighting style. Renee demonstrates (AT LAST!) her full athletic ability and her kickboxing training in the most strenuous fight she's ever been in. Tataka gives Xena EVERYTHING she can handle. Xena does get the upper hand, and she's at the point of running Gabrielle through, when Eli shows up. He'd conquered his fear and came back to help Xena. Crazed, Tataka gets up and races towards him; HE is the ultimate threat to the demon. Xena, in an amazing twisting leap, tackles Gabrielle then puts the pinch on her. Eli's reluctant, but Xena verbally slaps him around and he does drive the demon out. Xena relieves the pinch, and rejoicing, she kisses Gabrielle tenderly on the head. This moment was so powerful and sweet, I cheered drained from the excitement. At the very end, Gabrielle seems to have learned something about the seductiveness of power, just as she learned of the power of Yoga from Aiden. She also seems to have picked up some of Tataka's confidence. This is a great idea!
I can't say enough about this episode. It's easily in the top rank of Xena. The twists and turns of the plot were completely involving. The costuming was utterly awesome. Renee O'Connor has become one of the most beautiful women on TV. Gabrielle, has become a powerful, incredibly glamorous figure in her own right. Gabrielle's now clearly the leader of the team, as they travel on their mission to ease their souls. Xena is still trying to come to terms with her spiritual growth and is letting Gabrielle set the tone so she can learn from her.
I adored Eli. He's smart, sweet, handsome, good, and very human. Timothy Omundson transmits his vulnerability and his power very well indeed. As an actor he has FINE chemistry with Lucy. I hope we see this character again. He could be VERY important to Xena's and Gabrielle's development. I was sorry when he refused Gabrielle's offer to follow her and Xena.
I LOVE THIS SHOW!!! ON TO BETWEEN THE LINES!!
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