by Lord Nelson
It is difficult to begin a rational analysis of this wonderful, terrifying episode. The very finest of Xena is when the immortal souls of Xena and Gabrielle are placed at risk. By taking the risk and succeeding, both make significant gains as mature human beings and come closer to internal peace and happiness. This episode is about two people trying to find ways to get their basic psychological needs met. It is also about going beyond just getting needs met to self actualization, and the fulfillment of the soul. Xena and Gabrielle are searching for who they are. This is Chris Manheim's most human and perceptive script yet. It is also probably her best.
Xena isn't sure anymore who she is, is she a good person, or is she still evil. Gabrielle is at a total loss. She loves Xena but isn't satisfied any longer in being Xena's travelling companion, and hasn't yet discovered what to be in life. All she knows is to be good and yet she is still restless and disatisfied. Xena can't fulfill her needs anymore. It's this sense of disatisfaction that is driving Gabrielle's spiritual quest, and Xena is taking Gabrielle's lead. Xena has needs too, but unlike Gabrielle, Xena has a much hazier idea of that her needs are.
Chris Manheim's excellent script begins with Gabrielle making the most pertinent observation of Xena that she's ever made: X: "Nah, Nah, Nah, I'm talking about the local thugs that tried to cut us up in the pass." G: "Well, I'd apologise AGAIN." Truth is I think you enjoyed it. X: "Having my leg gashed open?" (Gabrielle starts suturing a large laceration on Xena's left thigh.) G: "Well, having a good reason to bust some heads." X: "That's ridiculous!" G: "You smiled." X: "What?" G: "When that big guy came at you and you tossed them at the other three, you smiled." X: "I winced. He was beggin'" G: "You smiled." X: "I was RELIEVED!" G: "You still smiled." Xena, defensive in the direction the conversation is going snatched the needle from Gabrielle. X: "Gimme that. You got hands like a sailor." Gabrielle turns away wearing a bemused smirk X: "It was a thing of beauty! Did you see how they felll over? Just like a game of dominoes!" G: "Geh! It wasn't a game to them." X: (hurt) "Let me get this straight, you're standing up for a bunch of thugs that tried to rob and kill us?" G: "Those guys were scum. I admit that. I just wonder if maybe your fighting for good has more to do with the fighting part than the good part." X: Shocked and suddenly introspective "Think my fighting for good is a cover for something darker? I dunno." G: "It's funny. I come to places like this--- you know spiritual places, looking for some sort of answer. Makes you wonder..." X: "Wonder what?" G: "Instead of reaching out, maybe we should be looking in?" Xena suddenly has her terrifying Crucifixion vision again. G: Xena, will you forget that? You told me that we shape our own destiny." Xena looks terrifyingly unsure.
This is the crux and sets the theme of the entire episode. How are two friends of vastly different characters who love each other, to reconcile their differences? Gabrielle believes that good is her sole trait, a belief which Xena supports. While Gabrielle believes the opposite of Xena, but Xena is trying to keep her dark side under control and eventually beat her darkness. These are both delusions. Nobody can be all good or all bad. To be healthy in the soul, ALL aspects of a person must be accepted by that person.
Almost from the second Xena looks terrified at her vision, both are swept into a strange land, not unlike what is on the TELETUBBIES---singing birds primary colors and cute bunnies included. The director, Rob Tapert likens the new "Illusia" (Even Xena and Gabrielle notice the similarity) wonderfully to the Alice's Wonderland. Xena and Gabrielle enter it in almost exactly the same way, through a hole in the floor of the cave in which they were camping. They meet a man named Gar who tells them strangely that there is no hole anywhere around. Xena looks skeptical. Immediately, both Xena's and Gabrielle's vastly different attitudes on life jump into tremendous relief. Gabrielle is swept away by the land's peace and beauty, while Xena glowers at it, finding it [beautiful] that yucky 'I'm in paradise' kind of way.
This patch of dialog shows us that, superficially at least, it looks as if Xena and Gabrielle have parted completely in their attitudes. What's really happening is that this new 'land' is driving both women down deep into themselves---forcing them to confront their opinions of themselves.
They meet Aidan, a yogi. Gabrielle, always looking for something to learn becomes intrigued and allows the man (Brilliantly played by Jeremy Roberts. This guy is the most versatile guest villian in the Xenaverse. There's nothing he can't play) Now here is the bone of contention between a lot of fans. How could Gabrielle be duped AGAIN? I think the answer is simple. In a lot of psychotherapy, it's a standard method for the therapist to tell the sufferer to TRUST FIRST and deal with any consequences. Gabrielle DOESN'T become attached to Aiden as a friend, but as a great teacher. Aiden IS that. Every method of yoga he teaches Gabrielle is correct, and every result is to be expected. Gabrielle does some serious and successful work in seeing and coming to terms with the traumas she's suffered. It's my belief that anyone with a sound emotional structure would have been fooled by Aidan.
Xena however, is scared---very scared. Remember her remark in Locked Up and Tied Down? G: "They say that an unexamined life isnt' worth living." X: "They haven't lived my life." Xena is so afraid of digging into herself that she totally distrusts everything around her. Not only that, she rejects Aiden's methods immediately. Xena and Gabrielle discuss this in some detail where Xena says that she saw what inner peace did for Lao Ma and that Aiden's yoga was so numbing. She also claims that few people can handle spiritual power and that Aiden is no Lao Ma. Ultimately, it proves true that Aiden isn't even human. He's a demon, a leech that feeds on goodness, and Xena defeats him by letting all her goodness go so that GABRIELLE could escape Aiden's spiritual clutches and weaken Aiden enough for Xena to defeat him. The point is balance, all the symbolism is about balance. The tortoise balances the hare, yin-yang, light-dark, Xena balances Gabrielle, at the end when Gabrielle admits that they were saved by Xena's darkness both learn that nothing and nobody is one way or the other. To be healthy, opposites in people's character must be transcended.
Now that the premise is set, Rob Tapert uses different lighting to show Xena and Gabrielle drifting apart. Xena becomes progressively darker while Gabrielle becomes lighter. Xena becomes more distressed, while Gabrielle becomes more peaceful and happier. Tapert heightens this dichotomy by having Gabrielle lay on a bed shaped like the oriental symbol of Yin and Yang. Watching Gabrielle become progressively more peaceful and serene was warm and wonderful, and watching Xena become more and more anxious, depressed, and enraged utterly terrified me. The topper came when Xena made the conscious choice to let go any semblence of good and turned into a demon herself.
There are only four cast members in the episode and really few special effects. This is an ACTOR'S episode, and all of them are wonderful. Lucy is FABULOUS in her depiction of Xena slowly losing her goodness. She portrays Xena as more emotionally weak and vulnerable than she's ever been in the show. There are two bath scenes in the ep. In the first one, Xena is so antsy that she cannot enjoy the bath. Lucy's posture is stiff. She looks around as if someone is going to attack her and Gabrielle at any moment. In the second, Xena is now being wracked with delusions in which she either injures or kills Gabrielle. Lucy sits in the bath with Xena's war face on, and when Gabrielle touches Xena to comfort her, to see Lucy's face slowly dissolve into homicidal rage is a horrible moment. At the end, we see the logical conclusion of Xena without a hint of restraint. Lucy frankly scared the CRAP out of me.
Of a season of powerful performances this is yet another one for Lucy. It makes me weep that she's not getting industry recognition. This performance is committed, direct, and honest. I felt Lucy digging deep for every ounce of regret and shame she ever experienced in her life, and she got them out. I know Lucy's an actress. Showing feelings is her trade, but I really wonder if she were able to leave this part at home with her.
Renee was just as marvellous. Her depiction of Gabrielle following Aiden deeply into her own heart rang extremely true. Gabrielle is a woman of tremendous courage. When Aiden tells Gabrielle to expect awful feeings to come up from her practice of Yoga, she leaps into it unblinkingly. Aiden's methods work all to well on Gabrielle, and Renee's face softens into incredible bliss. You can almost see Renee become more beautiful and sweet as the episode progresses. Renee must also be a yoga adept for she held all the postures, and some of them looked really difficult. She also looked just wonderful. I've never seen Gabrielle as glamourous, more glamorous even than Xena. All the costumes that N'Gila Dickson designed for Gabrielle for this ep were gorgeous. They also took the opportunity to show Renee off. Something of which I REALLY approve!
Jeremy Roberts plays Aiden perfectly. His part is highly sophisticated. Chris Manheim clearly knows about India, expert spiritual cheats are all over that mystical land. Chris Manheim clearly knows about India, expert spiritual cheats are all over that mystical land. Aiden is depicted as a compassionate, experienced, honest teacher. He was someone I would have loved with which to have studied. He didn't lie either to Xena OR to Gabrielle. He was right about what was going to happen to Xena. The first time he lied was when he told Xena she had to leave or she'd kill everybody. Anybody can work through what Xena was experiencing. Aiden wanted her out of the way so he could take Gabrielle. Roberts plays Aiden as someone really firm in his self esteem and with that aura of happiness characteristic of the spiritual adept. He is the perfect charlatan.
About the makeup of Xena the Demon. I could see how many people could call it over the top, some have even called Xena the Demon "Xena Warrior Bunny." Well, the makeup and the contacts worked for me. I was very scared. I think Rob Tapert had an extremely difficult choice to make artistically. We've seen Xena do the awful thing of annihilating the leadership of the Siberian Amazons. She was her feral, but gorgeous self. She still had some touch with her humanity. How does one depict Xena as a demon? No makeup isn't enough to show Xena's spiritual state I believe. Perhaps just the contacts would have worked better. I don't know. I think Rob tried his best.
Paradise Found is strongly in the top third of Xena eps. In terms of performance it is perhaps in the top five episodes. Chris Manheim's script was exciting and perceptive. If this is the run of quality to expect in the rest of the upcoming India eps, they are going to be FABULOUS.
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