This episode, surprisingly, is a very good episode. For some reason I always expect to be bitterly disappointed by this episode; I seem to recall disliking it for some reason, and thus I go into watching this one with very low expectations. This negativity is undeserved. Given the enormous amount of content this episode needs to cover, the sweeping emotions, the epic storyline (easily the biggest in Xena history), it copes extremely well, giving us a mostly evenly balanced episode, with some good performances, that actually fills in the gaps leaving you quite satisfied. This is no easy feat, and this episode deserves kudos for achieving so much in the space of 40 mins.
With this one we should start at the beginning, and the beginning is really the re-awakening of Xena and Gabrielle from their prison of ice deep within Mount Etna. I don't think we could even begin to imagine the horror of waking suddenly, with no idea where you are, what time or year it is, and only knowing that something has gone terribly, dreadfully wrong. It is a horrendous situation, and I think both Xena and Gabrielle handle it remarkably well. I would probably have suffered a nervous breakdown of some description.
After finding out that they have somehow been entombed for the last 25 years, Xena and Gabrielle stumble into a living shrine of themselves, which turns out to be Joxer and Meg's tavern. As was suggested last episode, Joxer ended up marrying Meg, however, neither of them are looking especially well for the wear. We should probably consider, however, that Joxer is more than likely in his 60's by this stage, which I imagine is a fairly good age for a Greek peasant. This reunion actually turns out to be quite a tear-jerker; I found it enormously touching that Joxer had gone on to dedicate his life to honouring his friends. If they had had more time to work with, it would have been really special, but with so much to cover, the reunion is brief.
We then meet the absolutely charming (and gorgeous!) Virgil: Joxer's now-adult son. Clearly genetics have worked wonders, because the lad is genuinely the best of both his parents: not only enormously attractive, but is also sweet, clever, romantic and brave. The producers did a fabulous job casting Virgil, which would have been a difficult task. I feel like they couldn't have picked a better actor; it was a very big risk choosing to not have Joxer's son play the bumbling comedic character, but it was a risk that has paid off. He feels so much at home already, as if we have known him for seasons, and he makes such a welcome addition to the rest of the series.
The group then travels to Rome where they realise that Octavius has fulfilled his ambitions and is now Augustus of Rome. He is also very well cast; he has a lovely presence about him, a grace and wisdom that the young Octavius also had. I feel that Xena's anger towards him, whilst understandable, is unfair. He has done the absolute best he could for Livia. He kept her safe, hidden and alive, protected her from the vengeful Gods, and raised her with every opportunity in life. Not only that, he genuinely loves her and wants to make her his wife and Empress. I feel incredibly sorry for Octavius, who I think proved himself to be a genuinely good person, and a loyal friend. A tragic turn of events for a man who truly believed he was doing the right thing.
And then, in the big moment, we realise that little baby Eve is actually 25 year old Livia, The Bitch of Rome!
I should take some time now to discuss Livia, because she is certainly a vital part of what is to come. Many fans have great issues with Livia as a character, which I feel is quite undeserved. Here is what we should consider regarding Livia:
1. She is the biological daughter of Xena, containing the spirit of Callisto, and thus has the talent, skill, fire and darkness inside of her that both her Xena and Callisto possess
2. She spent only a matter of months with her mother before being snatched away, and has grown up believing her mother was either dead, or didn't want her
3. She was raised by Rome as royalty, given every possible opportunity, the best schools, the finest things, and the best of everything
4. She has been praised, and spoilt, and fawned over her entire life. In her world, she is special, she is loved by the people and by the Emperor; she is Rome
6. At a young age she was corrupted by the ever-charming God of War
Taking these things into account, what do fans actually expect her to be like? Because personally, I think that she is absolutely the product of those parts. She certainly carries within her the essence of Xena and Callisto, and casting-wise she is just what I would have imagined adult Eve to look like. But genetics is where Xena's input ends. For her entire life, Eve has known herself to be Livia, a child of the Roman Empire. She has been raised as part of the royal family, and is every bit as spoilt, bratty and immature as you would expect any child of royalty to be. She has lived little; her life has been determined for her by those around her. She probably has never interacted with ordinary children, but has been praised and adored by Roman royalty. Naturally she has an expanded ego. She has also inherited her mother's and Callisto's incredible fighting skills, making her a champion even among her peers. Then, to top it all off, at a young age, when she would have been most impressionable, the God of War, Ares himself, takes an interest in her, takes her under his wing, makes her his lover and his protégé. How else would you expect an immature, ridiculously talented little girl to act?
I believe Adrienne does a great job with a very difficult character; no one is pretending that Livia is anything other than a mixed-up, spoilt little brat, yet Adrienne still manages to play her with fire and passion. I feel her reaction to finding out that Xena is her mother is especially fitting: how else would you expect her to react? Why would she care who her biological mother is, or even that she is alive, other than to feel anger towards her for rejecting her as an infant, and now stealing away the affections of her adoring God.
Certainly, Livia is not a perfect character, and there are always going to be flaws and plot discrepancies that are going to be huge issues for fans. But I really feel that most fans are far too harsh on this character, and have never really defined in their own minds what the character should have been like. I think they have done an excellent job overall.
Going on to discuss other aspects of the episode, I will touch on the Ares storyline. Again, as always, Kevin is delicious; his reaction upon seeing Xena for the first time is pure gold, as is the way he immediately discards Livia upon realising that his golden girl is back up for grabs. True love lasts a lifetime, and I actually found his reaction very touching, especially his clearly honest and painful declaration that he mourned Xena for years, which I believe 100 percent. Love, love, love him, as always.
I would also like to mention just how sensational Xena looks in this episode. The several costumes she dons are fabulous, and she looks positively ethereal in the stunning party ensemble. Also a huge fan of her arena-armour. Most of the episode is spent with a pained expression plastered across her face, but how else could she possibly feel, dealing with the present situation?
Gabrielle is, again, under-used in this episode, but understandably so. It is a very awkward situation, and I feel very much for her. I like that she finds an early bond with Virgil, which is very touching.
So, clearly there is a great deal to discuss regarding this episode, and I probably haven't done it justice. Having said all of that, however, I am not suggesting that this is one of the best episodes of all time. In fact, it isn't even one of the best of this season. But it is very, very significant, and is handled very well. It earns an 8 out of 10 from me, which some fans will disagree with because they feel it deserves more, and some will disagree as they feel it deserves less. I think everyone needs to disentangle their emotions from this one to genuinely appreciate the episode for what it is.