This was one of the more memorable episodes of the series for me, because I'm kind of drawn relatively to story lines that involve people bearing their souls under adverse conditions. These conditions usually include volatile doses of poison or grievous injury. Thankfully (though the scenes are painful to watch, certainly) both happen to Gabrielle in this episode. : ) Emoting while someone is branding an arrow wound closed on both the front and back of some one's shoulder is a foregone art, of course. Allow me to go on.
After some magnificent back flips in a training exercise leave Gabrielle with a twisted ankle, things grow even bleaker for the blond scribe a ways down the road; encountering a runner, the companions are informed that The Persian Army is fast approaching Athens for an attack. With gratitude, Xena tells the man to inform the Athenians that she will head the Persians off at the mountain pass at Thermopylae.
This is when the fun really begins.
The incredible thing about the show is that no matter what the subject matter, (except maybe in the later seasons where all the good writers jumped ship to write for Cleopatra 2525, and Jack of All Trades, not to go too far off subject) there are always daft character examples, and very clear moral conflicts. They're mostly feigned in this particular episode, but I don't mind. It really only goes to prove, though - how much of a heroic soul Gabrielle's character is.
Now, Renee O'Connor (Gabrielle) actually had a twisted ankle at the time of filming this episode, because of an agile stuntman falling on her during a stunt, so I give her some mad props at this fact; the twisted ankle was actually the opposite of the one in the storyline, so she must have had a time.
Getting back to the story, on the way to the pass, Xena & Gabrielle encounter a defected coward of a Spartan named Dorian; Xena - though reacting with as much contempt at a traitor and a coward as reasonable, given the circumstances - recruits him, giving him an opportunity to redeem himself. Uh-huh.
I certainly wanted to kick Dorian myself several times throughout the plot, if only for his verbose put-on ineptitude, but I dealt with the pain, somehow. ; )
Soon, the small party encounters a group of Persians. Dorian, true to form, freezes - once more flaunting his battle prowess - and in the flurry of the skirmish, Gabrielle tries desperately to move the man out of the way. In turn, she's struck by an arrow, and it buries itself deeply in her left shoulder blade.
Afterward, amidst blithering and apologizing on Dorian's part, Xena is forced to remove the arrow in the only way possible; by pushing it forward, all the way through Gabrielle's shoulder. This scene is absolutely remarkable; just the look of horror and borderline sadness on Renee's face as the arrow is 'jutted' through her shoulder is striking, and heart wrenching. The sealing of the wound through cauterization is also striking, as it hearkens back to the third episode of the series, 'Chariots of war', but in no way seems repetitive on the writer's part (Gene F. O'Neill).
At the risk of making this review a complete recap, when Xena realizes that the arrow's tip is coated by a potent poison, she sends Dorian away to tell the Persians that the pass at Thermopylae has been blocked in a rock slide; after he eagerly agrees and darts off, Xena reveals to Gabrielle that he's not only a liar, but a Persian spy. The misinformation will lead the Persians into a conflict at Trefoils where an antidote for the poison lies, as well as an old armory of Xena's from her horde days.
The most memorable moment of this episode, for me, is the one when - in the abandoned armory - Gabrielle, delirious, asks Xena to take her with her, repeating her first request to become Xena's traveling companion. Xena, in turn, comforts her, obviously conflicted about the situation. On the matter of character development, considering what had just transpired between the two during 'Maternal Instincts' and 'The Bitter Suite', I found it reassuring that Xena had been able to push past the angst, and see Gabrielle for the person she trusted and relied on for guidance more than anyone else. (Thank you, run-on sentence).
I've heard arguments that Xena fighting an entire army (tre' unlikely in such a small space with minimal weaponry), and abandoning Gabrielle for 'The Greater Good' were incredibly unlikely events, however, time and time again both Hercules and Xena make such crazy decisions to bend the odds and sacrifice the people they love for the many. It's just a credo, and one we see over and over as a theme of the sister shows. In my point of view, the battle was actually more believable since it seemed more like a battalion sent out in a first wave to attack than the WHOLE army. It simply wouldn't have been a smart move on any King's part to just move his entire army en masse in for the kill, whether the advantage was primo or not. Just wouldn't happen.
Getting back to Gabrielle; she - as the selfless character that she is - would have always given her life to help someone else. It's that kind of heroism despite the loss of her 'blood innocence' in 'The Deliverer' that draws Xena to her. They're heroes. Plain and simple. And heroes choose to do what they have to despite the costs and the odds.
In the end, after having served justice up with a dash of revenge, the two remain as they always have been; side by side. And that's really what the series is about, in essence. Eternal, undying - while dying - friendship. And besides... what's a ruthless, onslaught of Persians between friends?