"Sacrifice Part 1" is an incredibly important and dark episode. There are no laughs here; the dark time that has been building all season has arrived, and it is more dangerous, more difficult and more significant than we could ever have imagined.
Who would have thought when Xena and Gabrielle traveled to Britannia that the events of that journey would have consequences that would reach right beyond the scope of the season, and into the seasons to come. This story arc was beautifully written, and played out in the episodes so well. Every plot development, no matter how small, came into play and each part was a piece of the jigsaw leading to this moment.
The opening scenes of this episode were outstanding. Incredibly action packed, full of intrigue and symbolism. The return of Callisto (yet again) throws you for a loop for a while, but once it is clear that this is about the rebirth of Hope and the bringing of destruction onto the world, everything changes.
Since I've mentioned Callisto, we might as well get her out of the way first. I have nothing but pity for Callisto now. She is not the bitter, twisted manic warlord she was; Callisto is now a tortured, damaged and lost soul – caught in limbo and desiring nothing more than total oblivion. If anybody in the series lived a truly tragic life, Callisto is it. All the fire is gone, her desire for revenge burnt out long ago; even her hatred for Xena has faded into nothingness. She has no desire to kill Xena anymore, it just means nothing to her. I think that Callisto was terribly underused in Xena. She was destroyed too quickly, and once a god was good only as a plot filler. As a mortal she was breathtaking, as a god there was just too little plot development for her. She is excellent here, as always, but has definitely gotten a little old in her character development.
Ares is our other recurring character here, and a great (and logical) addition. Yet again Ares proves that he is involved in nothing unless there is gain in it for me. This perfect selfishness is what makes him so dangerous, and so useless as an ally. At the start of the episode he is begging Xena to join forces with him to save himself, but the end he is fighting on Hope's side, because they made him a better offer. Needless to say, Ares handles the sleaziness with relish, but you almost hope for once that he would do the right thing, rather than the easy thing. His time will come, I suppose.
The rebirth of Hope is something to witness. It is all very morbid and twisted; the flesh and blood of priests and innocents – right up Dahak's ally. The added twist that Hope looks like Gabrielle is a little odd; it would have been more spine-chilling for it to look a lot like her, but not quite the same.
Xena goes through the motions in this one, switching from machine-like determination, to vague and (mostly) unsuccessful attempts at empathy, to action-Xena. Lucy has little to work with here, because it's really not about her, as much as it is about Gabrielle, Callisto and Ares. Xena is just the pawn in the middle, with the saving of the world on her shoulders, and no one prepared to help her. I suppose, for me, this is why this episode doesn't get higher marks from me – Xena is just too cardboard cut-out for me to really enjoy her in this episode.
Regardless, this is a great episode. There is a lot going on and it is handled well by writers and actors alike. This is a serious event, and it maintains its focus and ominous mood throughout. Definitely leaves you hanging out for the second part.