The Reckoning is a fantastic episode in all respects - possibly one of the best of the entire series. It has everything that you come to hope for in an episode of Xena: beautiful moments of love and friendship between Xena and Gabrielle: "Check"; Evil Xena moments: "Check"; great fight scenes: "Check"; and (of course) Ares: "Check"!
This episode starts out brilliantly, with peaceful moments spent with Xena and Gabrielle walking together, contrasting with the bloody battle scene between Xena and Ares over the bodies of mortally wounded villagers. Early in the series, Ares is as competent in battle as Xena is. As the series moves on, Xena surpasses Ares in talent and skill, but in the first series he is a formidable foe, and quite frightening.
I have always felt that Ares was as vital a part of Xena as any of the lead characters. In this first episode where we receive a proper introduction he is seductive, sexy, dangerous, ruthless and delicious; Ares is one of the most watchable and instantly endearing characters in the series.
This episode marks the beginning of the long-term battle-of-the-wills, and power struggle between Xena and Ares. Not only do this pair fight physically, but they also are forced to fight their feelings for each other. They have many many great scenes throughout the series, and some of the best are in this episode.
We also get a glimpse of Evil Xena when Ares provokes Xena into lashing out madly against the villagers attacking her. Her incredible strength and power is awe-inspiring. The most significant part of this display, however, is Xena, in her almost trance-like state, lashing out at Gabrielle. This scene always haunts me as it shows Xena's dangerous and abusive side... which comes out again later, particularly in Season 3.
However, rather than being a roadblock between the two women, this event triggers one of the most beautiful moments, when, despite the attack, Gabrielle returns to help Xena escape. This is the first episode where we truly see the deep friendship and bond that is developing between the women, and this episode takes their relationship to a new level.
I always have felt that Ares presence in Xena's life strengths the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, rather than weakening it as you would expect. Ares (to me) reminds Xena of the past and who she is running from, whereas in Gabrielle she sees her future and who she wants to be. I think that this episode brings this theme out, and definitely shows that Xena and Ares are going to be a lot of fun to watch!
This is easily one of the best episodes of Season 1, surpassed really only by Callisto later in the season, and even then, I don't know if I could separate the two. All in all - classic Xena.