In a predictable but rather sweet episode, Xena and Gabrielle try to stop a conflicted father from sacrificing his young son, apparently on the orders of his god.
The story of this episode is a clear re-telling/adaptation of the story of Abraham and Isaac and the bulk of the plot and dialogue is really a debate about Judaeo-Christianity, so for the most part this episode draws less on ancient pagan mythology. Ancient myth does provide stories of parents forced to sacrifice their children of course, most famously Agamemnon, who was forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia because he offended Artemis, who would not allow them the wind to sail to Troy without a sacrifice (though in some versions Artemis saved Iphigenia and transported her away - unfortunately her mother Clytemnestra didn't know that...). The use of father and son here would indicate Abraham and Isaac even without the constant references to monotheism and 'zealots' - the boy is even called 'Icus' (Isaac) and his brother 'Mael' (Ishmael).
The episode shows the boy's mother disagreeing and trying to stop the sacrifice, so there's perhaps a hint of Clytemnestra there. The mother prays to Hestia, goddess of hearth and home, and there's a distinct division set up between the masculine monotheistic god, with the father's belief manipulated by a son to harm the other son, while Icus is protected by his mother who prays to Hestia, Xena (who answers when the mother is praying) and Gabrielle. Much of the episode is spent objecting to the Biblical story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac, though Anteus is portrayed sympathetically - clearly in the wrong, but obviously conflicted as well as drugged and mis-led. The episode pulls back from this critical perspective at the end, as it's revealed it was human manipulation that was behind the demand and Icus is saved by a distinctly masculine heavenly voice that stops Anteus just as Xena is about to get him with her frisbee, presumably to make up for the previous 40 minutes of complaining. The music right at the end also sounds very much like a 1950s Jesus movie (or possibly The Life of Brian).
Elsewhere, there's an unusually high volume of ship teasing between Xena and Gabrielle for such an early episode (naked bathing with suggestive dialogue, drugged Gabrielle declaring how beautiful Xena is, climbing up each other). Also Xena growls at one point. While naked. The episode features Karl Urban in the first of his four separate roles across twelve appearances in Xena (plus two in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys). I'd make a crack about New Zealand being short of actors, but honestly, I'm perfectly happy to see Karl Urban on TV as much as humanly possible. There is a brief reference to Classical myth, as Gabrielle tells a very weird version of the story of the Trojan war involving lions and hydras - and that's before she gets high (which is very funny). All in all, the story is a strange juxtaposition of theological philosophy and Gabrielle leading an invisible choir, but somehow it vaguely works, and it puts Karl Urban on our screens for another 45 minutes, so it's entirely worth watching for that alone.
Xena: I don’t think much of your god - or any god who’d want to kill a child.
Xena: I'm asking you to spare your son.
Anteus: And teach him what? That faith is just for those times when it's convenient to believe? What's the good in sparing his life, if I rob him of the very thing that makes it worth living?
Xena: I thought I told you to wait for me at the cave.
Gabrielle: I did. And then this rock told me I had to come find you.
Xena: The rock spoke to you?
Gabrielle: Oh, yeah. I mean, his voice was a little gravelly, but I understood.
Disclaimer: No Unrelenting or Severely Punishing Deities were harmed during the production of this motion picture.
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