32. "Xena," season four: Conclusion

Returning to "Xena," season four, we conclude the Caesar arc with "Endgame," which continues from season three's "When in Rome." The original title of that episode was "First of Three," and we might as well call this one "Second of Three," since it's Pompey, the second member of the Triumvirate, who gets beheaded thanks to Xena. She continues her role as the savage bacchae mother figure, punishing the young, arrogant male ruler. "Ides of March," the culminating episode of season four, can, consequently, be called "Third of three...almost."

Callisto, another Dionysiac villain, returns to interrupt Xena's beheading of Caesar. We've seen up until now that no one besides Xena can wield the chakram, yet Callisto grabs it and is able to use it. This is apparently because she is a Dionysiac power on the show; she shares her dark Dionysiac force with Caesar, so she's able to rescue him. She shares her Dionysiac force with Xena as well, having been created by her, and is able to use its will against her. We have a new Triumvirate now of Dionysiac forces, and when Callisto gains the upper hand, she's able to break Xena's spine in two, a divided condition that will be mirrored in the second episode of next season, after her resurrection. Caesar is assassinated in this episode, and the way it's scripted, his death and Xena's crucifixion are staged as reactions to the other (according to Rob Tapert's commentary on the dvd), and we're seeing the light and dark sides of Dionysus dramatized here in the form of a dual sacrifice. It has been said (by Steve Sears) that originally, Alexander the Great was to be Xena's foe, instead of Julius Caesar. Alexander also has Dionsiac associations, but it's not hard to understand why Caesar was chosen instead; his prophesied death, by stabbing, resembles a ritual killing much more than Alexander's on the sickbed.

There's another buried reference to Dionysus in "Ides of March," and whether it's intentional or not depends on how informed we think Rob Tapert was on the subject of Julius Caesar (and we should keep in mind not only that his reading of the "Masters of Rome" series by Colleen McCullough seemed to help drive the story of Xena, but even named his son Julius, born during the the series run). The "Ides of March," March 15, was also the time of the Roman Bacchanalia during the Republic. This celebration of Bacchus was once exclusive to women, as in Greece, and later on, men of lowly status, such as slaves, were allowed admission. The Bacchanalia came to be regarded by the Roman government as a potential hotbed of rebellious ideas and plots. It's fitting, then, that the Caesar of "Xena" is undone not merely by his own Senate rivals, but by the matriarchal forces that embodied Dionysus.

We should mention here that Gabrielle's dress, ever since the India arc, has saffron colors, and this is also related to Euripides. In Aristophanes' "Thesmorphosuzae," Euripides dresses his fellow playwright (and, some say, lover), Agathon, in saffron robe to help disguise him as a woman to infiltrate the Women's Festival. Agathon is subsequently taken prisoner and put in stocks. The color saffron would indicate for a Greek audience the (to them) effeminate, exotic influence of the East, and we'll see this color again numerous times, including her resurrection in "Chakram."

"Ides of March" packs double the wallop of season three's "Sacrifice," because both lead characters are killed, and their deaths had been foreshadowed throughout this season, tackling head-on the series-long issue of destiny. The question of whether they could escape their destiny has now been answered: they can't, and ultimately, Xena can't; she can only define the meaning of her destiny. This answer has been implicit ever since Xena buried her weapons in "Sins of the Past," with its visual reference to the Mioritza, a song about an inescapable destiny.

Deja Vu


This powerful episode is followed by a satyr play, "Deja Vu All Over Again," which seems to end the season on a silly, irrelevant note, but it actually fits the themes we've been watching. The idea of reincarnation is picked up from "Between the Lines," and Xena's dark era is replaced by the more comfortable era of post-sixties suburbia. We can recognize the hippy-inspired costumes from "The Lost City," except here the cult is a friendly, harmless one of New Age belief. "The Trackers" is again evoked, when Ares comes on the scene--we don't know how he got out of the cave of "The Xena Scrolls," but it doesn't matter, since we don't know how he got there in the first place; the important thing is that he, Xena and Gabrielle are somehow manifested from scraps--this time, scraps of memory. There's the Dionysiac air of Woodstock about, and the presence of toilet humor once again indicates the influence of Tony Harrison's ribald "The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus". It might seem incongruous to stage a comedy like this after such a tragic episode like "Ides of March," but this is how the ancient Greeks would have done it. In fact, Rob Tapert said recently on a message board that he would have preferred to end the entire series on a similar comic note!



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