Two very interesting episodes indeed...
In the first one, "The path not taken", we are introduced to Marcus, a character from Xena's dark past as a warlord, and an old love interest for her. It is one of the few people that Xena is interested in, at this stage in the series... and it cannot be denied that there is chemistry between them. However, it is remarkable how Xena remains focused on her main aim at this time, namely, to rescue the girl that has been kidnapped and to avoid a needless war. At the end, Marcus makes the biggest sacrifice possible, for that very same cause that Xena is fighting for. And this is very important for her. This brings them closer for one second, but also takes him away from her, forever. But of course, she has Gabrielle by her side...
(NB: This is the first episode in which we can listen to Xena's singing... what a lovely voice!)
The second episode, "The reckoning", is crucial one. The character of Ares, god of war, is introduced, and many core issues are explored. We can see that Xena feels very guilty with respect to her past, but at the same time, she is still attracted to her violent ways: Ares exerts a strong influence on her, and she has to fight very hard to avoid that... this creates a very interesting dynamics that we will see further explored in the future. Interestingly, we can see that her attraction to Ares is twofold: she is attracted both to him and to what he represents. The undeniable sexual attraction she feels for him can be seen as a symbol of the attraction she feels for the power and strength that (the god of) war can provide her. (And likewise, the undeniable (sexual? emotional? both?) attraction she feels for Gabrielle can be seen as a symbol of her attraction for the ways of peace, goodness and generosity).
There is a crucial and powerful moment in this episode: Xena has been tormented in prison, both by Ares and the raged villagers. She loses momentarily her mind and comes back to her violent ways, beating the villagers that were torturing her, and the prison guardians, and even Gabrielle, who happens to be on her way. But once she manages to see her and realises who she is and what she has done to her, she calms down and comes back to her senses again. She is afraid that Gabrielle will leave after that, and she indeed thinks that she does not deserve her to be back. But of course, Gabrielle does not leave, because Gabrielle believes in Xena:
X: “How could you come back after what I did to you?”
G: “What you did wasn't you; I know that."
X: “You coming back for me really meant a lot after what I did to you.”
G: “I trust you. I never thought for a moment you meant to hurt me.”
Not easy scenes, I think. It is pretty risky to present Xena as a violent character who could lose her mind and beat her own friend, and still expect us to like her. Should that be forgiven? Well, in the real world, that would be a serious issue, not to be dealt with in such a light-hearted way. But this is fiction, after all: fantasy. I think we should understand these exchanges mainly as a metaphor for the value of unconditional friendship and the virtue of forgiveness. And these, we can indeed find in Gabrielle.