Whoosh! Issue Eleven - August 1997


IAXS Research Project #291
By Richard LaFleur
Copyright © 1997 held by author
2426 words





Why can't I have metal epaulets like Xena? She gets all the
good stuff!

Xena hopes the Horde has a Gabrielle at the conclusion
of THE PRICE (#44)


[01] By the time THE PRICE (#44) ends, Xena is once again at the top of her game. Food and water are no longer a problem, the Horde's immediate threat is over, she is reconciled with Gabrielle, and has rightfully earned both the Athenian garrison's, as well as the Horde's, esteem and respect. Xena is ready to set off on her next adventure. In many ways, she is as she was at the start of the episode. In the time between the start and the end of the story, however, a *lot* happens!

[02] THE PRICE (#44) is a wonderful and complex story open to analysis on a number of different levels. Some might contend that THE PRICE is a morality play that examines the question of good vs. evil, war vs. peace, or even Xena vs. Gabrielle. THE PRICE might also be seen as a story in which violence is used to achieve peace. Each of these views is certainly worth investigating. The theme we shall be discussing here deals with the psychology of Xena having to deal with being thrust into an unexpected and desperate reality.

[03] As we start out along this psychological journey, we see Xena tumble down from being fully in control of herself and her situation, to being in fear of her very life. In fact, what we are seeing in the story's opening minutes is Xena sliding down through the stages of Maslow's HIERARCHY OF NEEDS.


[04] Abraham H. Maslow (1908-70), was an American psychologist and leading exponent of humanistic psychology. He developed a theory of motivation describing the process by which an individual progresses from basic needs (such as food) to the highest needs of what he called self-actualization -- the fulfillment of one's greatest human potential (MOTIVATION AND PERSONALITY, Harper & Row, New York, 1970). Five stages make up Maslow's hierarchy. Before one can move up to the next stage in the hierarchy, one needs to feel reasonably secure in having achieved all of the previous stages.

[04] The five stages, starting from the bottom of the hierarchy, are:

1 -- Physiological Needs

[06] These include food, water, oxygen, and the like. The needs at this stage include anything one needs to survive. These are very fundamental life or death needs.

2 - Safety Needs

Okay. Let's not panic. He's only in 11 episodes. That means
11 he's not in.

Even the open water is far from safe when The Horde is nearby.

[07] If the physiological needs are reasonably well satisfied (the exact meaning of reasonably well depends upon the individual), the next level (Safety Needs) becomes apparent. Safety Needs include things like security; stability; freedom from fear, anxiety, and chaos; need for structure, order, law, and limits; and so on.

3 - Belongingness and Love Needs

[08] If the physiological and the safety needs are well gratified, there will emerge the Belongingness and Love needs. The needs at this stage involve giving and receiving affection. Attaining a place on this level will now matter more than anything else will.

[09] The individual might even forget that once, when hunger was foremost, belongingness and love seemed unimportant. For Xena, fulfilling these needs in THE PRICE were the most personally difficult of them all.

4 - Esteem Needs

[10] Once the first three stages in the hierarchy are relatively satisfied, one has the need or desire for self-esteem and for the esteem of others. These may take various forms. The form this stage takes for Xena is prestige.

5 - Self-actualization Need

[11] Even if all these other needs are satisfied, one experiences discontent or restlessness unless the individual is doing what he or she, individually, is fitted for. Musicians must make music, artists must paint, and a Warrior Princess has gotta do what a Warrior Princess has gotta do, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. That is, one needs to be true to one's own nature.


You know, a river runs through it,

The calm before the storm.

[12] THE PRICE's opening scene depicts Xena at the top of the hierarchy. She has all the food and water she needs. She feels safe and secure. She shares belongingness and love with Gabrielle. She knows that she is respected by her friends and enemies alike, and she is feeling reasonably self-actualized. (There is still that little thing about Redemption, but she is working on it!). This is not to say that Xena recites these five stages to herself like some mantra. Like the rest of us, the ease or unease she feels through all of this is buried deep within her psyche.

[13] Just a few minutes into the episode, however, Xena starts her tumble down the stages of Maslow's hierarchy. The Horde attacks; men are being tortured and killed; and Xena and Gabrielle find themselves in the Athenian garrison. Safe? Hardly! That stage of the hierarchy is long past. Worse, Xena finds that she has to come to terms with some basic physiological needs. Food and water, she is told, are in desperately short supply.

[14] Once Xena and Gabrielle enter the Athenian garrison, THE PRICE becomes a textbook study of Xena's struggle to climb back up the hierarchy stages. Her unconscious goal through all of this is to regain the "self-actualized" stage from which she started at the beginning of the episode. The fact that Gabrielle does not see the situation in the way that Xena does adds a vital element of strain to the episode. Let us see how all of this happens.

1. Physiological Needs

[15] Xena's solution to the shortage of food and water is, as usual, simple and to the point. The available food and water is to go only to those who can still fight. Xena, in a bold and seemingly hard-hearted stroke, has brought herself and the rest of the garrison through stage one of the hierarchy. Their immediate physiological needs have been satisfied. (Of course, this is true only so long as you are not counted among the badly wounded!)

[16] Behavior reflects personality. Xena's personality is that of a Warrior Leader. Gabrielle's personality is that of an artist. As a result, Xena's course of action is not Gabrielle's idea of a solution, and the disagreement between them adds fuel to the smoldering tension.

2. Safety Needs

[17] Once Xena has achieved as much of the physiological needs as is possible under these conditions (including the self-limiting time available for the episode), she turns next to fulfilling the need for safety. The garrison is running short on arrows. Worse, the Athenian soldiers, convinced that they are going to die, have simply lost the will to defend themselves. Xena comes up with a plan to lure some of the Horde inside the fortifications. She and the Athenians trap and kill as many of the Horde as they can. The Horde quickly realize that they are no longer facing a demoralized band waiting for their own death. They find instead that they now face an organized and very lethal fighting force. Xena has gained some tentative footing on level two of the hierarchy: Safety. Of course, safety under the conditions depicted in the Athenian garrison, is a highly relative term!

[18] The soldiers cheer Xena. From the look of triumph on Xena's face, it looks as though she has passed right by the (stage three) need for belongingness and love. She seems to have attained her stage four need for esteem. Yet, without achieving the third stage, Maslow would say, Xena could never *truly* rise any higher than stage two on the hierarchy.

I have this stuff, Xena, it is called prozac. I think it
will help.

Gabrielle is unable to disguise her horror at seeing the return of "Dark Xena" (TM).

[19] This is where Gabrielle acts as a major force in the study. In fact, this episode could *not* have been made at all (at least, not as a good psychological study) without Gabrielle. It is Xena's eventual reconciliation with Gabrielle that will allow Xena to achieve the third and, therefore, subsequent stages. However, Xena is not there yet. The look of triumph we see on Xena's face as the soldiers cheer her victory visibly drains away under Gabrielle's disapproving gaze.

[20] After the fight, Xena talks to Gabrielle (berates her might be a more accurate description of their encounter). Gabrielle sees the changes that have come over Xena, and does not understand how all this could happen. When they part, it is hardly on friendly terms.

[21] Later, during a meeting to determine how the garrison is to get reinforcements, Menticles tells Xena that she cannot be the one to get help because the soldiers would lose hope if she left. Xena shows us that she is still unable to feel prestige and appreciation. Xena's response is simple. All she can say to that is, "He's right."

[22] In the meantime, Gabrielle discovers that Kaltaka is not the name of the Horde's god of war after all. It is their word for water! Enough is enough, she thinks, and Gabrielle finds a way to convince the gate guards to let her out of the fortification to bring water to the wounded who had been left lying on the field. Xena, ever protective of Gabrielle, is desperate. Xena finds, however, that Gabrielle's humanitarian act has created a de facto truce. She tries talking to Gabrielle again, but Gabrielle ends the conversation with a verbal slap at Xena. She tells Xena, "It looks like you've got your battle to the death!"

3. Belongingness and Love Needs

[23] This slap wakens Xena enough for her to move to enter the third stage of the hierarchy, and she sends some soldiers to help Gabrielle in the hospital. It is not much of a reconciliation, but it *is* honest and heartfelt. Xena has made her first halting steps through the third stage: Belongingness and Love.

4. Esteem Needs

Definitely too much rouge. Your face favors a more natural
base. NEXT!

Xena finds a live one out on the battlefield.

[24] Xena then tries an experiment with a captured Horde soldier. Xena finds that the soldier will fight anyone else, but will not fight her believing himself to be unworthy. She realizes that this due, not to her prowess as a fighter, but to her apparent leadership position in the garrison. As Xena says, "He thinks that I'm in charge and he's not worthy of my sword." It is only now that Xena can honestly acknowledge achieving the fourth stage: Prestige.

5. Self-actualization Need

[25] Things are now driving hard and fast toward the apex of the hierarchy as well as the climax of the story. Xena's acceptance of the prestige and esteem she feels not only from the Athenians but also from the Horde soldier leads her to contrive a new and dangerous plan. The stage is set for Xena finally to achieve the fifth level of the hierarchy: Self-actualization.

[26] In order to achieve the fifth stage Xena must now act in a manner true to her own nature. Her core nature -- the thing that drives her to do so many of the things she does -- is her quest for Redemption. Put *very* simply, she was "bad" and she wants to be good. In fact, Xena is even willing to sacrifice herself to achieve this goal -- this quest.

[27] Xena decides to try to end the siege once and for all. She challenges the Horde's leader to single combat. He, of course, accepts. He probably feels that he himself is at stage five of the hierarchy and is more than willing to face this new threat!

[28] Xena goes out to fight the Horde leader. After a tense and sometimes pitched battle, she defeats him in front of his own men. Xena has the chance to kill him. Instead, she throws down her weapon, turns her back on him, and walks away. Now it is the Horde leader's turn to slide down the stages of Maslow's hierarchy. His men do not like this. Showing their displeasure, they kill him. The Horde, apparently, took Maslow's hierarchy *very* seriously!

[29] Let us suppose that the Horde leader is himself a student of Maslow. If we could have listened in on his thoughts at the end of the battle, they might have sounded something like this.

[30] "By the gods, she beat me! Well, lay on, Warrior-Witch. You can kill me, but you cannot destroy my spirit! What is this?! She has thrown down the weapon? She turned her back on me? She is walking away! Well, this is embarrassing. I must admit that I am not feeling particularly self-actualized any more. My men were watching too. I have lost face! Hmmm, I guess my prestige has dimmed a bit in their eyes, but we are still a team, right? Sure, I am still one of the guys! No, that does not work. By our own custom, the tribe will ostracize me. No, that is not right either. That only works for common soldiers! If the *leader* is defeated in single combat....Oh no! I am not feeling terribly safe anymore! I might as well try to kill the -- [Sound and sensation of three well-aimed axes thudding their way into the leader's back.] Gasp! Well...I am sure everything will work out just fine if I can just satisfy this sudden physiological need to stop bleeding to death! Arrrgh..."

[31] There is a saying that "Success is how you bounce on the bottom." Xena hit bottom and "bounced" back up through the five hierarchy stages. The Horde leader just hit bottom.


He should have let them keep the Dilbert cartoons on the
bulletin board

Xena spares the Horde Chieftain, only to see his own people kill him moments later.

[32] By the episode's end, we seem to have come full circle. Xena has overcome the threat of hunger and thirst. The Horde's immediate danger is past. Xena is again able to enjoy feelings of belongingness and love with Gabrielle. She accepts the esteem and respect that both the Athenian garrison and the Horde band hold for her. Finally, she has passed through the fire of single combat with the Horde leader on her quest for Redemption. Yes, in many ways, Xena is as she was at the start of the episode. However, she will be forever changed. Xena's climb back up the hierarchy was full of lessons that even a Warrior Princess cannot ignore. As usual, a consummate and persistent teacher taught many of those lessons: Gabrielle. Maslow would have been proud!

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