Whoosh! Issue19 - April 1998

By Darise Error
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2024 words

Editor's Note: Darise Error is the Associate Editor for WHOOSH. It is not a pretty job. It requires long hours of reading and re-reading, writing and re-writing, lots and lots of negotiation, and some annoying moments with me, the editor-in-chief. Because of circumstances in my non- Xena life (I know, it is a pain when real life seeps in), Darise wound up having to do the major share of editing for this special all-Bitter issue of WHOOSH. And perhaps, out of us all, Darise had the best justification for being the most ‘bitter' about this issue. Yet, after editing the seemingly endless number of articles about tarot readings and other BITTER topics, she went out of her way to write this article where she shares some of her observations gleaned partially from spending too much time with the preparation of this issue. If this is not proof of her total obsessiveness for XWP (by the way, a critical requirement for the job of Associate Editor), I doubt anything would be.

Author's Note: I preface this essay by saying that I am inordinately put off by the amount of physical and emotional violence perpetrated by Xena against Gabrielle, and vice versa, this season. The ankle dragging scene that opened this episode was utterly repugnant to me, and, in my mind, the grossest violation of characterization, established relationship parameters, and the moral sensibility of the third season. I was mortified by that scene. True, characters must grow and relationships must be tested and proven, but this all must occur within the realm of possibility for both characters and the relationship as it has been established in the two prior seasons. TPTB (the powers that be) missed the boat this time. This essay, however, will primarily be in praise of THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), and so, having gotten that point of contention off my chest, I will proceed.

A Non-Tarot Look at THE BITTER SUITE (01)
The Scene Review (02-20)
Adding the Tarot Symbolism (21)

A Dense Viewer's Analysis Of THE BITTER SUITE

Don't get any ideas.  Just 'cause it's white it
ain't no wedding dress!

Joxer tries mightily to protect Gabrielle from Xena.

A Non-Tarot Look at THE BITTER SUITE

[1] I have just finished editing the fourth article submitted to Whoosh! on Tarot imagery in the recent, and highly anticipated and touted XWP episode, THE BITTER SUITE (58/312). I was astonished by the fact that so many people picked up on and had similar interpretations of what was obviously the foundational theme of that episode. Until I read their articles, however, nothing Tarot-related registered with me. I had missed it completely. Call me dense, but I had had no background in Tarot cards. Yet, I greatly enjoyed most of THE BITTER SUITE. I wondered what it was specifically that had captured my attention when I first saw the episode, especially as it appeared I had totally missed most of what TPTB (the powers that be) intended. Was it really possible for me to have gotten anything from the episode since the predominant symbolism was lost on me? I can answer, emphatically, yes. So, here is a non-Tarot reading of what worked well (after the teaser and the opening scene) for this dense viewer in THE BITTER SUITE.

The Scene Review

1. The water poetry and Hudson Leick's delivery.

Living with Xena ain't all peaches and

Gabrielle floats down to Illusia.

[2] This scene was an example of the episode's writing at its best. Hudson Leick should do books on tape! Her diction was crisp and her delivery was straightforward, but imbued with subtle interpretation. There was also a soothing, healing quality to it, akin to a promise to both the audience and the principle characters that things would get better.

2. The water imagery throughout.

[3] The beginning of the Illusia sequence delivered a sense of people in flux, transition, and in need of cleansing as Xena and Gabrielle floated nude and utterly helpless in the stream. As they were drawn from the water by another party, a kind of symbolic "re- birth".

[4] The water curtain at the end was beautiful cinematographically, but it also evoked a sense of baptism -- of passing through and emerging cleansed. This evocation was further enhanced by the fact that Xena could not pass through until she had dealt with her demons, and it was most symbolic that it was Gabrielle who offered her hand and willingly pulled Xena through to the other side. Also, the visual closeup of hands entwined in the curtain of water was lovely and gentle, yet, provocative.

[5] Finally, the two of them embracing in the surf was symbolic, again, of a rebirth -- this time, a re-entrance into life, whole and complete, and together.

3. Hudson Leick's dancing.

I used to play air guitar, until I found this

Hudson finally got to wear a different costume.

[6] As a theatre person myself, I know that most performers who are any good can usually do more than one thing. I do not know why I was surprised to see that Hudson Leick moved well, but I was pleasantly surprised. My admiration for her as a performer went up several notches. The choreography in the opening Illusia segment was playful and frolicsome, yet, with a hint of wickedness and teasing. The choreographer made good movement choices, and Leick made the choreography her own.

4. Xena's being awakened from a deep sleep by "true hate's" kiss.

Squint your eyes and see Green

One of the scenes most talked about before the episode aired.

[7] This scene was a nice, post-modern twist on the old fairy tale cliche of a beautiful maiden being awakened by true love's kiss. In THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), ironically, it was Callisto (sort of), Xena's bitter nemesis, who awakens Xena. There was also a feminist twist to it. Rather than needing a male savior, it was another woman who initially awakens Xena from her "sleep", and it will be, not some prince in shining armor, but another woman, this time "true love", who will ultimately rescue Xena and draw her from the place of her torment and transition.

5. Ares' "Melt Into Me" dance with Xena.

Move that hand an inch higher or lower and you're
dead meat, buddy!

Rob Tapert reportedly referred to this number as the 'Quaalude Tango'.

[8] In this number, the choreography was very sensual and seductive. The costume choices of black and red, and leather and velvet, were also exceedingly provocative. And they were dancing around the "corpse" of a recently murdered Gabrielle -- an extremely nice artistic choice and a beautiful example of the richness that can be derived from visually and thematically butting opposites against one another. Another striking visual was the dip that brought Xena parallel to a "dead" Gabrielle. It was an excellent choreography choice, and well-executed by all parties.

[9] The lyrics and Kevin Smith's breathy performance were outstanding.

6. The blend of humor and high drama.

[10] Renee O'Connor's delivery of, "You killed me!!??!!" was worth the price of admission.

[11] The title, THE BITTER SUITE, is extremely creative and an effective exercise in homonym exploitation.

[12] The singing dog during the Illusia sequence was humorous. The dog was also used to create a "symbolic" analogy that this viewer appreciated. The dog licking Xena's face and then Callisto kissing Xena in the Illusia sequence meant that Xena actually got kissed by not one, but two b*tch*s!

[13] Whoever rhymed "Poteidaia" with "panacea" deserves the prize for best rhyme of the night. It was very clever and very funny! It was an "oranges/ p-oranges" moment (from the old Saturday Sid and Marty Krofft PUFNSTUF show [1969]).

[14] But, one would think, these frivolous things should never be placed side by side with such traumatic plot events as driving a sword into the abdomen of your best friend, confronting a loved one about her past mistakes, confessing to a loved one, and forgiving a loved one for serious wrongs suffered by you at her hand. Yet, again, placing these components side by side with the humor worked beautifully, without any single element's effectiveness being undermined. Each individual thing enhanced the whole.

7. The special effects.

And quit calling me 'Toto!'

But was the dog dubbed?

[15] A singing dog, a spinning 'roulette' wheel, singing snakes, eagles, bulls, Dahak's fiery tendrils grabbing Gabrielle by the ankles (that poor girl's ankles got a workout in this episode) and pulling her into the center of the wheel, the dark angel sounding his trumpet, exploding "demons," etc. That is an amazing amount of work for the computer and special effects people. It was a great deal of well-executed work and it showed. The special effects added beautifully to the horror, the humor, the fantasy, and the magic of the whole.

8. The cinematography and art direction.

[16] Overall the lighting choices, camera angles, etc., were beautiful. They were also extremely appropriate to and effective in creating and enhancing the diversity of settings and moods required by this complex episode.

9. The staging/conception of the "Peace/War" sequence.

To make a few extra dinars, Gabrielle takes
over the night shift for...Death.

Gabrielle trades her staff for a scythe.

[17] Traditional musical theatre staging was present in this scene. It was also poked fun at, in a gentle, "all-in-good-fun" way. Particularly the Poteidaia section looked just like nearly every stage musical's big production number, ie. "Bonjour/Belle" from Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and "Who Will Buy?" from OLIVER!, to name a few. Only in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), such lyrics as "We don't even change our minds," and the overly cheery townspeople handing Gabrielle a scythe so that she can go murder Xena tends to undercut "traditional" blocking and conception of stage musical presentation.

[18] Furthermore, traditional 1930s-50s movie musical staging was also present. There were parts of TBS, the overhead camera angles especially, that were a sort of ode to Busby Berkeley. Instead of it being girls with fans or feathers creating interesting geometric/ kaleidoscopic patterns, however, it was male soldiers with shields. So the old movie musical staging is suggested and invoked, but, again, deconstructed (undermined or turned into something new, something that goes beyond what the original creators intended) at the same time.

[19] The staging and musical number conception in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) was very effective in terms of communicating the material and meeting the audience's expectations of what "should" be in a musical. The ultimate execution of these techniques, however, was quite sophisticated and post-modern.

10. Lucy Lawless' acting, overall, but especially in the "Forgive Me" sequence.

I've heard of wash and wear, but this is

Xena finally releases all her guilt.

[20] I was already a fan of Ms. Lawless' work, but this episode further enhanced my appreciation of her as a performer. She too proved that she was not a "one trick" magician. Her dancing was adequate, her singing was good in places and downright mesmerizing in other places, and her facial expressions, as always, spoke volumes about the inner dissonances, turmoils, and passions of Xena.

Adding the Tarot Symbolism

[21] Now that I know about the Tarot symbolism, it has further enhanced my BITTER SUITE (58/312) experience. But, even though I was too dense to pick up on any of the Tarot imagery, there was much I connected to, understood, interpreted, and thoroughly enjoyed about this episode. That is one of the guiding principles of good art: multiple points of access for audience members. This episode more than adequately filled that requirement.


Darise Error Darise Error
BA in theatre, MA in theatre/film, ABD (all but dissertation) on a PhD in theatre (Her fascination with XWP actually began as a dissertation avoidance measure.)

Darise Error is an actor/director/singer/songwriter from Dallas. She would like to be an artist full-time, but she owes way too much in student loans. She earns most of her dinars by teaching college English, but satisfies her soul by doing as much theatre as possible. She also penned the lyrics to "Talk to Me," which can be heard on the Domestic Science Club's self-titled cd released by Discovery records in 1994. She followed in the footsteps of one of her favorite ladies by singing "The National Anthem" at a Fort Worth Brahmas hockey game. She wore a turtle neck on the occasion.

She lives with a big black mutt named Sweeney, a fat orange cat named Beau, and a grouchy parakeet named Virgil.

Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102), ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
Favorite line: Xena to Gabrielle: "You don't know how much I love...that." THE PRICE (44/220); Xena to Gabrielle: "Pull my finger." THE FURIES (47/301)
First episode seen: THE QUEST (37/213)
Least favorite episode: KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308)

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