Whoosh! Issue 21 - June 1998


IAXS project #554
By Bat Morda
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2684 words

Bat, Meet Janice (01-05)
A Theory Emerges (06-09)
The Sidekick Legacy (10-13)
The Outsider (14-16)
The Janice-Gabrielle Connection (17-26)

Janice Covington: In Search Of Mad Dog

Bat, Meet Janice...

Indiana Jones adopted this look when he kept ripping his tweed jackets.

Janice Covington has also been dubbed "Indiana Gabby".

[1] I remember the first time I ever saw Janice Covington. It was January 12, 1997, and on that day my life changed. It was the first Xena Convention in Burbank and the good folks at Renaissance Pictures provided a 10 minute preview of the episode THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210). From the first panned shot moving from her boots to her hat, I sat there transfixed. Sure, I'm a big Indiana Jones fan, but I sensed that there was more to Janice than a cheesy Indy rip-off. For some bizarre reason that escapes me to this day, I decided then and there that I would have to tell this woman's story.

[2] I had been writing fan fiction for about three months and fancied myself a bard. I waited with giddy anticipation for the episode to air. The inspiration for a new story would come. It just had to. I could feel it. I was on a mission. Then, I saw the episode.

[3] Most Xenites would agree that THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210) was not all it could have been. I was grateful to have read Lucy's take on it in Robert Weisbrot's, THE OFFICIAL GUIDE TO THE XENAVERSE (Doubleday, 1998), page 206:

I got very angry and I didn't know why. It's just the rotten feeling I had about the way I was being covered [by the camera], and it took me days to put my finger on what was wrong. Charlie [Charlie Haskell, the director] had come from Hercules, and for him I was just Lucy from seven years ago. And he had covered the show as if I was fifth-string. I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong, but there was no presentation of a 'star'. And I, as an animal, didn't like it, and I, as a business person, sensed there was something wrong with that. He was just reading the script as if it was totally isolated from the show Xena: Warrior Princess. And so he gave no credence to the fact that Xena, the main character, in what-ever guise, is still the star. I don't think I got one close-up. You know, if you're counting close-ups, a close-up tells the story. And it doesn't matter where she is, you have to present the star. You see, stars are not born, they are crafted and they are presented. I don't mind playing second-string to Renee, but I will not play second-string to Ares, or whomever. It's all a matter of presentation, how you frame the shot, where you stick an actor in a scene. And Charlie was not mindful of that. And it took me until two days left on the shoot to work out what the hell was wrong.

[4] I happily discovered it was not just me. Nevertheless, the image of Janice Covington stuck to my mind like velcro. Undauntedly, I started my alternative Janice and Mel story, thinking it would be a one time thing I would get out of my system and move on. But here I am, over a year later, and I am still at it: three Janice and Mel stories finished with more in the works.

[5] What gives? What is it about a character that appeared in one episode out of nearly 70, that continues to pleasantly haunt me?

A Theory Emerges...

Well here's the gun in *my* pocket, boys!

All that gunfire, and no one really got hurt.

[6] I have been pondering my obsession lately. Why do I have such a thing about and for Janice Covington? In contemplating my own place in the universe, the chord Janice strikes resonates soundly. She embodies a basic trait in most of us: We want to be the hero, yet, we must also grapple with the fact that deep down we are really the sidekick at best. I am not saying Dr. Covington is not heroic. To be sure, she does have her moments, but she is much closer to us ordinary folk. Janice and Xena both have their faults, but while Xena pulls off her dysfunctionality as dark, edgy, and mysterious, on Janice it appears p*ssed-off and insecure.

[7] A telling scene in XENA SCROLLS (34/210) was where Janice was informed by the god, Ares, that she was related to someone in the scrolls. Bursting with pride, she assumed she was related to Xena. And why would she not? Her father had a lifelong Xena obsession [Ed. note: who does not?]. Perhaps he knew -- somehow, somewhere -- that there was real greatness in the lineage of Harry, The Graverobber. Upon realizing this ancestor was not Xena, Janice lowered her sights to Callisto. Wrong again. It was painfully spelled out for her that she was related to the Bard from Poteidaia, Gabrielle.

[8] Had I been there, I would have pointed out that things could have been much worse for ol' Janice. There was someone in that tomb related to 'The Idiot', himself.

[9] Brrrrrr, I shudder to think there might ever be an "All Joxer" edition of Whoosh! I did not hate Joxer at first. Seeing him once in a while was charming, in a slightly uncomfortable way. However, the more the Powers That Be (TPTB) insisted on cramming him into more and more episodes per season (akin to wedging a size 10 foot into a size 8 shoe), the less I liked the character. Like a pesky neighbor who visits way too often, his absence would go a long way toward making my heart grow fonder. Interesting enough, TPTB did not make that mistake with Callisto. Unless Joxer is beaten near death (and without dialogue), watching him has gone from amusing, to tolerable, to currently painful. Rant over, back to Janice and Gabrielle.

The Sidekick Legacy...

[10] There is nothing wrong with being a sidekick. Heroes would be lost without them. In context of the episode, THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210), and even the whole series, Xena: Warrior Princess, the show simply would not exist were it not for the writings of Gabrielle. It is not difficult to assume, also, that in such scrolls, Gabrielle would not go on and on about how important she was to Xena. It makes sense why Janice had a less than stellar opinion of the bard and why Xena needed to set her straight. But let's face it, even Gabrielle had mixed feelings about her sidekick status.

[11] Have you ever noticed on daytime tabloid shows when they have a segment on people and their past life experiences, you will have guests who were once Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Harry Houdini or Jesse James. You never seem to have people who were the slave who got squashed by a stone block building the pyramids, or the nameless banner holder who got shot with an arrow in the first five minutes of the big battle or a random peasant plague victim. Heroes, stars, the number one attractions -- that is where it is at, baby!

[12] So here is Janice, witnessing the culmination of her father's life's work and she finds out she is related to the one Ares calls the Irritating Blond. Not the hero nor the blond menace, but the bard. The same bard they never even said wrote the scrolls in the whole dang episode. No wonder she is depressed. She has got the scrolls, that is great and all, but here is this ditzy Southern woman -- who she rescued that very morning -- who is now, suddenly Heroics Personified. Sometimes life is so unfair.

[13] Is that Janice Covington's only draw? That like many of us, she is bummed to realize that she is not The Magnus she had hoped to be? Not on your life.

The Outsider...

That had better be Dr Covington to you - buddy

Janice is as abrasive as Gabby is sweet.

[14] One look at Janice Covington and it is clear that this woman is not the ideal of 1940's femininity. We learn in the episode that she had an unconventional upbringing as well. From a broken home in the 1940s, to being raised on archeological digs the world over, it is no wonder Janice does not look or act the part in society she is expected to play.

[15] While Xena and Gabrielle do things that set them apart in their time, visually you have to admit they fit in. The local tavern keeper is not shocked at the sight of a leather clad woman or her companion with the granite tummy. Why? Because Callisto (bare midriff and leather) checked out two days ago and the Amazons had a convention. Leather and skin are nothing new to "Tavern Guy."

[16] But what about Janice? Is Mel startled by her appearance? Of course she is. Here is a woman smoking a cigar, dressed as a man. Even for an archeological dig, that was unusual. Janice is pragmatic, decisive, and quick-tempered. And she looks like a freak. As someone who once showed up at a family birthday party, apparently underdressed, I felt an instant kinship with the rough archeologist. One also might wonder, taking visual clues alone, if Janice might be as unconventional in other aspects of her life as she is in her wardrobe choices. It is a legitimate question.

The Janice-Gabrielle Connection...

Janice Covington wonders if Mel Pappas is going to ask if she can wear
the Fedora again.

Janice and Mel, about to ride off into the sunset.

[17] The question emerges as to whether Janice is, in fact, related to Gabrielle. The other likely candidate is her sister, Lila. Hopefully, the only child Gabrielle has had thus far, demon-god parentage aside, died before having children herself. I would like to think my buddy Janice is not related to Hope. That would suck.

[18] Personally, I consider the whole off-spring/descendent issues to be one of those "willful suspension of disbelief" moments we engage in while watching the show. Xena boldly laughing at the laws of physics does not faze me, so why should a somewhat hazy family tree? I am willing to accept that somehow, somewhere Janice Covington is indeed descended from the bard and keep my subtextual sensibilities firmly in place. And for all you "when pigs fly" naysayers out there remember a pig starred in a fourth season episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, so anything is possible.

[19] More important than dubious DNA linages is the connection between Janice and Gabrielle. That connection manifests itself in a surprising mix of qualities. They both have a temper. Granted, Janice is quicker to show it, but the fire and fierceness is common to both of them. Gabrielle has had bouts of self doubt, wondering how she fits into Xena's life, and wondering about her own abilities. Janice has those same doubts, not about herself mind you, but about the bard. Janice seems to have inherited Xena's self assurance, at least where her job skills are involved. Just like Xena knew she was a killer warlord, but had trouble with the 'sensitive chats,' Janice is in the same boat.

[20] Another clear parallel is that both women are inexplicably drawn to Xena, or in Janice's case, Mel. Issues of subtext aside, there is no denying the deep connection Xena and Gabrielle share. That connection transcending generations makes for wonderfully romantic story telling.

[21] The same is true of Janice and Melinda Pappas. The archeologist's rough edges are wonderfully complimented by the more cosmopolitan Southerner. Mel is the calming contrast to Janice's fire, and a living breathing example of how she might have turned out had her childhood not been one of dig sites and back room antiquities dealing. Those kinds of friends are cool to have: The ones who love you for who you are in spite of the vast differences between you. The connection is clearly mutual. Through Janice Covington, Mel has an opportunity to explore and assert more independence in a life of adventure and intrigue.

[22] Mel is also the perfect person to help Janice adjust and accept her ancestor. Who better to help her appreciate the value of sidekicks than by (A) being one herself, and (B) providing the link to Xena whose redemption was solidified by the bard's presence. While it is doubtful Janice is much of a story teller (unless you get a couple of beers in her first), in the end, she seems to accept her kinship with the Poteidaian bard, even if she is not reveling in it... yet.

[23] It should be noted that the original key to bringing our two sets of heros together was "escape." Gabrielle wanted to escape from boring Poteidaia and betrothal to dull, stupid Perdicus. In time, she proved to be the moral anchor that helped keep Xena on the straight (ahem) and narrow. Melinda Pappas was the one who originally proposed to Janice about forming a partnership at the end of THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210). She wanted out, too: Out of a confining 1940s view of what women could and could not do. Clearly Mel wanted the opportunity to use her skills and make it on her own. Otherwise, why would she have schlepped all the way to Macedonia in the first place?

[24] Just as Gabrielle's presence in Xena's life became invaluable, the same is true for Mel's presence in Janice's life. Here is a woman, the picture of 1940s normalcy, who grew up in the kind of existence that Janice never had a shot at, taking her work and the work of her father seriously. Just as Gabrielle could see past the warlord to the genuine hero underneath, Mel can also see past Janice's gruff exterior to the genuine woman lurking behind the hat and the cigar. They provide the same sense of validation, security and family that the Warrior and Bard experienced centuries before -- proving that although some surface things may change, they also fundamentally stay the same.

[25] The greatest contrast between Janice and Gabrielle lies in the cynicism of the archeologist. Obviously we have all known Gabrielle much longer. We've seen her grow from the incredibly optimistic, 'love conquers all' drone to a grown woman being dragged behind the horse of her best friend. Janice is the product of weathering those kind of storms. If you took the Gabrielle from the first Callisto episode, sat her down in an Amazon Purification Ritual hut and made her watch season three, the woman exiting the hut would probably resemble Janice Covington. As Indiana Jones said, "It's not the years, it's the mileage". Janice Covington definitely appears road tested.

[26] The introduction of Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington tapped into a rich vein where the Xena legacy and mythology are concerned. A slew of fan fiction stories have appeared on the Internet, not to mention sparking off a whole Uber-genre of Xena fan fiction. If the characters were not so striking, or if the whole idea was not so compelling, this subgenre of fan fiction would not have evolved. A large chunk of the credit belongs to Renee O'Connor for her portrayal of Janice. It might not have worked for everyone, but it certainly worked adequately to fuel the fan fiction flames. I hope that if we are real good, and do not whine about Joxer too much (just repress what I have said about Joxer previously), maybe they will have Janice and Mel on the show again.


Bat Morda Bat Morda
Bat Morda is the pen name of a graphic designer by day, fan fiction author by night. She lives in Southern California with her partner and enjoys camping, guitar playing and reading when not immersed in all things Xena. Her sidekick Idgie has a tendency to show up in her stories as Janice Covington's dog Argo. She also collects Hard Rock Cafe guitar pins from all over the world.
Favorite episode: ALTARED STATES (19/119), A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), LOST MARINER (45/21), THE PRICE (44/220), & THE DEBT I & II (52, 53/306,307)
Favorite line: Gabrielle (acting put out): "You lied?!" THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)
First episode seen: DEATH MASK (23/123)
Least favorite episode: KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308)

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