Whoosh! Issue 21 - June 1998


IAXS project #065
By Michael Evans-Layng
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2862 words

Shock (01-04)
Introduction (05-06)
Beginning at the Beginning (07-09)
Introducing a Fatal Character Trait: Blood Innocence in DREAMWORKER (10-12)
Xena's Sun (13-14)
Killing: Benefit and Necessity (15)
Everything Changes, for the Good: DESTINY (16)
Blood Innocence: Disastrous Plot Device (17-18)
Conclusion (19)

Gabrielle's Blood Innocence: Seeing Red

This is a flashback to an old 'Little House On The Prairie' episode right?

Gabrielle relives the nightmare of stabbing Meridian in the opening of GABRIELLE'S HOPE.


[1] The scene was shockingly sudden and supercharged with violence, finality, and portent.

[2] Blood on her own hands, not Xena's. Not blood from a wound she was dressing, from care gently given, but garish red blood flowing from vital organs that she had decided to pierce. We watched, she watched, in horror as a human life dripped through her fingers onto the floor and mingled with her tears of rage and regret. We watched as a life devolved into a dark stain because she had decided the person who owned that life deserved it no more. A sickening revulsion overwhelmed her as she realized immediately that "everything had changed, everything."..and apparently for the worse.

[3] So, Gabrielle's blood innocence came to an end [THE DELIVERER (50/304)]. We saw Xena find her, finally, and offer anxiously and hopefully that it had been an accident. But Gabrielle knew it had been a murder. Surely not murder with malice and forethought as we think of it today, but Gabrielle had indeed decided to kill Meridian when other options were available to her. Meridian's name itself denotes a line, a demarcation, a boundary -- one that Gabrielle had stepped over, never to step back.

[4] In response to this scene many fans offered the same sort of explanation that Xena had. The priestess had moved onto the knife. Gabrielle had been passive. She was defending Khrafstar. It simply was not her fault. But the writer of the episode, R. J. Stewart, said that he had written the scene to minimize ambiguity, to allow fans no reasonable explanation other than the one he put on Gabrielle lips: she had chosen to kill, and to kill violently. (Interview in Xena Fanclub Newsletter, #3).


[5] This article will explore the meaning and importance of Gabrielle's blood innocence both to Xena and to Gabrielle, and offer some opinions about its impact on the show. As I have struggled with this plot device and storyline, I meandered back and forth across a line myself, but a different one, thankfully, than Gabrielle's. The one I kept crossing was the line between treating the characters as 'real' people and treating them merely as mouthpieces for the scriptwriters' words. Consequently, the whole process of my thinking about all this has been distinctly curvilinear and recursive. The finished product before you reflects this non-linearity to some degree.

[6] The essay began with a description of the end of Gabrielle's innocence of shedding blood, or rather, her innocence of intentionally causing death. In the same spirit of beginning at the end, I will also tell you what I ultimately concluded about the theme of her blood innocence as it has been presented throughout the run of the series, starting with DREAMWORKER [03/103] and culminating -- but not ending, unfortunately -- in THE DELIVERER [50/304]. First, Gabrielle's blood innocence, and all the plot developments that have issued from it, have been an elaborate attempt by the writers and producers to expand and deepen the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle by introducing some reciprocity through a plot device (blood innocence) rather than a more natural line of character development. Second, rather than real reciprocity, they actually ended up portraying Xena as utterly dependent on Gabrielle in the moral sphere, a development that made Gabrielle, and not Xena, the functional "heart" of the show. Third, the plot-driven formulas they concocted imposed burdens on the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle that overwhelmed the believability of the relationship in general and the chemistry between Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor in particular. Fourth, in trying to reestablish Xena as the heart of the show and bring the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle back down to earth, they overcompensated and trashed Gabrielle so thoroughly and turned Xena into such a self-righteously ruthless killer that it has become impossible for me to identify strongly with either of them -- and as identification has declined, so has my enthusiasm for the show. Fifth, and finally, the whole exercise has left the third season in a shambles and threatens to implode the series altogether.

Beginning at the Beginning

Hey! You haven't even put down any newspaper or given me any chew toys!

Gabby talks her way out of trouble rather than fighting in SINS OF THE PAST.

[7] Lets go back to the beginning of the series. Initially, many saw Xena as the central character of the show and some, including myself, reacted a little negatively to Gabrielle's introduction. Starting with the first show, SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), Xena and Gabrielle were seen as being in more of a mentor-'mentee' relationship than anything else, and with some justification. It was in that first episode, SINS OF THE PAST, that Gabrielle told her sister she was leaving home to follow Xena and become a warrior herself. But that specific objective was left behind pretty quickly as the Xena/Gabrielle relationship grew in some unexpected and, to me and many others, enthralling ways. At least it enthralled us for two seasons. My point here is that I did not feel that Xena needed Gabrielle at the beginning. When I finally saw Xena as needing Gabrielle in some fundamental sense, it was really only because the writers asserted the idea through Xena. Friendship? Yes. Love? Oh yes! But ultimate soul-buoying dependence? That never rang true to me.

[8] While the initial growth of their friendship was planned to some degree, I think also that the chemistry between Lawless and O'Connor energized the relationship in ways that went well beyond the original, admittedly sketchy, vision of the producers. The advent and subsequent conscious cultivation of the lesbian subtext was probably the most provocative and important fruit of this serendipitous chemistry. The result was, in the words of a fellow net-izen, that their relationship "took on a life of its own." Given this good fortune, the staff tried to build on it, but they ended up blowing it to smithereens instead.

[9] In trying to build upon the chemistry, the producers and writers looked for a way to introduce some deeper reciprocity into a relationship that was still, on the whole, pretty lopsided. They sought a way to make Xena profoundly and intimately dependent on Gabrielle to temper the mentor-'mentee' aspects of the relationship, or complicate the friendship, and challenge and deepen their love. The Powers That Be settled on Gabrielle's blood innocence as the instrument to introduce and sustain that dependence well after the relationship had 'taken on a life of its own.' But it proved to be a sledge hammer rather than a scalpel. It has never seemed that the cosmic importance the writers eventually ascribed to Gabrielle's blood innocence sprouted naturally from her character, or Xena's, for that matter. Rather than being a character-driven development, then, Gabrielle's blood innocence and its bastard plot progeny ended up driving the characters.

Introducing a Fatal Character Trait:
Blood Innocence in DREAMWORKER

I'll prove to Xena that I can hunt just as good as she does. Here bunny, bunny!

Gabrielle is unsure of how to handle a sword in SINS OF THE PAST.

[10] It was in DREAMWORKER (03/103), after seeing Gabrielle pick up a sword in a fight and thereby become an aggressor in her own right as well as a target, that Xena counseled her friend to avoid killing almost at all costs because the price was so high. Once you had killed, Xena said, "Everything changes. Everything." This is one of the great Xena statements that appears absolutely packed with profound, substantial meaning, until one realizes that the writers did not explore it any further. Perhaps they wanted just to give us a compact crystal ball of Xena-perspective into which we could project our own thoughts and fears about the psychological and spiritual consequences of killing intentionally. And it certainly served, and still serves, that purpose well, whether that was the intention or not. But by not pursuing it further, explicitly and specifically, in the intertwined contexts of Xena's own struggle to overcome her past, of Gabrielle's struggle to mature, and the struggles they faced together in building their love, that crystal ball of wisdom actually ended up shattered by contradictions.

[11] If "everything changes" and those changes are for the better, then why not encourage Gabrielle to kill? That is, if the act of killing as the result of a decision, rather than as a mere reaction, can provide the killer with a new perspective that yields clearer thinking, keener insight into right and wrong, and more ability to take decisive action on the behalf of "The Good," then why did Xena not school Gabrielle in justified killing? Why not turn her loose to kill the next time she got a chance in a situation where the moral issues were pretty clear, saving more ambiguous and challenging situations for later? But Xena did not do that. She did quite the opposite, in fact. She wanted Gabrielle to avoid the wholesale changes that result from killing, and praised her at the end of DREAMWORKER (03/103) for resisting the temptation to kill willfully. That would imply that the comprehensive changes that result from purposeful killing are fundamentally bad. Right? Not necessarily...

[12] If Xena was so convinced of the awfulness of the changes that killing brings on the killer, then why did Xena herself not work harder to expunge the changes that happened within her? One could argue that the whole series is largely about her efforts to do just that, or it used to be. However, she argued to Gabrielle that the changes thus wrought were irrevocable, a perspective she sought to illustrate by throwing the rock in the lake at the end of DREAMWORKER (03/103); the water will become calm eventually, but the rock was still there and the lake would be forever different because of it. According to this line of reasoning, even though Xena now manages her life better than she used to, she will always remain different at heart, corrupted, which is probably the main reason the writers have continued to depict her as plagued by guilt, only partially and tenuously accepting forgiveness that she finally begged for in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312). She can behave better, she can "do good" in the present, and therefore consider herself in some sense a good person, but that sense of goodness does not yet penetrate to her soul.

Xena's Sun

[13] Because Xena's heart is corrupt, she feels that she needs something, or rather someone, external to herself to help her keep her moral bearings. The writers offered her Gabrielle as a solution. She became important to Xena not just as a loving friend, but as a beacon for her benighted heart, a plot device that ended up causing the writers to chase their tails. Here is how it has gone: in DREAMWORKER (03/103) the writers posited Gabrielle's blood innocence as a key aspect of her experience, and hence her character. This blood innocence, in turn, provided the soil in which a very limited kind of pacifism germinated, a semi-pacifism that was more instinctive and assertive than it was well-thought out and clearly articulated. So, while Gabrielle would not intentionally kill anyone herself, even Callisto, she had little compunction about beating the living daylights out of numerous foes and participating in plans of Xena's that almost always resulted in someone's violent death.

[14] The writers then made this innocence-based, instinctual, quasi-philosophical, "in-your-face" semi-pacifism of Gabrielle's serve as the arrow on Xena's moral compass. Because Xena believed she needed such an external reference point, her dependency upon Gabrielle forced her to focus a lot of energy on protecting Gabrielle's blood innocence, even if that meant shedding blood. If Gabrielle intentionally killed, and here we complete the circle, everything would change in such a way as to negate her value to Xena as a moral referent -- though not necessarily her value as a friend. So Gabrielle became the sun around which Xena orbited and Gabrielle's blood innocence ultimately took on cosmic overtones. In the end, the only way out of this circle and the huge contradictions and imbalances it introduced into the series was for Gabrielle to lose her blood innocence in some spectacularly 'meaningful' way. Enter Dahak.

Killing: Benefit and Necessity

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

Gabrielle questions Xena's methods in THE PRICE.

[15] Part of the problem the writers presented themselves after having Xena and Gabrielle ascribe such centrality to Gabrielle's innocence of intentional killing was that they persisted in showing Xena deriving enormous insight and power from those unnamed and unexplored, yet apparently positive changes. Xena's insight and power regularly served her, Gabrielle, and humanity, very well indeed. Time and time again throughout all three seasons, Xena resorts to deadly violence, and resorts to it both consciously, successfully, and gleefully, on occasion. Even THE PRICE (44/220), with its strong message from the lips and actions of Gabrielle about not making assumptions about fellow human beings, with Xena's hopeful affirmation of Gabrielle's risky approach to connecting with the Horde, with Xena's truly touching confession of love for Gabrielle because of her not giving into hatred, shows Xena resolving the immediate crisis by resorting to brutal violence that directly and intentionally precipitated the death of the Horde chief.

Everything Changes, for the Good: DESTINY

[16] The best example, however, of the value that the writers continued to place on Xena's post-killing changes of heart, mind, and soul came at the end of DESTINY (36/212), when they have M'Lila tell Xena that she must return to life precisely because the fact that she has seen and been evil herself equips her in a special way to combat evil. The writers do not present this encounter as M'Lila merely chucking Xena under the chin, encouraging her to make the best of a bad situation, to make lemonade out of lemons. Rather, the script presents the changes Xena underwent when she became a killer as absolutely central to her reason for living and critical to her potential success as a "righteous" warrior.

Blood Innocence: Disastrous Plot Device

'OH GODS!! Xena! Help me!! I can't get the Kool-aid stains off
my hands!!'

Gabrielle literally has blood on her hands in THE DELIVERER.

[17] By the time we reached THE DELIVERER (50/304), we see that the writers had apparently concluded some time before that Gabrielle's blood innocence had to go, but it may have been too late. Perhaps they were hoping that jettisoning the baggage of Gabrielle's purity would simply plunge her back into the same moral morass that Xena, and we, struggle with every day. With the over-the-top episodes, including the rapidly approaching Sacrifice diptych, perhaps they are hoping (1) for a quick upsurge in ratings, (2) to kill the blood innocence gimmick once and for all, (3) to be freed to continue to re-center the series, and (4) to see the ratings stay high. Even if the quick-grab does not work, at least they will not be chasing their tails about blood innocence anymore, can continue to get back to business, and thereby see the ratings slowly start to rise again (and getting back to business is hopefully what they were trying to do with the revelation of Gabrielle's very mixed motives for going to Chin to save and betray Xena).

[18] Sadly, though, the damage they have done by working Gabrielle's innocence as much as they have may be too great to be undone, especially after resorting to the extremes of the Dahak/Hope storyline. The more cosmic the episode though, the less interested I and other fans find it. And, perversely, the universe-is-at-stake inflation of the show's plots now makes anything less than that seem trivial and nothing to get excited about. It is hard to imagine watching a light, A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) sort of episode without yawning now. Thus, I fear that the extreme measures the writers are taking are only making the prognosis for recovery worse.


[19] Some fans reacted to Gabrielle's fall from grace in THE DELIVERER (50/304) and subsequent episodes with shock and outrage. Such a reaction is completely understandable given the vast and increasing importance the writers had been drawing out of Gabrielle's innocence. Not only was her heart and soul at stake, but Xena's too, and OH NO!-- THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE-AS-WE-KNOW-IT! To be honest, though, even while I was caught up in Gabrielle's horror and grief, there was a voice in the back of my mind shouting, "FINALLY! THAT'S over with"! Rather than seeing the red on Meridian's robes and Gabrielle's hands as a bloody sign of the cruel death of her innocence, I came to see it very quickly as the mercy killing of a plot device that had lived far too long and done a lot of damage to the show. Judging from the rest of the season, the mercy killing may have come too late. The lengths to which the producers have gone in the wake of THE DELIVERER have not stanched the hemorrhaging of my own enthusiasm for Xena, nor has it stemmed the steady loss of viewers. Can they recover from these self-inflicted wounds? I have grave doubts.


Michael Evans-Layng Michael Evans-Layng
Native Californian, born 10-6-53 (calculate the total yourself!) Early space program fanatic; youngest credentialed reporter at the launch of Apollo 11. BA in Cultural Anthropology (UC San Diego). MA in European History (UC San Diego). PhD in Social Psychology of Higher Education (UCLA). Married 22 years and still madly in love. Two kids (Boy 8, Girl 5), both firecrackers. Never joined a fan club before joining the Lucy Lawless and Xena clubs. Principal Policy Analyst and Statistician (I call myself an "Information Broker") in the Planning Office of UC San Diego.
Favorite episode: CALLISTO (22/122) -- especially for the campfire scene.
Favorite line: Xena: "I have many skills." THE BLACK WOLF (11/111), TIES THAT BIND (20/120), and HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211)

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