Whoosh! Issue 21 - June 1998

IAXS project #393
By Catherine O'Grady
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1766 words

Introduction (01)
An Inexperienced Girl (08-09)
A Grieving Young Woman (10-11)
A Maturing Woman (12-13)
Gabrielle's Staff (14-15)
Costume Analysis (16-17)
A Once and Future Tree (18)

Gabrielle's Relationship To Trees


I... Hate... Spiders...

Renee O'Connor emotes heavily during the tree bashing scene in THE GREATER GOOD.

[1] Gabrielle's development from tag-along to genuine friend in Xena: Warrior Princess can be traced in many ways. In this paper, we will explore this issue by specifically looking at Gabrielle and her interaction with three particular trees in the episodes, DREAMWORKER (03/103), THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), and RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205).


[2] The young girl we saw at the beginning of DREAMWORKER (03/103), who was laying into a tree stump with Xena's sword, was an inexperienced and unskilled fighter. She was playing with the sword after borrowing it from Xena to get firewood. Gabrielle was pretending to be a warrior and playfully attacking an unarmed tree stump, getting the sword stuck in the process. Shortly after this, we saw the effects of picking up the sword: Gabrielle became a target the moment she had the sword in her hands. This light-hearted encounter with a tree was an illustration of her youthful attitude toward weapons and fighting. Also, the scene was presented as playful and humorous.


[3] In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), Gabrielle once again attacked a tree, but this memorable scene was a far different encounter for both tree and bard. Gabrielle believed Xena to be dead, and while she bravely held herself together to discuss with Salmoneus what was to be, she afterwards was seen to hurry out and grab her staff from Argo's saddlebag. In the very next scene, we saw her take out her grief on the tree, beating and beating it in her frustration and anger. Gabrielle's sorrow and woe were given a physical outlet.

[4] Later in the episode, we saw Gabrielle, as never before (and never again), doing a very convincing Xena impression as she fought off countless baddies to try to save Xena's body from being desecrated. However, that slightly wobbly tree will not forget Gabrielle, and her frenzied, grief-stricken attack.

[5] This scene was highly emotional, and we, the viewers, shared Gabrielle's feelings. Xena dead!?! In this excellent episode, highlights included the drama of Xena's apparent death, Gabrielle's immediate reaction to it, the scene where she viewed Xena's "body", and her tree whacking, which were all touchingly portrayed.


Now Staring in Karate Kid 5...

Trees take it on the chin once more by Renee in RETURN OF CALLISTO.

[6] The RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) was a highly eventful episode for Gabrielle. Her tree encounter came after Callisto had murdered her husband of one day, Perdicus. Gabrielle, who attacked a tree again, had a sword in her hands once more, but this time she meant business. Gabrielle was transformed by anger rather than grief, and she certainly attacked the tree with purpose before demanding that Xena teach her the sword. This was a Gabrielle whose uncharacteristic rage and desire for revenge was quite clear.

[7] In another, later development, Gabrielle was ultimately unable to kill in cold blood, even when she had the strongest of motives. This purity of heart was what made her then and now such an appealing character to many fans.

An Inexperienced Girl

[8] DREAMWORKER (03/103) was the third episode of the first season of Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena had been established as a figure with a dark past. Her struggle for redemption and her efforts to atone for the past were the core of the series. The character of Gabrielle was introduced in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), the first Xena: Warrior Princess episode. Gabrielle was a young and idealistic girl, who was looking for adventure, but was clearly not much of a fighter. We know that because her younger sister, Lila, was able to beat her up and laughed at Gabrielle's idea of becoming a warrior.

[9] DREAMWORKER (03/103) showed Gabrielle fascinated with Xena's warrior ways, but quite ignorant of the consequences of fighting and killing. In the previous two episodes, she had not been involved in a fight at all. She was clearly the innocent, but in this episode, she learned a little from Xena about the rules of fighting and the consequences of taking a life. It was an education that continued for Gabrielle all the way through the series, climaxing in the third season's THE DELIVERER (50/304). Gabrielle's words to Xena at the end of THE DELIVERER mirrored the speech from Xena at the end of DREAMWORKER.

A Grieving Young Woman

[10] THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) was one of my favorite episodes, and was quite a favorite amongst many other fans as well. It was a very important episode for Gabrielle in that she was virtually on her own for the first time (she had a little practice in THE PRODIGAL (18/118), but THE GREATER GOOD was her first real solo effort). With Xena supposedly dead, she got to be the hero. Gabrielle had been very much the sidekick, however, and this episode forced her into a different situation. She handled it very well.

[11] Gabrielle's outpouring of feeling when she pounded that tree showed us this character in a way we had not seen her before. From being largely comic relief or damsel in distress, she was now elevated to the status of last, best hope for the villagers. No useless sobbing for Gabrielle, just the physical release of the tree whacking and then on to the vital business at hand of trying to save the villagers.

A Maturing Woman

[12] By looking at the woman attacking the tree in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), it becomes clear that Gabrielle changed a great deal from DREAMWORKER's (03/103) impressionable young thing. There was a real edge to her actions in the later episode, and she was serious in her intent to kill Callisto. She also succeeded in making Xena teach her about sword fighting, unlike in DREAMWORKER. Gabrielle had already experienced many things through her time with Xena, and this episode marked one of her lowest points (at least until season three's THE DELIVERER [50/304] and GABRIELLE'S HOPE [51/305]). Gabrielle was a traumatized widow, as she was, in a way, in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) because a person she cared deeply about had been killed. In both cases, Gabrielle took out her feelings on the trees, but in RETURN OF CALLISTO, it was controlled anger rather than grief-stricken frenzy.

[13] The coldness of Gabrielle's actions and words worried Xena. She was able to channel that grief in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), but her determined plan of attack, although genuinely justified, was doomed to failure against the psychotic Callisto, not because of any strategic weakness in her scheme, but because of her humanity and gentleness of spirit.

Gabrielle's Staff

Leg or thigh?

Ephiny points out Centaur vital spots in HOOVES AND HARLOTS.

[14] Perhaps Gabrielle's weapon of choice, the wooden staff, can be viewed as a sign of her developing maturity. She certainly grows in competence with the weapon. As a weapon, it is not as deadly as the sword or bow and arrow, symbolic of Gabrielle's less deadly nature. However, the fighting staff was shown to be a crippling weapon by Ephiny in the episode, HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110). Gabrielle may not kill, but her staff could certainly do quite a bit of damage.

[15] It was interesting to note that when Gabrielle did kill, it was not with her staff, and it was in an entirely man-made building, rather than the more usual woods and trees where she and Xena live and fight. Some of Gabrielle's worst moments seemed to occur when she was away from the woods and trees: the stone temple of Dahak, the distant kingdom of Chin, the temple at Thessaly where she almost died, the seasickness when she took to the water, the snowy mountain cabin where Xena died or the rocky canyon where Gabrielle was almost run over and suffered a crisis of confidence.

Costume Analysis

Keep your hands off my tomatoes!

It's an imperfect fit in THE GREATER GOOD.

[16] Gabrielle's development can be seen in many different ways, and it was no coincidence that another sign of her maturation was also present in these tree encounters. Gabrielle, in DREAMWORKER (03/103), was still a village girl, and her peasant outfit conveyed this. In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), Gabrielle wore her tan Amazon outfit. She was a fledgling staff fighter as Argo found out at the start of the episode. In the tree scene though, she was wearing Xena's leathers after impersonating Xena. Perhaps this could be seen as the aggressive, warrior side of Gabrielle's nature making itself known -- she certainly got to fight in this episode. Or maybe her heroics in saving Xena and the villagers meant that she was worthy to wear the hero's costume for once.

[17] In RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), Gabrielle wore the infamous BGSB or bilious green sports bra (the much discussed and, frankly, rather horrid outfit that emphasized her much stronger, sculpted physique). Gabrielle was no weedy peasant girl now, and she looked like the strong and capable fighter that she had become.

A Once and Future Tree

[18] How much further will the character of Gabrielle develop? Only the powers that be and time can tell us, but let's hope she gets close to some trees again soon. To make this paper complete, I would like to see later episodes with Gabrielle climbing trees (symbolic of overcoming difficulties with a new confidence), chopping down an old tree (symbolic of taking control of her life and breaking away from the shackles of her former village existence), or perhaps, planting trees (symbolic of her nurturing of new hope and helping the cycle of life to continue). What are the chances? We will have to wait and see.


Catherine O'Grady Catherine O'Grady
Catherine O'Grady is a primary school teacher in Coventry, England. A boring evening just over a year ago lead to a chance viewing of THE GREATER GOOD, and an addiction was born. A keen movie buff and guitarist, Cath spends most of her free time working on her Xena web page or e-mailing friends around the world.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT I & 11 (52, 53/306,307), THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), THE QUEST (37/213), THE GREATER GOOD (21/121).
Favorite line: Meg as Xena: "I need your sword in my service RIGHT NOW!" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206); Lao Ma: "You've been dead a long time Xena, I'm offering you a chance to live." THE DEBT II (53/307)
First episode seen: THE GREATER GOOD (21/121)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216)

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