The Problem (01-02)
The Client (03-04)
Why Xena? (05)
The Q&A (06-50)
Xena is more action than talk at the beginning of THE BITTER SUITE.
 As I sit here listening to The Bitter Suite: A Musical Odyssey CD (Varese Sarabande, 1998) for the umpteenth time, considering having a Xena-fest with my tapes instead of working on the novel I am trying to finish, I ask myself yet once again: Why Xena? This question, so simple in its structure yet so complex in its answer, has been tormenting me for weeks. What is it about this show that has so totally captivated me? My daughter calls me "obsessed". The grandchildren know to leave Nana alone during the Xena hour, which, thanks to satellite television, is daily. My computer is an altar to this Warrior Princess. The music is in my mind and on my lips daily. What is going on here?
 Having been a mental health counselor for many years, perhaps it is time to look at this from a clinical perspective. First, a little history on the "client".
The Client The client is a 52-year-old female, semi-retired, recovering fairly well from the breakup of a 16-year relationship. Her daughter and two of three grandchildren now live with her in a small home in the Pacific Northwest. She is a writer by avocation, enjoys music, especially classical, and watches television only to see specific shows. She is extremely well educated, of above average intelligence, and has a compassionate heart. She spent several years as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, and even more years as a grief counselor and lecturer.
 She has never been a rabid fan of anyone or anything. The Beatles passed her by unnoticed, movie stars bore her, politicians disgust her, and she generally finds solace and release in mysticism and good historical fiction. She has never been to a fan convention, has never collected show/star paraphernalia, although she does admit to having a pretty complete scrapbook on Mary Martin, which she started at the age of 10. Nevertheless, even when she saw Ms. Martin twice, there was no desire to meet her.
Why Xena? Interestingly, it is not Lucy Lawless that is the object of the obsession. It is Xena. When questioned, the client responded: "Well, there's no denying that Lucy Lawless is a beautiful woman, but so are thousands of others. However, you see, there is no other Xena. She is a one-of-a-kind, never to be duplicated or repeated."
 Would you go to a Xena convention?
Lucy is pensive at the 1998 Burbank convention.
 No. What would I find there? A lot of noise and claustrophobia. Moreover, if Lucy Lawless did show up, would she be Lucy or Xena? She would, of course, be Lucy, and it is Xena that I would want to see. No, I will stay home and be content with my tapes and CDs.
 In other words, you will be content with a fantasy life?
 That is, I suppose, one way of looking at it, but on the other hand, maybe Xena is real and we are the fantasy!
 You say you are a reader of historical fiction. Is Xena historically accurate?
 Far from it. Time and reality have no meaning in this show. There is not an episode that does not have some incongruous anomaly, or downright misrepresentation of historical reality.
 For example?
 That is the subject of another IAXS article, but for now, I refer you to Battle On! An Unauthorized, Irreverent Look At Xena: Warrior Princess by Greg Cox (New York: Roc, 1998).
 Therefore, it is not the historicity that hooked you.
 Nope! It goes much deeper than that.
 Is it the subtext, the possible relationship between Xena and her companion, Gabrielle?
One of the most downloaded images by subtext fans.
 Now, that is a good question, and one I pondered for a long time. I fully admit that it is refreshing to see something that free on television. Whether the relationship exists or not, these two women have a bond that is evident for all to see, and no one is ashamed of it. Are they lesbians? I have no idea, but they certainly enjoy leaving the question in our minds, don't they?
 Would it change your opinion of the show if they were openly lesbian?
 (Laughing) Oh, come on. If they were openly lesbian no one would know because it would be yanked from the airwaves so fast, we would never see the episode that proclaimed it. No, it is much better to leave the audience guessing. That way everyone can read into it what they need to see and believe.
 Don't you think they are?
 I did not say that. I said I did not know, and that is the truth. More to the point, I do not care. A person's sexual preference is an issue between that person and his/her partner. I am of the opinion of "Don't peek into my bedroom, and I won't peek into yours". It is none of my business, but the friendship, the willingness to go through anything for a friend, now that interests me. It is not something one sees very often. Our society has come to the point of paying lip service to friendship. Tell me, Counselor, do you have a friend you would literally die for, follow to the ends of the earth, and give up your family and everything you ever knew, to be with?
 Let us keep the focus on you, shall we?
 Coward! That is my point! Xena presents an image of what would be wonderful: to have a friendship that deep, that true, that willing to sacrifice everything. Is it perfect? Far from it, but it touches the heart, doesn't it? Be Gabrielle for a moment. Xena is a woman of incomparable strength and courage. She has seen all the evil of life and is trying to turn her back on it. She has known power and wealth, but she has left it behind to try to correct some of the terrible things she did. What a role model to follow!
 Now, be Xena. Gabrielle has the innocence you lost. She can still see the world as a beautiful place and people as inherently good, something you threw away years ago. In addition, she adores you. Can you let her down? Can you trample all of that in the dirt and return to your evil ways? Would that be the ultimate betrayal? So you see, the friendship must and does supersede everything else.
 However, what about the violence?
Xena went medieval on Gabrielle.
 What about it? Take a good look at it. Yes, occasionally you see blood, but nothing like what you can find in the movies. Moreover, most of the time Xena is not trying to kill. The sword and chakram are used only when there is no other alternative. Does she enjoy a good fight? Yes, she does, but is it the violence she enjoys or the challenge of being able to take care of herself in a violent world? Talk to women today who have taken self-defense courses. They are not going out and smashing heads for the joy of it. They take tremendous pride in the knowledge that they are no longer victims, that they can hold their own, and, yes, get a few good licks in besides. Remember, too, Xena is a healer as well as a warrior, and she is not above sharing her skills with the very people she has just thrashed.
 Is it her dark side that intrigues you?
 Not in the way I think you mean it. I do not like the fact that Xena was a warlord and did not care about human life. Oh, sure, she supposedly told her troops to spare the women and children, but obviously, that did not always happen, did it? I have watched the Hercules "Xena Trilogy" many times now, and I am still not certain what changed her. I would not expect that it was running the gauntlet [THE GAUNTLET (H12/112)] that did it. The old Xena would have simply left and created a new army and then had lots of bloody fun with the men who beat her. I suppose the relationship with Hercules helped, but remember, she was still ready to skewer him after running the gauntlet. Greg Cox sums it up nicely when he says of UNCHAINED HEART (H13/113): "To be honest, Xena seems to have mellowed too much". (pg. 26) Of course, who knows what happened between the time of the gauntlet and the time she teamed up with Hercules?
 The main point is that something happened, and this something was accentuated in the opening scenes of SINS OF THE PAST (01/101). The village she rode through was her past, full of death, destruction, and human suffering. Then she buried her armor, only to find she needs it again to do the good she wanted to do. Therefore, an unarmed woman, regardless of her fighting skills, is not as effective a warrior as is an armed one. Okay, that makes sense.
 So, yes, there will be violence, head bashing, sword spitting, and other various methods of self-defense, including employing frying pans, but Xena does not seek it. She does not turn away when it comes to her, but she does not run around the countryside either hiring out her sword like a mercenary.
 Do you see Xena as inherently good?
 Heavens, no! If she were, she would be just like Hercules, and he bores me. No, Xena is more as I am, as most of us are, I would suppose. In the last half-century I can look back and see a lot of things I did wrong, people I hurt, some intentionally I'm sorry to say, paths I wish I had not taken, others I wish I had.
 I have spent years learning to control a very nasty temper, and can still startle my daughter occasionally with some good old Marine Corps Grunt lingo when it is most effective. I have learned to take my violent side out in my writing or beating on a pillow because I do not want to hurt anyone. However, I do have a license to carry a concealed weapon and do so for protection. Yes, I have that side I do not especially like, and I admire Xena because she is not afraid of hers. Ashamed, perhaps, but not afraid. She has faced the truth of who she was and what she did, and she has decided to make things right as best she can.
 Do you think we are all seeking some sort of redemption?
 Aren't we? Is that not an integral part of religion? We are all flawed. It is a part of our makeup, and only the truly brave can look at themselves and say, "Hey, flawed human being that I am, I forgive me", and mean it. Speaking strictly for myself, it is much easier for me to forgive others than it is to forgive myself, for I have to live with my faults daily. They face me every morning in the mirror.
 You said initially that you listen frequently to THE BITTER SUITE CD. Why is that? Does it compare with the classical music you enjoy?
The cover of the second XENA CD.
 Perhaps not with Mozart or Beethoven, but it certainly does with Miklos Rozsa and John Williams. I think Joseph LoDuca has done a wonderful job with Xena in general, but particularly with THE BITTER SUITE. And while we're at it, let's not overlook the lyricists, fully bards in their own right: Pamela Phillips Oland, Steven L. Sears, Chris Manheim, Dennis Spiegel, and, of course, Joseph LoDuca. I had to laugh when Greg Cox referred to the "Hate" number as "dopey".
 I take it you did not find it "dopey"?
 Far from it. Pamela Phillips Oland has written a perfect description of what happens to people who allow hatred to control their lives.
"It begins very small Then Dennis Spiegel chimes in with "Hearts are Hurting, Part Two", and, admittedly, touches my heart every time with the lines "I never dreamed that any barriers could rise, Or that I'd ever see the stranger in your eyes". It has been a year since my partner left me for another, and still those words ring with truth in my heart and soul.
Seems like nothing much at all.
Just a germ, just a speck, just a grain
But the seed has been sown
And before you know it's grown.
It has spread through your life like a stain.
And its power will strangle your love and your joy
And its hunger consumes for it lives to destroy.
"Hate is the star. It becomes who you are.
Not the hated but the hater
Has a torment that's greater.
It will eat you alive, consume you and spit you out.
Hate's gonna win, that there's no doubt about.
Hate doesn't care who you are - hate is the star!
"Learning hate is an art.
Even people who are smart
Can be caught, can be crushed, can be creamed.
Hate has swallowed you whole.
Did you think you're in control?
Hate you thought, hate you spoke, hate you dreamed.
All your hate gave me substance, your lives are undone.
It's your eve of destruction,
Your hatred has won!"
 Then, of course, Joseph LoDuca caps everything off with "The Love of Your Love". How many of us could ever imagine seeing Xena on her knees begging for forgiveness, pleading with Gabrielle not to leave her. If you will recall, in FORGIVEN (60/314), Xena knew her forgiveness had to come from within, and she was not ready to make that leap of faith, pardon the pun. By the end of THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), she was.
 Of course, the wonderful subtext message is also there:
"Forgive if not forget Yes, she is asking for forgiveness from Gabrielle, but she had to forgive herself first.
I know it's not too late.
Forgive me and you'll discover too
That the love of your love is you."
 What do you think of Lucy Lawless as a singer?
 Glorious. She has a depth and range that was totally unexpected. I think most of us knew when we saw THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) that Renee O'Connor did not do her own singing. (It was evident in FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318) and several other episodes that O'Connor is not a singer.) However, this does nothing to detract from her performance. I think Susan Wood did a magnificent job of coming very close to Renee O'Connor's true voice, just as Michele Nicastro did with Hudson Leick. A terrific job all the way around.
 You have not mentioned Callisto until now. What do you think of her?
 The stock answer, I suppose, is "evil personified", but even at that I have to wonder. Callisto could be a topic of psychoanalysis for years. She has all the ear-marks of a true psycho/sociopath, and yet... One still has to wonder: Is she merely the mirror image of Xena as she once was? Yin/Yang? Is she a gift from the gods to remind Xena of what she almost became? It has taken me a long time to become accepting of Callisto. She is who and what she is, and nothing will change her. Will she stay dead? Highly unlikely. She is too good a character to toss aside so easily. She certainly is not someone I would invite over for tea, but then I doubt if I would invite Xena either. Gabrielle is a definite maybe.
 So, 2500 words later, "Why Xena?"
 Because she is a well-written, well-constructed character who stays within her boundaries, whether in serious drama or slapstick humor. Because I can look at Xena and admire the strength I wish I had and the courage to be oneself in a changing world of conflict. Because with her help I can look into my own past and learn to forgive not only those who have harmed me, but I can forgive myself for having harmed others. Because the subtext is there, whether true or not, and it gives me hope that there will eventually be other shows which are not afraid to deal with it and have strong, independent women as their main character. But most of all, Xena speaks to a truth in this world that we often overlook: We have the power to recreate ourselves every day, to put aside yesterday, be done with what was, and to Battle On! for our humanity, pride, and dignity. Is that all, Counselor?
 Yes. That will be five cents, please.
ReferencesCox, Greg. Battle On! An Unauthorized, Irreverent Look At Xena: Warrior Princess (New York: ROC, Penguin Group, 1998).
Nan has lived an interesting life, having obtained two Masters degrees, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, worked in major industry, and been a counselor/teacher. She is currently semi-retired and shares her home with her daughter, two grandchildren, two dogs, and a cat. She is deeply involved in researching and writing a novel of historical fiction. Her primary area of interest includes the period of XWP, which may account for her unusual obsession with the show, although she admits to nit-picking it at times for lack of historical accuracy. Her immediate goal: "Finish the #%&* book!"
Favorite episode: THE RECKONING (06/106); A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Soldier: "Words of wisdom Ares said --" Ares: "When in battle, keep your head!" THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)
First episode seen: THE DEBT (52/306)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216)