The Attraction (01-02)
From the Beginning... (06-11)
The Kiss (12-16)
Chemistry and "Oomph" (17-19)
More Subtext (20-30)
"Moving Beyond" (31-39)
True Love (40-44)
"Things Happen" (45-53)
The Future (59-60)
Kisses and "That" (61-63)
The Attraction We all have our stories to tell. Some of us find a natural medium in writing or painting. Others find it in the creation of TV shows.
 There are so many things that I enjoy about Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP). I have enjoyed the storylines, for the most part. I have enjoyed the good comedy and sometimes even the bad comedy. I have been enthralled by the drama and the reclaiming of mythology. I have seen myself in the character's roles, from Xena the mighty warrior, to Gabrielle the queenly bard, to even poor Joxer the klutz. Most of all, however, I have been caught up in the subtext, in watching the relationship of two powerful women grow and develop.
A touching moment in a day in the life of a Kick and her Sidekick.
Subtext For me it has been the belief that, because these two women love each other and are in love with each other, they can overcome anything and everything that stands in their way. It has been what has made the show watchable, even in the most horrific moments. I know they will overcome, somehow, together.
 I have to admit to being extremely alarmed when I first heard that the actors and the writers saying that they believed the show was moving beyond subtext. The notion scared me because that was, to me, the whole theme of the show. Yes, I could see the other stuff happening. Xena deals with her dark side and with the changes in her heart, while Gabrielle learns wisdom as she evolves from tagalong to seeker. The storylines were interesting, but when they were not, it was the subtext that kept me hanging in there.
 At first, it sounded to me like they were going to stop the subtext entirely. Suddenly, a lot of the passion I had for the show just up and vanished. I found myself dropping projects that I had been playing with because I was too busy trying to swallow this bitter pill. Subtext was my reason for watching the show. If it was gone, to be no more, there was no reason for me to continue participating in the fandom, at least not to the lengths I had been going to. Only my sense of obligation and the hope that I had just misunderstood, kept me going.
From the Beginning... To understand where I am coming from it might help to know the beginning. Truthfully, I had heard that Xena: Warrior Princess was for kids. I had seen one bit of fluff from an episode that involved a girl trying to talk to some giants, Cyclopes, or something out of doing a bad thing [THE TITANS (07/107)]. She was a virgin, from what I gathered about the conversation. All I really saw was this young woman in a long peasant skirt talking, and I flipped the channel. It was yet another adventure story. Ho hum. How boring. Yet, another hack and slash live action show hyped up for kids and dumbed down for the families. I was so not interested.
 Little did I know that I had passed up an opportunity for early involvement with one of the greatest love stories on television. I had passed up on subtext without even knowing it.
 It wasn't until much later that two things happened: first, my mother, who knows me better than I think sometimes, said, "You have got to watch this show. You would love it". She told me all about it. There was this kick-*ss hero, she had a cool buddy, and some of the stories were interesting. I promised with crossed fingers to watch it.
 I bet you can hear me now, "SUUURE, I'll watch it mom...". My smile was about that fake too. Mom just shook her head, "You'll like it. Believe me." As soon as the conversation was over, I had forgotten all about it.
 Then, a couple of days later, I was busy doing something and my sister called me into the front room to help fold some clothes. It was dark outside. The only light was the colors from television. I remember sitting down on our comfortable couch, slouching forward and down a bit to grab a shirt and saying, "What you watching?"
 My sister shrugged, still holding the remote control in her hand, "Xena". "Oh," I said, not even looking up, "That's the show Mom wants me to watch. Leave it here". I figured this was the easy way to keep a promise I should not have made. I would fold the clothes, call mom later, say I had watched the show, and be off the hook.
The most famous graphic of the show.
 Not too much later, I was sitting back in the couch with a glazed look in my eye and astonishment in my heart. Xena had just kissed Gabrielle, after one of the most tender and loving reunion scenes I had ever seen. That was when I knew how wrong I was. That was when I knew that this show was different. It was beyond kid and family kick-butt adventure. It was romance. My sister turned to me with her eyes wide, "Did they just kiss?" I found myself nodding my head kind of dumbly and going, "Oh yeah, they sure did."
 Of course, I had not exactly seen the kiss. I had assumed the kiss from the way Autolycus was continuing it, but I knew that was the real thing. Wow! How very cool! I instantly wanted more. More MORE MORE!
 Now do not mind me. I suppose it is kind of a silly thing to get excited about. It was, after all, just a kiss. Deep Space Nine (REJOINED) had done a female to female kiss, and it had not moved me nearly as much. Nevertheless, this one, this kiss I did not recover from. I mean, I had seen the movie Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990). This episode was obviously a tribute. This was telling me that I was watching a story with a continuing line of love between its main characters. I found myself making all sorts of emotional-cultural connections with this storyline. Here was a story of a love so deep that she came back. I had discovered, THE QUEST (37/213).
 Some folks may think that I was ecstatic over this because there were two women involved, but the truth is, I was attracted to the electricity of the moment. The filming and the cleverness of the script enthused me. I was pulled into to the humor, which was just off the cuff enough to catch me off guard and subtle enough to not offend. I felt like I had just been clued into a "neato" not-so secret.
 Yes, the two women kissing was an exciting bonus because it took the story beyond the mundane of a male and female kissing. That kind of kissing you can see everyday if you want, turn to any soap opera. Nevertheless, it is not often as romantic as this one, tender, "I'm-returning-from-the-dead-because-I-love-you" kiss. XWP, of course, is much better than soap opera.
Chemistry and "Oomph"
Pre-Myceneaen hygiene was fun and practical.
 With the next episode, A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), I became a convert, which is why this article sounds so much like a testimonial. This episode had these two women bickering like an old couple, communing in a tub with flashes of teasing eroticism, flirting with each other, and dealing with a stubborn crush - like longtime best friend, girlfriend, spousal units. In my eyes they were a couple on the road, having adventure with oomph. You know the oomph I am talking about. The sexual, passionate chemistry oomph. The love oomph.
 I adored the show, Hart To Hart (TV, 1979-1984), a show that started with the chemistry assumed. The folks were married, sexual, and passionate, and the actors liked each other enough that the energy just carried off the screen and into the living room. Dharma And Greg (TV, 1997- ) is another excellent example of a good chemistry show. True, they are not action adventure, but the underlying theme of love for one another, come thick or thin, is there. It is the idea that there could be fun after coupledom, that you did not have to be single (though single is good too) to have a good time, or an adventure. The energy on XWP has that kind of feel.
 I was in love with a TV show. It validated everything I thought could be possible: true love is for everyone, and it can overcome the "odds".
More Subtext A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) was not enough. I went looking for more because I had to have a Xena-fix immediately. I got on the Internet and found my answer. I found Mecca! Actually it was just discussions about subtext (and of course, fan fiction...)
 Now subtext is defined as an underlying possible theme. Subtext lays in wait for the viewer and ambushes them from the side. If you catch the subtext right away, then you are aware of another dimension to a show, play, or story. In the case of XWP, we were supposedly dealing with lesbian or bisexual subtext. This was the idea that because these two women traveled together, they were lovers, and this was their story, cleverly disguised as action adventure television.
Yet another candid moment during the many travels of Xena and Gabrielle.
 I was hip to that. Most people I talked to were hip to that. Moreover, most were enjoying it. Of course, some were not. Huge debates raged over the subtext issue, from whether it even existed, to whether it should exist, to whether they just ought to kiss and get it over with.
 It is funny what happens in people's head when you use the words "lesbian", "bisexual", or "gay". Everything changes, everything. The person you are talking to, if they are not prepared, starts thinking about sex. See, it is not just the sex they think about. It's the implications of the sex they start thinking about. It is about the idea of a passion that cannot be controlled by "normal" circumstances, or them. People are uncomfortable around passion, except in a few safe places. Passion for church, passion for work, and passion for state are okay. However, passion between people, oh that has to be monitored, and it should happen only in controlled circumstances.
 Of course, passion (i.e. love) goes way beyond those controlled situations and takes people of all ages, races, creeds, and orientation by surprise. Worse still, you cannot tell love what to do. It happens in the heart, where all is secret.
 Perhaps the problem was in how people were defining the subtext in XWP. Some were using the word "lesbian" and not following through with the whole thought. They are getting stuck on one aspect of what being lesbian or bisexual is about: wildly erotic, passionate sex.
 Of course, being bisexual or lesbian is much more than having sex. Much like being in love, or simply loving, is much more than its erotic component. Meanwhile, all "that," the erotic, was supposed to happen off screen, but the subtexters also looked for the bonuses the writers put in the scripts. Moreover, it was fun. In addition, it was successful. It was subtext with a kick and a high flip. However, there was a problem I guess.
 It was also obvious. Not only that, it did not stop with just one episode. Why? Because it was so natural to the characters, that subtext was unavoidable. It was the expression of life and love, in its totality, between two women.
The 2nd most famous graphic.
 No wonder some people railed against the subtext. Love is a force inclusive of all sorts of passions, including sex, hate, hurt, joy, tenderness, hope, and much anything that makes our world move. Love between anyone is so marvelously generous and whole, that it is uncontrollable, undefinable, and often erotic - even if it is just between friends. But then, Xena and Gabrielle are much more than friends. They are soulmates.
 If subtext is defined solely as sexual interaction rather than as being about love, which is inclusive of sex and other physical intimacies, it becomes a "wink wink, nudge nudge" kind of thing. It becomes a joke that, if it is overused, becomes threatening. Our culture has a thing about sex. They take it very seriously, and many folks have prejudices.
 I do not mean that badly. We all have our expectations of the norm. When that gets fooled with, we tend to overreact. It's a natural habit designed into us by nature/God so we do not go around eating poisonous berries. Fortunately, we've also got innate curiosity and the ability to cogitate about things enough to make our own decisions in life and go beyond what is perceived as "normal". If we could not do that, we would not even have television.
"Moving Beyond" Anyhow, I could make many guesses about why "the Powers That Be", the actors, and the writers started disavowing subtext, but the truth is I do not really know. They just started saying they were moving "beyond that". It got lost in the translation somewhere. To move "beyond" something is to go forward and past it. I understood the concept of beyond. I just was not sure what that was.
 What was "that"? Subtext? But what kind of subtext? In addition, how far "beyond" were we talking? Heck, what kind of "beyond" were we talking? Were they saying that they were finally moving things into maintext? Were they saying that our heroes were just going through a phase and were going to stick with men now? Were they talking storylines? What was "that?"
Ellen and XWP If "that" was the lesbian love subtext and coming out, then The Powers That Be had a problem on their hands. Xena and Gabrielle were way past Ellen (TV, 1994-1998). Xena and Gabrielle had the long term, slow-build-up-of-energy thing going. They had coupledom down. Watching them was like having a kick*ss cup of cappuccino, (or an unbelievably good Godiva chocolate, liquor kiss), while Ellen's adventure was a bit like taking big swigs of Jolt cola and Vivarin. Of course, Ellen was not telling the same kind of story either. While Xena: Warrior Princess was telling the story of the lover, Ellen was telling the story of the rush that is "Coming Out" in our times. It was heady and uncertain, and it scared people. No surprise there. Coming Out is always scary.
 It is, as a friend who writes stories pointed out to me a long time ago, all in the delivery. The love story between Xena and Gabrielle, which was there from the first moment the characters saw each other, was working already. A natural eroticism occurred when those two lovely women interacted together in loving ways. But the hickey moments (as in BEEN THERE DONE THAT) were fun too and just added spice.
 If Ellen was about "Coming Out", then Xena: Warrior Princess was indeed "Beyond That". The characters were beyond a lesbian (as orientation) definition. They were about being lovers (or just women who love each other) and dealing with the trials and adventures of life. Love was in constant evidence and getting deeper as time passed. After ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), where Xena fought against the Persian Army to exhaustion for Gabrielle, subtext flew happily out the window.
 AHA!! Subtext became maintext. Moreover, the maintext was about love. Xena: Warrior Princess has always been about love and redemption, so I do not really see how they moved "Beyond" anything that was not there in the beginning.
 Therefore, we are just back where we started. If subtext equals the love between two women for each other, then has that lessened? Hmm, good question. Maybe it is not so much that it has lessened, but rather how the actors/writers/Powers That Be have been demonstrating that love.
 I think it may be that love tends to come out of left field. Here is this heartening, enduring emotion that tackles you when you least expect it. It's a bit like a huge puppy, at first, all enthusiastic and slobbery, leaving pawprints on the chest and wet kisses on the face. Moreover, once it is started, love is hard to stop. Love is, by nature, passionate as well as tender.
 I adore the opening credits of XWP. They start talking about "the power" and "the passion", and there is this one image that, if you didn't know who Xena was approaching with desire plastered on her face, you'd could interpret that body as either a guy or a girl. That is d*mn cool: even the credits are subtextual.
And Xena likes what she does!
 Xena: Warrior Princess took everyone by surprise. I do not think they really intended the show to become a story about true love between women - at least, not in the romantic sense. That just happened, the way love happens. However, they should have seen it coming. They started with a romantic premise borrowed from ancient times:
"And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for wither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." Now, I don't know about you, but I know a lot of couples, married and fun (given our current political silliness) who have some form of Ruth's promise on their wall. Usually it is in cross-stitch. Often it's a gift that's been given as a reminder to the couples that love is enduring and that it separates you from others as you join together. It is, although Ruth ends up marrying someone else so she can have babies and economic security, a "'til death do us part" statement. This is why many persons who have nontraditional relationships relate to the story. Lovers of all kinds know what it is like to leave their "country", or previous known situations, to join with the beloved wherever they go. The story of Ruth and Naomi is the story of love and us.
 Now at the beginning of the show when Gabrielle joins up with Xena, she does not quite go to the "'til death do us part" distance. After all, they just met each other. However, she does make the entreaty, and she is granted her wish. Gabrielle is the neophyte bard, questing after knowledge and power, drawn into Xena's circle by attraction. Xena is the world-weary warrior drawn to the light and the passion of those viridian (or hazel, there has been a bit of a debate) eyes. Those who see love-text in the show see the very first eye contact scene as THE scene where soulmates acknowledge their common path, and the seed of love is planted. After that, the adventures they had are only logical, in a mythical kind of way. The story becomes about the lessons of love one gains in a lifetime.
 We human beings are all experts on love. We know it when we see it, but we do not always recognize the quality or type of love that we may perceive. We do not always know if it is conjugal or sisterly or sibling or kin or friendship, but we know it is love. If someone is hugging another somebody very tightly, well, we know they like that person pretty well. However, lovers of all types recognize their own journey when they see it acted out in XWP.
Xena and Gabrielle in BEEN THERE DONE THAT.
 We feel the connection when Xena weeps in total need over Gabrielle's dead body, or, for that matter, when Gabrielle mourns at Xena's coffin, and we know the disappointment when Gabrielle misses the look of adoration on Xena's face because of self-absorption. Lovers who are committed to each other have been on the journey where they must deal with the ugly and unbecoming experience of illness and bickering. They have also dealt with the annoying tagalong sibling (Hi Joxer) and the rival (eep, it is Najara!) We have comforted our lovers while they wept (what subtexter does not know about the fire scene?) and laughed when they have done something silly. Love, like fate, is the thread that binds souls together.
Finding time for a few winks.
"Things Happen" Still things happen, especially on TV shows. Despite our high-falutin vision of love, love is often contentious, jealous, petty, and vulgar. Love, as a doing, contains the mundane. It can even contain hatred. Hatred is not necessarily the opposite of love. Someone shouting, "I HATE YOU," can still love the person at whom they are shouting. Love, the feeling, is what enriches our experience and takes it beyond pettiness and vulgarity. However, the one criterion which is inherent in love is that it endures. No one wants to see the kind of trouble that can break or bend true love. As soon as love ceases to endure, or rather ceases to express its ability to stand outside of time and self, it ceases to be love.
 So we want things rosy, but the truth is that love is often tested beyond what we expect or can handle. No wonder people hated it and dropped away from watching the show when Xena and Gabrielle "broke up". They could handle Xena giving up Gabrielle to Perdicus because that was noble and exactly what love would do, but when they saw their mythical icons, the lovers, seeming to wreak insurmountable havoc upon themselves, people couldn't watch the show anymore. They thought the love story was over, or rather, the romance of the story.
 Harold S. Kushner, in How Good Do We Have To Be: A New Understanding Of Guilt And Forgiveness, notes that marriage is often based on romantic love, which is kind of fragile. During the period of early romantic love, people tend to see each other as "perfect". We build a faith in ourselves based on the idea that we must be lovable because someone loves us. When that sense of perfection disappears, our first impulse is to decide that the marriage is over and that the person we're with obviously wasn't the one. (102)
 The other option is to forgive. Kushner calls it choosing happiness over righteousness: "But if romantic attraction is the basis for love among courting couples, it is no long-term basis on which to build a marriage. The illusion of perfection in the other will not last. And that is why the essence of marital love is not romance but forgiveness".
 XWP probably could have done with a long-term ongoing story of Xena and Gabrielle "working things out" after the entire trauma they were put through. After all, there are couples in the world who have lost their children and have not made it. It might have been nice to see our heroines work it out with all the bickering, the heartbreak, and the angst that can accompany the wrenching period of transition between early forms of romance and mature forms of love and romance.
 I happen to think there are two kinds of romance. The first is the "blush and rush" of attraction, and then the mature love that includes romance and eroticism and forgiveness is "wiselove". Wiselove is cumulative. It is inclusive of the erotic and built by life experience. It is a very human expression of love, containing both its purities (our highest aspirations) and its vulgarities (somebody has to change the diapers, eh).
 Anyhow, they, the writers and Powers That Be, chose to hurry up the healing by using symbology and song to push the story forward. I could understand that. This is, after all, modern myth. They needed symbology to explain how the women were able to overcome all that horror. I guess, even to the writers, the heartbreak must have seemed insurmountable. There is, however, an interesting message to be gotten from their solution. It was that healing is possible, and yes, that love endures and forgives.
 So then we moved on in the season and watched as Xena and Gabrielle leaned more on one another. They declared their love for each other, touched each other with tenderness, and were working with each other, even on the bad days - mostly. These may be mythic characters, but they were human myths with human flaws.
Xena and Gabrielle in FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS
 I found myself enjoying unexpected subtext moments. After all, I had been told not to expect any more because they were moving beyond "that" in the comedies and the dramas. I will forever remember Xena's yearning, hopeful expression during Gabrielle's self-centered phase in FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318). (If that was not subtext, I do not know what is.)
Love-text Fortunately, Gabrielle, despite the aberration of FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS, is not normally that self-centered. Our heroines may be myopic when it comes to battling bad guys sometimes, but when it comes to each other, well, they literally will do anything for each other, including die. Now that is subtext. Isn't it? It is love-text as the main theme.
 To die for another, supposedly is true love. It is a love so complete that because one loves another so much, they will forsake their own life so the other might live. We see Xena and Gabrielle playing this out for each other constantly. Gabrielle takes the dive down the fiery pit, so Xena might live [SACRIFICE II (68/322)]. Xena strives to prevent the fulfillment of a devastating prophecy.
 In addition, what is amazing is that Xena and Gabrielle take this one step beyond the "dying for each other" clause. They will come back for one another, and they will seek each other out after death. After Gabrielle dies, Xena hunts down Hades to find out where Gabrielle went. Then, when she finds out that Gabrielle must have gone to the Amazon version of the Elysian fields, she chases off East and takes a harrowing shamanic journey so she can join Gabrielle [ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69,70/401,402)]. Meanwhile, Gabrielle, through the miraculous Deux ex Machina (or was it Hope, who does not care?) is making her own way back to Xena.
 Now that is mythic. That is romance. That is why we will hang in there and keep watching, even when it hurts. We want to see the hand kissing, loving weeping reunion. We want to see them walking together, smiling at each other. We want to see them kick bad guy butt and then take baths together. We also want to see them work it out, through thick or thin, whether they are liking each other at the moment or not. IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404), drives home the point that Xena and Gab are a couple who will do just that. They will even hang out with each other when they smell like goat dung. (I don't know about you, but I wouldn't do that for just anyone).
 In CRUSADER (76/408), Najara points out that Gabrielle has a choice to make (as if she hasn't already, but many lovers go through periods of doubt) and that she needs to commit to Xena, if her journey with the Warrior Princess is to be the bard queen's path. Funny how, though Najara is the baddy (and an object of temptation herself), she ends up giving the sound advice of a priest to one member of a "spousal" unit. Good advice is good advice.
The Future Now I find myself watching, as Xena makes sacrificial efforts to keep the bard alive (as if Gabrielle would want to live without her) and Gabrielle makes her own efforts to save Xena's life, and wondering. Will Gabrielle recommit herself to walking with Xena? Will Xena ever talk to Gabrielle about the death vision? Will we ever get to see Sappho? Dang it! I want to hear Xena saying some romantic poetry to Gabrielle.
 Whatever the case, the truth is that there have been some subtle differences since the last half of third and beginning fourth season. The characters touch more, but they touch differently. There is a sense of greater intimacy in the simpler touches, and yet we see less public face to face hugging. They say, "I love you," more freely and with feeling, but it is usually in death-defying circumstances. There is devotion and the discovery that they are soulmates traveling a wider/longer path than either imagined. It has been shown that they have a destiny together, but they have inner wounds that are hard to share. Yet, in the end they take up the burden together.
Kisses and "That" Of course, given the changes, there are things that I would like to see. I would love to see, at a quiet, least expected moment, an absentminded we-do-this-all-the-time, you-just-have-not-been-paying-attention kiss. I mean the kind of kiss that would occur off camera. Then, a little bit later, at an appropriately romantic point, a real live hang-in-there-baby, your-toes-are-gonna-curl kiss. If this is the kind of subtext they are moving beyond, though, I may be out of luck. However, boy would that sadden me. Because, you see, that is my secret and real desire. I think it is just because I caught the original not-quite-a-kiss kiss and was so moved by it, I feel confident that, if any show could do it, Xena: Warrior Princess could. I hang in there, just to see the next kiss.
Gabrielle saying goodnight in A DAY IN THE LIFE
 I am not sure what was meant by the idea of, "moving beyond that". I don't know if they were moving beyond joking about subtext, or if they were done with the notion of Xena and Gabrielle as lovers, but, as I watch the newer episodes, I still find myself seeing "that". I find myself feeling for Xena as she breaks her vow of never going back to those dark places again so she can find her true love. I find myself nodding in understanding, feeling the rightness of it, as Gabrielle prostrates herself over her lover, risking death herself, to still Najara's blade. Whatever the "that" is, Xena: Warrior Princess still has it. In addition, if it is to remain Xena: Warrior Princess, I do not think the show can ever go beyond "that". They would have to kill the characters.
 Oh wait. They already did that. I guess they are stuck with love whether they want it or not. Is not that just the way of it.
And so ends another day of adventure...
EndnoteWhatever happens next, XWP has been a true blessing in my life. Thank you to everyone who has been part of creating the whole of this wonderful show. Moreover, congratulations to Lucy Lawless and Robert Tapert. Good to hear that a little one is on the way! May there be much joy!
BibliographyKushner, Harold . How Good Do We Have To Be? A New Understanding Of Guilt And Forgiveness. Little Brown & Co, 1996.