Whoosh! Issue 38 - November 1999

XENASTAFF - YOU MADE US WHAT WE ARE TODAY!!
IAXS project #725
By Dana Hlusko
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
9729 words



Author's Note: My non-believing colleagues and friends will ask me, "What is it about Xena that you like so much?" I have a problem putting into words what the attraction is. For months I have been analyzing that, trying to decide if I have a psychological flaw or "loony-tune gene" that XWP [Xena: Warrior Princess] speaks to so eloquently. Then I decided that if I do, there are lots more like me out there. This is my attempt to explain the facets of excellence I see in XWP that have made me (us?) what I am today - a Xenite.




Introduction (01-02)
The Premise (03)
The Stories (04-05)
The Fantasy Genre (06)
The Philosophy (07-08)
The Music (09)
The Characters (10-14)
The Main Actors (15-17)
Conclusion (18)
Biography



XenaStaff - You Made Us What We Are Today!!




Introduction

No one noticed Renee O'Connor streaking naked along the back wall

Burbank II convention. The tiny dot on stage is Lucy Lawless.


[1] Our friends call us kooky, obsessive, unstable, and rattled. We are spurned by those who believe we are any, or all, of the above. We purchase mountains of items related to our passion. We form communities of like-minded individuals in fan clubs, chat rooms, mailing lists, and conventions. If one were to assume that those of us who feel deeply about the show are rather normal, average citizens who have families, jobs and loved ones, who work in fields crossing all spectra of professions, levels of education, and salaries, then what is it about the stories, characters, and actors of Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) that cause such passion and loyalty?

[2] The objective in telling a story is to bring forth emotion from the audience, cause laughter, teach a lesson, or, perhaps, make a statement, political or otherwise. The writers, producers, directors, and technicians of XWP seem to have an extraordinary talent for storytelling. This will be an attempt to look at a variety of aspects of the show in an effort to explain the reasons behind the XWP fan phenomenon.


The Premise

[3] A person with deep moral stains on her soul turns from evil (and not just everyday evil, but extreme evil) to good and dedicates her life to making amends. This is not a new concept in storytelling, but the twist for XWP is that a woman is that person. The idea of a woman, when women are traditionally characterized as having "Virgin Mary-like" attributes, is a fresh approach. First, we can barely conceive of a woman stooping as low as Xena has in her past. Therefore, the thought of having to climb out of that abyss is mind-boggling. To see Xena continue on each week, seeking to do better and better, is a hopeful vision for those of us who struggle with much less baggage.


The Stories

[4] Only a handful of plot lines exist in literature. The talent is to take those plots and give them unique looks or twists. Throughout the series, the writers of XWP have been able to move the stories beyond formulaic and, even though the stories are sometimes fantastical in concept, have succeeded in making them work [INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207), THE QUEST (37/213)].

[5] Characters need to be believable and respected as people in their own right. They need to be three-dimensional. Xena and Gabrielle have been slowly fleshed out from the beginning. We have seen their pasts and futures revealed. The writers have given us history, psychological motivations, emotional outbursts, tender moments, and hilarious lines. The conflicts that Xena has had, and continues to have, within herself have been written with such superb subtly that every nuance is felt by the audience. Of course, there are times when the writing falls short of expectations, but, more often than not, it gives the viewers full measure.


The Fantasy Genre

Actually, it's all matte work

That exotic Ancient Greece scenery, which is in fact the Western Beaches of Auckland, New Zealand.


[6] Stories that are set in present day or recent times can be powerful in their presentations, but there is something about fantasy that allows the imagination to be freed. Just about anything goes because we do not truly know if this or that is possible or not in another time/place.

For example, in the world of ancient Greece, where belief in many gods was prevalent, who knows whether or not supernatural activities really happened as described in the Xena plotlines? There is enough evidence in present day spiritualism to support what the writers have presented and to allow us to forgive plot inconsistencies.


The Philosophy

[7] "The Greater Good" is the underlying theme. Our heroes are ready to sacrifice their own lives, but never each other's or anyone else's, in their quests for goodness. There is a spiritual/religious tone to XWP that is never acknowledged openly but which undoubtedly exists, and this is at least partly responsible for drawing people to the show.

[8] The moral high ground is a place that is rarely seen today. Even many of our religious leaders fail to live up to their professed code. So, when you see a woman who has been where Xena has but who is able to be redeemed, you have to feel that there is some entity of good moving out there. If Xena can follow a force for good after all she has done, I can too.


The Music

[9] Joseph LoDuca, an Emmy nominee for his work on Xena, never fails to provide the appropriate music for the situation on-screen. He has introduced exotic and unusual sounds which have been very effective in telling the story. It is said that he writes much of Xena's music in minor keys because of the more sinister nature of the sound. Whether that is true and/or whether there is some musical formula he uses is irrelevant. Listening to the music alone will just about tell the story without your even having to see the pictures.


The Characters

[10] Xena is a deeply conflicted woman. She is still vulnerable to the allure of evil. Her growth and development as a civilized person was stunted by the effects of war just as she was entering adulthood. She spent ten years learning and teaching the arts of war, torture, and conquest. She is a bad girl gone good. No, not just a bad girl, an evil, "love-to-kill and torture" girl who has been able to change her life and perform good with the same intensity she once performed evil. We were introduced to her at the height of her depravity and saw her slowly transform herself toward good. Her internal struggles are more emotion-packed than the fights are action packed (and that is saying something).

[11] Even now, however, she has a tentative hold on that mission. Her helpmate is Gabrielle, who acts as Xena's conscience, advisor, and companion. Without Gabrielle, Xena would have lost her focus long ago.

[12] Gabrielle began as a young runaway who wanted something more out of life than what was available to her at home. Xena tolerated Gabrielle at first, but eventually she became dependent on her young companion. At first Gabrielle was the learner and Xena the teacher in the art of self-defense, character judgement, and overall life experiences. Over time, however, the tables turned as Gabrielle began to teach Xena about her way of peace [THE PRICE (44/220)]. Gabrielle has evolved from immature sidekick to indispensable partner.

[13] Now they are more equal in their relationship. Both know they have something to offer and something to learn from the other. As they have evolved separately, they have formed an inseparable bond based on love and trust. They have had times when they were emotionally traumatized by events or each other, but they have always been able to transcend the problems.

[14] This relationship has said many things to different viewers. However it is viewed, the bottom line is that they are able to display their love to each other in more mature ways than many real couples of today. They display affection, sacrifice, respect, and humor, which are things that too many in this world do not have enough of.


The Main Actors

As Lucy snapped her fingers, several servants were fired

Lucy Lawless on ET.


[15] Lucy Lawless was the legendary "casting mistake". Though not the first chosen, she showed herself to be a "flawless" choice. Without the luck of the gods, she would still be doing travelogues from New Zealand. In the first three Hercules [THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), THE GAUNTLET (H12/112), and UNCHAINED HEART (H13/113)] episodes where she was introduced, Lawless had not yet made the role her own, but by SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), she WAS Xena.

[16] As the writers are able to give her emotionally charged scripts, she is able to perform them with all her heart. Tears flow on cue. Who can forget her tearful meltdown in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124)? Her comedic timing is perfect, as seen in FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318) and VANISHING ACT (66/320). She can be the comedienne as well as the "straight man". She has not made the mistake of taking her character too seriously, and you can see that in her performances. Her ability to play two and three characters (maybe even more, who knows?) at once is becoming legendary. She gives each character a whole persona so that the viewer "sees" the character and not Lawless playing the character. Appropriate and subtle body language - raised eyebrows, a flick of the hair - put the "art" in artist, and she has perfected that her craft.

[17] Renee O'Connor is the Texas girl who is making it in the big time. She is physically as different from Lawless as a chakram is from a staff, so, voila, the perfect complement. She also has a considerable range of emotional abilities and never fails to pull out the stops when the occasions merit it, as in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), and DESTINY (36/212). Her talent in the humor category has been seen in IF THE SHOE FITS (80/412) and A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222). Even when playing light comedy and heavy drama in the same episode [FORGET ME NOT (63/317)], O'Connor can make the change without a residual hanging over from one part to the other. She is capable of carrying episodes on her own, as she did when Lawless was recuperating from her pelvic fractures. There has been controversy about the way Gabrielle has been written over the last year, but O'Connor is acting out what they have provided for her in as professional and believable a manner as possible (mailing list comments notwithstanding).


Conclusion

[18] There are probably other factors which make this show such a standout, but I am only a viewer and not privy to the entertainment industry's inner workings. Keep in mind that these are my own opinions based on self-analysis. Assuming my analysis is correct for the general Xena public, with all of these factors at work, is it no wonder we feel as we do? Rather than thinking ourselves somewhat impaired, we should pity those who do not yet understand. The Xenastaff has done such a superb job. They have made us what we are today: Xenites, and proud of it!



Biography

Dana Hlusko Dana Hlusko
I am a Registered nurse working in the field of computers, trying to convince nursing that a computer is a good patient care tool. I have published scholarly articles in professional journals. Writing about XWP allows me to write on a topic for which I have a real passion.

I gave up my passion for STAR TREK: TNG for Xena. I am the mother of two wonderful children who make fun of Mom for her passions. I have three more dreams in life: to study theology, work on an archeological dig, and, first and foremost, I dream of being able to work on the Xena set.

Favorite episode: THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), FORGET ME NOT (63/317), ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202)
Favorite line: Xena: "I have many skills" KING CON (61/315), THE BLACK WOLF (11/111), etc.
First episode seen: THE GAUNTLET (H12/112)
Least favorite episode: Haven't found one yet

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