Whoosh! Issue 39 - December 1999

WHY I LOVE THE FOURTH SEASON OF XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS
IAXS project #740
By Jodi Walton
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
3337 words



Editor's Note: This article was written prior to the start of the fifth season.


Author's Note: To place this article into a context, it began as a post for a subtext message board. I enjoy the subtext of Xena: Warrior Princess, but I also understand that others do not see it. As far as I am concerned, part of what makes the show great is that it can be viewed from many perspectives. After I posted this, someone suggested that a broader audience might enjoy it, so I submitted it with minor modification to Whoosh! These are only my observations and perspectives and are certainly not intended to imply that anyone else's interpretations of the fourth season are of lesser merit.




Introduction (01-02)
Lucy Lawless/Xena (03-04)
Renee O'Connor/Gabrielle (05-07)
The Relationship (08-09)
The Quality of the Show (10-14)
The Fourth Season (15-33)
Summary (34-35)
Biography



Why I Love the Fourth Season of Xena: Warrior Princess




Introduction

Also on the set of the proposed cable fishing show TAPERT'S TACKLEBOX

Season Four kicks off with ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE.

[1] I visited a site that I have enjoyed over the years and read that the webmaster had decided to stop accepting new Xena fan fiction authors who had not been hosted on that site before. The reason the webmaster gave was that she did not enjoy the show like she used to, and she found that she was not having fun anymore. This webmaster has been involved in the Xenaverse in various forms almost since its inception. That made me think, which is always a dangerous thing on a Friday night after a long arduous work week.

[2] I have seen several long-term fans reduce their involvement with the Xenaverse for the stated reason that they no longer enjoy the show and that the characters have been twisted and molded at the pleasure of The Power's That Be (TPTB) who seemed to be attempting to manipulate the audience. I would never presume to tell anyone else whether or how they should enjoy something. It has, however, made me think about the whole Xena phenomenon and why it is that I still enjoy the show and continue to look forward to new episodes. Since I am just in that kind of mood, I thought I would take a look at what it is that I still love about the show and why I am looking forward with great anticipation to the next season.


Lucy Lawless/Xena

[3] I absolutely adore Lucy Lawless. If my fantasy of the perfect woman were made flesh, she would be it. Incredibly beautiful, tall, with piercing blue eyes and long black hair, she epitomizes the look that I have always been attracted to. Her looks, however, are not the end of the package. She is an intelligent, grounded, compassionate, and extremely talented person. Highly-driven and constantly seeking new challenges, Lucy Lawless never lets herself give less than her very best. She is someone who I can admire as well as drool over. What more could you ask for?

[4] Then there is Xena. Unlike many (if not every) action hero that I can think of, Xena is multidimensional. A woman who lost her way early in life and gave into her dark destructive impulses, she is now someone who is seeking to redeem herself. She continues to struggle with her dark side, but she also continues to grow and learn more about how to be a positive force in the world around her. She is even able to appear silly at times without losing the core of who she is. She is incredibly devoted to Gabrielle, who has stood as her light and guiding companion over the years. Xena is incredibly deep, and I enjoy the journey of finding out more about who she is and where she is headed.


Renee O'Connor/Gabrielle

Failing to check first, Xena stabs Gabrielle to death from a
loose knife in her belt

Gabrielle is mysteriously reunited with Xena in A FAMILY AFFAIR.

[5] While I have to admit that Renee O'Connor and her character Gabrielle did not start off with much respect from me, I have grown to enjoy both very much. I have enjoyed watching Renee O'Connor's talent grow and her character mature into a strong, confident, and competent woman.

[6] I remember a conversation that I had with a fellow Xenite once before about how Gabrielle seems to be undergoing the greatest change of the two main characters. We both agreed that this made sense. Consider that when Gabrielle joined Xena, she was a relatively naive, innocent villager. She had not been out in the world nor had she experienced the things that Xena had. Gabrielle came into the picture after much of Xena's growth and tempering had occurred, while Gabrielle was still fresh and untried. Is it any wonder then that the greatest amount of growth came on Gabrielle's part? She would have to grow, or the power dynamics between the two women would have continued to be incredibly unbalanced. Xena's growth has been more subtle, more of a refining of her extant philosophy. She has sought to incorporate some of the softer principles that she has seen in Gabrielle.

[7] I, for one, have relished the maturing of Gabrielle, while realizing that she is bound to make mistakes because of her inexperience. She will also try new philosophies until she finds one that truly fits.


The Relationship

[8] Through the show's ups and downs, the thing that has continually fascinated me has been the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. However one chooses to define it, there is no doubt that there is an incredible bond these two characters share. They have come to trust and rely on each other for understanding, love, and support. I know of no other television series that has managed to show this level of commitment between two women without shying away from the possibility that it could be interpreted as something physical as well as spiritual and emotional.

[9] Xena: Warrior Princess walks a fine line in giving the broadest interpretation to the relationship. Sometimes they fall short of the hopes of some members of their audience, but considering the constraints of the society in which we live, I find the tightrope dance to be very fascinating and, in many ways, ultimately satisfying. I tend to feel that an overt acknowledgment that they are lovers is not necessary. Their commitment to each other and how they carry it out speaks volumes more to me than a formal declaration that they are lovers would. I enjoy the fact that many people can watch the show and come away with different analyses. Besides, I love spotting subtext and maintext moments.


The Quality of the Show

Xena and Gabrielle after a sex change?

Caesar and Pompeii, together again in A GOOD DAY.

[10] It has been said in many places that for an action adventure show, Xena: Warrior Princess demonstrates a very high standard of quality in serial TV. I cannot emphasize this enough. TPTB have frequently stated that they are making a show that they would like to watch, and that comes through in many ways. Starting with the scripts that challenge and entertain us, all the way through every aspect of the production, this show strives to be the best that it can be.

[11] The costumes are richly detailed and varied. The sets are also created with great attention to detail, giving the viewer many opportunities to spot subtle clues about what is going on in the main scene. The chakram pattern on the doorways in Lao Ma's castle is a perfect example. The action sequences are believable, even when they are fantastic. Contrast this with the fight scenes on The Adventures Of Sinbad (TV, 1996), which were often embarrassing.

[12] The music is absolutely marvelous and Joe LoDuca has been nominated twice, and he deserves to win an Emmy for his work. The special effects are exciting, all the way from the flight of the chakram through the grandest effects like Poseidon. They use two camera units which also allows them to provide greater richness and depth to the episodes, since the second unit can provide more fill shots and background work than most series that only use one main unit. Finally the editing and sound teams bring the whole package together and polish it into the final product that we see.

[13] I once had a friend mention that they were trying to get their home theatre system set up, and they were looking for a show that was broadcasting in stereo surround-sound. The only one they could find was Xena, and this surprised my friend because they thought the show was just a low-budget, campy action series.

[14] In short, Xena: Warrior Princess's creators do their fans proud by being committed to providing the highest quality product that they can within the constraints of a syndicated action hour. It pays off because XWP has managed to be a success where lesser quality knock-offs have come and then quickly disappeared into the woodwork. Sinbad, Conan (TV, 1998), and the short-lived The New Adventures Of Robin Hood (TV, 1996) series come to mind.


The Fourth Season

[15] How do I feel about the fourth season? In a nutshell, I loved it! I found the order of the shows far more coherent in terms of continuity than the third season, which had several problems with the order in which episodes aired.

[16] I enjoyed seeing Xena's adventures with the Northern Amazons [ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE 1&2 (69-70/401-402)]. While I found the destruction of Cyane and the Amazon leaders to be disturbing, I felt Xena's determination to rectify the situation was indicative of her growth. Instead of staying focused on her goal of seeing Gabrielle for the last time, she realized that a far better tribute to Gabrielle would be to set right what she had destroyed in her past. Gabrielle had given Xena a light of her own.

[17] Another thing many discussed was Xena's refusal to ask for forgiveness from Otere. Knowing, as she did, the role she played in the situation, she recognized that she could not expect to be forgiven, but she still intended to do the best she could to salvage what she could for the "Amazonettes".

[18] Then there was the confrontation with Alti and that vision. Wow! The vision worked on Xena's mind throughout the whole season, and the TPTB used it to good measure to underscore other areas of Xena's growth.

[19] As for the reunion [A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403)], I was never completely satisfied with the lack of explanation for how Gabrielle survived. However, I did feel that the reunion scene was very well done. The joy that they both felt and Xena's kissing Gabrielle's knuckles just grabbed my heart. Gabrielle's confrontation with Hope was incredibly poignant as well. I could feel not only Gabrielle's regret that things had come to that point, but also that she was determined to end it once and for all. This set Gabrielle on her quest for a better understanding of herself and her role in this life.

[20] Though IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404) was revolting at times, I did get a chuckle or three out of it. This was definitely one that you either hated or loved. For me, I have grown to enjoy it.

[21] Then we had A GOOD DAY (73/405), an incredibly powerful episode which had Gabrielle facing the facts and consequences of war. Sometimes things do not work out entirely the way you expected and hoped. We got to see Xena dealing with Caesar from a position of cunning and strength, instead of her usual knee jerk reaction of hatred. Xena was continuing on her path of reclaiming her power from Caesar.

[22] I loved the fun and energy of A TALE OF TWO MUSES (74/406) and seeing the two friends cut up a bit. Tara was even palatable in this one.

Loading up on squid

On the way to Shark Island Prison in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN.

[23] LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407) showed that Gabrielle was not going to sit idly by while Xena allowed herself to be punished. She got in there and helped rescue her friend and soulmate. Quite an evolution from her attempts to rescue Xena in THE RECKONING (06/106).

[24] CRUSADER (76/408) introduced the biggest subtext magnet since Callisto, only Najara was focused on Gabrielle. Talk about your soulful looks and jealous reactions from Xena .

[25] PAST IMPERFECT (77/409), KEY TO THE KINGDOM (78/410), DAUGHTER OF POMIRA (79/411), and IF THE SHOE FITS (80/412) were all solid episodes and had their enjoyable parts. Yet, they were only a lead-in to the "meat" of what I loved about the fourth season.

[26] PARADISE FOUND (81/413) and the rest of the India Arc were incredible jewels. Each episode underscored the love and commitment that Xena and Gabrielle shared, with BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415) giving us confirmation that they are soulmates (as well as very skilled at body decoration). All of those elements culminated in THE WAY (84/416). It's a travesty that this episode was banned since it was critical in the development of both Xena and Gabrielle. [Editor's Note: It was revised slightly and returned to syndication.] With Xena finally coming to terms and acceptance of her Way of the Warrior, we saw a Xena who was going forward with new clarity of purpose. She accepted that she was on the right path for herself, and she committed to being the best warrior for justice that she could be. We got to see her confidence restored, and her enjoyment of the fight returned.

[27] Someone asked me if I felt that Gabrielle would continue to follow the Way of Love. At the time I told them I did not think so, since I did not get the sense that it clicked for her in the same manner that Xena's Way clicked. Instead, I saw this as Gabrielle "trying on" yet another philosophy to see if it fit, and I expected her to find that it did not. From what we have seen of the fifth season, it appears that this was a fairly accurate observation. I do believe, though, that Gabrielle will emerge from this experience with a clearer understanding of who she is. Now when she chooses to fight, and perhaps even kill, it will be because she believes that this is the right Way for her - the Way of being true to what she holds dear.

[28] I also enjoyed THE PLAY'S THE THING (85/417). It had great inside jokes for the fans. TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE (87/419) was a fun reunion of many past supporting characters, and THE CONVERT (76/408) featured Najara trying once again to get Gabrielle, but she was told in no uncertain terms that Gabrielle was staying with Xena.

[29] Which brings us to ENDGAME (88/420). While I will miss Ephiny, I found that Gabrielle returning to the Amazons was incredibly satisfying. Her ability to act as a strong-minded, mature leader showed through brilliantly. Xena's support of Gabrielle, both among the Amazons and specifically when she defended Gabrielle to Amarice, was marvelous. This episode brilliantly paved the way for the culmination of the season, IDES OF MARCH (89/421).

[30] This episode moves me every time I see it, and I have watched it at least seven times now. Xena's resolute determination to put an end to Caesar's manipulation of her, only to be thwarted by Callisto, was incredibly powerful. It was telling that Xena was not seeking to kill Caesar out of revenge. She would have been perfectly content to leave him alone if he had not chosen to make her life a walking minefield by putting the bounty on her head. Of course, she could not stand for that, but notice how that goal of killing Caesar left her mind when she found out that Gabrielle had been taken. Even rushing into what she feared was the realization of the vision of their deaths, Xena never hesitated to try to avert that destiny and save both Gabrielle and herself. Her refusal of Callisto's temptations was very true to form. As she said to Callisto, she had given up on the guilt that Callisto was trying to use against her. (Hooray!) Both Xena and Gabrielle planted the seeds of Caesar's destruction in their telling comments to Brutus. By raising Brutus' suspicions, they sealed Caesar's fate, thereby dooming both parts of Callisto's mission to failure.

[31] The courtyard scene and what came after are fifteen of the strongest minutes ever seen in episodic TV. Masterfully shot and acted, it is near impossible to watch the fight, the prison conversation, and ultimately the crucifixion/destruction of Caesar without crying. It is that powerful.

[32] Despite the chilling outcome, everything in this episode was done right. Others must agree, since this episode has the highest rating on the Rate-a-Xena website, surpassing even the much-beloved A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). This was a cliffhanger I was absolutely itching to see resolved.

[33] Finally, we had the directing debut of Renee O'Connor with DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422). The TPTB have used their clip episodes to incredibly good purpose in the past, and this was no exception. This one reminded us that Xena and Gabrielle will be together always, regardless of when in time they are, or what bodies they happen to inhabit. Huzzah!

Snow?  Yeah, the day it snows here will be the day I'm crucified.

A deceptively bright day starts IDES OF MARCH.


Summary

[34] The fourth season was a time of incredible growth for both the main characters. Gabrielle was definitely coming into an understanding of who she was. Xena achieved a sense of peace about her path, and she renewed her commitment both to Gabrielle and to the path of justice.

[35] I expect the fifth season to be another wonderfully challenging ride, and I look forward to seeing how they return, finding out about the chakram, and seeing how they resolve Xena's pregnancy. I also look forward to seeing Gabrielle functioning as an equal partner in the relationship. In short, I see many great possibilities in the future and can only say that I continue to love the show and the incredible journey that we are on with these characters. But then I suppose that is why I would be considered a Hard Core Nutball Fan.



Biography

Jodi Walton Jodi Walton
Currently in my mid-30's, I lead a fairly mundane life with my cat, Tigger. Working in the operations side of telephone market research, I've found a certain sense of satisfaction and security in one of the top 10 market research companies in the US. I grew up reading scads of science fiction and fantasy novels and always enjoyed most the ones with strong female heroes and characters. When XWP began airing in 1995, I was a little slow to check it out, figuring that it would probably be silly. But when I finally did, I found that the show was fun, challenging, and had a hero that I just couldn't get enough of. I knew I was hooked when I bought a new VCR because my old one just couldn't tape the eps. the way I wanted it to. Since then, I have become fully immersed in the Xenaverse, finding the internet community in the winter of 1996 (when AOL went to unlimited access), and I haven't turned back since. One look at my work area or apartment clearly shows the breadth of my obsession, since I have many pictures and memorabilia in both. I love trivia about the show and actually got a chance to be on an experts panel at the 1998 Chicago con (great fun!). I continue to enjoy the many journeys that the show takes us on and look forward to what's yet to come. Oh, and I have subsequently switched my voracious reading habits almost exclusively to fan fiction. Love those talented Xenaverse bards!
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) and THE DEBT (52-53/306-307)
Favorite line: Xena: "Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you." ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
First episode seen: DEATH IN CHAINS (09/109)
Least favorite episode: KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308)

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