IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, XENA: A CRITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN XWP'S 'REMEMBER NOTHING' AND CAPRA'S 'IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE'
IAXS Project #090
By Judith K. Parker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
This essay compares and contrasts the XWP episode REMEMBER NOTHING and the Frank Capra film holiday classic, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
 The XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS episode, REMEMBER NOTHING (#26), has been compared by some to the movie, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It is not surprising that a series would pay homage to this extraordinarily popular 1946 Frank Capra Christmas movie. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE has become an indelible part of our popular culture. Does REMEMBER NOTHING parallel IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE closely enough to be considered a tribute? Or are the differences so great that any resemblance is coincidental?
Synopsis of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
 Although most people are familiar with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, a synopsis may be helpful in identifying the essential elements of this story.
 George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) spends his youth and young adulthood making sacrifices for his family and his town. He saves his younger brother from drowning, prevents the town druggist from accidentally poisoning a sick child, and uses the family business, a building and loan, to help the townspeople. In line with the adage that "no good deed goes unpunished," George's goodness has a cost, as he gives up opportunities for an education, adventure, and fortune.
 George must also constantly thwart the rich, domineering Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). A mistake by George's bumbling uncle allows Mr. Potter to threaten George with bankruptcy and imprisonment. Taunted by Mr. Potter that his insurance policy makes George worth more dead than alive, George ends up on a bridge, contemplating suicide.
 Enter Clarence, an angel trying to earn his wings. Clarence jumps off the bridge, and George dives in and saves him. George decides that he was wrong to want to die. Instead, he wishes that he had never been born. Clarence answers, "You've got your wish. You've never been born."
 George wanders around town, and, of course, everything has changed. Controlled by Mr. Potter, the people are without hope, and it's a rougher, meaner town. George's brother drowned because George wasn't there to save him, and the town druggist spent 20 years in prison for poisoning a child. George's mother operates a run-down boarding house, George's uncle is in an insane asylum, and George's wife is (gasp) an old maid librarian.
 George rushes back to the bridge and pleads to return to his wife and children. "Please, God, I want to live again."
 George returns to find his home and family intact. Townspeople have collected enough money to make up for the shortage at the building and loan. George's brother toasts, "To my big brother George, the richest man in town." A bell on the Christmas tree rings, a sign that Clarence has gotten his wings.
The Five Critical Elements
 What are the elements of the plot? There are at least five:
1. The hero is faced with a crisis. This crisis interacts with an underlying conflict in his personality.
2. The hero impulsively wishes for a change. This change will affect his identity.
3. A higher power grants his wish.
4. The results of the wish differ from what the hero expected and confirm the essential "rightness" of his original life.
5. The wish is retracted, everything returns to normal, and the hero has learned an important lesson.
 Does REMEMBER NOTHING follow this pattern? Let's look at the plot of this episode and examine The Crisis, The Wish, The Wish Granted, The Results, and The Wish Retracted.
 When the episode opens, Xena is praying for her dead brother, Lyceus, at the Temple of the Fates. Xena and Gabrielle have a conversation in which Gabrielle suggests that Lyceus died for something in which he believed. Taking all the blame for Lyceus' early death, Xena says, "Yeah, me." Bandits attack the temple and, in the course of defending it, Xena kills a masked bandit who turns out to be a mere boy. Disgusted, Xena throws down the bloody sword and re-enters the temple.
 Given her feelings of guilt over her brother's death and the similar age of the boy-bandit, this is a major crisis for Xena. The crisis interacts with Xena's ambivalence about the violence that has been and continues to be part of her life.
 The three fates appear and offer Xena a reward for saving their temple. Xena denies the appropriateness of a reward for such an act, but then says, "I want that boy's life back. By the Gods, I wish I had never followed the sword in the first place!"
 Xena's real hope may have been the return of the boy's life, but her final words make her wish one with implications for her own identity. If Xena "never followed the sword," the Warrior Princess does not exist. (Xena herself acknowledges this later in the episode.)
 With a significant glance among them, the Three Fates grant Xena's wish: "So be it. ALL is restored." Obviously thinking what they are restoring is the boy's life, Xena is puzzled by the condition that she not "spill so much as a drop of blood in rage." How can a WARRIOR not spill blood?
 Xena leaves the temple to find herself alone and dressed in the typical costume of a young woman of her village. Gone are her armor, her weapons, and Gabrielle. Since Xena did not lead him into battle against Cortese, Lyceus is alive and running the inn. Xena has taken no lives. (Her "blood innocence" is among the things restored.) The village has been rebuilt and seems relatively prosperous. Xena is a respected member of the community and is engaged to marry Mathias.
 There IS a dark side: Xena's mother is dead, and Gabrielle is a slave. Xena reasons that at least she never shamed her mother, and she can remedy Gabrielle's condition by helping her escape. Although bothered by the ascendancy of warlords she defeated in her other life, Xena tries to concentrate on the well-being of those she loves.
Wish Retracted (I take it back!)
 Xena rescues Gabrielle without spilling blood. (One slightly strangled and several singed guards apparently don't bleed.) Mathias, in an attempt to protect Xena, actually betrays her to the warlords. Lyceus, Gabrielle, and Xena are imprisoned.
 After being freed by a repentant Mathias, Lyceus goes to confront the warlords, and the others follow. In the ensuing battle, Xena resists Lyceus' urging to use a sword until she sees Gabrielle skewer her former master. The exultant look on Gabrielle's face seems to remove Xena's last doubts. Xena plunges a sword into her attacker, spilling blood and thus retracting her wish.
 Everything returns to "normal," but it is prior to the slaying of the young bandit. This time, Xena uses non-lethal means to stop him. She sends him away after extracting a promise that he won't waste his life in killing. (So one of Xena's wishes--for his life--is still granted.)
 Xena seems to have learned a lesson, but her response is typically enigmatic. Gabrielle comments, "You don't seem yourself." Xena's reply: "No, you're wrong. I'm more myself than ever."
Similarities and Differences
 REMEMBER NOTHING does follow the plot of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE closely enough to be an homage to that film. However, there ARE significant differences that make it more than a copy.
 REMEMBER NOTHING is more complex and the message more difficult.
 The Three Fates are no guardian angels. Although they may be granting a reward, they do so with a twist, taking Xena at her word, not her intent.
 Their granting of Xena's wish eliminates, not her person, but her persona. Xena continues, but she has to give up an essential part of her character (the Warrior Princess) to preserve her new world. She must surrender elements of Gabrielle's character, as well, a prospect she finds harder to accept.
 The results of George's wish reveal him to be responsible for only the good in his original world. Xena cannot so easily judge her effect, saying, "No, this world may not be perfect, but my world wasn't perfect either." Both of Xena's "realities" require trade-offs, and it becomes a matter of which compromises she can accept.
 Given the nightmarish results, there is no question that George will rescind his wish. Xena has to struggle with this decision because it seemingly involves a choice between the two most important people in her life. She is finally able to make the decision because of what she learns.
 Ah, the lesson. George learns that he isn't a failure, that his life has value to many people. What does Xena learn? Although this is problematic, one lesson, like much of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, involves relationships and responsibility.
 Indications of this lesson develop throughout the episode, starting with Xena and Gabrielle's conversation in the temple, continuing through Xena's monologue in the tomb, Gabrielle's denial of the virtues Xena ascribes to her, and Lyceus' lecture on fighting for your beliefs.
 What IS the lesson? Like Xena, you must decide.