Whoosh! Issue 42 - March 2000

IAXS project #746
By William James
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
1387 words

Introduction (01)
The Reformation (02-10)
Ding Dong, The B*tch is Dead (11-13)
Requiem (14-15)
Epilogue (16-17)

Callisto, A Requiem


I think I'll break a nail... IN YOUR FLESH!

From the horrid...

[1] The first real death in the television show, Xena: Warrior Princess occurred during the episode FALLEN ANGEL (91/501). It was Callisto who died.

The Reformation

[2] Ostensibly, the story is this: Gabrielle falls to Hell, her taxi ride to Heaven ambushed by Callisto's demon goons. Xena gets fitted for some wings to get Gabrielle back, and the fitting takes the form of a test, a choice of passage: one of fire and one of water. Having chosen, Xena is warned that, now purified and an archangel, Hell will break her heart. She is warned that salvation is hers to give for the price of her own damnation. In Hell, Xena meets and beats Callisto, only to be confronted with Callisto's promise of eternal hatred. Xena, somehow heart-broken, acts to save Callisto. Michael carries out the salvation of Gabrielle.

[3] If we are to understand this, we had better get an understanding of how Xena can come to wield divine power. Officially, it is not divine power, just "light", a transferable, purified "light", which is a tool like any other great and powerful object we have seen in the show. But redemption is not a simple matter of the application of the right tool. There is some moral travail required Callisto cannot be redeemed just by being heartily zapped, not unless the zap has some morally relevant transformational quality. In this instance, a "light" injection that makes one "good" is vacuous. So, it is off to the myth we go, and into the stories and myth structures referenced by any great "winged" story with angels and demons and crucifixions and redemption, to see if we cannot find out what transformation takes place when "light" is injected.

[4] First off, in FALLEN ANGEL (91/501), the divine exists. The reason for saying this, really, is that instantaneous transformation of a whole person is just too fundamental to be a thing of the human domain. Second, there are no guardian angels. Such things are a human conceit. Angels exist to serve and praise God, not us. So, Michael was an angel, and most of the others with wings were humans who had encountered the divine. Thirdly, there are no trials of purification, no descriptionless "choices" that provoke non-human deep cleansing. There are only ritual acts that render humans tools of the divine. They serve it believing they serve themselves. After all, if mortals, even the semi-non-mortals of the Xenaverse, were already so significant as to have angel status be the subject of their demands, why would the divine make provision for artificial angel production?

[5] There are all sorts of things to say about Xena's "choice" of a passage through fire, but the important one lies in the question: in what does Xena's choice consist? We are given no real clue. The nature of Xena's angelic status is left obscure. It is tempting to say that if Xena were really fitted to the task that she genuinely wants to achieve, then she would have chosen water, the element seemingly more associated with love and emotion. Instead she chooses fire, which is decidedly more warlike. But this fire makes an angel, which is to say it exposes, and perhaps tops up, compassion. Xena's heart is laid bare, and it waits for whatever may strike it through fire burnt openings. Ring any bells?

[6] One thing is sure: Xena and Callisto meet and Callisto changes.

[7] This meeting comes at a time when Callisto has grown weakest, when the long, overwhelming struggle has taken as many turns as it can. At this time, all she has left is a powerless hate, something we would otherwise know as grief. She even knows that the "fun" of Hell is meaningless, that the "powers that be" down there will always take it away.

[8] Conquered, physically beaten, and chased down, Callisto curses Xena: "I will never stop hating you, Xena. Do you hear me, never. You killed my family, my soul, my reason to live and love, and I will spend eternity seeking revenge". Xena's heart breaks. In the terms of the myth of these things, this registers the end of Callisto's trial. Grace is passed through Xena to Callisto so that she need endure no more. Xena serves as the messenger, the marker of a reservoir of love so great and so transforming as to be divine. Indeed, could anyone else so serve?

[9] Xena is damned in Callisto's place. Well, divine power is a toughie. Xena pays the price for choosing to wield it. That choice was made when she demanded of Michael that she be fitted for wings. Perhaps rightly she pays this price. Not even Callisto took up Satan's pride with such gusto.

[10] Nearly immediately after her transformation from wielder of divine power to demon, Xena rallies the troops: "Why are we groveling down here in the slime while they live up there in purity and grace? ... It's time for us to do the judging. Paradise will be ours!" She did not get it. She got dumped back into the mortal realm. No wonder she is grumpy with Callisto in SEEDS OF FAITH (99/509).

Ding Dong, the B*tch is Dead.

I am soooo glad they have peroxide in Heaven

...to the sublime.

[11] All of this seems to make FALLEN ANGEL (91/501) a Callisto story. This at a time when we are supposed to be mourning Xena and Gabrielle's ordeal on the cross! But then again, they have not died. They just went off to hold hands on the mountaintop. Of all the "dead" people, who was the only one who actually heard the thoughts of the living?

[12] FALLEN ANGEL (91/501) is a story from which the Callisto we know disappears. Stripped of memory and suffering, and stripped of all the trappings (and leather trimmings) of her glory days, Callisto is reborn, so Michael tells Gabrielle, as what she would otherwise have been, had Xena not killed her family. But is this not how Death arrives before us? A life falls away, unfinished, leaving us, with our anger, or whatever feeling, behind. Ultimately we perform some act of forgiveness, and the dead receive our blessing: we pass over the pain they caused and remember what we sometimes thought we glimpsed in their lives. So, Callisto's memory goes, and Gabrielle forgives the woman who never did the things Callisto did.

[13] On the floor of Hell, the hand of God undoes Callisto's struggle, and her artifice is stripped away. She dies.


[14] How do I get so much out of FALLEN ANGEL (91/501), that Illusia with 'roid rage, that comic opera with no jokes and no singing? Simple: the woman who needed it not, will she have remembered that love existed?

[15] Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.


[16] I come so close, in this, to saying that Xena was damned for loving a woman, but look closer. I miss by a country mile. I must, because Xena was not damned. Loving a woman made her a vehicle for grace.

[17] I should also say that, in a way, SEEDS OF FAITH (99/509), the next Callisto outing after FALLEN ANGEL (91/501), is a soothing anticlimax, at least as far as Callisto is concerned. Every good story needs one.


William James William James
Study, study, study, unemployment, TV, gainful employment, more TV.
Favorite episode: Today, I pick RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205). Tomorrow, I'll pick ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313). Yesterday I might have gone with MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311). SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) ain't half bad, either.
Favorite line: Callisto: "Oh yes!" RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), as she high-kicks Gabrielle under the chin. It's the attitude more than the words, not that I'm a Gab hater. I'm also fond of Xena in SACRIFICE II (68/322): "No more living for you".
First episode seen: erm... TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208), I think.
Least favorite episode: There are forgettable episodes that I've forgotten. The only actually irritating ep was FORGET ME NOT (63/317). I was annoyed at having to accept Gabrielle as uncharacteristically and retrospectively corrupted.

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