Whoosh! Issue 48 - September 2000


Season Five in Review




Xena's relationship with Lao Ma/Distance from Gabrielle

After this season of XENA I'm going to be Jackie Chan's double.  I hear you're gonna be caught in traffic.

Gabrielle finds things in Chin a little different in BACK IN THE BOTTLE.


[38] Forgotten in all the grand story arcs this season is the revisionist history concerning Xena's relationship with Lao Ma. In the Third Season two-parter THE DEBT (52/306), we learned that Lao Ma was Xena's mentor, and a whole lot more. Their relationship was clearly sexual, and their sensuality made this story a classic. It was not even subtextual; it was blatant. Lao Ma's comment "I don't eat meat" comes colorfully to mind.

[39] In the Fifth Season two-parter PURITY (96/506) and BACK IN THE BOTTLE (97/507), the Hercules writing team of Orci and Kurtzman completely rewrote Steven Sears' original script and brought their own influence onto the show. One of these flourishes was the total negation of Xena's relationship with Lao Ma. In clips replaying their relationship, their romance was deliberately left out. When Xena discussed her relationship with Lao Ma's daughter, it was mentioned in light of how Lao Ma was a "mother" to both of them. Unless Xena had incest in mind, that was clearly not their relationship.

[40] With this in mind, Xena's lack of closeness to Gabrielle cannot be attributed to the pregnancy. The writers of this season, under the direct approval of Robert Tapert, deliberately negated the bond between Xena and Gabrielle. Xena's pregnancy became her struggle, not something she and Gabrielle could share. Time and time again, Xena stood alone against the gods, with Gabrielle's presence no more useful than Armon, Amarise, or Joxer.

[41] Given the revisionist de-sexualization that happened to Lao Ma, Xena's distancing from her "soulmate" Gabrielle makes perfect sense. That distance, like the Lao Ma "mother" comment, was no accident, but intended to remove any hint of a lesbian relationship on the show. Insert creepy X-FILES theme here.


Gabrielle's changes since THE DELIVERER (50/304)

[42] In the Third Season, we learned Gabrielle could be as vicious and vindictive as Callisto, betraying Xena in Ch'in out of jealousy [FORGET ME NOT (63/317)]. Her lying to Xena about Hope cost her Xena's love and Solan's life. By season's end, Gabrielle was so despondent over her mistakes that she hurled herself and Hope into a lava pit [SACRIFICE II (68/322)].

[43] The Fourth Season centered largely around Gabrielle's quest for peace. Because she and Xena seldom spoke to each other that season, the issue that could have been resolved in one episode lingered the whole season. In ENDGAME (88/420)), Xena explained how she did not understand Gab's peaceful views, but that she respected them.

[44] The Fifth Season actually began with IDES OF MARCH (89/421), with the embracing of Christianity, and Gabrielle's mass killing of the Roman guards to defend Xena. This appropriately dismayed Xena. Yet the next season, there was no follow-up of this horrific action. Actually, there was no follow-up on the trauma of their experiencing death by crucifixion, either. You would think one would want to talk about it with the person they shared it with, right? Guess not.

[45] At the 1999 Atlanta Dragoncon, writer Steven Sears assured the fans that Gabrielle would be more Xena's equal in the Fifth Season, and assist her more in combat, but his scripts were rewritten into the pseudonym Buddy Williers, and so apparently was this concept of equality. Gabrielle not only did not become Xena's equal, she was pushed further into the background than ever before. Joxer or Eve got more treatment as equals than Gabrielle.

[46] Gabrielle adopted lethal Dragon Sai as her weapons and began stabbing and killing people. Sidestepping the question of whether her staff ever killed or maimed anyone, this was quite a change for Gabrielle. Apparently, however, as she was not the star of the show, the writers did not feel this was worth exploring.

[47] As of the close of the Fifth Season, Gabrielle's newfound philosophy of killing received zero attention from Xena and the writers. Even though the Fourth Season focused around whether she would fight, this season it did not even merit a mention. Why? Apparently, it was a mistake for past Xena writers to make Gabrielle's blood innocence the focus of her character in combat. Indeed, they felt the concept important and valid enough to base a whole Fourth Season episode around it with Joxer, THE CONVERT (86/418). So this was near to the writers' hearts for quite some time. Many remember the excellent First Season episode DREAMWORKER (3/103), which revolved around Gabrielle not taking up the sword. So it was with some dismay that I saw the writers move Gabrielle in this direction this season and then not do anything with it.

[48] When Gabrielle was rewritten into a jealous liar in the Third Season, many argued that this was a deliberate direction Renaissance Pictures was taking the character. They were really planning something here. When Gabrielle was rewritten into a peaceful idiot in the Fourth Season and made a shallow mockery of the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., many said the writers were going in a deliberate direction with this. In the Fifth Season, when Gabrielle was rewritten into a blade-wielding warrior, many said the writers were going in a deliberate direction with this. We are now at the end of the Fifth Season, and I am left to ask, where were they going with Gabrielle? If the above paragraph is not answer enough, we have the following quote from RJ Stewart, issue 6 of the OFFICIAL Xena MAGAZINE:

"I think we need Gabrielle too," Stewart asserts. "But certainly an episode with only Xena - we've done a couple of those - works pretty well, because Lucy is the star of the show. But it's always better to have both of them."

[49] Gabrielle is optional to this show's success? For a senior producer to say this about Gabrielle says volumes, and explains all of these changes in Gabrielle's character. She is neither a character, nor is she considered Xena's equal, as Sears believed. She is... oh, I think Renee O'Connor herself might be able to answer this. This is from an interview she conducted in X-POSE magazine:

"As a result, my character has to be the one that suffers the plot devices from year to year. That's why Gabrielle tends to change so often."

[50] Gabrielle is now the plot device. For you new viewers, this was not always the case. Gabrielle's role used to be as Xena's conscience, or at the least, a cautionary voice, as Xena was not always right. She was Xena's companion, cook, friend, ally, and possible romantic interest. So much for precedent.

[51] This admission by Renee O'Connor explains so much about the show, such as her plunge into the lava pit in SACRIFICE II (68/322). The writers never really cared to explain how she survived when that episode showed her falling dead center into the lava. It was not important because she was not important. If it were Xena falling in, it would have been another matter, apparently.

[52] In example after example this season, Xena and Gabrielle no longer even seem to be on the same page. In THEM BONES (95/505), Xena sent Gabrielle into spiritual combat by herself against Alti. This occurred despite the fact that all prior combats were handled either with the spirits of the other Amazons [ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE II (70/402)], or with Xena and Gabrielle united together [BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415)].

[53] Time and time again this season, Xena and Gabrielle simply did not communicate. They talked past each other, and when they did, it was in terms of recrimination or guilt. The mission was all they ever seemed to discuss, and they no longer seemed human.

[54] The contrast with prior seasons is clear: Gabrielle is no longer an integral part on Xena's road to redemption, nor is Gabrielle's own journey being charted. Gabrielle is now a mere plot device, and she serves Xena as any of her prior soldiers. Something got lost in the transition. To paraphrase a Fourth Season episode, "the plot's the thing" now.


The Relationship

After a catfight over screen credit size

Reunited at the conclusion of FALLEN ANGEL.


[55] We were told Xena and Gabrielle would have a different relationship this season and that promise has been kept. Xena and Gabrielle fought with each other and for each other during the season premiere [FALLEN ANGEL (91/501)]. Their relationship seemed on the right track for the season.

[56] CHAKRAM (92/502) really did not have a chance to explore it, since Xena suffered from an amnesia that was never explained. In SUCCESSION (93/503), Xena suddenly treated Gabrielle like her First Season sidekick, and told her to "stay back" while she fought. Although Xena and Gabrielle both had their memory restored by this episode, neither felt any urge to discuss their crucifixion, Gabrielle's actions in IDES OF MARCH (89/421), or their subsequent resurrection. This is the chief flaw of this season. You would think this would give Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor many interesting scenes to play. These characters used to be written as human, people who react to things in a human way. Yet Xena and Gabrielle had no lingering effects from dying in this horrible manner. They just moved on to their subsequent battles with nary a backwards glance.

[57] The same occurred all through Xena's pregnancy and their trip twenty-five years into the future. Xena and Gabrielle have had no concern for Xena's mother, Gabrielle's sister, or anyone else that they knew in the past. Is it right to just charge into the next battle, to create action to bring in the ratings? Not when it sacrifices the characters to the plot. These used to be people, who thought and felt.

[58] Yet we have scenes like at the end of MOTHERHOOD (112/522) where Xena mentions Eve as "their" daughter, but she cannot spare a second to apologize to Gabrielle for carving her head open earlier. They are not people; they are plot devices now. New viewers might think this is unavoidable, but earlier seasons say otherwise. They used to be human heroines, not props for the grand story arc.


Conclusion

[59] This essay or rant may seem unfair. Where is the examination of all of the positive things from this season? When the relationship is deliberately destroyed, I believe there is little left to celebrate. It is a shame, because Xena and Gabrielle, the characters I knew and loved, deserved better. And so did their fans.


Notes

Note 01:
Full transcripts of the episodes are located in the specific episode areas at the Whoosh! episode guide: http://whoosh.org/epguide.
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Biography

John Baber John Baber
(Pictured here between producer Steven Sears and actor Robert Trebor)
A technical consultant for a certain home computer company, John is a senior at the University of Central Florida. Under the penname of Ogami, he has been writing Xena and Gabrielle fan fiction since the Third Season.
http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~jeb66038/fiction.htm
Favorite episode: THE PRICE (44/220)
Favorite line: Xena "I want to be creative in a fight, it gets my juices flowing." Gabrielle "Can we cook with your juices?" A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
First episode seen: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216)
Least favorite episode: LYRE LYRE HEARTS ON FIRE (100/510)


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