The Museum of Television and Radio (01-02)
The Sounds Behind the Sounds (03-11)
Rule Number One: Trust No One (12-22)
A Challenge Is Made (23-25)
MEMO TO MR. TAPERT: A VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS
The Museum of Television and Radio
For a fleeting moment, a prized treasure.
 My girlfriend and I attended the Xena seminar at the Museum of Television and Radio on Tuesday, June 19, 2001, where we saw FRIEND IN NEED for the first time. At the last possible minute, and with the help of a Museum security guard, I inherited two tickets for the Museum's Overflow Room that had been tossed in a garbage can by someone disappointed in their seats outside the main theater.
 In this manner, I was able to preview the season finale in a group fan environment that provided an excellent snapshot of how fans all over the world might be expected to react once the show airs in their region.
The Sounds Behind the Sounds
 As we lined up to get inside, an informal discussion started amongst the waiting crowd. The conversation revealed that, contrary to my expectations, spoiler-free, predominantly female fans held almost all of the Overflow Room seats. I locked eyes with the one other fan I identified who had read the synopses and we shared a moment of dread at what we were about to walk into.
 Earlier in the evening, I had seen police cars arrive outside the Museum and had overheard a security guard say that the guest panelists "were terrified". It is terrible having to deal with death threats, but once inside the Museum, I was surrounded by a bunch of worshipful, spoiler-free fans who struck me more as being lambs led to the slaughter than as any kind of threat.
 The Overflow Room was a small theater with about forty individual chairs set in rows and a projection TV screen embedded in the wall. Once the screening was over, we would be able to see and hear the panelists in the main theater by way of the projection system.
 As we sat waiting for the screening to begin, a number of fans called out things like "No Spoilers!" and "We Hate Spoilers!" The mood was excited and happy. One woman explained that she had paid over $200 for her ticket on eBay. I noticed many of the women were there by themselves.
 The museum staff had some trouble with the remote for the projection screen so we missed the first 30 seconds of the movie. The first thing I noticed about the finale was how great the special effects looked on the big screen and how powerful the soundtrack was when piped in on the museum's system. Then I sat back to watch the show, and to listen for the sounds behind the sounds.
 There were some noises of pleasure when Evil Xena appeared on screen, but for the most part, the room was remarkably silent throughout. That is, until the tide started to turn against Xena. At one point, an audience member turned anxiously to the rest of the audience and asked, "She's not going to die, is she?" It went downhill from there. I heard snuffling and sniffling coming from all quarters. My butch protective streak went into overdrive. I felt like I wanted to throw a chakram at the screen to make it all stop.
 A woman behind me started bawling like baby. There was murmuring during the water-transfer-kiss. I sneezed once so I missed it, but even for those not sneezing, it got lost in the overall tragedy of the final minutes. Once it became clear that Xena was not coming back, the dams broke loose in the room. The tears were flowing freely amidst quiet gasps for breath and small choking noises. I listened to the sound behind these sounds. The sound of fans' hearts breaking.
 When the screening stopped, one person clapped a few times. There was no group grieving or camaraderie after the show, and a few individual fans left rather abruptly, without waiting for the panel. You could feel the shock and the anguish in the room. I felt especially bad for the fans sitting alone, at least I had my girlfriend there to lean on.
 In discussing the finale with others, I have found it easy to be caught up in plot points and character arcs and everyone's peeves and opinions, but to actually be there with others as the story unfolded and witness the rawness and the loss was so undeniably harsh. Sitting with these broken-hearted folks made the journey we had just been on seem that much more pointless and cruel.
Rule Number One: Trust No One
 I came to the Museum as a fan, and with a fan's interests uppermost in my mind. I had been following the response on the Internet, and was interested in what Mr. Tapert and Ms. Lawless might have to say at the panel afterwards. I had my Inquiring-Minds-Want-To-Know-Hat on.
 On the other hand, I used to be an entertainment reporter for one of the largest outlets for television-related writing in the world. I have interviewed many major stars, and am familiar with the workings and practices of Hollywood. Therefore, when industry people talk, I take every word that is said with a grain of salt, if you will.
 So picture me sitting, wearing my Inquiring Minds Hat, but with about half a dozen five pound boxes of rock sea salt balanced on my lap.
 I was not surprised to see a measure of solidarity amongst the panelists as they explained why Xena died in the final episode. I will not call anyone to task for what was said, since the point was to defend, rather than to explain. My question, "Is there a version of the script, filmed or unfilmed, in which Xena lives?", was asked of the panel but the answer struck me as inconclusive.
 I thought Ms. Lawless made "a bold choice", to use her words, in starting the evening off with a little gallows humor, by comparing Xena and Gabrielle to Princess Di and Dodi Fayed in that their love could never be realized in this life. Initially, after having watched the finale, this was the big sticking point for me, the separation of Xena and Gabrielle by death.
 I remember thinking to myself at the film's conclusion, "Well, now we know for sure Xena's a lesbian, because she had to die in the end." It seemed so incredibly retro, so very Well of Loneliness to me. Speaking personally, I have been there, done that. Now, at the very end of the series, just when I was hoping for something small, like a nice smootchy tongue lock between Xena and Gabrielle just before we all call it a day, suddenly it feels like it's The Children's Hour all over again.
 Yet, in many ways I was impressed with the ending, with its solemnity, with its heroic tone, so I tried to give Mr. Tapert the benefit of the doubt. I have tried to see the finale as the grand vision its creator wanted it to be, as the lesbian Romeo and Juliet, perhaps, or more accurately, as our Tristan and Isolde.
 Even if tragedy is not what any of us wanted, even if the lesbian community has had "enough tears", to borrow Ms. O'Connor's words from that evening, perhaps the grandeur of tragedy lies somewhere in FRIEND IN NEED, transforming years of playful subtext into the stuff of Legend, and elevating Xena and Gabrielle into the Pantheon of Great Lovers, where most fans have always wanted them to be.
 Or maybe not. As the days have gone by, it has turned out the thing that has bothered me the most about the finale was not the death, nor even the beheading. It was the defilement after death. Xena's body stripped naked and hung up, and the head staring blankly at the audience from on top of a platter.
 Conjuring up images of rape and so many real-life crimes against women, this imagery struck way, excessively close to the bone. As a butch lesbian, especially, I felt my biggest fears had been tapped into. The morning after the museum event, I woke up from a nightmare of seeing Xena's disembodied head staring out at me. It felt like I had been staring into a mirror.
 I realize Mr. Tapert probably did not know he was pressing a lesbian panic button in stripping Xena naked. That is why lesbians usually do not trust Hollywood or even non-lesbians to tell their stories. Perhaps that is why the ending seems like such a slap in the face, because I and millions of other subtext fans chose not to "trust no one", because we believed, against our better judgment, that redemption was being offered to us from a wholly unexpected quarter.
A Challenge Is Made
 Mr. Tapert, I am willing to strike a bargain with you, and I hope other fans will join me behind the gauntlet I am about to throw down. I am willing to get behind your finale as the right, the serious, the risk-taking artistic choice you say it is. But, in return, I want you to stake a claim for us in television history. I want to hear you say that XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS portrayed a committed lesbian relationship evolving over several years and that your ending is the culmination of that Great Love Story. I want you to say you are sorry you defiled Xena's body, but that you did not know how it would affect us.
 In other words, I want a little respect, d*mn it. Then you will have earned your legacy back, as far as I am concerned, and in the process, won back for your lead actors all the love and adoration this fan base has to offer.
 We are waiting.
Teresa Ortega lives in Los Angeles where she works as a Creative in the Internet industry, building web sites and applications for major entertainment, fashion, and sports brands. Ms. Ortega is also a widely published writer on politics, the arts, entertainment, and lesbian culture. Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers, including The Advocate, The Wall Street Journal, and the fiction anthology New World: Young Latino Writers. She keeps a personal weblog on comic books, gaming, animation, and new media.
Favorite episode: RETURN OF CALLISTO, IDES OF MARCH, MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Favorite line: Xena: "She's a tough girl, but she's got a weakness. It's the same one I've got." CRUSADER
First episode seen: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Least favorite episode:ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA