Babes In Undersized Leather Costumes (01-05)
Kitty Snuff Films (06-09)
Ever the Loyal Fan (10-12)
Adrenaline is a Drug (13-19)
I Love You As A Warning (20-23)
The Outing of Xena (24-42)
WHAT IS LEFT WHEN NOTHING IS LEFT
Babes In Undersized Leather Costumes
Xena and Gabrielle, together for the last time.
 It is Sunday morning here. A line of thunderstorms is finding a path across Texas, carelessly flipping temperatures and dumping rain, lighting up the skies as it passes. We open the French doors to the upstairs balcony, get back in bed to enjoy the storm as it passes over our valley.
 There is something primal in it, touching each person differently. Whispers of distant rain have set my partner asleep and I watch her, her breath rising, falling with the rain.
 For me, the chill, the water pooling then dripping from the balcony then pooling again, and the sudden gray darkness of the sky have given the day a kind of autumnal sadness. I think, 'Yes, it is always like this, the cycle' as though that should mean something, would mean something even if the skies had been July crisp and bright.
 It is the first Sunday after the airing of A FRIEND IN NEED, around the time I would be setting my VCR to tape the latest episode of Xena. I am in the mood to step back, contemplate eternal truths: life, drama, and art. Even babes in undersized leather costumes.
 In the final episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, producer Rob Tapert wanted to bring Xena full circle, back to her beginnings. He ended the show with one whopper of a tale, encompassing love, death, and atonement, and not merely for Xena. Gabrielle too filled the round circle of days, "I want to be just like you, teach me everything you know," the teaching bringing with it terrible knowledge.
Kitty Snuff Films
 I had wanted to write an elegy for Xena, but after the airing of FRIEND IN NEED, my mood turned. There is no telling how a thunderstorm will affect you. Here I am, misremembering Aristotle. I believe it was him who said you could get one whale of an audience reaction by killing a basket of kittens on camera.
 Six seasons of Xena have given us the annihilation of more litters of kitties than the whole kitty snuff film industry runs through in a year. The feline fun began with THE GREATER GOOD, the episode where Xena almost dies and Gabrielle goes berserk and takes out a small army to rescue Xena's body.
 THE GREATER GOOD must have struck a chord, because soon after, we had Gabrielle almost dying and Xena going crazy reviving her, followed by Xena's crucifixion and death, while Gabrielle went on a quest. Then, Gabrielle got crucified mostly, finally both Xena and Gabrielle killed each other and went to Another Place, after which Gabrielle almost died but Xena went berserk and saved her, all capped off by Gabrielle dying and Xena going on a quest. One season even ended with both Gabrielle and Xena crucified, dying and going to Another Place, while Joxer went on a quest.
 By the sixth season, the sheer kitty-killing glee had abated to that of a mere eight-year-old, left home alone with a cat and a microwave. Gabrielle only almost died once and I think Xena was crucified only once too. A real fan would of course know, and I have a niggling feeling that I have left out a couple of crucifixions. Truth is, the deaths started to blend. I came to feel like Xena in BEEN THERE DONE THAT, where she whangs her chakram right into Joxer's chest, killing him in trade for a couple-three minutes extra sleep. I tried the exact same thing, taping FRIEND IN NEED, but my chakram broke and the silly tape lived.
Ever the Loyal Fan
 On the whole I enjoyed Season Six, kept up with my loyal-fan duties: talking up the finale, sending notes to lapsed Xenites, and posting on the newsgroup atx-s (alt.tv.xena-subtext) just to get people talking about the show. Sixties child = grass roots. The first news of FRIEND IN NEED I came to us, as for so many other episodes, through Bluesong's reviews on Whoosh. I noticed a wary premonition wash over the newsgroup: "Xena says the last thing she wants to see is Gabrielle's face. Does that mean You Know What?" because like Harry Potter, there are some things you cannot say.
 While I kept up hope, I was getting a little worried, myself. For all the hype about 'the one episode you must see', I got a sneaking feeling that I had seen this episode before: two, three times already. The messenger in the night, the old girlfriend, the flashbacks. The kisses that are not.
 Then the news about FRIEND IN NEED II hit (worst birthday present ever, Xena) and all I was, was in shock. I could not think about it or write about it. When I could write, it was just this: 'I no longer have the heart to be any kind of fan'. Because that was it, my heart had been taken. I kept thinking of Gabrielle, alone, taking the slow boat to Egypt. Later that night, I cried for her.
Adrenaline is a Drug
Gabrielle has a cunning plan to save Higuchi.
 Dramatically, the series already had gotten serious mileage from the old 'I'm dead but not really' trick. The fan problem is that adrenaline is a drug and, like any other drug, you develop a tolerance. You inevitably start visiting your supply guy saying, 'Man you gotta get me more'.
 In the old days, you could get a good high from a slightly poisoned Xena. Soon though, even broken kneecaps would not bring on that old rush. It is one straight line of descent from THE GREATER GOOD's somber Gabrielle, delicately placing a wisp of Xena's hair, all the way down to that same woman, in FRIEND IN NEED, vomiting over the headless, defiled body of her lover. What a trip.
 In a post-FRIEND IN NEED interview, Robert Tapert defended his artistic choices, especially the choice to dwell on the mutilation and brutalization of Xena's body. He said it was necessary to jolt Gabrielle into becoming the kind of warrior she needed to be.
 Another fan might replace 'needed to be' with 'make the finale slightly less implausible', but I support Tapert on this one. Consider THE GREATER GOOD, where simply viewing Xena's composed, untouched body was enough to send Gabrielle into a blind fury. Apparently by Season Six, Gabrielle had burnt out, was having problems getting motivated, needed that jolt to get her moving. After reading the plot, I had the same problem myself (Joke, Rob).
 I know Tapert is taking a lot of heat for this. Even the names he is called make me somewhat edgy. What balances it for me is that my partner is a psychologist, and has worked with the real nut cases, the ones that get even the lambs to scream. She told me how they look you in the eye, describe what they have done with no remorse, not even a sense that they have done something wrong. That should give a gal some perspective on Xena.
 I am also hearing comparisons to Ang Lee's brilliant homage to the Asian martial arts genre, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Both the heroes are on a spiritual quest. Both so consumed by a martial quest that they could not see their true destiny. Good comparison. Like Jen, Rob Tapert ought to go to the monastery at Wudan. Although many fans right now think he could usefully throw himself off the bridge, I think it would be better if he spent his time there meditating on his craft. Go the whole Oriental nine yards, approaching it with humility and reverence. By chance, he might see beyond violence.
 Because not everyone is, you know, peculiar that way. Different. Not quite normal if you know what I mean. In short, not every Xena viewer enjoys snuff films and gets a kick out of seeing babes offed.
I Love You As A Warning
 For the more normal viewers, Xena: Warrior Princess developed subtext. Seems like the deader the leads got, the more their love got undying. It started low-key with Renee O'Connor's brilliant, moving performance in THE GREATER GOOD. A bit later, Gabrielle had to tell Xena not to go dying on her again, just before Xena went and left on some new suicide mission. About the fifth time, Gabrielle started getting that nervous habit of looking over her shoulder, did her "I love you"'s early, just in case. Soon, all you had to do was hear a "love" to know something bad was going down.
 I am not sure what we learn from all this. Perhaps 'nothing is new under the sun', as the good book says. Regardless, you would not be a real fan if you half-suspected that the show might have hit its peak a bit after THE GREATER GOOD, when the whole romance-of-death thing was fresh, or at least had not been used more than three-four times.
 Me, I am not so sure. I used to get all fidgety those moments, say in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY, where Xena would tell Gabrielle how she was her best friend, ever. It was a feeling like when you think you probably should not have had that fourth glazed do-nut. I used to call it 'sentimental', like bad fan fiction. Finally, I realized that was not the correct term, because they say sentimentality is unearned emotion. However, if anyone had earned the right to a happily-ever-after together, it would be Xena and Gabrielle.
 I have a confession to make. Even watching Xena and Gabrielle doing it, I never thought dying was all that romantic. I think of it, because I have just glanced at my partner, asleep. A flash of light, thunder echoes across Austin hills. Her eyelids twitch slightly. It reminds me that there is no romance to death. Romance is in a life made together. There is a deeper appreciation of death in Agatha Christie's Nemesis, when a killer says she gave the victim a poison that put her to sleep, then buried her under the roses, so that she lies like Sleeping Beauty, awaiting her Prince Charming. Then good old Miss Marple says 'But she is not asleep, she is dead; and she does not wait. She is a rotted corpse, and no Prince Charming will wake her.'
The Outing of Xena
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, yadda, yadda, yadda.
 You can see how six seasons, and an ending which transformed Xena into a ghostly presence whispering to Gabrielle, left me one conflicted Xena fan. The show was becoming a ghost itself, not a slurpy sloppy ghost, but the clanky gnashing the teeth wailing in the night kind. Some thing was unresolved in its life, something it was now doomed to repeat endlessly. Unresolved. Now what could that be?
 Back at the newsgroup, people were saying the ending had all worked out okay. This time, Xena did not just die for the greater good. She died to help many people. Lots. Furthermore, Xena said she would always be with Gabrielle, so love won out.
 On another 'how good can things get' kind of note, Ms. Lawless told Conan O'Brien that, in watching the final cuts of FRIEND IN NEED, she suddenly and for the first time 'got' subtext and saw Xena as a lesbian. "You've outed Xena" she told her husband. In a later interview, she said, twice, that Xena had come out just in time for Pride Day.
 However Xena came to be outed, it will require a great deal of courage from the feminist icon, who will now be subject to the sneers and backstage whisperings of former friends Howdy Doody and Ramar of the Jungle. Sadly, I am not at all sure Gabrielle will want to continue to be seen with her.
 At the time this issue of Whoosh went to press, I had not gotten any response from imaginary television gay leaders. Then I remembered: one of my closest friends was President of the Alliance for Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transsexual Rights for an eastern state. I know I am wandering off topic, but I wanted to say she has been a real-life hero to me, a well-known political activist, and progressive leader. Sometimes she will tell me how hard it is to keep up the struggle: speaking at some rights rally, some Pride Day, sharing the stage with a man in a wheelchair, crippled by beatings, or a woman whose every facial bone was shattered in a mindless frenzy of hate. She said it is hard to go on, when people hate you or fear you that much. Then she would remember the courage of that man or that woman on stage, and it gave her strength.
 Although I am privileged to be her friend, this is not the type of woman you want to bother with trivialities, especially when the legislature is in session and she has got three-four rights bills pending. I was a little reluctant to ask her about Xena coming out, but loyal fan, I did. It happened to be the day domestic partner benefits came to the senate floor for a vote, but she emailed a response to me anyway. "I'm not sure Ms. Lawless understands what Pride Day means for gay people."
 That did not make much sense to me. After all, had not Ms. Lawless and Ms. O'Connor been in Pride parades? Probably a couple more times that most straight people, I would bet. If there was anyone who understood Pride and drag queens in leather, it ought to be Lucy Lawless.
 If 'gay' is new for Xena, subtext fans at least have the memory of the last scene where Xena and Gabrielle are together. The last two scenes. This was both a season finale AND a series finale, so, like sprinkles and whipped cream on top of your banana split, you get two good-bye scenes between Xena and Gabrielle. What could be better?
 It certainly had drama: Gabrielle's "I don't care. You're everything to me". Xena, wordless, vanishing with the sunset. The only thing that kept me from crying was that added touch, seeing Xena's face superimposed on the sky.
 I loved what Renee O'Connor did with the scene. With a lesser actor, you would have had to go for physical effects: wild sobs, maybe a smashing up, everything external. Ms. O'Connor got more mileage out of sitting down than most could get from a breakdown. She made her face a canvas. On it you could see painted the cruelty of death, the new emptiness of life and you could see right into her soul; you understood she could not go on without Xena.
 I could have accepted the end of the series, right at that moment. I would have always remembered Gabrielle, in the fullness, pride, and desolation of her love, now lost. However, death in Xena is not the death I know, like when my mom died from cancer. Death is like a child thinks of it: mommy is in heaven and she sees you. Sure, there is the tug, the drama of separation "I love you, Xena. How am I supposed to go on without you?"
 Then it is short-circuited. There is always some 'I'll always be with you.' Exactly how you gonna do that, Princess? You dead. You got your head cut off. You in a jar now, woman. How you gonna be with me?
 Xena would not be Xena: Warrior Princess if it did not go on to show you Gabrielle, prattling happily to her little jar and her imaginary friend, Xena. Pretty quick recovery from your grief, there. But, hey, CGI effects cannot much help with depicting emotion and character, so it is not surprising the writers had some trouble pulling this one off. Script says 'Gabrielle is at peace' and it happens, Gabrielle is at peace.
 We get a happy ending after all! Better than happy, because now the whole thing between Xena and Gabrielle is resolved, is purified of any sexual innuendo. In addition, that 'soulmate' word, which we always thought meant 'lover', that is explained too. 'Soulmate' is like 'roommate' where you share an apartment, except here it's Gabrielle's head. Best of luck, hope there are no arguments about whom gets the bathroom first, because Gabrielle has the chakram now.
 It looks like things could not get any better. If you have a True Heart, all your dreams will come true. If your wishes run along the lines of watching young women dying violently but not really, they will come true five or six times, not counting future Xena specials or films.
 Me, I am not so sure. The founder of the atx-s newsgroup, deeva, wrote that Xena: Warrior Princess was not about warlords, kings and jealous gods, warriors, princes, and redemption. The humanly true story of Xena was a story of love between two women, and it was the only story that Xena did not have the courage to tell.
 When I first came out, an older and much wiser woman told me, being lesbian was the last great romantic rebellion: you sacrificed everything, your family, your friends, often your job and the safety of your person, left the world itself behind, to follow a love greater than yourself. I believe it was Mr. Tapert's and Ms. Lawless' failure of understanding, their systematic want of courage in telling, that leads gays to question Xena's "outing."
 Xena: Warrior Princess, like the character itself, needs redemption, another chance, to see beyond itself, cut through veils of violence and darkness. "Call it the law of averages", as did Gabrielle. Someday, Mr. Tapert will get it.
 Here, it is still raining. Lightening flashes and my partner turns over, smiling.
ArticlesLady Jane Gray. Do Online Fans Dream a Digital Xena? WHOOSH #50 (November 2000)
Lady Jane Gray is also a reviewer for the Whoosh! episode guide.
Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Mathematics at the largest university in the country. On good hair days, she pretends to be Sydney Fox. She enjoys history, archaeology, anthropology, literature, and is a bit of a snob. Active pursuits include tennis, sarcasm, and innuendo. Her partner of twelve years is a counseling psychologist, and the two live in Austin, TX, with their four imaginary children. Her partner lived six years in Japan and against all evidence, believes returning is a good idea.
She became a Xena fan the first time she saw the clip of an athletic young woman riding with furious intent along the seashore. It promised excitement, adventure, and romance without end. She began a six-year career posting snide remarks on newsgroups and, regrettably, soon started writing fan fiction. Her most recent story is "Dreaming".
Favorite episode: For clarity of vision and integrity: SINS OF THE PAST (01/101). For drama, ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402).
Favorite line: Xena: "And?" THE QUEST (37/213); Gabrielle: "I'm with you because I want to be. I love you, Xena." WHEN IN ROME... (62/316).
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)
Least favorite episode: Any episode where the leads are raped, sadistically beaten, or crucified (added in proof: decapitated). Just not into it, I guess.