Early Teachers (03-08)
Lao Ma (09-11)
Later Teachers (16-17)
MASTERS AND PUPILS
Kenji teaches Gabrielle some subtle lessons.
 I have scrolled through the postings, read the reviews, and watched the final show three times. It was a mesmerizing and lovingly crafted finale, but in order to make sense of it, I had to review and analyze the entire series in the ancient tradition of master/teacher and protege/pupil. Seen in this perspective, the adventures of Xena and Gabrielle becomes a story of lessons of light and dark, of the master making way for the pupil. It has helped me to paint Xena's ultimate sacrifice as something other than an awkward contrivance.
 All through the series, there has been a recurring theme of student and teacher that was revealed slowly through the back-stories. Some encounters were obvious as to who was the teacher and who the student. Others were more oblique. Yet, they all held tremendous importance for Xena. This is an attempt to make a timeline based on the revelations of Xena's journey, not necessarily in the order of the episodes aired.
 Although we were never given the identity of Xena's first teacher, it can be assumed that someone taught her to be a warrior. Unless, of course, it is not unusual for an innkeepers daughter from the backwaters of Greece to learn some awesome fighting skills just by hanging around the tavern. Perhaps this teacher was Ares, maybe her father, we cannot be sure, but somehow Xena learned to fight well enough to lead an army and defeat the warlord, Cortese.
 We next see Xena sailing the bounding main as a pirate/protector of Amphipolis and running headlong into her first two great teachers. Xena is still young here, as this is probably shortly after Cortese. She is living her life as a low level, albeit successful, brigand and is already realizing this is not enough for her. She is beginning to have dreams of conquest beyond her small ship and crew.
 In DESTINY, Xena meets up first with Caesar, Julius Caesar and then with M'Lila. M'Lila teaches her some fancy fighting skills like leaps and twirls, as well as the Pinch, something Xena will later see as a sacred trust. Is that because it came from someone who sacrifices herself to keep Xena safe and thus gives her the ultimate loyalty? Certainly, she seems to be one of the first persons that Xena let herself get close to. However, more importantly, M'Lila teaches Xena the value of friendship.
 Although M'Lila is Xena's tutor for only a short time, her impact on Xena's life is profound. Enough so that years later just a few words from M'Lila is enough to induce Xena to return from her first death. (I will give some credit here to Gabrielle's heart-wrenching need as well, but it was M'Lila who convinced Xena to carry on the good fight.)
 Unfortunately, M'Lila's lessons are overshadowed during this same period by the more deadly examples from the weasel Caesar. Caesar teaches Xena far too well about betrayal and deception. He gives her the direction for the next ten years of her life, one of revenge, murder, deception, and mayhem.
 From these twin encounters, one good and one bad, Xena gathers the seeds that will recur throughout her life. From M'Lila the importance of friendship and loyalty, although her more benign and spiritual lessons will take some time to percolate through Xena's psyche. Caesar's more immediate lessons on mistrust and vengeance will fuel Xena's obsessions until her second death. This pattern, of assimilating the negative lessons immediately and only later realizing the positive ones, will repeat itself in Xena's life.
 When Xena teams up with Borias, she meets her next great mentor. In the flashbacks of THE DEBT, we learn of Xena's encounter with Lao Ma. The teachings of Lao Ma are as much about tapping into a new power as they are about friendship, even love. In some ways, Lao Ma is continuing the lessons into the spiritual that were first began by M'Lila. However, it is a power that requires letting go of hate and self-will. At this point in her life, Xena is nothing if not willful and hateful. The surprise of this episode is Xena offering to serve Lao Ma. Never again, that we know of, will Xena offer to follow anyone and although she proves incapable of that level of devotion, she recognizes a true sage when she meets one.
 The fact that Lao Ma is ultimately disappointed is clear when she starts slamming Xena into walls. Yet she will believe in Xena enough to call for her help in righting the wrongs done by her son, Ming T'ien, with every confidence that the call will be answered. Again, Xena does not immediately understand this master's impact. It will be another ten years before she recognizes what Lao Ma taught her, but she is willing to lose the most important person in her life to repay her debt to this teacher.
 As an aside here, even Borias can be seen as someone with minor lessons to teach, although Xena treated him with contempt. Xena herself admits, in THE LAST OF THE CENTAURS, that she chose Borias because she was ambitious and he was an up and coming warlord. She obviously viewed him only as a stepping stone to her own dreams of being the Conqueror of Nations. Later she would recognize that Borias showed her how even a warlord could change into a noble person, one who would sacrifice all to keep their word. It would seem poor Xena became a very slow learner after Caesar's betrayal.
 I place the meeting with Akemi next in the timeline, based on several clues. First, Xena's legs are healed so it must take place sometime after Lao Ma, but before Alti since Xena does not seem to be pregnant in the flashbacks of FRIEND IN NEED. Nor has she yet tasted the dark side with Alti's powers or she would not have been as gentle with Akemi's machinations.
 Akemi breaks through the cold mask of the warrior with innocence and, seemingly, unfettered devotion. The episode suffered from some obvious heavy editing because a few lines of haiku and sweet toothsome smiles cannot be enough to buy Xena's heart. Of course, Gabrielle will use much the same techniques on our warrior years later, but takes more than two episodes to do it in. Maybe Xena harbors a poet's heart underneath all that leather. Yet, somehow Xena is profoundly shaken by Akemi's sacrifice. Enough so that she chops off her hair in an ancient sign of mourning, paints herself in some kind of kabuki makeup, and gets snockered. She also looks like there have been a few fights along the way, with the cut-away shot to her bruised legs. I would love to see what was left on the cutting room floor to explain the depths of this mourning. Again, the pattern of delayed recognition of the meaning of this encounter holds true. The influence of Akemi will be felt only years later, when the final denouement plays itself out.
 Perhaps because of the disappointments with her previous mentors, Xena is ripe to fall under the influence of her most deadly teacher, Alti. In ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, Xena fully explores her dark side under the tutelage of the evil shaman. This too can be seen as the necessary passage every pupil must take. She must resist the seductive pull of power exercised with no restraints and no conscience.
 Xena takes to the dark side with gleeful abandon and commits perhaps her greatest atrocity with the massacre of the Amazons. Only the fear of her unborn child in the hands of Alti stops Xena's headlong rush into evil. But she pays a fearful price for both her dip into darkness and her repudiation of Alti. She relinquishes her son to protect him from herself and will ultimately have to defeat the evil she brought into being. At this point, Xena is also the unintentional teacher to Satrina who studies the evil Xena quite closely and brings those lessons home to Xena in PAST IMPERFECT.
 It is hard to tell how much time passes after the encounter with Alti, but it looks to be at least five more years before Xena runs into her next mentor. Hercules is unique in being the only male we are aware of that Xena will accept as a role model, unless you count Eli. All the other important figures in her life are female, as will be the one who pulls all the past lessons together, and become her soul mate as well. I do not include Caesar here because there is some debate whether Xena really lost her heart to Caesar or was just using her god-given seductive powers to get a conquering partner.
 In UNCHAINED HEART, Xena does lose her heart, to Hercules, and he starts her on the path to redemption. With just one quick roll in the forest, he manages to overshadow all of the horrors of her past and give her incentive to right all her wrongs. That is some demi-god! For once, Xena learns the positive lessons quickly. Hercules enlightens her to pursue what is righteous and just. He instills in her the belief that she can do good. This encounter will set her up for the final, and best, teacher in her journey.
The student is now the master.
 When Xena leaves Hercules, she is determined to begin a quest for redemption and forgiveness. Something must go horribly wrong with this plan because when we meet her in SINS OF THE PAST, she is a defeated woman ready to lay down her armor and possibly her life. There is a strong sense of a death wish around her when she goes home for a forgiveness she does not actually believe in. The meeting between Xena and Gabrielle blurs the line between master and protege.
 At first blush, it seems obvious that Xena will be the teacher to Gabrielle's pupil, but things are not what they seem. It is Gabrielle's innocence and innate sense of the good that will guide Xena into the light. Gabrielle will contain the essence of each of the previous mentors but will pull it all together in a way that none of them could.
 Lao Ma, Akemi, and even M'Lila had ulterior motives in their dealings with Xena, but not Gabrielle. She does not have a kingdom to save or a wrong to be righted, she only wants to be Xena's friend and learn everything she has to teach. It is through their travels and travails that they discover each other as soulmates while the master becomes the pupil and the pupil the guide to righteousness.
 Gabrielle's journey of discovery will run the gamut of teachers from Callisto to Dahak to Ares to Eli, with Xena always at the center. However, that is another article in itself.
 As in the ancient traditions, the master steps aside, sometimes into death, so that the pupil can take her place as the rightful inheritor of all that the master was. Therefore, Xena gave to Gabrielle everything that she knew, and then faded from the scene, literally. The torch has been passed, and who knows where the adventures of the final product will lead? Perhaps Gabrielle will retire to that vineyard by the sea to complete the chronicles of the Warrior Woman and her apprentice. Perhaps she will become again the poet that Xena introduced to Akemi. Battle on Gabrielle, but try to keep the conversations with the ghost to private time lest you become the Warrior who talks to pots.
Carla M. Gilless
Carla M. Gilless is a computer nerd. She spends her days running LANS and keeping her user's computer systems working. However, her real life is spent in the land of myth, folklore, and herstory. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and a polydactyl cat named Bigfoot, who shares her fascination with watching Xena episodes. (The cat, that is; the husband only watches westerns and Three Stooges shorts.) One of Carla's goals in life is to convince her historian husband that all history is someone else's mythology, and Xena could be as real a character as Abraham Lincoln.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE, DESTINY, and BITTER SUITE
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "No, she likes what I do." A DAY IN THE LIFE
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS