` Serendipity And Meta-Subtext: Contemplation From Under The Lake - Page 2 of 6
Whoosh! Issue 63 - December 2001


By Edward Mazzeri
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
14314 words

Author's notes:

One day recently I was contemplating, among the Shakespearean spectrum of Xena: Warrior Princess stories that range from drama to comedy, how perfect a gem of a fairytale is A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). How serendipitous was its coming together, being made on a shoestring and using spare film from another overlong episode, and all, when, on the TV, up popped an all-singing all-dancing episode of Gilligan's Island (TV, 1964-1967). The rest is serendipity.

Serendipity Stormcorks (01-15)
Many Chords (16-20)
Hitting on Bedrock Streams (21-35)
Singing Ginger (36-37)
Summers and Grant (38-63)
The General Fan (64-69)
Could-Have-Been Threads and Arcs (70-80)
Writers Talking Directly To the Audience (81-82)
Serendipity of Episodes and Real-World Events (83-84)
Psychological Constraints and Restraints (85-86)
Multi-Phasic Plots (87-91)
Earflaps and The Rainbow Shaman (92-113)
There Is A Lot Of New Zealand In Xena (114-120)
Epilogue (121-142)


Serendipity Stormcorks

The word is luck, sir.
-- Robert Tapert, Executive Producer, Xena: Warrior Princess[Note 01]

I don't have a master plan. I'm a cork in a storm. It's a great profession [acting] because one day you have nothing ahead and the next day someone calls and you are off.
-- Gina Riley, an Australian singer/actor/comedian[Note 02]

[01] In addition, the other way round too, at the other end of the dreamscape, when a series reaches the end of its run. Because the timing and circumstances that define events are not totally under the control of an individual consciousness, the subconscious -- both individual and collective -- can be invited to sit at the creative table. This in turn allows serendipity to come into play. The result is that, occasionally, two things are placed adjacent to each other in a time or tone that would otherwise not have occurred consciously to anyone to consider them together. Of these results, some strike such a harmonious chord that their togetherness takes on a significance greater, deeper, and more memorable than either would have had in isolation from the other.

[02] The series Xena: Warrior Princess has participated in multi-layered serendipity at all stages of its existence. In fact, multi-layeredness in everything seems to be the essential attribute of the series. It has had its fair share of synchronicity, too, but that is another story.

[03] There are layers to serendipity, like there are layers of water in a lake. There is simple serendipity, of the plain or garden variety. For instance, like telling a relative in passing that you are going camping in such-and-such a place, and that conversation is what allows a caller from overseas to eventually track you down after the auditions to tell you that you got the part in a Hercules spin-off. From that, a series comes together.

[04] Another example of simple serendipity is when you are doing a series that showcases Amazons, and a news report comes out of Central Asia that says bronze mirrors, necklaces, weapons, and horse skeletons have been found buried next to the remains of women. Maybe Amazons were not such a myth after all. From that the series dovetails into, and intertwines with, events in the real world.

[05] A more complex serendipity occurs outside your studio office, after you have packaged your creative effort and sent it out into the world and you can no longer influence it. For instance, when a local station is airing a run (or sprint or dash) of daily Xena: Warrior Princess episodes while another station is transmitting the summer Olympics, including the closing ceremony. In this closing ceremony, the priestesses of Artemis have stepped outside of Greece for the first time ever to perform a dance of graceful Celtic-type triple spirals, ending with the Winged Victory pose, to take the Olympic Spirit back to Greece. From that reality intertwines with Xena.

When they said I'd be working with Nike, I didn't expect THIS!  Where's the swoosh?
Moon-Goddess Maidens dancing during the Vernal Full Moon Festival

[06] Another example of this second-layer serendipity is transmitting DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422)[Note 03], then following that the next week with THE WAY (84/416). The juxtaposition of these two episodes by coincidence, with all their talk about past lives and reincarnation, suggests that each episode of Xena: Warrior Princess chronicles a different lifetime in the histories of two souls whose activities join together and intermesh with one another, "sharing the same dreamscape", in the words of DREAMWORKER (03/103). This explains the Xena historical timeline stretching across such a long span and jumping to various locations when in a "normal" story the characters are usually set in one time and place only. It also explains the evolution of Gabrielle's costumes and, to a lesser extent, Xena's gear, as the series progressed. The costumes represent the characteristic mental/spiritual states of the characters. In this way, each episode could be seen as a complete lifetime of our soulmate pair.

[07] This serendipity in turn begins to highlight the significance of another recurring thread-motif in Xena: Warrior Princess where Xena spends much plot time in the spiritual plane. She confronts nightmares of Callisto in INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207), comforts Gabrielle in THE QUEST (37/213), battles Alti in THEM BONES THEM BONES (95/505), visits relatives and enemies when either she or they or both are dead, and so on. It is almost as if Xena were a type of many-skilled spiritual paramedic, helping to quickly secure souls safely onto Charon's gurney-ferryboat to get them to Hades for assessment. This pre-op prep function is the mythic role of the Valkyries ("choosers of the slain") who escort worthy souls from the battlefield to the paradise of Valhalla.

[08] A recurring thread in a series can be considered the collective subconscious equivalent of a recurring dream for an individual. This particular thread seems to be saying "Xena as Valkyrie". In Star Trek Borg terms, she is the welcoming committee when the Borg enter the peaceful garden of Unimatrix Zero during their regeneration phase. The more frightened ones have to be calmed and subdued before they damage themselves and any others there. Others have to be persuaded with words. Hence, her many skills.

[09] This "Valkyrie" thread was probably unintentional, in the sense that it was not consciously planted and nurtured, but developed naturally, through many minds, as the stories were selected and told. The starting seed could have been the idea of Xena as Gabrielle's protector, like her guardian angel. The subconscious resonance of the idea allows it to have a wider and deeper impact than it otherwise would have had, bypassing cultural expectations and linguistic limitations to land (as it were) with a splash in the wells of memory and send waves in all sorts of directions. Just like poetry does.

[10] In contrast, conscious references and parallels have a more limited scope: they are only effective if both teller and listener have shared the same experience, when the same metaphorical grammar is shared. For example, a reader of Dune (Frank Herbert, Chilton Books, 1965) would find a Spice resonance in the scenes in THEM BONES THEM BONES (95/505) where Gabrielle, and then Xena, enter the realm where Alti is to be found. Someone who has not read Dune would not find that resonance, just some obtuse and abstract iconic imagery between action scenes. Likewise, the two questions asked in THE PRODIGAL (18/118)

Who are you and what do you want?
(and to which Gabrielle's response begins with "Two very important questions...") find an immediate resonance among Babylon 5 (1993-1999) viewers, where those two questions formed a major part of the story arcs over the five years of that series. Someone who has not seen Babylon 5 would just be hearing normal Xena-type dialogue.

[11] There was a monster movie once, about silica-absorbing rocks from outer space that grew enormously large when they were exposed to plain water. Moreover, people who encountered them had the life sucked out of them, their skin turning to stone. Bill Warren, reviewing The Monolith Monsters (John F. Sherwood, 1957)[Note 04] says

"One suspects the story derived from someone having seen crystals grow in chemical solution."
This is how he describes what happens when rain falls on the meteor fragments:
"The stones begin to grow phenomenally, shooting to the height of tall buildings, toppling and shattering thunderously, then leaping upward again from their own ruins."
Eventually, the heroes find a solution: ordinary table salt, but,
"At the end, the salt does not destroy the monoliths, [they are] only halted."

[12] The audiences of the time thought that using salt as a way of stopping the monsters was weak and unspectacular. Rayguns, rockets, and big explosions were preferred in those days, so the film was not a huge hit. As a problem-solving story, the film is not very interesting. However, it becomes extremely interesting when compared to time-lapse photographs and films of any modern major city on the planet. The differences are that skyscrapers did not fall out of the sky on the back of a meteorite, and that buildings grow on a scale of months and years rather than hours.

[13] Otherwise, the similarities are too close to be coincidental if you are a cement engineer. The monolith monsters and tall buildings both need water in the growth phase for silica and concrete. When they topple uncaringly, they hurt people. Salt can harm them, or at least prevent their spread. People who encounter them lose the spark that makes them people.

[14] The film makes more sense as a metaphorical image projected from the subconscious than it does as a monster movie where the heroes have to work out a way to stop the monsters. It is the subconscious conveying its perception of what cities are, not in words but in images and relationships between people and events. The metaphor only became apparent several years after seeing a repeat of this film at the same time as noticing some real live multi-story shiny-glassed silica-surfaced monoliths slowly advancing along the local horizon where trees used to be. That was the beginning of my awareness of multi-layers in stories.

[15] The time delay in working this out metaphor must be me. For example, it took me three or four days to realize that what Xena had been spending so much time on whittling for most of KINDRED SPIRITS (107/517) was intended by her to be a toothpick. This hearkened back to the Bugs Bunny episode where the giant forest tree is ground down at the lumber mill into one toothpick.

Many Chords

One week, they're melodrama-- the next week, they're Three Stooges.
--Marco, DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422)

[16] For students in Xenachology 101:

It is an interesting thought that unconscious parallels are more striking than intentional ones[Note 05].

[17] Inventing a story is like inventing a language. It cannot be done without being influenced by previous exposures to other languages: grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Plot, characters, development, imagery, jokes, and so on from other stories enter your own imaginings. It is difficult to tell stories that can cross cultural boundaries and be told around other campfires. Moreover, the rules for telling stories come from somewhere.

Most people's reference tends to come from television...it's no surprise that the series people watched as kids influence the work they produce as adults[Note 06].

[18] There are conscious influences: If an episode of Farscape can be called "My Three Crichtons", then someone must have been watching My Three Sons some where along the way, and the reference was deliberately chosen. Three Stooges references have entered Xena: Warrior Princess as deliberate insertions: from the whirling punches and sound effects in THE FURIES (301), to the nose-tweaking in KINDRED SPIRITS (517), and the pie fights in PUNCH LINES (511). The suggestion is that, in comedic slapstick moments, the Xena-Gabrielle-Joxer/Tara trio emulates the Moe-Larry-Shemp/Curly trio. The effectiveness of that emulation depends on the mood of the audience (usually at that moment) because the audience is consciously aware of what the creators have consciously chosen to do, and so they react accordingly, thumbs up or down.

Whether ideas are added consciously to an episode or just grow unintended out of the creative process, there are [no new ideas] just twists on old ones with bigger and brighter packaging[Note 07].

[19] In a recent The Official Xena Magazine, there is a report of Alexandra Tydings chatting on-line about the reactions to the "pretty silly" MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS. The report concludes with her (fashionably appropriate) observation that, when you are watching Xena,

You don't want to see purple and blue and turquoise and a set that looks like it's from the Flintstones![Note 08]

[20] Many people have put that episode in their Least Favorite category. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

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