Whoosh! Issue 71 - August 2002

GABRIELLE: THE FORGOTTEN HERO

Page 2


Losing Her Way

Hellllllp Meeeeeeeeee!
Gabrielle appeared as an eight-legged freak in SIN TRADE.

[48] The Season Four opener ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69/401, 70/402) began with a grief-crazed Warrior Princess obsessed with the desire to see Gabrielle again. Xena intended to use shamanistic rituals to join her in eternity, but soon realized that Gabrielle would rather she pursued the Greater Good by saving the Amazon souls trapped in the Land of the Dead. When the evil shaman Alti entered Xena's mind and found memories of Gabrielle, she demanded to know who the "blonde one" was. Xena replied:

"She's goodness and innocence, Alti, and she'll live inside me forever. She frightens you, because she represents what can defeat you."

[49] In their final encounter even the combined spirits of Xena and the Amazons could not defeat Alti until the shaman made the mistake of showing Xena a vision of her future. Xena would die on a Roman cross, but Gabrielle would die alongside her. The knowledge that her friend was still alive gave Xena the strength to kill Alti, and revealed the new holy word that would allow the souls of the Northern Amazons to pass into eternity: "Love." In reality, this victory was as much Gabrielle's as Xena's.

[50] A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403) saw Xena and Gabrielle reunited, but failed to convincingly explain how the latter had survived her fall. Even co-writer Liz Friedman could only speculate [Note 01] , and I find myself wondering if TPTB even cared. The explanation offered in SOUL POSSESSION (132/620), that Xena knew Ares had saved both Gabrielle and Hope, contradicts this episode and was clearly added as an afterthought. I cannot imagine such a casual approach being taken had Xena been the one to fall into the lava pit. This episode also saw Gabrielle express doubts about her true way in life. Her spiritual quest would become a recurring theme in Season Four.

[51] The Warrior Princess' past crimes came back to haunt her in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407). Arrested for the murder of a young woman named Thalassa, she did not attempt to defend herself and was sentenced to life imprisonment. It later emerged that Thalassa had survived, and was now the prison commandant. Her body and soul had been maimed by her ordeal, and it was Gabrielle who enabled her to rediscover her "inner beauty". In doing so, the bard saved not only Thalassa, but Xena too. Gabrielle's courage was again demonstrated in PAST IMPERFECT (75/407) when she finally learned of Xena's premonition of their deaths. She refused to avoid taking risks despite knowing they were near the mountain Xena had seen in her vision. CRUSADER (76/408) saw Gabrielle consider leaving Xena to run a hospice with Najara, a self-proclaimed "Warrior of the Light". Although Xena, who was desperate to keep the vision of her friend's death from happening, initially supported Gabrielle, many fans criticized the younger woman's choice. They apparently believed that Gabrielle should have no free will in her life, and that Xena should dictate her destiny for her.

[52] Gabrielle's spiritual quest eventually led her and Xena to India. The bond between them was further emphasized in BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415) when it was revealed that they were "soulmates". They had known and would know each other in many different lives. One of Xena's future incarnations was Arminestra, a lame middle-aged woman who would become a great force for peace in India. Gabrielle would be reborn as the warrior prince Shakti, a young man sworn to Arminestra's defense. No matter where or even when they were, Gabrielle would always be an essential part of Xena's life.

[53] R. J. Stewart's THE WAY (84/416) was arguably the most controversial episode since THE BITTER SUITE, not only because of the offence it caused to Hindu groups, but because it ended with Gabrielle espousing the "Way of Love." She had expressed growing doubts about fighting ever since she failed to save a man's life in battle in A GOOD DAY (73/405) and now foreswore violence altogether, throwing her beloved fighting staff into a river. Xena had been assured that her own path was the one she already walked, the Way of the Warrior, which left her and Gabrielle with little in common. Moreover, as the bard refused to defend herself even when attacked, Xena was placed in the position of having to fight for both of them as she had at the beginning of Season One. The new, passive "Gandhi Gabrielle" was not popular with viewers, and THE WAY and subsequent episodes saw the season's ratings sink to their lowest levels.

[54] The greatest indignity inflicted upon the Bard of Poteidaia in Season Four was, in my opinion, THE PLAY'S THE THING (85/417), in which she was depicted as a vain, easily duped control freak. The episode is ample proof of just how low the Gabrielle-centered stories had sunk by this time. Najara returned in THE CONVERT (86/418), claiming to have renounced violence. Again, Gabrielle was taken in by what she wanted to hear. Xena, of course, knew better. The subplot of Joxer's guilt over his first kill at least gave Gabrielle the chance to be of some use, as she helped him to come to terms with the change in his life. This is more than can be said of TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE (87/419), in which Xena had to solve a murder mystery. Gabrielle's main talent in this episode appeared to be stating the obvious, causing even Xena to roll her eyes in despair. Whatever happened to the intelligent, insightful bard of the first two seasons?

[55] Gabrielle was allowed to show some of her old spirit in ENDGAME (88/420), taking command of her Amazon tribe after Ephiny's death. Despite the constant sniping of the bratty young warrior Amarice, she successfully rallied the Amazon defense against Pompey's army while Xena dealt with Pompey himself. She also negotiated a peace treaty with Brutus, Caesar's right-hand man -- that the treaty was never signed was due solely to Caesar's ambition. Captured by Brutus in THE IDES OF MARCH (89/421), Gabrielle began the process of convincing the Roman that Caesar was untrustworthy and obsessed with power, a process completed by Xena. With Xena crippled in a rescue attempt Gabrielle abandoned the Way of Love for her true way, the Way of Friendship, and fought to defend the fallen warrior. In doing so, she ensured that Alti's prophecy was fulfilled. Crucified next to Xena, Gabrielle paid the ultimate price to stay with her friend.


Xena's Shadow

And the hours are better as a demon too!
Gabrielle shows a bad side in FALLEN ANGEL.

[56] FALLEN ANGEL (91/501) showed the almost obsessive nature of Xena's love for Gabrielle. First, she helped to rescue her friend from Hell then, having given up her "light" in order to save Callisto's soul, tried to snatch Gabrielle back from Heaven. Some have criticized Gabrielle for her apparent willingness to sacrifice Xena, but they forget the bard's nature. Letting a demonic Xena take control of Heaven would have been against the Greater Good, something Gabrielle could not allow. She was prepared to live with the torment of knowing she had doomed her best friend to "spend eternity in pieces" as Michael put it, which says much for her strength of character.

[57] CHAKRAM (92/502) saw the return of the Battling Bard of Poteidaia. She now fought with a pair of sais rather than her trusty staff, but her old warrior spirit was back and the future looked brighter. The Twilight of the Gods Arc, brought about by the necessity of writing Lucy Lawless' pregnancy into the show, would have been a golden opportunity for Gabrielle to use her newly-developed fighting skills in the defense of both Xena and her unborn child. Unfortunately, TPTB chose the far less believable option of having Xena continue to fight with no apparent loss of agility well into her third trimester.

[58] Gabrielle lost her greatest ally with the departure of Co-Executive Producer Steven L. Sears early in Season Five. Sears had always regarded her as a pivotal character, and wrote many of the best stories centered on her. One of the few episodes in which Gabrielle was allowed to shine was LITTLE PROBLEMS (98/508). With her spirit trapped in the body of a young girl, Xena fell into a coma and it was left to Gabrielle to protect her. She did so in some style, using a variety of weapons including a flaming whip to fight off a vastly superior force. This scene showed just how much Gabrielle's abilities had developed over the years, and she told her unconscious friend, "I wish you could have seen that." So do I.

[59] In SEEDS OF FAITH (99/509), Gabrielle was equally protective, prompting Xena to criticize her for being too quick to fight. Considering Xena's behavior in both earlier and later episodes this struck me as unfair, but worse was to come. Gabrielle defended Eli against Ares until her friend told her she could not save his life with violence. She turned away and Ares killed him. When Xena returned from slowing down Ares' army, she demanded to know if Gabrielle had defended Eli, blaming the already distraught bard for his death. This showed the Warrior Princess as not only hypocritical, but grossly insensitive to Gabrielle's feelings. Had Xena simply cut down the bridge Ares' troops were trying to cross instead of amusing herself by killing half of them, she would have been back in time to defend Eli herself. It later emerged that Gabrielle had done the right thing, but Xena's wrong-headedness was excused when Gabrielle said she had blamed herself for Eli's death.

[60] Gabrielle's character continued to be twisted as the season progressed. She was inexplicably jealous of Joxer's involvement with an Amazon "rocker chick" in LYRE, LYRE, HEARTS ON FIRE (100/510), which again saw her having to be rescued by a heavily pregnant Xena. Following Eve's birth Gabrielle confessed to being "a real b-tch" to Joxer in ETERNAL BONDS (103/513), but at least the final battle gave her another chance to show off her fighting skills. This was true to an even greater degree in AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE (104/514), in which Gabrielle served as Xena's second-in-command. She led counterattacks from the ramparts, rallied the wavering defenders with an effective speech, and played a vital diversionary role in Xena's plan to have Ares fight on their side.

[61] A Gabrielle-centered episode seemed long overdue, but even Renée O'Connor's talent could not save the lamentable MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515), which made THE PLAY'S THE THING look like ONE AGAINST AN ARMY. The less said about it the better.

[62] Returning to the Northern Amazons in an attempt to shake off the pursuing Olympian gods, Xena and Gabrielle settled down to a life of domesticity. Xena, however, quickly grew bored and in KINDRED SPIRITS (107/517), she decided to move on, taking Eve with her. So much for those wonderful words, "Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you." She changed her mind only after belatedly reading some of Gabrielle's scrolls. The newly installed Amazon Queen was also finding life difficult. Trapped by traditions and laws that demanded Joxer should die, she was unable to think her way out of the situation and again had to be helped out by Xena. The episode ended with Gabrielle once more packing up and abandoning her responsibilities to follow the Warrior Princess. This shows the irony of her words to Amarice in THEM BONES, THEM BONES (95/505):

"For years I walked in Xena's shadow. I wanted to be her. She taught me something important -- it's warmer standing in the sun."

[63] It was true that Gabrielle no longer walked in Xena's shadow -- she had become Xena's shadow, with little apparent will of her own.

[64] Leaving Xena and Gabrielle entombed in ice for twenty-five years allowed TPTB to sidestep the sheer impracticality of Xena's lifestyle now that she had a helpless child in tow. When the two women emerged to find Eve now calling herself Livia and leading the Roman legions against the followers of Eli, the stage was set for a dramatic confrontation. Gabrielle supported Xena's attempts to turn her murderous daughter back to the light and in EVE (111/521) she risked her own life trying to win Livia over, to no avail. Livia was irredeemable, something she proved by killing the now elderly Joxer. Even Gabrielle gave up at this point, refusing to call Xena's daughter Eve any more.

[65] Despite all the evidence of her daughter's evil, Xena was unable to kill Livia. This was in stark contrast to Gabrielle's actions once she knew Hope's true nature in MATERNAL INSTINCTS and SACRIFICE II. Suddenly Xena looked weak in comparison to her friend, but again TPTB changed the rules with Livia's deus ex machina conversion back to Eve. This spared Xena the agony Gabrielle had suffered over the death of her own daughter, and once more put Xena in the right. MOTHERHOOD (112/522) saw Gabrielle reduced to a plot device yet again. Her mind taken over by the Furies, she attempted to kill Eve and suffered savage retribution from Xena. Her death was averted only by the last-minute intervention of Ares. The fact that Xena had tried to kill her soulmate after allowing the God of War's charm to overcome her common sense was overlooked - after all, why worry about a mere sidekick?


The Reluctant Warrior

Good thing I'm getting skilled at removing blood from my clothing.
Gabrielle kills again in LEGACY.

[66] Xena finally offered an apology for what she had done to Gabrielle in COMING HOME (113/601), but the bard dismissed it as unnecessary, something typical of her forgiving nature where her friend was concerned. Both THE HAUNTING OF AMPHIPOLIS (114/602) and HEART OF DARKNESS (115/603) saw Gabrielle succumb to evil influences, her previous role as a shining example of goodness being usurped by Xena's daughter Eve.

[67] It appears that TPTB had run out of fresh ideas for Gabrielle, so in LEGACY (117/605) they had her kill unintentionally, becoming racked by guilt and starting to doubt her true way in life. This theme was continued in THE ABYSS (118/606), needlessly recalling the events of THE DELIVERER, GABRIELLE'S HOPE and much of Season Four. Thankfully, Gabrielle regained her nerve by the end of the episode, averting the threat of a return to the Way of Love. One good thing to emerge from THE ABYSS was Xena's belated acknowledgement that in demanding Gabrielle hand over the infant Hope to be slaughtered she had asked the impossible. Unfortunately, this was done in such a low-key way that some viewers may have missed its significance.

[68] Xena was again haunted by her past misdeeds in the RHEINGOLD trilogy (119/607-121/609) and abandoned Gabrielle to travel to Valhalla. The bard followed her friend, however, and became instrumental in the restoration of Xena's memory. Even amnesia could not keep Xena from seeing and hearing her soulmate, whom she eventually found and revived from an enchanted sleep with a kiss. Without those visions of Gabrielle, Xena would never have recovered her awareness of who she truly was.

[69] TPTB's patronizing attitude toward the Bard of Poteidaia in Xena: Warrior Princess' later years was reflected in an exchange between Gabrielle and Xena from YOU ARE THERE (125/613). When Gabrielle again expressed her desire to learn Xena's trademark "pinch" technique, Xena told her:

"No, no, no. You can take the pinch off, but you're not allowed to put the pinch on."
To which the outraged bard replied:
"Oh, I'm not allowed? Oh, that's right -- I'm the sidekick. You go ahead, Xena. I'll walk 10 paces behind you -- and your horse!"

[70] Gabrielle suffered another reversal in PATH OF VENGEANCE (126/614). To save Eve's life, she challenged the newly installed Amazon Queen Varia, who had fallen under the influence of Ares. Their single combat, however, saw Gabrielle severely beaten. This was supposedly because Varia had learned a few tricks from Ares, which ignores the fact that Gabrielle had learned a great deal from Xena, who had herself spent considerable time under Ares' tutelage. Xena's subsequent defeat of Varia added insult to injury for Gabrielle. Apparently TPTB did not regard it as sufficient for Xena to win -- Gabrielle had to lose first, and all for the sake of a superfluous character who was written out of the series in the very same episode.

[71] TO HELICON AND BACK (127/615) saw more upheaval in Gabrielle's life, as she led a dangerous mission to rescue the kidnapped Varia. In doing so, she had to make a number of harsh decisions, sending one of her Amazons on a suicide mission and sacrificing a mortally wounded subordinate to distract hungry sharks. She also had to cope with the treachery of Varia, who tried to murder her. Gabrielle spared Varia's life, but made it clear that she was no longer queen. This episode showed just how far the "little girl from Poteidaia" had come since the beginning of the series. It ended with Queen Gabrielle facing the challenge of ruling the remnants of her people, but this promising storyline was unaccountably abandoned in favor of a pointless "clip show", and the Amazons were never seen again.

[72] LAST OF THE CENTAURS (128/616) was one of the most offensive episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess I have ever seen. As soon as an uncharacteristically bloodthirsty Gabrielle said that Belach should die for his crimes, I knew Xena would find an excuse to spare him. When Gabrielle repeated her assertion I correctly guessed she would apologize to Xena for being wrong. Even so, I was unprepared for the final scene, in which the "Xena right, Gabrielle wrong" message was driven home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Again Gabrielle was made to look foolish, and the fact that Xena had been swayed by her personal feelings of guilt into letting a mass murderer go unpunished was completely ignored.

[73] It at first appeared that Gabrielle would be a passive victim in WHEN FATES COLLIDE (130/618). A sad indictment of the course Xena: Warrior Princess had taken is that I was surprised when she turned out to have a pivotal role to play. It was she who destroyed the loom of the Fates, foiled the schemes of both Caesar and Alti, and returned history to its proper course. As Xena said to her:

"You brought the world back to us."
For once, Gabrielle was allowed to save the day. Significantly, this episode, like ONE AGAINST AN ARMY, was the work of an "outsider" rather than one of Xena's regular writers.

[74] Unusually for a Rob Tapert/R. J. Stewart collaboration, A FRIEND IN NEED (133/621-134/622) showed Gabrielle in a good light. It was her plan that extinguished the worst of the fires in Higuchi, impressing even Xena. She was finally shown how to perform the "pinch," and how to listen "not just to the sounds, but to what's behind the sounds." Following Xena's death, Gabrielle did everything in her power to retrieve her friend's body, cremating it so that Xena could be resurrected after destroying Yodoshi. She also showed just what a skilful warrior she had become, not only defeating the samurai who had beheaded Xena, but later killing him with her friend's chakram.

[75] Despite all this, Gabrielle's efforts were in vain. Tormented by needless guilt, Xena overrode the bard's protests and refused to be returned to life. Gabrielle was left with only the memories of Xena she carried in her heart -- memories, and the Warrior Princess' ashes. As the final episode drew to a close Gabrielle kept the promise she had made so many years ago and took Xena home for the last time.


Moving On

[76] What would the future hold for the Bard of Poteidaia? Some feel that Xena's spirit would be able to interact with her, perhaps even physically, but I doubt this. Xena's remaining dead was intended as both atonement and punishment. What greater punishment could she suffer than separation from her soulmate? It is my belief that Gabrielle would never again see Xena in her own lifetime. Although this sounds harsh, Gabrielle possessed the ability to move on and rebuild her life. Bonnie Tryonoviech summed it up perfectly in her article "The Series Finale: What They Got Right and What They Did Not" [Note 02] when she said:

"Gabrielle has always been more emotionally resilient than Xena. Compare Xena's reaction to Gabrielle's "deaths" in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124) and ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69/401, 70/402) to Gabrielle's reactions to Xena's "deaths" in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) and THE QUEST (37/213). While Xena practically falls apart emotionally and will not give up until she has Gabrielle back, Gabrielle expresses her heartfelt grief, and does her best to fight bravely forward, almost as a tribute to Xena. Gabrielle wears her grief like a delicate cloak, where Xena's cloak would be torn to shreds."

[77] Gabrielle might cry sometimes, thinking of Xena, but she would be far likelier to smile -- that nose-wrinkling grin that had captured so many hearts, including that of the Warrior Princess. Nor would she remain alone forever. THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210) made it clear that Gabrielle had a descendant, Janice Covington, living in the twentieth century. This indicates at least one heterosexual relationship following Xena's death, which should come as no surprise as Gabrielle's love for Xena had always seemed more spiritual than physical. With her beauty, intelligence, and engaging personality, Gabrielle would have had no shortage of suitors. Virgil seems a likely candidate as the father of her child, with Beowulf another contender.

[78] Some have expressed doubts about Gabrielle's ability to continue where Xena left off, but they do her an injustice. Her combat skills had increased immeasurably over the years, and she was already able to use Xena's chakram, putting her at least on a par with Callisto. Xena clearly felt she had taught Gabrielle everything she needed to know, but perhaps the greatest clue to the bard's potential came from Ares in SUCCESSION (93/503), when he told Xena:

"You have to like her style…the focus…the intensity…the ability to learn and adapt. She is just…incredible. I can't believe I took her for granted for so long."
And later Gabrielle herself:
"You're not quite there yet, but maybe I've been dismissing you too easily over the years. Maybe the heir to Xena's throne has been right in front of me all along. I think the key is to find someone who's learned how to fight, but has the discretion not to. Now, there's something Xena never had."

[79] Ares believed that given time Gabrielle could become an even more skillful fighter than Xena, and the God of War's opinion should not be lightly dismissed. Furthermore, her ability with words would often be enough to ensure that violence was avoided. Although Gabrielle had long abandoned the Way of Love, she remained a gentle soul, and if she could gain the upper hand without unnecessary bloodshed, she would. Sais or chakram would usually be the last resort, seldom the first.

[80] Sadly, Gabrielle's life after Xena's death remains shrouded in the mists of time. We know only that she planned to travel to Egypt after keeping her promise to her friend. If any tales of her later adventures were found with the so-called "Xena Scrolls" they have not been translated. It is quite possible that the Bard of Poteidaia never recorded her own exploits, as she tended to be self-effacing in her writing. In the scroll on which FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216) is based, for example, she described herself as "an over-achieving sidekick". This could not be further from the truth. Although some may have forgotten it, Gabrielle was a true hero in her own right, one who not only preached but also practiced the Greater Good. If no new scrolls become known it will be the world's loss, as the greatest tales may remain yet untold.

"In a time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings,
A land in turmoil cried out for a hero.
She was Gabrielle..."

Conclusion

When the hot tamales get too hot
Gabrielle's journey is literally to Helicon and back.

[81] There can be no denying that from Season Three onward Gabrielle suffered from character deconstruction and neglect. The abuse seems too systematic to have been caused by mere incompetence, and suggests a deliberate effort by TPTB to diminish the character. This may be linked to a fundamental weakness in the central figure of Xena. Once she had decided to change her ways in THE GAUNTLET (H12/112) and UNCHAINED HEART (H13/113) Xena's character development was more or less complete, and all Xena: Warrior Princess writers could do was chart her struggle to redeem her past misdeeds. Gabrielle, on the other hand, was essentially a blank canvas. With no real experience before her meeting with the Warrior Princess, the "little girl from Poteidaia" had tremendous potential for development. By the end of Season Two, she had changed beyond all recognition, and had become a more three-dimensional figure than Xena.

[82] With little scope for developing Xena's character in the normal fashion, TPTB seem to have adopted a two-pronged strategy. Firstly the increasing use of back-stories showed how much the present-day Xena differed from the evil Xena of old, with the added "bonus" of eliminating Gabrielle from much of the episode. The second way to improve Xena's image was by directly sabotaging Gabrielle's character, robbing her of her insight and wisdom and transferring them to the Warrior Princess. The Gabrielle of late Season Four was every bit as naive as the Gabrielle of early Season One and the bard became superfluous in the eyes of some fans, which I suspect is exactly what TPTB intended. In the end, however, such a course of action would prove costly. It is worth noting that the two great ratings losers of Seasons Three and Four, the Rift and the Way of Love, were both direct results of unnecessary tampering with Gabrielle's personality.

[83] The last two seasons saw Gabrielle reduced to a largely supporting role, often playing second fiddle not only to Xena, but also to any guest stars. Her advice was generally ignored by Xena, who simply did as she saw fit regardless of the consequences and her friend's feelings. The fact that the Bard of Poteidaia remained a viable character at all is due solely to the acting ability and professionalism of Renée O'Connor. Despite referring to Gabrielle as "the one all the plot devices happen to", an apparent sign of her own dissatisfaction with the character's treatment, Ms. O'Connor never gave any performance less than one hundred per cent commitment. Indeed, episodes like TO HELICON AND BACK (127/615) showed that given halfway decent material she was capable of acting anyone else off the screen. I look forward to her eventual return to television, hopefully in a starring role that allows her talent free rein.


Notes

Note 01
Liz Friedman on A FAMILY AFFAIR, THE CHAKRAM No. 6, pp. 12-15.
Return to article

Note 02
The Series Finale: What They Got Right and What They Did Not
Return to article


Disclaimer

The author's opinion of The Powers That Be was severely harmed during the production of this article.


Articles

Andrew Shaughnessy, "From Heroes to Legions: Warriors of the Xenaverse in History" WHOOSH #51 (December 2000).

Andrew Shaughnessy, "Season Three: A Chronological Minefield" WHOOSH #43 (April 2000).


Biography

shaughnessy Andrew Shaughnessy
Andrew Shaughnessy was born in England, and now lives and works in Wales. Close encounters with Hudson Leick notwithstanding, he remains a devout Gabrielle fan and maintains that worshipping Renée O'Connor as a goddess does not constitute obsessive behavior. His girlfriend disputes this.

Favorite episode: ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "You're not alone." SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)
Least favorite episode: FORGET ME NOT (63/317)

 

 


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