The Paradox (01-02)
The Beginnings of a "Beautiful Friendship" (03-10)
But Then Came "The Kiss" (11-13)
So, Whatever Could Be Wrong With That?! (14-17)
The Spirit, Without The Flesh, Is *Weak* (18-22)
"Fallen" Into The Pit (23-24)
A Late-In-The-Game Rally (25-26)
Too Little, Too Late? (27)
... Or Too Much, Too Soon? (28-29)
The "Quest Kiss" and its Aftermath:
How Xena: Warrior Princess' Greatest Scene Damaged the Show
Xena kisses Gabrielle in THE QUEST
 I'm a Subtext/Maintexter, so I naturally adore The Kiss in THE QUEST. To me it is a beloved icon and something I never tire of seeing. It is, I believe, one of the most romantic scenes in the history of American-produced television. Yet, I nevertheless believe that it set up Xena: Warrior Princess, the most promising and original TV series of its generation, to fail.
 In this essay, I will diagram exactly how this happened, but also include some speculation as to how things could have turned out differently, though it is no way intended as a work of "fan fiction". By highlighting how The Kiss served as a vortex of conflicting desires (as I interpret them) between all parties connected with the show -- Robert Tapert and the cast and crew at Renaissance Pictures (hereafter "TPTB"), the proverbial "suits" at Universal/Studios USA, advertisers and TV stations, and fandom (especially internet-connected) in all its many factions -- I hope to show that The Kiss, for all its heart-stopping beauty and wonder, created a sensational collision of expectations, that all but guaranteed the crippling of narrative-consistency for the remaining four years of the series.
The Beginnings of a "Beautiful Friendship"
Who would have thought they would be kissing by the next season
 While season one of Xena: Warrior Princess was all about establishing the show's central dramatic theme (the Dark Warrior's Journey of Atonement and her continuing difficulties thereon), its most important task (besides getting renewed) was to establish the relationship: the new show's addition to the character of Xena as introduced on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (and parallel of that show's casting formula). At first, the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was strictly Hero/Sidekick: difficult with "Peasant Gabby", but do-able (getting her into Amazon-related clothing and handling the Amazon staff was the key). However, by the end of season one, something unexpected happened. Actually, two unexpected somethings: first, and by far most important, Gabrielle grew from mere "Sidekick" to "Best Friend" (Think TIES THAT BIND, THE GREATER GOOD, CALLISTO, and IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?). This set up a unique (for American TV) and amazing partnership[Note 01].
 Then there was that second "something": the fact that Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor (as Xena & Gabrielle) looked great together. The highlighting of their shared visual appeal increased over the whole season, but was seriously tweaked in episodes like ALTARED STATES where the "together" part was first implied, or at least hinted at, sexually.
 Season two began with the show getting a boost from the mere fact of renewal (and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys' continuing success), but also with the show determined to build on late season one's dramatic successes. At the same time, in both dramas and comedies, the show took even greater advantage of Xena and Gabrielle's visual splendor: emphasizing O'Connor's fantastic physique more and more on display, and joint fighting choreography, to go along with Gabrielle's increasing skills. There was a quantity of clunkers in season two as in every season: e.g. THE EXECUTION, ULYSSES, and the unnatural changes brought about by Lawless' accident (no matter how well Hudson Leick stepped in)[Note 02]. Nevertheless, the overall quality of the show, as displayed in comedies, adventures and dramas, was probably never as consistent as in season two (with the possible exception of season six, but that will always be open to debate).
 The deepening of Xena and Gabrielle's friendship was the overarching theme of the second season; however, focusing on the Relationship meant introducing more discordant elements necessary to get past a pure "infatuation" stage, into something deeper and more intriguing. Xena: Warrior Princess's commitment to drama in season two was underscored immediately in the opener AN ORPHAN OF WAR, re-iterated in RETURN OF CALLISTO, DESTINY, and to a lesser extent, in "adventure-based" tales like THE LOST MARINER and BLIND FAITH, or Hudson Leick (co-) "star turns" in INTIMATE STRANGER and A NECESSARY EVIL[Note 03].
 The drama injected into the Relationship only attracted more attention to it, and, especially for those seeking out homoerotic undercurrents, one didn't really have to look too hard. Late season one highlights like CALLISTO's "Campfire Scene" and the grrl-grrl teasing of ALTARED STATES (the Swimming Scene, "You are Beautiful!") were already being talked about in the many on-line discussion lists/boards and fan web-sites. The writers and producers of the show through innuendo and sly winks and nods suddenly openly acknowledged the community that had recognized the subtext in the show from almost the beginning. "Subtext" had been recognized by TPTB (the powers that be). In this community and the wider fan-context this community influenced, possible readings of the Xena and Gabrielle's relationship were now in a meta-narrative (i.e., "The REAL Story") for the show, one which would be co-created, to a greater or lesser extent, with TPTB. This meta-narrative of Xena: Warrior Princess was that of a Love Story: the Romance of Xena and Gabrielle.
 Interpretations differed among even equally dedicated "Subtext" fans: a few saw Xena and Gabrielle as lovers from the beginning in SINS OF THE PAST, but some other subtext fans saw a sexual relationship begin at virtually every point thereafter chronologically. Even among those fans who did not focus specifically on a possible sexual relationship, there was still debate about "who loved whom": what kind of love, and when, and whether or not it was expressed to the Beloved[Note 04]. Though these kinds of fans were, by mid-season two, only a minority of all on-line fans (never mind the wider realms of "fandom" or the over-all Xena: Warrior Princess viewership), the fact that they were becoming a distinct community made their impact disproportionately strong among all Xena: Warrior Princess fans (and uniquely appreciated by TPTB). Moreover, in some cases (as we will discuss below), these Subtext fans had some pre-existent ties and bonds of shared experience which made their devotion to each other -- and the show that inspired them -- all the stronger.
 Let us return, however, to the general narrative path of season two: while DESTINY was probably intended to be the high-point of Xena's dramatic story in season two, for the show as a whole and thus, the Relationship, the dramatic pinnacle had to be THE PRICE. Coming near the end of season two, THE PRICE more than any other was the perfect episode to display where Rob Tapert and Co. wanted to go with season three: serious drama, building near-continuously (lightened here and there by one-off comedies), driven by tensions between Xena and Gabrielle, that arose out of their differing worldviews and experiences (yet with them always, in the words of Lawless and O'Connor's season three mantra, "finding the love").
But Then Came "The Kiss"
A heart-broken Gabrielle discovers Xena caught between life and death
 Credit Lawless' headline-making accident and her subsequent electric appearances on U.S. late night TV for a fresh blast of publicity, just weeks before THE QUEST first aired. Though it's likely the show's ratings would have been growing anyway, when combined with Lucy-mania, many more viewers came to Xena: Warrior Princess right around the time of the DESTINY/THE QUEST/A NECESSARY EVIL arc. With A DAY IN THE LIFE making the ideal coda, this arc sent ratings skyrocketing, and cemented Xena: Warrior Princess's spot as the Number One Syndicated and "genre" show[Note 05].
 At the "heart" of the arc was The Kiss: the beautifully scored, beautifully shot "dreamscape" scene, literally between Life and Death, sensitively and sensationally acted by Lawless and O'Connor[Note 06]. Viewer reaction, pretty much all astonished and largely favorable, made it the most notable moment of Xena: Warrior Princess to date just as the show hit its stride and became widely known[Note 07]. Watercoolers buzzed about it. Most of all credit the Internet: with its advent, never before had a show's images been so easy to freeze or "capture" and focus upon. For all of the above reasons, and for the rest of its run, The Kiss would be Xena: Warrior Princess's defining image.
 The Kiss unsurprisingly produced titillated chortles from the usual industry sycophants and wank-boy comedians. However, it was the queer portion of fandom, especially lesbians and bisexual women: those who were already devoted to Xena: Warrior Princess, and those who would soon join in, that most took The Kiss -- and everything about the Xena and Gabrielle's relationship to that point -- to heart. Due to the internal and external prisons of the closet and homophobia, LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transsexuals) were already taking to the Internet (a comparatively safe way out of those prisons) in disproportionate numbers. Queer fans of Xena: Warrior Princess used their internet access to burn bandwidth: with favorite "vid-caps" from the show, with gay-positive analysis and discussion, and increasingly, with so-called "alternative fan-fiction" which could take Xena and Gabrielle (intimate) places beyond what the show had portrayed (or frankly, ever could portray). More than any other single image, The Kiss was emblematic of not only everything LGBTs loved about the show, but often of everything they were coming to love about their on-line community.
So, Whatever Could Be Wrong With That?!
The Anti-Kiss from THE BITTER SUITE
 Plenty, as it soon turned out. At the same time that the image of The Kiss was coming to symbolize all that was Xena: Warrior Princess (the summer of 1997), disquieting rumors were starting to appear about the future direction of the show. Shocking in and of themselves (Was Gabby going to be raped? It couldn't be! More than five years later, fans still disagree if she was), the rumors were couched in a phrase that would soon become as important in dividing all parties connected to Xena: Warrior Princess, as The Kiss had been in uniting them: The Rift.
 The Kiss was antithetical to the overarching theme of season three, namely the Rift between Xena and Gabrielle[Note 08]. More than that, it was The Kiss' very presence (lingering in the consciousness of Subtext fans) that continually undercut the Rift theme: "Why in the world" they asked, "can't Xena and Gabrielle 'just kiss and make up'?" But The Rift did more than merely pull the rug out from under a Kiss-based view of The Relationship. No, The Rift actually upped the ante: by illustrating (splendidly, for the most part) such deep emotional conflicts between Xena and Gabrielle, it necessarily demanded an equally intense way to believably resolve them. In short, a chasm as wide as The Rift could realistically be closed only by a total "coming together" of Xena and Gabrielle, including some kind of cathartic physical encounter (a musical one? Nice try, but not even close)[Note 09]. However, because of the legacy of The Kiss, a physical expression of love (of the TV-PG kind -- at least as compared to heterosexual versions thereof) was precisely where Xena: Warrior Princess could not go.
 By basic rules of drama, any other fictional couple -- a couple that had romantically kissed, as had Xena and Gabrielle in THE QUEST, and then been so disastrously divided as in The Rift -- would simply have been required to passionately embrace and kiss again, as part of a full reconciliation. However, in the culture in which Xena: Warrior Princess was produced (primarily North American, of the 1990s), any physical intimacy of greater intensity than The Kiss would mark out Xena and Gabrielle's relationship as sexual, and therefore, in this case, homosexual. This would make them *Lovers*, plain and simple. TPTB (The suits? The advertisers? The stations? Lawless? O'Connor? All of the above?) were simply not ready for that -- not in season three, and, in terms of the series, really not ever.
 The abyss that Gabrielle plunged into in SACRIFICE II perfectly symbolized the hole that TPTB had dug for themselves. Though the "story was about love", Xena and Gabrielle were denied the possibility of truly reconciling physically. Without the body, what did that leave? Namely, the Spirit: their reconciliation would have to be a spiritual one, as Soulmates. Hence came season four.
The Spirit, Without The Flesh, Is *Weak*
With no cold showers available, Gabrielle had to work through the sexual tension somehow
 Season four, I believe, was largely successful in terms of what TPTB wanted to do: continue season three's tradition of sweeping drama, frequently with non-Greek "exotic" locales (as exotic as the same Kiwi settings could make them). Moreover, Gabrielle's Spiritual (*ahem*) "Quest" was the perfect vehicle for doing this, while allowing Xena and Gabrielle to get back together via the Soulmate angle[Note 10].
 Yet, there were problems in the execution: the whole "Spiritual quest"/"Soulmates" narrative often feels forced, as if questions of the spirit (cosmologies, philosophies, etc.) just came out of nowhere, instead of growing organically from the narrative to that point. I believe that this artificiality of season four's principal theme occurred precisely because it was an attempt to sublimate the emotions (embodied, as emotions always are) that season three had given rise to[Note 11]. The "Spiritual Solution" was turned to precisely (solely?) because the Physical Solution was off-limits.
 There's a reason "Spirit and Truth" often go together: after one has looked everywhere else for answers, finally one turns and looks inside, to the Spirit, and finds Truth. But without this truly universal aspect in a spiritual quest (i.e., looking everywhere, including the physical embrace of one's "Soulmate"), the "answers" supposedly found come across as so many slogans and pop philosophical platitudes. People got tired of hearing Gabrielle parrot them, even if they did like hearing Xena and Gabrielle name themselves as soulmates[Note 12]. Souls without bodies? Maybe for "Xena, Cloistered Nun" but not for the Warrior Princess (or her Best Friend, so formed by her -- and vice-versa) that viewers like myself had come to love.
 By the end of season four, Gabrielle had rejected non-violence and gotten her "Battle On!" back on (maybe, in light of the "Gab-Spaz" in IDES OF MARCH, a little too far on). But, having skirted the edge the year before in SACRIFICE, TPTB were now ready to push Xena and Gabrielle over it. In THE IDES OF MARCH, Xena and Gabrielle were about to die and knew it. And once again, the image of The Kiss hung about like a hungry ghost. If Xena and Gabrielle did not re-achieve (or exceed) that level of physical intimacy now, when would they -- could they -- ever? How were fans seriously to understand a couple ("Ancient Greek" but also turn-of-the-millennium North American) that didn't kiss for all they were worth when confronted with their imminent deaths? However, because of the lingering image of The Kiss, TPTB (in their cowardice, confusion, pig-headedness, or all of the above) denied Xena and Gabrielle the appropriately passionate embrace that could be expected of even purely heterosexual "soul-sisters"!
 This conundrum (to put it mildly) was only made more incomprehensible by Xena and Gabrielle's angelic communion immediately post-mortem. It was one thing to call themselves "Soulmates" or to view those consequences further along the karmic cycle (as in BETWEEN THE LINES). But the image of our grrls blissfully floating together right after the consummation that was "the DCV" ("Dreaded Crucifixion Vision") left no more room for positing "Gee, if they only understood that they both want the same thing (namely each other!)"[Note 13]. Xena and Gabrielle had to have known what they wanted from each other and, at that point, Xena: Warrior Princess's meta-narrative had to sh*t or get off the pot: "Platonic Best Friends or Lovers: Choose One (and Depict Accordingly)!" Combined with the now-cacophony of cosmologies, failure to clarify this, the central narrative theme of the show, would spell utter disaster. Or, in other words, season five.
"Fallen" Into The Pit
Don't worry, it's just a metaphooooooooooor
 I am sometimes tempted, from a narrative standpoint, to pretend that "season five never happened". However, as with even the worst of Xena: Warrior Princess (of which season five had a lot) there are still things to love. Usually the best came in selected moments from episodes that don't hold much water when taken in their entirety (such as SUCCESSION; LYRE, LYRE, HEARTS ON FIRE; SEEDS OF FAITH; GOD FEARING CHILD; ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA; or EVE), but also in the premise and promise of the Pregnant Princess (sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration!). The notion that it was Lawless' pregnancy that undid Xena: Warrior Princess in season five is one of the biggest myths (actually, excuses) TPTB ever tried to (unsuccessfully) insinuate among fandom. No, even if the "frock-tarts" had managed to hide what would eventually become "Julius Robert Bay Tapert" from the cameras, that would not in itself have in any way fixed the mess that Xena: Warrior Princess became post-IDES OF MARCH. Starting with FALLEN ANGEL (never did an episode look so good and stink so bad), season five was a season without a consistent theme, with few good stories and, worst of all by far, without a true partnership[Note 14]. Xena and Gabrielle became little more than co-workers, and The Kiss was relegated to a distant, fuzzy memory: "Did it really happen?" (Or, maybe it was Autolycus all along!)
 Certain episodes tried to keep the illusion of "the Soulmates" alive: off-hand co-parent remarks in SEEDS OF FAITH and most obviously MOTHERHOOD, the Ares-defying collusion in AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE" (with its lesboriffic sub-plot of Athena---Why did she have to be evil? Her city and people had always been portrayed so positively -- and her lover Alanis), and the "You're with her now" ice-sleep of LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE. However, they were but mere crumbs thrown to Subtext (by season four, sometimes called "Maintext") fans that had all but starved already. By the time of MOTHERHOOD, the show had run out of gas, destroying everything that The Kiss had, well, aroused[Note 15]. And, to conclude this essay's theme of paradox, the season five disaster was probably the best thing to happen to the narrative since DESTINY.
A Late-in-the-Game Rally
Someone finally asks the ladies the "L" question
 After season five, it was over but there was shouting ... and the shouting was with joy over season six! Freed once and for all from the ratings/renewal game, TPTB went back to the basics: the Xena and Gabrielle partnership -- Bestfriends, Soulmates, and the word that dare not speak its name ..."Lovers"? Well, not quite (not nearly, really, though YOU ARE THERE at least said the word aloud). Nevertheless, by keeping Xena and Gabrielle together, at the center of the story (even when apart), TPTB could throw in every romantic convention plus the kitchen sink -- er, make that the hot tub! Even when boys occasionally cropped up (HEART OF DARKNESS, Beowolf in the Norse episodes, and, as always, Ares) they only served to underline the permanence, the trueness, of Xena and Gabrielle. The "hurt-comfort" scenes returned to levels not seen since season four, guest-star jealousies and flirting were made explicitly female-female (Brunhilda in the Norse arc, our favorite goddess Aphrodite in THE GOD YOU KNOW, Xena's declaration that her body parts were "spoken for" in MANY HAPPY RETURNS) and rejected just as explicitly in the Maintext fashion of "You're cute, but I already have a girlfriend, thank you."
 Furthermore, Gabrielle's six years of philosophical speculations were resolved, leading to the insight that would (finally!) take the show to the next level: "your path is my path". With that simple (So simple! Why did it take five plus years to figure out?!) realization, it became possible for Xena and Gabrielle to close that last few millimeters in RETURN OF THE VALKYRIES: their lips touched in a sweet, though all-too-fleeting, Kiss. THE QUEST's Kiss finally had a rival (or "best friend"?) in the wallpaper gallery -- though pity so many fewer fans had lasted through four years of wilderness wanderings that one had to endure in order to witness it.
Too Little, Too Late?
Oh look Mavis, they're kissing again
 However, the Real Story wasn't about that VALKYRIES kiss, nor was it about the "Funny, I can see saliva, maybe, but no 'Water of Strength'" kiss in FRIEND IN NEED. Just as it was never really about The Kiss in THE QUEST. Lesbians and other Subtext/Maintext fans were not wrong in desiring physical expressions of love between Xena and Gabrielle -- in believing that the story deserved it (even moreso than did their rolemodel-deprived eyes). As Lawless and O'Connor (bless their hearts) were always ready to point out, "the story is about love". While that Love can never be defined by the physical, it can never be understood apart from it either. For whatever reasons, TPTB placed boundaries around Xena and Gabrielle's love -- including, but not limited to, its physical expressions -- boundaries that deeply impeded and ultimately harmed the story.
... Or Too Much, Too Soon?
There's just something archetypal about Xena and Gabrielle
 Truthfully, The Kiss set up expectations that even the best "alt-fic" writers could never have fulfilled in an episode or a season (immediate cancellation to follow!). Nevertheless, The Kiss will remain burned in our hearts and memories as the symbol of What *Could* Have Been, But Never Was . . . but also of What Predictably Never *Should* Have Happened, But Somehow Miraculously Did.
 Without The Kiss in THE QUEST, Xena: Warrior Princess -- that is, the Love Story of Xena and Gabrielle -- might have developed more gradually, more consistently, (almost) always going up, and never collapsing under its (TPTB-created) contradictions[Note 16]. Xena and Gabrielle could have gone from liking, to loving, to living a life of love, to lovemaking, with our barely noticing the transitions (instead, only reveling in the happy results)[Note 17]. Conversely, without the icon of The Kiss making Xena: Warrior Princess truly iconic (that is, wondered at and revered), this tale of "girls with swords" might have petered out in far less than six years, with little provoking our fond (and/or passionate) memories now. The creator in me would like to imagine it the former ... and yet, I would *never* want to give up The Kiss. Of all the many mysteries of Xena: Warrior Princess, this is the one that haunts me: we'll simply never know.
The scripts (and other production basics) undeniably improved over the course of the first season, while Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor grew into their respective roles. These are issues of talent (and of course, hard work). The intangible -- sought continually by casting specialists, but only rarely achieved -- was Lawless and O'Connor's incredible personal chemistry (which according to O'Connor was immediately evident to her and Lawless even before O'Connor had been officially cast as "Gabrielle". Xena Warrior Princess: The Official Magazine (Topps) Issue #1, 1997, p.46. Personal chemistry is the ability of actors to make a relationship -- whatever its nature -- utterly believable. There is little doubt that their personal chemistry influenced the direction of the plots in the latter part of season one, and ever after.
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It would be grossly neglectful to fail to mention the contributions of Ted Raimi's "Joxer" in establishing Xena: Warrior Princess' success in season two, especially as he helped "lighten the load" on O'Connor and Leick following Lawless' accident. Perhaps no figure in the history of Xena: Warrior Princess has produced such controversy as Joxer, but his presence as comic relief largely relieved O'Connor/Gabrielle of that role (enabling her to emerge as a truly dramatic figure in her own right, as well as in her relationship with Xena). He brought a persistent lightness to the show which was undeniably essential in the show's demographics (i.e. "family viewing"), especially in its early years.
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The casting coup of Hudson Leick as "Callisto" cannot be overestimated in making Xena: Warrior Princess a household name. Leick is that rarest of actor who can grab the spotlight without taking it away from the regulars. From her introduction in the eponymous episode CALLISTO, Xena's Arch-Nemesis always added to the emphasis on Xena and Gabrielle's relationship, despite what the character herself wanted!
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An example of this kind of speculation: Xena realized she was in love with Gabrielle during Gabrielle's wedding in RETURN OF CALLISTO. You can see Xena's "A-ha!" moment play out right across Lawless' ultra-expressive face! (I, your author, have spoken.)
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Though of course, no one could have known that A NECESSARY EVIL would mark the ratings high water for the entire series.
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I have no background knowledge as to the creation of The Kiss: what parts were scripted, what (if any) parts were ad-libbed or director-added. It has been widely reported, however, that The Kiss was performed in the context of a scripted-scene that was not in the finished version of THE QUEST: Gabrielle passing the resurrecting ambrosia to Xena's mouth via her own.
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There was some negative reaction to The Kiss, from viewers who found it inappropriate for a "family show". This led to Xena: Warrior Princess' immediate condemnation by a few conservative Christian organizations, the kind that make a practice of seeking out TV shows they don't like. More widespread than direct condemnation, however, was the interpretation that it was all of Autolycus' doing -- that is, Autolycus was kissing Gabrielle and Gabrielle was kissing him back, with no input from Xena at all. In most on-line fan reaction, to say nothing of media attention, to The Kiss, these were both minority views. Nevertheless, the "gimmick" of Autolycus' participation and cooperation in The Kiss provided TPTB with a useful cover of ambiguity going into season three.
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"The Rift Arc" is usually described as the six (non-consecutive) episodes THE DELIVERER, GABRIELLE'S HOPE, THE DEBT I, THE DEBT II, MATERNAL INSTINCTS, and THE BITTER SUITE. However, I believe that The Rift (or its aftermath) can be readily discerned throughout much of season three, from the early episodes THE FURIES and THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN, through to later (post-Rift Arc) episodes ONE AGAINST AN ARMY, FORGIVEN, WHEN IN ROME, FORGET ME NOT, and the two-part concluding cliff-hanger SACRIFICE I and SACRIFICE II.
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The necessity of a physical expression of reconciliation was further dictated by the brutally physical nature of the conflict, above all in THE BITTER SUITE, in the notorious Gab-Drag.
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Issues of the "soul" or "spirit" (and the ethical ramifications thereof) dominate season four, beginning with Xena in ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, continuing with A FAMILY AFFAIR, and LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN, and focusing on Gabrielle in A GOOD DAY, CRUSADER, and most of all, the India arc (PARADISE FOUND, DEVI, BETWEEN THE LINES, and THE WAY) and most of the episodes thereafter.
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I believe that this was the time of Stephen L. Sears "they (Xena and Gabrielle) are beyond sex" remark. For a discussion of "beyond" (whatever), see Katrina Blau "Beyond That: Whatever 'That' Is", Whoosh! No.33, June 1999 (http://whoosh.org/issue33/blau1.html)
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I myself tired of Gabrielle's philosophical meanderings and I was one of the few who was absolutely ecstatic to see my chosen philosophy, Gandhian non-violence, espoused so enthusiastically in THE WAY. It was all downhill from there in that regard, though. The "Elijians" ain't my people.
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See William James, "The Dreaded Crucifixion Vision -or- Sex at Last!". Whoosh! No. 35, August 1999 (http://whoosh.org/issue35/james3.html).
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Out of all the dreck of season five, something must be singled out for special revulsion and not the widely hated MARRIED WITH FISH SHTICKS (or any of the other comedies which, while fairly lame, were harmless). And certainly not ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA which, while superficially Subtext-damaging, was nevertheless one of the best-produced episodes of the season. No, the nadir of season five was sunk to in the barf-o-rama that was "Chin Redux" (or "Regurgitated"): the double-episodes of PURITY and BACK IN THE BOTTLE. With the lone exception of Gabrielle's native garb, there was not a single element in these episodes that was not grossly inferior to THE DEBT I and THE DEBT II -- but the problems went beyond that. This misconceived mess actually had the audacity to try to re-write THE DEBT (which, I hardly need mention, was one of the highlights of the entire series). The Lao Ma/Xena relationship of THE DEBT was purposely constructed to be an earlier parallel of Xena and Gabrielle's (with "Steppe-Xena" this time in the subordinate role). It therefore embodied all the same subtext ambivalence (e.g., the "Breath of Life" kiss, "serving someone you love", the metaphorical "Floating Dance", not to mention "I don't eat meat"). PURITY/BACK IN THE BOTTLE trashed this ambivalence, to forthrightly "retcon" a mother/daughter relationship between Lao Ma and Xena. To that I say: Outrageous! False! Shame! As straightforward drama episodes, there is no way to read around this re-write. So, for this reason and since there is nothing worthwhile in them anyway, PURITY and BACK IN THE BOTTLE win this singular distinction from me: of *all* the episodes in Xena: Warrior Princess, they are the only ones that I can confidently state Never Happened.
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Season five's season-ender, MOTHERHOOD, also disastrously repeated the visual offense of Xena-on-Gabrielle violence, something that had outraged many fans since season three. However, I am of the belief that this visual was the result of inexplicably poor editing: for the purposes of the narrative, I will never accept that Xena *intended* to hurt Gabrielle with her chakram (unlike her maniacal malevolence in THE BITTER SUITE).
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Another way to phrase this alternative possibility is this: what if The Kiss (sans Autolycus) had taken place at the end of THE BITTER SUITE, or perhaps in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY? Would TPTB have found the courage to build naturally upon it (in terms of the Relationship) if it had been shown in season three instead of season two?
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Though it seems almost unfair to open this can of worms here at the very end of the essay, I have to ask: might this more gradual, more flowing, and more consistent path to love have permitted Xena and Gabrielle a happy ending? The Gabrielle I imagine in this alternative narrative would never have fallen yet again for the Old "Leave you behind, while I go off to risk/lose my life" Ruse in FRIEND IN NEED!
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Judy Fisher, ""Improving Season Two: Episode Order, Relationship Development, And Continuity On Xena: Warrior Princess". Whoosh! #22 (July 1998)
Judy Fisher, ""Broken Hearts & Cooler Heads: Assessing Consensus On Friend In Need"". Whoosh! #60 (September 2001)
Judy Fisher is finally finished with her d***** doctoral degree (!) in the field of religion, specifically the Christian ecumenical movement. Her vocational goal is ecumenical administration from 9-5, and at night, to write the Great American Novel, an Academy Award-winning screenplay, and "A Theology of Xena."
Favorite episode: C'mon, there is no way I can limit myself now! How 'bout top three in each season? Season One: GREATER GOOD, CALLISTO, ALTARED STATES. Season Two: RETURN OF CALLISTO, DESTINY/THE QUEST/A NECESSARY EVIL/A DAY IN THE LIFE quartet (because I said it is!), and THE PRICE (44/220). Season Three: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302); all of "The Rift" (except GABRIELLE'S HOPE), and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313). Season Four: ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (I & II), CRUSADER, all of the "India Arc" (especially THE WAY), and IDES OF MARCH (Oops! That's top "four"). Season Five: GOD FEARING CHILD, AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE, and EVE (plus ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA just 'cause it's so gorgeous to look at). Season Six: Parts of just about every episode. The "Gabrielle and violence/North Africa" arc (WHO'S GURKHAN? LEGACY, and THE ABYSS), The Ring Trilogy (especially THE RING, plus a certain scene
in RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE), WHEN FATES COLLIDE, MANY HAPPY RETURNS, and last but not least, FRIEND IN NEED!
Favorite line: Xena: "Even in death Gabrielle, I will never leave you." ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313); Gabrielle, courtesy of Xena, courtesy of Sappho:
"There's a moment when I look at you,MANY HAPPY RETURNS
And no speech is left in me.
My tongue breaks,
Then fire races under my skin.
And I tremble and grow pale
For I am dying of such love,
Or so it seems to me."
First episode seen: ALTARED STATES (19/119)
Least favorite episode: Any episode or parts thereof where Xena and/or Gabrielle is made to look stupid; see for example KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308), VANISHING ACT) and, at the bottom, the afore-mentioned crime against the narrative (also against our intelligence) that is PURITY/BACK IN THE BOTTLE.