Whoosh! Issue 95 - November 2004

A FRIEND IN NEED: XENA REDEEMED?
By Vivian Sheffield
Content © 2004 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2004 held by Whoosh!
18551 words


Three Years Later And It Is Still With Us (01-07)
Expectation Versus What Was Delivered (08-10)
Gleaning Motives (11-14)
Obvious Parallels (15-16)
An Eye for an Eye (17-23)
Xena's Sacrifice (24-26)
More Issues (27-40)
The Love Story (41-51)
Ambivalence and Ambiguity (52-55)
Full Circle (56-58)
The Hero Must Die (59-67)
Redemption and Atonement (68-77)
Xena Simply Gives Up (78-80)
Redemption Versus Punishment (81-94)
The Purpose of Xena's Death (95-99)
The Relationship (100-101)
She Lives…She Lives (102-117)
Notes

Articles
Biography



A Friend in Need: Xena Redeemed?



Three Years Later And It Is Still With Us




Xena vows, not for the first time, to swear off jalapenos

The day did not turn out well for Xena


[01] Xena is dead.

[02] They killed my hero.

[03] There is no joy for me in my Xenaverse.

[04] Neither is there any comfort to me that Xena died for some High Ideal, some Greater Good that was poorly explained and poorly justified. I cannot resolve this, without describing and detailing my objections and problems with this episode.

[05] If a television series' finale is measured by its impact, the ending for Xena: Warrior Princess, A FRIEND IN NEED, surely had deeply affected viewers, and most especially the fans. This controversial episode has left me thinking a lot about the show and just why it has elicited the reaction it has. I have spent the last three years and more, since A FRIEND IN NEED aired, trying to come to grips with the nature of my dislike for the finale and why it never worked for me. The following discussion is my attempt to put it all into some personal perspective and, I hope, provide some answers for others who feel as I do.

[06] I have a few words of warning: For those who liked the finale and do not care to read any more criticism of the episodes (for this is a critical piece), I suggest you give it a miss before reading any further. For those who continue on, this is a VERY long paper.

[07] The genesis for this paper began in October or November 2001, when Lucy Lawless was doing promotional work for the X-Files season opener, in which she appeared. The Xena: Warrior Princess series finale came up in an interview, no doubt because it created uproar among the fans. The tumult was so immense that the mainstream press took note of it. At the time, she acknowledged the hurt a substantial portion of the fan base experienced after viewing the finale, A FRIEND IN NEED. She also supplied a reason why those fans had reacted as they did, that it was caused by the separation of Xena and Gabrielle. After reading Rob Tapert's comments in the official fan club newsletter Chakram, I found that my own views were not represented in his statements about fan reaction. During the time since it aired, I have been researching and thinking about the episode and my reaction to it. The following is what I have learned, understood and still question about this finale.



Expectation Versus What Was Delivered

[08] When I first began thinking about this paper, I made the assumption that the finale would be a culmination of all six seasons: that loose ends might be tied up or that the final episode would be a summation of the series. This was not the object of the producers, as Rob Tapert made clear in his interview with Sharon Delaney in Chakram #17, responding to the studio's reaction to the script:

"My feeling is that it sets up the franchise in such a way that there'll be a 'want to see' as to what happened after this. People wondering 'How will they bring her back?' I think it's opening a door as well as closing one." [Note 01]

[09] The meaning of that comment is, I presume, that such an ending would generate an interest and a clamor to bring Xena back, possibly in a different medium, perhaps as a feature film. But did the producers accomplish this particular goal? I think it is arguable that Xena died with such finality that it tends to preclude resurrecting her. There were discussions on a few of the fan lists that perhaps Xena can't or won't want to be brought back. There are so many contradictory intentions in the telling of the finale that it isn't clear whether Mr. Tapert really positioned the franchise for continuation of a life after television. It is the appearance of finality of Xena's demise that helped precipitate the fan reaction to the finale, I believe. She died in such a way that it became more difficult to imagine her resurrection or to expect it logically. I suppose the producers tried to leave it deliberately vague for purposes of her return, but the flaws in the script contributes to the perception that she should not be resurrected.

[10] The producers ignored several precepts the show had developed over the six seasons so that it could entice the people who rarely watched the show, presumably, to come see it for one last time. In sum, it was for the ratings. Intrinsically, this approach is feasible for both the fan and the casual viewer. But fans know what are the beliefs and values that become canon in a series and recognize when they appear to be tossed aside. Given that the result was the death of the title character when a large number of the core fan base really didn't want her to be killed and then compounding the problem with a lack of a clear, reasonable, understandable and noble purpose for her death, it was no wonder the finale was so controversial. There were many who could not understand how the producers could do this to their own character, but as Mr. Tapert's comment above explains, the finale was meant to do many things, very few of them having to do with the dignity of the character or her passing. In a way, Mr. Tapert's interview described all the things they were attempting to do in A FRIEND IN NEED. It was to pay thanks to all the Hong Kong producers who so admired Evil Dead and styled their films after that film. Their Hong Kong style eventually was incorporated into Xena itself. It was to provide a method of continuing the franchise in different forms and media. And it was to send the show off in a blaze of glory. It achieved several of these things, but it was at a cost to the hearts of a substantial portion of its fan supporters.



Gleaning Motives

[11] Although most fans probably had no real surety what the final episode would be, having Xena obtain her redemption was one very strong possibility. Lucy Lawless had always said in countless interviews that if Xena ever stopped searching for her redemption, the television series was over. For me, I had few preconceptions, except that I thought the show would probably be a wrapping up of all the seasons and would encompass much of what we had seen. I also thought that having Xena die again would not occur simply because she had done that so many times before and it would be far too repetitious. "What is unique about killing your hero off?" I thought, regarding Xena's frequent deaths over the life of the series.

[12] I was very wrong.

[13] If one accepts Mr. Tapert's reasons for killing the lead character for the purpose of positioning the franchise for a future life, then Xena's death makes artistic sense. But art is simply a means to help the audience react emotionally. A substantial portion of the viewers responded passionately, but with sorrow, hurt, anger and betrayal, not with sadness mixed with joy or a sense of exultation. Mr. Tapert said in his Chakram interview: "I knew it would be a heartbreaker. We wanted the audience to cry. I wanted to cry." [Note 02] The problem with that thought is that the audience may not react the way one intends and it certainly happened in this case. The reason for that is contained in the following quote:

"But really, 'Friend' was designed for the general public who have tuned in to Xena throughout the years - maybe 7 to 10 times a year - who heard it was ending and wanted to be there for the finale." [Note 03]

[14] This intent is the foundation of all the issues the fans brought up - in order to include the very casual viewer, the producers wrote the finale as if the intervening six seasons never happened. The first episode and the final episode could function as standalones. And although at times acknowledged in the finale, the fans that would faithfully watch each episode really were not the audience Mr. Tapert and Mr. Stewart appear to have been writing the script for, and which is supported by the above quote. Whether we were taken for granted or it was presumed we would be swept along with the casual viewers is not clear in either interview with Mr. Tapert or Mr. Stewart. However, because of the design of A FRIEND IN NEED, many of the fans were shut out; the episode touched us but, for many, in most of the wrong ways than as planned.



Obvious Parallels

[15] There were obviously drawn parallels between the opening episode, SINS OF THE PAST, and the closing episode, A FRIEND IN NEED. One of the most notable was the burying of Xena's armor. In SINS OF THE PAST, it is not clear whether Xena was burying the armor prior to committing suicide (although how she meant to do that without some sort of weapon, is a problem) or whether she was burying her past prior to going home. In the context of the rest of the episode, she seemed to be trying to start over again in Amphipolis. In A FRIEND IN NEED, it was clear she was burying her weapons and armor prior to dying. Several inferences can be drawn from this same action: 1) Both burials symbolize starting anew, one battling for good, the other, an existence as a spirit. 2) Both represent the death of the previous life - the first burial suggested the death of her evil past as warlord, the second the death of her life as a seeker of redemption (and the death of her physical life.) 3) One begins her journey toward redemption, the other ends with her achieving it. 4) One starts her life with Gabrielle, the second ends it.

[16] On the surface, Xena: Warrior Princess was about one warrior woman's search for redemption. It also was about another woman's search for a future. These became the foundation for the series. Xena's search for redemption was only the vehicle to tell the stories. On its face, that is all it is. But after six seasons, it was so much more. It was about the love story between the two main characters; about violence and hatred and how to stop that cycle; about whether a person can truly be reformed and what that means in terms of redemption. Xena, herself, was the paradigm of the reformed warlord, who attempts to atone by doing good deeds. This issue came up over and over again during the life of the series: Callisto and Najara are the most obvious examples of characters whose past or present behaviors bring Xena's purpose into question.



An Eye for an Eye

[17] Let us begin with one of the key issues of A FRIEND IN NEED. In R. J. Stewart's Chakram interview, he based the mechanism for Xena to obtain her redemption on an "eye-for-an-eye" belief from Ancient Japan. The following, complete transcription of Sharon Delaney's question and Mr. Stewart's response is listed below:

"Sharon Delaney: During our interview about 'Fallen Angel,' I remember asking you, 'These rules about Heaven and Hell, where did you get them?' And you said, 'We made 'em up.' That would cover the rule in 'Friend' that Xena had to stay dead for the souls to be in a state of grace? This is not something that's ever come up before in the series.

RJ Stewart: Yep. It was a bit of a struggle, but we knew it had to be that way. If she could bring herself back from the dead and liberate the dead, she'd be foolish to stay dead. That would have been a very different story - not the one we wanted to tell.
"The whole key to why she had to stay dead was really very simple. We had read in some book about Japan that, at one time in their cultural development, they believed for the dead to be redeemed, the people who were responsible for their death had to be killed. That was a very revenge-oriented period of that country's culture. Most cultures have that rule at some point. The eye-for-an-eye sort of thing.
"Xena was responsible for the death of the villagers. We've always said that, in the different geographical and cultural regions we've visited, their afterlife is different. In this Japanese afterlife Xena had to die and stay dead." [Note 04]

[18] First of all, revenge is not the true meaning of "eye-for-an-eye", at least in the Western historical tradition. Paul M. Bishcke discussed just what the phrase means:

"The 'eye for an eye' maxim is not about harshness; it's about proportional retribution. And our society has certainly not outgrown it. In fact, over the past 20 years, America has enacted a vast body of harsh laws to 'get tough on crime' and they have enjoyed widespread political support…."

"In ancient Palestine, offenses against one's honor were met with an escalating response. If someone stole one of your sheep, the manly thing to do was to go and kill five of his cows. If some careless bozo trampled a row of your corn with his ox-cart, you might go and set fire to his field. In other words, 'teach 'em a lesson.'

"The eye-for-an-eye ethic put a lid on this escalating violence, insisting that punishment or restitution be proportional to the actual, demonstrable harm done, and that it not be determined by the rage of the party offended. For example, Leviticus 24:18 says, 'And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.' The eye-for-an-eye principle placed rational limits on retribution and punishment -- a true step of moral progress." [Note 05]

[19] This definition is vastly different from what the Japanese tradition meant. It may have begun for the same reasons, but it took a significant twist in the lives of the Japanese, which will become much more clear shortly. Although only a plot device, the Japanese belief was a backward step, a devolution from where the show had been and where A FRIEND IN NEED took us. It only gets worse.

[20] I had been baffled by Mr. Stewart's statements regarding the belief of revenge and wondered if I could find any information via the Internet. I found a wealth of data on Japanese vengeful spirits, which is, I believe, the basis for Mr. Stewart's plot device. There are several descriptions of ghosts and vengeful spirits. Some examples follow:

"The real world is meant to reflect a supernatural one. An exact replica of the Chinese government, with all its offices and officials was believed to exist in the other world as well. Based on this parallelism, the Japanese believed that a victim will take its office, power, or that to which it felt entitled to, or that which was injustly [sic] taken away from him, into the world of the dead. The power, which they enjoyed or were supposed to enjoy in life, is the same power from which they can exact their revenge and perpetrate evil upon their communities from the other world. Hence the name 'vengeful deities' some scholars have given to them.

"By definition, these victims were people who died prematurely, in unnatural circumstances. These include: execution, exile, death during travel (kykaushi), suicide, death as a result of grudge, jealousy or any other strong emotion, death on the battlefield, death as a result of natural calamities such as epidemics, floods, earthquakes, fires, and starvation." [Note 06]

"The Japanese believe that after death a spirit is angry and impure. Many rituals are performed for seven years to purify and pacify the soul. In this way the person becomes a spirit. According to belief, a spirit wanders between the land of the living and the world of shadows. For this reason, prayers are offered to insure passage to the Land of the Dead." [Note 07]

"In ancient Japan, spirits of people who died with hatred or malice in their hearts were thought to become vengeful spirits capable of great mischief. Natural disasters and illness were dreaded as the work of such spirits, and requiem services were conducted to calm them down." [Note 08]

"A ghost is created whenever somebody dies with a strong passion or desire on the mind. Unable to rid itself of its earthly motive, the ghost enters the land of Gakido, the Buddhist realm of the "hungry dead" (greater sinners are condemned to Jigoku, or hell, while lesser sinners are reborn as animals). Some ghosts in Gakido are so persistent, though, that they lead a double existence on earth, haunting the living. This is why it is so important to die serenely and calmly. Reciting Buddhist scripture, composing a death poem, or living out one's last years as a monk are all approaches to death motivated, in part, by unwillingness to become a ghost…"

"Ghosts also can cause nightmares and illness to the person they haunt. Their motives are rarely commendable. For example, lovers who commit suicide together come to hate each other in the afterlife, and seek to fool other lovers into joining their own misery…"

"If left to its own devices, a ghost will only disappear when the passion that created it is fulfilled. In the case of ghostly lovers, this means the death of the beloved; in the case of vengeful ghosts, only the death of the hated one will do." [Note 09]

[21] All these references do point to a belief system in which people who died unnaturally could only stop being a ghost or could advance to some other state, such as an animistic deity (kami) or the Land of the Dead, if the perpetrator replaced them in death. There also seems to be a variation on the length of time it takes for the vengeful spirits to move on to their new state. The following describes the ancient belief with respect to the Anglican Church in Japan:

"Behind this popular practice of the memorial service lies a traditional belief in, or fear of, the spirits of the dead, whose presence is still near. They are vengeful spirits, who must be soothed by the regular offering of prayers or by those who have special spiritual power.… According to traditional belief, either thirty-three or fifty years must pass before the haunting spirit of the dead becomes hotoke (buddha) or sorei (ancestor god) and thus finds rest. Then the burial ceremony is completed (tomuraiage). This belief originated neither in Buddhism nor in modem Shinto but seems to have been inherited from ancient Japanese beliefs." [Note 10]

[22] It is clear to me that the Japanese belief system is far more subtle and elegant than Mr. Stewart suggests in his comment. The Japanese may truly have had such a belief at first, but the real purpose of this kind of belief in vengeful spirits was to account for the terrible things that occurred in people's everyday lives. This is the living looking at the afterlife. How can the living know who or what is causing the misfortunes with any specificity? If anyone could tie causation to the perpetrator, then there would be constant and chronic executions. Rather, the Japanese would use offerings and prayers to appease these angry spirits, much like believers would any perceived angry gods.

"Once these victimary spirits are appeased by the efforts of those who were not directly involved in their deaths or by later leaders, they turn into good deities willing to protect the community. Many Japanese festivals, which actuate such victims, make them into scapegoats. Not only do they have the potential to cause harm to the community but also, as appeased deities, they become scapegoats who, absorbing the sins of the community, help to prevent the very harms they potentially perpetrate. Such is indeed the ambivalence of practically all Japanese deities." [Note 11]

[23] While Mr. Plutschow is discussing those famous or powerful spirits, the same rules can be applied to the common individual. If the community performs all the proper rituals and prays the proper prayers in a timely and correct manner, then the spirits can move on in a short period of time. Otherwise they will move on in thirty or forty years. The latter time span conforms to approximately one or two generations, depending on how the length of those generations is defined. This would permit the older vengeful spirits to move on to the afterlife they did not have and the new vengeful spirits could move in. The older generation, which may have caused the spirit to be angry, will have died by then or those spirits, which died other than at a person's hand, could also move on.



Xena's Sacrifice

[24] What does this mean for Xena's sacrifice? For one thing, it diminishes it. She stays dead, but those 40,000 souls would have moved on in time. The only thing she sacrificed herself for is that the souls did not have to spend any more time as vengeful spirits than they have. That is certainly a good thing. But other questions crop up, given what we know about vengeful spirits. Rescued by Xena, are they still vengeful? Why would they be? And if they are, are they a monolithic body? Mr. Stewart made much of the fact that both Xena and Gabrielle made choices: Xena to stay dead for the good of the 40,000, Gabrielle to let Xena achieve that redemption she suddenly seems to be hankering for beyond anything else we had seen after six seasons. Both actions are altruistic. But what if any of those 40,000 is not mollified? There is precedent for such an instance.

"More specifically, yurei are the ghosts of those who at the moment of death were deprived of the time to repose themselves. Quietness is necessary to achieve the spiritual calm required for attainment of Buddhahood, and the most common cause of ending up as a yurei is sudden death by murder, slaying in battle, or rash suicide. The soul of the Japanese person cut off too soon is left to mope through a sorry existence until it is properly laid to rest, but it will never allow itself to be laid to rest until its purpose for remaining among the living (usually revenge) has been fulfilled. Most yurei ultimately avenge themselves and rise to a better state of being, but this may take centuries--and some are never quite appeased. It is rumored that Oiwa, Japan's most famous yurei, who obtained vengeance for her husband's cruel deeds over three hundred years ago, still haunts the area around her grave.

"In general, yurei do not roam arbitrarily, but stick to familiar locales--such as the place marking their untimely death. A late-night sojourner (specifically one traveling between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00 AM, when yurei are apt to appear) who unwittingly crosses a field where someone once took her own life, or who traverses a bridge spanning a river in which a body was once left to float, may well encounter a yurei. Rising up from the darkness, yurei reanimate themselves with the flame of their passion. This makes them partially human again, reinvested with their original mind and something of their former bodies to--scars, blood and all. But unlike a living person, yurei are utterly concentrated on a single goal. Retribution or clearing their name occupies their entire being, and so they lack the roundedness of a mortal. A yurei is a purpose." [Note 12]

[25] There is no indication any souls were still around because we were only shown Xena and Gabrielle at the end. But there is no reason to suppose there were not, either. These 40,000 souls had a choice, just as Xena and Gabrielle did. Perhaps all of the souls did move on. But if any were never appeased by Xena's sacrifice, then her redemption is lessened. I have long believed that this plot device is fraught with such complications so that it makes it unbelievable. This is just one more indication of how unbelievable that can be. Mr. Tapert and Mr. Stewart chose an extremely simplified, pared-down belief system to exact their heroine's redemption. They ignored what would not work in their alternate Japanese universe. In never made sense to me when I first watched the episode. Now, cognizant of the previous information, it makes even less sense.

[26] When I was in college, I took a Japanese history course. My professor was a Japanese woman who tried to get us to absorb as much of her culture as was possible. To that end, she had us read at least one Japanese novel and to write a book report on it as if we were really living the culture. I thought I had gotten a fraction of the culture right, but she later told me I had not. As Westerners applying a single aspect of a foreign culture, I question whether Mr. Stewart or Mr. Tapert really were able to imbue the episode with the prevalent culture of the time for the understanding by the viewers, or to do any better than I did. The answer might be that it really did not matter: the equal retribution belief is an aspect of all cultures. However, vengeful spirits are not, certainly not in the elaborate belief system the Japanese have set up. They love their ghosts: at least four hundred different kinds of ghosts and spirits have been cataloged.



More Issues




Gab has learned to take Xena's exhortation to 'Hold on to your hat' literally

Everyone has issues with this episode


[27] Many of the issues I have with the episode turns on the following lines, taken from the Whoosh transcription:

Xena: "They're free from Yodoshi's grasp. Akemi didn't wanna tell me this in case I wouldn't come back to help-- but for those souls to be released into a state of grace-- they must be avenged. I must stay dead."

Gabrielle: "But if I bring you back to life-- "

Xena: "Those souls will be lost forever."

[28] There are at least two consequences in this dialog that have been extremely problematical to me, one of which is two-pronged. I will discuss one aspect here and the other later.

[29] I have long been baffled by the "state of grace" phrase. I have known about this term, since I was raised in the Christian tradition. It refers to mankind receiving "God's grace" or favor from God, regardless of merit. But this 'state of grace' has nothing to do with divine favor. The best answer I have found is in a two-step process: The first is a definition found in the Oxford English Dictionary (Online):

11d. The condition of one who is under such divine influence. More fully a state of grace….[Note 13]
And a literary example from the text:
1852 ROBERTSON Lect. Ep. Cor. xlvi. (1863) 345 A state of grace is the state in which all men are, who have received the message of salvation which declares God's goodwill towards them. [Note 14]

[30] Thus we get to the crux of that state of grace - salvation, but salvation from what? Removing the religious trappings, the definition of salvation that comes the closest for the 40,000 souls is again from the Oxford English Dictionary:

2. gen. Preservation from destruction, ruin, loss, or calamity. In mod. use chiefly with more or less allusion to sense 1[saving the soul]. [Note 15]

[31] Why not say salvation rather than muck about with the poetic, but confusing use of a religious phrase? I can only hazard a guess, since R.J. Stewart never really defined it in his interview, either, but it immediately - for those with Christian backgrounds - suggested the saving of the souls through redeeming them, or buying them back. It also suggests parallels between Xena and Jesus Christ, which if I was a Christian, I think I might be offended.

[32] The salvation that Xena offers is that by staying dead, she can save the 40,000 from being condemned and thus "lost forever". This is one of the most troubling statements in the entire episode because it is nonsensical to me. The souls are "condemned" but it isn't explained how. We are in a vastly different belief system, in which the victims are condemned to some fate unless the responsible individual is killed and that fate is never seriously described: their fate is simply that they will be "lost".

[33] There are at least three ways these souls can be "lost": by destruction, by damnation and by remaining ghosts. As shown previously, ghosts do not remain ghosts forever. At some point they move on to some sort of afterlife, either to possibly become kami or on to the Buddhist heaven or hell. In practical terms, they should move on because the Land of Shadows would fill up. Only the destruction of the souls could place them in jeopardy. I found no evidence that souls would be destroyed in the Japanese belief system. There may be some belief systems where souls can be destroyed or dissipate, but I think that becomes an untenable belief after a time. After all, the purpose of a life after death is that the soul has a place to go. No one wants to think his or her soul may not pass on to another plane of existence after death. It is self-defeating. Why should there be an afterlife, in that case? Furthermore, we were never given any evidence of soul destruction in the episode. That line was written to provide some danger for the 40,000 souls where none existed and thus providing a reason for Xena to make a sacrifice by staying dead (with the exception of the ghost killer, and no one stated where those souls went). The only ghost that could consider having been destroyed would have been Yodoshi and even that is not clear what happened to his evil soul. My assumption is that he would have been sent to hell, or he might have become a Japanese oni, or demon, which becomes a different problem. As I understand it, souls in Japanese thinking are more like matter in the world: it is neither created nor destroyed, but moves between different states when necessary.

[34] While the concept is only sketched out, Yodoshi and Akemi seem to fit the Japanese redemption model well. Akemi killed her father and Xena kills Akemi. Akemi's death apparently permitted Yodoshi to move on to the Land of the Dead, but he was prevented by some unknown entity or force from doing so because he was so evil. Xena killed the 40,000 villagers by fire and Yodoshi, in his villainy, traps Akemi and the 40,000 - and who knows how many more. An interesting question should be, what happens to the people released by Xena whom Yodoshi killed and then trapped their souls, those other than Xena's 40,000? There seems to be no way to answer that question because it falls outside the rules of this particular universe. Because Xena killed both Akemi and the 40,000, Akemi can also move on to the afterlife, now that Xena has fulfilled the requirement of being dead and thus removed Akemi's impure death. Ah, Akemi was all altruism then, eh? No selfishness and manipulation of Xena involved in Akemi's persuasion of Xena to come fight her father, either?

[35] This is where the finale began to betray the ideals it espoused for the previous six seasons. As noted above, Akemi killed her father, Xena killed Akemi and the saumrai warrior, Morimoto, killed Xena. Although it is doubtful that Xena would consciously become a vengeful spirit, by the rules of the story, she should because she died violently and impurely. And by the rules of the story she cannot be redeemed until the person responsible for her death is also killed, i.e., by the rule of a life for a life. Since Morimoto killed Xena, then by rights Gabrielle should have killed him to truly redeem Xena, again by the rules of this story. But Gabrielle did not. Thus was Xena truly redeemed?

[36] Again if, by the rules of the story, Morimoto has to be killed for her redemption as well, then the cycle of violence and hatred goes on and on. And Xena contributed to it. Nor did Gabrielle stop it, which was one of her goals in life - at least through the second season. Instead, she became a true warrior and took Xena's place and Xena's duty. Morimoto killed Xena but Gabrielle decided to not kill him, so he could not redeem Xena in terms of this Japanese belief system. Thus Gabrielle condemned Xena to an unredeemed existence, and therefore an existence of a vengeful spirit, as determined by these rules. This hardly is overcoming violence and hatred, especially since Morimoto was so determined to die at Gabrielle's hand, because it was considered more honorable to die at the hand of your victor.

[37] Given that Xena and Gabrielle were supposed to be honoring the Japa religion by keeping Xena dead, it seems to me that Gabrielle failed in that regard when she refused to kill Morimoto. Persevering with her own values and beliefs should probably be an offense to the Japa belief system.

[38] It is most intriguing how the rules no longer applied when Xena was dead and a spirit only. It is also interesting that the rules only applied to her.

[39] It was an ideal of the show, but the producers took a big step backward and devolved one of the tenets of this television series: that vengeance solves nothing and begets only more violence and more vengeance. The producers have never been loath to provide plot inconsistencies when it suited them and this is no different, I suppose. It is not a plot inconsistency, but a concept inconsistency from that which had been stated frequently in the series. We have all seen on television and film and in print that vengeance is bad. It is a social concept that runs throughout American society and Western cultures. But in order to ensure Xena's moral "redemption" this idea is turned on its head and permitted to be legitimate.

[40] More than a concept inconsistency, however, the devolution severely damaged the history of the show. Several of the episodes showed that Xena's pursuit of personal vengeance not only hurt her, but also affected those around her. One of the lessons I thought Xena learned was that personal vengeance can hurt those around her, often Gabrielle. By showing personal vengeance as a good thing, then all that Xena learned means little. She or anyone else could assume that vengeance is a useful tool for resolving problems. No wonder many felt the six seasons were pointless.



The Love Story

[41] One of the bastions of the series had been the love story between Xena and Gabrielle. During an interview, Rob Tapert said that his original intent was that the show was to be about how Xena and Gabrielle faced the world. Instead, it became the story about their relationship, although often subsumed in the seasons' arc. Over the years, Mr. Tapert, Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor and R. J. Stewart have all said that the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was the core, even the very heart of the show. During A FRIEND IN NEED, the story of the relationship was relegated to the background. It became a plot device. By the end of the episode, it was obvious the finale was really about the characters as separate individuals and their stories, just as it had been in SINS OF THE PAST. If SINS OF THE PAST at its end was to be about Xena and Gabrielle coming together and facing the world together, at its close, A FRIEND IN NEED, became about the two of them separating: Gabrielle to face her destiny and Xena to face nothing in particular, because she is dead. Clearly, they abandoned the heart of the show. Perhaps that is what Mr. Tapert meant when he talked about coming full circle - two individuals, who had been separated by space, came together for a time and at the end, were separated again, but now by a barrier of death.

[42] Moments of great sentimentality do exist in the episode. We see Xena tearfully showing Gabrielle the final part of her pinch, which she had withheld throughout the series, and emotionally speaking about how she, Xena, would want to spend her last thirty seconds of life. And as Xena is shot through with arrows, her last thoughts are of Gabrielle. These images do describe how important Gabrielle is to her. But is it more than a plot device to drive the second half of the episode? In the first half, Xena spends as much time mentoring Gabrielle as she does in terms of a close, loving relationship. There was more romance between Xena and Akemi than between Xena and Gabrielle. By the second half of the two hours, the two characters are physically separated as Gabrielle fights to bring Xena back to life. At the teahouse, Xena, for the very first - and last - time calls Gabrielle her soulmate, so the audience is given to understand that the two are close. Just how close is still a matter of debate among the fans. I would argue that this is one of many instances the writers told us rather than showed us because the intervening six seasons, which illustrated their burgeoning relationship, was sliced out. Those coming in unaware would need to know how these two women came to be so very close.

[43] One other scene suggesting the depth of the characters' feelings for each other was the act of water sharing by Gabrielle with Xena. Irrespective of those who believed that scene never implied a sexual relationship between the two characters, the scene appears to be a tip of the hat to those fans who had been clamoring for a kiss between Xena and Gabrielle. While much appreciated, many who had been petitioning for a kiss found the separation of Xena and Gabrielle at the end of the episode much worse than never having a kiss at all. The message appears to be: Be careful what you wish for.

[44] This is not to say there were not great passionate lines written into the final scenes. With tears streaming down her face, Xena declares, "Don't you know how much I wanna let you do this? But if there is a reason for our travels together-- it's because _I_ had to learn from you-- enough to know the final, the good, the right thing to do. I can't come back. I can't." I recall thinking that I ought to have been moved by the sadness of it, but I found I was not; not nearly as much as I think the producers expected the audience to be. I could not understand Xena's pain. It was not that Lucy Lawless did not say those lines with conviction and emotion, but that the script never set me up to feel as I should. Frankly, it occurred to me that Xena might really want to stay dead to be with Akemi, rather than Gabrielle. Although this proved not to be the case, the fact that I could even consider it indicates the producers did a far better job of depicting Xena's relationship with Akemi than they did with Gabrielle. Again, Xena's words were telling us, rather than showing us how much Xena loved Gabrielle and how much she was giving up. During the series, we saw countless times that Xena would sacrifice her life for Gabrielle, or perhaps more tellingly, she would listen to Gabrielle and find her moral standard in her - Gabrielle was her light and she gave Xena her own light, after all. (ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE)

[45] Xena's relationship is far better illustrated in a second draft script of A FRIEND IN NEED, that has floated about the Xenaverse for some time. In it Xena describes what she will be giving up by staying dead: among other things, watching the light of sunrise on Gabrielle's hair. It was very poetic and lovely, but cut for some unknown reason. Instead we were left with the sterile and inarticulate, "Don't you know how much I wanna let you do this?" While this mimics the first season Xena, by the sixth season, she had become more articulate and eloquent. If the finale was truly an episode of coming full circle, then she should have been that more eloquent person we saw over the course of the six years. Others will disagree with me, but I believe the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was only a shadow of what we had seen before. It has been called the glue that held the show together, but in this finale it became the mechanism to drive them apart. Gabrielle's fight to take Xena's ashes to Mount Fuji and restore her to life was an indication of her love for Xena, but it also becomes the instrument of their separation.

[46] Or are they separated? Some have called the situation, "The Ghost And Mrs. Muir", after the film and television series. In those instances, neither the captain nor the widow was satisfied with the situation. Some fans have blithely tossed the differences between Gabrielle's living state and Xena's dead state as inconsequential - both are together. But that trivializes Xena's death in this case. Why should Xena have been in tears over staying dead? A discussion of Xena's sacrifice and its relation to Gabrielle comes up in R. J. Stewart' last Chakram interview:

"Sharon Delaney: Why not have the two of them die together?"

"RJ Stewart: If they both die, then they're together and Xena sacrifices nothing. The redemption has to be a sacrifice. What does she love more than anything in the world - Gabrielle." [Note 16]

[47] Mr. Stewart is correct: giving up Gabrielle is Xena' greatest sacrifice - and they seem to not have done it here. Or they left Gabrielle appearing to be insane. In Rob Tapert's Chakram #17 interview regarding the concept of the dead hearing the living's thoughts, he states: "It's not a belief of mine, but it's something we have said in Hercules and Xena since the beginning of the show. The dead can hear what you say. It's a strong emotional point…" (p. 7) In DESTINY, Xena hears Gabrielle's thoughts about how much Gabrielle needs her. Xena says, "I have to go back." Interpretations may vary, but Xena looked none too happy about returning to life. This, it seems to me, is the first indication that Xena believes death is better for her, but that she has to return for the sake of Gabrielle. In fact, there are instances where DESTINY resembles A FRIEND IN NEED. I will have more to say on that later.

[48] The series also presented Gabrielle as able to see spirits of the dead. She did it first in THE QUEST, when Xena encourages her to "think of me," and she appears to Gabrielle. The other time is in THE LAST OF THE CENTAURS, when Ephiny shows herself to Gabrielle, but not to Xena. It is explained that Ephiny and Gabrielle have a connection through Gabrielle's Amazon right of caste. In both cases, neither Xena nor Ephiny apparently are given much time to be in the temporal world. In THE QUEST, Xena tells Gabrielle, "Gabrielle, you don't have to say a word. We don't have much time. I need to get to the ambrosia; otherwise, I will be gone." (Gone where, is unexplained, but it provides a device of urgency. One could assume either Tartarus or Elysia, since they were in Greece.) Ephiny has to go when she has completed her task, although she does tell her son, "I have to leave now. Xenan, I will always be there. You won't see me -- but I'll be there." The latter quote is rather an incomprehensible statement. Where does she go so that she is still always with Xenan? This idea does follow what Xena has always proclaimed to Gabrielle: "Even in death, I will never leave you." (ONE AGAINST AN ARMY) Extend the idea forward to its logical conclusion. Xena knows she can hear Gabrielle's thoughts: DESTINY proved that. She also knows that Gabrielle can see dead people; she saw Xena's spirit when Xena was dead, and just recently saw Ephiny. Furthermore, she has consistently told Gabrielle she would always be with Gabrielle, even if she died. We even see Xena on the boat, putting her arm around Gabrielle and kissing her hair. Given all these facts, Xena could have logically concluded that her spirit would be in contact with Gabrielle.

[49] R. J Stewart confirms that Xena is still with Gabrielle in the following exchange:

"Sharon Delaney: Was Xena really there with Gabrielle at the end or was Gabrielle talking to herself?

"RJ Stewart: In the world we've been in for six years, Xena's spirit is really there and Gabrielle is really talking to her. However, like all mythology, for it to have any real meaning to any of us, it has to convert to our own sense of reality. Today not many of us really believe we literally speak to our loved ones who have passed on. But we speak to our thoughts of them, our vision, our memory of them, what we hold beautiful about them. I think it has to work on both levels to touch people." [Note 17]

[50] If Xena's spirit is there and able to converse, even able to touch Gabrielle, how then is this a great sacrifice? Are they not still together? If they are still together, where is Xena's greatest sacrifice? In CRUSADER, Mr. Stewart had plotted the story such that Xena intended to leave Gabrielle with Najara. It never came to pass, but if it had it would have been a true sacrifice for Xena. In CRUSADER, they would have been physically separated. In A FRIEND IN NEED, they would both have been physically together, although one can question whether a mental or emotional connection would have been sustained. We saw that connection described in ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE I and II, but it was portrayed inconsistently throughout the show and seemed to disappear almost entirely during the fifth season. Xena also made a great sacrifice when, in FALLEN ANGEL, she gave up her light to Demon Callisto and did it without a thought. She knew that if she did so, she would lose Gabrielle because she would be in Hell and Gabrielle would be in Paradise. Perhaps Xena planned to make her way back to Gabrielle, then, but I seriously doubt she thought of it at the time. This was perhaps her most unselfish act. Some would say it was only due to being filled with the compassion of an archangel, but we saw Xena show compassion many times over the years, even for her enemies. I think that even if she had not been an archangel she would have given up her light to her previous nemesis, simply because she had the power.

[51] In the terms of the show then, Xena's ghost and Gabrielle are together. But as Mr. Stewart points out, this belief is not common today. There are cultures in which ghosts and spirits are very real to the people living in that culture (such as ancient Japan). But however many pockets of present day people who believe in spirits, ghosts, angels or the incorporeal, a substantial portion of us believe dead is dead. Thus many fans feel that the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is sundered, when we had been promised that they would always be together. In essence, the audience has to do the work to reach the place the producers meant us to be, rather than make the script do it for the audience. We have to decide what, if any, relationship Gabrielle and Xena still have. Based on our own experience and beliefs, a large number could not make that leap of faith. While this is something the producers toyed with the relationship in the past, I believe this is one of the great weaknesses of this script. Frankly, I think the producers tried to have it both ways and failed in both respects. Xena and Gabrielle are either together and Xena never made that great sacrifice she was expected to or they are not together and she did achieve sacrifice and her redemption. Ultimately, this is divisive to the fandom, because it requires the fans to make choices about concepts based on their own beliefs, rather then in terms of the show's mythology. The script takes a point of view but fails to support it without ambivalence.



Ambivalence and Ambiguity

[52] Ambivalence runs throughout the episode. One example is Xena's torching of Higuchi after trying and failing to honor Akemi's request to have her ashes placed in the family shrine. The villagers threaten a drunken, anguished, grieving Xena with bodily harm. She fills her mouth with alcohol and, as we saw an older Xena do, blows the liquid over a torch, thus setting the village and villagers on fire. The impression left with many of the fans was that Xena was protecting herself and the urn of ashes. There are a couple of firsts here. Although Xena had done this before, it was, I believe the first time she had ever done this as part of her backstory. The other is that we have never seen Xena drunk before, either in the present or in the past. We have seen her use the hookah, which may or may not have contained opium (THE DEBT) but she has never really needed any drug to lose control. So it is a bit puzzling to see why she had to be drunk. In a second draft script of the finale, Xena deliberately fires the houses and the people. The writers toned this down for reasons known only to them but it left many fans persuaded that Xena was less culpable of the crime than the results of her death warranted. Sharon Delaney posed the question to Rob Tapert:

"Sharon Delaney: Another discussion among fans was that if Xena had been sober during that scene, then she would have been more responsible for setting the village on fire.

"Robert Tapert: Xena, drunk and out of control, used fire and then drunkenly rambled off paying no attention to the consequences of the actions she initiated. Is she guilty? She's as guilty as any drunk driver.

"Sharon Delaney: As guilty as she feels?

"Robert Tapert: As guilty as she feels." [Note 18]

[53] The producers chose not to make a decision about Xena's level of guilt in the incident, leaving that for Xena and the audience. As shown in the draft script, at one point they made it clear that Xena was totally at fault. But what was aired was softened so that her actions could be mitigated by the actions of the villagers. She was provoked by them and over-reacted in her drunken state. In the past, society was willing to forgo complete condemnation of drunks because their judgment was impaired. Times have changed and more people now believe that those who have been drinking cannot expect impairment to be an excuse. Certainly Xena takes that attitude. But if a storyteller expects to convince the audience of a particular position, then it would seem it ought to be shown that was wrong. Given that Xena was not shown to be as ruthless as she was in THE DEBT or the first two episodes of the Ring Trilogy (THE RHINEGOLD, THE RING), the audience, who really love the character, has to make the choice of how guilty Xena is. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I would answer that one cannot make a case on a foundation of ambivalence. If Xena was wholly guilty, then show her as wholly guilty.

[54] Portraying Xena's action ambiguously is not new, but the their intent is seen in Mr. Tapert's reply, "As guilty as she feels." We know Xena always looks back on her actions and activities with great regret, guilt and remorse. Thus her first reaction will be to willingly accept her responsibility regarding what happened to the exclusion of the involvement of everyone else. The point to the scene seems to be that Xena sees her prior actions as terrible and such guilt is equivalent to the weight of her wickedness. Circumstances surrounding her behavior cannot be taken into consideration. In Xena's mind, she is always flat-out wrong and this time is no different. Her feelings of guilt overwhelm everything such that she loses whatever perspective she may have learned over the previous six seasons. This behavior is not new. Xena revealed the same kind of feelings of guilt and remorse in DESTINY. In that episode, her feelings caused her to die, not in shame but out of a sense of punishment. She felt she had nothing to contribute because she had been evil and had caused evil things to happen to others who crossed her path. Wisely, M'Lila told her that because she had been evil and could recognize evil, she could more effectively fight evil. Xena may have accepted M'Lila's argument on it face, but it took Gabrielle to call her home. ("The world needs you; I need you.") But in A FRIEND IN NEED, Gabrielle never calls Xena back. I suppose the world no longer needs Xena.

[55] Parallels abound between DESTINY and A FRIEND IN NEED. Both contain backstory, with DESTINY as the first and A FRIEND IN NEED as the last. Xena dies in both episodes. Her guilt overrides her sense of survival in each episode, such that she finds it easier to die than to continue on. In DESTINY, her death was to protect the world from any further depredations she might visit on it, in case she slipped back to her evil ways. It also was a form of self-punishment, because we saw Xena on a cross, (her bane throughout the series) surrounded by fire. She was either in a form of Tartarus or hell. In DESTINY, Xena was misled and betrayed by Caesar; in A FRIEND IN NEED, she was misled and betrayed by Akemi, although she doesn't seem to see it that way in her treatment by Akemi. Certainly Akemi manipulated her, as did Caesar. Although it may not have been intentional, there are elements of subtext between M'Lila and Xena in DESTINY and A FRIEND IN NEED drips with it between Akemi and Xena. M'lila teaches Xena the pinch in DESTINY and in a reverse sort of parallel action, Xena teaches Akemi the pinch (while finally showing Gabrielle the last part of the pinch: putting it on the intended victim).



Full Circle




Xena likes dark, remember?

Stonehenge was a full circle until Xena came to town


[56] It is for these several reasons, I presume, that the producers saw the series coming "full circle". Certainly the parallels I have discussed above indicate such a view. But the promise in M'Lila's statement to Xena that it wasn't her time to die seems frittered away by the finale. Now, it seems, it is her time to die and in a narrowly focused remedy. It seems to me DESTINY evoked a purpose larger than Xena herself, something that meant she could touch many lives. There is the argument that the Greater Good for the 40,000 souls Xena accidentally caused to be killed overrides all the good she could do in the future for the living, but I was never convinced of the souls' jeopardy and, as I discussed above, there is little in Japanese belief and folklore to support that view. Thus I am left with the impression that Xena did this not for the 40,000, but for herself, to assuage her guilty conscience. That she "saved" them is one consequence of her decision.

[57] DESTINY appeared to be the standard and pinnacle to which Xena ascribed and to which she strove. The one of the other consequences of her decision to stay dead is that she turned her back on the path that M'Lila reset her on. She is dead. She can't interact with the living with the exception of Gabrielle and it is Gabrielle who must take up Xena's duties of resolving problems and of attempting to save the rest of the world. Xena might be able to work through Gabrielle, but it is clumsy and awkward and Gabrielle must make her own decisions. Although Xena may (or may not, depending on your point of view) be with Gabrielle, it is not Xena who can make that difference for the living. That is Gabrielle's job now. One of the most troubling results of the finale to me about Xena's choice was that the two arenas, the world of the living and the world of the dead were pitted one against the other, through Xena. In all the times Xena has visited the Underworld of the various cultures, she has never been called upon to determine which is better for the living or the dead. Yet that is what is asked of her. And the audience is asked to accept that this is a better thing not just for the souls, but Xena remaining dead is good and right for the living. What a choice for the audience! We were given little or no information regarding the Japanese afterlife, but we are asked to believe in the efficacy of Xena's decision and that the souls in the afterlife are better off, having been "released into a state of grace", although it is never explained what this phrase means in terms of Japanese beliefs and its impact on the souls.

[58] Although I have little affection for sad endings and rarely watch them more than once, I do have a soft spot for Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan. For those who may not have seen the film, I am about to give away one of the crucial plot points. In it, Mr. Spock dies by entering a reaction chamber to repair an out-of-control reactor, thereby receiving huge amounts of radiation. (Rumor has it that Leonard Nimoy was lured into taking up the role again because he was promised the character would die at the end of the film. Actors love doing death scenes.) But before he dies, he tells a distraught Captain Kirk that, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few". I frequently think of this line with respect to Xena and her choice in A FRIEND IN NEED. For Spock it was simple. His life was traded for the rest of the ship and those in the immediate area who would die because of the chain reaction. In effect, Spock saved the universe. In contrast, Xena gave up her life permanently, not for the lives of millions of beings but for the vengeance of 40,000 dead people. Somehow Xena's choice seems somewhat less noble, perhaps because its foundation is not simply retributive just punishment, but revenge, as Mr. Stewart notes in the quote above. Making revenge the basis for all the actions that follow becomes more difficult to justify, given the history of the show, vis-à-vis vengeance and revenge, and the view of vengeance in the wider society. It diminishes Xena's sacrifice.



The Hero Must Die

[59] In literature, there are several specific types of heroes: mythological or Homeric, tragic and Campbellian. Because the show was based in part on Greek mythology, many fans argued that Xena was a hero cast in the mythological mold. While not definitive, THE FURIES, suggested that a god was not truly part of her parentage. At one time the producers had considered clearly making Xena a demigod, but in the end ruled it out. That was, I believe, the way she was viewed by the producers and writers, fallibly and wholly human. The mythological hero fits certain criteria, the most specific of which is set down by Lord Raglan[Note 19], but is reiterated by both Dr. Janice Siegal[Note 20] and Otto Rank. [Note 21] Some attributes in common are provided by Dr. Siegel:

"…he is said to be of elevated parentage, exposed as an infant, adopted by poor foster family, has marvelous adventures, saves a princess from a dreadful fate, marries her, and eventually meets with a mysterious death... [Note 22]

[60] This sounds much more like Hercules than Xena, and the classical Hercules (Heracles) was Dr. Siegel's model. But even if these are considered as rules defining the Mythic Hero, Xena just does not quite fit into that pattern. Even if Xena is a demigod, that is not the only attribute of the mythic hero which defines the individual. For a good overview of the different types of hero: Classical, Homeric and Tragic, see Alice R. O'Grady's discussion of heroes, "Heroes Are Not Totally Exemplary People". [Note 23]

[61] For a time I considered whether Xena fit the Joseph Campbell view of the hero and to a certain degree, her journey through the six seasons does follow the Campbellan Hero's Journey. But after much thought, I believe Xena was written to be a tragic hero. I read Ted Hughes' translation of Jean Racine's Phedre, in preparation to attending a performance of the play in Chicago. It struck me that, like Phedre, A FRIEND IN NEED was written as a Greek tragedy, or simply as a tragedy. And as in Greek tragedies, a good portion of the characters die: the plays never end well. The finale has some elements in common with Phedre and the Shakespearean tragedies Macbeth and Othello, most particularly through the characters that function as a catalyst to achieve an outcome favorable to them. Macbeth had Lady Macbeth, Othello had Iago, Phedre had Oenone and Xena had Akemi. Yet for all the similarities between the protagonists previously named and their respective villains, only Xena's Akemi had betrayed her once before - and Xena failed to entertain any wariness about Akemi.

[62] A full discussion of why the finale is a tragedy is a separate paper itself, so I will provide the following definition to explain what I mean:

"The word tragedy can be applied to a genre of literature. It can mean 'any serious and dignified drama that describes a conflict between the hero (protagonist) and a superior force (destiny, chance, society, god) and reaches a sorrowful conclusion that arouses pity or fear in the audience.' From this genre comes the concept of tragedy, a concept which is based on the possibility that a person may be destroyed precisely because of attempting to be good and is much better than most people, but not perfect. (Irony, therefore, is essential and it is not surprising that dramatic irony, which can so neatly emphasize irony, is common in tragedies.) Tragedy implies a conflict between human goodness and reality." [Note 24]

[63] The components of a tragic hero are defined this way:

The Characteristics of an "Archetypal" Tragic Hero: [Note 25]

Noble Stature: since tragedy involves the "fall" of a tragic hero, one theory is that one must have a lofty position to fall from, or else there is no tragedy (just pathos)…. .
Tragic Flaw (Hamartia): the tragic hero must "fall" due to some flaw in his own personality. The most common tragic flaw is hubris (excessive pride)….
Free Choice: while there is often a discussion of the role of fate in the downfall of a tragic hero, there must be an element of choice in order for there to be a true tragedy. The tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another….
The Punishment Exceeds the Crime: the audience must not be left feeling that the tragic hero got what he deserved. Part of what makes the action "tragic" is to witness the injustice of what has occurred to the tragic hero.
Produces Catharsis in Audience: catharsis is a feeling of "emotional purgation" that an audience feels after witnessing the plight of a tragic hero: we feel emotionally drained, but exultant.

[64] Xena is a tragic hero because she has finally developed a noble character. But in a fit of drunken anger she exercised poor judgment and accidentally killed 40,000 people. It could be argued her tragic flaw was her emotions, but one could also say it was her penchant for violent solutions. Rob Tapert suggests that this could be the flaw by this statement:

"But it seemed right, for the violent character of Xena, to have a violent end to her TV career." [Note 26]

[65] This does not prove violence was Xena's tragic flaw, but it certainly defined her. Her choice of using fire to defend herself was a poor decision, in that it got everyone in the village killed. Many felt Xena's punishment far exceeded her crime, although there is some disagreement regarding the culpability of the 40,000 villagers. There were posts that declared Xena had finally paid for all her previous crimes by staying dead for the 40,000, and thus this punishment would certainly have fit her crimes. Nevertheless, it can be argued that, since her actions were unpremeditated, this punishment was greater than what she deserved in this particular instance. Was there catharsis? Some did feel exultant, but for those who did not, they were seeing something other than positive emotions. I will explore this in a moment.

[66] There is a specific purpose of the hero in literature and myth. Whether classical/mythological, Homeric, Campbellian or tragic, the hero functions as a teacher to the rest of us mere mortals. They either intercede with the gods and the sacred part of our existence, as with the classical and mythological, or learn something about themselves, as with the Joseph Campbell or tragic hero, which the people can learn from and strive to emulate. If Xena is a tragic hero, what did she learn? The most obvious lesson was probably expresses by Xena herself in the episode:

."But if there is a reason for our travels together, it's because I had to learn from you. Enough to know the final, the good, the RIGHT thing to do."

[67] This appears simple enough. An alternative lesson could be that even bad girls can be redeemed. I presume this is what Mr. Stewart and Mr. Tapert had in mind when they both asserted that part of the finale was the concept of reinventing yourself every day. But as with their assertion, which seems glaringly unknowledgeable regarding their own show - Xena had reinvented herself back in THE GAUNTLET and the series was partially about learning to stay free from the dark side - a different interpretation could be that the only way to be redeemed is through sacrificial death. The corollary to that is bad girls must die to be redeemed.



Redemption and Atonement

[68] Redemption was the goal Xena purportedly had been seeking for the six years of the series. My personal thought had been that redemption was simply the vehicle or the mechanism of the series. It certainly was never something that I expected the producers to have Xena achieve. I think what saddens and simultaneously angers me the most is that, for all Xena's intelligence and lessons learned, that after six seasons, the only solution she could find for her redemption was death.

[69] For the reasons I have explained earlier, I have questions regarding their definition of redemption. It appears to consist of repurchase of the 40,000 souls by sacrificing the thing that Xena values the most, presumably living with Gabrielle (which is on shaky ground as Xena appears to be physically near Gabrielle in the last scenes of the episode). Certainly among the many definitions of redemption is the "buying back" of an item, including souls. In other words, to buy back the souls of those she killed, she was to pay with her life. This concept is understandable but Mr. Stewart expanded on this simple concept, by having the souls released into a "state of grace". This term was never explained nor how its use was meant to help the 40,000. However, it has a very specific meaning in the Christian faith.

[70] Earlier, I discussed the basic meaning of "state of grace" and how grace was defined as God's favor, unmerited by those who accept it. Once they enter into a state of grace, they are saved. Saved from what? In Christianity, they are saved from sin. The common and companion phrase is, "Christ died for your sins". What is the mechanism for this salvation leading to favor? God forgives the human sinners, thereby making it possible for them to receive God's grace. This phrase continues to plague me because it suggests the souls were freed to enter into a place. But this is not what the phrase means and the more I look into it the more obfuscating it becomes. Consider the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are two options, both considered archaic, rare or obsolete:

15. a. Mercy, clemency; hence, pardon or forgiveness. Now rare or arch.
19. pl. Thanks, thanksgiving. Also to do, give, make, render, yield graces. Cf. F. rendre grâces, L. gratias agere. Obs. [Note 27]

[71] Redemption and atonement were used interchangeably throughout the series. The definition of atonement from the OED that surely fits here is as follows:

3. trans. To reconcile or restore to friendly relations: a. one who is alienated by a sense of wrong or offence received: To conciliate, propitiate, appease. arch. b. the offender: To restore by forgiveness to favour or friendly relations, to make at peace with. [Note 28]

[72] Clearly, forgiveness ought to be part of Xena's redemption, but forgiveness by whom? If Xena means to atone, then should she also learn to either accept forgiveness from those she wronged and/or forgive herself? That was a concept Gabrielle frequently urged upon her.

[73] If it was meant that the 40,000 were released into a state of forgiveness, then this was a major change in the character of Xena. This was the woman who never accepted any forgiveness from those who she had wronged and even walked away from any outside agency symbolically forgiving her (FORGIVEN). If this was what was implied by the phrase, then this would have put Xena between a personal choice rock and a moral hard place. Returning to life would place the souls in a jeopardy in which they would be lost, but Xena would remain unforgiven by them because they would not have been released into the state of grace. But by staying dead, the souls were freed to forgive Xena. She, on the other hand, lost her freedom to accept or not accept their forgiveness. Losing this freedom, for Xena, would be tantamount to punishment.

[74] Preposterous logic? Possibly, but neither Mr. Stewart nor Mr. Tapert explained what either of them meant by the phrase. There is precedent in the show where Xena has expressed, both in words and deeds, great guilt over the perceived lack of punishment and would have gladly accepted any penalty for her crimes. Some of the notable instances were from CALLISTO, which was also penned by Mr. Stewart, where Callisto berates Xena for the destruction of Callisto's village and the murder of her family. Another episode is LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN, in which we heard the following lines:

Ersina: "You never had to pay for your crimes. That's always bothered me."
Xena: "Then we have something in common. It's always bothered me, too."

[75] Even at this juncture, it seems Xena cannot recognize any form of payment other than restriction of freedom; here it is restriction of her physical freedom. Xena never speaks of it, but it is clear she is driven by guilt in THE RHEINGOLD. A FRIEND IN NEED simply drips with her sense of guilt.

Xena: "Then I am guilty of a greater evil than I ever thought possible."

[76] This is a typical response, although why this action is worse than some of her other deeds, is not entirely clear. It may have been dialog written for the casual viewer, so they could be clued in to Xena's ruthlessness and her evil side. Perhaps it is the sheer number of dead, although Ares spoke of Xena killing 10,000 in battle when she was a warlord (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, JUDGMENT DAY). The thread of Xena's guilt and remorse over her past behaviors runs through most of the series, but seems more emphasized in the second third, and fourth seasons. One can dispute whether the sixth season should be included, since there were fewer episodes devoted to her evil deeds and backstory than in other seasons. It is clear to anyone who has watched the show, however, that Xena is remorseful and feels great guilt for her past and will go to any lengths to repair injury when she can. LAST OF THE CENTAURS was the last episode prior to the finale, which detailed how Xena kept trying to enact change in the face of Belach's bitter emotional intransigence. Gabrielle kept urging Xena to kill Belach, no doubt convinced he was too full of hate. Xena, however, never gave up on him. In the finale, she gave up - rather quickly, too - on herself.

[77] Repeatedly, Xena was shown to lose all sense of proportion regarding her guilt and it was Gabrielle who would provide some the balance needed. But in the finale, Xena lost that balance because Gabrielle was off trying to bring her back to life. In the end, Xena lost that suspicion, wariness, objectivity she so frequently possessed for the majority of the show. She never questioned what Akemi told her, but accepted it wholeheartedly. In essence, Xena believed Akemi because she wanted to believe her. Her attitude and actions are no different than the many times she faced her guilt over her past - she did nothing; she gave up. Xena did nothing to protect herself against the villagers of Amphipolis in SINS OF THE PAST, when they threatened to stone her: Gabrielle saved her life by reasoning them out of it. In DESTINY she would rather die and be punished rather than live. Again, Gabrielle resurrected her by calling her back to the task she had taken up in life. Even in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN, Gabrielle managed to save Xena by showing her that punishment is not quite the simple answer she was looking for; neither is redemption. Or so I thought.



Xena Simply Gives Up

[78] This may be one of the most disturbing issues I have with the finale: It is not about forgiveness, either by the 40,000 souls or by Xena forgiving herself, but it appears to be about Xena finding the punishment she feels will redeem her of all her evil. Time and again Xena would be overwhelmed with guilt and would gladly die to ease that guilt. The image I am left with is of a warrior who gratefully died in battle (I agree that IS a fitting death for a warrior) and never questioned the truth of what she was told about the underworld she inhabited. To me, Xena simply gave up. Gone is the canny, intelligent, confident character that tried to find as good a resolution to a problem as possible. In ENDGAME, Xena told Brutus, "I do have choices", during what looked like an impossible military situation. The impression left with me from the finale is that Xena never considered whether she had all the facts - the only way to save the souls was to stay dead. End of story.

[79] More than once Mr. Tapert has stated in interviews that Xena was never to be stupid. She had spent 10 years letting her emotions rule her life. These six years were about learning to control those feelings. Yet, as with other episodes, most especially DESTINY, Xena is caught up in great emotion and apparently becomes an idiot. She sits around becoming sentimental and forgets that Akemi drew on her emotions all those years ago and then betrayed her (better yet, "broke her heart"). Nevertheless, Xena blithely goes to Japa and, although aware she is likely being manipulated, does not question Akemi's motives or consider that she might take the opportunity to ask more questions. She easily accepts whatever Akemi tells her. This from the greatest warrior of her time, even the greatest who ever lived. In DESTINY when Caesar betrayed her, I could accept her stupidity because she was young and was still learning. Here, I thought she ought to have known better.

[80] Aristotelian Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy, on which the latter is based, both develop the story so that the audience can see the evidence building that there is only one inescapable conclusion: the hero or protagonist must die. Both Oedipus and Phedre were cursed by the gods and unintentionally committed a great sin. They came to see that morally, there was no other option but to die. That didn't happen in A FRIEND IN NEED. Mr. Tapert was adamant that the viewers be surprised. It isn't clear to me why this was necessary, unless it was a dramatic concern that people might switch away once they were convinced that was the final outcome of the episode, since Xena died so early in the second half of the episode. However, I believe this is a great weakness in the script. If a surprise ending provides a story's dramatic punch to shock the viewer, then it seems to me this is an inherently weak method for going out in a blaze of glory. The glory depends on a trick, rather the strength of the plot. There are many who will disagree with me, but the surprise is one more element of this story that describes its troubling weaknesses.



Redemption Versus Punishment

[81] These weaknesses mislead the viewer away from the interpretation the producers likely had in mind. As I have discussed previously, the reason the 40,000 souls would be "lost" was never convincing to me. My experience with ghost mythologies around the world is regrettably narrow. But I think this is true for the majority of viewers. We were airily told that something bad would happen to the 40,000 if Xena returned to life. There is really no logic to it nor was it developed in the episode. Lack of a persuasive or compelling reason for her action can and did cause alternative interpretations. One alternative explanation is that Xena felt she needed to be punished because of her crime and her history of crime, and thus her redemption can only come through the punishment of staying dead. Suddenly it isn't about the sacrifice or the glory of that sacrifice; it is all about Xena's need to be punished for her sins.

[82] This interpretation is not allayed by Mr. Stewart's commentary in his last Chakram interview. The following quotes illustrate what I mean:

"With the newfound moral view she acquired during the three HERCULES episodes, which was solidified by her relationship with Gabrielle - shining that ethical, moral light over her previous life, she realized how horrible were the things she'd done. She wasn't going to let herself off the hook that easily." (Page 9)

"She was a vicious warlord who became a good girl and got an order of 22 episodes. I always had problems with that." (Page 8)

Mr. Stewart goes on to discuss Xena's actions in FORGIVEN, in which she refuses to be forgiven.
"She feels the things she's done in the past shouldn't be absolved that easily." (Page 8)



Tara was redeemed of all except her bad Bon Jovi hair

Tara shouldn't be absolved that easily, either


[83] This is not about the redemption of Xena, but of her punishment. It is not about washing Xena's sins away, as in the context in which redemption is usually used and for which forgiveness is the means of washing away those sins, but of Xena paying for her crime. She may be inflicting the penalty on herself, but that does not change the fact that she apparently can only forgive herself (and that is questionable) by paying a penalty. Mr. Tapert may have bemoaned the fact that many fans took away from the episode the wrong meaning, but frankly, I doubt changing the word "avenge" to something else would hardly have made a difference. The set up of the plot was based on revenge; the basic meaning of redeem, that of purchasing the souls' future with her life, was motivated by the stark meaning of an eye-for-an-eye, i.e., a life for a life; even tit for tat.

[84] So much of this seems like pro-death penalty cant. Lucy Lawless proclaimed the finale as a "bold choice". In terms of originality of ending a television series, she is right. Producers rarely do it. But it is difficult to see why having Xena die for her sin is groundbreaking. They have never been averse to making social commentary, and A FRIEND IN NEED does make a social statement. The finale is, it seems to me, narrowly moralistic.

[85] During the last thirty years, there has been a trend toward using the death penalty in capital cases. Some of this appears to be due to increases in crime, but some also seems to be the result of more conservative thinking and attitudes. When I was growing up, belief in the rehabilitation and reform of criminals was a foundation of penal philosophy. But as the crime rate went up and television news aired many stories about terrible crimes, the majority of Americans approved the use of capital punishment - partly as a deterrent, but frequently as vengeance. A FRIEND IN NEED reflects the attitude of society in the United States. Xena had to pay her debt to society by staying dead. The underlying message was that there was never any redemption in doing good; the only fair and moral thing to do was die, so that she could receive her redemption, i.e., redemption via punishment. Simple, no?

[86] But there is a movement that reflects what the six-year journey of Xena had once seemed to mean. In penal circles there is the concept of restorative justice, described here:

"In recent years advocates of a 'third way,' have begun to insist that it is possible to ask very different questions about crime. Viewed through the "lens" of restorative justice, crime is important because it causes harm to individuals and their communities. If crime is in fact about harm, "justice" cannot be achieved simply by punishing or treating offenders. Rather, justice processes must promote repair, or an attempt to "heal the wound" crime causes. In contrast to the one-dimensional focus on punishment or treatment, restorative justice is based on the principle that justice is best served when there is a balanced response to the needs of citizens, offenders and victims." [Note 29]

[87] The force of this argument is that the criminal repays his or her debt by something more useful than simple incarceration or death, while the process gives voice to the victim. The wrongdoer repairs the community. This school of thought portrays the criminal as also being a victim but I would never argue that Xena was a victim. She made conscious, rational choices and for that her reparations ought to take more work and time. Ironically, that is precisely what the entire six seasons appeared to be about. Xena traveled about righting wrongs, and most especially those wrongs she committed. Gabrielle symbolized the community, working (however unwittingly) to keep Xena in line to ensure she rectified her previous evil deeds rather than destroyed again or walked away from it. I think it is a fair argument that Xena really didn't provide the victims with a voice, but she didn't totally prevent them either. One possible example of Xena allowing a voice for the victims was in A NECESSARY EVIL. Upon Callisto's insistence, Xena went to a village and confessed her crimes. Calllisto meant to humiliate and punish Xena; instead Xena gave voice to all of Callisto's pain. Backfired it may have done as a result, but I think that would qualify as an example of permitting a voice for the victim, however clunky it was.

[88] With Gabrielle as her moral guide and conscience, Xena repaired the community, first in Greece, then worldwide. She had been earning her redemption, although she never seemed to either realize it or acknowledge it. Redemption was always somewhere out there, a fuzzy goal to be attained, if only she could figure out what it was. Apparently it was punishment. Gabrielle repeatedly urged Xena to forgive herself and in the end, I doubt Xena ever learned that self-forgiveness doesn't spring from self-punishment. That only brings suffering for no real purpose.

[89] But apparently to Xena, punishment is equivalent to forgiveness and thus redemption. As shown in SINS OF THE PAST, Xena was quite willing to accept her village's punishment until Gabrielle intervened. Whether Xena believed she would be redeemed if she allowed them to punish, and possibly, kill her isn't clear from the episode. But by the time of A FRIEND IN NEED, we discover that she really hasn't moved far from that mark. Earning the Amphipolis villagers' trust and forgiveness and thereby her redemption is never considered: paying her life for dead souls is the only worthy method of redeeming herself.

[90] Over the last six years the show took the line that a reformed person is acceptable. There were the infrequent times, such as in Callisto and Locked Up and Tied Down, when they took exception to that thinking for a time. But in general the show took the position that a person could be reformed, contribute to society and could actually be considered good. Gabrielle always represented this viewpoint. But the finale took the conventional attitude of contemporary society. Revenge yourself upon the criminal. Essentially it turned its back on one of the strongest elements it seemed to be about. Mr. Stewart claimed that it was because Xena and Gabrielle had visited other societies' underworlds or afterlives and that they had to follow those particular beliefs or rules. In FALLEN ANGEL, Xena was planning to storm heaven to rule there - or possibly just get Gabrielle back - rather than simply rule in hell and try to raid heaven or purgatory for souls ascending to heaven. She refused to follow the proscription that she rule in hell and tricked Lucifer into reigning in THE HAUNTING OF AMPHIPOLIS. Rather than follow Hades' rules she persuaded him to permit Marcus to help her regain Hades' Helmet of Invisibility, then topped that off by making it possible for Marcus to die again and move on to the Elysian Fields. In so many ways, Xena followed her own rules, as heroes do, and the moral code that she probably had learned from her mother, and most certainly had learned from Gabrielle. Suddenly, for A FRIEND IN NEED, Xena must blindly follow rules that violate everything she had appeared to have learned and lived by for the last six years, simply to gain her redemption.

[91] Xena was being politically correct in our modern parlance. She decided that the only way to atone or be redeemed was to die, which is not an unconscionable belief in today's society. People who commit murder, especially heinous murder, must pay with their lives. In the strictest sense, that is what the death penalty is all about.

[92] To me this made the finale conservative, even reactionary. For a show that prided itself on doing the unconventional, it was a surprise that, in the end, it was so very conventional after all.

[93] There are some ironies in all of this. Rob Tapert was born and raised in Michigan, the first governmental organization in the Western Hemisphere, and possibly the world, to outlaw the death penalty. Even more ironic is that his second home and the place Xena was filmed has a Maori tradition of earned redemption and restorative justice. [Note 30]

[94] There is the argument that Xena should honor the beliefs of the Japanese people and subject herself to the tenets of this religion, by staying dead, rather than returning to life. But even by abiding by this rule, she inserts herself in the carefully designed traditions of the Japanese people. By staying permanently dead, she removes the living's responsibility and need to appease the ghosts of the dead. This mechanism not only helped explain the things that go bump in the night, but also involves the community in protecting itself or themselves from the terrible things the ghosts are wont to do those left alive. The villagers of Higuchi have no real function in their belief system any longer, at least with these 40,000 dead. However, Xena, having died a violent death, now has the right to terrorize the people of Higuchi as a ghost.



The Purpose of Xena's Death

[95] The purpose of Xena's death, of course, was to go out in a blaze of glory. But there are many other ways to accomplish that goal without breaching the show's own described tenets. I recall a synopsis written by Wishes for the Royal Academy of Bards Challenge number two. Whether the synopsis was written before or after the airing of the finale, is not clear, but the piece was posted afterward. The basic details are that the Romans are threatening to invade and defeat the native warriors of Gaul. Claudius, emperor of Rome, has sent Xena and Gabrielle to make a peace. Gabrielle is the emperor's own envoy. While there they meet Boadicea's son, who is bitter toward Xena because of her betrayal of his mother so long ago. Xena and Gabrielle talk to both sides, but the Romans have one treacherous officer who attempts to wipe out the Gauls. While Gabrielle rides off to talk to the commanding general, who had been drawn away with news of an attack on the town, Xena stays behind to prevent the two sides from fighting each other. In effect, she acts as a representative warrior for the Gauls against the Romans. In the end she dies, sacrificing her life so that the Gauls do not go to war with the Romans and that Gabrielle can truly find peace for the two sides. The story is called "Love And Honor" and is archived at: http://www.merwolf.com/academy/contest/challenge2/synopsis1.html .

[96] The synopsis does many of the same things as the finale: Xena dies in battle; she sacrifices her life for others, and with the fillip of doing so with honor; she saves a whole people while making it possible for Gabrielle to end the cycle of violence and hatred and become a true warrior-peacemaker. Finally, Xena redeems herself for her actions toward Boadicea by allowing herself to be killed to save the Gauls and the peace. Nor does Xena succumb to the fruits of vengeance and revenge as she did in A FRIEND IN NEED. While I really did not want Xena to die, I believe she was treated far more respectfully in her sacrifice and death in the synopsis than she was in the finale. Many will take issue with this reaction, but I recall thinking after I saw the episode, that I wondered how the writers could have treated the way they did the character they professed to love. The most representative scene is probably the one in which Gabrielle finds Xena's decapitated, naked body, hanging on a wooden frame.

[97] In his Chakram interview, Mr. Tapert made the following statement:

"The greatest honor you could give to your fallen foe was to take their head." (p.9)

[98] This might be true in Japan. Death in battle could be a form of seppuku, although nothing in the research I have done suggested decapitation as the greatest honorable form of death on the battlefield. The idea was to die, usually by being surmounted by the enemy soldiers, battling to the end. This only obliquely happened here. The sense of defilement happened after her head was chopped off. Xena's body was stripped of her armor and weapons and hung up naked, like a trophy or a prize, rather than with respect due an honored enemy. In Western warfare, there was the practice of parole, in which an enemy soldier would be allowed to keep his weapon on the promise that he would refrain from fighting, essentially on his honor. The opposite was disgrace, in which a soldier would be stripped of his weapons and emblems of battle, one of which could be his armor. While an honored enemy may not keep the weapon, he or she would still be dressed in armor. This certainly is not the way most of the audience has seen honored foes treated in the Western tradition. The sense of ritual suicide by dying in battle is commonly known. Given that the episode had already established the Japanese were bigoted when it came to women - women were not permitted to use swords - the logical conclusion is that Morimoto meant disrespect to Xena either as a woman and/or as a warrior. Certainly some fans saw the scene as misogynistic. Cap that off with a barely reasonable explanation of why Xena had to stay dead and that she seemed more willing to die for the souls than live with and for Gabrielle: the result is, if not outrage, certainly shock at how Xena was treated as a character. That scene simply reinforced, for many, the sense that Xena was treated badly.

[99] Mr. Tapert has expressed surprise that many fans found the finale tainting their enjoyment in the rest of the series. There are several reasons for this, I think. One is that skipping the majority of the six years for the simplicity of the casual viewer left many fans with the sense that Xena's journey was pointless. She had struggled, resolved and repaired so much of her damaged past which had come back to haunt her and had appeared to come to terms with what she was and what she had done. But the only way to reach redemption was to die. The greatest reason for the sense of despair over the ending, I think, was not HOW to bring her back, but WHY? Why should anyone bother? Xena was dead, released into her own redemption, if one believes that, or her own punishment, which is a probable alternative. Gabrielle had been taught everything Xena knew and she was given Xena's mantle by virtue of having the ability to throw and control Xena's chakram. This fact indicates Gabrielle was not holding Xena's weapon of power for Xena's return, but had assumed the chakram as her weapon of power, truly becoming the new Warrior Princess. Furthermore, Gabrielle now had a potent protective device - the dragon tattoo. Gabrielle doesn't need Xena to watch her back, as they had done so often in the final season. And this may also be another reason for so much of the hurt and anger over the finale: they split the partnership, which the producers and actors had spent so many years nurturing and describing, even exalting. Gabrielle is now to be on her own. Xena might tag along with Gabrielle, but she has no real purpose any longer. She was useless and pointless, even superfluous in the living world. The story now would be Gabrielle's alone.



The Relationship

[100] Whether one views the characters' relationship as subtext or simply one of very close friendship, the split is real and tangible. The series had developed that relationship over the prior six seasons, and then abruptly said it was not so very important after all. Xena's redemption and Gabrielle becoming a warrior separate from Xena was of much greater consequence than anything else. If one viewed only SINS OF THE PAST, and followed it immediately with A FRIEND IN NEED, then the relationship was a minor aspect of the series. Except for understanding how Xena learned the proper moral code from Gabrielle, since it was never clearly shown in the finale how that part of the relationship worked, the two characters were really on separate paths. If you didn't know there was supposed to be this "great love story", you would never have missed it. That may be one of the many problems with the episode - they threw in so many acknowledgments to so many groups that it seemed hardly cohesive. From the Hong Kong film makers who were inspired by the Evil Dead series and, in turn, inspired Mr. Tapert to base this show on Hong Kong films, to the nod to the lesbians that they should get that kiss they had been ragging on the producers to include, the finale seemed to be about getting all those little things in that some felt were needed to be taken care of, including punishing Xena. The latter is a disagreeable view to many, but the fact that such a conclusion can be drawn merits some attention. It may be an incorrect conclusion, but there certainly may have been some who felt Xena needed to be punished to reach redemption and there is so much in the episode that lends itself to that conclusion.

[101] If Xena can only be redeemed through death, then she really cannot be brought back to life. The way the story is structured, it is the state or condition of being dead that brings redemption, not the act of dying. If that were not the case, there would be no question that she could, or should, be resurrected. Thus they cannot bring Xena back to life without losing her redemption. Frankly, I think it was that last, final little issue which made the finale pointless and lent itself to the pointlessness of the series. It would be meaningless to bring Xena back. She has served her purpose; she has no other either in life and it seems, in death.



She Lives…She Lives

[102] There is no question but that Xena can be brought back to life. The virtual seasons and the Chicago theatrical play, Xena Live! Episode 2 - Xena Lives, has proved that she can. The real question is should she be brought back? Mr. Stewart made it clear in his last interview that the very last scene was "a way to end it not to begin something else". He went on to say, in response to a follow-up question, "We wanted to make it clear Gabrielle was going on by herself to be a great warrior on her own. The torch was passed." (Chakram 16, p. 10) That torch was really passed when Gabrielle was able to fight her way to the Fountain of Strength and to throw Xena's chakram. If the chakram had been Xena's weapon of power, that was the sign that the torch had been passed, not the moment when Gabrielle stood alone on the deck of the ship at the end of the original airing of A FRIEND IN NEED. That is why Mr. Tapert's deletion of a portion of the deck scene from the Directors' Cut was not a major change and meant so little: Gabrielle had received Xena's mantle long before that scene. The chakram was now Gabrielle's weapon of power; no longer was it Xena's. The door was still firmly shut to any future activities for Xena. Therein lies one more issue with this finale. Mr. Tapert wanted it to not only close one door, but to be sure there was a sense that another portal would open. Mr. Stewart, before he departed, left the viewer with the sense that there is no further door for Xena to open. She is forever consigned to her fate at the end of the series. She has no future nor any hope or need of a future. She simply is not needed.

[103] Joseph Campbell seems most apt here, given the number of fans who have fondly described how the finale is really a culmination of Campbell's Hero's Journey.

"Only birth can conquer death - the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new…. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do except be crucified - crucified and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn." [Note 31]

[104] Campbell was speaking macrocosmically, but this quote can be applied to the finale. If Xena is the hero (and there had been discussion on some of the lists as to whether Xena or Gabrielle is the hero), then her death permits the birth of the warrior Gabrielle. The "old thing", Xena, died so that Gabrielle, the new, could be born into a new life, as the new Warrior Princess. I believe most people caught that concept. Shortly after the finale aired, one of the Australian or New Zealand newspapers groused that this ended any possibility of a future feature film. Mr. Tapert had to explain in a subsequent interview that such an ending would not preclude bringing the character back. The fact that he had to make this explanation strongly suggests that neither Mr. Tapert did so very well in leaving a sense of "a door opening." On its face it is simply one more example of how final, was Xena's final battle.

[105] This, I believe is one of the prime reasons for the despair and hurt over A FRIEND IN NEED. It truly represented an ending for the title character. For many who saw Xena as a hero and a role model, it left no sense of hope. Perhaps the hope was to be in the hands of Gabrielle, but the sense was that Xena's story was completed. There is no reason to bring her back, especially if she would lose her redemption by being returned to life.

[106] Over the past several years since the finale was aired and all new episodes ceased, I have struggled to come to terms with the finale. I have not done very well, thus far. For at least two of the last three years I spent much of my free time angry and hurt. At one time I considered leaving fandom, but I know once I do that, I would not come back. Instead, I have hoped to rediscover that lost joy and pleasure I once had; but to do that, I have had to stop watching the show and participating in discussions about the episodes. I cannot yet say it is working. Once gone it is very, very hard to regain what was lost.

[107] I was struck by some reading I have been doing since the end of Xena. Antonia Fraser has, in her book, THE WARRIOR QUEENS, described the paradox of the Warrior Queen:

"The central nature of this paradox can be stated as follows: whereas woman has on the whole, taking the rough with the smooth, the good epochs with the bad, been considered inferior to man throughout history, the arrival of a Warrior Queen, by whatever accident of fate, descent or sheer character, has been the signal for a remarkable outburst of excitement and even awe, sometimes accompanied by admiration and enthusiasm for her cause, beyond the ability of a mere male to arouse…."

"Conversely, the emergence of a Warrior Queen has at other times been accompanied by disgust and fear at her very existence, emotions which would never be aroused by a male leader occupying the same position…. To the other side, the actual atrocities committed or instigated by a woman leader bring about a special shudder, which recalls our reaction to the knives on Boadicea's chariot: it is not so much the mythical weapons themselves as the woman driving the chariot which surely gives us that special frisson." [Note 32]

[108] What has this to do with Xena and the finale? I believe that far more of the latter paragraph was incorporated into A FRIEND IN NEED than the former attitude. I suspect that is why she became that epitome of girlyness, so overcome by her emotion and guilt that she became stupid about Akemi and stopped thinking ahead, stopped being the great warrior we saw so often during the series. In my opinion, Xena gave up being a warrior long before she passed the mantle to Gabrielle. And that is one reason that I have come to dislike the finale so much. To me Xena is not Xena, or worse, she gave up. That was never the image I had of her.

[109] What is also troubling was the departure from previously accepted tenets. In permitting the dead villagers to have their vengeance, one could construe that personal vengeance is all right. This flies in the face of everything we, and Xena, learned over the course of six seasons: that vengeance is bad, not because of what it does to the individual perpetrating the vengeance, but of the negative ripple effect it has on everyone around that individual. To me that seemed to be the prime lesson Xena had learned from the Rift and her obsession over Caesar. In the end, keeping Xena dead benefited no one, least of all the dead villagers, since they would have moved on anyway. Some would say there was no one else affected, since Gabrielle was taking over Xena's task in the living world, but I believe the world was diminished by Xena's loss. After all, there would have been two people of great ability to save the world, not just one.

[110] And if Xena could say that everything she had learned about personal vengeance is wrong, that it is all right for religious reasons, then everything she has learned is really rather pointless, which says to me that a good portion of her journey is pointless. Not only that, one's values, most especially the hard-learned values, the painful lessons, must bow to another's religion. I think that is a terrible slippery slope, since it becomes easy to justify some wrong-headed beliefs as morally justified.

[111] As Colonel Harry Flashman, that unrepentant coward and cad said, "…I'll answer that I've soldiered far and hard enough to learn one invariable rule, superstition or not: never monkey with the local gods. It don't pay." [Note 33]



Conclusion

[112] Returning to Mr. Tapert's statement about ending Xena's violent TV life violently, it seems Xena is held to a different standard. Many male television fictional heroes lived violent lives, yet were not rewarded with death at the end of their series. Again, it seems the bad girl has to die, no matter how much she has reformed, that her reformation has no value and that her only redemption is in death.

[113] Ultimately, I find I do not like the Xena who came out of A FRIEND IN NEED. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I disliked the finale so much. Not only did she seem as if her intelligence was short-circuited by her emotional state, but that she was impotent. This was not the character that drew me to the show. And letting it end that way left the character without my respect or affection. That is a terrible way to end the show, at least for me. It is for that reason, I think, that the whole series has been tainted for me. Furthermore, there is no way now to overcome that perception, since the series has ended. If all it was to be about was Xena dying gloriously in battle, there are many other ways it could have been done. At the 2002 DragonCon, it was revealed that one of the finale stories under consideration was that Callisto would have somehow turned evil again and would take over Eve. Xena then would have to fight her own daughter, possibly even kill her. That was a story I would have liked to have seen, but it was not chosen.

[114] I think the show has been so broken that repair is impossible. If a feature film does come about, just resurrect Xena and move on; the damage is irreparable.

[115] Was Xena redeemed? I have discussed that in the simplest and most basic of terms, a simple application of a life for a life and offering herself up for the 40,000 souls, she probably was. But if redemption is more complex than that definition, then she probably was not, and certainly not in terms of the religion she succumbed to. I also think that if Xena is ever resurrected into a feature film, she needs to be left with the awareness of all her earlier crimes. It is the internal conflict of Xena against Xena that makes her story so engaging and interesting. Remove that and what do you have? Her history and how she learned to deal with it is what helped to make her a complex, real character. Turn her into a more pure and scrubbed individual and she is like any other character with superhuman strengths. It is the dichotomy between her dark side and her good side, which is most captivating and, as Gabrielle pointed out in CHAKRAM, Xena needs them both to function. She needs them both to be the fascinating character she is. More than that, her dark history should exist to keep Xena's worst impulses under control and her conscience alive.

[116] After more than three years since the finale aired the first time, most people have decided how they feel about A FRIEND IN NEED. This paper will not change any minds. Those who like the episode will continue to like it and may consider this entire paper drivel. Those who dislike it or were hurt and disappointed by it may agree with me. This piece, however, is my explanation of why I am unable to like it and of why I feel distant from the show. Finales are supposed to make the viewing audience leave the episode, and the series, feeling good about the show. When a substantial portion comes away from it feeling hurt, angry, betrayed and alienated; then something is very wrong.

[117] Xena is sui generis. One of a kind. Sadly, A FRIEND IN NEED stripped Xena of that uniqueness that made her so attractive to me. If that is what her redemption requires, then it simply wasn't worth it.

Notes

Note 01:
Chakram # 17, The Official Xena Fan Club Newsletter, p 6, Studios USA Television Distribution LLC, 2002.
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Note 02:
Ibid, p. 7.
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Note 03:
Ibid, p 9.
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Note 04:
Chakram #16, The Official Xena Fan Club Newsletter, p. 11, Studios USA Television Distribution LLC, 2001
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Note 05:
"An Eye For An Eye: Get-Tough Laws Under Biblical Scrutiny,"
http://www.november.org/razorwire/rzold/0407.html
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Note 06:
Herbert Plutschow, Tragic Victims In Japanese Religion, Politics And The Arts, Anthropoetics 6, no. 2 (Fall 2000 / Winter 2001), http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap0602/japan.htm
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Note 07:
Norman Rubin,Ghosts, Demons And Spirits In Japanese Lore,
http://www.asianart.com/articles/rubin/
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Note 08:
Offerings To Ancestors - Meanings Of Memorials: Calming The Spirits Of Living And Dead http://www.sotozen-net.or.jp/kokusai/friends/zen11_2_08.html
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Note 09:
Japanese Onryos, Yogo Ono, http://www.cowell.org/~yogo/den9.html
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Note 10:
Takeda John Makoto, The Spirits Of The Dead: Christianity, Buddhism And Belief In Japan, Anglican Theological Review, Vol. 79 No. 1, Winter 1997, Pp. 27-37, Copyright by Anglican Theological Review,
http://pears2.lib.ohio-state.edu/FULLTEXT/JR-ADM/takeda.htm
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Note 11:
Ibid, Plutschow.
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Note 12:
Tim Screech, Japanese Ghosts, From Mangajin Issue No. 40, http://www.mangajin.com/mangajin/samplemj/ghosts/ghosts.htm
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Note 13:
Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989,
http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/00097409?query_type=word&queryword=grace&edition=2e&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&search_id=I8pb-X9kAvl-3980&hilite=00097409
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Note 14:
Ibid.
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Note 15:
Ibid.
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Note 16:
Chakram #16, p. 10.
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Note 17:
Ibid
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Note 18:
Chakram # 7, p. 8.
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Note 19:
Lord Raglan, The Hero
http://www.cis.vt.edu/ClassicalStudies/Raglan.html
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Note 20:
Janice Siegel, The Mythic Hero,
http://lilt.ilstu.edu/drjclassics/lectures/MythicHero/mythichero.shtm
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Note 21:
Dr. C. George Boeree, Otto Rank,
http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/rank.html
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Note 22:
Siegel, The Mythic Hero
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Note 23:
O'Grady, http://www.chautauqua-inst.org/daily_717.html
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Note 24:
"Aristotle On Tragedy",
http://www.aug.edu/langlitcom/humanitiesHBK/handbook_htm/aristotle_tragedy.htm
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Note 25:
Dr. Smith Class Notes,
http://www.odessa.edu/dept/english/bforsyth/eng1302/drama__tragic_hero_handout.htm
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Note 26:
Chakram #17, p.6.
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Note 27:
Oxford English Dictionary Online, Second Edition, 1989,
http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/00097409?query_type=word&queryword=grace&edition=2e&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&search_id=I8pb-X9kAvl-3980&hilite=00097409
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Note 28:
Oxford English Dictionary Online, Second Edition, 1989,
http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry_main/00014217?query_type=word&queryword=atone&edition=2e&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&search_id=P5PH-KCjKp2-3723&case_id=P5PH-gmf11n-3743
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Note 29:
Bazemore, Gordon, Restorative Justice, Earned Redemption And A Communitarian Response To Crime
http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/Bazemore.html
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Note 30:
Aiken, Robert, Restorative Justice: Polynisian Style, 2001,
http://www.flex.com/~aitken/writings/justice.html
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Note 31:
Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Princeton University Press, Second Edition 1968, pp. 16-17.
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Note 32:
Fraser, Antonia, The Warrior Queens, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1988, pp. 6-7.
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Note 33:
Fraser, George MacDonald, Flashman And The Redskins, Penguin Books USA Inc, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York, 10014 U.S.A, September 1983, p. 367.
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Articles

Sheffield, Vivian, "Working Through A Friend In Need: A Study In Perplexity". Whoosh #64 (January 2002)

Sheffield, Vivian, "Xena Live! Xena Lives: The Musical". Whoosh #73 (October-November 2002)




Biography

Vivian Sheffield Vivian Sheffield
I was born and raised in Michigan and attended Michigan State University. I am, I think, two degrees of separation away from Lucy Lawless, since I was on campus at least one of the years Rob Tapert was also attending, although in a different degree program. My current occupation is as an information technology analyst.


Favorite episode: THE PRICE, THE DEBT I AND II, A GOOD DAY, AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SEIGE, THE RING TRILOGY and YOU ARE THERE, to name a few
Favorite line: No single line, but "Yeah, but with a really big sword" comes close. While not canon, my newest favorite line comes from Xena Live 2: "Xena lives forever!"
First episode seen: CALLISTO
Least favorite episode: A FRIEND IN NEED II, the last five or ten minutes only

 

 

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