Whoosh! Issue 17 - February 1998


IAXS project #493
By S. L. Nelson
Copyright © 1998 held by author
5994 words

CALLISTO (24-25)
THE FURIES (39-41)
THE DEBT 1 & 2 (59-71)

Cry Murder!

Perd-kabob anyone?

Callisto is about to skewer Perdicus in RETURN OF CALLISTO.

[1] Xena: Warrior Princess has not shirked the moral aspects of murder. In Xena, murder is an intentional killing for any purpose where the victim is sought out or not fully able to fight back. Mob violence also counts as murder in the Xenaverse. This formulation somewhat exceeds in strictness the modern definition: "Murder. The unlawful killing of a human being by another with malice aforethought, either express or implied." (Black's Law Dictionary, West Pub. Co. St. Paul, 1968.)

[2] The careful delineation of murder, separate from other killing, surprises many new viewers. Evidently, the show at first glance appears to permit outrageous violence of any sort. On the contrary, regular viewers know that Xena, but not Gabrielle, kills in battle, and that Xena, but not Gabrielle, kills in self-defense. Assassination, murder, and merely seeking out enemies for revenge, even if they will be killed in a fair fight, lie beyond the moral pale.

[3] Each murder episode has taken the moral question to a higher level of insight. In doing so, the episodes have progressively moved us from an easy understanding of the facts and issues to increasingly more difficult cases. The essential facts to decide culpability have not always remained clear in the later episodes, and the lines between categories of killing have also blurred. By the third season, everything appears to change, everything. To consider best these seeming changes, let's look at all the significant cases that came before.

[4] Two early shows set out forms of unacceptable killing, but did not consider murder directly.


[5] In CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104), King Gregor consults an oracle who informs him that a child born in his household will someday take the throne. The king's evil councilor, Nemos, immediately plans to kill the baby to secure the throne from the possibility that rebels might use the child as a rallying point against the heir-less king.

[6] Xena accepts the oracle as a true vision of the future of the baby (later named Gabriel), but she uses the prediction to convince Gregor to wrest the prophecy into an acceptable channel by adopting the child. Throughout the episode, the story presents the viewer with an easy choice between good and evil. King Gregor needs convincing that the child represents a 'cradle of hope,' but the viewer has no reason to doubt it. Although Nemos attempts to ascribe guilt to the baby from the prophecy, his reasons would not convince many modern viewers. We no longer place great weight on dynastic stability or noble vs. common birth. This early episode did not test us with a difficult case of ascriptive guilt.

[7] Would it ever be acceptable to kill a baby because of what it might represent? This question is raised in the third season episode, GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), which is discussed later.


[8] In THE PATH NOT TAKEN (05/105), an evil warlord has kidnapped a princess. Xena could just kill the warlord and rescue the princess in the resulting confusion. Xena does not just slaughter warlords, though. Cold-blooded killing of even an evil warlord would be murder, an unacceptable practice. Only when her attempt to redeem a friend from evil brings her face to face with the warlord, Mezentius, does Xena kill him in battle.

[9] Xena often sneaks into an enemy's camp. She has a tag line for this situation: "If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead already." This has come up in so many episodes that it almost seems part of the background noise. Still, this line implicitly renounces the solution of problems via assassination.


Hey, I could dig this tying up stuff under the right circs!

Xena gets shafted for Ares' misdeeds in THE RECKONING.

[10] THE RECKONING (06/106) tells a murder story from start to finish, exploring thoroughly the proofs and evidence that a murder conviction should require, and also explaining the evil of mob rule and summary execution.

[11] Ares kills three peasants and almost kills a fourth when Xena intervenes. She fights the disguised Ares with difficulty until he disappears, evidently because he realizes some more villagers are about to arrive. Ares plans to pit Xena against these villagers in order to force Xena to take aggressive actions at variance with her new moral code.

[12] The villagers and their magistrate arrive to find Xena, covered in blood, and three dead men lying nearby. They conclude Xena murdered the men.

[13] We, the viewers, know that Ares killed the men. Gabrielle, however, does not know, but takes Xena's story as truth. No one remarks on this unhesitating faith, least of all Xena. Xena does admire Gabrielle for sticking with her, even after Xena hits her during an Ares-induced rage.

[14] With much prodding from Gabrielle, including a self-sacrificial challenge that mob justice will have to kill her too, Xena gets a fair trial. Gabrielle finds sufficient evidence to plant a reasonable doubt. She cross-examines a witness, asking him if he heard a sword fight. He says yes, but when he cannot explain who Xena was fighting since none of the slain had swords, Gabrielle scores a convincing point with Xena and the TV viewers. The village council, though, acting as jury, disregards this point, looking at the weight of the evidence which Ares has stacked against Xena. They find Xena guilty.

[15] At no point were any facts hidden from the viewer. We knew that Ares was behind everything. While the more bloody-minded among the viewers might have thought that Gabrielle should have just let Xena wipe out her tormenters, all must admire Gabrielle's courage in sticking with Xena after Xena strikes her very hard on the cheekbone.

[16] Xena's redemption could not abide killing the simple farmers and escaping. Even Gabrielle's nighttime surreptitious jail-break offer could not tempt Xena, who realizes, "I'd be running all my life." Gabrielle replies, "It beats being dead." Xena has a warrior's honor code stricter than Gabrielle's ethic in this case. Xena stays and risks death to carry out her plan to trick Ares. Her plan works. She's cleared and Ares resurrects the dead villagers!

[17] THE RECKONING (06/106) establishes that warlord-plagued ancient Greece still attempted to follow the rule of law, at least in principle. Ares' actions, the actions of a god, follow different rules. No court or proceeding could touch Ares, so Xena can and must use manipulation to obtain a just outcome. The dichotomy between following the laws of courts and hearings for the deeds of mortals and a free-form ends-justify-means when outwitting the gods returns with a vengeance in the seminal third season episode GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305).


[18] False evidence almost leads to war in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110). Terreis, the Amazon Queen's sister, dies of an arrow wound. The Amazons apprehend Phantes, a centaur. His arrows match the type that killed Terreis. Because of previous hostility between the centaurs and the Amazons, the Amazons decide, without any real trial, that Phantes must die. In this matter, Queen Melosa's word is law. When she refuses to consider evidence (the famous horse dung that Gabrielle inadvertently holds) proving that horses, not centaurs, had been involved in the attack on Terreis, the only appeal from her sentence against Phantes is a challenge for the queenship itself. Gabrielle appoints Xena her champion and when Xena defeats Melosa, the sentence is reversed.

[19] Later, though, Melosa does not kill the warlord Krykus when she has him at her mercy. Instead, she holds him for Amazon and centaur justice. Xena tells Melosa that she must not cheapen her sister's memory by killing Krykus out of hand.

[20] Xena teaches Gabrielle not to jump to conclusions of guilt in this episode. Gabrielle first drew the obvious conclusion from the centaur arrows and assumed Phantes guilty as the other Amazons did. As the series progresses, Gabrielle learns this lesson possibly better than Xena.


Black market trident traders.

One person's sacrifice can be another's murder.

[21] In ALTARED STATES (19/119), Xena must prevent the murder by sacrifice of a young boy. The boy tells Xena that his god demands his sacrifice at the hands of his own father. The apparent intercession of a god complicates the evidence. Xena's apperception immediately begins searching for the trick behind the acts of this god. We do not see Maell, the boy's brother, impersonating the god right away, but plenty of pointers to Maell's baleful influence let us know the good guys from the bad.

[22] The possibility of a god's involvement changes Xena's approach. She hides the young boy and investigates the religious beliefs. Almost always, Xena confronts the actions of gods with intelligence-gathering. In the Xenaverse, the gods walk among mortals. Xena's many confrontations with divine beings have required her to develop a "trick 'em" technique. In ALTARED STATES (19/119), she must decide whether a god is involved or not. Once she discovers Maell's motive and opportunity, she explores the landscape to ferret out how he poses as a god. She then confronts and defeats him, but then tries to bring him in -- to face his people's justice. Maell refuses her hand, preferring a zealot's suicide to disgrace.

[23] ALTARED STATES (19/119)does not hide pertinent information from the viewer. Xena sees Icus for what he truly is: a young, beautiful boy. When Xena prevents Icus' capture by a mob of men, she does not consider at all legitimate the demands of the 'god' for the sacrifice of the boy. When questioned why she is butting into this affair, Xena replies that her "maternal instincts" require her to stand up for the young and helpless. The viewer has no reason to think Icus deserves to die. Icus himself, though, so deeply believes in the divine plans of his benevolent god that he proves willing to die. Xena cannot understand such faith, although in the third season, Xena herself will, on faith, accept the descriptions of the acts of a malevolent god.


[24] In CALLISTO (22/122), Xena apprehends a murderer and brings her to justice. The mob, demanding Callisto's summary execution, is shown to be wrong. The main instigator of mob violence confesses his error to Xena when Callisto escapes and takes Gabrielle hostage. Despite her harrowing experience hanging high from a burning rope, Gabrielle compliments Xena at the end for refusing to let Callisto fall to her death. "People like us should listen to people like Gabrielle," Xena tells the mob leader.

[25] Xena has two opportunities to kill Callisto, but, both times, Xena brings her to justice. Callisto blames her behavior on her troubled childhood, caused by Xena's burning of her village. Xena's guilt over the harm she caused Callisto tempts Xena to let Callisto go. Gabrielle cannot believe it. She sees Callisto given over to hate and she believes that justice must be done. Xena's willingness to pity Callisto despite the rigid constructs of legal forms conflicts with Gabrielle's attitude here. This conflict will continue to recur in different guises, and will form part of the third season rift between Xena and Gabrielle. Sometimes Xena does not trust the system or believes the gods have manipulated events such that she will use a deceptive trick rather than submit to legal niceties.


[26] In DEATH MASK (23/123), Xena prevents her older brother, Toris, from assassinating the warlord, Cortese, who first terrorized Amphipolis. Gabrielle fears that Xena herself will give in to revenge and kill the man responsible for the death of her beloved younger brother, Lyceus. Xena resists any desire to murder Cortese herself and, furthermore, ultimately convinces Toris that killing in cold blood forever taints the soul of the killer. If Xena can resist the temptation to kill Cortese in cold blood, surely she can resist the temptation to kill anyone in cold blood, most viewers would think.


When I grow up, I want to sell Amway.

Solon isn't murdered in ORPHAN OF WAR, but don't get too attached to him until you see MATERNAL INSTINCTS.

[27] In ORPHAN OF WAR (25/201), Xena shows how to set up a villain to be killed without assassination or murder. Early in the episode, the villain kidnaps Xena's son. She sneaks into the villain's tent, but does not kill him then -- such would be murder. Later, though, after the warlord has consumed a magic potion to become a monster-centaur, Xena plans a trap to kill him. Even so, he must come to her. He must make the first offensive move. He attacks the centaur village and is killed in battle.


[28] In GIANT KILLER (27/203), no amount of justification excuses giving in to revenge. Goliath allows his lust for revenge to blind him to the morality of hiring out as a mercenary to the Philistines. Tracking down his family's murderer, a noble end, does not justify any and all means. Goliath ignores Xena's pleading for him to abandon the Philistine cause. Despite her friendship with Goliath, she must help David slay him. This killing occurs in face-to-face battle, but the moral aspect of the episode that puts Goliath in the wrong is his hatred and lust for revenge. Goliath lets the ends, avenging his family's death, justify his means, working for pay for the pro-slavery Philistines.

[29] Despite her regret over Goliath's death, Xena does not avenge his family's death by taking on Goliath's quest to seek out and kill the giant who killed Goliath's family. Instead, Xena only kills this giant, Gareth, when, like the warlord in ORPHAN OF WAR (25/201), he attacks first. Gareth attacks a village protected by Xena in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215).


[30] In GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204), Xena shows that the rules differ when thwarting the acts of the gods. To defeat Bacchus, Xena needs dryad bones, which she obtains by raiding a dryad cemetery and destroying animated dryad skeletons. She launches a direct assault on Bacchus' lair and attempts to "kill" Bacchus directly. She eventually succeeds, but the close of the episode leaves us with Bacchus laughing, so this kind of "killing" of a divine entity apparently is not permanent. Still, we see from this episode that slaying monsters does not weigh morally -- Xena, without negotiation, kills dryads, full-fledged bacchae and Bacchus after seeking them out.


[31] In RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), Xena commits murder. Gabrielle almost kills Callisto in revenge for Callisto's killing of dear Perdicus, the sainted martyr. Xena prays for Gabrielle's salvation. With sword in hand, Gabrielle could stab the sleeping Callisto, killing her in cold blood. Instead, Gabrielle finally resists her urge for revenge and surrenders to Callisto, accepting that Callisto will kill her. Of course, Callisto's need for theatrics allows time and means for rescue.

[32] At the end, when Callisto founders in the quicksand, Xena ponders saving her but finally watches her sink to her death. Xena accepts that Gabrielle's final call to her, "Get her, Xena !" requires a resolution to the Callisto problem. Turned over to justice in the first Callisto episode, the hellion escaped and wreaked further mayhem. Xena decides on the expedient course of action, allowing Callisto to die. She soon regrets her decision.


[33] In INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207), Xena admits she murdered Callisto. Xena dreams of a judgmental Gabrielle who castigates Xena for not trying to redeem Callisto. The actual Gabrielle says nothing about the morality of the killing. Gabrielle did tell Xena to "Get her" without specifying not to kill her. Gabrielle sometimes dodges the most trying ethical issues herself. Eventually, Xena's guilt allows Callisto to escape Tartarus. Callisto's shame for her own murders, recalled by her mother's ghost, returns Callisto to death by the end. To what extent Xena and Gabrielle remain blameworthy for their deeds in the Callisto episodes remains unresolved in the Xenaverse.


Meleager, remembering the embarassing ;head stuck between bars' incident of years

Meleager is shafted for a murder he didn't commit in THE EXECUTION.

[34] In THE EXECUTION (41/217), Xena explores the weaknesses of the ancient Greek judicial system. Gabrielle subverts justice to free her old friend, Meleager, apparently lawfully convicted of murder.

[35] Gabrielle's personal ethical code strictly prohibits her own killing of anyone. She also extends mercy and charity for all. When she faces difficult responsibilities, though, she sometimes takes a less honorable course. She deserts her friends and family in Poteidaia in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101). She urges Xena to just break out of the jail and run away in THE RECKONING (06/106). She urges Meleager to do the same in THE EXECUTION (41/217). This willingness to dodge duty finally comes into conflict with Xena's warrior honor in the third season.

[36] The sanctioned legal system appears to have fairly convicted Meleager. Xena, following her own code of honor, must return Meleager to justice despite Gabrielle's emotional certainty that the conviction could not be right. Meleager's own virtuousness saves him. When he tells Xena that he could not escape from the villagers lest he hurt innocent people, and when he agrees to return to the village for execution rather than have Gabrielle be tainted for helping a fugitive escape, Xena recognizes that such a man could hardly have murdered in cold blood. A complete investigation exonerates Meleager, of course.

[37] To clear Meleager, Xena needs to trick a confession out of the tainted judge. Even then, she follows the legal niceties when she has the judge clear Gabrielle and when she delivers the judge to the jail to await trial by a newly selected judicial court.

[38] THE EXECUTION (41/217), for the first time, hid from the viewers who the bad guys were. Xena doubts Gabrielle's faith in Meleager. Xena initially takes Judge Arbus' reputation for fairness into account, and the show challenges us to think about whether Meleager might have murdered in a drunken stupor. Still, the ambiguity only lasts for the first third of the show, only long enough for some tension between Gabrielle and Xena.


[39] So tidy, so neat, until the third season! Even in the third season opener, THE FURIES (47/301), ambiguities arise. Cyrene, Xena's mother, confesses to killing Xena's apparent father. No attempt to find outside witnesses or evidence is made. Cyrene's account of the killing makes out that she had to kill her husband to protect Xena. Further, her husband returned from the temple of Ares with the resolve to kill Xena. A priest of Ares, or perhaps Ares himself, may have urged him to this action. Any resolution of the consequences of Cyrene's deed remains for later episodes.

[40] THE FURIES (47/301) focused on the duty to avenge a family member's death. When the priest of the Furies told Xena she had not done this duty, Xena, not knowing of her supposed father's death, immediately and vehemently claimed to have avenged her brother's death. But she did not! In DEATH MASK (23/123), Xena did not kill Cortese, the man responsible for Lyceus' death.

[41] Xena does not accept a duty to avenge a family member's death. She dodges any such duty to kill her mother by portraying Ares as her real father. As always when dealing with the gods, Xena will use deception and trickery. She solves the problem of the Furies' curse and leaves the question of who her real father actually is for another day.


[42] Although broadcast after the four rift episodes, the tone and morality of KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308) seems much more appropriately considered as coming earlier in time. Joxer's brother, Jett, an assassin, ends up surrendering to the authorities because he sees that his doofus brother, Joxer, has a better grip on the meaning of life. Jett kills two people, a vicious warlord and a traitorous guard threatening to kill Joxer. The main interest for this discussion is the strict adherence to the established system of justice. Xena turns Jett over to the local authorities where he evidently will receive a life sentence for attempting to assassinate a foreign leader. Xena expresses regret that Jett will not receive the death sentence.

[43] KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308) lays out its moral message as plainly as an early first season episode. Despite its title, the episode actually revolves around fraternal interactions and, as a Xena-lite episode, on hero focus.

[44] We must turn to the great rift episodes for new perspectives and mature, third season story-telling of matters murderous.


[45] In THE DELIVERER (50/304), our fulgent icon of transcendental anamnesis, the very perfect essence of kalokagathia, in a word: Gabrielle -- she kills. Acolytes of an evil god, Dahak, stage an elaborate subterfuge. The priestess, Meridian, arranges the deception. Meridian first curses a sacrificial knife, then she tricks Gabrielle into taking the knife from her, then she takes a sword and threatens Gabrielle and the seemingly innocent priest (Khrafstar) until Gabrielle stops the attack with a stab to Meridian's torso. Meridian, mission accomplished, smirks at Gabrielle and dies.

[46] Self-defense? Defense of a supposed friend? Unwitting dupe in a staged suicide? All these descriptions of this killing could be argued. Gabrielle decides she has murdered Meridian. Gabrielle would not characterize what happened as murder had anyone but herself done the deed. In many episodes Xena has killed or tried to kill people threatening Gabrielle in just the fashion that Meridian appeared to threaten Gabrielle and her supposed friend, Khrafstar: DREAMWORKER (03/103), DEATH IN CHAINS (09/109), FISTFUL OF DINARS (14/114), ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES (17/117), DESTINY (36/212), and BLIND FAITH (42/218), to name a few. Gabrielle lies to herself by calling this murder. She lies to Xena when she convinces Xena that killing Meridian was murder.

[47] How much this mis-characterization of Gabrielle's action affects what comes after in the rift episodes remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Xena, in comforting Gabrielle over the killing, in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), uses a chilling expression, "first kill." Xena evidently believes that Gabrielle's power as a pure ethical talisman has now ended. The over-emphasis on blood-innocence as a symbolic token or lucky charm rather than an emphasis on non-symbolic ethical decisions may mar both Xena and Gabrielle's thinking throughout the remaining episodes until they make a full reckoning of what happened in the temple of Dahak.

[48] Xena kills Khrafstar/the Deliverer in revenge for what has happened to Gabrielle. In perfect calm, and without threat, Khrafstar taunts Xena for her hatred of Caesar and her lust for vengeance against him. "Dahak appreciates rage," he says. Xena responds with an enraged attack. For what? The Dahak cult has committed no evident crime. As far as Xena knows, the only thing that has happened is Gabrielle's "murder" of Meridian. Sure, Khrafstar brags of the coming power of Dahak, but he has not overtly taken any fell act. Xena could carry Gabrielle out of the temple, or at least attempt to, leaving Khrafstar to rant about his 'one god' to his heart's content. Instead she gives in to rage.

[49] The fire elemental that seizes Gabrielle ignites only when Xena's rage ignites. During the fight with Khrafstar/the Deliverer, only when blows land does Gabrielle moan. Gabrielle moans loudest when Xena wounds the Deliverer with the breast dagger that Gabrielle bought in DREAMWORKER (03/103), the episode that established Gabrielle's blood innocence. Just how significant these details will figure in the denouement to the rift remains to be seen; still, XWP has always portrayed unthinking rage as evil, so without question Xena will come to regret her actions somehow.


I guess she didn't like the creamed spinach.

Hope's death count starts to mount in GABRIELLE'S HOPE, but really goes off the scale in MATERNAL INSTINCTS.

[50] In the following episode, GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), one significant murder and one significant attempted murder occur. For the first time in the series, really important details remain unshown. Who kills the good knight Goewin, who saw that Gabrielle glowed with goodness? Xena believes the baby, Hope, did it. But Xena does not treat this as a murder. Hope will not be tried, evidence will not be gathered. Instead, like the evil councilor in CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104), Xena ascribes evil to Hope from the circumstances of her birth.

[51] To Xena, Hope is a demon child, a manifestation of evil incarnate. Without investigation, and even without allowing Gabrielle to defend the child, Xena tries to kill her. All that Xena knows of the child comes from statements by people Xena knows as untrustworthy -- banshees and traitorous knights that Xena heard conspiring to kill Gabrielle. Xena takes Hope for a manipulation of the gods, not subject to normal human ethical norms. Were Xena to treat Hope as having the slightest potential for humanity, or the slightest smidgeon of Gabrielle's parentage, she would regard her attempt to kill Hope as the basest villainy.

[52] Xena does not try to kill Hope as a punishment of Hope for killing Goewin, the good knight. Xena tries to kill her for what she thinks Hope represents.

[53] The evidence that Hope killed the knight would be laughable, absent some reason for certainty that she is a demon baby. The villagers in THE RECKONING (06/106) had much better evidence against Xena, but Gabrielle took Xena's innocence on faith. Judge Arbus had far better evidence against Meleager in THE EXECUTION (41/217), but Gabrielle took Meleager's innocence on faith. Perhaps Gabrielle's faith in Hope will finally prove wrong. With what result? Gabrielle will never be able to trust her instincts again. Gabrielle will never waste time on moonlit prayers. Gabrielle will swallow her own virtues if ever they conflict with Xena's first impressions. Never again will the two women jointly solve problems, each using best her own abilities. No more episodes like THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), THE PRICE (44/229), or LOST MARINER (45/221) could be expected.

[54] Obviously, Gabrielle cannot be completely wrong about Hope. Gabrielle's promise to Hope to die before she will allow Xena to harm her sounds like foreshadowing. Expect anything.

[55] None of the various descriptions of Hope's relation to Dahak, even by banshees or false knights, say that Hope is Dahak or Dahak's creature, only that Hope is the way for Dahak to enter the world. For all Xena knows, or should know, killing Hope will bring Dahak into the world. Xena's attempt to kill Hope rests absolutely on her perception of Hope's nature as akin to Bacchus and not akin to anything human -- even then she does not do anything like the thorough investigation she did to fight Bacchus. Even if Xena is completely correct about Hope, she jumps into action with uncharacteristic haste. Only if she thinks the baby actively threatens Gabrielle could Xena's actions be justified. Gabrielle figures this out and uses this fear of Xena's to weave her deception at the end. Xena so wants to believe that Hope would attack Gabrielle that she accepts the ludicrous lies that Gabrielle tells to cover up Hope's escape in the floating basket.

[56] Xena wants to look into the eyes of the king in CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104) to see what kind of man would order the slaughter of an innocent baby. Xena cannot imagine a father who will kill an innocent boy because of the commands of some god in ALTARED STATES (19/119). In GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), Xena tries to kill a baby because she was told that some god is involved somehow in the baby's destiny. Whew, Xena needs a mirror.

[57] Xena's actions in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) do not jibe with her actions in the previous seasons. Maybe she stops considering Gabrielle's instincts because she sees Gabrielle as somehow spoiled by her loss of blood-innocence. Maybe Xena fears to look closely at her own actions of rage and revenge that led to Hope's birth. Xena told Cecrops in LOST MARINER (45/221) that fear of your own guilt is distinctive.

[58] The viewer must decide whether Gabrielle or Xena acted correctly. The show piles on reasons to believe Hope capable of good -- the most honorable knight says so; Gabrielle believes so; the precious lamb-toy Xena gave Gabrielle always appears with Hope; when Hope is born, the sun comes out; and, the very name that Gabrielle chooses for her certainly is hopeful. Nevertheless, so powerful has the feeling that Xena is always right become in two seasons, plus the power of the allusions to demon-seed movies like Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) and The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976), that most fan commentary has assumed Hope is born evil. Xena: Warrior Princess has rejected the concept of ascriptive evil in the past. Why does it appear the creative powers that be are doing so now?


Taking piercing to a higher level.

Min T'ien is 'very dead' at the conclusion of THE DEBT.

[59] In the two-part DEBT episode (52-53/306-307), Xena leaves her redeemed self behind. Xena knows she plans murder -- hence her answer of, "Yes", to Gabrielle's question, "You owe someone so much that you would throw away these last few years?" Gabrielle believes that she must prevent Xena from committing murder, and she betrays Xena, which foils Xena's initial plan. Absent Gabrielle, Xena would have gone to China and killed Ming Tien, the Chinese warlord, in his sleep. As the above examples attest, this would have been murder for sure. The logic of the previous cases treating murder in the Xenaverse would demand that Xena die for murdering Ming Tien in cold blood. What Xena planned rejected every moral lesson of the show so far. Only new philosophical considerations can make sense of Xena's actions.

Is the Green Dragon a person?


Which person?

The one I'm gonna kill.


I felt that she was betraying
herself if she went back to the
way of murder.

Murder is in her blood, Gabrielle,
her soul. It's more natural to her
than love.
[60] Xena receives the message: "The Green Dragon has grown too large. He must be made small." She immediately, and without doubt over this message's meaning, set out to kill Ming Tien. This suggests that the message was a pre-planned code worked out between Xena and her Chinese mentor, Lao Ma. The extent of Lao Ma's intent, though, remains mysterious.

[61] Gabrielle's betrayal of Xena's plans to Ming Tien complicates the morality of the final killing of Ming Tien. By the time Ming Tien dies, Xena knows him to be a tyrant and a matricide. The Xenaverse has not before considered whether in some cases tyrannicide would be justified.

[62] In THE DEBT (52/306), Gabrielle sees Xena's actions from a strictly good vs. evil perspective, i.e. in the way that Xena: Warrior Princess has presented murder all along. When Gabrielle slaps Xena to coerce her to promise not to kill Ming Tien, Gabrielle plays the legalistic game that her moral code requires. If Xena had promised not to kill Ming Tien, we know that Ming Tien would have reneged on his promise to let Xena go. Gabrielle is smart enough to know this. But, from Gabrielle's viewpoint, once Ming Tien reneges, he would have become the murderer, which would have allowed Gabrielle and Xena to take any measures to escape.

[63] If Ming Tien had kept his promise, Gabrielle's willingness to just quit on difficult cases, mentioned above in the discussion of THE EXECUTION (41/217), would have come into play.

[64] Why does Xena not promise, then? Mere pride to not give in to threats from that pissant Gabrielle? No, a new element of moral duty enters the picture. Xena's loyalty and honor code conflict with Gabrielle's narrow legalistic murder code. Dishonor, treachery, refusing to pay debts -- at the limits, these sins exceed murder in moral severity to Xena. Xena cannot promise not to kill Ming Tien because even in the unlikely event that Ming Tien were to let her go, she intends to kill him. Maybe Xena believes Gabrielle is so naive that she believes Ming Tien's representation, but more likely, Xena refuses to play Gabrielle's game because the game betrays Xena's honor. Gabrielle wants Xena to renounce her debt to Lao Ma, and Xena cannot do that, especially not to appease Gabrielle's sophistry.

[65] Selfishness consumed Xena during her days before she met Lao Ma. Lao Ma showed Xena a way to control selfishness, to be reborn. Xena will repay Lao Ma for this wisdom.

I think I understand why you
thought you had to kill Ming
Tien: It was Lao Ma's last
[66] Xena will honor Lao Ma's last request, and Xena will not make false promises to Gabrielle that she will not. To do so does not change the Xenaverse's definition of murder, but we will see a change in the results of murder.

[67] What teaching of Lao Ma's, or what aspect of Ming Tien, could justify killing him when Cortese could not be assassinated in DEATH MASK (23/123)? We do not know, but permit me one speculation: Ming Tien certainly shows very little emotion. He scorns his father's tears and his mother's inability to use her powers against him. How close to emptying himself of desires had Ming Tien come when last Lao Ma saw him? Remember Lao Ma has the power to look into people's souls. Ming Tien with the telekinetic ability of his mother would pose a vast threat to the entire world.

[68] The four rift episodes aired thus far form two balancing pairs: GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) & THE DELIVERER (50/304) vis-a-vis DEBT I & II.

[69] In GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) & THE DELIVERER (50/304), Xena sees the problem as a moral absolute: Dahak and everything that Dahak may have touched is evil. Gabrielle sees the possibility of good or evil. She sees Hope as hopefully good, and prays to that effect. To protect Hope, Gabrielle lies to Xena, pretending that she has killed Hope.

[70] In DEBT I & II (52-53/306-307), Gabrielle sees the problem as a moral absolute: if Xena commits murder, she betrays herself and returns to evil. Xena imagines that Lao Ma would only call for the death of Ming Tien for sufficient and necessary reasons. The need to repay her debt to Lao Ma forces Xena to empty her mind of illusion, including the illusions of good and evil. To preserve Gabrielle's illusions, Xena lies about killing Ming Tien, pretending that she has not killed.

[71] After THE DEBT (52/306), Xena and Gabrielle declare their love. We must hope that Ming Tien did not accurately describe Xena with his statement, "Murder is in her blood, Gabrielle, her soul. It's more natural to her than love."


S. L. Nelson AKA S. L. Nelson AKA "Cleanthes"
Born: South Dakota. Education: Bachelor Medieval Studies, U. of Iowa 1976, J.D., U. of Iowa 1978. Boring jobs as a lawyer, then some history writing for magazines. Delightful twenty-four year marriage and three fine children, one a dedicated Xenite. Lived in 9 states and Ireland, now in Florida.
Favorite episode: LOST MARINER (45/221)
Favorite line: Janice Covington: "The most important archeological find of the century -- it has the power to turn myth into history, history into myth: The Xena Scrolls!" THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210))
First episode seen: BEWARE OF GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (12/112)
Least favorite episode: Any with Pamela Lee or Mia Farrow

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