Whoosh! Issue 17 - February 1998

IAXS project #473
By Diane Nowlan
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1792 words

The Good Mother Archetype (01-02)
Establishing the Archetype (03-04)
A Giver of Life (05-06)
More Evidence (07-11)
Lao Ma, Good Mother Archetype (12)

Lao Ma as the Classic Good Mother Archetype

The Good Mother Archetype

Hmm..should have gotten him a Sega.

Lao Ma looks on passively as her son rejects her gift..

[1] Archetypes have prevailed throughout the history of literature and, consequently, have filtered over into pop culture writing. Television writing displays a plethora of classic archetypes, and Xena: Warrior Princess has its share. The introduction of the character, Lao Ma, in season three's THE DEBT (52/306), clearly exemplifies the good mother archetype. The character premise and appearance strongly set the framework for the archetype.

[2] Lao Ma, throughout Parts I and II of THE DEBT (52, 53/306,307), is presented as a giver of life. Her maternal nature towards Xena is evident on numerous occasions. Possibly the most moving example of her maternal instinct is in the symbolism of the levitation scene. Further, Xena's interaction and emotional response to Lao Ma throughout both parts of the episode are indicative of a mother-daughter relationship. While each of these factors alone could support the archetype theory, the combination of all results in the creation of one of the most distinctive archetypes presented on Xena: Warrior Princess to date.

Establishing the Archetype

[3] The introduction and presentation of the character are vital to establishing the good mother archetype. Indeed, her very name, Lao Ma, suggests a maternal connotation. Her position as the wife of the kingdom's ruler establishes Lao Ma as the female figure head, a mother of the nations, so to speak.

[4] Note the settings that surround the character and the feelings they evoke: simple, beautiful, tranquil interiors. Filtered beams of light abound in her home, creating an ethereal effect. Lighting techniques, evident with the beams of filtered light that often fall on Lao Ma's head and face, are employed to create a glowing effect about the character as well. In her death scene, Lao Ma is dressed in a radiant white gown. These effects combine to establish the purity and goodness of the character. Note Lao Ma's manner - calm, graceful, gentle yet strong; "soft, and hard at the same time." Clearly, these factors coalesce to suggest the ideal, good mother premise to the viewer.

A Giver of Life

Hey mom, can I go out to play? No? OK, I'll just
grow up and kill you later.

Ming Tien, even as a boy, was moody.

[5] A major factor in developing this archetype is Lao Ma's role as a giver of life. She saves Xena's life in the forest, protecting her from being hunted and killed by Ming Tsu and Ming Tien. When hiding Xena in the tub, Lao Ma literally breathes air into Xena's lungs to maintain her concealment and prevent her from drowning. At one point, Lao Ma is teaching Xena her technique, demonstrating how the hair broach can be used as a weapon. When Xena suggests it could be used to kill, Lao Ma responds by telling Xena she does not like to kill. This statement reaffirms Lao Ma's reverence for life itself. More poignant is Lao Ma's wisdom to Xena, saying, "You have been dead for a long time, Xena. I'm offering you a chance to live." Later, when Xena is recounting the story of Lao Ma to Gabrielle, Xena's words clearly demonstrate the symbolic life giving influence of Lao Ma. Xena explains that Lao Ma not only saved her life, but also her soul, spirit and entire being. Indeed, it was reflection on Lao Ma's teachings and guidance that helped set Xena on her path to redemption. Xena explains to Gabrielle, "I was reborn. That's the debt".

[6] Not only is Lao Ma a life-giving influence on Xena, but also on Ming Tien. We learn in Part II that Lao Ma is, in fact, Ming Tien's birth mother. In the scene where Xena and Borias murder Ming Tsu and clearly plan the same fate for his heir, Lao Ma puts herself between the aggressors and the child, then, subsequently, resorts to violence to quell the evil intent. Finally, in accounting the events of Lao Ma's death, it is revealed that she chose death over the option of using her powers to harm her son. The concept of the sacrifice of the mother is established when Lao Ma protects Ming Tien by giving up her own life. Thus, the good mother archetype is deeply founded through Lao Ma's life- giving role with both Ming Tien and Xena.

More Evidence

Make sure your seatand tray table is in the
upright and locked position!

Xena and Lao Ma display freedom of unparalleled experience in this scene from THE DEBT.

[7] Other compelling evidence of the good mother archetype is found in Lao Ma's maternal nature with Xena. Lao Ma takes Xena into her home, bathes her, clothes her and tenderly combs out Xena's hair, as a mother would with her child. These actions seem to almost denote the symbolic rite of passage for the growth that awaits Xena in her mentor's care. Lao Ma becomes a teacher to Xena, attempting to guide the warrior's inner development by sharing her own personal philosophy of life.

[8] Lao Ma's maternal demeanor with Xena lends to the creation of the good mother premise. Lao Ma often looks at Xena with the bemused look of a mother with an immature child. This look is best noted when Xena attempts to will the bottle to break. Lao Ma, as a result, resorts to amused laughter. The same look lightly touches across Lao Ma's face early on, in the scene where she revives Xena after sending her hurtling through the side of the tent.

[9] Lao Ma often displays firm command of Xena, to which Xena readily obeys. Lao Ma sternly commands, "Come with me, Xena", and "Put up another bottle", both of which are eagerly met with compliance. Lao Ma even resorts to scolding Xena on occasion, like a mother to a naughty child, with "Be quiet, Xena." When Xena attacks Borias, Lao Ma commands her to "Stop! Just stop!" Shortly thereafter, Lao Ma scolds Xena and Borias, in a manner akin to "if you two can't behave." Note, also, the placement of the characters as Lao Ma addresses them. Xena and Borias are on the floor, kneeling, while Lao Ma stands above them -- an obvious symbol of submission of both the former to the latter. Clearly, she is like the mother, ordering two children to play nicely and get along! Similarly, Lao Ma is forced to punish her "misbehaving child" when Xena continues the attack on Borias, and again when Xena and Borias desire to kill Ming Tien. Lao Ma uses her powers to throw Xena, and then Borias, against the walls, thus foiling the misguided violence at hand. By reacting to Xena in such powerfully maternal ways, the good mother model is again evident.

[10] Possibly the most powerful and poignant example of Lao Ma's nurturing of Xena, is in the levitation scene. Xena lays herself out before Lao Ma and closes her eyes, trusting and vulnerable. Lao Ma, using her 'gifts', heals Xena's limp. When Xena is roused out of her peaceful state, the scene that follows is reminiscent of a baby taking her first steps. Lao Ma holds out her arms to "her child" and commands, "Come to me, Xena." Xena stands, her uncertainty evident on her face, then looks to Lao Ma for reassurance. Then Xena is filled with joy as she realizes she can walk. Lao Ma symbolically draws Xena to her, displays her affection with an embrace, and the gently pushes Xena away and levitates her. The scene strikes a symbolic cord, as if Lao Ma is the mother bird, pushing the baby bird from the nest, teaching her how to fly. Throughout this scene, both Xena and Lao Ma react to each other with love, affection, and trust. The emotional impact of the scene is undeniable, and once again, the good mother aspect rings clear.

[11] Not only does the character of Lao Ma develop the archetype by her actions, Xena's own reactions to Lao Ma also add to the development. Throughout both Part I and Part II, Xena looks to Lao Ma as the mother figure. Early on, when Xena attacks Lao Ma, she runs at her with the look of a child having a temper tantrum. Xena continually obeys Lao Ma's commands and is attentive to the teaching and guidance being offered. Lao Ma is often affectionate and tender with Xena, which Xena accepts willingly, though warily in the beginning. During the levitation scene, Xena symbolically gives her hair broach to Lao Ma, a symbol of her love and gratitude. As well, in the final scene of Part II, Xena hugs Lao Ma's book to her, a treasured keepsake of the woman who nurtured the warrior's very soul.

Lao Ma, Good Mother Archetype

Hmm...maybe I was a tad lax on the disclipline.

Lao Ma, prepared for execution by her own son.

[12] The character of Lao Ma is a vital element to the plot and theme development in THE DEBT (52/306). Her appearance in Xena's life is crucial to the warrior's story. Lao Ma's influence on Xena and her teachings are key to the events that unfold. Possibly her greatest influence on Xena and to the story itself is her premise as the good mother archetype. The essence of the character, her role as the life-giver and her maternal influence on Xena establish the archetype. Xena, in return, reacts to Lao Ma as a daughter would a mother. The creation of this bond sets the framework for all that follows. In fact, it is Lao Ma's cryptic message to Xena that sets Xena, and consequently the viewer, on this unforgettable journey.


Diane Nowlan Diane Nowlan
Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada in 1971, Diane spent her childhood in various parts of New Brunswick and Northwestern Ontario. In 1994, Diane graduated from Television Broadcasting at Confederation College (Thunder Bay, Ontario). Now a resident of Toronto, for the last three and a half years, Diane has worked as a client coordinator at a major Toronto television post production company. Diane states that the biggest perk of her job is that her clients, amused by her feverish Xena addiction, are on constant Xena/Lucy Lawless alert for her! She is currently single, no children and lives with one cat, named Toodie (who thinks he's really a little boy). Interests include music, theatre, travel, crafts, chatting on the internet (under the handle Just Truly) and working on the ultimate Xena collection.
Favorite episode: All tied at #1 are THE GAUNTLET, THE PRICE (44/220), DESTINY (36/212), THE DEBT (52/306) and THE DEBT II (53/307).
Favorite line: Xena to Cyrene: "I am a lunatic with lethal combat skills." THE FURIES (47/301)
First episode seen: bits and pieces of Season I, ORPHAN OF WAR (25/201) was the first full episode.
Least favorite episode: Tie between THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN (49/303) and KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308).

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