Whoosh! Issue 28 - January 1999


IAXS project #023
By Torey L. King
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
This edition copyright © 1999 held by WHOOSH
4041 words

Introduction (01-02)
CALLISTO (28-34)
Conclusion (35)
Notes (36-40)

"I Can't Be Xena 'Cause I'm Not Xena":
Warrior Princess Doppelgangers of the First Season

Hint: Xena is the really annoyed one

Three Xenas, no waiting.


[01] As regular viewers of Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) know, Xena periodically meets various women who look exactly like her but whose personalities are quite different from hers and the other lookalikes. Inevitably, these women -- Diana, Meg, and Leah, as of the third season -- must switch identities with Xena to thwart evildoers. In addition to these lookalikes played by Lucy Lawless, both Gabrielle and Callisto have pretended to be the warrior princess [Note 01].

[02] In this essay, the 'doppelganger plot device' (what this paper calls the use of Xena impostors) is examined in the series' first season [Note 02]. In that year alone, Xena impostors appear in three episodes: WARRIOR ... PRINCESS (15/115), THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), and CALLISTO (22/122). Although this may at first appear excessive, in these three episodes the doppelganger device is cleverly used to explore a variety of themes and to further character development.


Trying to set the record on the way to the tea van

Diana, dressed as Xena, runs away when first confronted with danger.

[03] The doppelganger plot device was first employed in WARRIOR...PRINCESS (15/115), in which Xena meets her double, Princess Diana. Despite their physical resemblance, these two women seem to be exact opposites. As Gabrielle says to Diana, "You may look like Xena but you're nothing alike." The sharp contrast between the pampered, feminine Princess Diana and the rugged warrior is played for laughs, especially when they attempt to impersonate each other.

[04] While it is very funny, Xena and Diana's role reversal also serves as a critique of traditional femininity [Note 03]. By contrasting Princess Diana's "girlie" behavior to Xena's "butch" confidence and warrior prowess, WARRIOR...PRINCESS (15/115) highlights the ways in which "acting like a lady" is not only restrictive but can be literally life-threatening.

[05] This point is made early in the episode when Xena waits to meet Diana's father. An assailant mistakes the warrior for the targeted princess and makes an attempt on her life. Xena easily defeats the attacker with her trademark fire breathing. Although preventing an assassination attempt is nothing to Xena, if the woman waiting alone in that room had been Diana, chances are the episode would have been entitled WARRIOR...DEAD PRINCESS. The king, who witnesses Xena's casual response to this lethal threat, is well aware of the value of Xena's skills. Admiring her handiwork, he says, "You're a formidable young woman."

[06] Diana's helplessness and immaturity contrast to Xena's abilities and composure when the two women meet for the first time. Dressed in a pink and white gown, Diana's attire announces her femininity before she says a word. When she does speak, her high-pitched voice and childish way of talking further distinguish her from Xena. As the two women stare at each other in astonishment, Diana's first statement to Xena expresses her preoccupation with feminine superficialities: "Amazing. It's like looking in a mirror...before I brush my hair." Her immaturity and pampered status are also obvious when her father asks her to leave so he can discuss the plan to catch her assailants without upsetting her. She whines and leaves in a disappointed huff.

[07] The episode's critique of Diana's frivolous femininity becomes more pointed when the women begin their masquerade. Compared to Xena's strength, intelligence, and independence, Princess Diana's adherence to a certain type of upper-class femininity is shown as problematic. This type of femininity values vanity over cleverness, helplessness over physical skill, and deference over assertiveness. Because she embodies this role, Diana is in danger of losing her life and, if she lives, of marrying a small-minded prig whom she does not love.

[08] The problems stemming from Diana's femininity are made most apparent, and very amusingly, in her scenes with Gabrielle. Diana-as-Xena is easily frightened, cries and calls out for her father when scared, and carelessly flings Xena's "round killing thing", almost decapitating the king. Diana's failure at masquerading as Xena highlights the folly of her actions and their link to her femininity. In contrast to her girlish doppelganger, the decidedly unfeminine warrior, Xena, is now held up as a superior example of what a woman can be.

[09] Although Xena's butch way of being provides a model for women to emulate, WARRIOR...PRINCESS (15/115) does not portray the warrior as perfect or above human folly. In fact, the doppelganger device is used to poke fun at some of Xena's masculine qualities as well as to critique traditional femininity. Much humor is mined from the self-assured warrior's blindness to her inadequate imitation of Princess Diana. Throughout the episode, she displays a misplaced confidence in her ability to play helpless, royal, and feminine while confusing, rather than convincing, those around her.

[10] For example, when asked to play the harp (an instrument traditionally associated with femininity and at which Diana is proficient), Xena cleverly solves her dilemma by breaking all the strings. Nevertheless, her cleverness does not extend to her impersonation of the princess. Preparing to "play" the harp, Xena-as-Diana cracks her knuckles and wiggles her shoulders and fingers before touching the instrument, not exactly the gestures of a refined lady. Later, Xena co-opts this feminine instrument for her own butch purposes when she uses it as a multi-stringed bow from which to launch a handful of arrows. Thus, although Xena's lack of femininity is gently mocked, her brand of androgyny is shown to be far more advantageous than Diana's well-mannered musical talents.

[11] Although Diana's femininity is portrayed as dysfunctional, the princess herself is depicted as a kind woman with good intentions. Only her circumstances have kept her from maturing into a self-sufficient person and compassionate leader. Diana's repressed adventurous side and her queenly concern for her subjects, as well as her ignorance of the world outside the castle walls, are obvious when she tells Xena that imitating the warrior will allow her to learn about the "little people". What Diana does not anticipate is that by "becoming Xena" she will learn about herself as well.

[12] While pretending to be Xena, Diana experiences the real world for the first time and gains self-confidence, wisdom, and direction. Her encounter with a homeless family sparks these changes. Although she at first resists believing their tale of poverty, she soon understands that the "royal aid" is not reaching those who need it. Masquerading as Xena, the princess' confrontation with the realities of everyday life forces her to leave her sheltered world. Consequently, Diana matures, becoming less self-obsessed and more concerned with others. She returns to the castle determined to become a leader and improve the lives of her subjects. Moreover, Diana's newfound clarity and self-confidence enables her to confess her true feelings to Philemon, her fiance's brother with whom she is in love.

[13] The last scene of WARRIOR...PRINCESS (15/115) takes place during Diana and Philemon's wedding celebration. Whereas Diana has matured through her experiences as Xena, pretending to be royalty has not significantly changed the warrior. When Gabrielle asks, "You had all the riches a person could desire and you didn't enjoy that?", Xena answers, "It's just not me." Although Xena's obvious enjoyment of the rich food served at the celebration undercuts her assertion, her statement accurately reveals that she has not changed. In this case, Xena's lack of change is a function of her maturity and status as role model. Unlike Diana, Xena has lived a harsh existence and, consequently, is a mature, self-sufficient individual. Therefore, living the pampered life of a princess does not hold any life lessons for this warrior.


Had I known this Warrior Princess gig was so easy, I'd've done it years ago!

Gabrielle does her Xena impression.

[14] In addition to analyzing traditional femininity, in WARRIOR...PRINCESS (15/115), the doppelganger plot device serves as a catalyst for Diana's personal growth. In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), this device again works to further character development for the doppelganger. By "becoming Xena", Gabrielle moves to the next stage in her growth as a warrior. Moreover, the bard's impersonation helps the three traveling companions, Gabrielle, Xena, and Argo, learn to work together more efficiently as a team.

[15] In this episode, a poison dart shot by an unknown female assailant incapacitates Xena. Gabrielle must then impersonate the warrior princess to protect Salmoneus' seltzer factory and its workers from the warlord Talmadeus. When first asked to do so by Xena, Gabrielle is reluctant to pose as her warrior friend. The bard knows she does not yet have the necessary fighting skills or battle instincts. Nevertheless, once she agrees to work for "the greater good" by imitating Xena, Gabrielle's masquerade serves as a catalyst for her continuing growth as a warrior.

[16] In "The Hero's Path: Gabrielle as Focal Hero of Xena: Warrior Princess" [Whoosh! No. 2, Sept. 1996], Richard Carter Jr. posits that the series presents Gabrielle as a hero on an epic journey, with Xena as her mentor. He describes how, during the first season, Gabrielle's heroic journey leads her from the adventurous peasant girl introduced in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) to the skilled novice warrior of later episodes such as THE GREATER GOOD (21/121). According to Carter, Gabrielle fully crosses the "first threshold" of her hero's journey in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110) when she becomes an Amazon princess and acquires a weapon and basic fighting skills. He writes that, "Suddenly, Gabrielle finds herself on a path that her mentor had been protecting her from. The path of the warrior."

[17] I contend that in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), Gabrielle crosses the next threshold on her warrior's path, with her Xena impersonation allowing her to perform heroic deeds of which she did not know she was capable. When Xena is incapacitated and then "dies", Gabrielle "becomes Xena" and must rely on her own skills and inner resources. By taking on her mentor's persona, she internalizes lessons she has learned from her life with Xena and incorporates some of the warrior princess' heroic qualities into her own personality. As the episode progresses, she becomes increasingly self-sufficient until she alone is left to rescue Salmoneus, the workers, Xena's body, and Argo. That Gabrielle is not able to complete this rescue without the help of Xena and Argo is no disgrace. On the contrary, it symbolizes the growing partnership among warrior, bard, and horse.

[18] In the first scene of THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), Gabrielle practices with her staff, using Argo as her surrogate foe. She demonstrates some impressive moves, but Argo is still able to kick the weapon out of her hand. Although she has learned much since HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), the bard is not yet proficient with her weapon and has not honed her battle instincts.

[19] Gabrielle's transitional status -- not yet a warrior but no longer just an involved observer -- is evident in Xena's first confrontation with Talmadeus and his troops. As the scene begins, Gabrielle hides in the trees with a smile on her face, anticipating another easy, amusing triumph for the warrior princess. After Xena gleefully dispatches with Talmadeus' men, she confronts the warlord himself. Although Xena initially has the advantage over Talmadeus, it soon becomes evident that she is losing the fight. As Xena lay dazed on the ground, Talmadeus raises his sword over her and brags, "I'm the man who killed Xena." At this moment, Gabrielle emerges from her hiding place, screams "No!", and hurls her staff at the warlord. When the staff knocks the sword from Talmadeus' hand, Xena kicks him in the groin and whistles for Argo. The horse appears and the two women escape by clinging to her saddle as she gallops away. In this scene, Gabrielle demonstrates that, when necessary, she is capable of successfully handling a crisis in battle through quick thinking and fighting skill.

[20] Gabrielle's rescue of Xena marks the beginning of the warrior princess' descent into death and the bard's heroic test. In the next scene, Xena bestows her identity upon her young friend. In a parody of XWP's title sequence, Gabrielle dons Xena's leathers and armor to the musical accompaniment of the series' theme song. As Gabrielle models her new look for Salmoneus and Xena, the breastplate comes unfastened on one side and falls slightly askew. This detail indicates that Gabrielle is no Xena. Yet, despite her inability to fulfill completely the role of warrior princess, Gabrielle is not a total failure at the task either. She convinces Talmadeus' men that she is Xena, despite Argo's initial inability to understand, or refusal to obey, her commands.

[21] In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), the changes in Gabrielle's warrior status are closely linked to her relationship with Argo. Several early scenes demonstrate the lack of camaraderie between horse and bard. For example, the episode's opening scene described above depicts discord between Gabrielle and Argo when the horse kicks the bard's staff from her hand. Later, Gabrielle tells Xena that, "Argo doesn't like me." Confirming Gabrielle's statement, her lack of rapport with Argo ends her successful impersonation of Xena. As they ride through Talmadeus' camp, the warlord attempts to trip Argo with a staff. The horse avoids the trap by leaping over the staff, but Gabrielle is not prepared for the move and falls off into a trough. When she emerges from the water, the black dye has washed from her hair and Talmadeus speaks a line which is heard regularly in doppelganger episodes: "You're not Xena".

[22] Although the horse abandons the fallen bard, this scene marks a turning point in their relationship. Soon after Argo disappears, Talmadeus is about to execute Gabrielle when the horse charges back into the camp and kicks the sword from the warlord's hand. Gabrielle escapes the guards holding her and rides away on Argo, triumphantly doing her version of Xena's "yell thingie".

[23] Later in the episode, Talmadeus has captured everyone except Gabrielle, including Argo and Xena's "dead" body. As Gabrielle again watches from the trees, the warlord orders his men to use Argo and another horse to tear Xena's body in two. Still wearing Xena's outfit, Gabrielle attacks the camp, defeating all of Talmadeus' men who challenge her. She then performs a Xena-like acrobatic tumble, leaps up in front of the warlord, grabs a falling sword from the air, and points it at his throat. Through these maneuvers, Gabrielle demonstrates that her time impersonating Xena has vastly improved her fighting ability.

[24] Unfortunately, Talmadeus is smarter than the average warlord. He understands that Gabrielle still lacks confidence and uses this against her. As she stands with the sword at his throat, demanding that he return Xena and Argo to her, Talmadeus says, "You don't even know how to hold a sword." Gabrielle then briefly glances at her grip and the warlord knocks the sword from her hand and grabs her. Significantly, Gabrielle's lack of experience with a sword, a weapon closely associated with Xena, undoes her rescue attempt. Gabrielle may be a warrior in her own right but she is not yet at Xena's level.

[25] After Gabrielle is subdued, Talmadeus again demands that his men use the horses to rip apart Xena's body. Argo and the second horse refuse to comply, despite repeated whipping, and Talmadeus orders a soldier to kill Argo. At this moment, Xena wakens from her unconscious state (rising from the dead, if you will) and saves Argo. Fighting in her undergarment with bare feet, Xena grabs a staff and throws it at the soldier guarding Gabrielle, hitting him in the stomach. Gabrielle punches him in the face and joins Xena in the fight.

[26] Xena's rescue of her friends mirrors Gabrielle's earlier rescue of Xena. In that instance, Gabrielle threw the staff and Xena saved herself by kicking Talmadeus and whistling for Argo. Both scenes demonstrate that Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo are a team while Gabrielle's more active role in the latter scene highlights how much she has changed in the interim. Moreover, with these changes, the three companions achieve a new level of teamwork. Up to this point in the series, Xena has been the powerful protector. In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), the warrior princess is depicted as vulnerable to injury and even death. Therefore, each member of the team, Xena, Gabrielle, and even Argo, is necessary for the survival of the whole.

[27] This new level of teamwork is possible because Gabrielle has gained confidence and experience as a warrior and because her relationship with Argo has improved. During Gabrielle's time as a Xena doppelganger, she and Argo learn to cooperate with one another without Xena's mediation. This is evident when Gabrielle orders Talmadeus to return Xena's body. Gabrielle whistles for Argo and the horse attempts to respond but a soldier restrains her. During Gabrielle's masquerade as Xena, Argo has gained a new respect for the bard and no longer attempts to thwart her efforts but tries to help her instead. Thus, in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), Gabrielle's role as a Xena doppelganger advances her relationship with Argo, her status as a warrior, and her teamwork with Xena and Argo.


Theodorus hesitates, not knowing if he should say that he's really  Gabrielle

Callisto declares herself to be Xena to unsuspecting peons.

[28] In CALLISTO (22/122), we learn that a female warlord named Callisto shot the poison dart which struck Xena in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121). No ordinary warlord, Callisto is a psychopath bent on revenging her family's death at the hands of Xena's army and intends to cause as much suffering for Xena as possible. Unlike its earlier appearances, in this episode the impostor device is used only briefly at the beginning. To ruin Xena's reputation as a hero, Callisto is destroying villages and killing innocent people. She then tells the few survivors that she is Xena.

[29] Although her masquerade as Xena is brief, Callisto's similarity to the unrepentant warlord -- Xena, Destroyer of Nations -- makes her perhaps the truest doppelganger. She haunts the guilty warrior as a demented echo of the old Xena. The parallels between the two women are most explicit in Callisto's claim that she is Xena but many clues to their relationship appear throughout the episode. In "Visual Metaphor in Xena: Warrior Princess" [Whoosh! No. 3, Oct. 1996], Carmen Carter writes, "numerous visual images implied that Xena and Callisto were flip sides of the same coin."

[30] For example, Carter points to "their first encounter [when] Callisto snatches the chakram out of the air, framing Xena in its circle..." In this scene, Callisto demonstrates that she can match the warrior princess' battle prowess through her possession of and skill with the chakram. At this point in the series, Callisto was the only foe who had presented a real physical threat to Xena, first with the poison dart in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) and then with her fighting abilities in CALLISTO (22/122). As such, Callisto manifests in the waking world the dreamscape "dark Xena" who the warrior princess overcame to save Gabrielle in DREAMWORKER (03/103).

[31] In CALLISTO (22/122), the blonde warlord is not only an evil counterpart to Xena but to Gabrielle as well. In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), Gabrielle must impersonate Xena because Callisto has poisoned the warrior princess. Through her Xena masquerade, Gabrielle is able to internalize and put into action the positive lessons she has learned from her mentor. Likewise, Callisto is revealed to be a student of Xena, using the lessons she learned from the Destroyer of Nations to rise like a vindictive phoenix from the ashes of her charred village. Perversely, she has modeled herself on the very person she believes caused her suffering, in a move strikingly similar to Xena's response to attacks upon her own village. Nevertheless, unlike Gabrielle, Callisto refuses to take responsibility for her own warrior journey, confronting Xena with the claim, "You made me" [Note 04].

[32] In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) and CALLISTO (22/122), Gabrielle and Callisto's impersonations of Xena are indicative of each woman's relationship, both literal and symbolic, with the warrior princess. As has been observed in various public forums, Gabrielle represents Xena's continuing redemption and future as a hero while Callisto represents her dark side and past as an amoral warlord. As Carmen Carter observes, this dynamic is expressed as visual metaphor in the climatic fight scene which takes place on ladders in Callisto's compound. Callisto and Xena literally balance each other as they fight on the ladders, symbolizing Xena's ongoing battle against her dark side and her past.

[33] Carter also describes how, at the scene's end, Callisto and Gabrielle function as symbols of Xena's rejection of hatred and revenge and embrace of compassion and justice. "Xena exchanges Callisto's weight on the scales for that of Gabrielle, and resists the temptation to let her enemy plunge to her death. Forgiveness wins..." [Note 05].

[34] In their very different roles as doppelgangers, both Gabrielle and Callisto emulate Xena at the moment she entered each of their lives: as a defender of the common people and as a murderous destroyer. However, unlike Diana and Gabrielle, Callisto does not experience any personal growth through her Xena masquerade. In fact, her manifestation of "evil Xena" inhibits her emotional development because she refuses to let go of her anger and forgive the warrior princess. Whereas imitating the reformed Xena serves as a catalyst for personal growth, impersonating the warlord Xena is a psychological dead end. Thus, the experiences of Xena's first-season doppelgangers reflect aspects of the hero's journey of the warrior princess herself, from angry, cruel warlord to hero working for the greater good.


[35] In addition to its first-season appearances, the Xena doppelganger plot device has also been used during the second and third seasons, in WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206) and WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP (55/309). As regular viewers of the series know, such "variations on a theme" are typical of XWP. Repetition of plot devices, situations, and even details, such as the use of a dart to incapacitate in both CALLISTO (22/122) and RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), make the series a densely layered text which continually refers back to earlier stories, foreshadows future developments, and keeps its many fans busy rewatching and analyzing episodes.


Note 01:
[36] Of course, there are other occasions in the series when Xena has not been quite herself. In addition to women pretending to be the warrior princess, Xena's spirit has occupied the bodies of Autolycus, Gabrielle, Callisto, and her descendent, Melinda Pappas. Fortunately, for all concerned, a barnyard animal has yet to embody Xena. I consider these "possessions" to be distinct from the masquerades discussed in this essay as these characters are not impersonating Xena, but are Xena.
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Note 02:
[37] In the credits for DREAMWORKER (03/103), the "dark Xena" who Xena confronts and defeats to save Gabrielle from the realm of Morpheus is listed as "Doppelganger". Since Doppelganger is part of Xena herself and not an impersonator, she is not discussed in this essay.
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Note 03:
[38] My discussion of the critique of femininity in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) is informed by conversations with Kit Wilson.
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Note 04:
[39] The themes of personal responsibility for one's actions and Xena's influence on others are explored in later episodes, most notably in THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN (49/303).
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Note 05:
[40] Although Callisto does not succeed in rousing the warrior princess' dark side in CALLISTO (22/122), one could argue that she does in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) when Xena allows her to die in the quicksand. Gabrielle's obsession with vengeance for Callisto's murder of Perdicus in RETURN OF CALLISTO throws off Xena's balance between Gabrielle/redemption and Callisto/temptation. Without Gabrielle's influence against revenge, Xena is more vulnerable to her dark side.
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Torey L. King Torey L. King
I recently finished a Ph.D. in American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University. My concentration is popular culture studies and my dissertation topic is feminism in popular music. A native Mainer, I currently live in Madison, Wisconsin. So far, the highlight of my life as a Xenite has been attending the Valley Forge con.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "Isn't there anyone here who appreciates my specialness?" FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318)
First episode seen: THE PATH NOT TAKEN (05/105)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216)

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