Whoosh! Issue 28 - January 1999

IAXS project #639
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
This edition copyright © 1999 held by WHOOSH
3090 words

Author's Note: After spending time watching the series Xena: Warrior Princess, one gets to know something about some of the various participants, specifically those who put the words in characters' mouths and pull their metaphorical strings. When it comes to action, Amazons, and adrenaline, I like Steve Sears. When it comes to interpersonal and family issues, I like Chris Manheim. When it comes to dialogue and scenes that haunt me over time, I will take R.J. Stewart. R.J. Stewart has certainly given me plenty to think about, first with the unforgettable Callisto, and now with the enigmatic Najara. This article will attempt to compare and contrast these two "girlfriends of Xena".

Two Villains, No Waiting (01-05)
Not By The Hair Of Your Jinny Jinn Jinn (06-08)
Evil Is As Evil Does (09-11)
Psycho Barbie Versus Zealot Barbie (12-19)
The Gabrielle Factor (20-25)
CRUSADER Resolution (26-28)
Conclusions (29-30)
Notes (31-34)

A Tale of Two Villains: Callisto and Najara

Two Villains, No Waiting

The first choice for Iolaus

Dr. Miguelito Lovess could easily give villain lessons.

[01] I have said this in previous Whoosh! Work: Callisto was the first villain since Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild, West (TV, 1965-1970) that really made me sit up and take notice [Note 01]. She was intense, challenging, and especially in her first appearances, was Xena's near equal in physical ability [Note 02].

[02] Now we have an heir apparent in Najara [Note 03]. She is every bit as physically skilled as Callisto was in her early days, but wrapped in a more sugary package. Both women have interesting similarities, and differences that are even more interesting.

[03] Callisto and Najara are every bit as strong and combat-capable as Xena. Both can catch fast, sharp objects. Callisto caught Xena's chakram and Najara caught an arrow fired at Gabrielle. Both defeated Xena in combat at least once. Both could have killed Xena at various points if they had wished. Both are skilled equestrians. Both have an army and one very loyal lieutenant, or at least Callisto did until she killed hers [Note 04]. Both are blonde and attractive. Both are convinced of the righteousness of their cause and actions. Both were involved in combat situations that left Gabrielle dangling by a rope in the background, though in Najara's case, it was staged for her.

[04] There is an interesting piece of dialogue in the script for CRUSADER (76/406) that did not make the final broadcast cut. In one of the last scenes where Najara and Xena are fighting, ostensibly over Gabrielle, Xena was scripted to say:

You like the bit with the rope and the flame. An old acquaintance of mine tried to kill the little ingrate that way. Her name was Callisto. You and her wouldn't get along.

[05] The differences between Callisto and Najara are fascinating. Callisto became the way she did as a result of a childhood trauma of seeing her family killed and, in a twisted time-travel fashion revealed on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, partly being responsible for it herself [Note 05]. In comparison, we have no sign, at least so far, that Najara suffered unduly as a youngster. Rather, Najara hears the voices of the Jinn, and is guided by them. Callisto was single-minded in her destruction of Xena. Najara did not care at all about Xena until the Warrior Princess crossed her path, and even then only because Xena came between Najara and Gabrielle. Callisto did not lose any sleep if civilians were caught in the crossfire. Najara cares deeply that innocent people, as she defines them, remain unharmed. Najara stops to smell the roses. Callisto might pause to destroy something or she might be merciful, she is that unpredictable. Xena is Callisto's obsession. Najara cares more for Gabrielle.

Not By The Hair Of Your Jinny Jinn Jinn

Najara raises her hand 'cause she's sure

Najara has her own agenda.

[06] Najara's motivation comes from her connection with the spirits whom she communes with, the Jinn. We do not know for sure if she really hears them or not -- we as the audience never heard any Jinn voices or saw the spirits. If we take Najara at her word, these spirits are her inspiration and the driving force that prompts her to "do good" as Najara interprets it. As Najara herself puts it, "Turning people away from their dark side is the most important thing I do."

[07] That is the only problematic rub with Najara. However, that one tiny wrinkle would trip an elephant with all its ramifications. As I watched CRUSADER (76/408), it was only my prejudicial knowledge of what might be expected that had me suspicious of her. After watching the episode twice, it really was not until the last act of the show that I could find any potential problem with her.

[08] We open the episode with the sounds of combat. Dach, a solider in Najara's army and her chief lieutenant, warns her of enemies ahead. We see Gabrielle and Xena engaged in fierce combat with soldiers. Najara enters the fray, demonstrating that, blow for blow, she is at least equal to Xena in skill. Najara is about to strike a deadly blow on Gabrielle when the Jinn "speak" to her. Najara then immediately stands down, apologizing for the error. This is a very, very important issue discussed later in this paper.

Evil Is As Evil Does

Just as she breaks into song, Callisto is buried by rocks

Callisto's words could bite, but she could say even more with a gesture.

[09] Callisto became the way she did as a consequence of what happened to her as a child. We may sympathize with her unfortunate past, but we cannot excuse her actions. There is no "Greater Good" in Callisto's mission. There is only the intent to make Xena suffer, then kill her. If that includes the torturing and killing of those around her, so much the better as far as Callisto is concerned. If innocents are caught in the crossfire, Callisto is indifferent.

[10] Callisto's character evolution, and some think that evolution was not handled as well as it might be, becomes one of great tragedy. After all she has been through, by the time her character checks out for the (presumably) final time, Callisto has lost faith even in her mission of destroying Xena. She feels hollow, empty, and unfulfilled. She begins to simply long for her own destruction, and wishes she had never been born in the first place. Her initial quest for Xena's destruction changes to become a quest for her own destruction. Vengeance alone is not sufficient to fill a void in a soul.

[11] It is not Callisto's lack of purpose that becomes tragic, but rather her own ability to function. She develops a penchant for being trapped under falling objects later in her career. Although she has all the power of a god, she is unable to find solace even in that. By the end of that character's life cycle, I found myself thinking that as much as I enjoy Callisto and Hudson Leick's masterful performances, it almost becomes painful to see such a once-powerful character decline to something approaching pathetic.

Psycho Barbie Versus Zealot Barbie

[12] In terms of portrayal, the actors interpreted their nemesis characters strikingly different.

[13] Hudson Leick gave extraordinarily intense performances as Callisto, drawing upon some of her own experiences as well as her imagination to bring that character to life. Who can forget the Callisto "scream", almost as recognizable as Xena's battle cry? Hudson Leick usually is requested to perform that trademark scream at conventions. She herself has said it was very cathartic and a good way to release tension.

[14] Indeed, the nature of Callisto is very extroverted. Hudson Leick was the perfect choice to portray that character. As intense as Callisto is, she is also very honest. She says what she means and means what she says. There is no deception or falsehood in her words. She does not hide behind excuses or blame others for her actions. Callisto explained, more than once, that her purpose was to make Xena suffer before she dies. Callisto saw Xena as a hypocrite, since Xena committed many crimes during her "Evil Xena" period but was not made to pay for those crimes. Callisto herself is not necessarily harmful in a random or unpredictable way, but she is single-minded in her obsession with Xena.

[15] Najara, on the other hand, is quite introverted. By contrast to Callisto, she is relatively quiet, downright beatific. It takes a very special quality to be able to display that divinely-inspired "Joan of Arc" quality but still be physically capable for the demands of combat. Kathryn Morris was an excellent choice for this. She seems to have quite handily captured the essence of the zealot.

[16] However, Najara is no simple villain. Even at the conclusion of CRUSADER (76/408) I found myself asking "Is she really that bad?" Najara not only professes concern over making sure innocent lives are spared, but she demonstrates it. At the beginning of the episode, it is her own men that make the mistaken assumption that Xena and Gabrielle are enemies. After communing with the Jinn, Najara realizes this is a false assumption and immediately stops fighting.

[17] Najara is also a very subtle zealot. She does not proselytize to convert people to the Light. Early on in the episode, during the period she and Gabrielle "bond", Najara is willing to accept that Xena and Gabrielle have different paths than hers. Najara realizes that while the Light is on the side of good (as Najara interprets it) not all people who do good are aligned with the Light.

[18] Najara and her men kill or defeat the evil slave traders, but the people who are freed from their dominion are not expected to convert to the Light. Najara provides supplies and escort for them to return to their homes. Rather than use a heavy-handed method, Najara relies on her example alone as sufficient to get everyday people to volunteer for her cause. It is only prisoners captured after a fight who are given the "convert or die" option. Only after Gabrielle and Najara establish a bond does Najara even suggest that Gabrielle turn to the Light, and even then, she does not insist upon it. It is Gabrielle who asks for the Initiation, not the other way around.

The Gabrielle Factor

Gabrielle is stumped by the 'flat earth or round' question

Callisto occasionally took great pride in the verbal torture of Gabrielle.

[19] Callisto never really thought much of or about Gabrielle. Gabrielle was Xena's friend, and a potential point of suffering for the Warrior Princess, and that is about as far as that thread went with Callisto. Callisto killed Perdicus as a "bonus" when she found the two newlyweds together, in keeping with her philosophy of "make all of Xena's friends suffer first, then kill them". Callisto toyed with Gabrielle much like a cat does before killing its prey in the campfire scene of A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214), all the while keeping true to the fact she was a very "honest" villain. With Callisto, it was always very much a "Xena" thing.

[20] This is not true for Najara. Gabrielle is the big link when it comes to Najara. Right from the start, Gabrielle is attracted to Najara, and to what Gabrielle thinks Najara stands for. It is easy to see why the bard would be taken with the Phoenician "Joan of Arc". Like Xena, Najara fights for good and against evil. Najara has a soft side that Xena does not show much, if at all.

[21] For example, Najara is enthusiastic about sharing a love and appreciation for nature whereas, according to Gabrielle, Xena is not much for that sort of thing. Najara sings, as does Xena, and does so in a more lighthearted way as contrasted to Xena's dirges. Najara cares as much for her horse, Bonacar, as Xena does for Argo. Most importantly to Gabrielle's perception, though, Najara lacks that "dark side" that Xena still has.

[22] It may also be that contrary to words and demonstrations of forgiveness, there is still a part of Gabrielle that has serious issues with Xena. Gabrielle told Najara that there is an aspect of Xena that frightens her, and I think she really meant it.

[23] Even Xena sees how Gabrielle is taken with Najara. As Xena secretly watches and listens to Gabrielle and Najara converse, and hears how Najara freely suggests that Gabrielle commit to Xena, Xena herself realizes that she may be the one to bring about destruction to the bard. Consequently, she charges Najara to look after Gabrielle, and plans to leave the bard behind.

[24] Once Xena discovers more about Najara's nature, she uses Gabrielle as "bait" to defeat Najara, knowing the zealot's weakness for the bard. Xena uses Najara's affection for Gabrielle against her, with less thought to how Gabrielle might feel about it and more thought for a bit of revenge.

[25] "Evil Xena" makes a very disturbing appearance here, perhaps foreshadowed in the tavern scene following Xena's defeat by Najara. There is a brilliant sequence where Xena encounters her reflection, symbolic of a good/evil confrontation. Two "return to a bit of evil" examples are Xena's "That's gonna hurt" line as she inspects the precipice in the cave (another interesting script deviation, since the script called for Xena to say instead "That could kill ya"), and the fact that without Gabrielle's intervention, Xena would have continued to break a defeated Najara's hold on the cliff face and let Najara fall to her death, similar to how she let Callisto sink in the quicksand [RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205)].

CRUSADER Resolution

And that new soap powder really gets your brown things their brownest!

Najara and Gabrielle bond lakeside.

[26] It is only in the last part of the episode that things really fall apart. We learn that not only do the Jinn guide Najara, she believes they have given her a mandate to be judge, jury, and if necessary, executioner to those she captures in the course of pursuing her cause.

[27] Gabrielle rejects Najara immediately after hearing about this, although Najara mounts a very competent defense in explaining herself. On the face of it, it is difficult to see that Najara is "bad" or has done anything truly wrong, at least if she is not completely mistaken in her judgements. From what we saw in CRUSADER (76/408), we have no evidence (other than hearsay) to tell us that Najara has acted badly. The direct evidence we have seen points to the contrary.

[28] If Najara indeed only does kill "bad guys", that does not cause me any personal concern at all, and her "Light" could be a 40 watt bulb for all I care. We have seen her fight evil, we have seen her own up to her mistakes, and we have even seen her confess that she may have made mistakes in the past, albeit thinking of the Greater Good, in the name of the Light. I can think of a few organized religions in "real life" and historical events that fared much worse in the name of one god or another, espousing the Greater Good all the while. In subsequent episodes, if we learned that the Light is a bit more oppressive, intruding into thought and personal freedom as opposed to "evil actions", then I would have much more heartburn with it.


[29] It looks like Callisto's time may truly have come and gone. If there are any plans to bring her back, TPTB [the powers that be] are not saying anything about it. We have been told, more than once, that we have seen the last of Callisto. On the one hand, I will miss Hudson Leick's portrayal of that character, but on the other, I would rather see a relatively dignified end to a character that entertained me tremendously.

[30] The jury, no pun intended, is still out on Najara. The door is certainly open for her to return, although as of the publication of this article, the actor has not been signed to do so yet. Perhaps if she does, we will be given more evidence to show why she is a "villain". Whatever the case, R.J. Stewart has again created a compelling character that has already given me many more hours of thought than time spent watching the episode. For those things, I am very thankful.


Note 01:
[31] Rudnick, Bret Ryan. "Callisto: Arch-villain Extraordinaire". Whoosh! #04 (9701)
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Note 02:
[32] Callisto first appeared in CALLISTO (22/122), though technically one could say she debuted in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121). The unidentified character who shot the poison dart at Xena in the beginning of the episode was later revealed to be Callisto. Callisto to date has appeared in 9 and 3 episodes respectively of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The episodes are: CALLISTO (22/122), RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), INTIMATE STRANGER (30/206), TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (31/207) [only Callisto's body appeared in this one, as Xena was in possession of it], SURPRISE (H49/312), A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214), MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), THE BITTER SUITE (58/232) [appearing as Aleph and "the Fool"], ARMAGEDDON NOW I (H72/413), ARMAGEDDON NOW II (H73/414), SACRIFICE (67/321), and SACRIFICE II (68/322).
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Note 03:
[32] Najara's only appearance thus far has been in CRUSADER (76/408).
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Note 04:
[33] As a side note, it was very cool to see David "Theodorus" Te Rare as Marat in CRUSADER (76/406), his first appearance on Xena since his role as Callisto's loyal and somewhat love-struck lieutenant.
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Note 05:
[34] ARMAGEDDON NOW (72-73/413-414)
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Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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