Whoosh! Issue 57 - June 2001


By Beth Gaynor
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2238 words




[01] The Whoosh panel on "Six Seasons of Xena: What Went Right and What Went Wrong" at the Pasadena 2001 convention was an amazing opportunity to distill what everyone was doing that weekend -- talking about Xena non-stop -- into some very thought-provoking and insightful conversation. I was proud to be a part of it.

[02] The panel members were:

JEFF LUNDRIGAN: Xena reviewer for IGN.com and one of my favorite writers about the show.

BRET RYAN RUDNICK: "Mister Interview" for Whoosh, the lucky lad who has probably spent more time talking with Xena stars and producers and spent more time in New Zealand than everyone else in the room combined, with the exception of...

Two men, one bottle of water... who will win?

Panelists Bret Ryan Rudnick and Jeff Lundrigan

KATHERINE FUGATE: A Xena fan and screenwriter who had penned the upcoming episode WHEN FATES COLLIDE (130/618). Katherine was a little (well, completely) limited in the "wrong" parts of the show she would discuss, but she told us about the amazing work of choosing to write a script for a show she was a fan of. She also made us drool with her descriptions of the themes of the show and how they would work into FATES.

Why does this guy sitting next to me keep touching my leg with his foot?

Panelist Katherine Fugate

deb7: A fellow mailing list episode reviewer of the show, with her consistently thoughtful "Analy-view".

ME: Wool-gathering episode reviewer for the mailing lists, Whoosh, and Rate-A-Xena. I counted my reviews while I was preparing for this panel and realized that the series finale will be my 99th episode review.

Deer caught in headlights versus deer blinded by headlights

Panelists Beth Gaynor and deb7

PHILIP TRACY: A free-lance journalist and a resident new fan for the panel. He won an extra round of applause just for being someone who actually became a fan during the fifth season.

court jester by day

Panelist Philip Tracy

THE AUDIENCE: Our seventh panel member. When everyone's introductory comments were over, we were all kept hopping and challenged by interesting questions and observations from the room.

[03] I wish I had better recall of what happened at the panel besides hoping I did not blather stupidly, and agreeing wildly with so many of the excellent points that were made. I am very glad to have the opportunity to combine my recollections with everyone else's. I have all my notes from the introductory comments I made and a few vague memories about what was discussed. My apologies for the fact that in most of the cases I cannot even remember who discussed what.

[04] Everyone on the panel got a chance to speak for five minutes (or so) about this topic in general. Kym Taborn, talented panel moderator and unseen-whip-cracker, would discretely tap us on the shoulder when our time limit was imminent. Then the audience was invited to chime in with any questions or topics for conversation that they would like to address.

[05] Everyone on the panel, including the audience, brought insightful points to the discussion. Everyone talked earnestly about subjects close to their hearts and yet stayed balanced and interested in others' points. It was what we all hope to find on mailing lists all the time, but usually do not. It was what the best of fan discussions and critiques can sound like.


Xena: Warrior Princess Response To Fans And The Internet

What a load of carp this WHOOSH! rag is!

That wacky Rob

[06] RenPic's response to fans was probably the most popular theme of the day, which had us scrambling a bit since none of us could actually speak for the producers. But we gamely gave it our best try: we pointed out that the producers could hardly NOT hear what the fans were saying on the Internet, since it is an amazing new conduit for getting as direct of feedback from viewers as has ever been available.

[07] I remember bringing up the only valid criticism that I could think of about fan comments on the Internet: that since we are such rabid fans that we would build sites and join mailing lists about the show, we are by nature only a tiny slice of the actual viewers. Bret pointed out that according to industry definitions, a "regular viewer" of a show is someone who catches 3-5 episodes per season.

[08] Katherine, who of course has had the closest look at the show's inner workings of any of us, said that she knows that the Xena producers are very aware of the fans and hear what is said on the Internet (sometimes to their dismay). She said that in her time there, she never heard the fans spoken of in any way except warmly and respectfully.

Xena as a Flawed Hero vs Anti-Hero

Outraged that Renee had more closeups in an episode

Is Xena getting a bad rap?

[09] We talked for a little while about one of those things that the show got right but every once in a while went wrong: Xena as a flawed hero. We talked about how Xena's struggle with her past and her darker nature made her a more accessible hero, that the show's refusal to paint every situation in black and white and instead sometimes wander into the gray made it interesting and gave the stories some meat and strength. But, as the audience pointed out, sometimes the flaws got a little tough to stomach. Between the GabDrag, Hope, and Xena's past, by now Xena has probably managed to do SOMETHING to alienate just about everybody at some point along the way.

The Rift/The GabDrag

Attempting to see if co-stars bounce

Maybe Xena was just having a bad day?

[10] This was the one point in the panel when things almost got ugly, when a pro-GabDrag audience member lit a fire under the anti-GabDrag folks. Kudos to Kym for immediately stepping into the discussion with a deftly-worded speech that praised everyone for speaking calmly and rationally about things that pushed our buttons... before we had actually spoken calmly or rationally, which now meant we were obligated to do so. So we did.

[11] We talked about the scheduling problems of the Rift series of episodes, which was interrupted by unrelated episodes that seemed to ignore the Rift arc and undermine the story. Jeff pointed out that the Rift took about six episodes to build up its conflict, but resolved it in three-quarters of an episode, which left it unbalanced. We talked about how over-the-top brutal the GabDrag was. I said that I thought the GabDrag was a valid story, the result of a recovering 10-year violence-aholic who, under extreme stress, fell off the wagon in the most horrible way possible. But that the shortcoming was that no one, most especially Xena, ever said later how wrong it was or felt the consequences of it.

[12] We also talked a bit about the GabDrag showing up later in flashbacks. The flashback of the drag in SEND IN THE CLONES (128/616) was a much shorter version, and we wondered whether it might be a bit of revisionist history. Katherine said that the writers choose very carefully which clips they will put in their episodes. Her episode has some flashback clips in it, and she deliberately chose not to use the GabDrag in hers.


[13] What went right versus what went wrong: Consistency versus variety

Right: Variety

[14] The thing that made Xena so fun, so interesting, and always so different has been its incredible range of episodes (camp, drama, action), all kinds of character stretching and changes, and lots of envelopes pushed. Trying many new things means that sometimes things do not work, but I would rather watch 10 experiments where 3 fail and 7 work than to never see anything new at all. We may not always like the changes, but they are better than the alternative.

[15] With variety, however, you have to obey some laws of consistency, and the show had some problems here:

Started Right, Ended Wrong: Steady Character Progression

[16] Some basic things must stay consistent, even in the midst of variety. At the start of the show, who are the characters? Xena is a flawed hero (one of the right things) searching for atonement and redemption. Gabrielle is an innocent who wants to be a hero and still keep that innocence. If you track what happens to the characters and their quests over the seasons, you come up with a graph like this:

Remarkably coincident with Burger King stock


[17] Both characters start with a strong, clear perception and overriding quest. Part of the problem is that both quests were very hard to define with tangible results. Are you redeemed just because you say you are redeemed? But both by now have pretty much achieved what they were looking for (kinda?) and have not had a new overriding goal -- it has been replaced by many smaller things.

[18] Part of the reason consistency has suffered so much in the show is:

Wrong: Trying To Please All Of The People All Of The Time

[19] Xena has been a kid's show with infanticide, mass murder, and lots of sex. It is about a loving relationship between two women, except for the occasional flings with cute guys. It is a hard-hitting drama with bathroom humor. Sometimes the show succeeds in walking the line between many different groups. A comedy like A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) can appeal to many people. The "are they/aren't they" subtext game was admirably played for a while. But after a time, you cannot keep trying to satisfy so many different groups and remain true to a consistent story.

[20] Turning from larger themes to individual episodes, the biggest trend in right versus wrong seems to be:

Right: Big Events, Small Focus

[21] Xena was at its best when it kept its attention personal. The best Xenas [e.g.: THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), THE PRICE (44/220), BEEN THERE DONE THAT (48/302), AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE (104/514)] focused on individual moments and people. Sometimes these were against the background of big events like wars and armies, but the focus stayed tight. Xena and Gabrielle rescued one person, resolved their quests one step at a time, fought one bad guy, or met one new friend. Those episodes are the ones that involve us, the ones that get us intimately involved in people that we can identify with who are resolving problems one step at a time.

Wrong: Big Themes, Bigger Focus

[22] Dying six times to save the universe does not speak to most of us personally. Even death does not become impressive any more. Everything has to be jacked up bigger and bigger to meet more terrible threats, and we get lost in the process. Xena's past gets nastier and nastier to justify more and more drama. Whatever happened to the first season's "I never killed women and children"? By the fourth season, we are slaughtering Amazons and catapulting cities. In storytelling, you need to lay down the rules early and stick to them. Closing with the biggest right of all:

Soooo Right: The Leads

[23] Xena's producers hit the jackpot when they cast Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor. They found actors who could sell cheesy camp and still put their hearts and souls into drama. The magic they created when they worked together gave birth to the central focus of the entire show -- their relationship -- and to the subtext, both things that were not originally part of the plan, and yet made the series such a winner. The biggest thing the show did right was accomplished before a single episode aired.


Beth Gaynor. Friends and Nutballs (Fans). WHOOSH #29 (February 1999)

Beth Gaynor. Friends and Nutballs (Fans): Nature Abhors a Vacuum. WHOOSH #31 (April 1999)

Beth Gaynor. Friends and Nutballs (Fans): The Battle of the Special Interest Groups. WHOOSH #32 (May 1999)

Beth Gaynor. Friends and Nutballs: Olympic Conclusion-Jumping. WHOOSH #30 (March 1999)

Beth Gaynor. Review: Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor: Warrior Stars of Xena. WHOOSH #24 (September 1998)

Beth Gaynor currently writes reviews for the Whoosh episode guide. She was a former member the Whoosh Executive Committee.


Beth Gaynor Beth Gaynor

Beth Gaynor lives in Columbus, Ohio (go Buckeyes!), and designs courses for MindLeaders.com, a computer-based training company. Outside of the office, she is often spotted at the Columbus Zoo, where she volunteers as a docent. This usually involves answering the question "Where's the bathroom?", although she gets breaks from that long enough to talk about the animals and help the keepers. Beth has snuck past her thirtieth birthday wihout once acting her age and stays young and vigorous by battling for house supremacy against her two cats. So far, the struggle is too close to call.
Favorite episode: THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: Meg: "Your little friend just kicked my b*tt." WARRIOR... PRINCESS... TRAMP (30/206) and Gabrielle: "I'll understand if just this once you're so angry you want to pummel her for a while." Xena: "I'm not gonna do that." Gabrielle: "Then hold her while I do it!" FORGIVEN (60/314)
First episode seen: DESTINY (36/212)
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515), IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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