Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001


By Emmanuel Aquin
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
3588 words

ON LIFE (01-10)
           The Chakram Spins Off (02-03)
           A Legendary Journey (04-06)
           Sharks Must Swim Or They Die (07)
           Who's On First? (08-10)
ON DEATH (11-15)
           The Play's The Thing (11)
           Who Lives By The Sword Dies By The Sword (12-15)
ON LOVE (16-31)
           The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (16-18)
           Tapert Must Die! (19-22)
           The Long Kiss Goodnight (23-25)
           Violence Against Women (26-28)
           Am I Happy?(29-31)



Removed from its original packaging, Xena's new chakram declined in value and was left with stains in the grass
New chakram, new owner.

[01] By now, thousands of Xenites are broken-hearted, angry, sour, disillusioned, and generally, p-o'd at the series finale. It seems these fans represent the majority, and boy, are they mad! So, be different! Enjoy it! I know I did. Moreover, I will tell you why...

The Chakram Spins Off

[02] Lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. TPTB (the powers that be) wanted to do a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys before someone else did. They decided to make it as different as possible, to give the new show its own personality instead of simply doing "Hercules with girls". It was decided Xena: Warrior Princess would be darker and that it would be more mature.

[03] Comparisons between the two shows are not always easy. Sure, they had the same cast of characters, the same setting, and the same gods, but the attitude was not the same. Case in point: in the series finale of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hercules' dysfunctional family finally reunites and reconciles. Nevertheless, two months later, when Hercules did a guest spot on Xena: Warrior Princess' GOD FEARING CHILD, major (and I mean major) disagreements destroy the very same family. The same characters acted differently because the shows themselves were different. Hercules would never have killed his own father on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Only on Xena could he do this.

A Legendary Journey

[04] What was Xena: Warrior Princess about? We could probably all agree, except for that little kid, hiding behind the sofa, that Xena: Warrior Princess is about Xena, Gabrielle, and their "relationship". Note that I did not say "love", but I will in a few minutes. Let us build upon that.

[05] Any good dramatic story will have "arcs" for its characters. In many episodic series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation or, to some extent, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and The X-Files, character arcs are kept to a minimum, so people can watch an episode now and then and always know what to expect from the heroes. Xena, however, like it or hate it, is a serialized show, which means the character arcs will span entire seasons and, in the end, the entire series. On one hand, you have little Gabrielle, the young and innocent girl from Poteidaia, who will learn the hard way how to be a warrior and a good one at that. On the other, you have Xena herself, who will learn through the course of the series to trust her friend, to care for others, and to be at peace with her personal demons. Both characters are on a journey of self-discovery and on a path that will help them become what they wish to be.

[06] Another arc is the love story itself. It began as an uneasy relationship, based on mother-daughter rapport. It then evolved and transformed into a passionate thing (season 3), with fights [THE BITTER SUITE] and making outs [ONE AGAINST AN ARMY], before settling in a long-term and very profound relationship involving two equals (season 4 and up). Between our heroes and their relationship, we can safely say that things were always in motion in the Xenaverse.

Sharks Must Swim Or They Die

[07] Nothing is permanent. Life is change. Based on this, Xena was a show replete with life. When something happened in an episode, it would affect the remainder of the series, such as the birth of Hope and Eve, Gabrielle throwing her staff in the Ganges, the death and redemption of Callisto, etc. There were internal changes made to the personality of our heroes, such as Gabrielle losing her blood innocence and Xena learning the value of self-sacrifice. There were external changes, although these are noticeable mainly on Gabrielle. While Xena's looks changed from blackish leather to brownish leather, Gabrielle's wardrobe and haircut were a veritable kaleidoscope, constantly changing style and color. Again, this was a major difference to Hercules, where the two heroes stayed the same physically and evolved very little psychologically.

Who's On First?

When you can put your left foot in, then out, you will be ready to Hokey-Pokey, Grasshopper.
Gabrielle steps up for more warrior lessons.

[08] Who was the real star of the show, the Warrior Princess or the Bard from Poteidaia? There are two good answers. The first one, and the most popular one, is that the real star of the show was the relationship between the two. The relationship was the center of it all and the glue that kept the show together. Some have called Xena "the greatest love story ever shown on TV". They will have no argument from me.

[09] Yet, one could also argue that Gabrielle was the driving force behind the series. After all, the show started when she was nothing but a peasant girl with dreams of becoming a warrior, and ended with her being the holder of the chakram and a worthy Amazon queen. This required much change in her personality and her physique, and Gabrielle's is the strongest arc to be found in the show. Even the relationship between the women was not as clearly defined and developed. Their mutual love and respect became quite evident during season 3 [ONE AGAINST AN ARMY], and was reinforced in season 4 [BETWEEN THE LINES, CRUSADER, IDES OF MARCH], but did not change much during the following seasons, where shows mostly confirmed what was already said.

[10] The finale was the last strong leap in Gabrielle's evolution, the final step in her long journey. When you look at the whole series, Gabrielle was the only one constantly evolving. Xena's transformation was more sporadic and less complex. As a mentor, the Warrior Princess did all she had to do to help and teach her protege. She then disappeared as all mentors do when they were no longer needed (Lao Ma in THE DEBT, Qui-Gong Jinn in The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan in Star Wars, Merlin in Excalibur). Looking at the series as Gabrielle's gives the finale more sense.


The Play's the Thing

[11] Let us concern ourselves with the spirit of the show. Is Xena a comedy, an adventure, or a tragedy? Until FRIEND IN NEED I, no satisfying answer was possible. But now, judging by the episodes that bookend the show (SINS OF THE PAST and FRIEND IN NEED II), one must conclude the whole thing was a tragedy, with many interludes -- some funny, some musical, some campy, and yes, even some crappy. The fact that Xena buried her armor right before committing her "suicide" in FRIEND IN NEED II tells us much about her state of mind at the beginning of SINS OF THE PAST where she did the same thing. Seeing Xena in this light helps us understand the concept of the finale, as tragedies do not have happy endings. But then again, there are tragedies, and there are tragedies.

Who Lives By The Sword Dies By The Sword

[12] In season 4's THE WAY, Krishna himself explained to Xena that she was following the Way of the Warrior, and that she must accept and embrace it. From this moment on, our Warrior Princess, who was having doubts about herself, stopped being beaten senseless by guest stars (Najara and that annoying man from DAUGHTER OF POMIRA) and became one mean, *ss-kicking warrior babe with no regrets.

[13] In Japan, Xena knew she needed to die to destroy that nasty Yodoshi guy. It was a simple, but not necessarily an easy, decision for her, as dying in combat is the Way of the Warrior. Nevertheless, she chose to have two deaths: one with the pinch in front of Gabrielle and one on the battlefield. The first gave her the courage to face the second. She had the best death she could hope for. Having your head chopped off is one clean way to go, much better than a belly wound that infects and kills after a lot of pain. During Akemi's hara-kiri, Xena cuts her head off to ease the pain and spare her the "dishonor" of dying screaming and moaning. The samurai who finally beheaded Xena, did, in fact, complete our hero's hara-kiri, and made her death an "honorable one" for his culture, or as depicted in the show, anyway. After all, who ever heard of a character dying of natural causes in a tragedy?

[14] As for the redemption bit, which many fans abhor, it was more important for Xena to feel redemption than to be told about it. Sure, she had done many good deeds, and those 40,000 trapped souls were not entirely her fault. However, what was important is that she felt she was guilty, and her guilt could be debated both ways, especially since there were probably explanatory scenes that were cut from the final version. She needed this sacrifice to convince herself, not to convince Gabrielle or us.

[15] One could also read in this story an American apology for World War II. According to my Encyclopaedia Britannica, US estimates put the immediate death toll of the Nagasaki bombing at 39,000. Maybe that atomic mushroom shown at the beginning of FRIEND IN NEED II was not a gratuitous shot after all? Perhaps Xena needed to make amends for her actor's husband's country's future actions? Who knows? Maybe one day, executive producers Robert Tapert and R.J. Stewart will reveal some hidden message that will clarify this strange but interesting coincidence.


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Oh no, she's going to sing again!
Even at the end, Gabrielle and Xena are together. Well, sort of.

[16] In the end, we have Gabrielle and Xena's ghost going to Egypt to face new foes and have many new adventures. This is what annoyed, to be polite, most fans. However, why, exactly, did they react so badly?

[17] A movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did something similar and everyone seemed to be happy about it. Many Xenites talked about that movie in the Xena newsgroups, how the ending of that film was both moving and bold. Some even said that Crouching Tiger was like a Xena movie. Yet, the finale had a very different effect on these same fans. Somehow, they expected their favorite show, which they loved because it was so different and daring, to give them something predictable and safe. Suddenly, being dark and unpredictable was not a quality anymore. They wanted the paradox of Romeo and Juliet living happily ever after.

[18] What seems even more surprising in the anger generated by the finale is that many episodes have established that the series was but the first in a long line of shared reincarnations for our heroes. We know, and more importantly, they know that they will share many more experiences in many other lives. In the future, they will share adventure (THE XENA SCROLLS), drama (BETWEEN THE LINES) and romance, as well as passionate sex (SOUL POSSESSION). What more could they ask for? Romeo and Juliet did not have this certainty. This is why Gabrielle can afford to smile at the end of the series. She is not alone, since Xena's ghost will follow her everywhere, and she will have plenty of time to enjoy her soulmate. They even seem to be able to touch.

Tapert Must Die!

[19] I was shocked at many fans' attitude towards Robert Tapert, the creator and guiding hand of Xena: Warrior Princess. Suddenly, the man responsible for that beautiful show became a traitor, a greedy moneymaker, and an all-around bad guy. What did he do to deserve such hate?

[20] Many do not realize that the producers of a show do not have complete creative freedom. The ones with the real power are the studios and the networks, and those annoying lobbyists who got THE WAY yanked out of the airwaves. People do not see the difference between Tapert and Studios USA. They do not know that even if Tapert had done a passionate lovemaking scene involving our heroes, the episode would simply have not been aired, or in the very least would have been censored. Do not forget that Xena is the spin-off of a children's' show. When stations paid money for Xena, they were buying something for a particular demographic. Of course, over the years, they realized the demographics included those fabled lesbian Xenites and other adults. However, they never paid money for a subversive show. They wanted fights, young women in skimpy outfits, and special effects to put in family oriented time slots. It is to Renaissance Pictures' credit that they gave the stations all that and so much more.

[21] It is one thing to have a lesbian relationship on E.R. or even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, since it is well known that these shows have an adult audience. Star Trek: Voyager was not as daring as Deep Space Nine because it hoped for a broader audience. Nevertheless, the various kisses seen on Xena are way over what the studios wanted. They did, after all, ask Tapert to stop the subtext.

[22] One good example of Tapert's attitude can be found in THE WAY fiasco of 1999. When the studios, the stations, and those lobbyists were outraged, Tapert decided to appease them by taking away the episode, with the promise to modify it if he were to ever show it again. The controversy died soon after, and Tapert made *one* small cut, a single headb*tt involving Hanuman, and showed THE WAY again, with a special message tacked on the end credits. The lobbyists were very insulted and cried foul again, but the wind was no longer in their sails. Tapert had kept his promise, albeit trickily, and in the end, the fans saw the episode in an almost uncut version. What many saw at first as an act of high treason can be viewed as a defiant move, a big finger to the censors. No one gave him credit for that. Maybe people need a bad guy to put the blame on when things do not go their way?

The Long Kiss Goodnight

[23] Subtexters wanted the series to end in a big kiss. They wanted Renaissance Pictures to show it all, lips and saliva, to end the ambiguities and endless discussions. They thought that the very stations that did not show THE WAY would air such a kiss. Somehow, they thought Tapert was the god of the airwaves and that he could do as he pleased. Well...

[24] What happened instead was another of those ambiguous kisses (or was it?), where Gabrielle must give Xena the water of strength to revive her. There were a thousand different ways for Gabrielle to do this, yet she chose the kiss of life. Did Tapert deliver? Look closely. The two women definitely kiss. Only at the end does Gabrielle deliver one, and only one drop of the magic water in Xena's mouth. Even for non-subtexters, this one will be hard to explain. We are talking about the least effective method of water carrying imaginable. One lousy drop! This is as close as the producers could go without having to face censors again. They even cut to a shot above the head of Gabrielle so that we do not see too much of the lip-lock.

[25] Making a television series is always about compromise (as a writer, I have been there), much more than in films, and until the end, Tapert and his cohort always managed to obtain what they wanted. After all, there are hundreds of very naughty suggestions, double-entendres, and other remarks in the 134 shows that are clear messages that there is something more going on. Sure, this is not Ellen. But Ellen was cancelled. Xena has stayed for six years and her message of two strong women who are soulmates has been delivered to more TVs than any other show about gays could have done. It opened doors (hello, Buffy?) and, very subversively, showed its majority of straight viewers, without antagonizing them, what was, in essence, a healthy homosexual relationship. What other show managed to do that? Is it better to make a gay show for people who are already sold to the idea, or make an ambiguous show that will plant the seed in many not-so-opened minds? Preaching to the converted is easy.

Violence Against Women

[26] In closing, for those of you still awake, I would like to address all those who felt the finale was gruesome and unfair to women. Many said that the show proved lesbians cannot live happily ever after, and that Xena's death and subsequent naked hanging were in very bad taste. Some fans took that message very personally, interpreting the finale as a gigantic slap in the face.

[27] Do they not realize that Xena has always been about equality? That it showed women could do whatever men could. If you accept that equality, you must accept all its good and bad consequences. The good ones are that the vast majority of men she met respected Xena. The whole series has always been very careful to avoid the "look! a girl with a sword!" cliches. It is therefore natural, in such an environment, that she be treated like other men. That means that she can suffer the same fate on the battlefield. Who cried when Conan was martyred in Conan the Barbarian? The man was enslaved, his family was slaughtered, he was beaten to a pulp, and was crucified in the desert, completely alone except for the vultures that fed on him while he was still alive. Was he naked? Yes, except for that little loincloth, because a penis is still a big no-no in movies. So was Jackie Chan, in Legend of the Drunken Master: naked crucifixion and a strategically placed sign, to preserve his "dignity". Even Jesus Christ did not wear much on his cross! In ancient times, you proudly displayed your war trophies or your executed criminals. The humiliation of the victim, along with the pride of the victor, was the whole point.

[28] Xena was treated like everyone else, and taking her fate as violence against women is missing the whole point of the show. Xena was not a woman, she was a person, and more importantly, she was a warrior. Moreover, she was treated as such, thank the gods, from the beginning of SINS OF THE PAST to the end of FRIEND IN NEED. As for Gabrielle, well, she was always the more responsible one, and was treated as such, too. She did not commit suicide to reunite with her soulmate. She chose to continue and face life with courage, in the company of her beloved ghost, no less. Like someone said, Gabrielle's last scene could be viewed as a mirror image of us, the viewers, left with Xena's ghost and wonderful memories in our collective hearts. We have all been part of a wonderful journey, together, as we have watched Xena's adventures through Gabrielle's eyes. This last shot, on the boat, was a most logical and appropriate ending to the series. And the beginning of a lot of fan fiction...

Am I Happy?

[29] Did I want a happy end? At the time, frankly, yes. It would have pleased me immensely to see the women marry, have a honeymoon, and move to a quiet neighborhood where they would grow old together, with a campfire scene, and bath scene, *every night*.

[30] But that ending would have been easy, like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was. Xena was always more thought-provoking than its brother (father?) show. FRIEND IN NEED made me cry, it made me think, and it made me accept something that is more rich, complex and, in the end, more satisfying than a happy end. It reminded me that there are many ways to reach your goals, many ways to love someone, and that sometimes, the road is as important as the destination. For that, I am grateful.

[31] Now, bring me those Xena DVDs NOW!


Thanks to "cine" for being the first to notice the possible World War II connection.


Emmanuel Aquin Emmanuel Aquin

Although Emmanuel Aquin (amiral@yahoo.com) is the author of many serious novels, short stories and articles in his native, French-speaking province of Quebec, he is still, at heart, your typical obsessed fan of Xena: Warrior Princess, complete with Xena magnets, plastic chakrams, and action figures. He thinks the world is made of Lego bricks and that his own body is made of plasticine. He is proud to be geeky and secretly wishes Rob Tapert and Lucy Lawless would adopt him as their eldest son.
Favorite episode: For drama, the trilogy of MATERNAL INSTINCT/THE BITTER SUITE/ONE AGAINST AN ARMY. For comedy, BEEN THERE, DONE THAT.
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "To the caves!" THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER; Lao Ma: "You're wrong. I don't eat meat". THE DEBT I.
First episode seen: THE PRICE
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL is the one episode he wished he had never seen.

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