Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001

By Nathan Epstein
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
1949 words

The Criticisms (01-07)
Why the Criticisms (08-10)
A Needed Ending (11-17)


The Criticisms

Perhaps that 'Nyah Nyah you can't hit me' remark was inappropriate
Xena suffers a lot of physical damage and abuse in the finale.

[01] Let us face it: the show had to end. That is all anyone is upset about. However, there has been much noise about negative fan reactions to the final episode. Let us analyze a few of the common reactions, try to determine why this reaction occurred, and finally, explain why this was the right ending for the series. The fan reactions listed were derived from several media reports and a perusing of Xena websites.

[02] The first complaint lodged by fans is that the episode was too violent. Xena's death and the treatment of her body were too horrific and possibly misogynistic. The problem with this accusation is the innumerable previous instances of such treatment throughout the series. Xena was always about violence. Even the lightest comedy would have plenty of "good fights". The treatment of Xena here was hardly more gruesome than her treatment in WHO'S GURKHAN? or her treatment of Gabrielle in THE BITTER SUITE. Xena had both of her arms chopped off in THE WAY and she was crucified a number of times, each more horrific than the last.

[03] The show is violent. Most of the characters presented, good and evil, are women. Therefore, there is much violence towards women. This is no more misogynistic than a movie like Rocky or Rambo is misanthropic. It is a direct consequence of the structure of the show. If the show focused equally on male and female characters, and the female characters were often beaten and bloodied while the male characters emerged without a scratch, that might be misogyny. Xena herself was known to crucify her male opponents. Brutus died quite violently twice; Caesar as well, and again, twice; and Borias' death was very painful to watch.

[04] Accusations of misogyny would seem to be over-protective and unrealistic. Xena lived by the sword and she surely died by it. Did the producers go too far by graphically showing Xena's defiled corpse? If so, it certainly was not the first time.

[05] Another common complaint, and please note that it may not actually be a common fan complaint but merely one that the media enjoys, is that it follows a dangerous trend of female action leads being killed off. Examples provided are Jen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; both leads of Thelma and Louise; and Ripley from the Alien series. There are plenty of others one might add to that list, such as Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, though she, like Ripley-- and Xena and Gabrielle, on occasion-- comes back from the dead. There are also plenty of counter-examples: Sarah Connor survives both Terminator movies and Clarice Starling survives her encounters with Hannibal and other murderers. While Jen plummets to her apparent death, Shu Lien lives on. Do the critics' examples indicate an underlying assumption that women cannot be heroes and must be killed for trying? Maybe there is something else going on. Maybe action-oriented stories with female leads tend to be more serious, and as action implies violence, violence implies death. Perhaps these stories are merely more likely to deal with the consequences of the action they are built on.

[06] The last complaint is against the apparent finality of the episode. This is a difficult complaint to take seriously. How many characters have we seen come back from the dead on this show, and in how many different ways? Xena and Gabrielle themselves have both been dead multiple times and returned. Callisto died several times, even as a god. Alti currently holds the record, with five deaths and four returns. We can all look forward to her next revival. The producers could snap their fingers and have a new story, with Xena alive and well, in a matter of hours. Her death is hardly final.

[07] Personally, I believe bringing her back would be unnecessary and even inappropriate. There are plenty of stories that could be told about the warrior-bard who loves a ghost, if they felt like continuing at some point. The show could have gone on an entire season, with no core changes, keeping the same structure. The only difference would be that no one but Gabrielle could interact with Xena. A minor point, and before long the audience might not even give it a thought.

Why the Criticisms

[08] It did not take long to come up with these arguments. Anyone familiar with the show could have done the same. So, why are these criticisms being made? Why the negative reaction to this particular episode? If these are not the real reasons for some fans being upset, then what are? It most likely all comes down to a broken promise.

[09] Fans complain that Rob Tapert promised them that Xena would not be killed in the finale. He did so in this very journal, Whoosh ("Interview with Robert Tapert" WHOOSH #52 January 2001, http://whoosh.org/issue52/itapert1.html). I have no idea why he made that promise. Neither do I intend to make excuses for Mr. Tapert. I can only say I think it was a mistake to make a promise like that so far in advance. This promise fueled these fans' desires to have the show end exactly the way they wanted it, with the words "and they lived happily ever after". To have that built up in ones mind, and then instead to be given a seemingly permanent death, must have been painful. Even more so, as rumors leaked out months ago that this would happen. Some refused to believe them, based on the promise, a state of mind which eventually turned to "if that b*st*rd breaks his promise, I'm going to go berserk".

[10] Putting promises aside, is the ending appropriate to the series? What has the show really been about? Change, accepting consequences, and most importantly, the relationship.

A Needed Ending

For years afterwards, Gabrielle terrified villagers by throwing her voice and saying 'Help, help, let me out!'
Gabrielle sails off with the ashes of her friend.

[11] In ONE AGAINST AN ARMY, Gabrielle remembers her first meeting with Xena. "Take me with you," she says, "I want so much to be like you." "I want to be like you." Xena replies. As the show went on, they became more and more like each other. Gabrielle lost her naivete and her softness, and she became an excellent fighter, capable at times of as much brutality as Xena, in IDES OF MARCH and LEGACY (notably, only when Xena is threatened). Xena changed too, becoming more open, more sensitive, even avoiding violence at times; coming closer to Gabrielle. One could almost interpret the ending as a sign that they had both become so close, become so much alike, that only one of them was physically necessary, as they had become one person. Though that is not an interpretation a fan would enjoy.

[12] Another over-riding theme of the series is accepting the consequences of your actions. From day one Xena has been trying to make up for her past and from day one, she has been willing to accept death as her only redemption. The final episode is consistent with that theme. Even if Xena never intended what happened to those 40,000 souls, she readily accepted responsibility for them. Would Xena's sacrifice have been more palatable if, instead of an accident, she had willfully slaughtered every inhabitant of the city? Perhaps, but it would have dulled the importance of the message, that every action has a consequence. Her sacrifice brought her everything she could have wanted: a noble death in battle, the redemption from her past, a chance to find peace, and all of that while still staying at Gabrielle's side for all eternity.

[13] The show is a love story. We can all admit that now. There is more romance in the average episode than 90% of American entertainment. The ultimate romantic concept is that love can overcome anything. Death, the Rift, loss of memory, altered timelines, nothing can keep these characters apart. When Xena dies in DESTINY, Gabrielle finds a way to bring her back. When Gabrielle seems to die in SACRIFICE, Xena looks for a way to join her. When both die in IDES OF MARCH, they are content because they are still together. Only after being separated in the after-life do they return to the world of the living.

[14] The death of Xena in the final episode seems (see above) more final than the others. Yet even that is a small thing, a minor inconvenience perhaps, as shown by the last scene. After the time limit for her resurrection has expired, Xena still appears next to Gabrielle, puts her hand on her shoulder and says "Where you go, I'll follow". Even if this death stays final, it is still not enough to keep them apart. If the final scene had been Gabrielle alone on the boat, giving her little speech, and then dumping Xena's ashes into the ocean, with no sign of Xena's spirit, then we might have cause to be upset. That would have been inconsistent with and inappropriate to, the rest of the show. However, the ending we were given maintains consistency with the themes of the series.

[15] The last scene is the most important. We are left with the image. Moreover, it sums up the entire arc of the show and its characters. Gabrielle has done what she set out to do: become like Xena. Now she is the crusader for justice, the warrior, only without the baggage of Xena's past or Xena's lust for battle. Xena has accomplished her goals: finding redemption, forgiveness, and peace. Most importantly, the relationship is intact, and stronger than ever. The intimacy is heightened by the fact that Xena now only exists for Gabrielle.

[16] The negative fan reaction seems to only make sense in the context of Rob Tapert's promise not to kill Xena. It is understandable to be upset if you have been lied to. Take some time to let the wounds heal. Then watch the episode again, not thinking about promises. We all know how it ends now, there is nothing left to surprise or disappoint. Watch again, especially the last scene. It was the only ending that could sense, that could bring consistent closure to the series and its characters, all the while leaving plenty of room for more stories.

[17] Fan fiction writers have already begun what will surely be a flood of post-finale stories. Some bring Xena back right away and others keep her as the ghost that haunts Gabrielle. Rob Tapert has said he would "love to do a movie" (yeah, so would I). This may or may not be the last we see of Xena and Gabrielle. "Happily ever after" would have been far too final. The ending needed to achieve closure, while still leaving room for more stories. Xena, at its best, was a dark and complicated show. A fairy-tale ending would not have fit.


Nathan Epstein Nathan Epstein

I was born in Latvia in 1952, but I now live in a small cave in southern France, where I make my living selling shruberies. I recently found god (under a potted plant) and spend most of my time wondering if anyone actually reads these bios.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT, BETWEEN THE LINES, IDES OF MARCH, and FRIEND IN NEED Favorite line: Vidalis, "I think I might follow him and see if he needs a... sidekick." Gabrielle, "You know, it's good work if you can get it." BLIND FAITH

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