Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001

By Valerie A. Foster
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
4503 words

Introduction (01-06)
Not Really Sins of the Past, But Whatever... (07-09)
Slap Me, Beat Me, Make Me Bleed (10-14)
It is All Your Fault, Anne Heche! (15-30)
You Love Lucy (31-37)
Good Morning, Hiroshima (38-39)
Conclusion (40-43)



You're right, Xena.  They *do* run awfully slow!
Semper fi?

[01] For eight years, I served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Women who join the Marines go through several initial weeks of physical and mental challenges. Thus, simply stated, Marine Corps Boot Camp is h*ll. When you graduate, however, you have a sense of personal pride that is not equaled. You feel that there is no challenge that you cannot meet, no task that you cannot accomplish, or no *ss that you cannot kick. It is euphoric.

[02] The motto of the Marine Corps is Semper Fidelis, or "Always Faithful". Maintaining fidelity is paramount to the success of a "Corps". Without faithfulness, you do not have loyalty, pride, or cohesion. Betrayal is the antithesis of fidelity, hence, once a betrayal occurs, a "Corps" may eventually implode.

[03] So, how does this military jargon relate to the end of Xena: Warrior Princess? Very simple, the Xenaverse as I see it is a "Corps" of fans who have watched the show faithfully. They have given of themselves through charities and social causes, have become friends and sometimes lovers and spouses with other fans, have read and/or written fan fiction, have hosted and/or visit Xena-related websites, and have collectively spent millions of dollars on Xena-related merchandise and conventions.

[04] My problem with FRIEND IN NEED is solely not the structure or content of the finale, per se, although obvious problems exist. My big issue is with what I believe to be the "why" behind Producer Rob Tapert's decision to end the series the way he ended it. It is my firm belief that when Tapert lost his exclusive powers over the Xena: Warrior Princess franchise over three years ago, but retained creative control, he unilaterally decided to have the very last word with regards to HIS "vision". Creatively, he could have done 132 different things with the finale that would have satisfied most of the loyal fans who stayed with this show to the end. The same fans who rallied on his behalf over THE WAY controversy, gave thousands of dollars to charities in Xena's honor, in Lucy Lawless' honor, in Renee O' Connor and Steve Muir's honor, in Julius' honor. He could have created a finale that would have satisfied most of those loyal fans that made he and his wife wealthy.

[05] He chose to use his creative power to destroy the franchise. That is his betrayal to the Xenaverse.

[06] Five prevailing factors support my theory. One, the ridiculously unnecessary reason behind Xena's decision to stay dead. Two, the blatantly misogynistic manner in which Xena had to die. Three, the way the Taperts' chose to address subtext. Four, Tapert's need to chart a course for his wife's post-Xena career. Finally, five, the decision to use some very tasteless themes as a veritable nail in a coffin.

Not Really Sins Of The Past, But Whatever...

[07] For two weeks leading up to FRIEND IN NEED, fans were reacquainted with two old favorites, SINS OF THE PAST and CALLISTO. These two episodes seem to serve as a catalyst for what lie ahead. The main theme of both episodes was clearly redemption, that a person who committed horrible atrocities can find redemption through doing good. At the beginning of SINS OF THE PAST, Xena was about to give up on being a warrior, period. Burying her weapons, it was her desire to go home to Amphipolis and reunite with her estranged mother, Cyrene. An attack on some villagers and a perky little blond woman named Gabrielle changed all of that. In CALLISTO, Xena faced a living, breathing victim of her evil past. This victim, Callisto, had also chosen the path of evil, and yet Xena still, with Gabrielle's help, held onto the hope of redemption for herself and for Callisto. As we all know now, Callisto would go on to do some pretty nasty things, but in the end, as the show was written, as a part of Rob Tapert's "vision", Callisto found redemption and rebirth as both herself and as Eve.

[08] Throughout the series, practically everyone who sought redemption found it. Xena and Gabrielle found it several times themselves. Thus, why all of a sudden are redemption, atonement, forgiveness, and a commitment to doing good no longer viable resolutions to past misdeeds? Why, all of a sudden, is vengeance the only solution?

[09] Why? Because Tapert did not know or did not care that the majority of loyal fans would never accept the idea that Xena needed to stay dead to avenge 40,000 souls that she was not even directly responsible for enslaving. This is exactly what I mean when I speak of betrayal. The ending did not necessarily have to be sappy happy, not even happy really. At least it should have been consistent to the themes presented on the show from the first episode. The closure that was taken by Tapert was to retain personal control over his "vision" to the end, and an absolute slap in the face to many of those most loyal to the ultimate concepts of the show.

Slap Me, Beat Me, Make Me Bleed

Why lawn seats at the concert aren't always a good idea
Xena takes a lot of damage in her final battle.

[10] I did not have a problem with the way Xena chose to end her life, although the beheading was downright gratuitous. She died fighting for a greater good, which is the best way I personally believe she should have died. "Go out and take a few of 'em with you," I say. My problem is with the post-mortem display and what subsequently happens with "Ghost Xena". Here is a show that is synonymous with all that is linked with feminism and female empowerment. Yet, millions of adoring female fans, many of them teens and children, are subjected to a level of pure misogyny that one comes to expect in a mad slasher horror film, like Evil Dead. If a man had played the character of Xena, I would have never started watching the show. It was the fact that Xena is a woman that makes her character exceptional and distinctive as a warrior. Thus, killing Xena the way Tapert chose to kill her makes it innately misogynistic.

[11] It is that level of violence that Tapert chose to both get his point across about retribution and to dominate over his "vision" that is most disturbing and unnecessary. In my honest opinion, there was an added emphasis on misogyny by displaying a naked, headless, and foreign woman for all of the troops to see. Consider this: would those Samurai have displayed a "noble" male opponent naked and hanging, with his family jewels dangling, like hunted pig meat? Seeing that image immediately reminded me of Michael Skupin, one of Survivor II's contestants. In one episode, he hunted a wild pig. He slaughtered the pig and all of the members of his tribe proceeded to indulge in pork ribs, bacon, pigs' feet, pork chops, etc. In between scenes of cutesy Elizabeth Filarski and hotter 'n h*ll Alicia Calaway eating pork, we see shots of this dead animal strung up to a tree, bloody, headless, and lifeless...just like Xena

[12] I recognize that Tapert was painting a picture of feudal Japan. Nothing against feudal Japan, but this, and by "this" I mean the TV audience, is not feudal Japan. Your average Jane Fan did not come away from these images recognizing the respect that the Japanese warriors had for Xena, especially given the fact that prior beheadings on Xena: Warrior Princess were far from respectful. The only image many folks went away with was the image of their beloved hero dangling headless and naked. It was sick.

[13] To add salt to an already festering wound, within fifteen minutes of each other, we see a headless, naked dead Xena and then we see Ghost Xena being thrown around the room and then whipped, stripped bare of her clothing, demoralized and labeled a whore by this soul eater, Yodoshi.

[14] Makes me wonder.

It is All Your Fault, Anne Heche!

[15] Once upon a time, two young women were haphazardly thrown together in a low budget, campy, syndicated show. From almost the very beginning, in an embryonic stage, if you will, these two women had something that their predecessors "Kate and Allie", "Jo and Blair", nor "Cagney and Lacey" did not have. Chemistry. It was not something that they started. It was not something that they had planned. They simply had it. The fans noticed it. Film editor Robert Fields and producer Liz Friedman noticed it and eventually Line producer Steve Sears noticed it. Apparently, Rob Tapert either never really got the hint, or if he did, he responded to it as if it was a bad case of crabs. Once the powers that be noticed it and the ratings being generated from it, they began playing it up. Fields, Sears, and the others may have helped in raising that baby, but Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor carried it through to gestation.

[16] For years, Lucy Lawless had been saying in interview after interview that lesbians identified with the show because it portrayed two women traveling together without the constant interference of a male protagonist. Of course, that was not even remotely correct. It was the way both Lawless and O'Connor portrayed the two characters of Xena and Gabrielle, consciously or unconsciously, that sparked subtext from lesbian, bisexual and straight fans alike. For Lawless, reality finally struck on June 19, 2001, when she herself viewed FRIEND IN NEED at the Museum of Television in Los Angeles and then acknowledged subtext during her appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien the following evening.

[17] If one were to take Lucy Lawless' conclusion as true, sadly, her revelation came on the cusp of the oldest, most offensive portrayal of lesbians on celluloid: the premise that lesbians cannot be happy, so one of them has to either go back to men or die. The bottom line for fans of subtext is that for them, who have grown to see Xena and Gabrielle as lesbian archetypes, this ending is a predictable and tired cliche.

[18] Rob Tapert may have broken some grounds with the role of women in the action genre, but he did little, if anything, to lift the taboo of a true love, in love, love story between two women. Not once did he personally ever acknowledge an in-love situation between Xena and Gabrielle. Quite the contrary, he crafted his "vision" by playing the "sexual tension" game. It was a variation thereof commonly known as "throwing the subtexters an occasional bone". On the one hand, in pure chronological timeline terms, Marcus was the last person with which Xena experienced sexual intimacy (in MORTAL BELOVED from season one) and Xena did not conceive Eve with the assistance of a male partner. However, as late as the latter part of season five, Tapert had Xena displaying feelings for someone other than Gabrielle, in this case Antony in Antony and Cleopatra. Then there was that running Xena/Ares/Gabrielle threesome theme of season six.

[19] Xena and/or Gabrielle could kiss men with whom they were not in love, including Ares, Joxer, Petricles, Lucifer, Caligula, Antony, Rafe, Borias, Draco, Virgil, Hercules and Iolaus, to name a few. Conversely, not one of the female/female "kisses" on Xena: Warrior Princess, including the very homoerotic one in FRIEND IN NEED (thank you, Lucy and Renee) was between two women awake, not in need of water or oxygen, real, alive or in their right mind.

[20] To make matters worse, in FRIEND IN NEED the word "friend" was thrown around so much, I started thinking that I was reliving that Hercules: The Legendary Journey series finale all over again, and what a painful experience that was. The "old friend" line was particularly irritating. It was almost as if they were trying to placate, at the last minute, the non-subtexters out there.

[21] What has been ultimately painful to watch is two women who unequivocally love each other, but who have not been allowed to express that love in the most beautiful, intimate way. That is the ultimate tragedy of Xena: Warrior Princess, in my opinion. I was not seeking HBO-level raw sex. I do not believe that most subtexters desired to see Xena and Gabrielle get wet and naked outside of a hot tub. However, in this Post-Ellen era, when Willow can come out and live in Buffy, where Kerrie Weaver can come out and live in E.R., where Will can be Will and Jack can be Just Jack in Will and Grace, and where a raw show like Queer as Folk can debut and survive on premium cable, would it have hurt Tapert to acknowledge Xena and Gabrielle's romantic love while he was thumbing his nose at Studio USA and "showing his defiance"?

[22] After all of the bones that Tapert threw at the fans, his ending the franchise with Xena and Gabrielle forever ambiguously "gay" is homophobic.

[23] Harsh? Consider this: If Tapert had fashioned a television show about a tall, dark, and deadly reformed warrior named Xenon, with say, Denzel Washington playing the role, (not that he could get an actor like Denzel, but we are hypothesizing here) and Renee O'Connor portrayed his trusted ally, Gabrielle, the show would, at the starting gate, be considered bold because of the decision to team a black man and a white woman in the leads. Let us say for the sake of arguing that the show is a hit. Let us assume that people start up websites and chat rooms about the show and its two characters. Let us assume further that people start wondering if Xenon and Gabrielle are ever going to become an item, a la David/Mattie, Scully/Mulder, Scarecrow/Ms. King, Lois/Clark, Ross/Rachael, Dr. Ross/Nurse Hathaway, Buffy/Angel, etc, etc. Now, let us say that Tapert starts toying with the idea, throwing out hints here and there...you know, your "sexual tension". However, despite their intense friendship and their constant declarations of love, a full-blown romantic relationship never comes even close to fruition.

[24] Let us say that the show stays on the air for six years, and in those six years they kill for each other, die for each other, die with each other, and come back to life together several times. In the season finale, Xenon dies and stays dead. In the course of that long six years, they never even kiss while both are alive, awake or sane, they never acknowledge that they are in love with each other, and their departing words are, "I'll always be with you in your heart, old friend."

[25] Given that scenario, I would conclude that the producer was a tad bit racist and I would be a tad bit offended.

[26] Although it is evident that Tapert may not have any racial hang-ups, it is laughable to label Tapert a champion for lesbian equality and/or visibility, as some have done. I suspect that he would refuse either label, and he certainly does not deserve them. He deserves credit for allowing what was already there to continue unabated, but he also kept it stifled, painfully stifled, and stifled to the end.

[27] I do not see Tapert's decision to kill Xena as homophobic, per se. I see it as a hypocritical cliche, which promotes homophobia. Had Xena been a male character and Gabrielle a female character, or vice versa, their relationship would have evolved into that of romantic/sexual one seasons ago. No social pressures, no children to protect from homosexual corruption and violence, and no studio executives to pacify. Because they were both women with incredible chemistry, Tapert felt that he needed to cater to whatever force out there that was just not willing to accept a lesbian angle. He had to make solid business choices. Ratings are important. He wants to make money. I can accept that.

[28] However, this was the end of the series. He constructed this ending, in my honest opinion, to end a franchise and prevent anyone from coming behind him and redoing what was his original "vision". There were no more solid business choices to make. The continual goal of high ratings no longer applied. So, he took liberties with social pressures, and the level of violence he used suggested that he was no longer concerned about corrupting children. However, in the end he still clung to the original concept that since Xena is not a male, any hint at a romantic/sexual relationship between Xena and Gabrielle will forever remain intangible. For those who saw the "relationship", Xena dies, so the Well of Loneliness remains quite full.

[29] This was Tapert's "vision". But I ask, why was it his "vision"? My own personal answer is that he was not willing to make HIS Xena a lesbian. And why not? Because it is my firm belief, that Tapert was of the opinion that making Xena a lesbian would have reduced and illegitimated her status as a television icon and a hero.

[30] That is homophobia.

You Love Lucy

Trying to outdo Callisto on the pin cushion thing is a bad idea if you're not a god
Not exactly the most protective armour.

[31] It is no secret to many in the Xena fandom that Rob Tapert had been orchestrating Lucy Lawless' post-Xena career. Much of the decision making that fans have observed, especially in this last season, had been an obvious attempt to break her away from the "Xena-as-tough-broad" stereotype and showcase her marketability as a sex symbol, as opposed to, say, a talented actress, after the series ended. This was most obvious in the sixth season, or as I prefer to refer to it, "Lucy's Season of Skin". When asked at the Pasadena Convention this year why we were "treated" to so many scenes of Lawless' midriff, when we hardly ever saw it in the seasons prior to the birth of Julius, the actress responded that the idea was not hers. Surprise, surprise.

[32] Let me premise this by saying that I have absolutely no problem with Tapert's desire to promote his wife's sex appeal for future endeavors, if that is what he believes to be her strongest selling point. I think that her acting talent would be a greater selling point, but I digress. They are in a business to make money, and as a Capitalist, I can respect that. She has already use other outlets, i.e. the Maxim and Stuff magazine spreads, to display her sex kitten qualities. These qualities, however, were not at all necessary to hold the interests of most of the fans, and it was clear that the fans did not factor in Tapert's decision to overtly accentuate these qualities, much to the detriment of FRIEND IN NEED.

[33] Displaying Lawless as a slimmed-down passive sex kitten was painfully obvious in the series finale. In the first scene of part one, after the teaser, we see Xena and Gabrielle on a boat bound for feudal Japan. Gabrielle is gracefully sparing with the monk, Kenji, the messenger sent by Akemi. Xena is uncharacteristically sitting on the quarterdeck, posed like a pinup. A friend of mine remarked that the image of Xena in that scene reminded her a great deal of the late actress Jane Mansfield, a Marilyn Monroe-like sex pistol of the late 50s and early 60s, who died in a car crash in 1967, at age 33 by decapitation, ironically. The flashback with Akemi again gave viewers another scene of Xena's midriff. It was the middle of winter, but Xena chose to attire herself only in a bra, undies, and a sword under her fur cloak. Later, in the teaser in part two, she buried her breastplate, sword, grieves, gauntlets and battledress so that she could wear this outfit straight out of Flash Gordon, accentuated breasts, very short skirt, bare midriff and all, to fight 20,000 Samurai in a foggy Japanese forest.

[34] Xena has died on the show several times. Her first time afterlife involved inhabiting the body of Autolycus in THE QUEST. Not a bad gig, since she was able to speak, kiss Gabrielle, and fight through him. Her next go around at death involved ending up in Illusia in THE BITTER SUITE. Again, not that shabby of an afterlife. She was allowed to have it out with Gabrielle, sing and then come back to life with her soul mate on a beach, a-la From Here to Eternity. When Xena and Gabrielle died in IDES OF MARCH, they ended up in Heaven and then Hell and then back in Heaven together, all the while wielding swords. When they "bit it" in LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE, they took a much needed and very long nap.

[35] When Xena dies for the last time in FRIEND IN NEED, she initially appears to be doomed to an eternity of prostitution.

[36] Despite Rob Tapert's blatantly obvious attempts at shedding Lucy Lawless from her Xena image, the irony here is that in cold reality, most people who are not in the Xena: Warrior Princess fandom, people who have never really watched the show, will always associate the name Lucy Lawless with "Xena" because that is how she has always been regarded. I remember very well the Just Shoot Me promo back during Mid-Season Sweeps. NBC was promoting "stars" on its entire Thursday night lineup that week. Of all of the celebrities mentioned in the promo, including Jason Alexander, Susan Sarandon, and Sally Field, Lucy Lawless was identified as "Xena" rather than as Lucy Lawless. The next week, Pamela Anderson, the star of the syndicated show V.I.P. appeared on Just Shoot Me as a guest. In the promo, NBC identified her as Pamela Anderson.

[37] This is not to say that Lucy Lawless' acting career is doomed. Quite the contrary, she has the capacity to formulate a wonderfully enterprising life for herself in that industry. It was completely unnecessary for her husband to reduce her current television character, a television character that broke new grounds for women and opened many minds, into that of a meek sex toy in a lame and hopeless attempt to shed her from that image. Tapert gets credit for creating Xena: Warrior Princess, but I must retrieve that same credit for his subsequent actions. He made many of his creative decisions, especially with regard to subtext, because he believed that it was helping with ratings, as he also believed that parading his wife's post-Julius weight loss and belly throughout season six would help with her pinup image. For Tapert, it was never about making a conscious decision to open minds, break grounds or maintain loyalty to the fans.

Good Morning, Hiroshima

[38] There were some tasteless moments in FRIEND IN NEED. To chronicle them all would result in another entire article. Thus, I will limit my list to the one moment I thought was particularly ill chosen. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the United States, we will be hearing Pearl Harbor stories ad nauseam from now until December 7, 2001. What Tapert seemed to have forgotten from his high school history class, however, was that the Americans bombed Japan twice in 1945. They were the first nuclear bombs dropped on an enemy for the specific purpose of killing thousands of civilians. So what did "All American Boy" Tapert do? Fifty-five years after the tragic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he showed us a season ender where a nuclear-like bomb explodes in Japan.

[39] Now, how tasteless and dense is that?


[40] I have watched FRIEND IN NEED twice now. I will say that on the surface, it is a beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted episode. On a completely shallow level, as one who came into the fandom much later than many in the Xenaverse, I was entertained, somewhat. However, as a fan, a member of the "Xenaverse", a member of the "Corps", I am angered over the betrayal of Rob Tapert in his decision to destroy the franchise. Over the last few days, I have managed to sit back and reflect upon with whom we all have been dealing over the last six years.

[41] As someone recently reminded me, Tapert's entire career has been mapped in chop-schlocky slash films and syndicated fantasy television shows. He is not in the same league as a John Wells, a Michael Creighton, a David Chase, a Jerry Bruckheimer, or even a Joss Whedon. He did not need to answer to a higher power (the networks/premium cable) nor did he strive to create Golden Globe/Emmy-quality material. We would never buy into the notion that Matt Parker and Trey Stone (those two sick and twisted guys behind South Park -- a sick and twisted show that I happen to dig, by the way) could produce a quality series such as The West Wing or The Sopranos. Tapert was a forty-something guy living out his action-hero-with-a-set-of-nice-b**bs fantasy. What we the fans received were a couple of talented women, haphazardly thrown together, but exuding chemistry only the gods could have given them, and this forty-something guy picking up this fumble and running eighty yards for a touchdown.

[42] Thus, in hindsight, should we have expected more from Rob Tapert? I suppose one could argue that he could have educated himself when it became clear to him that his show was having a profound effect on certain segments of the viewership. In reality, unfortunately, he remained clueless, either intentionally or unintentionally, and clueless until the end.

[43] Does this excuse the fallacies of his "vision" in FRIEND IN NEED in my opinion? NO.


Valerie Foster. Yes, Lucy, There Is Still a Subtext on Xena. WHOOSH #37 (October 1999)

Valerie Foster. No Rob, Subtext Did Not Ruin Xena. WHOOSH #50 (November 2000)


Valerie A. Foster Valerie A. Foster

I am a native of Detroit, but I currently reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a.k.a. the "Michigan Bible Belt," where I am an attorney and adjunct professor. I am an outdoors lover who enjoys traveling, taking my dog on long walks, riding my Sea-Doo and tending to my yard and roses. I also write fan fiction. Writing under my fanfic moniker, C.J. Wells, my award-winning series, entitled "The Embrace/Freedom Conqueror Series" and its sequel "Conqueror's Campaign" can be found at LynKa's Xena Page and Governal's Annals of the Conqueror Annex.
Favorite line: "Demon" Gabrielle to "Demon" Callisto: "You know what I think? You wanted them to die so you'd have a reason to be a bitch." FALLEN ANGEL
First episode seen: LOST MARINER - in rerun.
Least favorite episode: Still much of the fifth season following THEM BONES, THEM BONES.

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