Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001

By Tara Gregg
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
1558 words

I Wanted To Like It (01-02)
Xena's Death: First Sacrifice (03-04)
Xena's Spirit: Final Sacrifice (05-06)
Physicality Of The Characters (07-09)
The Hero's Spiritual Journey (10-11)
The Friendship (12)


I Wanted to Like It

What is the sound of one bard snoring, Gabrielle?  Gabrielle??
Xena imparts some final lessons to Gabrielle.

[01] I wanted to like Xena's big send off. I suspected for years that Rob Tapert would kill Xena off in the final episode. Therefore, I was not shocked when she died. However, I was disappointed in the way they did it. The audience got a hodge-podge of mixed motivations, loose plot, and in many ways a betrayal of the characters' central being. What FRIEND IN NEED did in Part One was great. However, Part Two undermined the very fabric of the show. It was a deconstructionalist "wonder" that left many of us questioning if Tapert paid attention to Seasons Four and Five at all, because nothing in those seasons led up to the motivations and actions of either Xena or Gabrielle in this final episode. What follows is my attempt to cover several points in regards to how FRIEND IN NEED II, failed to be the definitive finale some of us had hoped for.

[02] First off, Tapert played fast and loose with the numbers game. Big honking numbers for big effect! We were meant to feel things were more important and more dramatic because Xena was fighting for 40, 000 souls against 20, 000 strong. Okay, if you say so. To add to the effect, our hero inflicted the first "atom" bomb (on Japan no less). Whoa! That was jarring. How was this to be interpreted as a heroic action, again? She kills 20, 000 soldiers to save more souls? I am still pondering that one.

Xena's Death: First Sacrifice

[03] Then concerning Xena's physical death, Xena died not in a blaze of glory but in a foggy haze up against a nameless warlord, who was fighting for who knows what -- was he working for Yoshido or was he just pillaging? Xena was made into an arrow pincushion and had her head cut off by a cowardly warrior. That was Xena's physical death. Horrific and not much of a send off for a hero defined by her physical prowess. Why did the writers not give her an honorable physical death? It would have been preferable for me to have watched Xena commit Sepu-ku (Hari-Kari), i.e., killed herself. After all, she was in Japan. Historically, that was an honorable way for a Samurai to go, and rid himself of shame. That would have been a far more understandable act of suicide than bombing an army and getting herself hacked to death. Sepu-ku would have been an appropriate Xena choice, and an act of atonement for the wrongful deaths of the villagers. It seemed like that was what was going to happen in FRIEND IN NEED I.

[04] The psychological underpinnings of Xena's motivations unravel further when you consider a more dramatic opportunity that the writers overlooked. It would have been more effective had Xena come full circle to defend Amphipolis, her home village from attackers. After all, she defended it when a young girl and soon after became evil Xena, so returning home to defend it as "good" Xena, would have far more emotional impact for the audience. There would be a pre-set emotional understanding. Instead, she was in a remote village in Japan defending spirits she did not know she killed, and sacrificing herself two times - once physically, and once spiritually.

Xena's Spirit: Final Sacrifice

Xena over-emotes upon learning the milk turned sour
Xena's combat death was only part of the final sacrifice.

[05] A loose plot point in FRIEND IN NEED II was the question of when did Xena learn she had to stay dead? Akemi never told her this, at least not in what we saw. In fact, the last thing she said is that Xena was "cleansed". Then why does Xena need to sacrifice herself and stay dead for the souls to be in a state of grace? The demon enslaved them. He was killed and Xena set them free. This tack-on of extra "grace" needed to appease the cosmic "retribution" appeared a convenient way to keep Xena dead, but was not a satisfying resolution for the audience. We had seen her great friend Gabrielle valiantly set out to save her, only to not be able to save her, well, because Xena said "no". This was too sudden for many in the audience to suspend belief. I personally could not buy this dramatic "rabbit out of the hat".

[06] Then there were aspects of FRIEND IN NEED that were unsettling primarily because they threw out many of the central characterizations that were crucial to the basis of the show.

Physicality Of The Characters

[07] FRIEND IN NEED II'S undermines Xena for not being aware that the show's primary underpinning is on Xena's physical presence.

[08] Xena is foremost a physical action hero. Her being is defined by her physical actions. She jumps, yells, kicks, slashes, and punches her way through a conflict. She is a warrior. So it is a let down that in FRIEND IN NEED II for the last half of the show she is fighting as a spirit. It is difficult seeing the action as visceral, or of consequence for Xena as she is a ghost (and dead already).

[09] Fans looking for that glimmer of "love" between Xena and Gabrielle are let down as well. Fans would not dispute that Xena and Gabrielle love each other. What die-hard Xena and Gabrielle 'shippers have anticipated and watched for over the years is some sign that their relationship is physical. People want to know if they "love" one another. Hence, the attention paid to the smallest touch and the playful interaction. So, what happens in FRIEND IN NEED II? We are supposed to believe somehow that Gabrielle can interact with Xena's spirit physically. Huh? Why is that? How is that? Then in comes the "water-kiss"? Gabrielle's "kissing" Xena is a form of reductionism, a non-event if you will, as she is not interacting with the real Xena, but her spirit. 'Shippers cheated again!

The Hero's Spiritual Journey

Boy am I glad I won't have to go any further than India again!
Xena ends another spiritual quest in THE WAY.

[10] Xena's journey is one of atonement. Although it has never been defined as an overtly Christian one, Xena's spiritual journey should be seen in the context as it was defined in the episode THE WAY. She fights with her sword, following the warrior's creed. The nature of her character is one founded on heroes of Ancient Greece. Her cruel streak and super-hero powers have roots in the Athenas and Atalantas of ancient Greece. On the other hand, Gabrielle's way is one of love and Christian parable. What has offset their friendship is Xena's protecting her friend from the violence in her soul, and Gabrielle showing Xena goodness and forgiveness. She has become more violent, and accepted fighting as the "battling bard", only because she remains at Xena's side.

[11] Where did the mentor/student relationship suddenly come from? Why was it so heavily played up in FRIEND IN NEED, when this was not central to their relationship since Season One? Xena shows Gabrielle "the pinch" and has taught Gabrielle everything she knows, so therefore she can now die and Gabrielle can become a full warrior? Tapert did a disservice to Gabrielle's character that in the end she takes over the mantle of the Warrior Princess. Is this supposed to be plausible? She is now on the warrior's way, guarded by Xena's spirit? This is to be Gabrielle's future path? It did not seem to be one she would choose for herself, based on her character's story arcs in both the Dahak/Celtic arcs in Season Three and in India in Season Four. Nor was this the path that Xena would pick for Gabrielle. There was a reason Xena never showed her "the pinch". She understood Gabrielle's heroic journey was different from hers. So it is an odd choice of path Gabrielle, one that does not "sync" with her heroic journey.

The Friendship

[12] Finally, what are fans left with in terms of Xena and Gabrielle's friendship, the cornerstone of the show? We are left with a quasi-alive scenario where spirit Xena can touch and interact with Gabrielle, but essentially, she is dead. That is not only sad, it is corny. It cheapens death. It cheapens each warrior's journey. It cheapens Xena's sacrifices. Xena's last moment with Gabrielle on the boat should have been axed in favor of Gabrielle alone on the boat. I would have liked hers to be the last words of the series, and that she said "forever in my heart", like an echo of the fans.


Tara Gregg Tara Gregg

Hailing from Vancouver BC in Canada, Tara tries to not let her opinions get the better of her. She enjoys TV with action heroes, a good comic book, and a nice walk in the woods and works a 9-5 job with an e-commerce company.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT
Favorite line: Xena: "I like to be creative in a fight. It gets my juices going." Gabrielle: "Can we cook with your juices?" A DAY IN THE LIFE
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (yes a fan from day one)
Least favorite episode: LIFE BLOOD

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