Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001

By D.J. Hall
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
3838 words

No More Safety Nets (01-02)
The Curse of Series Finales (03-05)
Trust No One, Even The X-Files (06-09)
There is Always that Fatal Flaw (10-14)
You Should Have Listened to Jiminy, Xena (15-16)
You Should Have Listened to the Fans, Rob (17-21)
You Should Have Listened to Rob, Fans (22)
It All Comes Down to Love and Tragedy (23-29)
Resolution is for Wimps (30-38)
The Questions Keep Coming (39-41)


No More Safety Nets

Perhaps if Xena had Gabrielle's sense of battle-fashion, she'd have fared better
Gabrielle discovers Xena's body.

[01] It is time to go our separate ways. All good things must end. It is what happens when you take something too seriously. Xena's demise is about you and I (and Gabrielle - let us not forget her) going on without a net. You brilliant things, it is time to move on and make your own stuff! Quit sulking about over your trivial pursuits and use your amazing intellects and imaginations for building something new, something uniquely your own.

[02] I know. You know. We all have lives. We all know the difference between reality and fantasy. We all know. However, like The Powers That Be, we just do not care.

The Curse of Series Finales

[03] In watching FRIEND IN NEED (What friend? Why that title?), I was reminded of another series' finale some years ago: Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG). Titled "All Good Things", the episode was little more than a bit of time travel fluff, a lot of tension, and an obvious resolution with Picard finally sitting down to play a game of cards with his crew, as the Enterprise-D flew off into the sunset and a new movie franchise. ST:TNG was a not-so-brilliant show that made up in acting talent what it lacked in original storytelling. I often thought they should just kill off all the characters except Data, Worf, and Picard since they never used them anyway. Much the same could be said for Xena: Warrior Princess.

[04] As portrayed by the irrepressible Lucy Lawless and the highly underrated Renee O'Connor, Xena and Gabrielle became more than just the comic book character tripe they were drawn out to be. Both actors are perfect foils for one another in their characterizations. They are physically suited to their roles and both capable of a wide-range of expression. It did not hurt, either, that they were the only main cast members, making it far easier to delegate material to a duo than a large crew, such as ST:TNG.

[05] However, a small cast does not always insure great storytelling. The X-Files may be the only example of consistently great writing for a series, but even fans of that show, myself included, have noted the last two or three seasons have been, well, kind of lacking. Too much of a good thing, is not a good thing, I guess.

Trust No One, Even The X-Files

[06] Interestingly, Xena has paralleled The X-Files in several ways over the years: both shows involve a tall, dark, and brooding protagonist, eager for truth, in whatever shape it can be found, be it aliens or forgiveness. Their younger, and shorter, partner, whose brains, beauty, and compassion become the center of the protagonist's life and quest for completion, dominates both shows. Both shows are about two against the odds. Both shows have featured creepy kids and some bad guys who smoke. Both shows enjoy rabid fans that are convinced their heroes are soulmates and should never be parted for any reason whatsoever.

[07] I could mention the Buffy, The Vampire Slayer parallel as well, including the trend of killing off the Central *ss Kicker, but that would be reaching a bit.

[08] After all, Xena: Warrior Princess was unique. There are not many television shows that have a season finale involving the crucifixion of the principle actors. If they did that on Friends, I would watch. Fewer than that have a character who leaves her village to run off with a reformed warlord who may or may not be crazy, become an Amazon queen, give birth to a demon child, develop foot rot, head lice, have "issues" with spirituality, and still have time to document her adventures in verse, become possessed by evil spirits, betray her true love, and do the dishes.

[09] And you thought Xena was complicated.

There Is Always that Fatal Flaw

[10] Like ST:TNG however, Xena had a fatal flaw: consistency. No one episode of ST:TNG seemed to matter to another, and character development was usually tossed out the closest airlock. Over the course of six years, Xena and Gabrielle went on their happy, picaresque way, with little thought as to where they would end up next or even why they set out in the first place.

[11] Yes, I know. I know. Xena needed to redeem herself. This was a big deal, Once Upon A Time in the Xenaverse. Xena was bad. Really bad. She was stinky Bad. She was so bad, she wore black. She was so bad, even the God of War was hot for her. She was so bad (How bad was she?), when she went to the beach, she would kick sand in her own face. She was so bad, her poo-poo could scare flies away. She was so bad, when she got up in the morning her box of Rice Krispies would sit in the pack and go, "Ssh! Here she comes!" She was so bad, that, when asked, other evil warlords would say: "Xena? She's just so bad!"

[12] And she knew everybody.

[13] Being all over the map in every sense of the word, Xena: Warrior Princess should have been worldlier in its approach to storytelling. More often than not, though, we were served up ancient platitudes of love and forgiveness and stuff like, 'killing people is a really bad thing, so do not do it unless they are really bad people'.

[14] Xena's guilty conscience went deeper than the Aegean, but her morals were not always sound, hence the appearance of her own Jiminy Cricket, Gabrielle.

You Should Have Listened to Jiminy, Xena

Mixing wasabi for large parties
Xena prevents Gabrielle from bringing her back to life at the last moment.

[15] Gabrielle started out as a naive village virgin, half-insane with boredom and a burgeoning bardliness that forced her to blather on about next to nothing for hours. She could talk a centaur's legs off and still convince it to go for a ride afterward. Her charm lay in her sheer optimism and unflagging good will towards all asundry. She was short, cute, and eventually had abs of steel: no wonder the Amazons loved her. Xena is another matter.

[16] Xena and Gabrielle came to share an almost symbiotic relationship, one could not be hurt without it affecting the other. In a similar way, a symbiotic relationship grew between Xena's fans and The Powers That Be behind the show itself.

You Should Have Listened to the Fans, Rob

[17] The Internet has been the perfect stomping ground for the fascinating and footloose Xenaverse. A cyber society of possibly millions from around the world, they prefer to spend their spare time writing their own Xena fiction, making their own Xena artwork, or just chatting about all things Xena. Their unflagging optimism and good will to all asundry (sound familiar?), not to mention their relentless campaigns for more subtext (a word I had never heard before in my life, and me with a BA in English!), or maintext, or context or whatever-text that did more than imply a lesbian relationship between the two heroes. More about plot devices later.

[18] Approximately three years ago I found myself up late one night, glued to my computer monitor the way I had once been glued to a television screen as a child, websearching a dozen or so 'cult' television shows for no reason whatsoever (obsessive-compulsive disorders run in my family), when I discovered the Xenaverse. The range and magnitude of all the fan sites I found, especially Mary D's Australian Xena Information Page (http://www.ausxip.com) and Whoosh impressed me. I was astonished at the professionalism, the dedication, and drive of the individuals behind this bizarre and wonderful new culture. I found myself, like so many of you, coming back repeatedly. I was not half as captivated with the show itself as I was with the fans and their endless creativity.

[19] I am convinced that, one day, the term 'fan fiction' will be found in the Oxford English Dictionary and the World Book Encyclopedia. If Homer Simpson's "Doh!" can make it, so can we.

[20] From inspired epics boasting two hundred chapters or more, to Japanese Haiku (bless you!), from satire to cartoon, mouth-watering erotica, outrageous slash (another great fan term that will, no doubt, enter the mainstream lexicon one day), literary larceny and multi-character crossovers to boggle the imagination. The real genius of Xena is not Xena at all, it is her fans.

[21] Can it be argued that no one episode of the actual series has been as rewarding or more brilliant than some of the e-novels we have read on the Net? If Lucy Lawless is right and her show is merely a mirror of the audience, are we merely projecting our own desires and fantasies onto a series that can never live up to our expectations? We go where we want to go, should we blame Tapert and Co. if they cannot go there as well? Then again, if we can create some nasty adventures and decidedly unhappy endings, could not Tapert as well? I mean, let us not be hypocritical people.

You Should Have Listened to Rob, Fans

[22] FRIEND IN NEED is not brilliant, by any means. Like most Xena stories, the plot itself is loaded with ridiculous devices:

  • 40,000 people lived in the 'town' of Higuchi? I have no idea what 40,000 citizens meant in ancient Japan, but where I come from, that is a city!

  • How can a 'town' of 40,000, burning out of control, be saved from total destruction by one little water tower?

  • Why would Xena take off to Japan in the first place? Akemi was a questionable character at best, who used Xena rather selfishly, not like the noble Lao Ma.

  • Why is it Xena has never told Gabrielle all about her past? Why does the poor bard only find out about these things when some doomed messenger shows up and begs for help on behalf of some dead chick Xena once hung out with?

  • Okay, I give -- why the costume change, Big X? I agree the burying of the breastplate and leathers is all very symbolic and full-circley, but really! You will catch your death running around half-naked like that.

  • Why is it these two only get to swap spit when one of them is dead or in a coma?

  • If it takes a ghost to kill Yodoshi, why could Akemi not do it herself? I thought Xena taught her everything! Tsk tsk. Bad student! Bad student!

  • Am I the only one who thinks Akemi is the most evil character in the Xenaverse? She seduces Xena into sharing all her warrior secrets, including the prized pinch, betrays her by not telling her about her plans to punish daddy, and then, just to add insult to injury, asks Xena to kill her, to restore her honor. Hmmph. THEN she has the UNMITIGATED GALL to call upon Xena to take all the blame for her actions, and what thanks does Gabrielle get? A funky tattoo and a jug of ashes. You killed Xena! You B*tch!

  • Top Three Visuals From Season Six We Do Not Want To Remember:
               3. Gabrielle on a spit.
               2. Gabrielle and Virgil on the rug.
               1. Xena's body - minus her head.

It All Comes Down to Love and Tragedy

[23] Romantics of the 18th and 19th centuries felt the highest expression of love was death itself. To die for love was a painfully glorious thing. The stories and poetry of Goethe, Bryon, Shelley, and Hugo are rife with it. Fiction of this age was filled with tales of unrequited desire and longing. Doomed lovers were separated by everything from social rank to arranged marriages. There was something delicious and pure about the suffering of would-be lovers, and this 'ideal' remains popular, even if tragic endings are still controversial.

[24] Xena and Gabrielle are classic examples of tragic, Romantic heroes. Xena is a lovesick knight, doomed to a quest she can never complete. Her dark past will not allow it. Gabrielle is her goal and guide, a poetic soul with equal passion that often leads her astray. The idea of the two characters together, roaming the world in search of adventure, soulmates, and spiritual lovers who can never be fulfilled since a mercurial fate that has no pity, constantly places insurmountable barriers between them that they must forever struggle to overcome. This is the main underpinning of the series.

[25] I can imagine Tapert and his team unwilling to give in to the obvious and much-desired 'happy ending' syndrome that plagues most television series when they reach their end. Most shows simply peter out. They do not have the stomach for it. Tapert clearly wanted to go out with a riotous bang, fulfilling the augury of Xena as a tragic figure, and not, as so many feel, as a worthy warrior who has overcome her obstacles and deserves a little peace and happiness.

[26] Tapert's argument seems to be, Xena is unhappy and incapable of being happy unless she is finally punished for her past mis-deeds. Like a war criminal living on borrowed time, only in sacrificing herself for the thousands who died before, can she obtain resolution, even if it means leaving behind a grief-stricken Gabrielle, whose future is now in question.

[27] The poignant lack of fulfillment is the heart of the Romantic Ideal, and a surprisingly popular trend in film these days. Titanic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are excellent examples of this. In fact, one of the first things that went through my mind as I watched the close of part two, was the song "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic. Melodramatic, yes, but highly effective. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a similar story unfolds. The noble warrior who longs to put down his sword, the faithful friend who has stood by him for years, waiting patiently for their unspoken love to finally surface, and the young troublemaker who comes between them. It is in her defense that the noble warrior finds his untimely end, leaving behind the heartbroken love, he could never have.

[28] I have no doubt Tapert was inspired by the examples set by these films. Perhaps, wishing to prove he could shock his audience and still give them a little something of what they wanted (I'm betting those who created the "kiss" petition are wishing they added a few more demands!), he plunged head-first into his two-part vanity fest, a nail biting stomach-knotter filled with hot d*mn special effects and big screen-worthy cinematography. I have no doubt come Emmy time, FRIEND IN NEED will be given a few nods in the visual and sound effects department, as well as, hopefully, a nod to the brilliant Joseph LoDuca for his sensitive score.

[29] Yet, something is always missing.

Resolution is for Wimps

Too late to worry about leaving the gas on
Not exactly the sunset many fans had in mind.

[30] The aching lack of resolution does not ring true. Whether or not you believe Xena and Gabrielle should have sailed off into the sunset together is almost irrelevant. The teasing game between the Xena team and her audience was dragged out too long, with too little payoff. I have been annoyed for a long time with the whole idea their 'relationship' is of the 'wink wink, nudge nudge' variety.

[31] If you have eyes to see and a bit of intelligence, the way these characters are written and portrayed is clearly that of a Romantic duo. Romantic in the classic sense and in every sense. Xena and Gabrielle do not work as individual characters with separate destinies and desires. What makes them unique to television and beloved by their audience is their faithfulness and dedication to one another. Complex, obsessive, driven, insatiable, unbreakable, eternal. The world is full of mischief and no one lives forever.

[32] To ascend to a higher plane of existence, to find that one true love and dwell in paradise together forever -- this story is as old as time itself. It is the fall of Eden and the desire to be united with our spiritual selves, our departed friends and family. It is the Song of Solomon, the poetry of Neruda, the paintings of Van Gogh, the novels of Hesse, the music of Bach and the Grateful Dead on acid. No one is listening and everyone is watching. T.S. Eliot wrote that, "humankind cannot bear much reality".

[33] We are not fans because we have nothing better to do, because we are crazy geeks and dykes and hormonally challenged adolescent boys. We are not fans because we are particularly in love with the whole cheesy women-in-leather thing. We are fans because, as Jack Kerouac, another great traveler, put it, we must "be crazy dumbsaint of the mind".

[34] Xena and Gabrielle are the ideal and the dream, they go where we want them to go, and always will. Did it ever really matter what Tapert did? Would we not have re-written it, anyway?

[35] What did we expect to see? The Big X and Gabrielle getting funky under a bearskin? Yeah, right. One last splash in the hottub? Well, that monk seemed to enjoy himself. A soulful declaration of undying love - hello, been there. Yes, we got our kiss - albeit under the pretense of Gabrielle giving Xena water from the aptly name Fountain of Strength. But hey, she did linger a bit. I love the ghosts on this show. They can walk, talk, get thrown around, whipped, beaten, touch the living, and even burst into flames, but God forbid Xena touch her chakram without her hand passing through it like water.

[36] "It's difficult to explain." Amen, sister.

[37] As for the kiss, we know that to be a total cheat. Even in the end, they could not drop the entire pretense and just give us a good one. It had to be subtly disguised as something else. In their last moments together on Mt. Fuji, Gabrielle leans her head on Xena's shoulder. Why? Would have some serious liplocking and tearful gazing been more appropriate? Sorry, but after all the build-up, Xena's vanishing act was all too brief and wimpy. Xena can be such a defeatist at times. Where was her legendary imagination in dealing with the situation? Her 'punishment' was a sham. Xena was again taking the blame for something that was not really her fault.

[38] Perhaps Tapert and RJ Stewart liked the image of a grieving Xena, struggling through the snow, drunk, messed up and on the verge of madness, more than the actuality of Xena's involvement in the deaths of all those people. A plot device is a plot device, after all, and not to be taken literally. Things tend to fall apart and unravel when you do that. Finally, the image of Gabrielle alone on the mountain is moving, but the segue onto the boat is just too mixed. Will Xena's ghost be hovering about indefinitely, or has Gabrielle snapped, and it is all in her head? There are no absolutes.

The Questions Keep Coming

[39] Yet, the questions FRIEND IN NEED poses are still interesting ones: is Gabrielle now a better warrior than Xena? One could argue, yes. Xena's a bit of a show-off and has always enjoyed kicking *ss. Gabrielle is not. She is compassionate and deadly, at the same time. She does not need to impress or intimidate in order to win. The episode gives indications that she has moved beyond Xena's abilities, into some territory uniquely her own, thus ending Xena's usefulness to her as a protector or teacher of sorts. When Gabrielle uses the chakram, to her own shock, she handles it with the same ease as Xena. I would argue Gabrielle could still use a few lessons in practicality, did no one ever tell her that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but what she lacks in experience, she more than makes up for in enthusiasm.

[40] Everyday of our lives we are saturated with images of immense cruelty, greed, corruption, immaturity, and irresponsibility. We know that corrupt and greedy oil companies inflate gas prices. We know the 'energy crisis' on the West Coast is a joke. We know our politicians are in the pockets of money-grubbing multinational corporations, pharmaceutical companies, the military, and the media. We go to the cinema and watch television shows to escape from reality and find a tailor-made experience ready to manipulate us into thinking the world is not so bad and we should all just play along and never seek to reinvent things in a new image. An image can sometimes tell us more about the world we live in than a million speeches or newspapers. We are force-fed 'reality' everyday and have come to regard our lives as incomplete without our 'fix'. Our lives are ordered and scheduled around this tidy framework: after all, they do not air the 'popular' shows until we are home from work, do they?

[41] What are we looking for, exactly? What does this show give us that we do not get anywhere else? A reach beyond reality, a guided tour through the suburbs of absurdity, a far-carrying call into the heart of our cosmic loneliness, or our lack of direction and vision? Perhaps it is a glorious, rare bird on the wing, here for a moment then gone on its sorrowful, rapturous flight.


D.J. Hall D.J. Hall

I am a 31 year old psychotic insomniac with a silly putty fetish. I'm also a composer and writer, and I honestly don't watch too much television. I am watching even less, now (sniff). On the far-flung side, I am bilingual, bipedal, bipolar, bidextrous and bisexual. If only I were two-faced, I might be interesting. Just kidding. I am not bipolar.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "Gods! I'm starting to chafe!" FINS FEMMES AND GEMS
First episode seen: IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?
Least favorite episode: LYRE LYRE HEARTS ON FIRE

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