Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001

By Lorien Patton
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
5072 words

Author's notes:

Most of this article was written Wednesday, June 20, 2001, the morning after my first viewing of the Xena: Warrior Princess series finale.

The Missing Goddess (01-05)
Hollywood People are People, Too (06-09)
The Bad and the Ugly (10-14)
The True Value of a Hero (15-26)
The Good Fight (27-33)



If we burn our wings
Flying too close to the sun
If the moment of glory
Is over before it's begun
If the dream is won --
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost

When the dust has cleared
And victory denied
A summit too lofty
River a little too wide
If we keep our pride --
Though paradise is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost

And if the music stops
There's only the sound of the rain
All the hope and glory
All the sacrifice in vain
And if love remains
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price,
But we will not count the cost

-- Bravado, Niel Peart (Rush)

The Missing Goddess

I said Bar-B-Que, not Bard-B-Que!
Xena and Gab face tough odds again.

[01] When I sat down to watch the last episodes of Xena, I believed that I would be immune to the mental chaos and emotional turmoil that had plagued the people who had seen them before me. After all, I had not only read the spoilers, I had guessed at this ending as early as 1997. As it turned out, I was not immune. I was not even inoculated. I have not read any of the message boards yet this morning, because I want to try to work through what I am thinking and feeling first. I need to sort it out before I listen to other people's viewpoints, so that it stays as clear as possible. I hope you will bear with me as I use the keyboard to impose order on my scrambled thoughts and inner upheaval, because this promises to be a long ramble even for me.

[02] This two-part episode encompasses the vision of the series as a whole. Ambitious, amazing, always reaching towards something that perhaps even the show's creators do not fully understand. In some moments, a connection was made and energy seared into me like a slow burning lightning strike. In other moments, the story fell from the heights it was attempting to reach, and the jarring impact of being thrown back to earth was difficult to bear. For a few seconds at a time, I felt the magic of myth stirring something indescribable in me. That mysterious 'something' that moves me to try and make something new and beautiful, something which can honestly be called Art. It uncoiled from inside my soul and stretched back, straining to touch an archetype that has been dormant for so long that it appears new to the modern viewer.

[03] We have had goddesses and heroines aplenty in the last century, women who moved in circles of love and fertility, reawakening powers long suppressed. During the last few years, Dianic Wicca was all the rage at every Pagan Circle I attended. Goddesses of grain and birth, Demeter and Epona and Brigit; they were wrapped up in some Celtic dream of horses and forest lords. Everywhere I turned, the Mother archetype was being explored anew. Yet I always felt as though I was reaching for a different archetype. Even among those who were looking for the magic in our dreams and visions of the past, everyone seemed slightly afraid of Her. They were unwilling, or unable to touch the other faces of divinity within. Morrigan, Isis, Pallas Athene-- call her what you will, the goddess of the Morning and Evening Star, of war and passion, Warrior of our genetic memories and mythological yearnings: She has been neglected for a very long time. Our racial unconscious was churning around a void that needed to be filled. Filled by something that had meaning not just to a few readers of speculative fiction here and there, but that stretched out fingers of vision to an entire people, so that the stories could pass from hand to hand, living and growing as they went.

[04] Is it so surprising, then, that a world full of people felt something shudder to life within them the first time they saw Xena and Gabrielle on screen? With a click, those two became a key that fit neatly into a gaping hole, and turned to unlock something long dormant within the mind of our cultures. Xena and Gabrielle came along at a time and place when they were desperately sought after, though many did not realize what they had been looking for until they found it. However, we cannot forget that this was not an entirely spiritual experience. It was not just a movement of myth, a stirring of the racial unconscious. It was also a syndicated television program, made by "B" movie producers who had no way of knowing what sort of passion they were playing with. How could they have known? Who could have predicted how deeply seated our attachment to the archetype would be? Students of history, and mythology, and storytelling? Maybe, though I doubt that even they could have seen exactly how far this would go. But could we reasonably expect such prescient knowledge from "B" movie producers, unknown actors, TV crews, and small special effects houses? No. Not this time, anyway.

[05] I always wondered how people could watch the show and yearn for something more, and yet continue watch. How could they be disappointed in the show from the very beginning? If it did not fit their needs, why watch at all? Some left, it is true, but others stayed and complained through the course of the whole series. I have to admit, it never made very much sense to me until last night. Then, the epiphany hit me. Last night, concepts that had been swirling around formlessly in my head finally came together to form a cohesive whole. They stayed because, even when the show strayed away from what any given person needed in an archetype, it gave us all a common language. A common place from which to start our search for this long neglected paradigm of the Warrior in our souls. Being able to access that common language was important enough to make dissatisfied customers suffer through whatever pain the series might cause. In fact this language was not just important, it was invaluable. Now people could finally talk about their own visions and be understood. Even if people mocked them for watching Xena-- trust me, people did-- everyone at least knew what you were talking about.

Hollywood People Are People, Too

[06] Watching the episodes at the Museum of Television and Radio with Lucy Lawless, RJ Stewart, Rob Tapert and Renee O'Connor in the room, I could once again see clearly that they were, in fact, people. Just people trying to tell a story in the best way they could think to tell it. Whether they did it brilliantly, as they did at times, or miserably, and they certainly did that as well, what mattered to me was that they tried. They touched the face of a myth in passing and gave us a window into what they saw. It does not matter that they never seemed to understand the magic. So what? So, the show was not perfect. This show was made by mortal beings. People who could not help but struggle with flawed visions, and the mortal limitations of time, budget, and innate ability. Do those limitations really bother the audience so very much? Do they really detract from the value of the story?

[07] Perhaps when the first story of Finn MacCumhail or Arthur Pendragon was told, it too had problems. Maybe the plot was not as tight as it could have been. Maybe it was based on a true story that was not very impressive, and needed a lot of 'help' to become something that people wanted to hear. Maybe the poetry needed polishing, or the plot had holes the size of the British Isles. But whatever those problems might have been, as the stories passed from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth, the things that were needed and desired-- they came through. Each retelling took a bit of the soul from the person who told the story and wove it into the myth, so that over the centuries those stories worked their way into our hearts and our dreams, and began to shine with a magic of their own.

[08] Whether we knew it or not, whether we saw it or looked away, we have been doing the same thing with the stories of Xena and Gabrielle. We take what Renaissance Pictures shows us, the burning images that rumble in our unconscious, and we touch them until the rough finish is worn away and they acquire the shine of long use. Our minds wear grooves in them, gradually reshaping, each person adding what they themselves need to see in order to reach into the mythscape and touch the magic. This is as it should be. No single vision of the Warrior, no matter how wonderfully presented, could fill the needs of everyone who watched. It is not possible. More than that, it is not something to be desired. It is all the more powerful because we must add our own blood to the cup, and pass it from hand to hand until it glows incandescent with the visions of all who drink from it.

[09] So, you are asking yourself, what the heck is she rambling on about? Did she even watch the episodes? Yes, I did. Loved them. Hated them. I cannot begin to decide on one opinion or another. I have no desire to do so. I could write out a synopsis here, with dialog and action described as they hit the screen. I decided not to, though. I will not even try. That has been done by others, and is not my strong point anyway. I am much better at semi-mystical rambling. So if not a synopsis, what will I say about the episodes themselves?

The Bad and The Ugly

Xena?  I thought they said Godzilla!
Morimoto has issues.

[10] There were plot holes the size of Chin. Who were the armies, why were they attacking the village, and why did Xena need to face them?

[11] Who decided it would be a good plot point to say that women were not allowed to own katana, when Samurai women were every bit as much a warrior class as their men? Expected to guard home and family, yes, but they were fully entitled to bear swords, just as the men were. If they fought more often with naginata, a kind of pole arm, it was because there were definite advantages to nagi vs. sword when you were outnumbered. It was practical, but not required.

[12] Why in the world did a little spray of water drive off an entire army of Samurai who should have committed sepuku in shame rather than running from a battle that way? Why did a Samurai who had committed himself to destroying the Evil Ghost Guy continue to wander around alive when all it would have taken was a quick suicide ritual to put him in reach of his goal? The Samurai were a class of people who welcomed a warrior's death with open arms. Any real Samurai would have killed himself in an instant to accomplish such a noble task, and he would have been lauded as a hero for doing it.

[13] Then there is the issue of time. This was a quantum leap even for Xena, from BCE Greece to CE Feudal Japan, which, in its height and when the Samurai were really prevalent, was congruent with the Elizabethan Renaissance. I could go on, I suppose, but I will not. Other people have deconstructed these episodes using a fine-toothed comb and bomb detection equipment. Suffice to say, there were problems. Echoes of Hiroshima seemed, well, rather insensitive.

[14] Still, I cannot fail to ask: Where in the world did the "I have to stay dead" thing come from? Any hint of foreshadowing in the rest of the story would have made it more palatable, instead of just seeming completely lame when it hit us at the last possible second. Even if Xena and Gabrielle could not be allowed to know it was coming, the audience should not have to remain in the dark. Some things do not work better as a complete surprise. A crumb of set up, a tiny scene with Akemi whispering to herself that Xena did not know how serious the price of freeing those souls would be, merely a 30 second throw away scene would have patched a major sucking chest-wound of a plot hole.

The True Value of A Hero

[15] Was I disappointed? Yes, in some ways. However, I knew what I was getting into when I sat down to watch this final 2-hour Xena movie. A movie brought to you by some of the same folks who created Evil Dead. Hello? Was I expecting Chaucer or Shakespeare? Thankfully, no. If I had been, I would have been really disappointed. In the end, none of the problems with the script mattered very much to me. These folks did the best they could and they were giving their best effort towards entertaining us. They are who they are. We can wish they were George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg and Joseph Campbell and JRR Tolkien and Jessica Salmonson and Ursula K. LeGuinn all wrapped into one neat package of mythological perfection delivered to us weekly, but they are not that perfect dream, and wishing is not going to make it so. All we can do is take what is offered in the spirit in which it is given. Listen to what speaks to us. Go out and touch the magic ourselves. Realize that, just as those first stories of Finn MacCumhail surely were, this is a stepping stone, a paradigm shift.

[16] The journey is not complete; it is only beginning. This is the first draft of the rest of our myth-history. Rough diamonds, coal, and gold dust, are sitting there in our unconscious, churning around, waiting to be refined. We stand here, having just stepped out of the mineshaft of the past six years. We are dirty and battered, and we have a bucket of what looks like trash in our hand. In time, we will come to see what has really been produced in these six strange, glorious, and frustrating years.

[17] The value of what we have seen is not solely in entertainment, or even what this story and the fandom has done for each us on a personal level. Twenty years from now, you will be watching an interview Jane Doe, of the famous Doe Productions. You know, the wildly successful moviemaker, who just put out Episode VII of her amazingly powerful and successful series of hit movies? She will be asked one of those lame, "I can't think of what to ask you in this interview" questions: "What started you in this business?" But the answer will not be irrelevant, although it may seem so at the time. She will talk about her early teen years watching Xena and how she knew even back then what she wanted to do. That she wanted to tell stories on screen, and explore the myths, and magic, and power.

[18] People have discussed and discussed the "unnecessary and brutal violence towards a woman" shown in the finale, as if it were misogynistic, and as if one had not seen worse violence than this in just about every horror movie ever made. At least Xena made a choice to die, and did not simply sprain her ankle and whine until she was killed horribly at the hands of some monster or stalker! The loud and dissatisfied voices crying in the wilderness have missed one essential point. In this show, Xena is not and never has been a "woman". She is a hero, and that is something altogether different.

[19] Think about Xena's part, as it is written. It was written exactly as a man's part would have been. Sure, Evil Xena used sexual wiles to accomplish things, which is a tactic often attributed to women, but when she did it, it was a conquest, a male vision of sexuality used as a weapon on the unsuspecting "weaker minded" person.

[20] To put it differently, Xena's story and the whole Xenaverse were built in a strange alternate universe where whether you were a man or a woman made absolutely no difference. People feared Evil Xena because she was a warlord, a very brutal and efficient warlord. They looked up to Good Xena because she was an inspirational and exceptional hero. This is one of the only stories I have ever seen where no apologies were offered for the hero's gender. There was no, "I know women aren't allowed to learn the sword, but the monks who taught her were free of those cultural expectations" kind of excuse. No one ever wondered, "How did a girl become a warlord?" The fact that Xena was in a female equipped body was a trivial side note, except for the few occasions where she used that equipment to give birth.

[21] That world dynamic is more vital and radical than any depiction of lesbian/bi/whatever interaction. No matter how much we fans would have liked to have seen a love scene, or even just an honest-to-goodness kiss with no excuses or exchanged bodies, that genderless equation means that a whole generation of little girls put their Xena Halloween costume on, and their little brothers never said, "You can't be [name your favorite male superhero], because you're just a girl, and girls can't save anyone!" If you think that does not influence the consciousness of a whole generation, think again. The world has changed, even if we cannot see it yet.

[22] Xena's death continued this tradition of genderless heroism. She has been a warrior from the very first. Did we really, honestly expect her to die of old age? In 1997, I wrote "Binding of the God of War" which was a little poem about the now old and gray Gabrielle coming to die by Xena's tomb, and the two women rejoining one another in spirit form. Even in 1997, I knew this was how it would end, because Xena's journey has been leading up to sacrifice after sacrifice. To atone for past evils? Perhaps so, yes, but more importantly because there was a job to be done, and she was the only one who could do it. When you take on the hard jobs, you will eventually pay the inevitable price. She lived heroically, and she died the same way.

[23] People have also asked, "Why was Gabrielle barred from going with her? Why couldn't they have died happily ever after?" In this myth cycle, it just wouldn't have made any sense to present their end that way. We knew that Gabrielle was Xena's Bard, and traditionally the Bard lives on to tell the tale, to spread the fame of the Hero. The good which the Hero does during their life is insignificant compared to the good they continue to do as an example to others after their death. That shift can only be realized, though, if someone lives to tell the tale, and to continue teaching people the lessons that were learned during the Hero's journey. On her own, equally important Journey, Gabrielle traveled the traditional Tarot path, that road that takes her from Fool all the way through Empress and beyond. To have Gabrielle survive Xena is the only ending that makes sense in the mythic path they have been walking along together. She is younger in the beginning, and less wise. Yet by the end, she has learned from the Warrior, and becomes the Warrior herself. Someone must survive to continue the fight, and who else could it be except Gabrielle? No one else would be fitting, would be worthy.

[24] So how can we lament that they are torn asunder, when we know it is only for a short time? The show has taken the whole rebirth/karmic cycle and made it part of Xena and Gabrielle's legend. We know that they find one another repeatedly, and that they will never be truly parted. Reaffirming that eternal cycle is an amazing tribute to their continued and undimmed love. Yes, it is difficult for Gabrielle to be apart from her Warrior in this life, but it is only for a time, until they can be together once more. Their journey is not even approaching an end. Indeed, it is only now really beginning. The death of Xena's body in no way stops the cycle.

[25] Of course, I would love to see a spin-off set in a futuristic universe with Xena and Gabrielle Ubers that deals with why they are so karmically linked. We have only gotten bits and pieces of the explanation in the show, and I have long suspected that even Xena and Gabrielle are only Ubers of some older souls' journey. They had such an instant connection, even from the first, that it is logical to assume that their Xena and Gabrielle selves were not the first steps on their mutual karmic journey. My suspicions in this direction were confirmed in the episode BETWEEN THE LINES. Xena and Gabrielle are told by Naima that they were together before and will be afterwards.

[26] Xena and Gabrielle have not finished their karmic cycle, or reached resolution. The death of the body is but one step on the path that they walk, and they have a long way to go yet. In the greater scheme of things, even if Gabrielle lives a hundred years after Xena's death, it is but an eye-blink in their travels, a moment only until they are reunited and continue on together. That is the way it has been explained in the show, ever since they brought in Mel and Janice for our first taste of ancestral spirit possession. Ubers and Reincarnations and Clones, Oh My!

The Good Fight

No autographs!  Get it?
Gabrielle protects Xena.

[27] So what about the parts of these last two episodes that I loved? Those, I really, really loved. They said "I love you" to one another more times in this small arc than they did in a whole season of the rest of the show! There was no doubt about the romance, first between Xena and Akemi, and then mirrored later in life with Gabrielle. Xena introduces Gabrielle to Akemi as her soul mate. So touchingly funny, Xena and Akemi, old lovers who have grown over the years into friends, and now Xena brings Gabrielle by to meet the ex, looking for approval and understanding, hoping for friendship, and getting it.

[28] Akemi, saying "I want to give you something" and in the next scene, Gabrielle is naked, and Xena is laying by her side? I instantly wondered exactly what was being said with this scene. Maybe it was just a tattoo session, right? Well, if so, what a cool set of tattoos. The use of Japanese cultural mythology and the part they actually got right was magnificent. I loved Gabrielle in the dark blue kimono and hakama, with the pseudo Japanese torso armor. The shot of the torn kimono, showing the tattoos, did I mention that it was exceptionally cool? If not, let me just say, "It was cool. Go watch it again, in slow motion. Drool all you want. I'll wait." - Are you back? All right, let's go on then.

[29] In spots, Lucy Lawless' performance was heart wrenchingly wonderful. In others, you could see how tired she was, how hard she was trying. Yet, even those parts made the whole experience more real. I wanted to reach out, give her a hug, and thank her for working so hard to entertain us during the last six years. Then I wanted to tell her to go take a long, long, long nap. Also a bubble bath, they're wonderfully relaxing. Renee O'Connor was simply amazing, beginning to end, no questions asked. I believed every moment, even the ones that did not make any sense at all. The first duel with the stupid samurai guy was breathtaking. In the pouring rain, in the dark, it was astounding to see how far O'Connor has come in her acting, in her combat training, in everything. When she started this show, she was a bumbling everyday actor who had no idea what to do with the staff they had put in her hands. Why would she? It was just a show, and she was just another fresh-faced actor looking to make a living. She could have stayed untrained, and it probably wouldn't have mattered. She didn't, though, and that is what really impresses me. In this duel, her stance was great. She was graceful and fluid, she was a warrior. Renee, "You've come a long way, baby".

[30] The culmination of Gabrielle's journey from Student to Master matched Xena's transcendent move from physical Master to spirit Master. "Young padawan, I can teach you no more." "If you strike me down, I will only become more powerful." Xena's dead? Sure she is. So what? It did not stop her from hugging and comforting Gabrielle, did it? It did not prevent her from getting on the boat to Egypt either. This is the classic archetypal ascendance. This transition is closer to perfection than any ending I had imagined for our Warrior. She has moved from the physical realm, where she is limited by mortal constraints, into the nonphysical. She has entered the myth, stepped beyond the veil, moved to a place where she can watch over descendants, and teach, and continue to fight on a new front.

[31] As for Gabrielle, she continues to amaze me. Her journey has been even more dramatic than Xena's. She has explored her paths, looked within her heart. All along, though other paths were good, she found herself drawn back to Xena's path, to the Warrior's path. Not only out of love, though surely that was a monumental part of it all. Things needed to be done and someone had to do them. If not her, then who? If not now, when? In life, she carries on, teaching what she has learned, doing what must be done. In death, she will ascend as Xena did, for that is the nature of the path they both walk. She is not alone, for Xena is with her always. Not to fight for her any longer, because she no longer needs that. She can stand on her own and fight for others. Xena is there to advise, to love, to wait on the other side of the veil until they can be reunited.

[32] Am I sad at the passing? No. I am joyous! For me, this part of the spiritual journey has played exactly as it should. The Wheel turns and no hand can hold it back. Life goes on. We live, and learn, and die, and live again. Sometimes we are granted a stay, held over, if there is more that needs doing. Xena is waiting, and there is still so much that needs doing. Ares has not yet been sealed up in his Tomb, to later escape and face the reincarnations of Xena and Gabrielle. They are all tied to events that are ongoing and there is still work to be done.

[33] The Warrior is dead. Long live the Warrior.


Lorien Patton Lorien Patton

Lorien Patton aka "Quest". I was born in San Diego, California in 1974, and then the whirlwind tour started. I've lived in a goodly handful of states, probably passed through the rest of them (at least on the continental US) because my parents are musicians, and as we all know, musicians get around. For the last few years, I've been settled in Los Angeles with my wife Sarah, where I do all manner of creative things trying to make a living. The day job involves web design, graphic design, and database work, along with the odd administrative task. The non "day job" is going to school (art/computer animation), writing poetry/fiction/scripts/random ramblings, recording CDs of my original music, and playing in the SCA [Society for Creative Anachronism] in my "spare" time. Oh, and lets not forget video games, and role playing games. They're very important. I found the online XWP fandom when I was turned on to an e-mail list called "Lawless" (a pre-Xenaverse list, which eventually mutated into the Xenaverse [along with Arbiter's Xena list], and from there to other splinter groups such as the Clan MacGab...) by a friend, and the rest is history. I swear, the last six years, I've improved my typing to about 80 wpm just to be able to keep up with the dang e-mail. (Photo by Glen LaFerman)
Favorite episode: I'd have to say it was an arc, DESTINY (36/212), THE QUEST (37/213), A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214), and A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). I know most folks don't include ADITL in that arc, but for some reason it's always felt like part of it to me, although there are no Amazons. Go figure.
Favorite line: "To a strong Amazon Nation!" [By the way, what happened to them? "Oh, Gabrielle, you're our queen, we can't get by without you! Unless you happen to wander off to Japa, and there are none of us hanging around your camp fire waiting to remind you that there are only a handful of us left, and people keep trying to wipe us out..."] (Don't mind me, I just happen to be bitter and going through Amazon withdrawals, is all. ;-)
First episode seen: PROMETHEUS (08/108)
Least favorite episode: Oh geeze, I have to pick one? (sigh) The whole Eli/Eve pseudo-Christian arc. How about that? Fake Jesus and his Pouty Prophet just bothered me. Can't help it. Nothing against the actors, they're pretty cool, I just didn't care for the whole package deal.

Return to Top Return to Index