Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001

By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2271 words

A Riveting Finale, A Disappointing Ending (01-03)
Big Picture, Little Nits (04-06)
Disturbing Images (07-12)
Full Circle Or Not? (13-20)
You Are Right, Gabrielle (21-24)


A Riveting Finale, A Disappointing Ending

Giant live performance of 'Wipe Out'
The 'drum sequence' in FIN is particularly suspenseful.

[01] FRIEND IN NEED is a riveting finale. It is a big screen experience in the tradition of THE DEBT and ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE. As regards production, it looks like no expense was spared. It has big dramatic moments and quiet moments as well. It is a powerful piece of work. My greatest criticism of it is reserved for the last few minutes, but more about that later.

[02] Personally, I was thrilled to see that the final episode would be set in Japan. I am a huge fan of Japanese cinema, especially any samurai drama. I read, write, and speak Japanese and have an intense interest in Japanese history. I collect Japanese swords, armor, and art. So right from the start I was fully prepared to give the finale points for going somewhere I would like to see them go.

[03] As R.J. Stewart said during the June 19, 2001 panel discussion at the Museum of Television and Radio, one does not look to Xena to study world religions. As any of us who have even a passing familiarity with world history know you do not look to Xena for accurate historical information either. It would be foolish to do so. What has driven us to watch the show all these years has been the characters and the situations, not the historical accuracy.

Big Picture, Little Nits

Do you know any good banjo tunes?
Koto playing bare-handed is simply not done.

[04] The instant I saw Akemi playing the koto without picks on her fingers I knew this was not going to be one of the finer moments of historical interpretation on the show. Similarly, things like name choices and pronunciation had to be cut serious slack as well. It was interesting that only Harukata, the "Ghost Killer", could properly pronounce "Akemi" and "Higuchi". Lucy Lawless must have been very tired during portions of this production because more than once I detected a more kiwi pronunciation of "Gebrielle".

[05] We will not go into the disregard for time or physics. Xena never bothered with that from Day One so we should be used to "thirty seconds" being stretched to a minute or beyond. When Gabrielle knows she has to run like the wind to obtain Xena's ashes and get to Mt. Fuji, she sticks around for a tattoo that would take days, not a few moments. The Higuchi fire would not be quenched with just what was in the water tower.

[06] Other items were a bit more jarring and took more effort to shake off. While some of the special effects were quite good, many were not. Pretty much any effect dealing with Yodoshi was bad, as was his Cleopatra 2525 Creegan-esque makeup, and the arrows flying through the forest left much to be desired. For me personally, I was disturbed by what appeared to be Xena's invention of the atomic bomb -- in, of all places, Japan. There was a mushroom cloud as there would be with any large explosion, but seeing people and horses vaporized in a nuclear manner was not pleasant. I studied Japanese from an atomic bomb survivor and I did not see any humor in it.

Disturbing Images

Wow!  She *is* tall!
Gabrielle discovers Xena's headless body.

[07] I have heard that many people viewed the finale as misogynistic because of the brutal way Xena and her body were treated or how Xena acted in the presence of Yodoshi and so forth. Personally, I do not see it. Japan was, and in many ways still is, quite a misogynistic society. Women were treated second class or worse all the way. As a woman, Akemi would have committed suicide by cutting her throat, not belly-sticking herself like men would. I give the writers kudos for having Akemi point that fact out to Xena when she tells Xena that women were forbidden to own katana, which is a reason why naginata came to be known as a woman's weapon. This was an issue they did not dismiss or shy away from.

[08] As far as the combat was concerned, Xena and her body were brutally treated, as would any enemy who cost so dear a victory. Xena did not cause the enemy soldiers a little trouble, she inflicted major losses. They were out for revenge. Revenge is a big theme in Japanese stories. The story was honest in this regard. No one likes to see a hero treated badly. That is the point. If I have any criticism of those scenes at all, it is with the violence that was shown.

[09] I had major heartburn with THE WAY, not because of its religious portrayal but because of the brutality we saw in the fight scenes near the end with limbs being chopped off. That was very disturbing to watch. Xena's death scene was disturbing as well, as was the humiliation of showing her as a headless corpse. On the one hand, I can see a point was trying to be made. On the other, this is television shown in prime time, not a film that has been rated for the theatre.

[10] Furthermore, those criticisms should not detract from all of the imagery that was so impressive. There were quiet moments, like the conversation and "lesson" between Kenji and Gabrielle on the deck of the ship and there astounding action sequences like the burning of Higuchi and the ultimate quenching of the flames preceded by some heavy-duty acrobatics. Perhaps my favorite sequence was the very slow pounding of the taiko drums in the forest -- doom! doom! -- that slowly quickened and built tension wonderfully. It helped immeasurably to see this sequence on the big screen backed by a kick-*ss sound system.

[11] Another great scene was the "kiss" scene in which Gabrielle has to get water to Xena. There is a wonderful scene in Koike and Kojima's Lone Wolf And Cub (released in butchered form in the USA as the dubbed Shogun Assassin but which added a new musical score which was worth the price of admission alone). Itto Ogami has been badly wounded and lies motionless in a shack near a road. His three year old son knows his father needs water from a nearby stream but when he tries to hold it in his hands it always escapes. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts the boy figures out he can carry the water in his mouth. This scene was beautifully duplicated in FRIEND IN NEED with Gabrielle carrying the water for Xena. And for anyone who may have had any doubts, water was the catalyst, but oh yeah, that was definitely a kiss.

[12] For all the little things one can pick on, I feel confident in saying this was one of the best performances we have seen from Lucy Lawless as well as Renee O'Connor. They were superb throughout. My favorite "guest" was the actor who played Harukata, he was right out of an old Akira Kurosawa picture, and I am pleased they did not alter his voice to be less ethnic. I thought the actor did a wonderful job.

Full Circle Or Not?

[13] There were many "full circle" moments in this finale. As Xena buries her armor to go off to her final battle, we recall how she did the same thing in SINS OF THE PAST, resigning herself to her fate both then and now. At the beginning, we have Xena say to Gabrielle "I knew you'd say that", echoed by Gabrielle to Xena at the end. Similarly the phrase, "I hear they need a girl with a chakram" was handled the same way.

[14] It was a bit out of character early on when Xena asked Gabrielle what she would do in the face of a desperate situation. I had become so used to Xena not caring what Gabrielle thought over the last couple of seasons that her words at that point jarred me. Something had to be up. Of course, I understand the purpose of that, as well as images such as Gabrielle catching the chakram instead of Xena, were meant to prepare us for the eventual ending and the "transfer" of roles from Xena to Gabrielle. But near the start, I did not get enough information to put that together.

[15] The whole finale, overwhelmingly, had me on the edge of my seat right up until the last few minutes.

[16] From the scene on Mt. Fuji where Xena's ghost prevents Gabrielle from restoring her to life (Xena cannot touch the chakram but she can touch Gabrielle and her urn of ashes -- oops, there I go thinking again) the rest of the finale does not make sense to me. It strikes me as an ending that was pasted in at the very last moment and makes no sense storywise at all. It is not a question of disagreement. It is sheer bewilderment.

[17] Xena's explanation that although the souls were free, there was a caveat in order for them to "enter a state of grace" was just plain made up on the spot as far as I was concerned. I detected no hint at any time earlier that there was anything different to be done than "kill" Yodoshi.

[18] If there was an obstacle for any souls to attain a "state of grace", it would have to be because of Akemi. Akemi killed Yodoshi. Akemi tricked Xena into teaching her the pinch. It was Akemi who failed to mention the "state of grace" hitch before Xena died and crossed over to her realm. It was Akemi, who, as Borias so insightfully put it, "played" Xena "like a two-dinar bouzouki" and always a step ahead of her mentally, manipulated Xena into doing precisely what she wanted all along in premeditated fashion. Akemi called the shots when she met Xena and darned if she didn't right up until the end so that Akemi could achieve her "state of grace" and move on, regardless of the crimes she committed previously. Akemi starts the trouble and Xena cleans it up.

[19] Early on in the series when Cirra burned down, Xena took full responsibility for the actions of her army. Did the souls of Cirra hold her responsible? Not that we ever heard. In Higuchi, Xena, though drunk, is defending herself from (slow running) townspeople who are attacking her. She did not intend innocent people to be hurt in Higuchi any more than she intended women and children to be hurt in Cirra? Is there a substantial difference? Not in my mind.

[20] I was unconvinced by the explanation, to say the least. Gabrielle's words, "Xena, that is not right", ring very true.

You Are Right, Gabrielle

Winner, Beth Gaynor look-alike contest
Gabrielle astutely declares 'Xena, that is not right!' after hearing the bogus explanation.

[21] As someone insightfully asked in an e-mail question to a radio station while Lucy Lawless was on a whirlwind PR tour, "How do you live with half a soul?" There seemed no overwhelming motivation for Xena to remain "dead" as far as I could determine. I felt like she just "gave up" more than anything else. Perhaps this itself is an accurate reflection of how some people associated with the show felt. They just had to "cut the cord".

[22] It is not my place to say how the show should have ended. It is not my show. However, I can say that I do not understand it, because I do not. Perhaps I am just dim. But it seems to me that a show that for years transcended itself to become an icon for people the world over, particularly women, to empower themselves would not end so bleakly. The woman whose daughter and friends burned all their Xena memorabilia to show their feeling regarding this "fitting end" particularly moved me. Xena's ashes have transcended for some to the ashes of their broken dreams. I have heard people say "No worries, Xena and Gabrielle are together in the end, see?"

[23] I wonder.

[24] I see Gabrielle alone, haunted by Xena's ghost. I cannot help but think Xena's ghost could just be a figment of Gabrielle's torment from grief. When will Xena eventually "cut the cord" with Gabrielle? It is very, very sad.


To numerous to list.


Bret Ryan Rudnick Bret Ryan Rudnick

Whoosh! Staff IAXS Executive Committee "You can never have too much money or too many Amazons" When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a newsreader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an Amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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