Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001

By Catherine M. Wilson and Donna E. Trifilo
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2044 words

An Old Choice, Not A Bold Choice (01-05)
Will Her Courage Change The World? (06-10)
Tapert, the Anti-Tapert (11-13)
The Best Of Times (14-17)
The Worst Of Times (18-20)
The Power, The Passion, The Misogyny (21-22)
And The Futility (23-25)
A Reason To Hope (26-28)


An Old Choice, Not A Bold Choice

I could really use that Excalibur thingy from Season three right about now
Xena fights to the last.

[01] Of all the endings I could have imagined for the series Xena: Warrior Princess, I would never have guessed that Rob Tapert would go for the cliche. In fact, he went for two cliches.

[02] The first is the tired, old, misogynistic cliche that the uppity woman must get her comeuppance. Women have been allowed few heroes and those we have almost always meet a tragic end. Countless stories tell of strong, independent women who are taught a lesson, put in their place, brought down, made powerless. The movie Thelma and Louise is just one example of a long tradition, as is the constantly retold, historically true tale of Joan of Arc.

[03] For many, these stories of strong women are fantasy fodder, titillating as a dominatrix is titillating, but also reassuring, because the woman's demise makes her ultimately non-threatening. For women these stories are cautionary tales, warning us not to dare too much. No strong woman is allowed to win, and that is what made Xena the hero of so many women, because she did win, time after time.

[04] The second cliche is expressed in early twentieth-century novels like The Well of Loneliness (1926), countless pulp novels of the 1950's, as well as in movies like The Fox (1968) and The Children's Hour (1961). In those bad old days, if one dared to tell stories about lesbians, they must always have a "moral" ending, meaning that one or both of the women had to end up with a man, in prison, insane, or dead. Most often, it was the more powerful, the more "unwomanly" woman, who came to a bad end. All too often, she died, and her death was usually a violent and gruesome one.

[05] Although Xena and Gabrielle have never been definitively outed by the show, it is well known that Xena: Warrior Princess has a large following of lesbian fans, who view the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle as a love story. The death of Xena triggered a reaction in many lesbians who saw yet again the tired, old cliche. As one woman said, "Nothing like keeping up the cinematic history of dead lesbians."

Will Her Courage Change The World?

[06] I doubt that Mr. Tapert intended to send either of these messages. I do not believe he recognized that his "bold choice" ending was a cliche, just as I do not believe he ever made the connection between the mushroom cloud over Japa and the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Japan. I certainly do not expect that he has had any exposure to feminist theory, and I doubt he has ever seen the film The Celluloid Closet (1995), which documents Hollywood's unfortunate depictions of lesbians.

[07] Mr. Tapert must be aware, however, that his show has empowered women. The hero he created has changed forever the way women see themselves and the way women are portrayed on screen. The woman-as-victim scenario, once so common in popular culture, has lost its credibility, and female helplessness is no longer an acceptable counterpoint to male heroism. Post-Xena, women recognize the warrior in themselves.

[08] While no television producer has an obligation to try to change the world, Mr. Tapert has helped to do just that, which makes his final betrayal of his audience that much more painful.

[09] I have heard many women express their grief over the demise of their hero, and many of them wonder why they feel as they do. Perhaps on some deep level they understand that Xena's ultimate defeat is their own defeat as well.

[10] I have heard many lesbians express their anger at the separation of Xena and Gabrielle, and most of them do understand why they are angry. While the series itself has constantly hedged over the exact nature of the relationship, many fans, and not only lesbians, saw it as a romance. Lesbians have largely accepted the half a loaf they have been given by the show, but the separation of the two "friends" feels like the final insult.

Tapert, the Anti-Tapert

[11] Mr. Tapert has not only betrayed a large number of his fans, he has also betrayed his own vision. Throughout the series, the tragic cycle of violence and revenge has been a constant theme, but in the end, violence and revenge won the day. Throughout the series, the power of love to heal and forgive has been repeatedly invoked, yet in the end, love was powerless.

[12] What can account for this sudden reversal of everything the show has stood for?

[13] In the last analysis, Mr. Tapert failed to grasp the nature of his own vision. He has an uncanny knack for pulling great themes out of his head, but he seems to lack an understanding of their meaning. DESTINY, THE DEBT, and THE IDES OF MARCH are works of genius. So much of Mr. Tapert's creative vision has been so good that most fans have been willing to forgive his gaffes. Some of his gaffes, however, have been horrendous, and the finale is the worst of all, because it appears to undo all the good that he has done.

The Best Of Times

Xena and Gabrielle are beamed aboard the Enterprise in the new series
A vision seen throughout a season that finally came true.

[14] What if the series had ended with THE IDES OF MARCH? That episode was a brilliant conclusion to the arc that had been developed throughout Season Four. Xena had a vision of her death and Gabrielle's. She spent much of Season Four trying to avoid the fate her vision had foretold. Her fear of it haunted almost every episode and created in us a feeling of dread. Yet, when it came true, the very thing that we had dreaded was the perfect ending. Xena and Gabrielle were released into another world. The fears, the struggles, the sorrows of this world were left behind. They were together. They were happy. Nothing could hurt them again. They were free.

[15] THE IDES OF MARCH was brilliant because it contained a profound message. Perhaps what we most fear is the best thing that could happen. Perhaps we do not see things as clearly as we believe we do. Perhaps we do not understand what the important things really are.

[16] THE IDES OF MARCH was brilliant, not only in meaning, but in execution. All year I dreaded seeing Xena's vision come true, and when it did, I felt the rightness of it. It is no mean feat to take the viewer on a journey like that, to make us feel Xena's dread, her desperation, to take us with her on every step of an inevitable journey, and then to turn the whole story on its head, to reveal that the worst thing that could happen was in truth the best.

[17] THE IDES OF MARCH achieved the impossible. It was both tragic and triumphant, and our grief was tempered with the joy of seeing two liberated souls leave this world together.

The Worst Of Times

[18] FRIEND IN NEED was a disaster. The plot was full of holes. Xena was to blame for the deaths of 40,000 people because she inadvertently started a fire while trying to defend herself. Was Akemi not more to blame? If she had not killed her father, none of it would have happened. Then Xena had to die to help the Ghost Killer kill Yodoshi, the demon who had devoured the 40,000 souls. Akemi was already dead. Why not have her do it?

[19] Xena's explanation of why she had to stay dead was the worst of all. The 40,000 souls had to be avenged before they could enter a state of grace, whatever that means, and only her death could avenge them.

[20] The producers of Xena: Warrior Princess have always operated from a potpourri of rulebooks, making up their cosmology as they go along, and the rules are often arbitrary and capricious. But making up an arbitrary rule is not a credible way to motivate important events, and no event could be more important than the death of the hero.

The Power, The Passion, The Misogyny

Gabrielle looks in horror as she realizes someone took a little too much off the top of Xena.
Gabrielle finally finds Xena.

[21] There are worse things in FRIEND IN NEED than the rickety plot.

[22] The amount of misogyny in the episode is appalling. Never before in the series have I heard anyone make Xena's womanhood an issue, yet in Japan she was told that the katana is for men only. The display of her naked, headless body, strung up for all to see, was an expression of contempt, intended to humiliate. Worst of all was her treatment by Yodoshi, who stripped her, called her a whore, and referred to her "servicing" his need for souls. That whole scene, played out in explicitly sexual terms, felt darkly pornographic.

And The Futility

Sleeping through another episode
Xena gets the stuffing knocked out of her by Yodoshi.

[23] The saddest thing about FRIEND IN NEED is its nihilism.

[24] The message of FRIEND IN NEED is that vengeance works. The 40,000 souls entered a state of grace because they got their revenge. That is a chilling message to send out into a world where the lust for vengeance kills thousands every day.

[25] In the finale, all the values extolled throughout the series are proved empty and meaningless. Love and forgiveness cannot end the cycle of violence, and Xena's journey of redemption has been for nothing. She cannot be redeemed, not by her sincere repentance for the hurt she has caused, nor by all the good she has done, nor by Gabrielle's love for her, nor by her love for Gabrielle.

A Reason To Hope

[26] The emptiness and grief felt by so many fans are not what we should feel at the close of a heroic epic. A hero's life should inspire us, and a hero's death should feel like the fulfillment of that life. Instead, Xena's death is simply tragic. There is no triumph in it.

[27] Some will say, "It's just a TV show. Why are people taking it so seriously?" I take it seriously because the stories we tell each other are important. They tell us who we are and what is possible. They teach, encourage, and inspire. Lives have been changed by this TV show, and that is what gives me hope. Already fans are rewriting the ending, and parodies of the finale are allowing us to heal our hearts with laughter.

[28] In the final analysis, not even her creator, Rob Tapert himself, can destroy Xena. She is much too strong for him, because she lives in all of us.


Catherine M. Wilson. How to Host a Convention: Creation Entertainment's First Hercules/Xena Convention. Whoosh #5 (February 1997)

Catherine M. Wilson. In Praise of Mom: Meeting Renee O'Connor's Mother. Whoosh #5 (February 1997)

Catherine M. Wilson. Women at the Convention: A Survey, Part One of Two. Whoosh #5 (February 1997)

Catherine M. Wilson. Women at the Convention: A Survey, Part Two. Whoosh #6 (March 1997)


Catherine M. Wilson Catherine M. Wilson

Catherine M. Wilson (Kit) lives in a redwood forest in Central California. She is currently writing her first novel, which has nothing to do with Xena.
Favorite episode: THE IDES OF MARCH
Favorite line: Xena: "Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you." ONE AGAINST AN ARMY
First episode seen: HOOVES AND HARLOTS
Least favorite episode: FRIEND IN NEED

Donna E. Trifilo Donna E. Trifilo

Donna E. Trifilo lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is currently editing Catherine M. Wilson's first novel, which has nothing to do with Xena. In her off time Donna is a librarian and reviewer of literature.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT
Favorite line: Xena: "Kill 'em all!" Various episodes
First episode seen: THE RECKONING
Least favorite episode: FRIEND IN NEED

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