Whoosh! Issue 64 - January 2002

By Kate Goodman
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
2605 words

What A Show (01-02)
Is It Love? (03-06)
Who Is Xena? (07-09)
Who Is Gabrielle? (10-14)
What About This Redemption Business? (15-17)
Fate Or Freedom? (18-21)
A Love Letter (22)


What A Show

Every girl crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man
History as Caesar may have liked it... up to a point.

[01] Xena: Warrior Princess could never be described as a stylistically consistent television show. There is an astonishingly large episodic range in tone and theme in the six seasons of its run. Consequently, the exercise of picking one particular episode as outstanding can be quite revealing. Someone might pick an episode like MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515), another ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), and a third LYRE LYRE, HEARTS ON FIRE (100/510). Each could stand about as far apart as possible from each other in their view of what this series was really about. My choice will be equally revealing of my perspective.

[02] One of the many reasons I love WHEN FATES COLLIDE (130/618) is that it embraces a wide range of themes and does not back away from bringing them to resolution. FATES deals with the issue of redemption, with Xena and Gabrielle's love, and with the concept that we create our lives everyday. It is a lyrical episode in its language and romantic atmosphere. The writing expresses a profound understanding of the characters and their preoccupations. Yet, what truly makes me admire this episode is the way in which so many themes and questions which had surfaced over the years in the series are explored and integrated. Numerous separate threads running for years through the show are woven together to make an intricately designed and beautiful tapestry.

Is It Love?

That hair looks... so familiar!
Even in an alternate timeline, Xena and Gabrielle get together.

[03] Subtext, as used in the Xenaverse, is one of those terms that on the surface requires no explanation. This is an illusion. There are actually two distinct lines of what is known as subtext, which sometimes merge but most often do not, and many arguments have been hopelessly trapped in the semantics. There is the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" variety of subtext as some have described it, which consists of fun with fish lines and jokes about hickeys. This seems to have been the first understanding of the term by the writers. Nevertheless, simultaneously over the years, there was another aspect of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship that first revealed itself through the fandom and was coined "subtext" as well. This was the growing emotional intimacy and intensity of feeling between the characters Xena and Gabrielle. Sometimes too, this was hidden between lines and buried within the text, or seen through a conscious or unconscious acting choice on the part of the actor on the screen. But it was hard for most to deny the characters' growing awareness that they loved each other and in a way more intimate than most friends. This second breed of subtext became maintext as the series developed.

[04] WHEN FATES COLLIDE is an episode in which subtext and the concept of soulmates as first explored in REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202) and BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415), takes another giant step out of the closet into the light of day. It purposefully uses the images and language of romance to clarify the nature of the relationship. The balcony scene, for example, a romantic symbol for any heterosexual couple since Romeo and Juliet is reworked into a stunning moment of soul recognition between our heroes. The language of love is used with abandon in both of the prison scenes and when Xena rescues Gabrielle from the cross. One of the more revealing moments in the episode is the scene in Gabrielle's play when the male and female characters, clearly lovers, act out scenes from FALLEN ANGEL (91/501). It is a way to clarify and perhaps reinterpret what we have seen before. It also foreshadows what will happen later in the episode. The "Fallen Angel" play reminds us to pay attention and to let go of any preconceptions linking "falling in love" and romance to gender.

[05] These past six seasons would not have been nearly as interesting a journey if Xena and Gabrielle had walked into the series as a couple, with a plan to settle down in an Amazon village for life. The lesbian subtext was not in that sense merely a way to hide the love so as not to offend, though perhaps that was part of it, or a way to titillate some or validate those who were looking to see a mirror for same sex-relationships. Subtext, as a literary term, is used to describe a way to layer text with complexity of meaning and in this show, the lesbian subtext was a way to express the ambiguities and growing awareness of the characters as they begin to understand themselves. It was a way to add depth to the story. Behind the textual push towards action and resolution of plot in episodes, the characters were allowed to explore their developing connection and to make their way deeper and deeper into the mysteries of love. After years of waiting for the resolution, WHEN FATES COLLIDE explores the mystery that has been haunting the show since the first season and like Gabrielle's play, love takes center stage. It helps that the love scenes are poignant and compelling.

[06] Xena and Gabrielle fall in love all over again when they meet each other in this alternate universe -- in fact, it is love at first sight -- thereby confirming that this long voyage we have been observing over the years was always meant to be. There is a strong sense of resolution. Xena sacrifices her life and Gabrielle risks the universe to bring back Xena. WHEN FATES COLLIDE confirms the sense of connection and attraction and the mysterious power of love.

Who is Xena?

[07] If WHEN FATES COLLIDE is, at heart, a love story, consider that the best love stories are always about more than desire and consummation. They are also about choice: character decisions regarding who they are in the world and how they choose to live their lives. Who we love shapes who we are. A Xena, who chose a Caesar, would be and was an entirely different type of person than the Xena who chooses to sacrifice herself for Gabrielle.

[08] Who is Xena then? A monster or hero? The Xena we see in WHEN FATES COLLIDE is a woman who believes that love is worth dying for. She is a woman who trusts her heart over her head, and who values love more than world domination with a handsome and powerful man. She has all the power she ever dreamed of, but Xena's deepest essence is not about the will to power but the will to love. Her choice of Gabrielle confirms this.

[09] If love helps define who we are, then WHEN FATES COLLIDE not only reveals Xena's essential nobility but also helps us understand the way events can make us stray from our true selves. A Xena who is not betrayed does not become the distorted and vicious Xena of Chin and the Northern Amazons. However, even after her betrayal in the real timeline, Xena does eventually and painfully find her way back to the exact same path, to love Gabrielle and to be willing to sacrifice herself for that love. When the series began and Xena was burying her weapons in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), Xena had no confidence in her tremendous potential for good. However, FATES holds up a mirror, which reflects back a picture she can finally live with. This is the real Xena.

Who is Gabrielle?

[10] Equally important in the series was Gabrielle's journey. While we see most of Xena's past in flashbacks, we are allowed to be complete participants in Gabrielle's adventures in self-discovery. From a naive and talkative girl from a small village, Gabrielle transforms into a quiet, self-contained warrior often uncomfortable with the violence she must use to achieve her ends. But was this really her path? What about her writing? Did Xena take her away from what was her true calling?

[11] At first, FATES seems to indicate that this must be the case, since a Gabrielle without Xena's influence is a famous bard. She is not a warrior when left to her own. She also completely excels at her chosen profession. This is what Gabrielle said she always wanted and without the interference of Xena, it could have been.

[12] However, what we learn very quickly is that Gabrielle in this alternate reality is not happy. She has the talent to write, but her writing is all about her life in the real timeline with Xena. She writes about what she longs for, a life of adventure, the life of a warrior, and more importantly, a life which includes love and connection with a soulmate. Gabrielle's choice to live her life as a bard does not bring her as close to her self as her life with Xena. Fame, who needs it? The ultimate reward is love.

[13] Interestingly enough, when this Gabrielle realizes that Xena is about to be killed, she does not act like a writer or poet. She does not accept circumstances in a passive way, but takes on the role of warrior, directly acting to change events when she storms in to confront the Fates. Xena, even in such a short time, has acted on Gabrielle in this realm also and brought out her deepest inner strength. This is the real Gabrielle.

[14] Neither Xena nor Gabrielle is happy without each other, although the shape of their lives in this false world is a perfect representation of their original dreams. The fact is that they are soulmates who must be together to fulfill their lives, to be happy, and to be completely themselves. In FATES, we learn that love is what makes Xena and Gabrielle whole and what challenges both of them to be even more than their own dreams. Without each other and their history together, life is hellish even if outward appearances seem otherwise.

What About This Redemption Business?

Finalists in Roman Grimace competition
Joxer manages to find Gabrielle in the alternate timeline as well.

[15] Because the romantic aspects of this episode are so central, the fact that FATES also deals directly with the redemption question can become lost. Obviously, Xena's redemption is one of the most essential driving forces of the show. How can Xena ever make up for what she has done? Again in its bold fashion, FATES does not shy from facing this question directly. The answer is, she cannot, but she can accept and even embrace her entire history, painful as much of it is. Things occurred precisely as they were meant to occur, Xena tells Gabrielle in prison. With this line, she indicates her understanding that even the evil that happens to us, even the evil we commit, is a path that leads us to our deepest selves. Xena hated the cross and all it meant, but by embracing the cross in her past, she was also embracing the person she was to become, a force for good, and a person capable of unselfish love.

[16] In some ways, this is a precarious metaphysics. All of those Amazon leaders whose bodies rot on trees in the Northern lands might find it difficult to embrace the fact that this was the path Xena was meant to follow. Nevertheless, their cries of "foul" would be countered by the souls who she saved from the clutches of warlords and monsters after her transformation. M'Lila explained to Xena in DESTINY (36/212) that now that Xena understands evil, she can fight it. Yet, FATES goes a step further. Now that Xena understands and accepts her evil past, she can also understand her true self and have an insight into her own future. It is a means to a different kind of power.

[17] In the end, I definitely prefer the supernatural order expressed here, one that embraces both self-acceptance and sacrifice for love over metaphysical rules that demands death and vengeance for past actions.

Fate or Freedom?

How about a little fire, scarecrow?  Oh, sorry, wrong film!
Gabrielle brings the timeline to an abrupt halt.

[18] An idea that has echoed through many episodes of the series in terms of Xena's redemption is that we recreate ourselves every day by our actions. By choosing to do good, Xena was good. In this way, we humans can control our future and our fate by our continual choices.

[19] Destiny is a very loaded word in the Xenaverse. There has always been a tension between a universe where lives are randomly bounced around by willful gods or by the Fates and a universe where humans have free will. Xena has always represented a rebellious attitude towards the dictates of invisible powers controlling her life.

[20] Symbolically then, the battle that has also been ongoing in the series, is faced head on in Gabrielle's own confrontation with the Fates. Gabrielle cries out a resounding "No" to outside control of human destiny, even at the risk of life, as we know it. Her love for Xena drives her to that point, and love is the greatest example of human free will at work.

[21] The two lovers awaken in the mist, the path before them unknown. It is an appropriate setting to recreate the world. Some have commented on the emotionally detached reunion scene, but for me this scene works because their emotional stoicism represents a completely appropriate response to their newfound knowledge about themselves, their relationship, and their place in a world without fate. All they have learned is overwhelming even humbling and yet there must be a sense of confidence and power too in knowing who they are and that this is exactly where they wanted to be. They are able to ride out solemnly into the future knowing that they will have the power to create their lives together.

A Love Letter

[22] There is no doubt that Katherine Fugate knew the show and its characters extremely well as FATES is a complex and textured creation. She was not afraid to storm ahead like Gabrielle in the final scenes and grapple directly with some of the major themes and issues. In the end though, WHEN FATES COLLIDE primarily is a wonderful celebration of the love between Xena and Gabrielle. It reads like a love letter and for the fans that watched the show for the romantic relationship it was a gift we had been waiting for a long time. In this, my choice reveals my particular perspective on the show. It was, to me, all about love.


Kate Goodman. Love and Death: An Examination of Death Scenes and Subtext in Xena: Warrior Princess. WHOOSH #37 (Oct 1999).

Kate Goodman and Spring Nguyen. Memo To Robert Tapert And Company: Unsolicited Advice From Armchair Critics. WHOOSH #56 (May 2001).


goodman Kate Goodman
A native San Franciscan, I received an undergraduate degree in History and added a Masters in English literature ten years later, specializing in 18th and 19th-century fiction. I started and currently co-moderate the Xena and Gab yahoogroups list with Spring, and I also run an email group devoted to the Classic 19th-century ghost story genre. In my spare time, I write short fiction, poetry, and brood about the nature of existence.

Favorite episode: WHEN FATES COLLIDE
Favorite line: Xena: "You don't know how much I love...that", THE PRICE (44/220)
First episode seen: IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124)
Least favorite episode: KING CON (61/315), MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515)



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