Whoosh! Issue 82 - October 2003

By Deborah Monroy
Content © 2003 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2003 held by Whoosh!
7316 words

This essay is dedicated to Lisa Anderson, woman-wonder of ocean in real time, our time

(Bitchilicious) Introduction (01-04)
Theory Is A Tattoo (05-09)
Sensuous Loss, Resinous Longing (10-19)
Babes in Swordland (20-25)
In the Mirror the Poem Doesn't Show (26-31)
"Your mother's legacy and your sister's cause" (32-37)
For Whom the Strap-on Tolls (38-39)
Extreme Paradise (40-00)

Women Who Love Women-Created-by-Men Too Much

Xena, not suffering

Gabrielle had a thang for Xena, too

(Bitchilicious) Introduction

[01] By now most of us are aware that Xena has not died entirely. She revived both spiritually and iconically in the form of one Wilhelmina "Billie" Chambers, that most bitchilicious police lieutenant from the TV series Fastlane. Series co-creator McG remains a whiz in presenting us with another combat-ready brunette with a dark past. Fastlane is special criminal investigative law and disorder fantasy, y'all. But now this series too has ended and, not unlike Xena, Billie arrived at a most difficult place at the end of the last episode. "Never send a man to do a woman's work," says one of the bad guys, actually a woman, in that film directed by McG, Charlie's Angels. The work of certain women heroines, created by men, seems to revolve around suffering.

[02] Television fantasy, at its finest, illustrates what I call the "lexicon of affection". Fantasy, that most powerful realm of dream logic and daily wonder, often focuses on very real relationship issues, sometimes expanding our notion of where relationship may lead. Xena: Warrior Princess provides an excellent example of this in its portrayal of that relationship between the two lead characters, Xena and Gabrielle. Their bond is the centerpiece of the series. When this bond ends, with Xena's death in the series finale, the story is over.

[03] On the other hand, Fastlane began as a show of fugitive affection, where connection and caring were shown in true hit-and-run fashion. Yet further into the season, Deaq and Van's friendship became visibly more important. Additionally, each of these men has had a least one episode devoted to that all-important relationship between father and son.

[04] Overall however this is not a treatise about relationships, suffering, or even about cult media theory. It is more likely a reflection expressing, hopefully, my own affection for the Xena: Warrior Princess series.

Theory Is A Tattoo

[05] Theory is an emblem of the mind. Theory never possesses the sensuous immediacy of the story it hovers over. Nor is it a consolation prize offered to make up for the end of the story. It happens best after the ending though so that all angles have been offered for theoretical consideration. Theory is a tattoo that at best embellishes the story or text under discussion.

Oh, dear! They asked me if I wanted a neckrub, and I said 'Yes,' then they asked if I wanted a back rub, and I said, 'THAT too.'

Gabrielle was never quite the same after she met Xena's "friend in need"

[06] In two earlier response papers for Whoosh!, I mention theories I have happily devised in connection with fantasy and Xena. These are a few of my favorite theories, but theory does not tell the story. The story tells the story.

[07] And the real story is that on 18 June 2001, theory aside, having inadvertently read Mary D's spoiler in The Australian Xena Information Page divulging that "Xena did die and stay dead", I suffered hugely over the sixth season Xena: Warrior Princess finale before even viewing it. During two years of working in a department where daily I might handle power tools, a variety of saws, an acetylene torch or two, etc, I suffered no real damage. But on the day I read of Xena's death, in my distraction and sadness, I stood by the mighty Power-matic table saw and slashed my thumb badly while changing a razor blade in a hand-held scraper.

[08] After Xena's death, unaccountably, I felt I had lost a friend, a family member, and a part of myself. I began to realize the double-edged sword motif of the woman warrior theme: the sword gives and the sword takes away. These fantasy women are powerful metaphors but then they do distract from reality as well. They promise empowerment and deliver distraction.

[09] They die.

Sensuous Loss, Resinous Longing

[10] I came to Xena at the end of the fifth season when I was horrified to see, in LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE, that since I had stopped watching the series years ago, now, alas, everyone was dying. Then Xena and Gabrielle wound up hibernating in that ice cave for twenty-five years towards the end of the fifth season. Then they came back to life. Xena's daughter Eve was grown up. She had become quite a handful.

[11] That four-episode story arc which ends the fifth season presented a powerful invitation to continue watching the show during the summer-rerun session. It began with PUNCHLINES, one of my favorite comedies. Intrigued, I found my way to the official Xena: Warrior Princess web-site and reviewed the synopsis for the next week's episode, FALLEN ANGEL. This is an episode that brashly combines theology, mythology, fantasy, nonsense, and you-name-it. I looked forward very much to watching this story. I taped it although the reception was so poor that in order to correct it I had to sit on the floor clutching the antenna for a full hour. The following day, all day, I looked forward to watching FALLEN ANGEL again.

[12] Unfortunately, the tape had not recorded the clear picture I viewed, but the impossible one with wretched reception.

[13] I had looked forward to this story all week, studied the synopsis, longed for it, taped it, held the tape in my hand, and then it was gone. I went berserk. Grieving, I pursued my vision with a vengeance, spending an unholy amount of money in the process. I ordered cable first thing Monday morning. I ordered first season videos. Then I sent for the DVD trilogy from the Hercules series. I planned to view the disc at my sister's since my brother-in-law had installed a state-of-the-art home theater.

[14] But I wanted it all, all mine, in my own home. Anticipating the arrival of the disc, I purchased a DVD player and, at the last moment, a TV so huge I had to beg for help unloading it from my car. I had to petition the gas meter reader who blessedly drove up just as I agonized over who I might find at home in the middle of a work day.

[15] Reading that the fourth year series was called "the spiritual journeys", I ordered this set too. Then, when I could (barely) afford it, I sent for the second and third years to fill in the gaps. My longing for FALLEN ANGEL lingered during those months before the fifth season appeared on video. I paid for express delivery.

[16] I roved the Internet, prowling Xena sites for hours on end. How I longed to get my hands on every lever the Xenaverse offered.

[17] Stumbling out of bed in the dead of night during winter is one of the very few things I do not miss about the demise of the Xena: Warrior Princess series. When the sixth season began, I trained myself to rise at 2:50am each Sunday morning in order to tape the show. Technically Xena: Warrior Princess screened at 3:05am but this time slot remained extraordinarily unpredictable.

Such a little thing...so much suffering

Is there nothing more sad than a VCR with a broken timer function?

[18] Unearned suffering wastes time. I purchased two fluffy "media" blankies to wrap up in while snoozing to the hum of the VCR.

[19] Through my final semesters in a graduate program in theological studies I worked Xena into a variety of papers. I am a woman of the word and image. Fellow students were fairly scandalized that my papers involved such a "fun" topic but in reality these essays required twice as much work because there is far less scholarship to delve into and build on. Also the story needed to be laboriously sketched in as a part of the total presentation since not everyone was familiar with the series. Xena: Warrior Princess provided excellent, if demanding, illustration for both theology and myth. But these stories remain of far more value to me beyond theory or paper.

Babes in Swordland

[20] Frequently women writers carry the torch forward in the Xena series. Brenda Lilly penned that early, perfect comedy WARRIOR. . .PRINCESS. Hilary J. Bader likewise contributed several comedies, including BEEN THERE, DONE THAT which is perhaps the most sophisticated of all the comedic episodes. The team of Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster also authored many comedies.

[21] Women have written many of the scripts for this show. Xena: Warrior Princess manifests so well the woman-centered, humane core of values I have responded to and invested in so heavily. Once or twice a year a woman directed an episode. Renée O'Connor, who portrayed Gabrielle, directed two stories in the overall course of the series.

[22] Writer and producer Chris Manheim structured much of Xena during the first five years of the series. In the sixth and final year fan fiction writer Melissa Good contributed two scripts. Emily Skopov wrote three stories during the sixth season, two of them, in my book, most admirably kinky (HEART OF DARKNESS and THE GOD YOU KNOW).

[23] Feature writer Katherine Fugate's script for WHEN FATES COLLIDE forms an elliptical parallel to the storyline from IDES OF MARCH. The characters are the same, but the plot is altered. Therefore, in this similar-yet-unlike story Xena is beaten, bashed, fractured, etc. In WHEN FATES COLLIDE Xena is manhandled by nature and design; however she at least gets a new costume, one of the most dashing ever, that handsome black leather pantsuit.

[24] I find the women's scripts portraying a gentler, kinder, less graphically mutiliated version of Xena overall.

[25] By contrast, Xena suffers maximum damage in those episodes worked by series co-creators Rob Tapert or R. J. Stewart. In particular, those stories hammered together by these two men in collaboration show Xena at her most mutilated. These include FRIEND IN NEED of course, along with DESTINY, THE DEBT, and WHO'S GURKHAN. Does Xena suffer gratuitously? Is her damage an ordinary occupational hazard of the warrior? If damage is just an ordinary part of a day in the life, then I must admit that, having had an axe to grind initially, I would have to change axes in mid-stream as I realize I may be wrong. Perhaps the men's scripts simply dwell on damage in more detail. Or perhaps not.

NOW do you believe I don't look good in gold???

Xena having a bad day (not to mention lapse in fashion sense)

In the Mirror the Poem Doesn't Show

[26] Previously, years ago, baffled, a friend asked me why I was so devoted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Because, I replied, Buffy is who I really am, except that I am not blond so no one understands how delicate I am. Or how murderously tough, really. I identified with Buffy but the slayer is blond and much smaller than I. Nevertheless for several years Buffy stood alone as the first metaphor for myself seen on television. Of course on occasion Buffy takes a beating. She bounces back promptly. It is Xena who is graphically beaten, bashed, fractured, mutilated, and otherwise masticated by Fate et al to within an inch of her life. Buffy's wounds are cosmetic and do not detract from her attractiveness. In this series it is the men who suffer the most serious damage, i.e., scenes of prolonged torture are reserved for Angel, Giles, or Spike.

[27] Both Xena and Buffy heal in between episodes however. By contrast, in Fastane Billie suffers physical damage which actually endures from one episode to the next.

Buff Buffy and Angel in Chains -- sculpture by Ersatz

"All my men wear chains or they wear nothing at all"
Buffy comforts Angel, a friend in chains

[28] As I watched Xena more and more closely, I began to identify with her, for here is another woman who (a) loves her work unreservedly and, (b) is truly one of the berserk. In an early scene in FRIEND IN NEED II, Xena, having kneeled to bury her old combat regalia then stands up and closes her eyes. Once. She looks around and then closes her eyes a second time. It is unusual for this woman to chose reflection over berserk fury. Brow of my brow, glance of my glance, that fatal helplessness in my heart as I am about to witness someone, so like myself, die. For with Xena's eyes closed only the dark brows, so like my own, are visible.

[29] These days, though, when I look in my rear view mirror, I see that glittering Kali sticker instead of my own two eyes. Kali is the warrior goddess one wants, and loves, in metro Atlanta to aid in the battle of hellish traffic so that one may negotiate this combat zone without shedding blood.

[30] "So much blood", Gabrielle laments as she hands over the chakram to Xena in FRIEND IN NEED II. Xena cannot touch her signature weapon though because she is dead. This is the worst-case scenario; death separates her from Gabrielle. There is no suffering like this suffering.

[31] Nominally, Xena has chosen her death. She has made a choice, but we know that in reality, the writers made a choice on her behalf. Of course, I choose to watch. And even believe.

"Your mother's legacy and your sister's cause"

[32] Curiously the fourth season two-part story PURITY and BACK IN THE BOTTLE offers a close comparison with FRIEND IN NEED. Both stories open with a desperate monk arriving from the East to tell Xena a message, which requires her to immediately journey East. Both stories rely on the character of another woman closely associated with literature, K'ao Hsin or Akemi. Each involves a mushroom cloud explosion; the need to assist poor villagers against a mighty oppressor; the motif of listening and learning compassion; and the ghostly presence of the dead, whether in the form of Xena's mentor Lao Ma or Akemi's ancestors. Each story pivots around that scene of a singular kiss for Xena, where her devoted companion revives the heroine by means of a transfer of breath or water.

[33] "Your mother's legacy and your sister's cause" are the words Xena speaks to remind the evil daughter of her proud heritage. These are the legacy and cause of women designed-by-men, yet one could not ask for a better heritage.

[34] BACK IN THE BOTTLE ends with Xena's triumph over evil once again. In a way, it is as though, having done everything "right" in producing a satisfying ending here, Tapert and Stewart could only unravel Xena's triumph later, into that harshly tragic ending of the FRIEND IN NEED episodes.

Jeannie was SUCH an amateur!

Xena, getting it BACK IN THE BOTTLE

[35] In the opening scene of FRIEND IN NEED II Xena buries her traditional warrior gear. Now she wears that insanely beautiful red and gold livery as she hastens to the fell hail of arrows, which finalizes her own private Armageddon. Is her earned redemption a final triumph? Or tragedy without end? Xena must leave Gabrielle in an ending that remains endlessly tragic.

[36] In a much earlier, and simpler story, in that fourth season episode, LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN, Xena makes an effort to attain a state of completion by submitting herself to the justice system, and to doing time in prison, in order to atone for her past murderousness. As the story unfolds though we see that her victim did not die after all. Thalassa, good girl turned bad because of Xena's brutality, taunts Xena: "You finally have the punishment you sought but for a murder you didn't commit. Don't you love the irony?" Xena may have appreciated the irony, yet she eventually decides to let Gabrielle be her liberator. Xena leaves the prison scene. Even she admits she is tired of atoning for her past wrong-doing. Yet at the end of the series somehow she cannot resist sacrificing herself finally, terminally, after all.

[37] Here might be an eruption of that disturbing collusion of boys bashing babes because violence is the motif du jour. Or it is simply the tragic outcome of a heroic fantasy lifestyle.

For Whom the Strap-on Tolls

[38] It never rains on Fastlane but in this series where violence acts out as a regular character someone has to take a beating on a regular basis, whether it's the babe or the boys, or both. It happens that Billie always suffers the worst damage. Deaq and Van, co-stars of Fastlane, are hot candy boys who always triumph. It is Billie who takes a beating every other week. Then the series ended harshly with Billie beaten, bound and dosed with her most intimate nemesis, heroin. The extent of this damage remains disturbing for sad endings are the last thing I want to suffer through in a heroic fantasy series.

[39] I took two doses of Saved by the Bell first thing the next morning after enduring the Fastlane finale but felt only slightly better. Suffering is inevitable.

The Whoosh! staff pulls yet another crafty tease

Thought we were going to have a picture of a strap-on?

Extreme Paradise

Xena helps Aidan locate the elusive Neck chakra

Aidan was too extreme

[40] The amount of damage and death, fatal or not, sustained by fantasy women such as Xena or Billie is disturbing. Yet I am invested in their fates, for better or worse, though these characters remain the creations of men and must suffer the consequences of their chosen occupation even in the world of fantasy.

[41] Am I attached to Xena, in sickness and in bliss? Unquestionably. Am I in love with violence? No. Is the graphic mutilation of Xena gratuitous violence or merely an occupational hazard? Is it the realistic consequence of her chosen career path? Why or why not? Do I feel sick while watching Xena's mutilation? Unquestionably.

[42] What is the cure for longing to dwell in this extreme paradise of beauty and violence? (A) Writing one's own script and, (B) watching the real life dominating performance of women such as Lisa Anderson, in real time, four-times world surfing champion and mother of two, battling the odds in her chosen profession.

Hmmm, Zorra? Zorrina? Zorralita? 'Queenie' just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Can you pass this Tess?
The Queen of Swords series ended in an extremely happy way with Tessa and Marta walking down the street of their home town together.


Deborah Monroy, Xena Acres Whoosh! #50 (11/00)
Deborah Monroy, How Xena Saved My Buttons Whoosh! #60 (09/01)
Deborah Monroy, Of Bangs and Bangles, Xena and Bliss Whoosh! #69 (06/02)


monroy Deborah Monroy
I wieldED the sword and various other implements between departments of Curatorial and Exhibition Design at the Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

Favorite episode: FALLEN ANGEL
Favorite line: Xena: "Who threw that pie?!" PUNCHLINES
First episode seen: THE BITTER SUITE
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS



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