WAS XENA EVER REALLY EVIL?
IAXS Project # 046
By Debbie White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright (c) 1996 held by author
"After you left, I kind of lost my way."
---Xena, SINS OF THE PAST (episode #1)
 This paper is based upon the first season of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (1995-96) and the HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS Xena trilogy episodes WARRIOR PRINCESS (HTLJ #09), THE GAUNTLET (HTLJ #12), and UNCHAINED HEART (HTLJ #13). As the second season of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS unfolds, I may write an update based upon the new revelations on Xena's past.
 In order to determine whether Xena was evil, we have to define 'evil'. There are several types of evil. I have defined three below.
1. PURE EVIL.
Pure evil is motivated by greed, hate, and selfishness. Not only does this type of evil despise 'good' as weak, but often its practitioners try and make the 'good' suffer before killing them rather than granting them quick and painless deaths.
2. EVIL-DOER'S EVIL.
An 'Evil-doer' does an heinous act, but for what they view as 'the greater good,'; bettering other people as well as themselves.
3. HUMAN EVIL.
Of course, there is the situation where someone is forced into doing 'evil' things to protect their life or that of a loved one.
 If we examine the occasions when Xena confronted evil and determine what kind of evil was encountered, then we may find the answer to whether Xena was evil.
"Hard times breed hard people--there's no avoiding that."
----Xena, WARRIOR PRINCESS
Xena and Flora discuss old times in THE BLACK WOLF
 In THE BLACK WOLF (episode #11), Xena talked to Flora about their childhood. Even in her childhood, Xena pushed others to rely upon themselves by putting them through lessons that were harsh. As a child, Xena would trick Flora again and again by offering to help Flora up into a tree, but then taking her hand away at the last minute. Furthermore, Flora observed that Xena seemed to always understand and to know what to say to people. Thus from the beginning, Xena pushed people hard to improve and understood how people thought.
"My father was killed in battle and so were all three of my brothers. I won't be."
---Xena, WARRIOR PRINCESS
 Why did Xena become a warrior and form a conquering army? In DEATH MASK (episode #23) we learned Xena became a warrior in order to fight the marauding warlord, Cortese, and consequently she formed an army to protect her village from subsequent raiders. All good intentions so far. Then the evil started to creep in. She used her army to take over the surrounding villages as a buffer to protect her village. Now she forced her idea upon people who did not want to become human shields. Thus began her journey as an evil doer.
"Then somewhere, I don't know where, I changed. I didn't have time to feel anything."
---Xena, DEATH MASK
 Several times Xena referred to the difference in how she felt now ('good') compared to how she used to feel. In UNCHAINED HEART, Xena told Hercules that "I've fought in a hundred battles before, but all I've ever felt is a cold rage." In DEATH MASK, she said she had never had time to feel. She was so busy trying to lead her army, that she never stopped to realize that to win at 'their game,' she was becoming like the very raiders she was trying to stop.
"You're talking about a woman who wanted to make history by killing you."
---Iolaus, UNCHAINED HEART
 In the HERCULES' Xena trilogy, we find Xena as a cruel warlord, trying to use Iolaus to kill Hercules. Neither Hercules nor Iolaus have heard of her before, but Xena decides she needs to kill Hercules. Possible reasons are given, but which one is true?
 In WARRIOR PRINCESS, Xena tried to win Iolaus to her side by saying, "He's selfish, Iolaus, selfish right down to the bone." When she said this, she was passionate, whereas she was usually hard and cool when doing business. This meant that this probably wasn't the reason, or at least the main reason, why Xena wanted Hercules dead.
 Further, it has been suggested that Xena was simply a 'government' trying to protect herself from a future threat. Hercules may not have heard of her yet, but in THE GAUNTLET he is called on to save a village in his area from Xena. This means she was moving into conflict with him. Xena no longer needed to expand to protect her village, and she was the one moving into Hercules' territory. She was destroying a future threat rather than protecting against it. Since she was the one moving into another's territory, this argument is not valid.
 Maybe she was trying to make a name for herself, like Iolaus said in UNCHAINED HEART, and as Petracus said in WARRIOR PRINCESS, "...she wants everything. If she kills you, there'll be nothing to stop her."
 Either her decision to kill Hercules was a selfish wish to be known as the warlord that killed Hercules, or she believed by killing him no one would attack her or her army again, therefore providing safety to her charges. The reason Xena decided to kill Hercules only determined the shade of evil of the act. The true evil of the act was the way Xena used Iolaus.
"I would have killed you."
---Iolaus, THE WARRIOR PRINCESS
 Xena might have felt Hercules as a threat to her, but Iolaus didn't. Yes, he fought beside Hercules at times, but not always and never going out and fighting by himself. Even if he did come to revenge Hercules' death, if Xena could kill Hercules, then Iolaus would be an easy target. There was no reason to use Iolaus, except as a way to kill Hercules in the cruelest way possible. Xena had even done this before, with Petracus' son and maybe others. This act in itself could be called pure evil because she was intentionally hurting someone she didn't need to just to make Hercules suffer before he died. The only explanation to keep this as a border 'pure evil' was that she felt threatened by Hercules and this was the only way she could think of that her army could take him on and win.
"He loved her and he wanted to prove it."
---Hercules, WARRIOR PRINCESS
 Not only does Xena act cruelly towards strangers, but she treats her soldiers as play-things to do her will, rather than as humans. She calls them pathetic, tells them to act like warriors, and the very men she gives favors to, she sends on suicide missions to prove their love. She doesn't use them to do heroic deeds, but as bait to keep Hercules coming into the trap. Here she is further losing her ability to see people as humans instead of targets or weapons.
 Xena's code of honor reflects this change in distinguishing people. The first suicide warrior in WARRIOR PRINCESS says, "My Commander says you attack from whatever side suits your purpose." Xena was teaching that efficiency in getting the job done was more important than giving the other person a chance to see his opponent and fight back. When a warrior questioned Xena's method of killing Hercules, she said, "A true warrior would understand that you demoralize and weaken before you destroy." She took strategy and applied it to a single person, viewing him only as a target rather than thinking about him as a human.
 Xena's honor code was what she lived by, though, and may be what led her back to good. Iolaus realized how important it was to her when she told him he was a true warrior and he said, "If I was anything less, you wouldn't want me here." When the second suicidal warrior surrendered to Hercules, Xena killed him saying she killed "only those who don't follow my code."
 True, this was part of the game to get Hercules back to fight Iolaus, but Iolaus' words and Xena's general attitude towards her army leads one to think she really did kill him because he was disobeying her code.
"It matters to me."
---Xena, THE GAUNTLET
 As Xena rode away in WARRIOR PRINCESS, she promised she'd return...and she did. Since her last method of getting rid of Hercules didn't work, she returned with her army bigger, better equipped, and on the move into Hercules' 'territory.' She changed methods from suicide warriors, which didn't work last time, to marching discipline. She wanted her soldiers to follow her due to loyalty instead of greed or fear. Xena had shown she understood people by her trap for Hercules and by her suicide warriors. She took this further, understanding that loyalty created a great fanaticism to one leader, whereas anyone can lead greed or create fear.
 Xena's code of honor also showed a change. She may have originally gotten her code of honor from her beloved warrior father, but she kept it because it was smart: take only the food needed so there would be some left when you needed it later; leave the women and children to keep up the farming; give the villagers time to change their minds and opt to have no fight or let them defend themselves with little battle knowledge and give her warriors some practice when they needed a little blood-price.
 Her code was no longer twisted, as in WARRIOR PRINCESS, but was back to it's original intended use. She was in a setting where she was more honorable. Instead of acts bordering on pure evil, she was moving from evil-doer back to human. First she saved Salmoneous because he made her laugh. This might have appealed to her army as a warlord's act if it had been viewed as her laughing at something pitiful, but Darfus was a threat. Xena saved Salmoneous at a time when Darfus could use him as an example of weakness in her. Then she saved the baby to prove she was still the leader of the army rather than killing Darfus. She acted to save her code of honor (not killing babies) over removing a threat while she had a clear chance to keep her army. The rigid code then took a life of its own when she had to deal with the baby as a living thing. This worked to compel Xena to see people as humans again rather than targets.
 Xena's main problem was that Darfus had no code of honor and was feared deeply by her army. Xena watched Darfus kill an old man in battle who was begging for mercy and did not punish him. True, it was an act on the border of the code she had for her army, but either she made a mistake and did not realize how great a threat Darfus was or she had started to depend too much on her army's loyalty. She usually punished, if not killed, warriors who showed any sign of breaking her code. This desire and dependence on loyalty was another turning point towards 'good.' Instead of cruelly enforcing her code of honor, she started to simply expect it.
"There's not a man here who would raise his hand against me!"
--Xena, THE GAUNTLET
 Xena's revised code saved her in the gauntlet. Her soldiers hit her because they feared Darfus, but when she survived and Darfus ordered her death, they obeyed her code and refused to kill her. She was still lured by the draw of power, though. She did not want to change her ways, so she attacked Hercules in desperation, hoping that if she killed him she would the loyalty of her army back. However, Hercules defeated her.
"Killing isn't the only way to prove you're a warrior, Xena. I think you know that."
---Hercules, THE GAUNTLET
Xena almost lost it when she thought she had lost Gabrielle
in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE
 Xena never failed before, so she did not know how to handle defeat. In UNCHAINED HEART, she went after Darfus to finish the job, even if it would get her killed. In IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, Xena refused to let Gabrielle die and kept pounding away. Hercules defeated Xena, but he also gave her a way to accept that defeat; he helped her realize that her army and what they had been doing was not right. She did not want the army any more because Hercules gave her a way to say, "They weren't true warriors, they had to be stopped." It fit in with her code that one had to be a true warrior or be stopped and gave her a reason for her army's behavior.
 She stopped her old army, but what kept her from making a new one to start over with? In UNCHAINED Heart, she needed to stop Darfus again, but this time she got to see the other side of what she was doing. This reinforced Hercules' code, which was to help people (and he did not have an army). Xena had a chance to feel again, and see not only what she was doing wrong, but the rewards (Hercules, true companionship, etc.) of being good. She still wanted to be a true warrior, but she determined that she had not really been one before. A true warrior was fighting against people who were like she was. She decided to again devote the rest of her life achieving the goal of being a true warrior, but the actions were different now.
 In SINS OF THE PAST, Gabrielle brought yet more into the picture. Gabrielle slowly losing her innocence gave Xena another reason to change. Xena could see now how much she had changed from what she originally wanted and questioned how and what she thought. As many like to say, Gabrielle was Xena's conscience. However, Xena was not pulled in by power, which might have trapped her without Gabrielle. Ares tried to lure Xena with a huge army and all the warriors she wished in THE RECKONING (episode #06) and slightly acknowledged the change in her by also offering fair laws to be passed. Xena had changed enough to see past the main lure of power to see the trap, though.
 Was Xena ever really evil? She did evil acts from laming her horse to using Iolaus to kill his best friend. Without knowing for certain why Xena decided to use Iolaus to kill Hercules, we cannot know for sure. She did border on the edge of pure evil with several acts, but things happened to pull her away before she permanently landed there. This wavering between evil-doer and pure evil probably happened throughout her entire career until Hercules broke her out of it and Gabrielle kept her out of it. I admit, this paper is not an answer, but the fun of Xena is you never quite know why she does things. You can only hope she did it for the best reasons.
Xena in THE RECKONING