VISUAL METAPHOR IN XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS
IAXS Project # 022
By Carmen Carter (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
 As a rule, the use of visual metaphor on television is non-existent. One of the delights of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, however, is the clever and frequent use of visual images to imply a subtext or illustrate the thematic material in the scripts.
Xena faces her dark side
 The first obvious instance of this usage was in DREAMWORKER (episode #3) where the two Xenas dramatize the dual and conflicting nature of the warrior's personality. There are other metaphors threaded throughout the series, but two episodes in particular stand out in this regard.
Xena out for a little fish action
 ALTARED STATES (episode #19) was saturated with visual metaphor that complemented the political and religious satire. To begin with, there was Xena's ironic use of a string of fish, an early Christian symbol, to fight off her attackers. Going beyond the religious, the sexual connotations of fish add yet another, even more ironic, level to that scene.
 The ruined, overgrown temple to Hestia showed the abandonment of women-centered goddess worship in the face of male-dominated Christianity. This opposition of pagan/goddess culture with Christianity was strengthened by the opening scene of Xena and Gabrielle bathing and fishing together, later followed by the two of them being thrown down a well. The sexual innuendo of these images also tied in with the inflammatory rhetoric which the elder son used to agitate his followers. Phrases such as "freak of nature" and "an abomination" are favorite gay-bashing catch phrases used by religious zealots in search of targets that will deflect the energy and attention of their followers. And the implication of lesbianism has been an effective divisive technique used to keep women isolated from each other and undermining their political power base.
 The word of God has often been referred to as the bread of life. In this episode, that bread is poisoned by the power-hungry son and used as a weapon against his father, a man of sincere faith.
Callisto, as usual, is up to no good
 "You made me," maintained Callisto in a show where numerous visual images implied that Xena and Callisto were flip sides of the same coin (CALLISTO, episode #22). In their first encounter Callisto snatches the chakram out of the air, framing Xena in its circle, and the weapon passes back and forth between them during the story, a reminder of how tied they are to each other.
 After Xena restrains the murdered boy's father, tying him spread-eagle to a tree, the scene dissolves to the crucifixion of Callisto's victims, emphasizing both a similarity and a crucial difference in their characters. Later, when Callisto is jailed, the bars of the cell hang between them but more clever camerawork blurs the distinction between who is caged and who is free.
 The final confrontation between Xena and Callisto is in a jungle of criss-crossed ladders with Gabrielle suspended from the scaffolding above. Justice, compassion, an end to violence--these virtues literally hang in the balance as the two warriors battle against each other. Then, in a dazzling display of athleticism, not to mention symbolism, Xena exchanges Callisto's weight on the scales for that of Gabrielle, and resists the temptation to let her enemy plunge to her death. Forgiveness wins....
 This layering of visual metaphors in XENA provides an unusual richness of texture to the weave of the stories. As a result, I can watch the shows over and over again, picking up new details that I may have missed on the first viewing. So, I recommend the search for visual metaphors as an entertaining exercise once the plots have become comfortably familiar.