Whoosh! Issue 36 - September 1999

IAXS project #720
By William James
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
1938 words

Introduction (01-02)
Coming of Age (03-05)

The Last Temptation of Callisto

But wait!  There's more!  NOW how many would you slay?!

Psycho-Barbie is as Psycho-Barbie does.


[1] "Psycho-Barbie"? But you say that like it is a bad thing! Callisto is an important villain. She is understood to be Xena's greatest enemy. A product of an inadvertent scorched earth policy employed by Xena's army back in the bad old days, Callisto grew up fast. Her focus in life narrowed sharply when Xena burnt Cirra, Callisto's hometown, killing her mother and sister, and Callisto quickly became a ruthless, uncaring monster, striding across the landscape in search of nothing but ways to make Xena pay. This is one way of looking at her.

[2] Another way suggests that hers is a nature that describes the meaning of life with a stark and terrible beauty. Humans strive, one foot in the void and one foot in the world, our eyes fixed on whatever can make us whole again, necessarily occupied with isolation and eventual death. Callisto occupies herself with these things to the exclusion of all else - so much so, that she eventually sells her soul to further her aims, almost guaranteeing that she will never achieve them.

Coming of Age

[3] In a sense, Callisto came of age when Xena came to town. We can take the things she says to Gabrielle in A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214) as indicative:

"Think back to when you were a little girl and all you knew was your mother... and your sister..., and all your faith revolved around them. Now kill 'em."

[4] Callisto, literally, had nothing left but herself. Presumably this made her a sociopath. Or it made her a woman who was utterly aware of the fundamental absence of a human connection in her life, which is not to say she was just a lonely girl out to have a good time. It was her faith that left, not just her sister and mother. Her grievance with Xena was not merely one of suffering, but of faithlessness. On that score, if she did not care about her loss, she truly would be a monster.

[5] But she does care. We see it every time she talks to Xena. Her need for revenge is her need for faith. That is why all her interest is tied up in Xena. It is also why she has a particularly adult lust for Xena. She combines the two things: a rage against loss and a heart breaking, and need to have her own heart be seen.


[6] Callisto's next defining moment came in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311). In that episode, Callisto helped Hope kill Solan, Xena's child, but when it was done, a kind of grief settled on her. Clearly, and as she reported later, she discovered a new emptiness. Her need for revenge was not addressed by acts of revenge. In a sense, she ceased to be. The marvelous thing is that this was not the end for her.

[7] Callisto returns to town after Solan's death to robotically complete her mission of destruction. Of course, Xena is waiting, but not to agree with Callisto that It "hurts, doesn't it?" Xena attacks. In a truly wonderful scene (edited for TV, d*mm*t) Callisto, full of arrows, flares back to life. We see, once again, the woman from RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205).

Why vehicle insurance rates continue to climb

A very dramatic moment in RETURN OF CALLISTO.

[8] The chariot chase in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) is, no doubt, meant to mirror the horse chase in CALLISTO (22/122), but it is hard not to see the event, indeed both events, as engineered by Callisto, herself. She causes the woman of her dreams to come running, and it excites her enormously. That really is the most appealing feature of Callisto: her ability to be excited by things that would break most stout-hearted people, things like Xena breathing down her neck not frightening her but focusing her on a lethal mission.

[9] The difference for Callisto in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311) is the newly gained understanding that grief is unchangeable. Callisto has it for good, and so has Xena. The life, the light if you will, revived in Callisto is not one of freedom and innocence. It is the one that had kept her alive since Cirra. It is her defense against the void, against meaninglessness. She uses it to attack, to create meaning - lucky for her because, of course, her ordeal cannot be over. It is Xena's turn. Cutting to the chase, Callisto gets buried alive, again.


[10] In ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414), Hope tempts Callisto out of buried retirement with the promise that she can live with a free heart. All she has to do is go back in time and kill the mother of Hercules. The payoff is a side trip to Cirra where Callisto will be allowed to do what she can to save the child she was.

[11] This is an example of the kinds of deals Callisto makes with gods. Callisto deals with gods to gain powerful advantage that will further her own agenda. She accepts the gods for their utility and only their utility, and she will turn on her partners in the blink of an eye. This is most obvious in the deal she makes with Ares. As part of the deal with Hope, Callisto approaches and joins forces with Ares. Later, when the deal has served her purpose, Callisto, supported by Hope, badly beats Ares. To emphasize her position, she kills Strife, Ares' second in command.

[12] There is a moral about this vicious ruthlessness as a tool of salvation. Callisto is unable to create safety for her younger self. In fact, her attempts to change the way of things only prove destructive and she becomes her own demon, killing her mother and father in front of her younger self. Since she knows what this will mean, she offers the child the one respite she can conceive of as appropriate: "You have to die for both of us now". Sorrow dictates much of Callisto's understanding. It is a testament to the deep loss she understands in herself that she sees no better future for the child. However, this is no simple, selfish child killing. The manner in which she approaches and holds the child suggests that she loves her. If there is a moral about ruthlessness, there is also a moral about its flip side, love. To love is, at least, to be haunted by loss.

[13] As it turns out, Callisto returns to the current Xenaverse never having played out that scene. The stage is set for a SACRIFICE (67,68/321,322).


Callisto snubs her invitation to the Dahak Disciples Award Ceremony

At times unpredictable, Callisto can have you on the edge of your seat..

[14] Death is commonplace in the Xenaverse, and Callisto has done it a couple of times. Formally, what she seeks in SACRIFICE (67,68/321,322) is not death per se, but oblivion, with no memories, no Tartarus, no nothing. Arguably, this is not simple suicide. It is a response consistent with her usual approach. She makes war on her past, and therefore, eventually, on herself.

[15] What Callisto does is act to make her wishes and her nightmares a part of the world in an effort to resolve them. Of course, she makes mistakes, and she rarely never achieves true resolution. She makes deals with gods, she slaughters, she terrorizes, but why not give the girl a break? Hers is the way of the warrior. The one thing Callisto does consistently is make war. She mourns, and because she mourns, she makes war. In this way, Callisto's purpose is everyone's purpose: to engage in the struggle with our own isolation and eventual death, the thing that would otherwise make a mockery of our lives. Callisto, specifically, struggles with Xena.

[16] Callisto begins SACRIFICE (67,68/321,322) in league with Hope. She protects Hope from Xena and is semi-explicit about her plans. Xena pays no attention. Eventually, Callisto explicitly turns to Xena, after Hope and Ares muddy the water. Callisto says, "I yearn for oblivion. Peace, if you will". This sounds like it should be reprehensible, but since it is cast in the form of a request made of Xena, it can be seen as Callisto once again seeking to engage Xena in her life. This time there is a twist: "I scratch your back, you stab mine".

[17] By the kind of accident that intertwined lives are built on, Callisto gets what she wants and more. When Gabrielle dives into the lava pit with Hope, Callisto sees Xena's family destroyed by Gabrielle's own hand. This stabs Xena in the heart in a way that no Callisto-orchestrated murder could. Callisto is in ecstasy, her hate having reached its climax. Callisto, however, loves as much as she hates, and she calls Xena by name: "And I have you to thank, Xena..."

[18] That plays out, as it must. Xena turns on Callisto, away from mourning Gabrielle, and thrusts the Hind's blood dagger into Callisto's belly. Callisto gets to die, if not in Xena's arms, then at least broken on Xena's body. The yearning she has had since Cirra, the war on meaninglessness, reaches a resolution.


Another entry in the Season Four Bad Hair contest

Callisto is conflicted in IDES OF MARCH.

[19] Callisto gets a lengthy respite, and I am glad for that. She had displayed a fabulous, vicious courage, constantly aware of, and delving into, the void, the thing that threatens the meaning of everyone's life. If living the short lives we do is not a dark comedy, I don't know what is, and Callisto surely is the hero of that comedy, just as Xena is the hero of the fine, civilized, "fair trials for all" world in which we, most, often see our lives set. But the Xenaverse, by design, is Xena's world, so Callisto gets sent to Hell.

[20] IDES OF MARCH (89/421) takes back any triumph Callisto may have had. We find her in the bikini section of Satan's beauty pageant, swinging a sword at phantom Xenas and illusory Gabrielles. Maybe that was inevitable (and maybe that is okay: who needs triumph anyway, when you have a good sword arm?) Maybe the inevitability contributes to the mistake Callisto then makes. She accepts a deal with Satan for another shot at Xena. Of course, Satan denies her all the things that make such a shot worth while: Callisto is not allowed to use force and all she has to offer is peace.

[21] So, in going along with that deal, Callisto ironically sells her warrior soul when her aim is to get what her soul most desires. The war on meaninglessness becomes an almost meaningless war, but, of course, she breaks the rules. Some souls are tougher than others and will not stand to be sold.


William James William James
Study, study, study, unemployment, TV, gainful employment, more TV.
Favorite episode: Today, I pick RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205). Tomorrow, I'll pick ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313). Yesterday I might have gone with MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311). SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) ain't half bad, either.
Favorite line: Callisto: "Oh yes!" RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), as she high-kicks Gabrielle under the chin. It's the attitude more than the words, not that I'm a Gab hater; I'm also fond of Xena in SACRIFICE II (68/322): "No more living for you".
First episode seen: erm... TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208), I think.
Least favorite episode: There are forgettable episodes that I've forgotten. The only actually irritating ep was FORGET ME NOT (63/317). I was annoyed at having to accept Gabrielle as uncharacteristically and retrospectively corrupted.

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