The Ghosts of Kissing Past (04-12)
"A Kiss is Just a Kiss..." (13-17)
"A Kiss is Still a Kiss..." (18-19)
Most Notable Absences (20-23)
Here's looking at you, kid.
 "You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss..." Wait a minute. Is it that or is it, "You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss..."? What is the actual lyric to that infamous Casablanca song we all know, or think we know? It is a seemingly fine point of contention, I suppose. After all, it is only a one word difference - "still" versus "just". That one word disparity, however, illuminates a point of departure I have had with Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) throughout the third and fourth seasons. Where have all the kisses gone? After all, "a kiss is just a kiss". It would seem, however, that the XWP Powers That Be have decided that "a kiss is still a kiss", and in a climate of trying to downplay the subtext issue, kisses, they seem to believe, propel subtext to the fore.
 First, let me provide a piece of information about which you are probably wondering. Am I a believer in subtext? I am ambivalent about it actually, as indecisive as that may sound. No, I personally do not choose to read the signs and signals the writers, actors, and directors provide in such a way as to arrive at the conclusion that Xena and Gabrielle are, without a doubt, lovers. However, I do not dismiss the existence of such signs (including a multitude of overt and covert glances, looks, gestures, touches, phrases, actions, etc.) I also do not dismiss those who elect to interpret said signs in such a way as to determine that Xena and Gabrielle are indeed sexual as well as life partners. There is more than enough evidence to support that conclusion as well. I welcome all Xenites of all ideologies. I just happen to be a believer in the "best friends" kind of love.
 The conspicuous lack of lip to lip kissing in the third and fourth seasons, however, is something I insist is severely problematic regardless of the subtext camp in which you reside. I will try to argue my point both ways, if you will pardon the pun.
The Ghosts of Kissing Past I will begin this discussion with a catalog of Xena/Gabrielle kisses which have occurred in past seasons. I am sure there are more instances, but I am compiling this list from memory in the wee hours of morning, so please forgive inadvertent deletions.
Lip contact, but not exactly a kiss per se.
 Xena gives Gabrielle mouth to mouth resuscitation in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124). Granted, Xena is attempting to save her non-breathing friend's life, but lips locked and the breathing part of CPR is often called the "kiss of life", so I count it here. When Xena revives Gabrielle, there is forehead variety kissing. Also, Gabrielle kisses Xena on the cheek when she thinks Xena is dead in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121).
 Gabrielle "bites" Xena's neck in GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204). Xena and Gabrielle kiss on the mouth as the Warrior Princess congratulates Gabrielle on her marriage to Perdicus in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205). There is the famous kiss in THE QUEST (37/215) in which Xena and Gabrielle lock lips (or come very close to it before the cutaway) in a chromakey-enhanced dreamscape before it dissolves into Gabrielle kissing Autolycus. The final instance I can remembered occurred in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) in which Gabrielle playfully kisses Xena, who petulantly rubs it off, on the cheek as they lay together under the stars at the end of the episode.
 This makes at least six different instances of kissing in the first two seasons, with two being lip to lip kisses. Contrast this with instances of kissing in the third and fourth seasons.
 I am thinking. Uh...
 Okay, they covertly reference a hickey in BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302), but that was dialogue only: "No actual lips touch during the making of that episode". I think I remember one, a top o' the head kiss, at the end of THE DELIVERER (50/304) when Xena is attempting to console Gabrielle after she loses her blood innocence, and another top o' the head kiss in THE DEBT (52/306) when Xena is about to leave for Ch'in. There is also the almost-"kiss of life" in FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318) when Xena pulls a drowning Gabrielle from the lake.
 That is it. That is all I can remember. The two of them kissed or were kissed by other people [most notably Callisto kissed Xena in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) and Lao Ma passed Xena air underwater in THE DEBT], but they did not kiss each other on the mouth the whole season.
 Again, they kissed other people - most notably this season was the kiss between Harry (Xena's future, male reincarnation) and Dr. Mattie Merrill (Gabrielle's future female reincarnation) in DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422). There were also a couple of the of "forehead variety" kisses. Xena kissed the back of Gabrielle's hand in A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403), Xena gave Gabrielle a top o' the head kiss when Gabrielle was mourning the death of Phlanagus in A GOOD DAY (73/405), and Xena gave Gabrielle yet another top o' the head kiss near the end of DEVI (82/414). Gabrielle gave Xena a forehead kiss in IDES OF MARCH (89/421).
 Though there are a few examples of kissing in the third and fourth seasons, that does not harm the primary context of my argument. I still maintain that the producers seem to be deliberately avoiding on-the-mouth kisses between Xena and Gabrielle in seasons subsequent to the first two.
"A Kiss is Just a Kiss..." When do people kiss? I suppose that depends largely upon the socio-political culture in which you exist, but gestural practices by culture is a whole essay in itself. Suffice it to say that in generic American culture people kiss as a greeting, as a congratulatory gesture, as a parting gesture, as a display of familial love, as a display of friendship, as a display of romantic love, to name a few of the most common occasions.
 I grew up in a particularly demonstrative family, and, consequently, I am a pretty "huggy, touchy, feely, kissy" kind of person. My father kissed his father on the mouth, my brother kissed (and still does) my father, and I kiss my mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, strangers on the street, etc. I also kiss my friends, male and female, on the mouth for all of the non-romantic occasions cited above. Then there are the romantic kinds of kisses, and I have engaged in those too on occasion. I will leave that aspect to your imagination, as your imagination is probably better than my real life anyway...)
The famous QUEST kiss
 It, therefore, does not seem strange to me at all that friends, as close as Xena and Gabrielle are purported to be, would kiss. The first and second seasons demonstrate this clearly. As I said, Xena kisses Gabrielle to congratulate her at a wedding. They kiss as a sort of goodbye, or, perhaps, a sort of "Hello, I missed you, now be strong and do what you have to do to get me back", kind of way in THE QUEST (37/213). The cheek kiss in DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) is "goodnight" and "I'm sorry I just bonked you on the nose".
 On other occasions in the first two seasons can be attributed to life-saving. In GIRLS JUST WANNA... (28/204) Gabrielle turns Xena in to a Bacchae so that Xena can save them both, plus Joxer, Orpheus, the Bacchae themselves, and the surrounding villages. In IS THERE A DOCTOR... (24/124), as I have already mentioned, she resuscitates Gabrielle.
 In all of the instances from the first and second seasons, the kissing can be interpreted as "just a kiss" - simple displays of the platonic, friendship kind of love. These kisses do not necessarily have to be read as signs of romantic affection. So, given that, why the decided absence of kissing in the third and fourth seasons? I am at a loss to explain it, but it has seemed very unnatural and strange.
"A Kiss is Still a Kiss..."
The famous QUEST 'save'.
 Now, as I said, I fully grant the subtexters' interpretation as a valid one and most of the aforementioned kisses could also be interpreted as a sign of romantic love. The "hickey from h*ll" in GIRLS JUST WANNA... (28/204) could certainly be read as homo-erotic, particularly given the slo-mo and Xena's facial expressions during the event. The kiss in THE QUEST (37/213) sort of stands by itself, without too much interpretation from me - Gabrielle's embarrassed look when Autolycus "catches" her kissing "Xena", the slow approach, the dreamy quality of it, the eyes close... You get the idea. (Actually, you probably already had the idea.) The kiss in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) is easily read as a "discarded" partner saying, "I will always love you" and "Goodbye" to her true love.
 So, even if you are a subtext aficionada, my argument remains the same: Where has the kissing gone? From the subtext point of view, these are obviously two people on romantically intimate terms, and people on intimate terms kiss. Plain and simple. Why were they utterly uninhibited about physical demonstrations of their love in the first two seasons, and nearly devoid of them the third and fourth - especially when, we are told, the relationship has supposedly grown even deeper and more meaningful? Again, I am at a loss to explain it.
Most Notable Absences In 1994, Glenn Close starred in a made-for-TV movie co-executive produced by herself and Barbra Streisand, among others. The film was called Serving In Silence (1994, Jeff Bleckner) and told the true story of Margarethe Cammermeyer, a career Army officer who was dismissed when it was determined that she had a female "companion". At the end of the movie, Close, as Cammermeyer, and Judy Davis, as Cammermeyer's lover, kiss. Of this kiss, Glenn Close said, and I am paraphrasing, that the movie would have been dishonest without it. I felt several times during the past two seasons that Xena: Warrior Princess had been dishonest - dishonest regardless of which way you go on the subtext issue.
 ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) is the most notable case in the third season. In the "kiss is just a..." camp, Xena's best of all best friends is slowly dying, and Xena is powerless to stop Gabrielle's decline. In the "kiss is still a..." camp, Xena is losing her truest love. They exchange tender words, demonstrating their feelings for one another, both when Gabrielle is incoherent and when she is lucid. They even exchange tender gestures, including a lovely finger-entwining hand-hold. But, if this was my best friend, and I thought I would not see her until "the other side", I would have embraced her and kissed her goodbye. And, if this person was your lover, then double ditto on that. The scene was dishonest without the kiss.
Close, but no cigar.
 There were two conspicuous "kiss-less" places in the fourth season: A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/402) and IDES OF MARCH (89/421). In FAMILY AFFAIR, Xena has just spent two emotionally and physically grueling episodes trying to get Gabrielle back, or at least to commune with Gabrielle's spirit after Gabrielle has shown her love for Xena by, apparently, sacrificing her own life to save her friend's. When they reunite, however, an embrace is all we get. Granted, it is a good embrace, but, my goodness, you just got back your best friend/true love, who you thought was dead and gone forever! A hug minus a kiss was utterly unrealistic and dishonest for this situation too, in either subtext interpretive scenario regardless of Joxer's presence.
 In IDES OF MARCH (89/421), a paralyzed Xena lies cradled in Gabrielle's arms as the two wait for a certain, agonizing death. Xena has left a place where she was safe in an attempt to save Gabrielle, and Gabrielle has sacrificed her spiritual philosophy and her ideals in a vain attempt to protect an incapacitated Xena. Again, just as in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), the words are tender, the glances leave little room for an interpretation that does not include intense love of some kind between these two women. They know their fate - we've all been seeing crucifixion scenes in flash-forward "visions" the whole season. They know that this is probably the end, and, yet, a forehead kiss is what is written for the characters to do. That is the biggest kissing violation in the past two seasons, a time when I violently shook my head and said out loud, "Nope, Powers That Be. I can suspend my disbelief no longer! You've missed the 'relationship boat' utterly, and you've compromised characters and the artistic integrity of the show".
Conclusion What are The Powers That Be (TPTB) afraid of? That kissing cannot be read in any way other than as an indicator of erotic love? That is absurd. Of course it can be.
 Or have TPTB suddenly become frightened of those who revel in subtext? This is a demographic group which has been ardently supportive of the show, the creators, and the actors, I might add. The verbiage of the stars recently (including Lucy and Renee's comments espousing the 'party lines' that the characters were 'beyond all that' in terms of subtext) might demonstrate this. The fact that there seems to have been a blatant attempt on the part of the PR people to over-emphasize the "straight-appeal" of the show and its stars in the media (Lucy's recent provocative pictorial in the men's magazine Maxim and her interview in another men's magazine, Penthouse come to mind) could also be read in that way. If so, why are they suddenly afraid of subtexters? That is absurd too.
 Regardless of the way you elect to read the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, the undeniable fact remains that these two women are intimate. They know the workings of each other's minds and hearts. They share everything including a "home", a history, and, presumably, a future (or several of them, according to the India arc and DEJA VU...). They travel together, sleep together, eat together, bathe together, fight together, mourn together, celebrate together, and generally manage their way through life together. People that intimate, who have been openly and unabashedly physically demonstrative in the past, would not just quit that behavior. It is not within the characters to do, and it is dishonest of the creative team to force that upon the characters.
Hope kisses her Dinsdale-esque offspring.
 "A kiss is just a kiss..." or "A kiss is still a kiss..." either way, I miss the kissing. It was an integral part of the love relationship and who these women were. The show and the characters have been diminished because of its absence.
I am frantically working on my dissertation (in Fine Arts-theatre), and I hope to be "Dr. Darise" by May of 2000. I am currently an adjunct in the English Department of a local community college. I collect autographs, movie memorabilia, Xena-bilia. I enjoy jogging and have eclectic tastes in music. I have two dogs (a big black mutt named Sweeney, and Buzz, a one-time stray mutt I rehabilitated after my father accidently bounced him off the bumper of a Cadillac), a fat orange tabby named Beau Geste, and an ornery blue parakeet named Virgil.
Favorite episode: most of the first and second seasons. HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110); A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215); BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302); and CRUSADER (75/408)
Favorite line: Xena to Gabrielle, "You don't know how much I love... that." THE PRICE (44/220); Najara to Gabrielle: "And I only kill evil people. Why's she better than me?"; Xena to Gabrielle, "Pull my finger." THE FURIES (47/301)
First episode seen: THE QUEST (37/213)
Least favorite episode: Lucy-lite eps; 3rd season Rift episodes, most of the 4th season
Also by Darise Error
Lucy Lawless' Acting: Is it Good? Is it Bad? Do We Care?
Whoosh! #15 (12/97)
A Dense Viewer's Interpretation of THE BITTER SUITE
Whoosh! #19 (04/98)
Spiritual Ancestors to Xena: Yentl and Binary Gender Issues.
Whoosh! #34 (07/99)