Whoosh! Issue 41 - February 2000

THE FOURTH SEASON:
SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS

IAXS project #741
By Maytee Aspuro
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
7482 words



Background on Xena and Gabrielle (01-07)
Three Shows in One (08-10)
ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (11-22)
A FAMILY AFFAIR (23-27)
LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (28-36)
CRUSADER (37-43)
A GOOD DAY (44-47)
PAST IMPERFECT (48-50)
The India Arc (51-52)
PARADISE FOUND (53-54)
DEVI (55-57)
BETWEEN THE LINES (58-61)
THE WAY (62-65)
THE CONVERT (66-68)
ENDGAME (69-72)
IDES OF MARCH (73-77)
Spiritual Journeys (78-79)
Biography



The Fourth Season: Spiritual Journeys




Background on Xena and Gabrielle


In addition to inventing the camera, Gabrielle inadvertently
invents the first double exposure

Xena begins a spiritual journey in ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE.

[1] This paper was written with some hesitancy because of the criticism leveled against the third and fourth seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP). The focus of this article will only be the fourth season and the spiritual quests of Xena and Gabrielle.

[2] These two women - friends, soul mates and some would argue, lovers - come from humble beginnings. Both were raised in small Greek villages. Gabrielle's childhood had been free of great trauma. Still, she never felt she belonged. She believed she was destined for a life outside of Poteidaia. When she met the blue-eyed woman warrior, Xena, Gabrielle took it upon herself to leave her home in search of a life as a warrior.

[3] Xena's early childhood held the disappointment of a father who she believed abandoned his household. Only in adulthood did she learn that her mother, Cyrene, killed her father in defense of Xena's life [THE FURIES (47/301)]. The loss of a father was but one mark on her spirit. The greater loss was the death of her brother, Lyceus - a death she held herself responsible for, even after she was given the opportunity to live a life of different choices [REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202)].

[4] Xena's soul has been revealed in fragments. Each fragment is a piece of an extraordinary puzzle which one would think would explain her actions were one able to see the image in its totality. I do not hold that expectation. It is misguided to believe that the truth rests in the past. Nothing in XWP would promise a static rendering of character development. If the subject is Xena's soul, then it can only be comprehended by considering the clues of the past in the context of her shared history with Gabrielle.

[5] Dwelling on the past produces only small insights into Gabrielle's life. Minor stories of time spent with her sister are used as a tool to establish Gabrielle's relationship with Lila. A story of a pony that died clarified Gabrielle's understanding that sometimes what you love dies [THE GREATER GOOD (21/121)]. Gabrielle's character construction is much more immediate. It resides in four seasons of storytelling - incongruent as they may be.

[6] There are certain aspects of XWP left at viewer discretion. The most controversial is whether Xena and Gabrielle share a romantic/physical relationship. The series has established that they are soul mates, and it can be argued that nothing more need be said. For those who have known the richness, the depth of insight and extended scope of vision a loving, sexual relationship can afford, the issue of the nature of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship cannot be set aside as immaterial. In the context of the spiritual, sexual expression can be a very rich act between two human beings.

[7] There have been times when I have wondered why the two characters have remained companions in life given the events that have taken place. Xena's mercilessness has fearfully risen to the surface on more than one occasion [THE RECKONING (06/106), THE PRICE (44/220)]. Gabrielle lied to Xena about the fate of infant Hope [GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305)]. Xena tried to kill Gabrielle [THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)]. They see the world at times through very different eyes and judge others accordingly. Gabrielle is always looking for the good be it Aidan [PARADISE FOUND (81/413)] or Najara [CRUSADER (76/408), THE CONVERT (86/418)]. Xena's trust is never easily earned. Xena's downfall lies in unmanaged vengeance. Julius Caesar has been the catalyst for more than one error of Xena's judgment [DESTINY (36/212), THE DELIVERER (50/304)].


Three Shows in One

[8] In consideration of the fourth season, as in all others that preceded it, analysis is best rendered by conceding that XWP is not one show, but three. The irrelevant comedies have both delighted [A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215); BEEN THERE DONE THAT (48/302)] and tested the patience of the viewer [viewer's choice]. The second persona has been the adventure: a self- contained episode that relies upon the familiarity of the lead characters, welcomes recurring guest characters, and exerts little effort to forward the character development of Xena or Gabrielle. The third, and for me, the very reason for my own admiration of the series, is the serious story arcs that have moved Gabrielle from a načve, open, compassionate child to an extraordinary, confident, searching, good and formidable woman. It has taken Xena from a guilt-ridden, haunted, isolated, closed survivor to a reconciled, driven, merciful warrior.

[9] The fourth season allowed for each character's journey to continue. One chapter was closed with their death [IDES OF MARCH (89/421)]. The anticipated resurrection in the fifth season promises to open another chapter. To return to the fourth season, we must first identify what episodes meet the above criteria for analysis. They are:

ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402)
A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403)
A GOOD DAY (73/405)
LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407)
CRUSADER (76/408)
PAST IMPERFECT (77/409)
The India Arc [PARADISE FOUND (81/413), DEVI (82/414), BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415), THE WAY (84/416)]
THE CONVERT (86/418)
ENDGAME (88/420)
IDES OF MARCH (89/421)

[10] Each of these episodes will be addressed along with its impact upon the spiritual journeys of both Xena and Gabrielle.


ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE


And if I ever see you on the CLEO set I'll kick your ass there too!

Cyane gets the upper hand. Until Xena kills her later.

[11] ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69- 70/401-402) was Xena's story. She believed she had lost Gabrielle to death and chose to follow Gabrielle's soul to the resting-place of the Amazons. It can be inferred that Xena was choosing death over separation. This act was a greater gesture than Gabrielle's difficult but ultimate acceptance of a life without Xena in the wake of Xena's death [THE QUEST (37/213)]. In SIN TRADE, Xena's crime against the Amazon's through her partnership with Alti is told in flashback. Her origin of her "Destroyer of Nations" title is revealed. SIN TRADE Is rich storytelling. Isolating only a few points must suffice.

[12] In her journey, Xena strips herself of familiar garments and dresses herself not only for another land but for another life. We hear her confess to Gabrielle's memory:

XENA I'm entering a world of darkness I promised myself I'd never return to. It's the only way I can see you again. My mind has lost its center. It turns, turning, can't hold, it can't hold.
[13] She has chosen to return to a place she promised herself she would never go to again. Why? It seemed she felt she had no choice. There was no existence without Gabrielle, and so she would do all that had to be done to close the separation.

[14] At the end of SIN TRADE I (69/401), Xena's experiences a revelation. It is presented as a gentle confession of love and recognition. Xena understands Gabrielle's gift to her. It is not only the bard's light, but the light the bard returned to Xena's own soul, a light that survived Gabrielle's death and burned on to guide Xena's actions. It is a light that mitigates the darkness of Xena.

XENA I can't Gabrielle. I can't. You know nothing would make me happier than seeing you again. You're my light. But I just realized what it is that you gave me. A light of my own. There's something I gotta do. Something you would want me to do. I love you.
[15] It is of interest to pause here and consider what is meant by "soul". In this paper the term is used to describe the intangible, unique human essence that exists in the merging of the intellectual and the emotional aspects of an individual with their will. The Christian faith considers spirit a gift from God (The Holy Ghost). This paper offers a different perspective. For lack of a better word it deems the spirit, the "essence", the totality of the soul. Whether one or more gods give the soul to humanity is a non-issue. What is at issue is what one does to comprehend and grow in spirit.

[16] Given that through the fourth season XWP has offered only covert Judeo/Christian spiritual context [GIANT KILLER (27/203), ALTARED STATES (19/119)] I do not feel bound to any specific definition of soul. In the fifth season episode FALLEN ANGEL (91/501) the concept of the soul is placed for the first time in an overt Judeo/Christian framework. Gabrielle and Xena's souls rise to Paradise or fall to Hell. Still, God is never mentioned, only Callisto's "Lord" and fallen angels. Also in the fifth season, the episode THEM BONES, THEM BONES (95/505) returns to the pagan conceptual presentation of spirituality first introduced in SIN TRADE (69- 70/401-402). Xena's baby's soul can and is separated from Xena's body. Thus the fluidity of the soul's presentation in XWP never undermines the fundamental argument that the soul is the essence of the individual.

[17] What then is witnessed in SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402) is Xena's understanding that she is no longer who she once was. The treacherous warrior whose thirst for power, so clearly realized in the flashbacks, had evolved to an honorable warrior. Xena must fight and defeat Alti, the shamaness that assisted in Xena's spiritual corruption. Xena is aware that the ultimate responsibility for her actions rests with herself and never fails to acknowledge her truth. She does so in her sweat lodge confession to Otere.

XENA No, no Otere. If you learned anything from that monster I use to be, it was how to stay dead. Let it be numb to anything that is beautiful or meaningful. And I can never ask your forgiveness, but I do ask that you let me help you build a new life. That's what my friend Gabrielle did for me.
She repeats her truth by refusing tribute from the young Amazons.


Early Alka Seltzer commercials

Xena and the Amazons pay tribute to their own.

[18] The theme of atonement is never more constant than in SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402). She turns from her quest to reside with Gabrielle's spirit to right a great wrong. Worse than the death of the Amazons was the theft of their souls' peace. At the end of SIN TRADE Xena never completes her original quest of joining Gabrielle in death. She is given a vision of a destiny that promises death by crucifixion, side by side with Gabrielle. In place of the original quest she completes an Amazon prophecy of restoring the souls of the dead and transferring her power to a new, young, and wise leader. The question of whether Xena's intent was suicide - for that is what a choice of death would have been - is never answered. What is made clear is that Xena's soul had experienced a degree of healing. It shone with a light independent of, though inspired by, Gabrielle.

[19] What follows are a few final observations of SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402). First, for a woman who holds no respect for the gods, Xena took extraordinary steps to enter the spirit world. Here was a clear distinction between religion, which is the service and worship of god(s) and the spiritual, which relates to the sacred.

[20] Second, the Amazon leader Cyane made a bold observation when she told Xena, "You're a murderer because you still think and act like one". Cyane offers Xena a chance to change, "Join us. We can teach you a new way, a new code to live by". This is a prophetic statement of Xena's future [THE WAY (84/416)]. Unfortunately for the Amazon tribe, it would take many years and the influence of a bard from Poteidaia for Xena to find her way.

[21] Third, there could have been another equally profound influence in Xena's life were it not for Alti's curse on her child. Learning of the curse, Xena observed that Alti knew that the light from a child's face would turn her from her darkness. This was something Alti could not afford. Still, Alti could never have anticipated the power of Gabrielle, who in many ways was but a child when she met Xena. Alti demanded to learn the identity of Xena's companion. Xena's answer was clear, "She is goodness and innocence, Alti, and she'll live inside me forever. She frightens you because she represents what can defeat you".

[22] Finally, the new holy word for the Amazons is love. For Xena, love, as embodied in Gabrielle, was and would continue to be her "holy", sacred word.


A FAMILY AFFAIR


Whoa.  I gotta teach my kid about deoderant

Hope and her kid bond in A FAMILY AFFAIR.

[23] A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403) returns Xena to the more familiar world of Poteidaia. To find Gabrielle she must return to Gabrielle's origins. The reunion is not what it seems. Hope is masquerading as her mother. The daughter also knows that her mother will return to Poteidaia. It is the destruction of Xena that Hope desires, and it will be her son, The Destroyer, who will do the killing. The spiritual component in FAMILY AFFAIR is articulated best in the final scene. The death of Hope and The Destroyer closes a painful saga in the individual and common lives of Xena and Gabrielle. Xena establishes the foundation for their destiny.

XENA You talk about trying to find your way, but to me you are my way. GABRIELLE How can I be your way when I'm lost myself? XENA I'm searching for answers too. But how we look for them doesn't matter as long as we look for them together, you and me.
[24] By laying her head upon Xena's shoulder, Gabrielle consented. It was, however, consent made in partial ignorance. Gabrielle had accepted that a life with Xena was a life of peril [ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)]. However, Gabrielle did not know of Xena's vision. Xena's suggestion that they continue together was disturbing. Xena's failure to share the vision was a deception by omission and it would haunt her.

[25] Gabrielle had chosen to sacrifice her own life to save Xena's and to end Hope's life [SACRIFICE I (67/321)]. Xena lived, but so did Gabrielle and Hope. It could be argued that Gabrielle's act was driven by more than one motivation. Was it for the love she held for Xena? Or was it guilt for the harm done by Hope, specifically, the death of Solan? Had she chosen to rid the world of an evil that could no longer be tolerated? Or was her choice no different than Xena's in SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402)? Was death preferred over a life without her companion?

[26] FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403) offered one clear explanation. Hope, for all her evil, still showed a fleeting childlike humanity as she sought an explanation for her mother's act to take both of them to their deaths. Gabrielle knew that Hope needed to be stopped.

HOPE For Xena? GABRIELLE No, for us all.
[27] It was in this exchange that Gabrielle reaffirmed a life meaning beyond Xena. The greater good was at risk. Good was impossible if her child continued to live.


LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN


In a sign of things to come, Renee falls asleep while Lucy passes
gas at the first read-through of the script

Xena has problems in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN.

[28] In LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407), Xena must face the truth of another ruthless act in her past. She consents to be held for trial on the death of a young woman, Thalassa. Awaiting her journey on the prison ship, Xena responds to Gabrielle's plea to not accept her sentence.

XENA Gabrielle, she was like you. She had your kind of spirit, and I killed that. What can outweigh that? GABRIELLE Xena, if you're looking for redemption, you're not going to find it there. XENA I'm not looking for redemption anymore. Gabrielle, we're always talking about your spiritual quest. You say you need something to make you feel complete. So do I.
[29] Gabrielle fought for Xena's freedom. Her motivation was personal though she invoked the greater good. Xena admitted she was no longer seeking redemption.

[30] Let us pause here to define redemption. Webster's Dictionary defines redemption in part as "to free from what distresses or harms, to release from blame or debt, to free from consequence of sin, to change for the better, to convert into something of value, to atone for".

[31] Why Xena has chosen to face the judicial consequences of her past at this moment in her life is not clear. Was it because she hurt a woman with a spirit like Gabrielle's? Had her recent experiences in SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402) and FAMILY AFFAIR (71/402) contributed? Did the vision of a joint death with Gabrielle direct her to choose a life separate from the bard? A life on Shark Island would have surely minimized the possibility of the vision being realized.

[32] In prison Xena accepts her punishment as long as she deems it within the acceptable parameters of a penal system. Her rebellion is triggered by her will to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Faced by the woman she had been pronounced guilty of killing, she found no solace. Though Thalassa was alive in flesh, her spirit was nowhere to be found.

[33] In the pit, surrounded by rats, Xena fought back. Her cry was, "Enough". Resigning herself to torture was no longer acceptable. At the conclusion, Xena fought for and not against the judicial institution of the prison. Echoing her words to Otere in SIN TRADE (69- 70/401-402), Xena could not bring herself to ask Thalassa for forgiveness, but she could urge Thalassa to transcend her "bitterness and anger" to live once again.

[34] Gabrielle's actions were clearer. She defended her companion in trial without minimizing the crime nor over-stating the goodness of Xena. Gabrielle chose to follow Xena to prison as a healer. When Gabrielle attempted to free Xena, she knew Thalassa had orchestrated a deception. Gabrielle demanded a new trial for Xena. Death by hanging was to be Gabrielle's reward. Gabrielle remained constant in her commitment to Xena.

[35] The scene of greatest significance to Gabrielle's character was her interaction with Thalassa. Gabrielle counseled Thalassa that she may still be feeling the pain of her severed arm because she had not yet accepted the loss. When Thalassa asked Gabrielle what she knew of loss, Gabrielle's answer was simply, "A few things". In the final scene Gabrielle queries Xena.

GABRIELLE So how about it? XENA How about what? GABRIELLE Forgiving yourself. XENA Gabrielle, that's not for me. But I won't let that monster I used to be, the one sleeping so close to my heart, destroy all the good I can do now. GABRIELLE Not as long as I'm around.
[36] Gabrielle reaffirms her choice to stand beside Xena. Xena articulates the spiritual struggle she fights every day of her life. Yet, contrary to Xena's statement to Gabrielle while awaiting transport to Shark Island that she was not looking for redemption, her affirmation of a life of doing good still carries a redemptive quality.


CRUSADER


Why no, I'm not a crazed loony, thank you for asking!

Najara beams beatifically at Xena and Gabrielle in CRUSADER.

[37] In CRUSADER (76/408), a new warrior with a spiritual calling is introduced, Najara. The blending of a spiritual community with the fight against evil is intoxicating for Gabrielle. Najara gives Gabrielle freely what is very difficult for Xena: an articulation of the spiritual. The community Najara offers mitigates Gabrielle's aloneness. Najara also offers a hospice and a life away from the violence. Speaking of violence Gabrielle confesses:

GABRIELLE I don't think I could get use to that. NAJARA Gabrielle, you need to make a full commitment to the light. It will give you faith that what you're doing is right. GABRIELLE The light. I need something.
[38] It had become clear that the events of Gabrielle's life with Xena had taxed her faith in life. She sought to fill a void, to overcome the sense of loss expressed in FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403). For Gabrielle running a hospice would mean living without Xena, and that was not an option she was willing to choose for herself. In turn, haunted by Alti's vision, it was a destiny that Xena was intent on giving Gabrielle. Xena spoke to Najara about Gabrielle's future.

NAJARA You want a place to leave Gabrielle. XENA She'll die if she stays with me. You said it will take something drastic to change our destiny, maybe this is it. NAJARA As soon as she realizes you left her, you know she will follow you. XENA I see such joy in her eyes when she talks to you about your mission. She's looking for meaning. I think you can give it to her. It hasn't always been good for her being with me. I seem to hurt her. NAJARA I know she forgives you.
[39] What is most striking about this exchange is the assertion that Gabrielle's forgiveness still holds currency, as if a debt still remains to be paid. At the end, Najara's guise is exposed. She is a fanatic who passes judgment without allowing for due process of law.

[40] This episode raises questions regarding the nature of Gabrielle and Xena's relationship, questions that go beyond the scope of this article. Focusing on the spiritual, there are two key issues. The first is Gabrielle's need to find a spiritual foothold. The second is Xena's struggle with the vision and with Najara's closing words that it is Xena's job to hurt Gabrielle.

[41] Gabrielle, by placing herself between Xena and Najara's sword once again, demonstrates her willingness to give herself to save Xena. Gabrielle struggles with Najara's critical flaw - that of holding herself to be judge, jury, and executioner - a flaw that nullifies all of Najara's good. Najara forwards her own argument comparing and contrasting her actions with Xena's. The logic is difficult for Gabrielle to counter and, in and of itself, is disturbing.

GABRIELLE Xena only kills if absolutely necessary. NAJARA And I only kill evil people. Why is she better than me?
[42] Xena strategically defines Gabrielle as the weakness that she shares with Najara. In her confrontation with Najara, though Xena is in a mode of deception, her words carry an underlying fear.

XENA I just asked her to come with me right now, and you know what she said? She said she'd rather stay here and try to reform you. It seems that your zealotry is less scary than my dark side.
[43] CRUSADER (76/408) ends without closure. Issues regarding the nature of Gabrielle and Xena's relationship are raised without finding resolution.


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