Whoosh! Issue 59 - August 2001


By Robert Berg
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
5863 words

The Show (01-06)
Lack of Focus (07-15)
Sloppy Writing (16-19)
Continuity Flaws (20-24)
Missed Opportunities (25-26)
What Went Right (27-44)
The Ring Trilogy (29-32)
Evolution (45-46)
Conclusion (47-49)


The Show

I said no autographs and i meant it!
From the early days of SINS OF THE PAST.

[01] Xena: Warrior Princess has evolved more in its six year run than most television shows ever accomplish. Much has been written about its unique ability to swiftly careen from high opera one week to comedy another, from self-parody and camp to serious drama and tragedy. A great deal has also been said about its highly experimental nature: this show has done musicals, historical epics, alternate universes, modern day stories, special effects extravaganzas, and fairy tales. What has been most fascinating about this highly unusual program, however, is its exploration of the relationship between two remarkable female characters. Behind all of the mythology, science fiction, and other over-the-top elements, it has always been able to paint a story that is true to human emotion and to portray characters as real as any in "real life".

[02] True to human nature, these characters have not remained the stagnant caricatures that often populate television worlds. Think of sitcoms like Friends, Frasier, and Seinfeld, or dramas like Melrose Place, The Practice, and Providence. Have any of these characters truly grown emotionally or changed the least bit since the show began? They might be a few years older, but that does not mean that they are necessarily wiser. I have yet to see a character on any one of these genre shows reach a true epiphany, question his or her very ideology, or, in essence, grow up. On Xena: Warrior Princess, however, this has happened. Both Xena and Gabrielle, the main characters, have been profoundly changed by their experiences together.

[03] In SINS OF THE PAST, the premiere episode, Xena was an emotionally distant loner, tortured by the atrocities she had perpetrated in her dark past, and with the belief that humankind would never embrace or forgive her previous indiscretions. Through the course of the series, she would learn that this is not true. She goes on to become the greatest hero the world has ever known and opens herself up to human emotions and love. By the end of the series, she is in touch with both her stereotypically masculine and powerful side, and her extremely feminine, adoring side.

[04] The changes in Gabrielle are even more amazing. From the gutsy but inexperienced farm girl, capable of seeing the good in every one, and with a penchant for getting herself into trouble, Gabrielle has evolved into a seasoned warrior, strong and mature. She has gone from Xena's tagalong sidekick to her equal in every way.

[05] Throughout the years, their relationship has not always been smooth. Conflicting backgrounds and beliefs lead to the famous rift in the third season. Whereas on another, lesser show an argument between two characters might last an episode or two at the most, the effects of this major falling out were felt for months, if not years, later. During the fourth season, Xena and Gabrielle questioned whether they should be traveling together in the first place, and Gabrielle questioned who she was as a person, an issue not fully resolved until the end of the sixth season.

[06] Volumes and volumes could be written merely analyzing Xena and Gabrielle's relationship. That, however, is not the purpose of this article, which is to analyze the faults and accomplishments of the sixth, and final season. It is important, nevertheless, to understand that the sixth season has succeeded phenomenally, perhaps more so than any other, in its celebration of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle and in its returning to the roots of what has made us fall in love with the show in the first place. Where it has been less successful is in focus and story continuity, unfortunately making for one of the weakest overall seasons in the show's history.

Lack of Focus

[07] The sixth season's major flaw, the one from which all the others spring, is its lack of focus and drive. While watching all other seasons, the viewer was lead to a specific place, with each episode adding another piece into the mosaic that made up the year's overall story or theme.

[08] In the first season, we were becoming acquainted with Xena and Gabrielle, and Xena and Gabrielle were becoming acquainted with each other. Although this year was the most episodic, in that each story began and ended in the weekly installment, it was fitting of the early stages of this show, which was setting up its formula. Throughout the year, we watched Xena and Gabrielle build a solid friendship whilst fighting a succession of bad people.

[09] The second season continued the spirit of the first, but allowed us a more in-depth look into these characters. We were allowed to learn a great more about Xena's dark past, how she came to be the great evil force she once was, and were allowed to greater appreciate her reformation and the strength she derived from Gabrielle's love. We watched Gabrielle grow into her own as a woman, and, for the first time, consider murder, to avenge the death of her husband in RETURN OF CALLISTO, and become a leader in THE QUEST. In A NECESSARY EVIL, she acquired her own mortal enemy in the form of Velasca. Whereas before Callisto had hunted her due to her association with Xena alone, she now herself was the primary target of an enemy.

[10] Both the Rift saga and the loss of Gabrielle's blood innocence drove the third season. As far as plot goes, it was the most interconnected season, meaning one could not casually view any episode and expect to understand what was going on without having seen every other episode. The season had a definite purpose from beginning to end, stretching the boundaries of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship, forcing Gabrielle to grow up quicker than expected, and culminating in a climax that both redefined Xena and Gabrielle's love for each other and set the stage for the next year.

[11] The fourth season was held together by a vision. This vision, first seen in ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE II, simultaneously proved to Xena that Gabrielle was still alive and convinced her that she and Gabrielle should go their separate ways. Xena saw herself and Gabrielle being crucified by the Romans atop a snow-covered mountain. She realized that if Gabrielle stayed with her, she would die with her, and she could not accept this. This vision drove the entire season, inspiring a trip of self-discovery in India, leading both Xena and Gabrielle to question and renew their love for one another, and, in the end, die together.

[12] Similarly, the fifth season had a specific goal. Xena and Gabrielle were sent back to life with a purpose. Xena discovered, to her astonishment, that she was pregnant and that her daughter would be the instrument that would destroy the Greek gods and make way for monotheism. Thus, all of the Greek gods vowed to find and destroy Xena's baby. Xena spent the year protecting her baby, both before and after she was born, and in the end brought about the Twilight of the Gods.

[13] Coming from previous seasons that were so tightly woven, the sixth season was quite a surprise. One would expect that in the final season of a show such as this, the writers would attempt to create a spectacular season- long story arc, one that would both tie up any loose ends from previous seasons and would steadily build the season, and the entire show, to a huge, stunning climax. This, however, did not happen. Besides some mini-arcs, such as the trilogy, comprised of WHO'S GURKHAN, LEGACY, and THE ABYSS, in which Gabrielle finally resolved her stance on violence, and the "Ring" Trilogy, in which Xena and Gabrielle's status as soul-mates was firmly renewed after their seeming distance in the fifth season, this season lacked sweep, and most importantly focus. Taken as a whole, it seems slipshod and thrown together.

[14] Although it can be argued that this season is in many ways meant as a homecoming, as implied by the title of the first episode, COMING HOME, and that its overall purpose was to return Xena and Gabrielle's relationship to the way it once was, before the complications of the third, fourth, and fifth seasons set in, this purpose could have been accomplished through a solid story. Instead, we are given disjointed episodes that, while in many ways do feel like the "Xena" of old, and do have their merits when taken separately, feel disappointing when viewed as a whole.

[15] Consider FRIEND IN NEED, the last episode, which does attempt to bring the story of the show's six seasons full circle. Unfortunately, we have had no build up to the epic plot of which FRIEND IN NEED is comprised. The ending, in which Xena sacrifices her life in order to redeem the souls of ten thousand people she had killed years before, would have possibly been more accepted by the fans had they been made aware of FRIEND IN NEED's back-story earlier in the season. We have been on Xena's side for the past six years, but have only met these victims the second-episode-to-the-last. Of course, we would not want Xena to die for a sin of which we had only just been made aware. In seasons three through five, the actions that lead to the conclusion had been in evidence for the full year. To deprive the viewers of such a progression in the final year was a fatal mistake.

Sloppy Writing

[16] The second great fault of the sixth season was a reliance on hasty, rather than thought out, writing. Unpopular plots from the previous season were quickly resolved, seemingly in an attempt to please all the fans at once. Unfortunately, this drive to erase the past as swiftly as possible lead to stories made unbelievable by major plot holes.

[17] For example, a huge, vocal portion of the fans disliked the fifth season, due to its extermination of almost all of the Greek gods and its separation of Xena and Gabrielle's characters most of the time. Although I was not one of these people, I understood their reasoning and would have expected the writers to come up with some creative way to fix these problems while maintaining the integrity of their own creation. Unfortunately, the writers did not seem to understand that most intelligent fans would like an intelligent wrap-up to even a less-than-beloved plotline.
It's step turn step step!  Not step step turn step!
Sometimes the god you know isn't better!

[18] THE GOD YOU KNOW is probably the most egregious example of the sixth season's attempt to quickly write its way out of a situation with its tail between its legs. The Archangel Michael, who had previously helped Xena, tells her that God has decided Eve, Xena's daughter, should sacrifice her life. He immediately becomes Xena's enemy, and Xena fights him to save her daughter. The instant she attacks him, however, Xena's power to kill gods is taken away, and the audience is left wondering why. Why did the God who created Eve in order to wipe out the lesser gods decide she should now die? Why was He now punishing Xena for protecting her daughter? Was this meant to say that this God had used Xena just as the others had tried to? That this God was evil as well? Was Eli then just using Xena and Gabrielle all this time as well or did he have no say in Xena's powers being taken away? None of these issues are ever answered, and except for a brief mention in YOU ARE THERE, this plot is never heard from again.

[19] A few years ago, in an article printed in "The Chakram", the official Xena fan club's newsletter, the writers made it clear that they only spend time explaining necessary elements on the show. Having an entire episode, for example, dealing with how Gabrielle escaped the lava pit after SACRIFICE II is unnecessary, because it would bog down the plot. The brief explanation given in A FAMILY AFFAIR, that she had been thrown against a wall of the cave and slowly crawled her way out over a period of many days, was totally acceptable and fit the logic of the Xenaverse. Ironically, the writers went against their own methods in the sixth season when they attempted to again explain Gabrielle's escape in SOUL POSSESSION. This time, however, the explanation did not fit into the continuity of the show and proved the merits of the writers' earlier theory of leaving some aspects to the imagination. Of course, THE GOD YOU KNOW is an example of not enough information being given. The writers should have taken time later in the year to explain this inconsistency, rather than an all-but- forgotten one from the third season.

Continuity Flaws

[20] The lack of continuity constituted the third major flaw of the sixth season, which is a direct tie-in to the hasty writing. The writing, overall, was sloppy in the sixth season, and in many cases, it seemed that no attention was paid to either episodes from previous seasons, or even from that very season. The previously mentioned SOUL POSSESSION completely disregards the fact that Hope, Gabrielle's demon daughter with whom she had plunged into the lava pit, had made it clear in A FAMILY AFFAIR that her father, Dahak, had saved her. In this episode, Ares says that he did it, and that Gabrielle had asked him to do so. That makes no sense considering the fact that Gabrielle had poisoned Hope in MATERNAL INSTINCTS, pushed her off a cliff in SACRIFICE II, and immediately set about trying to kill her again in A FAMILY AFFAIR. Are we expected to believe that Gabrielle reconsidered after one murder attempt and then changed her mind again? That is not even factoring in that in A FAMILY AFFAIR, Gabrielle was surprised that Hope was alive, and that we are also asked to believe that at this point in the story, Ares, the god of war, wanted to marry Xena. Why, then, was she surprised at his proposal in the fifth season?

[21] The flaws in this episode, however, extend beyond mere logic. In one scene, we see Xena carrying the new chakram, which she did not get until the episode CHAKRAM, which took place over a year later. A minor flaw, perhaps, but indicative of the lack of care or effort the show had this year.

[22] If we return to THE GOD YOU KNOW, we are expected to believe that, since Xena can no longer kill Caligula once her god-killing powers are taken away, she convinces him to kill himself. It, however, has been previously established on the show that a god cannot kill himself. Callisto informed us in SACRIFICE that the only way for a god to reach oblivion is to be stabbed with Hind's Blood. A god cannot die merely because he wants to do so.

[23] In FRIEND IN NEED, a continuity flaw could be recognized from earlier in the year. Xena teaches Gabrielle how to do the pinch, Xena's method of interrogation by which she cuts off the flow of blood to her victim's brain, and both act as if this has never happened before. This completely ignores the fact that early this very year, in HEART OF DARKNESS, Xena had taught Gabrielle the pinch, or at least how to remove it. Why was teaching her how to put it on someone much different? Further, in that episode, Gabrielle did not want to learn how to do it. In FRIEND IN NEED, she complains that Xena had never taught it to her.

[24] Two less inexplicable, but still hard to believe, episodes occur as a result of continued additions to Xena's back-story. In the Ring Trilogy, we learn of a brief time Xena spent in Norway, while in A FRIEND IN NEED, we learn of a brief time in Japan. What does not, however, gel is the fact that both are said to have occurred after she left Chin in THE DEBT II. Previously, we were lead to believe that the events of ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE occurred immediately after those in THE DEBT. Xena was very vulnerable at that point, still conflicted from the kind teachings of Lao Ma, who tried to convince her to become good once more. A new mentor, Alti, came at that point and set Xena further on her path of evil. It was very important, however, that Xena be confused by Alti after recently being affected by Lao Ma. Xena could not have immediately gone conquering in Japa, or explaining her belief in the non- existence of love in Norway, unless meeting Alti happened between this. Even in the Xenaverse, however, it is hard to believe that Xena came back from Chin, later went to Norway and then went all the way back to Japa, farther east than Chin. That presses the believability of even a fantasy show such as Xena.

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