FOUR GREAT CHARACTERS IN XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS AND CHINA BEACH
IAXS Project #016
By Rita Schnepp (email@example.com)
Copyright © 1997 held by author
 Do you ever use your TV as background noise while you do the chores around the house? I do it all the time, especially if it's been a hellish day at work and I'm already tired. The familiar sounds keep me going. Sometimes I purposely tune into something boring so I can get stuff done. I'm sure I've folded laundry through MELROSE PLACE, but I couldn't tell you a single plot. I know I've paid bills with E.R., but I can't for the life of me think of the name of George Clooney's character. I've even chuckled through dinner and dishes with SEINFELD, yet I vaguely remember the "nose pick" episode. But the first night I saw Xena in the hot tub with Iolaus, I *STOPPED* what I was doing! The bills didn't get paid and the cat fell asleep in the laundry pile. I remember thinking to myself, "Who the *H*LL* is that"? It's rare, really rare, that I sit down and actually WATCH an entire show from beginning to end. I not only remember the episode, WARRIOR PRINCESS (HTLJ #09), but I also remember the dialog!
 A similar thing happened to me back in 1987, the first time I saw CHINA BEACH. Between vacuuming the living room and dusting the blinds, I overheard these two 60's chicks engaged in conversation. Those women addressed one another with a directness and honesty too real for network television. I had to stop and listen.
 I know these two shows have nothing in common. CHINA BEACH was a historical drama based on written accounts by Viet Nam war veterans. XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is a "fantasy fix" based on Greek mythology and Kung Fu madness. I swear I'm not sick, not schizophrenic, maybe a little twisted, but I prefer eclectic. Yes, I am eclectic.
 Please allow me to explain this eclectic taste of mine.
 While I was schlepping about the house, dusting the 'scotia', Xena, McMurphy and their two cohorts, Gabrielle and K.C., captured me and held me captive with their charisma. Dana Delany and Marg Helgenberger won emmies for their performances in CHINA BEACH. Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor deserve them. The four of them make great characters who are both heroic and imperfect. They don't always make the right choices. They screw up and lose control but they always take full responsibility for what they do. They're independent and strong willed. They frighten you and make you proud. Three of them struggle with incurable addictions, yet they manage to help others despite their own problems.
 Here are few of my favorite scenes from both shows.
|Karen: My real mother is an American. I like Americans. I think my real mother is Jackie Kennedy or Barbara Stanwyck. Who would you think? KC: Jackie's bow-legged and Stanwyck's a bitch!||Xena: What do you know about your mother? Solan: She had a smile like a breeze on a warm day and she could sing like Orpheus. I wish I could hear her sing. Xena: I could sing for you.|
 If "Stanwyck's a b*tch", what does that make KC? Not exactly Donna Reed. But despite the rough words, she was in the process of risking her own life to save her daughter, while at the same time fleeing the 'Commies' after the fall of Saigon. As for Xena, she spent a few hours of 'quality' time with her son, while slaying the evil Ixion Centaur, but was unable to tell him she was his mother. If she had, he would have become a target for kidnappers and assassins.
 They each made a conscious decision to protect their children from themselves. They gave them up to surrogate parents. This was their greatest tragedy. The violence they suffered in their youth made them grow into cruel, obsessive adults: Xena became a warlord consumed with bloodlust; KC, a drug-addicted prostitute with a lust for money. Although they both changed, the change came later in life, too late to raise their children.
|McM: I'm lost. Two years, 9,000 miles, I come home and I'm lost....I gotta leave, Ma. Mom: Will you be back? McM: I don't think so.||Cyrene: I'm so happy to have you back again. Xena: You know I can't stay for long.|
 For Xena and McMurphy, living at home with mother was difficult. Living at home with mother after the trauma of war was impossible. They both came home to find peace, but found trouble instead.
 As an army triage nurse, McMurphy's career was intense. Each week she saved scores of lives. In her own words, "I was never worth more than I was over there". After her return home, as a hospital nurse in Lawrence, Kansas she was relegated to emptying bed pans and other mundane tasks. Humiliation combined with guilt when she realized how much she missed the war. That realization nearly drove her mad. She experienced intense flashbacks, a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder. She was also an alcoholic. When McMurphy left her mother, she began a 15 year journey to re-find herself.
 Xena returned home after giving up her life as a warlord. In Amphipolis, things didn't go as planned. The warlord Draco, tried to blackmail her into joining his army by threatening her village. Despite the fact that she soundly defeated him and drove his army out of town, she knew he or others like him would be back to challenge her. She would be a threat to her mother and kinsmen if she stayed. Sadly, she bid her mother farewell and embarked on a long journey to right the wrongs of her past.
|McM: You're gonna have to forgive him KC. KC: He doesn't deserve it. McM: But YOU do.||Xena: I don't blame her. (Callisto) Gabrielle: I do! When is this going to end? There's only one way to end this cycle of hatred and it's through love and forgiveness.|
 The campfire and lifeguard tower scenes were about guilt. McMurphy and KC used the tower as a sort of confessional. KC, who was a 10 year-old victim of incest, admitted that she wished her father dead from the time she was a little girl. McMurphy tried to convince KC that if she forgave him and let go of her hatred, she would be able to move on in her own life.
 In the campfire scene, Xena admits to Gabrielle that she was responsible for the death of Callisto's family. She tells Gabrielle that she doesn't blame Callisto for being a monster and for wanting to kill her. But Gabrielle tries to convince Xena that Callisto is responsible for the atrocities she has committed. Xena should not only stop blaming herself for this...but should STOP Callisto. If Xena allows Callisto to kill her or take revenge, the cycle of hatred would never end.
|McM: There's a remote possibility I'd like to help. KC: Yeah. I remember the right hook.||Gabrielle: I'm standing up to a vicious warlord like you once did....Now that warlord is YOU!|
 KC was addicted to heroin at one point in time. She was, for a while, a slave to prostitution and was ALWAYS addicted to money. One night, during the Tet offensive, she and McMurphy were locked up in the American embassy for their own protection. KC, in need of a fix, went hysterical. McMurphy had to pacify her with a punch to the jaw. This was a rather abrupt way of putting her out of her misery. It was the first time someone had the guts or the compassion to stand up to KC. It was the first step in KC's reformation, a 20-year process whereby she left prostitution and her ties to the Asian black market and eventually became a 'legitimate' business woman.
 With the invasion of her home village of Amphipolis, the tragic death of her brother Lyceus and subsequent death of her friend, M'Lila, Xena became addicted to war.
 She craved it. She loved the thrill of killing on the battlefield. She was a consummate thrill seeker. But after running the Gauntlet and saving a baby from her own army, she began a "12-step program" to control her bloodlust and use her battle skills to help others. However, like many addicts, she was never cured, just in control. In TIES THAT BIND, she lapsed when Ares fooled her into thinking that innocent villagers had killed her father. Just as she was about to 'whack' an entire village, Gabby 'knocked' some sense into her head with the business end of a pitchfork.
|VC: Hail Mary! Full of grace....McM: YOU'RE Catholic? VC: No. I'm Buddhist, but my brother is Catholic....ALL prayers are the same.||Xena: I've spent a lot of time healing on the battlefield.....The gods don't care if these men live or die...and you could help a lot more people if you spent more time with them and less with your god!|
 Compassion is both Xena's and McMurphy's greatest power. Compassion through healing skills in particular. In UNQUIET EARTH, McMurphy risks her life to save an enemy leader and member of the Viet Cong underground. She's normally skeptical of religion and refers to herself as a 'lapsed' Catholic. But when faced with performing a surgical procedure she's never done before, she suddenly 'gets religious'. The Viet Cong general she is operating on, notices her half-hearted attempt at the sign of the cross and starts reciting the "Hail Mary". She's amazed by this. Her enemy has more faith in her religion than she has!
 Xena has only begun to discover the depth of her compassion. She'll be compassionate while taking guff from no one. Xena chose to act as a healer rather than a warrior in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE as a tactical move to stop a war. This was dramatically symbolized when she used her sword to splint a war victim's broken leg. Like McMurphy, Xena is very skeptical of religion. She sees the gods as selfish and cruel.
|McM: Nobody knows what's going on here. Nobody cares.||Xena: If anyone's listening....don't let that light that shines on her face go out. I couldn't stand the darkness that would follow.|
 Right after the TET Offensive, McMurphy begins to realize that the war is only getting worse. There's little support from home. Men are dying for lack of medical supplies. She has just finished a 24 hour shift treating scores of combat emergencies. Several boys have died in her arms. She realizes she's covered in their blood. "If I wash it off, will I remember him as his life washes down the drain?" A person who normally scoffs at religion, she walks to an altar in a bombed out chapel and starts to pray.
 Xena often curses the gods and is skeptical of the existence of the "one true God" of the Israelites. However, when she witnesses Gabrielle's bloodlust after Callisto has killed Perdicus, she is driven to prayer. She implores the powers that be not to let Gabrielle turn into the monster Xena once was. Neither Xena nor McMurphy seem to be 'followers' of any particular religion, but both seem open-minded and spiritual.
|Dr. Richard: I award the Bronze Star to Lt. Colleen McMurphy....for her compassion and respect for all human life... Yours' is the last face they see before they die. When all our expertise and technology fails, at least they have that.||Democritus: That was wonderful... the way you relieved that man's pain! It was your voice and your smile, it gave him a sense of peace. You have a remarkable gift for healing. Gabrielle: That's Xena's specialty. Democritus: When a man's in pain his soul needs healing just like his body.|
 McMurphy was awarded the bronze star for saving lives and performing beyond the call of duty. Gabrielle deserved one just for staying alive around Xena.
 Ironically, McMurphy received the award during the euthanasia episode. She accidentally put a soldier with a severely damaged brain stem on a respirator, against a direct order. Her Captain, seeing her error, ordered her to take the boy off life support. So there was an added guilt-trip associated with receiving the bronze star.
 When Gabrielle followed Xena into an ancient healing temple, she was ill-prepared for the horrors she would witness. Despite her inexperience with combat medicine, she bravely did what she could to help the wounded. Both Marmax and Democritus commented on how her soothing words, alone eased the pain of the sick and injured. As she said to Marmax, "The true secret of life is to find peace within yourself and share it with the world."
|McM: I remembered his name...Lawrence F. McLintock..He was from Middleton, Colorado...I thought I'd forget, but I remembered. He said that I would.||Xena: He was my friend.|
 The last soldier McMurphy nursed before leaving Viet Nam told her she would never forget him as he died, holding onto her hand. Although she spent the next 15 years trying to forget everything about the war, she remembered his name and found it on the wall when she visited the Viet Nam War Memorial in 1985.
 Xena sang a "Burial" song in memory of her lover, Marcus. She also made a yearly pilgrimage to the tomb of her beloved brother, Lyceus, to honor him on the anniversary of his death (REMEMBER NOTHING, #26).
 Before I end this, I must reveal my favorite episodes from each show. For China Beach it was THE WORLD. This was a two-part episode where McMurphy goes home to the States after being at war for a year and a half. She finds her family's and nation's ambivalence towards the soldiers in Viet Nam disheartening. Yet during this trip she realizes that despite the hopelessness of this war, she is worth more saving lives there, then she is at home. She resists an urge to go A.W.O.L. and goes back to Viet Nam to finish her tour.
 My favorite Xena episode to date, is DESTINY (#36). Although it was a one hour show, I felt as if I were watching a beautiful 2-hour epic. A tremendous amount of love had to have gone into the making of this episode.
 I'd like to note that several of the CHINA BEACH staff members went on to another critically acclaimed television show, "ER": Mimi Leder, Producer/Director and John Wells, Producer/Writer. Leder won emmy nominations for both "China Beach" and "ER". Marg Helgenberger played a small role on "ER" as the love interest of George Clooney's character.
 It will be interesting to see where the various Xena staff members go after XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS stops production. But surely, that won't be for a long, long time.