Surveying the Still Smoking Battlefield (01-02)
Experiencing the Event (03-05)
The Plot Thickens (06-11)
Mending Broken Hearts (12-14)
BROKEN HEARTS AND COOLER HEADS:
ASSESSING CONSENSUS ON FRIEND IN NEED
Surveying the Still Smoking Battlefield
Xena is the focus of the battle.
 If there is one thing I have learned from five years as a Xenite, it is knowing the danger of generalizing about other Xenites. Many longer-time fans have noted the fracturing of the Xenaverse, particularly its on-line manifestations. No line is quicker to start an argument than "(All) (Real) Xenites believe that ..." As Xena: Warrior Princess reaches its climax (in one way, anyway!) in FRIEND IN NEED, these fan divergences are more evident than ever.
 Perhaps I should say fan/ex-fan divergences. More than one "True-to-the-End/Trust Rob Tapert!" Xenite reacted to the conclusion of FRIEND IN NEED with (figuratively, and sometimes literally) violent disgust. "I'm outta here!" "Six years of XWP tapes and paraphernalia - cheap!" "If Rob were here I'd bust his nose" "I'm never watching anything from RenPics/with Lucy Lawless/etc. ever again!" Not since Gabrielle's traumas of Season Three were the reactions so intensely negative.
Experiencing the Event
 Let me drop my "observer's objectivity" for the moment: I had my own profoundly negative experience. I was one of the fifty or so who traveled to Columbus, Ohio to view FRIEND IN NEED in a group setting the day of the satellite-release, courtesy of fan fiction bards CN Winters and T. Novan. This gathering was later characterized, rather accurately by CN, as a "wake". However, in my imagination, a wake consists of bittersweet reminiscing and expressions of a "Que sera', sera'" attitude, which overcomes the grief. Instead, my experience was more akin to Gabrielle's, after the death of Flanagus, in A GOOD DAY. I was shell-shocked, unable to feel anything at all. Meanwhile, the organizers of the Columbus event were all but rallying the group to feel angry and betrayed ("Write your hate mail to Rob Tapert at Studios USA ...").
 I tried to get my dander up, but my mind was on overload. This is a common occurrence for me, especially in crowds. I was aware of what was missing for me in FRIEND IN NEED, but I was also tremendously impressed with what was there. One Columbus viewer noted my audible response to Gabrielle's exclamation "Give me her head!": I loved that line. I felt it was a perfect Xena injection of camp within the high drama, and I was not ashamed to say so even then. Yet, all around me, what was left of the crowd was just standing around grumbling, or making evening plans as if to put the whole thing behind them. I was not ready to put it behind me. Instead, I needed time alone to think. Confused and drained, I left the "wake."
 Later, I wrote a diatribe in my journal about FRIEND IN NEED's and Xena's missed opportunities. As an ardent sub/maintexter, I felt denied the consummation of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship that I felt the story (the whole narrative of the show) demanded. A tastefully explicit confirmation, moreover, that I believed we viewers (i.e. my segment of viewers) deserved. While the visual was nice, the "Water of Strength" mouth-to-mouth was just that: another Xenaversian form of CPR, not an appropriate display of (sexually) passionate love. Five years of faith and hopethat TPTB (the powers that be) would give us a definitive answer, a romantic "gold standard"down the tube [Note 01]. I was disappointed and deeply depressed, though I must admit that the latter was only heightened, not caused, by FRIEND IN NEED.
The Plot Thickens
Xena, like many in the audience, requires an explanation from Akemi.
 This state continued for me much of the following week. However, it was tempered (or perhaps exacerbated) by a feeling of incompleteness. I have long found that it takes at least two viewings of a particular episode of Xena for me to get a handle on what I really think of it. Usually, I view an episode once on Saturday, then again on Sunday. This one time, however, I had to wait from Sunday's Columbus gathering until the following Saturday to see FRIEND IN NEED II again. In the interim, I noted some of the outrage, which I fully expected, on the "NutForum" (USA Studios on-line NetForum, , and kept my own counsel. With the more widespread viewing of FRIEND IN NEED II that occurred over the weekend of June 23-24, 2001, I noticed an almost immediate change of response to the episode. Let me qualify that: I noticed a different reaction to the episode on the forum I most respect, the moderated mailing list "Chakram".
 Though I would not characterize the moderator, Venator, as sharing my point-of-view towards the show as a whole, he is a very competent and consistent moderator. Due in large part to his efforts, Chakram has long been the place where I can rely on the most balanced viewsand/or balance of viewstowards Xena. The reaction to FRIEND IN NEED was no exceptionexcept, perhaps, for the uncharacteristically outspoken support of FIN from the Ven-erable moderator. The sub/maintext POV probably predominates, though by no means monopolizes, among Chakram's most active posters [Note 02]; even among these subtexters there was appreciation of FRIEND IN NEED as a conclusion to the saga.
 To make a long story short, FRIEND IN NEED was far more popular on Chakram than on the NetForum. Going out on a limb, it is my guess that the average age of posters to Chakram is older than for the NetForum. At any rate, they are more mature. Why is this relevant to a discussion of FRIEND IN NEED? Age/maturity often seems to bring with it a certain melancholysome might say fatalismto one, recognition that life seldom concludes with "and they lived happily ever after". From this perspective, there was far less shock that show ended with Xena staying dead, and therefore there was a wistfulness, not devastation, that Gabrielle would have to carry on without her, in the flesh anyway.
 Broken hearts and cooler heads. At the risk of being hopelessly middle-of-the-road (home of dead skunks and armadillos!), I believe both are legitimate reactions to FRIEND IN NEED. Further debate has hardened positions, even on Chakram. For those who hated or were relentlessly depressed by FIN, the unlikelihood of any movie sequel only intensifies their deep sorrow and/or anger. Sub/maintexters in particular, feel that they, along with Xena and Gabrielle, have been denied the sort of fairy-tale ending so common to stories centered around a heterosexual relationship. It smacks of a double standard, and is a bitter pill to swallow.
 Then are the cooler heads of Chakram and elsewhere heartless? I do not think so. While I cannot speak for those who unreservedly loved FRIEND IN NEEDif only because I am not one of themI can appreciate the more mature view they often express, and their eloquence, combined with my repeated viewings of FRIEND IN NEED. If I may be so bold, I would like to conclude with an invitation to those still nursing broken hearts, a "Way" beyond the pain and into this calm appreciation.
Mending Broken Hearts
 In the film Cinema Paradiso, we see the childhood of an Italian boy whose life becomes shaped by the movies he sees, and more importantly, by the gentle, humane village projectionist who screens them. This lovable man is devoted to the cinegraphic art that is his labor-of-love, although he must endure the indignities of the local priest acting as self-appointed censor. Cutting out the least bit of "carnality" (loving passion, passionate love), the priest/censor butchers the filmmaker's art. From this experience (or is it only a metaphor?), the young boy who worships the projectionist nevertheless grows up and grows out of the projectionist's life, the village and, as we see, his faith in and commitment to love.
 The old projectionist dies, and the boy-turned-embittered-man returns home to the village. There, he discovers an unexpected gift, a legacy from the projectionist. In a single reel of film, are all the edited portions of the films the projectionist screened through the years. The projectionist not only saved, but in some intuitive way knew and gave exactly what the boy-turned-man needed to see: kiss after passionate kiss, embrace after dramatic embrace. Seeing thisnot just the images of love on the screen, but how they represent the love of the old projectionist for the boy---the boy-turned-man weeps with gratitude, laughter, and joy.
 To all my Broken-Hearted Xenite kin, I say to you: the same kind of healing reel of film (videotape) is there, in our hearts and our imaginations. One might believe that FRIEND IN NEED "never happened" (as I know some believe about season five, the Gabdrag and the rest of the Rift), or that Gabrielle took some kind of Crouching Tiger-type leap off Mt. Fuji to join Xena. I like to imagine Gabrielle saying "Xena, let Eli deal with those 40,000I'm gonna add water and stir, girlfriend!" Whatever. But all who believe in the Truth (beyond the myth) of Xena and Gabrielle's love can look inside (or on the web, in fan fiction!) and find the reel that fire, time, studio heads, and other censors cannot destroy. The Real Reel, where Xena and Gabrielle passionately love forever.
As I have written here at Whoosh, on the NetForum, alt.tv.xena, and elsewhere, the gold standard for me of romantic (as opposed to purely sexual) expression in the Xenaverse is the love scene between Xena and Hercules in UNCHAINED HEART. I know of no Xenite who has expressed a desire to see Xena and Gabrielle repeat Xena's sexual antics with Borias!
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I personally do not post on Chakram, but only lurk there through its web-based digest.
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ArticlesJudy Fisher. Improving Season Two: Episode Order, Relationship Development and Continuity on Xena: Warrior Princess. WHOOSH #22 (July 1998)
Judy Fisher is a doctoral candidate in the field of religion, specifically the Christian ecumenical movement. Her vocational goal is ecumenical administration from 9-5, and at night, to write the Great American Novel, an Academy Award-winning screenplay, and "A Theology of Xena."
Favorite episode: C'mon, there is no way I can limit myself now! How 'bout top three in each season? Season One: GREATER GOOD, CALLISTO, ALTARED STATES. Season Two: RETURN OF CALLISTO, DESTINY/THE QUEST/A NECESSARY EVIL/A DAY IN THE LIFE quartet (because I said it is!), and THE PRICE (44/220). Season Three: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302); all of "The Rift" (except GABRIELLE'S HOPE), and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313). Season Four: ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (I & II), CRUSADER, all of the "India Arc" (especially THE WAY), and IDES OF MARCH (Oops! That's top "four"). Season Five: GOD FEARING CHILD, AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE, and EVE (plus ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA just 'cause it's so gorgeous to look at). Season Six: Parts of just about every episode. The "Gabrielle and violence/North Africa" arc (WHO'S GURKHAN? LEGACY, and THE ABYSS), The Ring Trilogy (especially THE RING, plus a certain scene
in RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE), WHEN FATES COLLIDE, MANY HAPPY RETURNS, and last but not least, FRIEND IN NEED!
Favorite line: Xena: "Even in death Gabrielle, I will never leave you." ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313); Gabrielle, courtesy of Xena, courtesy of Sappho:
"There's a moment when I look at you,MANY HAPPY RETURNS
And no speech is left in me.
My tongue breaks,
Then fire races under my skin.
And I tremble and grow pale
For I am dying of such love,
Or so it seems to me."
First episode seen: ALTARED STATES (19/119)
Least favorite episode: KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308), VANISHING ACT, any other episode or parts thereof where Xena and/or Gabrielle is made to look stupid.