Group Therapy #213-219
Sent: Sunday, July 01, 2001 8:28 PM
Subject: Submission for The Group Therapy Issue - August Whoosh
What a dirty trick! A Friend In Need was that to me and I would like to explain why. First, however, I should supply a bit of background information.
I first came to Xena at the start of the second season, in the fall of 1996. Because my local station didn’t carry the show until then, I missed almost all of the first season, with the exception of a few repeats (one of which was Callisto, as I now recall). It wasn’t until Return Of Callisto that I found I was hooked and had to tape the show.
I had a solid regard for the writers and producers because they had done some pretty wonderful things with the characters, although I really wanted them to grow Gabrielle up sooner. I was tired of Xena always having to rescue her. I stayed with the writers during The Rift and the resultant Rift Wars carried on-line. Essentially, I have supported their decisions, even when it made little sense. I tried to look at the big picture. I found Rob Tapert, RJ Stewart, Steve Sears and Chris Manheim to be frank. If they discovered that something didn’t work, especially if it was something the fans complained about, they would admit it and try to deal with it if possible. I’ve never really been unhappy with the majority of the stories or the individual arcs, but I knew some of the things they did sometimes didn’t make a lot of sense. Plainly, some of the stories just weren’t very good, but I was subscribed to the theory that the show belonged to the writers and producers and that they had a right to do what they considered was in the best interests of the show.
I was curious as to how they would end the series and I really thought they wouldn’t kill Xena and Gabrielle again, because that was so passe. After all, the producers had prided themselves on keeping their solutions unusual and trying to not repeat themselves. The writers had killed Xena and Gabrielle and brought them back so many times before and it seemed inconceivable that they would let the show go out on such a hackneyed plot point. I had also taken heart because Rob Tapert stated the following in his Whoosh interview with Bret Rudnick:
“I know how I was going to originally [end the series], but there are some other things to consider and I don't want to paint myself into a corner. I'm not going to kill them again, that's all I'm going to tell you. (both laugh) As you said earlier, I like where Hercules ended up. I think it's important to leave on an "up" note with Xena. If there was a way I could feel the show had come "full circle" so to speak, that would be nice…. “ “And I'm keeping my fingers crossed, not about going on past this season, but about keeping Xena and Gabrielle alive, one way or the other.”
Alas, I was so very wrong.
All in all, I took his statements to mean we might have the happy ending we all wanted, or possibly the blaze of glory Lucy talked about. Rob didn’t promise and I really shouldn’t have taken him at his word, because this is the entertainment industry and things don’t always turn out like we expect. But I did.
It certainly didn’t turn out like I expected in A Friend In Need. I’ve heard some media critics say it was a blaze of glory, but given my view the ending was suicide cloaked as sacrifice, I can’t say it very glorious. And we are stuck with this ending because this is the conclusion of the show, with no guarantee there will ever be any movies to change the outcome.
My first reaction after seeing the two-parter as a movie, was that I did NOT want the series to end that way. Then I was baffled. Intellectually, I could understand Xena dying for the reasons given, and because it made thematic and artistic sense, but I was troubled because she was apparently allowed to commit suicide for her sins of her past. This made no sense to me emotionally. Then one of the reports from the Museum of Television and Radio seminar with the cast and producers was posted to a mailing list. RJ said Xena had to die because she was a war criminal and must be punished. Her punishment was death. This made even less sense to me.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few days. I have been emotional, puzzled, angry. Now I’m resigned, annoyed and a bit wary. This finale is unimaginative and possibly dishonest. RJ Stewart has said in various interviews that the episode Callisto came about because it was unfair that Xena became a hero and never paid for her terrible past. But the character had to be written that way and it was important to show her as not intentionally killing women and children because that was too harsh for television, especially for children. FIN rehashes the Callisto and Locked Up And Tied Down plots by making Xena inadvertently responsible for the destruction of 40,000 villagers by fire. Then it violates everything it has constructed over the past six years by forcing the the round peg of redemption in the square hole of rigid, preconceived plot requirements. Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart were hell-bent on resolving Xena’s redemption issues, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense. Rob Tapert told E! On-line “But the finale was really based on where the series started, and it seemed to complete her journey looking for redemption."
Why must Xena complete her journey for redemption? Other than the fact that the producers wanted her to finish her journey and thereby make the series symmetrical, their appears to be no good reason. I think that is the problem. An arbitrary decision was made to end Xena’s journey. End of quest, end of series. It was a fait accompli. It ‘seemed’ to resolve the redemption question, which was a quest for atonement. The only state they could define as atonement was death. One of the difficulties with using death is that they’ve rendered it meaningless. Xena’s dead – been there, done that (and they have the episode to prove it.) Never mind that Xena has spent the last six (or 34) years on this quest, or that she was so very close at the beginning of season five. Xena must die. That’s it. There are no other alternatives. This is a failure in storytelling or trying to shoehorn an earlier outdated philosophy on the current realization of the show.
In part, this is one reason I have been so angry with the finale. There is no heart in this story. Yes, they brought out a lot of emotion and angst, but on inspection, it really is cold. There is no consideration of Xena’s journey to the place she is at just prior to the finale. All those people she has helped over the course of six seasons are not mitigating circumstances. Even putting things right in this instance can’t be taken into account. She frees the trapped souls but vengeance must be exacted on her or those souls will be lost. (Why? What is this state of grace? Where will the souls go? Oblivion? Some sort of Purgatory? This is never answered, but is thrust in at the last minute for the viewer to accept.) Xena’s atonement only comes through the sacrifice of her life, which she was prepared to do at the beginning of her journey. To me, this indicates that the last six years are pointless, that no one should attempt to remake her or himself because it makes no difference.
What a harsh judgment! This is justice?
If death was Xena’s only means of redemption – and this really is punishment, pure and simple, applied to the present crime for all her past sins – then she should have died at the end of Hercules: The Legendary Journey’s “The Warrior Princess,” as had been originally planned. We would never have had six seasons of the spin-off show, but it would have been more logical and been more meaningful. Rob Tapert has said in numerous interviews over the last six years that they are not really responsible for what people take away from the show. This is true, but he has also embraced the fact that many people have gained something useful and positive from the show and from the character herself. I don’t believe you can ignore doing what is right for the show, but in this instance I question whether they really did right. It may even have been right for the character, but it violated logic and the spirit of the show.
I’ve looked up the meaning of atonement, redemption and expiation. None of those words indicate that a person’s life should be given up for redemption, but in this episode, that is the price of atonement. I say it is also punishment and in Xena’s case, self-inflicted punishment (read suicide), because she chooses to stay and let the 40, 000 souls be avenged on her. Love and forgiveness, long a theme of the show and which inspired the first musical, The Bitter Suite, is dismissed (permanently, it seems) for Xena reaching atonement. Locked Up And Tied Down was more honest in its plot. It had Xena being judged and punished for a specific crime and did not extrapolate that backward to her prior warlord days. And it attempted to answer the question of what was the greater good – for Xena to lock herself away and accept punishment or continue to serve the greater good. In FIN we find that this ill-defined “state of grace” is of greater importance and so are the 40,000 souls in the land of the dead than of the uncounted souls in the land of the living who Xena might help.
I think I feel most sorry for Gabrielle. She worked so hard to obtain Xena’ s ashes and get them to the Fountain of Strength. She had to endure not only taking Xena’s mutilated body down and burn it to ashes, but also had to fight for the head. Yet for all her toil, she received nothing but Xena’s decision to obtain redemption. Surely that is a fair trade, no? After all, Xena gets to hang around Gab as a spirit, while Gabrielle takes Xena’s place fighting for the greater good. What’s not to like about that? So what if it is the same concept of a hero with a spirit was used in DUE SOUTH (Fraser and his dad) or, most recently, WITCHBLADE (Pezzini and her dead partner)?
I was mistaken about RT and RJS’ abilities to keep the ideas fresh.
I finally come to the last scenes of Friend In Need II. What troubled me most about the ending is that we were given hope that Gabrielle could reunite Xena’s ashes with her spirit and, at the last moment, had it snatched away. To me, that was a cheap deception. I suppose it was intended to make me feel sad at Xena’s noble sacrifice, but it didn’t, because that sacrifice came at the expense of Gabrielle’s happiness. She didn’t deserve it, but then, at least prior to the sixth season, Xena has often hurt Gabrielle, so this should not have come as a surprise to me. In addition, the water-sharing kiss Gabrielle gave Xena (which got lost in the clamor) becomes nothing more than a sop thrown to the subtext fans and perhaps a ploy to offset the sacrifice scene which followed. I understand the purpose was to keep Gabrielle occupied and to prove she is a worthy successor to Xena. It made a lot of storytelling sense. It also permitted the writers to keep the ending secret until the last minute. However, that makes it manipulative. As I said before, this finale was callous and not a just little cruel.
I haven’t had the heart to watch the episodes again, so I thank Shana for her detailed synopses, which I used frequently. It must have very hard to watch FIN, especially FIN II, multiple times in order to write them. I also thank Kym Taborn for providing this forum to work out my feelings regarding this finale. They deserve medals.
In closing, I realize that Rob Tapert has the right to express his creative vision in Xena in whatever way he believes is correct. I have the right to disagree and to not watch the episode, if I choose. I do think the producers, whether purposely or unintentionally, wrote several episodes with happier endings than A Friend In Need and those could substitute for a series finale. Some fans have chosen When Worlds Collide. For me, I think Many Happy Returns will be my series closer. At least the gals get to fly off into the sunset. There was much that I liked in both episodes of the finale, but the ending was a complete turn-off and right now I have no interest in viewing it again. In time, I may be able to watch the entire finale, but as of now I know it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. For a show that has given me so much pleasure and joy, that is just too bad. In the end, Rob Tapert simply may have wanted to end his show memorably and he has surely succeeded. But it isn’t the way I want to remember it. I’ll look to other episodes for that joy and the all the memorable good things of the series.
From: John Baber
Sent: Monday, July 02, 2001 12:36 PM
Subject: GROUP THERAPY ISSUE Submission
When I saw the Bruce Willis movie "Twelve Monkeys" at the movie theater I was very disappointed. I thought it was a terrible movie, and a waste of time. I held that opinion for five years, until watching the movie again by chance on television, one week after Xena's finale aired. In seeing it again, I completely changed my opinion of the movie, it was quite good actually.
The story involved a virus that wiped out most of the earth's population. The only humans that survived live underground, and in squalid conditions. The leaders of this tenuous society devised a time machine, and sent representatives back in time to gather more information about who made the virus, and how it was released. In the end, it turns out that the hero of the movie dies to ensure that the catastrophe occurs as planned. You see, the leaders of the future society aren't concerned about saving the world, they only want to obtain a cure for the virus so that they can rule the world in their future. They don't want to stop the virus and save 6 billion lives, they want to use it for their own selfish purposes.
Now I wasn't a total dunce, I did comprehend the plot the first time around. But I didn't really feel it through the writer's eyes, or the director's. This time I did. I actually felt the intent of the movie, and saw the whimsical mood the script led us through. The hero was not there to save the world, he was there to ensure it ended. Complex yet humorous. A scene I did not notice the first time around was Bruce Willis in a movie theater, describing how movies seem to change when you see them years later. He said the movie is the same, but you're different. The director actually planned for what a later viewer of the movie would think. This scene was not for the movie audiences, it was for someone watching perhaps years later, like me. Amazing.
This long setup brings me to my thoughts on the Xena series finale. Did Rob Tapert intend the same thing? Did he intend to give future audiences something to appreciate and enjoy? Did I miss the deeper meaning of this story? Was it a good ending for the character? How about the audience? These are hard questions to answer just a few weeks after the close of the show.
Even with the example of the Twelve Monkeys in mind, I cannot see any deeper meaning in the Xena finale. Yes, it touched on themes spelled out in the very first episode, where Xena wanted to commit suicide to atone for her crimes. And Xena in fact chooses such an ending in the finale. I can't speak for other fans, but the reason I find the finale so frustrating is that it seems so meaningless. There's no point to it.
The problem is that this is a television show, not a movie. Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart erased the entire meaning of six years of episodes in one swoop. Xena seemed to be on a mission to atone for her past crimes by staying alive and helping others. If Xena stays dead, her obligations are lifted from the living. What of the villagers Xena could have helped in the remaining decades of her life? To stay dead over ghosts makes her sacrifice meaningless. What about the living who need her help? (I don't think they'll trust that blonde woman who talks to a funeral urn for advice.)
The show has had a real problem with continuity in later seasons, and the finale is no exception. Xena's troops may have caused a similar fire in Cirra (Callisto), why didn't Xena feel the need to die for her crime over that? In Adventures of the Sin Trade, Xena battled Alti's spirit to liberate Amazon spirits to the afterlife. Alti was holding them in spiritual bondage, the same as Yodoshi in the finale. Yet Xena didn't have to stay dead then. Xena fed a young girl to the crabs in Locked Up and Tied Down, yet didn't feel she should stay in Shark Island Prison for the rest of her life. If Xena should stay dead for the lost souls in the finale, then she should have killed herself before ever meeting Gabrielle. Her sacrifice does not atone the character, it renders the entire series meaningless.
As was pointed out by other reviewers of the finale, the premise of Xena staying dead directly contradicted her own views in Legacy. Gabrielle was supposed to die for an accident, and Xena refused to let her be killed for this accident. Then we see the finale, and Xena did a complete about face. Now Tapert and Stewart can make the excuse that they should not be bound by writer Melissa Good's vision, but they'd be dead wrong. Once an episode airs, it's canon. If they wanted Xena to change her mind, touch on the prior episode (as Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers do), and explain why she's deciding differently this time. Tapert and Stewart didn't do that, they just ignored their own show's continuity when it was convenient.
Which brings me back to Twelve Monkeys. Twelve Monkeys had a point, the Xena series finale doesn't, and contradicts premise after premise of its own television show. I can't see how seeing the Xena finale again 5 years from now would change my views of it, it simply has no meaning for me as a fan of the show. The writers just seemed sick of the character is all. Providing closure to the series seemed a secondary goal to ridding themselves of Xena for good. Gabrielle's role, once offered as a counterpoint to Xena's worldview, also seemed an afterthought. Her fate is to become Xena, something I don't think any fan of the early seasons would applaud as "character growth". It's obscene.
Would I have liked a romantic ending to the show? Of course, but the writers made it plain Xena would rather be dead than kiss Gabrielle for real. Even so, I never required a subtext ending for the series. I would have preferred any ending that left the audience with respect for the character, and the writers. The Xena series finale didn't deliver either. It was the right of Rob Tapert to end his vision any way he saw fit. But the ending made the adventures of Xena and Gabrielle meaningless, along with the fan devotion the series has garnered over six years. Good luck in your future endeavors, Mr. Tapert, I won't be watching another of your productions again.
For all the fans who (like me) bought the merchandise and discussed the show on the internet, it was a pleasure meeting all of you. I hope we find some series in the future that inspires such devotion, it was a wild ride for what it's worth. Thanks to magazines like Whoosh for giving the Xenaverse the respectable edge such a series needed on the internet, I do think it has all been worth it. Take care.
From: Susan Schuurman
Sent: Monday, July 02, 2001 1:06 PM
Subject: A Call for Mutiny
A Call for Mutiny
I hereby reject the Xena series finale. I believe it's an attempt by the series creator, Rob Tapert, to assert control over a character which has grown bigger than his wildest dreams could have imagined. But his attempt was in vain. For the fans will ultimately decide what happens to Xena and Gabrielle. And we want to-we will-imagine them together forever.
Two men, R.J. Stewart and Rob Tapert, created a female character which touched a nerve with millions of female fans. But they didn't obsessively follow Xena each and every week merely for the fight scenes or the neat special effects. It's the relationship between Xena and her side-kick Gabrielle that brought out devotion in the faithful viewers. We latched onto the story of two women, bonded for life, who take on battles together and risk their lives for one another like two female musketeers. We fell in love with the love between them, its power, its ability to overcome any obstacle. And totally by luck and not by design, the producers unwittingly tapped into a power that hitherto had been untapped.
But these fans knew nothing lasts forever. Everyone knew one day Lucy Lawless would want to quit restricting her acting career to one character. Xenafans could accept that all good things must come to an end.
But what xenafans will not accept-judging from the backlash ensuing in the week since the final episode aired-is that these two characters, Xena and Gabrielle, are split up-after all the promises of their being together for all eternity-and worse yet, due to voluntary choices on the part of Xena.
Rob Tapert basically gave them the finger.
Fans would have reluctantly accepted Xena dying at the hands of an overpowering foe. Fans would have accepted Xena dying while trying to save Gabrielle's life. But we cannot accept Xena choosing to die-to remain dead-at Gabrielle's expense.
The finale had Xena giving very little thought to how her actions would affect Gabrielle. That is completely unbelievable. Prior to this episode, Gabrielle was the most important thing in Xena's life. Why would that all of a sudden change? Xena betrays Gabrielle, abandons her-that would never happen. Xena says "Good luck, old friend." Xena would never talk to Gabrielle in such a cold, distant way. I could believe Xena would refer to Joxer that way, but not the woman she has stated she'll be with forever.
The final scene could easily have ended with Xena coming back to life, after having accomplished her goal of releasing the 40,000 souls. Xena and Gabrielle could have ridden off into the sunset, just like the Hercules series ended, with their journeys continuing forever. But no, Tapert decides in the final two minutes to separate the two, and why? For a reason that doesn't make any sense: because the 40,000 souls need to be avenged or otherwise they'll rot in hell. Since when is that price required? What about all the other people Xena killed during her days with Borias? Gabrielle says it for all of us: "That is not right." It works out to be a very weak, very loopholish dramatic device, a betrayal of the audience.
And its use of Christian symbolism is completely against the prior premise of the series. While before it was amusing and pleasurable to see Christian parallels, when Xena and Gabrielle are crucified, for example, bringing them to a sort of parity with a huge figure in Western Civilization, the Christian comparisons here are indescribably disturbing.
Xena becomes a Christ figure who martyrs herself for others at Gabrielle's expense. Many of Xena's lines are paraphrases of Jesus' last words during the week before his death and after his resurrection: "I'm afraid what will be done cannot be undone," "I will not rest until it is finished," "Go in peace," "I will always be with you." But the entire series up until the finale always had Xena laughing at the Greek gods; she always assured the frightened villagers that they didn't need the gods. In that sense, the show, along with Hercules, was essentially Humanistic.
The finale abandons that ethos, instead for the first time introducing ideas of Catholic guilt, sin and the need for redemption by way of a sacrificial death. True, redemption has always been a part of the show. Xena always felt a heavy burden for the pillage and suffering she had caused during her dark period. But all the good she accomplished with Gabrielle was her redemption, each and every week. She has never needed to give her life to pay for others' lives. Never. She worked for justice, yes. But self-sacrifice, to the point of giving her own life? And at the expense of the person she loved more than life itself, Gabrielle? Never. Xena always had a very healthy instinct for survival, a strong will to live; she has never been suicidal, unless it was to be with Gabrielle in the underworld. This Christian emphasis on lives needing to be avenged, paid for, is the complete opposite of the series' life-affirming belief in the power of love, the love between these two powerful women. What made Xena such a compelling and inspiring character was that she was powerful and a woman. Changing her into a godlike figure takes away from her humanity, and we cannot relate to her; she no longer inspires.
I choose instead to believe-and that is my right as a willing traveler on this journey of suspension of disbelief-in a different ending, where they are still together. I embrace the episode that ended with them in a Garden of Eden-like setting, where Gabrielle says confidently to Xena, astride her horse, "We're always going to be together." And Xena replies, "I know." And she extends her arm to Gabrielle, who mounts the horse behind Xena, and they ride off together in the soft, dappled light. We rest easy knowing their love for each other is everlasting, unbreakable, forever.
As for motive on the part of Rob Tapert to have written a script where Xena separates herself from Gabrielle of her own free will: perhaps all that power that Xena and Gabrielle had sparked was just too threatening to him as a producer, director and husband of the star-where his creation and the loyal fans had grown more powerful than its creator. And we could speculate that he wanted to put us in our place.
What Tapert doesn't realize is that it's too late; he can't end their eternal love with the wave of the scriptwriter's pen. These inspiring, empowering, independent women are separate entities from their creators and have lives of their own. Call it the mystery of story, of myth. And Tapert shouldn't fight it. He should have allowed himself to be carried along on the rising tide. After all, all creation, in literature, fiction and yes, this syndicated television show, have within them a sense of the divine. We should just be in awe of it and not fight its power.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
From: Julianne Riedy
Sent: Monday, July 02, 2001 1:15 PM
Subject: My thoughts on the series finale
I didn't watch it when it was on, but I taped it to watch it later, for two reasons. 1) I didn't want to wait 2 weeks to see the finale episode; and 2) I thought that if I didn't watch it, then the series wasn't really over. Sounds silly I know. And I wanted to make sure that I was alone in the house, because I knew that I would probably be crying. And I stayed away from websites and magazine articles, so I wouldn't read any spoilers.
I thought it was neat that my favorite show ended in my favorite country, kind of ironic. The costumes were beautiful, and the sacred traditions added a spiritually, mystical air. The fact that it combined Xena's past and present to come full circle was cool. You could tell that the writer's really spent a lot of time and thought in writing the final episodes, wanting to make them special and meaningful. You could also see how Gabrielle has come full circle and become the next warrior to be, taking Xena's place.
We all wanted Gabrielle to dump Xena's ashes into the fountain, but in a way I'm glad it ended the way it did. I think it was a fitting ending to the series. Now no one can rip off the show or the character. The writers made Xena and they were free to end her journeys. I also think that the noble way she died really showed how she came full circle too. She gave her life for the souls of 40,000 people, she chose to die for them. She has cheated death so many times before, for this last time to be her choice, I thought was very meaningful.
I don't think they should try to bring Xena back, or do a TV movie or anything. If they want to do a spin-off of the show, it should be the adventures of Gabrielle. Xena was my most favorite show on TV. I tuned in every week to see it, have many of the episodes on tape, and a lot of the merchandise. They will be an empty hole in my heart, but it's time to put what we have learned to good use, and move on. If you want to see Xena again, watch the re-runs.
Sent: Monday, July 02, 2001 3:37 PM
Subject: The series finale of Xena
First of all, Xena's death was not a defeat, but as we all saw, her own decision to sacrifice herself and submit to what she knew was coming. Although I was sad to see Xena die for good, it wasn't disappointing because she finally found the redemption she sought for so long. Xena has brought much to our lives these past years - she made me laugh and she made me cry, watching her kick butt made me feel like I could do anything (I lost 30 pounds working out to CDs of the show's soundtrack), and mostly she inspired me to be strong in all ways: mind, body, and spirit. Maybe it's just her time to go and for us to let her go...it's not as if she's gone into oblivion, because we still have our memories and taped episodes. To see Xena rightfully pass her chakram to Gabrielle, the naive girl from Poteidaia who evolved into the powerful warrior we see at the end of finale, we can all aspire to be like Gabrielle in that last scene - Independent, confident and strong because Xena brought out the best, yet always having her with us in spirit.
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2001 1:46 AM
Subject: Xena ending
I'm very disturbed that Xena was kicked off like that. I hope that she will live again like many times before. I think it could all be redeemed in a movie with LL and ROC. If not them, a couple of strong women portraying them. Xena and Gabrielle shouldn't be outdone by Tombraider.
Thanks for listening,
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2001 6:26 PM
Subject: Xena end :(
As I reveled in the joy of not having to work the day of the Xena season finale, I anxiously poised myself in front of the television to view my last official first run episode of the Warrior Princess and her sidekick, Gabrielle.
I was riveted to the screen as I watched each segment of action, wondering how it would end, knowing that Xena had to die in order to fulfill her task. My thoughts were in anticipation as to how she would return from death, once again. To my great disappointment, she didn't.
Like most fans, I became a Xenite because of the butt kicking, chakram throwing, sword swinging action and the incredible plot swings, that ranged from crucifixions to musicals. But best part was watching the special relationship developed between Xena and Gabrielle, evolving from acquaintances to sisters and finally to soul mates.
At the end, I found it interesting to see Xena end up with Gabrielle's compassion and Gabrielle end up with Xena's warrior ways.
Because of their soul mate relationship that goes beyond the physical, it was very sad to me to have the series end with Xena dead and Gabrielle alone. It is my hope that a television or theater movie is in the future because even though the series has ended, their story feels incomplete.
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