Whoosh! Issue 60 - September 2001

By Deborah Monroy
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2879 words

Introduction (01-03)
Lawless By Default, Lawless By A Landslide (04-07)
A Threnody From The Beginning (08-10)
I Was Quite Impressed Until I Hit The Floor (11-14)
How Now, Brown Avatar? (15-19)
Myth As Grail/Myth As Corkscrew (20-23)



Can faith be born of ashes
And grow to fight another day?[Note 01]

[01] If I had known how happy television would make me, I would have married one, or two, much sooner. Primarily I have learned to revel in TV by watching Xena: Warrior Princess. If I had known how unhappy I would become in seeing the finale of Xena: Warrior Princess, I would nevertheless have done nothing different. Xena has played with themes of friendship and love while toying with death, loss, grief, mourning, from the start. We have witnessed Xena and Gabrielle die more than once. We have witnessed them return to us more than once.

[02] It has been a difficult season for TV's warrior women this year. Buffy's mother died and then Buffy herself succumbed to the Ripley effect and leaped to a fiery death. The Queen of Swords, always wonderfully low-key and low-tech, ended quietly with Tessa and Marta walking down the street together remarking that it was as normal a day as possible in their perilous world, but the series will not be renewed next year.

[03] Xena: Warrior Princess ended in devastation as the Warrior Princess died, for good. Xena has always shown a heavy investment in loss. One never loses interest in loss and finally, even in the Xenaverse, there is no such thing as "death-lite". "The snow melts. Flowers fade. And I pass, as all things do ... But time and love, they go on."[Note 02] These are Akemi's thoughts. Akemi, with the soul of a poet and the heart of an efficiency expert, an effective combination, is always serene. Gabrielle is more to the point: "I love you, Xena. How am I supposed to go on without you?" How did a series wherein both heroes regard the ancient Greek outlook as anathema finally hold Xena responsible for fulfilling the ethos of ancient Greek tragedy?

Lawless By Default, Lawless By A Landslide

Simultaneous audition for BAYWATCH and WONDER WOMAN
Xena was just a girl looking for a really good sword.

[04] I am just a girl looking for a good story, and in the beginning, that copper connection, the long dark hair, beautiful, the mythical anger, a good heart fighting the good fight for others, Xena reminded me of my mother. It was amusing to watch this vastly violent figure expressing her temper constructively as she bashed villains and then bonded with her blond companion. It was the bond business between Xena and Gabrielle I found most profitable over time. They reminded me of my friendship with a wonderful friend who had passed away, however the words "friend" and "hero" had never summed up how I felt about Helen.

[05] Shippers miss the boat. It must be that relationship between Xena and Gabrielle that remains the most important cargo of the show. Then too the subtext contingent places too much freight in the Lesbian zone for even this group does not have a corner on the market in terms of loving women. There is a scene in FALLEN ANGEL where Gabrielle briefly, so briefly that it is almost a subliminal image, grasps Xena's hand when they are first returned together to life on earth. It is that hand-to-hand, day-to-day devotion, which compels me.

[06] After I viewed FALLEN ANGEL, addiction happened. Watching an occasional second or third season episode had served as an offhand introduction. Fun, but forgettable. There was that "Lawless" issue--really, had the woman known a previous career in the world of wrestling? However, after battling through fifth season summer reruns I felt compelled to purchase the earlier years on video. Gradually the default value of Xena=mother altered so that I myself identified with the Warrior Princess. This is a theological connection.

[07] I was attending a Methodist seminary where they were kind enough to let me fit in as a student of myth. I am not interested in battling the gods but my own religious position is that I do not believe in religion. I believe in myth, the central engine of the mind and psyche that drives us to meaning. I worked Xena as an example of a kind of contemporary theology, a variant take on narrative theology, into my papers on myth. In this way, Xena meant salvation to me.

A Threnody From The Beginning

[08] From the beginning in SINS OF THE PAST, Xena is connected to the dead, to her beloved brother Lyceus whom she speaks to at the site of his tomb. His absence, her loss, is softened by Gabrielle's offer of friendship. Yet if you listen to music from the first season's sound track you hear smoldering notes of tragedy, often, in Xena's themes. Especially in track number 14, "Xena's Web", there is that ashen sadness in the Wagnerian horn riff that sounds a slow elegy. The woodwinds know Xena has an edge of tragic character. She wants to change to redeem herself. How far will she sacrifice herself for redemption? True redemption would have happened for her if she had forgiven herself. Martyrdom on the other hand may be a double-edged sword: self-sacrifice on the one side, self-hatred on the other. Or, it may be a more complex blend of self-sacrifice, self-destruction, and self-hatred. In FRIEND IN NEED, ultimately Xena is a martyr without a cause, "heroically" choosing to stay dead to avenge souls she did not wrong in the first place. "Xena, that is not right" Gabrielle tells her friend after hearing her deadly decision but Xena, being Xena to the hilt, is not listening.

[09] Towards the end, in WHEN FATES COLLIDE, we see Xena's ethic of self-sacrifice again, and in this story, the motif is "a love worth dying for". I have yet to read any comment on the Internet that disagrees with this theme. Several people argue that WHEN FATES COLLIDE would have made a better season finale. It is already one of my favorite stories too, but, what about a love worth living for? Then FRIEND IN NEED is the logical outcome of our fascination with this kind of death-love lovingly set forth in WHEN FATES COLLIDE. Xena sacrifices herself for the greater good, or is it just for Gabrielle? In FRIEND IN Need, Xena stays dead to "avenge" the deaths of the 40 thousand. What does redemption have to do with vengeance? Akemi, the Teflon geisha, already proclaimed Xena's redemption. We already saw Gabrielle's stellar success as a warrior, without Xena having to leave her alone (but not alone "in reality") in order to encourage her "growth" as a fighter. Gabrielle had already chose this very path in order to be with Xena in the first place.

[10] Outside of WHEN FATES COLLIDE, Xena has repeatedly shown us that the passionate friendship between Xena and Gabrielle is the love worth living for. Xena finds her redemption in her devotion to Gabrielle. Gabrielle finds her own path in allying her way with that of Xena. We have seen Gabrielle's martial arts expertise far too often to believe any of the argument that Xena has to remove herself from earthly existence in order to enhance Gabrielle's compassionate competency in the art of self-defense.[Note 03]

I Was Quite Impressed Until I Hit The Floor[Note 04]

Also useful for an orange juice commercial
As the sun sets, Xena's last chance to be restored slips away.

[11] The scene where Caesar's archers shoot Xena in WHEN FATES COLLIDE foreshadows her amazing Technicolor death scene in FRIEND IN NEED II. Here is the defiant truth of this last episode: Those who live by sharp, pointed objects die by sharp, pointed objects (you may have heard that saying before). In WHEN FATES COLLIDE, Gabrielle tosses the torch that annihilates the Fates malfunctioning loom. Gabrielle thus ends the revised new order and returns the old order to the universe. In the Ring operas, Brunhilde tosses the torch that ignites Siegfried's funeral pyre. She climbs onto this pyre. She tosses the torch to end the old order, and to begin the new, improved order. The old gods must die to make way for the new.

[12] Near the end of FRIEND IN NEED I, Xena wants to teach Gabrielle "the pinch". As she succeeds in her teaching, she creates tremendous pain for herself, and for Gabrielle, the witness to Xena's pain, as well. Why this eruption of masochism on Xena's part? We know Xena has a slight death wish so perhaps the sudden on-set of masochism is not too surprising, but why the sadistic posture towards Gabrielle? Xena, kneeling, bleeding, declares her love for her partner but her pain causes Gabrielle arch-anguish. Is this what friends are for?

[13] In FRIEND IN NEED II, Gabrielle sets the torch to Xena's remains and ends the old Xena. There is no return. Then, Xena has never existed in the first place so Xena can never die.

[14] With respect to love and life, MANY HAPPY RETURNS will be the finale for this season in my home theater. Xena imploring "Father, forgive me" is outstanding satire, the invocation of Sappho is perfect, and I love "the fact" that Ferragus' cave is distinguished by that high-tech doorbell.

How Now, Brown Avatar?


We may bury the dead, or burn them to ashes, but like the past, they go on living with us. So, why be sad? "We never die because we are never really born"[Note 05] is the line offered as solace in THE BITTER SUITE (from the third season: "Xena: Warrior Opera"). This may sound glib but after all it is the same kind of comfort Krishna offers to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

It is not born,
it does not die. . .
Arjuna, when a man knows the self
to be indestructible, enduring, unborn,
unchanging, how does he kill
or cause anyone to kill?
...Since this is so, why do you lament?

[16] Later Krishna offers Arjuna a paradox although he does not seem to realize the contradictory nature of the deal:

By devotion alone
can I, as I really am,
be known and seen
and entered into, Arjuna.
Acting only for me, intent on me,
free from attachment
hostile to no creature, Arjuna,
a man of devotion comes to me.

[17] The paradox is that while allegedly "free from attachment" nevertheless Arjuna must bind himself to Krishna in the way of devotion, in bhakti marga. Madonna, in "Ray of Light", is more to the point:

Mmmm if I could melt your heart
Mmmm we'd never be apart
Mmmm give your love to me[Note 06]

[18] In daily life we may or may not believe that we are never born and never die. This ethic does apply to the series Xena: Warrior Princessthat remains after all simply fantasy. Xena: Warrior Princess is a show with a heavy investment in fantasy. In fact it is fantasy three times over: it is a fictional creation for television; its main character embodies comic-book attributes of superhero strength and invincibility; and, unlike Buffy Vampire Slayer or Queen of Swords, this series takes place in a mythical setting with no commitment to historical accuracy[Note 07]. Why should it matter that the hero offers her life for an ethic of the "greater good" which she supposedly learned from her friend?

[19] Xena is investment fantasy. So is all good myth and religion. We are asked to suspend our belief and believe in illusion. Here a good deal of paradox emerges again: investing in fantasy is serious work. If we have done the work and looked closely at Xena, we know the two lead characters and the ethic of the show, very well. If we have truly done the work then now we know ourselves much better, through living together with the all the above: Xena, Gabrielle, and the well-realized fantasy reality of the Xenaverse. For example, for myself now I know that tragedy is important, but that comedy is funnier than H*ll.

Myth As Grail/Myth As Corkscrew

[20] Xena dies, the story ends, the myth continues. The spell is broken. The spell must not be broken. The finale, like so much of season six at large, consists of good acting and a series of compelling and/or provocative images. The plot suffers from inconsistencies (yes, even within Xena: Warrior Princessthere are certain consistencies) in story-line and a scattered narrative quality. A fitfulness of vision owing perhaps to the writer's and producer's desire to fulfill everyone's expectations and still honor the integrity of the show itself (yes, there is integrity within the vision of Xena: Warrior Princess). The story is full of holes. Why not just walk away from this final chaos? Madonna says it best in "Ray of Light":

Learn to say goodbye, I yearn to say goodbye
There's no greater power than the power of goodbye...

[21] The power of goodbye is the "love worth dying for." It is not as impressive to me as a love worth living for. Not unnaturally, even in WHEN FATES COLLIDE, Xena returns to life through Gabrielle's triumph. They ride off into the mist together.

[22] I hate the ending of FRIEND IN NEED II. Could my impossible heart just this once be spared running the gauntlet of dread, anguish, grief, and mourning? We know Xena knew the right thing to do even before she met Gabrielle [from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, see THE GAUNTLET and UNCHAINED HEART]. Not the former, darkly feral Xena, more evil than ever in FRIEND IN NEED, but the latter-day repentant Warrior Princess endured a certain death wish lurking in her heart. However, here is where Gabrielle became Xena's salvation from the start, in SINS OF THE PAST, LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN, or DESTINY. Gabrielle would never sit quietly and let Xena fade away in the name of what can only be called "frelled theology"[Note 08]. Then in one last scene of idiot illogic, we see Gabrielle, her hands holding Xena's ashes, smiling happily, alone.

[23] It is unbearable to have to bear the unbearable. The end. But not quite. Madonna, forgive me, let us give Lucy Lawless the final word: "I do feel that now and when the show ends, Xena exists in myth, in replays and in the memories of all of us."[Note 09] [Note 10] Myth has no beginning and never ends. You may drink from it, but, as with the Grail, you cannot hold it in your hand.


Note 01:
The answer to the question posed by these lyrics is "yes". Although I am disappointed over the finale, I am grateful overall for the work of Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Robert Tapert, R.J. Stewart, and so many other co-creators of Xena: Warrior Princess.

Lyrics are translated from Bulgarian, from THE GAUNTLET, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, track number 8 from Joseph LoDuca's first season soundtrack, "Xena: Warrior Princess, Original Television Soundtrack," 1995-6, Varese Sarabande Records Inc.
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Note 02:
We know Xena's lineage and it would have been wonderful to see a reference to Michelle Yeoh or other Hong Kong action movie stars in FRIEND IN NEED. Instead, we get Akemi and what A. Adams calls the "samurai with the bad accent" as representatives of Japan. [A. Adams has an informative essay on the finale in this issue in the article "Why Xena Should Not Have Died: A Rejoinder To Rob Tapert].
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Note 03:
This is shown dramatically even in as "mild" an episode as LITTLE PROBLEMS where Gabrielle defends an unconscious Xena (from the fifth season videos, Studios USA)
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Note 04:
The Sisters of Mercy, from their tape "Vision Thing," 1990, WEA Records Ltd.

I was quite impressed until I hit the floor.
Isn't that what friends are for?
looks great on other people.
That's what they're for.
--Lyrics from the song "I was wrong"
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Note 05:
Quoted from The Bhagavad Gita translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, 1986, Bantam Classics
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Note 06:
Madonna, "Ray of Light", 1998 Warner Brothers Records Inc. References to Madonna's music in Xena: Warrior Princess are fortuitous. There are more deliberate references to film in FRIEND IN NEED, from Evil Dead to Gladiator.
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Note 07:
Fantasy notes from my paper "Playing's the Thing: Acts of Theology in the World of Xena: Warrior Princess presented this Spring for the Sacred Texts seminar
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Note 08:
Scapers recognize this word from the TV series Farscape. The composite meaning of the word "frell", used as a verb or adjective, appears to be f*ck/frick/h*ll.
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Note 09:
Barker, interview with Lucy Lawless in "Xena Magazine" issue 18, May 2001
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Note 10:
See also "Starring Lucy Lawless?" by Sara Gwellian Jones in "Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies" volume 14, number 1. This is an essay about many things, including virtual stardom.
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Deborah Monroy, Xena Acres. WHOOSH #50 (November 2000)


Deborah Monroy Deborah Monroy

I have completed a Masters degree in Theological Studies this Spring and now work in Exhibition Design, at the Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.
Favorite episode: FALLEN ANGEL
Favorite line: Xena: "Who threw that pie?!" PUNCHLINE
First episode seen: THE BITTER SUITE
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS

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