Whoosh! Issue 60 - September 2001

By W.F. Wilcox
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
4347 words

Pre-Script (01-10)
Reflections (11-34)
Post-Script (35)



But that 'patina' makes it all the more valuable!
Bloody chakrams on the grass, alas.

[01] What do I do with the calendar in my office? Now that the 'visionary' of Xena has savaged her beyond recognition. Now that such blatant savagery has made me acknowledge the brutality he has reserved for women throughout the six years. Think of all the lighthearted falling backwards in the patented Xena legs-up stunt man position, and that wicked but bloodless underarm thrust of the sword to the bad guy sneaking up behind her. That fun stuff was what made Xena our feminist *ss-kicking babe, what made it a rallying cry of a show about two good-looking women who beat up men. Oh, but when we need to rape someone, hang them upside down and beat them, drag them behind a horse (notice how bloodless that ordeal was for Brutus and Crassus), lash them with ropes of fire, decapitate them, and desecrate their remains. Now those joys we reserve for our heroes. How can we ravage them? Let me count the ways, including, but not limited to, three excruciating crucifixions of Xena, two near misses for Gabrielle, and two nice bloody horrible ones (if you count our buddy show with the big guy). So, for that nagging six-year question: Is it Feminist or is it Memorex, um, Misogynist? Now we know.

[02] Yet still, that Gershwin tune plays again in my head, "oh no, they can't take that away from me", and I tell myself I can glean what I can, what I always have, and ignore the rest. He has been pulling this sh*t for years, it is just a matter of degree and finality. We have always had to pull our moments from the chaff, and trust in who we knew Xena and Gabrielle to be.

[03] The problem is I do not get the opportunity or have the time to give my rationale, as a rule, so what do I do with my signifiers? Can I keep the calendar up in my office? Do I put a disclaimer under it: "I hated the finale, but by the way, have you ever read the fan fiction?"

[04] The good news is, nobody who comes in my office has ever watched it, so they cannot think any less of me than they already do for my loyalty and affection, however strained and edited. Well aware of my interest, their critique has not gone beyond "there's a Xena standee on the second floor of Junkman's Daughter where they keep the dirty sex toys" because they have seldom, if ever, seen it and easily dismiss it as silly. They are not about to revoke my Women's Studies certificate or toaster oven over a little thing like a cruel and utterly destructive ending.

[05] So, if no one knows of the betrayal, can I keep my pictures of the warrior and her bard?

[06] I have Thelma and Louise in my office and on my bedroom wall. Still. Even after all these years, my love and grief for them is endless, and my valorization of death as a choice, when it is the last free one you can make, is a vital, conflicted, embedded part of me. But I do not want them to be dead. I want them to "be drinking margaritas by the sea, Mamacita" and I hate the men who got too close through their facade of sexual play or knowing concern, because those are the guys you got to watch out for. The bad people are easy: shoot them in the parking lot, thrust that sword rearwards without the courtesy of a glance. However, those people who know just enough to get close and win your trust, they are the ones you end up dying over.

[07] I have lived with an aching depression for as long as I can remember. I have come to understand that the reason the cool muzzle of my pistol feels so comforting against my brow is that someone I loved let me down and hurt me in the place where I was supposed to be safe. For a large part of the last three years, Xena and Gabrielle have been there with me in the dark, holding them at bay with sword and staff, lifting me onto the horse to ride away. I cannot let that be taken away.

[08] I had a neighbor when I used to live in a bigger place. She came out to talk to me when I was getting the mail. She had just gotten the call that a woman in her sexual abuse group had committed suicide. It was the eighties, so part of her story was that one of the last things the woman did was to call her and see about the blood test that had been run on her little girl. She had been a very sick baby several years earlier and had gotten pints and pints of untested blood. The woman was so glad that the little girl was okay. Then she killed herself. But it was anger, not merely grief, that made my neighbor tremble as she whispered, "He won."

[09] I was sliding down that slope again just these last few weeks, entertaining thoughts, tying up loose ends, and making tentative plans. Then "he won" again. I was so stupid! I believed, I kept talking to that detective on the d*mn telephone long enough for him to catch me! I watched that sweet moment from Season One they showed us one last time - "Something has to stop the cycle of violence and hatred, and that's love and forgiveness" - and, I thought it meant something! Thank goodness for spoilers, or I would be over that cliff, too.

[10] However, I will not. I will not watch it. He cannot take them away from me. I am heartbroken, but I am not in as much danger as I was even last week. When I read what they did to her, what they did to her body, I knew that there was no excuse. I cannot know why he needed to punish her so relentlessly these last six years, but I do know that violence against women is evil, not art and by god, not our salvation. And I am tired of our dying for their fears.


[11] I wrote the previous section in the hours after hearing of Xena's brutal death. It turns out I did watch the episode. I stand by the emotions and concerns written above, although I can acknowledge the post-feminist attitude I have seen from people who think it is a great equality to get your head cut off just like the guys. However, I believe Gabrielle's reaction was all anyone ever needed to know the horror and the grief of Xena's death. The views of her headless body and her trophied head breached the limits and were unacceptable.

[12] Xena has always been a violent show, but initially there was a cartoonish nature to much of the violence, just as there was plenty of beefcake to go along with the cheesecake. Down on the farm there was as many 'cute b*tt' and 'nice chest' shots of Ares as there were of the women. That the actors could convey genuine emotions in the context of such camp has always been it is greatest strength. Nevertheless, the scopophilic (love of looking) quality of the lingering over the bodies of both stars moves beyond my ambivalent misgivings and becomes deeply disturbing when it extends to reveling in their agonies.

[13] My grief is too new, and too tied in to my own losses, to sort out my feelings about Xena's presence as ghost or memory as Gabrielle sails away. In order to set those feelings aside, I have thought back over the whole series and tried to make sense of things. For a long time, I had hoped that the series would end with a climactic battle with Ares that also sealed up the scrolls. I was always most captivated by the revisionist history aspect of Xena, the great fun of her playing the pivotal role in history from sharing a hug with Helen of Troy, to warning Phidippides, "A run like that in this heat can kill you." I wanted an explanation of how Xena was taken away from us. Who silenced the stories of the bard and let history come down to us without her? She could not have simply faded from memory. She had to have been taken. After seeing the final episode, I know it was not arrows that took away the Xena Warrior Princess who will always live forever in my heart. She was brought down by the weight of the story line of the last three years.

[14] The Xena introduced in Hercules was no more than a warlord. Granted, that is bad enough, and the bleakness revealed in the opening scenes of SINS OF THE PAST with the hungry child was palpable. She had done much for which to feel guilty. Her reputation was enhanced with references to a battle of Corinth, but by the end of the first season, her worst crime had been shown to be the tragedy at Cirra, and Callisto was the personification of her struggle with that guilt. Nevertheless, hers were human wrongs and weaknesses, and a human redemption was possible through courage and love.

[15] The DESTINY story of season two with Caesar and M'Lila explained much of the darkness that filled her, but she is brought out of the punishment of Tartarus with the injunction to continue her human quest for redemption. THE PRICE was the first time we had seen the ruthlessness of which Xena was capable, and it remains one of the most powerful episodes as an example of the redemption that she could attain and the value of Gabrielle in her life.

[16] As a believer in subtext, the turning point for me came in THE COMEDY OF EROS when Xena tells Draco, "Gabrielle could never love someone who lives off hurting others. You can't change her, so if you want to win her love, you better change yourself." Xena was beginning to hope that in spite of everything, she was becoming that someone.

[17] That shift to romantic love is challenged by the tragic events of season three. Lies, betrayal, rape, infanticide, and physical abuse would have been irreconcilable in anything less than the brilliance of the suspended reality of Illusia. The imagery of forgiveness was not sufficient for many, and it is understandable why most of the great romantic fan fictions diverge from the television show before and around this point. By separating from the televised story now, a human redemption is still possible and sufficient for Xena. She can be allowed to live out her life with Gabrielle with honor as her consort and as a military hero in Greece as in the great epic fan fiction worlds of writers such as Missy Good, LJ Maas, baermer, and others. A separate but related issue is that, by leaving now, Gabrielle as we knew her could remain with Xena.

[18] In Season Three the darkness of the wild adolescent Xena of THE DEBT invades their life together. The otherworldly evil of Dahak is also the beginning of the multiple cosmologies which will buffet and manipulate Xena in the coming years. It signals a marked change in the show, but it manages to remain connected superficially to the original mythology because of Ares' involvement, the Fates, Callisto, and the hind's blood dagger. I can overlook the dabbling in Celtic mythology for a few knights and banshees just because I love hearing Boadicea say, "You need to polish your sword." The love between Gabrielle and Xena is flayed but endures, and SACRIFICE reveals a theme that will continue. Xena is willing to engage supernatural forces and to die to save the world, not just from her wrong doings but from evil, fueled also by her own raging grief over the death of her son. Gabrielle is willing, and does, sacrifice herself because she loves Xena.

[19] I have always thought the saddest moment in the movie Gone with the Wind was early in the war as Scarlett and Rhett dance at the bazaar. He says he wants to hear that she loves him, and she answers, "That's something you'll never hear from me Captain Butler as long as you live". The camera pulls away as the music swells and they waltz around the floor, young and beautiful, and all the heartbreak that is to come is held in that bittersweet moment.

[20] I felt the same way in SACRIFICE as Xena is battling in some inconsequential village as the priests are abducting people for Dahak. Ares appears to Gabrielle as they, along with us, are watching Xena battle on, saying, "She never gives up, even when it's hopeless." I believed then that we were seeing how it all would someday end.
Things got better on the set when naptime was introduced
OAAA was a definitive hurt/comfort story.

[21] Season Three's ONE AGAINST AN ARMY gives me my single highest moment of the Warrior Princess, at least of the character she was when the series began. A very human Warrior Princess battles a real enemy, as a Greek hero in an historical Greek story. She paces as she wrestles with the competing desires to save Greece and to save Gabrielle, and says that she is done paying for her past mistakes. Yet she triumphs and saves both, with no supernatural powers but by courage and love, and her rest beside Gabrielle and the hope of a morning is deserved.

[22] Season Four changes everything. The savagery of Xena's slaughter of the Amazon leaders is compounded exponentially, unbeknownst to her, by her collusion with Alti having eternal consequences in the Amazon land of the dead. From this point on the story line begins to heap more and more sins upon Xena's shoulders, not only more savage but also more insidious by adding a cosmic quality to them. Xena is able to affect not only this life but also the afterlife, and immortal wrongs cannot be righted by mortal strivings. Ultimately Xena paid her human debt to the Amazons in TO HELICON AND BACK, where it was alluded to in the closing rising shot of the arrows in the trees, so reminiscent of the impaled Amazon leaders. However, the first indications of the route the Xena series would be taking are shown in her entering the spirit world to fight Alti. In this case, again as in DESTINY, love brings her back, restores, and redeems.

[23] ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE also embeds the pattern that Xena is not entirely stable. She comes unhinged at the loss of these young women who she loves. Her desperate ministrations to Gabrielle in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, perhaps the greatest scene of the first season, foreshadow her desolation and manic searching in the opening of season four. Additionally, we have also seen the insane rage that descends on her at the death of M'Lila, and her unreasonable grief over the young Amazon Anokin she was given by Alti. At this point, we do not have any idea that an Akemi is still lurking out there and a drunken grief that ultimately caused Xena's undoing.

[24] It is impossible to know what we are to make of that. An easy explanation is that they continue to repeat the loss of Lyceus for her, yet we saw Xena the Buccaneer after the loss of her brother. Though powerful and power-hungry, Xena is still a sane and unburdened young woman. There is a wholeness to her and a sense of who she might have been in the smile she gives M'Lila when she teases her with the pinch - "See, I can play too" - that will not be seen again until she rides in on her horse in the alternate universe of WHEN FATES COLLIDE. Whatever the reason, there is a madness to the quality of her grief and it pervades Season Four, because Xena lives out the year in a suspended agonized limbo between the loss of Gabrielle in SACRIFICE and the impending crucifixion. It is no wonder that it breaks out in disturbing psychotic moments of obsessive love in CRUSADER and PARADISE FOUND.

[25] Xena is heartbreaking in her vulnerability at the closing of A FAMILY AFFAIR, when she promises to search anywhere, as long as they search together. Throughout the year, if one believes in subtext, the clues that a sexual relationship has begun are apparent. It is also the most painful season to watch with its constant threat of separation through Gabrielle's guilt-driven searching, and Xena's guilt/terror-driven fears, as well as the deeply troubling tendency to increasingly brutal and graphic punishment of Xena. The India episodes become the next in a string of elaborate story arcs that produce dramatic episodes which give us great moments like the certainty of their lives together as soul mates, and the hopeless complications of more cosmologies. The Warrior Princess we knew slips further away from us as she again takes on supernatural qualities and battles the supernatural. The avatar of Kali, the goddess of destruction, is a long way from fighting a giant with a kite.

[26] Yet, at least once, she was seen clearly as the heroic, human hero in partnership with Gabrielle and engaged in an historical struggle in the anguish of conflict and war in A GOOD DAY, one of the greatest episodes ever. Finally, it does take a supernatural force, but in the guise of our old Callisto, to bring the Warrior Princess down, and Season Four ultimately ends as a triumph of love over death, and redemption over wrongs. The Warrior Princess is redeemed and on her way to Paradise.

[27] Season Five begins with another example of a dramatic, beautiful episode riddled with supernatural powers that will haunt and twist the story for another year and a half. The rest of the season is lost. Gabrielle's transition to a warrior lifestyle is unexamined, and though I loved the bard's strength, I missed the light. Xena is not even recognizable in her self-centeredness and the supernatural abilities of baking terra cotta armies and killing gods. What had been the essence of the series, the balance between Xena and Gabrielle, the darkness and the light, and the personal and the political, is gone.

[28] Season Six made a valiant try in many ways. A great fan fiction writer worked to restore the warmth of the relationship, but the patch was superficial and unable to sway the direction in which things were irrevocably set. The sweet clever affection of the subtext was eroticized, as was "the plan" in plot after plot. We saw a shining moment of the old relationship between them and the heart of Gabrielle the bard in LEGACY. We saw a disturbing escalation of physically punishing Xena beginning with the torture scene of WHO'S GHURKAN that should have served as a warning, and it continued in the otherwise wonderful episode WHEN FATES COLLIDE. The most bittersweet moment for me came in the episode THE ABYSS as I saw the old Warrior Princess I had loved so well one last time as she built the dam to rid them of the cannibals.

[29] THE RING episodes were the ultimate in a beautiful arc that plundered yet another mythology, tried to grace Gabrielle with a "light" that had been obscured years before, and gave us another supernatural Xena wreaking havoc in yet another afterlife. The motley collection of future shows at the end gave lots of points of departure for hope for the future of the relationship, but in context of the overall story became nonsensical.

[30] Bringing us to the point where the hero waking up on the bedroll by a musing Gabrielle is a Xena who is bored. The story line has left her with nothing to do but go on seemingly endless series of exotic "arcs" of supernatural machinations, because the Warrior Princess she has been changed into cannot grow old with grace in Greece. The human struggle has been lost in the cosmic degree of her powers and her sins. This hero's story cannot allow her to age and eventually fall in the relentless, unending struggle against injustice that is human history, so a final supernatural evil is needed, a last cosmic, eternal sin to take her out. It is fitting in that context that her death in battle is a suicidal choice, because "You couldn't have killed her if she hadn't let you." One cannot help but wonder if the hole-ridden plot, the unworthiness of the manipulative Akemi, and the avenging rationale for her sacrifice and "redemption" was just as intentionally ironic as the Kiwi Energizer Samurai, an inside joke that the whole world of Xena: Warrior Princess was contrived and constructed and one enormous special effect.

[31] I could believe that, were it not for the strength and the love the actors brought to their roles. Their gifts and hard work created a credibility that transcends the story and lets the persons of Xena and Gabrielle live on. The story The Powers That Be ended up telling was one h*ll of a ride and had some great moments, and the passing of the torch to a new warrior hero has value to some. However, it was not original, and it did not fulfill the promise of something different and wonderful that was there in the story with which they began. While I do enjoy many episodes of the final three seasons in isolation, for me, Xena the Warrior Princess reached her triumph in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY. She can wake up beside Gabrielle the next morning, buy her a new pair of boots, and walk out into the future of fan fiction with redemption and a life that she has earned and deserves.

[32] I have read that The Powers That Be said that Hercules was the hero you hoped was out there, and Xena was the hero you hoped was inside. But if Xena was to be the hero you could hope was inside, as the more supernatural elements entered and began to dominate the story in the final three seasons, she ceased to be someone to whom the viewer could relate their own struggles.

[33] The much-vaunted complexity of the character was the great strength of the show, but those complexities, however dramatized in the anarchic mythical world of the show, were originally simply dark human impulses driven by loss and regret. Those are experiences and feelings most of us have known. Xena was our hero the most when she battled them with nothing but her own strength born of courage and love, something to which all of us can hope and aspire. People, in general, in relationships can strengthen, teach, empower, cherish, enjoy, and redeem each other. The battle is against one's own mistakes, and meaning and hope are found in working to overcome them and throwing one's self into the never-ending fight against evil and oppression.

[34] I always expected Xena to die in battle someday with Gabrielle at her side, going forward with her head high against insurmountable odds, never giving up. However, the lonely, guilt-driven end to which they brought Xena was a travesty. It diminishes her value to all of us to foist upon her some ultimate cosmic wrong as a rationale for her death. It feels as though The Powers That Be felt a need to wrest Xena back, from the primacy of her relationship with Gabrielle, and from the scores of testimonials of women who had appropriated her for hope and strength in their lives. It is a great dishonor to what she had been, above all because it was unnecessary. Evil and injustice are always with us, and the real battle continues. The contrived forty thousand souls of Higuchi are a mockery of what was redemptive about Xena, the Warrior Princess, and they dim in the reflected light of hundreds of marching Xena's waving their swords in the streets of New York and shouting "What part of equal don't you understand?"


[35] This essay has focused on Xena and said almost nothing about Gabrielle and her development. That does not reflect a lack of appreciation for Gabrielle on my part, but rather the fact that I can accept and continue to believe in Gabrielle throughout the course of the six years. Despite manipulative distortions of her character at various points to serve the plot, I recognized them as simply that, and have never lost faith in her. I needed to write this because I had lost faith in Xena, and had lost her even before the show ended. As she became at times so abusive and so evil, and at times so amoral and super human, I ceased to feel safe with her. Nevertheless, I went into the finale hoping against hope for a wonderful thrilling episode one last time, where her relationship to Gabrielle mattered, and forgiveness and love could end the cycle of violence. It was not to be. I wrote in order to find her again, to understand where and how she was changed, and to restore her to myself.


W.F. Wilcox W.F. Wilcox

W.F. Wilcox lives in the country with an assortment of animals, and works with students at a large southern U.S. university. She watches Xena in the company of Kitlet, an enormously handsome paralyzed cat, to avoid working on her dissertation on XWP fan fiction. She prefers the mushy parts; Kitlet likes the fights.
Favorite line: Xena: "Gabrielle, we're in the middle of a fight!" THE GREATER GOOD
First episode seen: CHARIOTS OF WAR

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