Whoosh! Issue 60 - September 2001

By Amy Zidell
Group Therapy Project
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2825 words

Introduction (01-03)
Vigilantism (04-07)
Individualism & Justice (08-13)
Redemption & Spirituality (14-15)
Authority (16-17)
Gender Relations (18-19)
Technology & Weapons (20-21)
Various and Sundry (22-27)
Conclusion (28)



Imminent sneeze
Borias was always more political animal than barbarian.

[01] Even if you never watched Xena, you are probably aware that the series recently ended its six-year run. Much controversy has surrounded the finale primarily in the outrage by many fans of the killing off and method of said offing of Xena in the series ender.

[02] I thought it would be interesting to analyze political themes in the finale. In doing so, I revert to my college days and a senior level Political Science class, "Politics in Film". In short, this course looked at a wide range of films, classic to modern, including Birth of A Nation, The Ox-Bow Incident, and Rambo to name a few, and evaluated, analyzed and picked apart the political messages presented in the material. The final project was to create our own film with its own political messages. Messages can deal with a number of subjects including, crime, authority, big business, etc. The analysis is approached objectively, where you analyze the message not whether or not you agree with it.

[03] FRIEND IN NEED, the Xena: Warrior Princess series finale, presents a number of compelling and at times contradictory political themes including issues of vigilantism, authority, justice, redemption, technology, and international relations. Ultimately, the primary theme of individual power, balances, and is bolstered by, these divergent issues.


[04] A dramatic initiation of major themes is introduced within the very first lines of dialogue. The episode starts with the main characters, Xena and Gabrielle, in a campsite at night. When Xena says, "What are we going to do? Wander around Greece all of our lives finding trouble?" she introduces a message negative to vigilante activities. Knowing the back story of the character, this statement is all the more significant in that it indicates the character no longer finds value in taking matters into their own hands.

[05] The issue of authority, and therefore the characterization of vigilantism, is complicated by the societal structure of the world environment presented in the episode and series. Xena and Gabrielle are private citizens. They are an autonomous entity not affiliated with any government. Therefore, assuming their, "finding trouble", activities reside outside of governmental boundaries, they will be considered vigilante in nature. Furthermore, while certainly a pragmatic issue exists over time as to the ability of maintaining the physically and emotionally challenging work and life of a vigilante, the idea to, "...go away, far away," is not expressed as a need for retirement or a temporary vacation. Nor is it suggested that a suitable replacement be located and indoctrinated. There is no suggestion that the need for a benevolent vigilante in Greece is diminished. Thus, the implication is that our protagonists no longer embrace vigilantism.

[06] The campsite conversation continues, proposing travel possibly to, "...the land of the Pharaohs," clearly demonstrating a positive international relations stance. The next part of the comment continues, "I hear they are in need of a girl with a Chakram," referring to Xena's unique and sophisticated weapon. This statement introduces a prevalent theme through the finale and the series itself, that of the acceptance and perhaps promotion of, a 'might makes right' philosophy, the implication being that problems in this foreign land can be or possibly should be solved through the proficient use of weaponry and force.

[07] An interesting contradiction, or perhaps wavering about the value of vigilantism and Xena's and Gabrielle's participation in it, appears in this seemingly causal dialogue where the suggestion is made that vigilante behavior in Greece is no longer desirous while the same activity in foreign lands is. This theme is reinforced by Xena's and Gabrielle's quick acceptance of a call to help in a far away land, "Japan," delivered by a monk, Kenji, and may even suggest an anti-patriotic view on part of the Warrior Princess and Bard toward their Greek homeland.

Individualism & Justice

[08] The issues of authority, might makes right, justice, redemption, and even intra-gender relationships seem to be qualified throughout the show such that both pro and con stances are presented through different specific instances of these issues. In the end, this bears root to the prevailing theme, that of the strength and import of the individual. This attitude of singular sovereignty is demonstrated through multiple examples of these themes.

[09] The power and influence of the individual is perhaps best personified in the actions of Gabrielle. Faced with a Herculean list of nearly impossible tasks, she accomplishes them all, persevering through tremendous emotional duress and physical and ethical challenges. Her successful use of 'might makes right' depends heavily on a careful combination of mental might, combat skill, and physical prowess in concert with the use of specialized weapons.

[10] Gabrielle's ethical challenge presents with mercy as she twice spares a persistent adversary's death by her hand, though eventually she dispatches him with the Chakram in what is likely a mortal head blow.

[11] The issue of mercy is complicated by the fact the adversary, Morimoto, submits and awaits his warrior demise after Gabrielle initially has slickly defeated him. Gabrielle's avoidance of killing this man may be to prevent the man's soul from making Yodoshi, the demon Xena is squaring off with, stronger. However, this aspect is not explored in either situation. Though she does not act on it, Gabrielle has motive for vengeance dismissing Morimoto's request for dignity when Gabrielle reminds him he showed Xena no such dignity.

[12] It is possible that what appears to be mercy is truly Gabrielle's rejection of the belief system, Samurai warrior code, traditions, and values presented in this mythical Japanese world that have conspired to setup Xena's death and cause Gabrielle to be risking her life so that she can restore Xena's. This is further suggested by the irony of sparing this male warrior in light of the dire impediment he causes Gabrielle and her later attitude of, "I don't care," regarding souls that would be lost forever if Xena is reanimated. Gabrielle's final decision to not complete the ritual necessary to bring Xena back to the world of the living is influenced by her respecting Xena's plea and not Gabrielle's respect for this specific belief system or her concern of mercy or well being for the forty thousand souls. An additional twist is that while Gabrielle may reject and resent these rituals and traditions her belief in rituals and traditions is obvious by her actions.

[13] Gabrielle's frustration with Xena's adamancy to sacrifice herself is largely due to the skewed frame of justice used in this realm. It offers a no win result for the protagonists, whereby Xena must be dead to fight and defeat Yodoshi in order to free these souls and must then remain dead for the souls' safety. Outside of the confines of a court or tribunal, this statement on justice becomes more philosophical and may go so far as to suggest an inequity about the execution of justice in that any justice carried out is not fully just. This explosive issue is center to the conversation between Xena and Gabrielle when Xena stops Gabrielle from fulfilling her deeds, which effectively debates the merits and autocracies of this application of justice. Parallels to the contemporary judicial system can be easily made, whether it is commentary about uneven application of justice, imperfection of the system, or seemingly changing sets of legal rules. Xena and Gabrielle express opposing views of what is "right". The emphasis is perhaps a melding of the belief and acknowledgement that justice is necessary but is flawed.

Redemption & Spirituality

And there's no Easter Bunny either!  Whaddya think of that?!
Xena attempts to explain her resaons for remaining dead to Gabrielle.

[14] In this episode, and throughout the series as a whole, the issue of redemption is well entrenched as being important and valuable. Indeed, if Xena did not seek redemption for her past misdeeds, there would have been no series. The message of the finale is mixed in that while the quest for redemption is supremely important to our protagonist, the consequences of this 'redemption' are so severe, that it hardly offers a ringing endorsement of the practice. A more definable message may be to emphasize that true redemption requires serious dedication and sometimes severe sacrifice and even then may not be enough. We see in this examination, that personal responsibility is a crucial element of individualism, and see the relation of redemption and individual power. In this way, Xena also demonstrates the power of individualism but to a different facet than Gabrielle does.

[15] Spirituality, free will, tradition, religion, and ritual are important related themes presented in a positive, nearly essential light in the finale. Characters across the board, from protagonists to antagonists, exhibit strong belief in, acceptance of, and participation with these elements. Xena fighting Yodoshi in a spirit realm is significant, indicating spiritual battles as being greatly important, powerful, and influential. As discussed above, Gabrielle accepts some and rejects other rituals and traditions. An interesting point to reconcile is the individual's relation to these divine representations, especially on the issue of free will. The positive ideal expressed in this material is the supreme importance of free will of the individual, though it exists with the divine at times antagonistically and other times in a flourishing symbiotic relationship.


[16] Authority generally is not presented in a positive light in this material. Examples of authority representations include evil or feral Xena, a kidnapping king, a living evil Yodoshi -- by means of flashbacks, and the spirit Yodoshi all of which are reflected in totalitarian dictatorship style. A seeming exception is presented in an evil Xena flashback where, despite her profiteering intentions, a friendship with Akemi develops. However, this merely demonstrates the heart of the totalitarian dictator obsessed with and seeking dominating power, which enables Xena's deception, therefore leading to even more negative consequences.

[17] The flashbacks to evil or feral Xena reveal a part of Xena's dark past, a past that she has long sought redemption for using her considerable skills for causes of good, for the underdog or otherwise unfortunate. It is ironic that both the evil Xena and the redeemed Xena operate outside of the law while at the same work to maintain law and order. The difference between the two is the intent and end purpose. This makes a differentiation between the two, distinguishing between vigilante and tyrant.

Gender Relations

[18] Gender representations are balanced with female and male roles providing a near equal range of images of strength, weakness, obsession, good, and evil. This again calls to individualism themes. A positive correlation of female intra-gender relations is presented between Xena and Gabrielle. The relation between both feral and current Xena and Akemi ultimately is not positive, reinforcing the individual aspect of themes and messages in this work. However, the perseverance of the positive relation between Xena and Gabrielle, and their clear devotion to each other, wins out in emphasizing this pro message.

[19] Inter-gender relations are demonstrated negatively by a number of examples. Initially, Yodoshi quickly gobbles up the fallen monk who had been lured there by a female temptresses. Certainly, the battle between Xena and Yodoshi as well as Gabrielle and her male nemesis are additional examples of less than harmonious inter-gender relations. The positively depicted males, Harukata (the Ghost Killer) and Kenji, turn out to be ineffective in their storied purpose, as in the example of Harukata, or in reality, a pawn, unwittingly furthering the manipulations of Akemi, as with Kenji. In a flashback with evil Xena, the Katana sword maker scoffs at the insult Xena poses, as a woman and foreigner, wanting the sword. Xena's quick defeat of this foe offers both a positive female power message and more emphasis of negative inter-gender relations.

Technology & Weapons

[20] Weaponry also presents contradicted points of view. While primarily positive, especially in the quest, attainment and use of the Katana and the Chakram, a negative image is presented with Akemi's suicide by sword as reflected by evil Xena's dramatic response to the act. Other than the suicide, which may more reflect negatively against suicide itself rather than the implements used to its benefit, weapons are presented as necessary, reliable, and important tools toward the realization of the protagonist's goal. The use of weapons is also tied to a positive vote toward technology. It is not merely a standard sword that is sought after and needed, but rather a sword of exceptional strength and ability.

[21] These technological enhancements are forged into the weapon. The Chakram also represents a positive representation of technology, although its origins are associated with the gods. The advanced weapon is pragmatically crucial in a number of battles, as well as symbolically, as it passes to Gabrielle. Additional positive technology messages are revealed on the trip to Japan. The boat itself is sturdy, impressive, and no doubt state of the art for the time. Umbrella use by our protagonists also shows a positive reflection of technology.

Various and Sundry

[22] Other conflicting messages are presented on the deck of the ship. While at once our protagonists Xena and Gabrielle don primordial bikinis, Gabrielle uses an umbrella and Xena wears a wide brimmed hat, to shield themselves from the sun they expose themselves to. Aside from the representations that is it likely hot, we are exposed with both positive and negative messages regarding sun bathing.

[23] Hot tubs are presented in a negative image. One example relates to the fallen monk's seduction in the hot tub mere moments before his demise. The other example is demonstrated when Akemi is trapped, albeit temporarily, in the hot tub that has been frozen over by Yodoshi, before Xena frees her.

[24] Mountain spring water is represented as a very good thing. Its waters are capable of restoring one when weak or even dead. Drinking it or sucking on frozen chunks of it brings incredible strength.

[25] Alcohol use is strongly negatively represented in a flashback of an inebriated distraught evil Xena. Her drunken state has resulted in her making devastating fashion choices which includes an unfortunate and unstable -- especially on icy roads -- footwear selection of Geta, (wooden platform sandals), as well as an extremely severe hair style. In response to towns folk taunting her, she ignites the liquor she has been consuming into an oral blowtorch. A deadly fire ensues, in light of which the short hairstyle may have been a prophetic choice of self-preservation. This example and aspects of the hot tub example above also presents negative images of indulgence.

[26] The issue of life after death and the existence of a soul living beyond a physical body are addressed in the affirmative in numerous examples from the teahouse, to Xena's post parting interactions with Gabrielle. Resurrection is also presented as fully achievable and worthwhile. Throughout the series, the protagonists have returned to life multiple times.

[27] Related to the tradition and ritual messages is the issue of tattoos, which gets a resounding positive endorsement. The tattoo Akemi details on Gabrielle's back appears to only be painful in its application and it causes no hindrance or residual pain to Gabrielle on her journey. It is an intricate work of art and offers a powerful "I am rubber you are glue, whatever bounces off of me sticks to you" protection against evil demon fireballs and such.


[28] In relation to the series as a whole, including the finale, it is presented that matters such as redemption and the spiritual world vary and evolve with each individual. They may represent different things at different times in the characters' lives though these elements always hold important positions. Self-determination and reliance are coupled with strong influences of spirituality. The reality of free will, personal responsibility, duty and answering to ones self may be at the core of the messages presented in these two hours that explores the resiliency and tragedy of the human condition.


Amy Zidell Amy Zidell

I'm an Internet and business consultant, an entrepreneur, and free-lance writer - you can view some of my writing at http://www.almostcoherent.com. I enjoy sushi and dark chocolate but not at the same time.
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "You know I just thought of something. You're a Warrior Princess and I'm an Amazon Princess, that's going to make such a great story." HOOVES AND HARLOTS
First episode seen: A DAY IN THE LIFE - rerun during 4th season. (The, "No slimy eels were harmed during the production..." disclaimer line in the credits really hooked me. I had to see more of a show that could have fun with itself.)
Least favorite episode: SUCCESSION

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