Whoosh! Issue 64 - January 2002

BETWEEN THE LINES, OR BACK TO THE FUTURE
By Lilli Sprintz
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
2883 words


Caveat About Racism (01-03)
The Acting (04-19)
Special Effects (20-24)
A Victim Not a Victim (25-28)
A Note to Joseph Lo Duca (29)
Summary (30-31)
Biography



BETWEEN THE LINES OR BACK TO THE FUTURE



Does this make me look fat?
It all begins with a little innocent shopping...

"It's funny, here you are the warrior, the hero."
-- Xena

"Xena, in this lifetime the Mother of Peace would be a goddess to me. That's a hero."
-- Gabrielle

Caveat About Racism

[01] BETWEEN THE LINES is from the four-part "India Arc" from Season 4. Gabrielle and Xena, while trying to save a woman's life, are thrown into their future selves to try to defeat Alti, one more time.

[02] To watch women such as Xena and Gabrielle so often rescue women as well as men, has been one of the most powerful aspects of Xena: Warrior Princess. However, as one who is trying to understand racism, I noted that this story began with a woman-of-color being saved from her own people's customs by Xena and Gabrielle. By way of attending Women's Studies classes over the past couple of years, I have been alerted to watch out for this type of activity, especially a headline like: "Two Western White Heroes Save Victimized Indian Woman". What is the problem? The problem is that Western women, as well as Western men, often believe that people-of-color as well as non-Western people, are not powerful, and need to be helped like children. Women, "obviously" are victims. Furthermore, there is a tendency for white folks to pre-judge customs in other people's cultures, as though theirs were better. Ergo, white women, and I speak this not only from being one but also from experience, often believe that women-of-color and non-Western women (such as in India), do not have the power to change their own lives and cultures. This is a mistake. It is a variation of the Men-Rescue-the-Women routine. Of course, that is why so many of us watch Xena. To turn that dynamic around. Therefore, I ask all of us to be careful.

[03] However, this episode transcended my original expectations. It went in ways that challenged my first impression of latent racism. The three primary reasons I found BETWEEN THE LINES a superior episode were the acting, the special effects, and the twist.


The Acting

[04] There were many interesting characters with roles large and small. Some of them were:

[05] It was satisfying to see these actors "use what they had". Despite not necessarily having many lines, substantial screen time, or much leeway to expand their characters, they did a marvelous job.


Naiyima (Tharini Mudiliar)

[06] When Naiyima was first seen, she was being brought in during the funeral procession. Especially after watching her performance repeatedly, one can appreciate the on screen presence of the actor. She had total control of her body. When several men picked her up to throw her into the fire, she made her body rigid as a board. It made me wonder if perhaps she practiced Yoga.

[07] Xorys, in her Commentary on this episode, at Whoosh (http://whoosh.org/epguide/between.html) suggested that Mudiliar may have been a classical Indian dancer. Xorys is Indian herself and shared cultural insights about India in her review.

[08] By the end of the episode, it was clear Naiyima was controlling much of the action throughout the episode. The actor, Tharini Mudiliar, falls into the category of, "person given a not-very-talkative-role, but shows her stuff anyway". Though she had few lines, her physical energy and authority permeates the episode. This included the final critical fight scene when Alti overwhelmed Xena and Gabrielle. After defeating Alti, Naiyima revealed that she was the "Darshan", the one in command.


Arminestra, (Saras Govender)

[09] Arminestra was the "Mother of Peace". She was the person in the future into whom Xena's spirit entered. She was a saint. She was a main character, but only briefly was she represented as "herself". Most the time she was played by Lucy Lawless, playing Xena's perception of what she looked like. It is too bad we do not have more information about the actor Govender. I would have loved to see her expand her character's role for just a minute to get a better idea who this enormously important Mother of Peace was.


Shakti (Colin Mathura-Jeffree)

[10] Shakti was the warrior leader of the future. His acting also was excellent. The writers sent Gabrielle into Shakti's body in a clever way. First, they focused on a Gabrielle's eyes. Then the picture switched to Shakti in the future, focusing on his eyes: bam, the connection. Congratulations to the person who cast him, who must have noticed those eyes.

[11] One of the sweetest scenes was Gabrielle entering Shakti's body. We see Shakti, all but naked with no shirt. As Gabrielle takes over his body, "he" notices his naked chest, and hurriedly pulls his shirt over it. Very humorous.

[12] An Internet search for more information about all the guest actors only turns up information about Colin Mathura-Jeffree, and that, on a website about Indian Supermodels (http://www.indiansupermodels.com/supermodels/colin/). He is a well-known model, who has worked extensively in India as well as New Zealand.


Khindin (Gabrielle Larkin)

[13] Another excellent actor was Gabriella Larkin, the first person in the future we saw playing the Indian Warlord Khindin.

[14] Larkin was amazing. Her acting was dramatic and succinct: haughty, powerful, with her voice dripping with sarcasm. I was sorry to see her leave the screen so fast. However, I was happy to see her later in a 6th season Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode, CITY OF THE DEAD, playing Queen Nefertiti. She was also in first season Jack of All Trades.


Ajay Vasisht (Acklin)

[15] The last guest actor was Ajay Vasisht who played Shakti/Gabrielle's second in command, Acklin. He gave a good performance in his interactions with Arminestra/Xena. The way he said, "Good Mother, I do not understand all of this", was realistically respectful, understated, and nicely played. Believing a character and what s/he is saying is a major aspect of what makes a successful actor. The crossbow scene shook me up. I wanted to cry. When his legs crumpled beneath him, he said, "I have never known such pain." This was one of the more realistic reactions to an arrow I have ever seen on television.

[16] Vasisht also played Nikos in THE XENA SCROLLS and the Vendor in BLIND FAITH.


Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor

[17] Our lead stars, Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor, once more displayed their wonderful acting talents, and the dynamic way they work together. Gabrielle/Shakti's fighting scene was the second time (the first time in Devi) we saw Renee O'Connor use her kick boxing skills. Earlier, when Naiyima sent the cosmic time energy toward the warrior/bard, she looked afraid. Good take, when you do not know what that energy heading toward you is really going to do!

[18] Later, when "Alti" entered the prison room after Gabrielle had painted the Mendhi, our heroes began to move their arms in a traditional Indian dance style: arms straight out and forearms turned up. Their synchronized movements, and the way Xena's hands came in front of Gabrielle's chest framing the florescent Mendhi, made it clear that they were connected. The fight scene at the end with Alti, the power our heroes showed fighting for each other, and their holding of each other at the end, was deeply moving.

[19] One more note. After extraordinary fighting by Xena, once Alti is dead, Lucy Lawless does this take, slowly, and wobblingly collapsing on the spot, exhausted, depleted. It clearly demonstrated how much she had put out in effort: Alti viscously pummeled her repeatedly, as Alti used Xena's own memories against her. She was slammed by a giant tree trunk, hit by several different warriors, one with a mace (ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE); she re-experienced her legs being broken (DESTINY); and if that was not enough, Alti used Xena's chakram against her and almost slit her throat. Very gruesome stuff, indeed. If Naiyima had not stepped in, Alti would have won. As it was, once Naiyima used the Mendhi power against Alti, Gabrielle and Xena joined in, with Xena using energy chakrams. By the time they were all done, the audience was exhausted. Xena has rarely showed us her pain and exhaustion over the years. Therefore, when Xena finally collapsed after the fighting, I was relieved. I know exactly what it feels like to be depleted to the point of dropping to the floor. Good job Xena, now rest. And good acting.


Special Effects

Whoa, I gotta cut down on the henbane!
There's lots of light in this episode.

[20] I am a sucker for sparkles. The physical representation of spiritual beliefs, by patterns of light, movement, colors, and geometric shapes, made this one of the most visually breathtaking and exciting episodes.

[21] The highlight was a double whammy. First was the cosmos effect that Naiyima created when sending Xena, and later Gabrielle into the future. Naiyima was suddenly a different person. No longer the person being saved, she was the spiritual power that was able to gather the physical power of the universe and pour it toward Xena. Naiyima became the source of light and motion of the universe. That universal energy appeared as a spiral of white, luminescent stars, and planetary bodies coming out from the front star on Naiyima's chest, and circling around her faster and faster. That luminescent energy then headed toward Xena, and thumped her in the gut as she crumpled forward, then exploded back in a shower of light into the future. It was intense.

[22] I thought THAT was good, but the came another special effect. It was one of the most beautiful in the entire series. When Gabrielle came in to the back room to see what had happened, she discovered Xena had disappeared. This time, Naiyima showed Gabrielle what she soon after explained as a visual representation of karma. There were beams of different-colored lights, again emanating from the Mendhi on the Darshan's chest, winding across the room. The multicolored streams of light wove around, over, and under Gabrielle, each led by a geometric shape: circle, square, star, or triangle. In tarot, and in many religious systems, stars, crosses, circles, squares, and triangles represent various forces in the universe. As such, this was quite a beautiful and interesting representation of karma. As Gabrielle said to Naiyima, "This was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

[23] Later, the luminescent star on Naiyima's body was replicated on Gabrielle/Shakti's body in the future, when Gabrielle painted herself and Xena and successfully used the Mendhi to throw Alti back to the past. The scene in the prison room was amazing. Alti comes into their prison room, about to give them a lecture about their deaths, when Xena and Gabrielle suddenly appear as movable statues or robots. Their arms come straight out and angle up in a heartbeat. Then in the next heartbeat, Gabrielle already facing forward, Xena moves behind to do the same. Arms up mirroring Gabrielle's, she pushes her hands around to the front of Gabrielle's chest, framing her painted Mendhi star. The star radiates incredible brilliant yellow light, as with Naiyima earlier. The light creates the spinning cosmos around Gabrielle and Xena, heads toward Alti, "thumps" her in shattered light sparks back to the past, and returns back to Gabrielle and Xena to do the same to them. Intense. It was beautiful.

[24] Let us not forget one more special effect. For years, I have been watching how the special effects folks "merge" people. For example, a young Xena became the older one in FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS. Or, Arminestra's face in this episode transitioned into Xena's face. There was a detailed replication of facial expression and body movement between the two actors as they merged. I call this "Magic Meshing". I do not know how they pull this off, but it demonstrates one of many things that made Xena: Warrior Princess so good: attention to small details.


A Victim Not a Victim

[25] I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when one of the most wondrous films back then was Around the World in Eighty Days. It was a film about adventure into the many and "different" places in our world. Like many films of that time, I was introduced to the idea that women of color, and people of color generally, had childlike cultures. The white, Western, "educated" culture was better. Other non-Western cultures were to be feared and to be preyed on as experiences, not to be respected as equals.

[26] I remember watching and feeling justified when the two white men in Around the World in Eighty Days saved a woman in India (who, by the way, was played by a white actor) from the same fate we saw for Naiyima: being savagely tossed alive into a pyre of flame as a sacrifice to the tradition of the wife "following" the husband in death, called suttee. Since then, I have had a different education about equality and issues of racism. Trying to change, I watch for things like this that my thinking might trip over.

[27] When I saw this episode, I felt, at least, a woman had saved another woman. Thank goodness. It took a couple more years until this article, to question my thinking. The woman in India was still the "victim" saved by young white women. This time, however, the story changed. In the middle of all this dealing with the custom of suttee, and Gabrielle and Xena visiting a new culture but challenging an age-old practice that harmed women, our heroes were actually the ones being saved. Naiyima the victim was actually Naiyima the Darshan, an "enlightened being".

[28] When we finally saw Naiyima in action, she was a goddess-like being who literally could pull from the powers of the universe to help her. First, she sent Xena "back" to the future, to deal with her enemy, Alti. As portrayed by Tharini Mudiliar, Naiyima used her hands to pull energy from out of thin air into a ball of -- what? perhaps a semblance of the universe? -- in front of her. She then used her power to call energy from the Mendhi, into a cosmos-like whirlpool circling around her, then, bam, into Xena, sending Xena into the future. She did the same, later, to Gabrielle. She went further with Gabrielle, showing her Karma as dancing colors of light: human spirits weaving in and out of each others' lives and experiences. She is the one who gave Gabrielle the secret of the Mendhi, and thus the ability to bring Alti back to the past to defeat her. In the end, after Alti presumably defeated Gabrielle and Xena, it was Naiyima, now clearly in her personality as the Darshan, who allowed Xena and Gabrielle to use the Mendhi so they could all defeat Alti. She eventually healed Xena and Gabrielle of their awful physical wounds, and then left as a floating ball of light.


A Note to Joseph Lo Duca

[29] Many times music is in the background and highlights the action, but does not always stand out. The music in both BETWEEN THE LINES and in the entire India Arc was gorgeous. However, one striking moment shows how music can emphasize the action. When Gabrielle/Shakti and her men were creeping through the town's twisted street in a sneak attack, a tabla drum (Indian double drum) was perfectly synchronized and syncopated with their movements.


Summary

[30] The beauty of BETWEEN THE LINES combined believable acting with wonderful special affects, along with great music and a great story line.

[31] Xena and Gabrielle started out as the main heroes in this film, but Naiyima quickly took over, eventually stopping Alti with more power than Alti could imagine. Naiyima, indeed, was the hero of the episode, the one in charge all along.


Biography

a woman of mystery Lilli Sprintz
52 year old former Philadelphia, PA (USA) woman who likes Star Trek, bats, raises butterflies, listens to birds, and watches Xena. I live in the Northern USA. Beautiful snow and the cold reminds me to stay in and be with people, read books, and know what is going on with my community. I am presently disabled with Fibromyalgia and chronic back problems. I like to be pleasant, but sometimes growl when I do not mean to. Finishing my undergrad work at the university in Women's Studies and Computer Training (I do not make 'em; I just teach how to use 'em). I do watercolor and computer-generated art for fun, do genealogy research for joy, and like the idea of maybe getting paid for some of this in the future.


Favorite episode: THE RHEINGOLD/RING/RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE combined.
Favorite line: Xena: "I have many skills". First said in THE BLACK WOLF
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys)
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS

 

 

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