Whoosh! Issue 69 - June 2002

WHY XENA WAS KILLED:
BELATED THOUGHTS ON THE WARRIOR PRINCESS,
EDWARD ALBEE, AND OWNERSHIP

By H.P.P. Antigone
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
2113 words


Destruction as Ownership (01-03)
The Death of the Creation (04-05)
No Respect for the Dead (06-08)
Characters That Take On A Life of Their Own (09-11)
Taking Back the Child (12-15)
Fallout (16-18)
Conclusion (19-21)
Biography



WHY XENA WAS KILLED:
BELATED THOUGHTS ON THE WARRIOR PRINCESS,
EDWARD ALBEE, AND OWNERSHIP



Destruction as Ownership



Proposed film to homage for any upcoming XENA epic

Some say the definitive portrayal was the film version featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.


[01] At the end of Edward Albee's groundbreaking play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Antheum Publishers: New York, 1962), the audience is stunned to discover that the much-beloved son described by George and Martha is actually a fantasy. Seeking comfort in a childless marriage, the pair acknowledges that they have conspired over the years to create a mythical son, celebrating birthdays and graduations as he grew older. Psychologists call this a folie à deux, a delusion shared by two people, but even more important than its name is the bond it creates, a bond which holds these characters together.

[02] By the play's chilling conclusion, George feels that their son, their shared creation, has slipped beyond his control, along with their marriage. Reeling from this loss of ownership and authority, he decides to perform the final act of creation: he destroys. By telling his wife in front of witnesses that their beloved son is dead, he takes back complete ownership of the fantasy. He proves that it belongs to him by extinguishing it.

[03] In this essay, the author will propose that the possessive murder of the imagined son described here is reflected in the decision made by creator Robert Tapert to execute his hero at the conclusion of Xena: Warrior Princess.

George: Well, Martha…I'm afraid our boy isn't coming home for his birthday.
Martha: Of course he is.
George: No, Martha.
Martha: Of course he is. I say he is!
George: He…can't.
Martha: He is! I say so!
George: Martha…(long pause)…our son is…dead.


The Death of the Creation

[04] Confronted with the news of her son's death, Martha reacts predictably with denial and outrage. George's aggression catches her completely off guard and because of the devastating surprise she cannot defend against it. At first, she rejects his authority, accusing him of stepping outside the boundaries of their delusion.

Martha: YOU CANNOT DO THAT!
George: (Quietly, dispassionately) I thought you should know.
Martha: NO! NO! YOU CANNOT DO THAT! YOU CAN'T DECIDE THAT FOR YOURSELF! I WILL NOT LET YOU DO THAT!
George: We'll have to leave around noon, I suppose…
Martha: I WILL NOT LET YOU DECIDE THESE THINGS!

[05] George remains resolute. He has made the ultimate sacrifice for his creation. His creation has made the ultimate sacrifice for him. He has killed his only child and in so doing, he has deprived himself of a fantasy that once brought him joy and delight. He has reclaimed his territory. The land is conquered and the fields are strewn with salt. Nothing will ever grow there again, but it belongs to him once more. He owns it.

George: You don't seem to understand, Martha; I haven't done anything. Now pull yourself together. Our son is DEAD! Can you get that into your head?
Martha: YOU CAN'T DECIDE THESE THINGS!
George: Now listen, Martha; listen carefully. We got a telegram; there was a car accident, and he's dead. POUF! Just like that! Now, how do you like it?
Martha: (a howl which weakens into a moan) NOOOooooo.
George: He is dead. Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison. Kyrie, eleison.


No Respect for the Dead

[06] Unable to shake her husband's horrible confidence in this announcement with outright denial, Martha resorts to violent rejection. When she demands to see the telegram, George gleefully replies that he has eaten it. She responds by spitting in his face, then her rage hardens into steady resolve.

Martha: (coldly) You're not going to get away with this.
George: (with disgust) YOU KNOW THE RULES MARTHA! FOR CHRIST SAKE, YOU KNOW THE RULES!
Martha: NO!
George: I can kill him, Martha, if I want to!
Martha: HE IS OUR CHILD!
George: Oh yes, and you bore him, and it was a good delivery….
Martha: HE IS OUR CHILD!
George: AND I HAVE KILLED HIM!

[07] At around this time the other characters and the audience begin to understand what is actually happening. A real child has not been lost. The symbolic progeny of two very unhappy people has been killed in an act that is no less a murder. In the play, the stunned Nick and Honey listen with tearful horror to the unfolding story of a couple who failed to have children and instead created an imaginary companion, that ultimately strengthened their dying marriage.

[08] When Martha weeps and asks George why he took such extreme action, he tells her it was because she broke their rule, she mentioned their son to somebody else. Symbolically, he is telling her that she weakened their creation by sharing it. It does not feel like theirs anymore or, more specifically, like his anymore. Ironically, when he kills their son, the child belongs to him again.


Characters That Take on a Life of Their Own

[09] It is not such a great leap to apply this story to the creator of any work of fiction. When the author creates, he becomes Godhead to a world peopled by his own imaginings. He is ruler and judge, granter of life and death. The world would not exist without him, at first. However, every experienced writer knows that characters seem to take on a life of their own. Sometimes protagonists become evil, villains end up with much softer hearts and lovers simply cannot muster steam past page eleven. To create is ultimately to confront your own impotence, as your characters slowly reveal the ways in which they have, in fact, created you.

[10] How much worse when your creation is on television, viewed and analyzed by millions, dissected and redirected by fans who rewrite your handiwork and claim to understand your characters better than you do? It seems, in retrospect, that Xena: Warrior Princess was never intended to be an important show, merely a pleasing show. The fact that its creators had the (mis)fortune to cast talented actors who tapped into something unexpected was an accident. In some ways, Xena was a bit like Mexico City in the early eighties. Everywhere they dug, they hit inconvenient and unwanted oil.

[11] It is the opinion of this author that Robert Tapert was never interested in offering a cohesive, earth-moving product. Instead, he allowed his characters to be stitched together with bits and pieces of myth and history. He never guessed that others would undertake the painstaking work of sorting through and sequencing this material. Fans took over the work that he had never intended to complete. Fan fiction filled in the gaps between episodes, explaining unclear motives and writing the words that otherwise would have remained unspoken. By the agony of the fifth season, fans were more interested in what they said to each other than in the choppy brushstrokes of Xena's creator.


Taking Back the Child

[12] Not every parent can tolerate their child having a life that is separate and distinct from their own. Certainly, it seems that Robert Tapert could not. Initially, he may have been amused and encouraged by the way his stories continued to evolve in the minds of fans, but he was never entirely comfortable with their notion that Xena and Gabrielle were lovers. He never allowed them to become an official couple, but was unable to force them into any other believable romantic alliances. The creation had grown into something the creator had never intended, and it was impossible to change it back.

[13] Perhaps the entire sixth season was intended to allow Tapert to take back ownership of the character and to remove Xena from the hands of the fans. Tapert began by hiring one of our own. He lured viewers with scripts written by Melissa Good. He pushed forward with gripping, well-told stories, including a three-episode arc, which left few gaps for the fans to fill in. He made sure we remembered how much we loved his creation, how we valued her and looked forward to her. He made us grateful again for the hand of the god that had given us the Warrior Princess and her beloved Gabrielle.

[14] Then he killed her.

[15] "I brought you into this world. And I can take you out of it"

Martha: (a long silence between them) Did you…did you…have to?
George: (pause) Yes.
Martha: I don't know.
George: It was…time.
Martha: Was it?
George: Yes. (long silence) It will be better.
Martha: (long silence) I don't….know.
George: It will be…maybe
Martha: I'm…not…sure.
George: No.


Fallout



That's no way to get ahead!

The graphic image of Xena dead shocked many fans.


[16] The death of the Warrior Princess sent fans reeling. Like Martha, we were quick with our outraged denials. It did not happen. The season ended with WHEN FATES COLLIDE. We were incapable of seeing the story come to such a violent and abrupt end. Like George's giggling announcement that he ate the telegram, the destruction of our hero seemed to have a kind of zany, adolescent insensitivity. We were invited to celebrate the television event at premieres. We were given the chance to bid at auction for the items used to slay our hero. We were told that the ending was "good" and criticized if we could not accept it. Even the much-admired Lucy Lawless remarked callously that Xena "got a hair cut" in the final episode. She seemed unable to understand the heart-broken reaction of the fans. Instead of shared mourning we were offered the hollow consolation of Xena's ghost comforting Gabrielle on the boat ride home.

[17] Unlike the tearful reaction from the entire cast of M*A*S*H when Radar announced that Colonel Blake was killed, the conclusion of Xena contained no acknowledgement of this as a traumatic event. Gabrielle's isolated grief made her more loved than ever, perhaps in part because we felt she understood what we were feeling.

[18] To this author, it seems that Tapert was blinded to the effects of his actions by an unconscious process: the purposeful unmaking of his creation. He seemed completely unaware of the hostile and destructive aspects of his decision. The team of scientists was busy taking Frankenstein apart, but it was so hard to unstitch the pieces they could spare no thought to the way in which the object had once been loved. Absorbed in his elaborate murder, the creator needed to be completely insensitive as to how this loss might later affect himself or others.


Conclusion

[19] This author watched the final episode just once and will not watch it again. She has tried to watch something lighter, but gave up when an earnest Hercules saying "the world needs Xena, too" caused her to burst into tears and eject PROMETHEUS from the VCR. Perhaps this is how Martha felt when she thought in later years about the stories she could no longer tell and the birthday presents she no longer pretended to buy.

[20] As fans, we can tell by our sense of violation that the end of Xena was a deeply hostile act. She was slaughtered, beheaded, and defiled. The innocent (or stubborn) confusion of Tapert only deepened the outrage we felt at being denied something important. For this author, understanding the end of Xena through the perspective of destroying one's creation has helped explain the grief and anger it caused.

[21] Does this understanding bring with it a sense of hope? Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is not a hopeful play. Rather, it is a play that leaves the audience terrified of their own insubstantiality and aggression. What is surprising is that it still manages to teach us something powerful about strength and frailty. In contrast, the death of Xena teaches us nothing. If we are to learn anything at all from the destruction of the Warrior Princess, we must find it for ourselves.

George: Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf
Martha: I…am…George….
George: Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf
Martha: I…am…George…I…am…


Biography

mystery author H.P.P. Antigone
Antigone is a regular at the Xena Warrior Lesbian Site. She insisted on using the word "unconscious" in this article because she is a psychologist and it is in her job description.


Favorite episode:HOOVES & HARLOTS
Favorite line: (Gab in FF&G) "I'm sorry Xena, I really don't pay that much attention."
First episode seen: THE BITTER SUITE
Least favorite episode: ULYSSES

 

 

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