Whoosh! Issue 71 - August 2002

GABRIELLE: THE FORGOTTEN HERO
By Andrew Shaughnessy
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
9427 words


Introduction (01-02)
"You're Not Alone" (03-13)
The Amazon Queen (14-22)
Rift and Reunion (23-34)
The Great Betrayal (35-47)
Losing Her Way (48-55)
Xena's Shadow (56-65)
The Reluctant Warrior (66-75)
Moving On (76-80)
Conclusion (81-83)
Notes
Disclaimer
Articles
Biography



GABRIELLE: THE FORGOTTEN HERO



Introduction

If you think you've got blonde trouble now, just wait until Callisto shows up.
Gabrielle is part of the team right from the start. Sort of.

[01] "Irritating blonde", "useless tag-along", "silly little sidekick". Do these insults sound familiar? They should. They have all been used to describe Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia, one half of the team that made Xena: Warrior Princess such a success. Xena was never a one-woman show, although there are a few who would have liked to see it so. Some fans regarded Gabrielle as irrelevant, and from Season Three onwards there was a shift in the direction of the series, making Xena almost infallible and Gabrielle increasingly gullible and wrong-headed. Conflict between the characters lost its tension as many viewers simply assumed that Xena was always correct, something particularly true of Season Three's Rift Arc.

[02] Whether this was a deliberate act by The Powers That Be (TPTB), in particular Robert Tapert and R. J. Stewart, is open to debate. If it was, then they were in error, for no matter how much her role was diminished or her character damaged, Gabrielle remained an integral part of the show. Without her Xena would not, could not, have become the hero she became. In this article, readers will be reminded of how important Gabrielle was to Xena personally, how important she was to the series as a whole, and some of the perceived injustices done to her character in later seasons.


"You're Not Alone"

[03] On her way home to Amphipolis in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), Xena intercepted a party of the warlord Draco's men on a slave taking raid near Poteidaia, a small town in south-eastern Macedonia. As she watched, she saw a blonde-haired girl, hardly more than a child, step forward and bravely demand, "Take me -- let the others go". Although she did not know it, this was the Warrior Princess' introduction to the young woman who would soon become the center of her life. Much of Gabrielle's character was summed up in that one line. She was prepared to sacrifice herself to save others, for the "Greater Good". Although she would not be formally introduced to the concept until much later in the season, Gabrielle practiced it from the very start.

[04] Gabrielle's determination to follow her rescuer and become a warrior led the impulsive teenager to leave her home, family, and the prospect of an arranged marriage to a man she did not love. She arrived in Amphipolis just in time to save Xena from being stoned to death by the townsfolk. Gabrielle may not have been a fighter, but she was quick-witted and persuasive. The villagers agreed to let Xena go, and the Warrior Princess even allowed Gabrielle to ride behind her as she went to visit the tomb of her brother, Lyceus. What happened next was the pivotal moment of the entire series. Nothing that followed would have taken place without this one crucial scene. Xena stood by the tomb, talking to her brother's spirit:

"Since you've been gone, I kind of lost my way. Now I've found it. I thought I could start over, but no. They don't trust me...not even Mother. I can't blame her, she can't see into my heart. But I've got to believe that you can, and I wish you were here. It's hard to be alone."

[05] Xena was unaware that Gabrielle was standing in the doorway until she heard the words that would change her life forever:

"You're not alone."

[06] What Xena needed more than anything else was for someone, anyone, to believe that she was, or at least was determined to become, a reformed character. Gabrielle instinctively sensed that need and fulfilled it. Xena's quest for redemption could truly begin.

[07] Life as a warrior's sidekick took some getting used to. To begin with, Xena flatly refused to teach Gabrielle to fight, advising her to either run away or talk her way out of trouble. In DREAMWORKER (03/103), Xena even confiscated the small dagger her young friend had bought for self-defense. This episode introduced the concept of Gabrielle's "blood innocence". More than anything else, the fact that Gabrielle had never taken a life was what set her and Xena apart, and the Warrior Princess was determined to preserve that difference.

[08] Gabrielle's development progressed slowly but steadily, taking an important step in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), in which she was adopted as an Amazon Princess and learned to use the relatively non-lethal fighting staff. She also worked to realize her dream of becoming a travelling bard, and began to chronicle her adventures with Xena. In THE PRODIGAL (18/118) Gabrielle, fearing she had lost her nerve during an ambush, returned home to find Poteidaia threatened by the warlord, Damon. Although the villagers had hired a veteran warrior, Meleager the Mighty, to protect them, their little runaway organized the defense using skills she had learned from her friend.

[09] Having returned to the road with Xena, Gabrielle saved her in TIES THAT BIND (20/120). This time the threat came not from an enemy but from Xena's own nature. Believing that her long lost father Atreus had been executed by a group of villagers, the Warrior Princess allowed her dark side to overwhelm her. Having already won over a warlord's army, she would have had them massacre the townsfolk had it not been for Gabrielle's intervention with a pitchfork. A hefty blow to the back of the head cleared Xena's mind and allowed her to see that "Atreus" was in fact Ares, God of War, who had come within a hair's breadth of winning her back to his side.

[10] Gabrielle's finest hour of Season One came in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121). Xena, incapacitated by a poison dart, would have died under the sword of the warlord Talmadeus had Gabrielle not disarmed him with her well-thrown fighting staff. Later, with Xena unable to fight, Gabrielle took her place with dyed hair and hastily taken-in armor to convince Talmadeus that it was the Warrior Princess who faced him. After Xena's apparent death, Gabrielle mounted a single-handed attempt to rescue both the warlord's prisoners and her friend's body. She had promised to take Xena back to lie next to her brother, and she would keep that promise, even at the risk of her own life. Having recovered from the poison, Xena was happy in the knowledge that she would be going home someday, one way or another.

[11] It was Gabrielle's turn to die in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124). Severely wounded whilst trying to save a missing child in a war zone, she went into cardiac arrest. Xena had many skills, but none of them could save Gabrielle. We saw in this episode a different side to the Warrior Princess, a grief stricken woman broken by the loss of her closest companion. All she could do was pound her fist on Gabrielle's lifeless chest in sheer frustration, screaming in her agony:

"Don't leave me! Don't you leave me! Don't leave me! Don't leave me! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"

[12] This scene clearly demonstrated Xena's complete emotional dependence on her young friend. Without Gabrielle to light the darkness in her soul, she simply could not go on. The "little girl from Poteidaia" was more than just Xena's companion -- she was her moral compass, someone who could always be relied upon for sound judgement. This was amply demonstrated by Xena's comment to Toris in DEATH MASK (23/123):

"She knows more about wisdom and justice than you'll ever know."

[13] To her dying day, Xena never knew how Gabrielle returned from the Other Side, but I can imagine this woman, who held the gods in such low esteem, whispering a heartfelt prayer of thanks.


The Amazon Queen

After becoming a has-been wannabe, knowing the 'royal wave' came in handy when Gabrielle opened supermarkets, the only work she could get after FIN.
Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons

[14] Xena and Gabrielle began Season Two with a rock solid relationship. Just how much Gabrielle meant to Xena was demonstrated in REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), when Xena found herself living in a world where she had never become the Warrior Princess. Her brother Lyceus was alive, but their mother was dead. Worst of all, Xena had not been there to rescue Gabrielle from Draco's men, and the cheerful little bard was now a sullen, embittered slave. Freeing Gabrielle from her captivity, Xena set about renewing their friendship with these words:

"When I look at you I see the purest, the kindest person I've ever known, someone who's full of wonder and stories and would never give up on anything...or anyone."

[15] In the episode's climactic fight, Gabrielle picked up a sword and quite deliberately skewered Mezentius, her former owner. Wanting no part of a world that could turn her gentle friend into a cold-blooded killer, Xena returned history to its previous course, although it meant living with her past misdeeds.

[16] Gabrielle had engaged in numerous flirtations in Season One, some more serious than others. The most uncharacteristic had occurred in BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (11/111), which saw Gabrielle briefly reunited with Perdicas, her former fiancé. She now found herself attracted to the "dull, stupid" man she had been so eager to jilt in SINS OF THE PAST, and in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) she inexplicably married him. Fortunately for the series, Xena's archenemy Callisto was on the loose again, and it was she who widowed the young bride on her honeymoon. Overwhelmed by the loss of her husband, Gabrielle demanded that Xena teach her to fight so that she could kill Callisto. Again, Xena was distraught at the idea of Gabrielle shedding blood, driving her to pray to the gods she regarded with such disdain:

"If anyone's listening, you know I'm not much for praying, but I don't know what else to do. I was ready to give up once - then Gabrielle came into my life. Please, don't let that light that shines out of her face go out. I couldn't stand the darkness that would follow."

[17] Her prayer was answered. Faced with the opportunity to kill Callisto, Gabrielle refused to bring herself down to her enemy's level. RETURN OF CALLISTO nevertheless represented a disturbing change in her characterization, in which the plot moved her to act in a way some fans saw as capricious.

[18] Gabrielle's next major test of character came in DESTINY (36/212), in which she struggled to bring the grievously wounded Warrior Princess to the one man who could save her. Battling against the elements and her own injuries, she arrived too late, and Xena died. THE QUEST (37/213) saw Gabrielle trying to come to terms with her grief. Determined to take her friend home she fought off a band of robbers seeking to collect the bounty on Xena's body. Continuing into Amazon lands, she reached a major crossroads in her life. The Amazons wanted to give Xena an Amazon funeral, and many wished Gabrielle to remain as their Queen in place of the ruler-elect, Velasca. Gabrielle eventually made her decision. She would allow the Amazons to cremate Xena, take her friend's ashes back to Amphipolis, then return to take her rightful place as Amazon Queen. In this episode, Gabrielle showed wisdom and maturity far beyond her years. She played an instrumental part in reuniting Xena's spirit with her body, and by the end of A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214), she was able to leave her tribe in the capable hands of her friend, Ephiny.

[19] A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) is rightly regarded as a classic, yet Gabrielle came over as rather waspish for much of the episode. She complained about the loss of her frying pan, ruined when Xena used it as a makeshift chakram, and later traded Xena's whip for a replacement. This petty act seems out of character for Gabrielle and it may be significant that R. J. Stewart wrote the episode, along with RETURN OF CALLISTO. Xena also behaved with uncharacteristic thoughtlessness. Having disappeared behind a bush to relieve herself, and finding no suitable leaves, she improvised with one of Gabrielle's precious scrolls. This indignity drove the bard to her own act of vengeance. Fortunately, both parties apologized before the episode was through, but much more serious conflicts awaited them.

[20] Despite its comic theme, FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216) saw Gabrielle thwart the plans of no less a goddess than Aphrodite. In doing so she not only averted a war, but also saved the life of her bumbling friend, Joxer, with a throw that would have left many a Major League pitcher trembling in his shoes. Her old impulsiveness rose to the surface in THE EXECUTION (41/217), as she defended her friend, Meleager the Mighty, against a charge of murder. She was clearly thinking with her heart rather than her head, even going up against Xena when the Warrior Princess set out to capture the fugitive. Yet, Xena trusted her young friend's judgement enough to uncover the truth and prove Meleager's innocence.

[21] THE PRICE (44/220) saw the greatest challenge yet to Gabrielle's friendship with Xena. Many years earlier Xena's army had suffered heavy casualties at the hands of a fierce tribe of warriors known only as the Horde. Taking command of a beleaguered Athenian garrison under attack from the Horde, Xena reverted to her old warlord self. To her it seemed their only hope of survival, but Gabrielle was horrified by the change in her friend. She at first defied Xena's orders to withhold rations from the seriously wounded, and then made the crucial discovery that "kaltaka" was the Horde's word for water. When Gabrielle crept out with a water skin to help the dying men in no-man's land, the Horde thought a truce had been called and came out to recover their wounded. For the first time, Xena was able to see them not as mindless savages, but men with a code of honor. Xena sent some of the walking wounded to help Gabrielle feed and tend the more serious cases, later visiting her friend to admit her mistake:

"I let my fear and hatred blind me. You understand hatred, but you have never given in to it. You don't know how much I love...that."

[22] Was Xena's substitution of "that" for "you" merely an attempt to spare Gabrielle any embarrassment, or an indication of feelings far deeper than friendship? Whatever the truth, there can be no doubt that by the end of Season Two, the young Bard of Poteidaia was the greatest and best influence in the life of the Warrior Princess.


Rift and Reunion

All this moisture in the air can't be good for my hair!
It's forgive and forget after THE BITTER SUITE. Well, not really.

[23] Something went terribly wrong in Xena's third season, although it started out well enough. The importance of Gabrielle in Xena's life was emphasized in THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN (49/303). Finding herself working with four convicts who had been turned into ruthless killers by earlier encounters with Xena, Gabrielle wondered how much her friendship with the Warrior Princess had changed her, asking:

"Am I really who I am, or what you made me?"

[24] By the end of the episode, Xena was able to tell her:

"You're Gabrielle. Bard, Amazon Princess, best friend. Nobody made you who you are -- it was already there. The question is, who would I be without you?"

[25] Over the next few episodes, however, everything would change. The loss of Gabrielle's blood innocence in THE DELIVERER (50/304) represented a lost opportunity. The logical course of events would have been a series of episodes in which Gabrielle struggled to come to terms with such a traumatic experience. GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) began in this way, with a nightmare sequence in which she saw herself as a brutal murderer, but any attempt to develop Gabrielle's character was abandoned in favor of the Rift Arc. This saw her lie to Xena about the fate of her baby daughter before betraying her friend in THE DEBT (52/306, 53/307). The fact that Xena had misinterpreted Lao Ma's message as a request to kill Ming T'ien when all she needed to do was publicly humiliate him was largely forgotten. What really mattered to fans was that Gabrielle had gone against Xena, and they found that hard to forgive. Perhaps coincidentally, Robert Tapert and R. J. Stewart had collaborated on THE DEBT, with Stewart having sole responsibility for GABRIELLE'S HOPE.

[26] Even in the comedy episodes, Gabrielle fared poorly. THE KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308) saw her helped and hindered in equal measure by Joxer and Autolycus, trying to foil a plot against Queen Cleopatra. Eventually, all three had to be bailed out by Xena. THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER... (56/310) ran along similar lines, with Aphrodite enchanting one of Gabrielle's scrolls so that everything she wrote on it happened. Again it was Xena who saved the day, with Gabrielle appearing increasingly the "useless little pissant" that a deranged Warrior Princess had called her in THE FURIES (47/301). The one positive note was Ares' assertion that her writing was responsible for Xena's heroic new reputation.

[27] The tragic events of MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311) need little recounting here. Reunited with her lost daughter, Gabrielle attempted to protect her from Xena. In doing so, she unwittingly aided Hope and Callisto in their plot to murder Solan, Xena's son. Gabrielle, overcome with remorse, poisoned her daughter and contemplated ending her own life. At the funeral of their children, Xena rebuffed her former friend's attempts to apologize. Gabrielle had committed an unforgivable sin in her eyes -- she had betrayed her trust. The episode ended with the two women heading in opposite directions, perhaps never to meet again.

[28] Was this outcome inevitable? After MATERNAL INSTINCTS, many fans assumed that Gabrielle had been wrong about Hope from the start. There is, however, evidence to the contrary. In TWO MEN AND A BABY (H65/406) Hercules and Iolaus saved Evander, the infant son of Ares and Nemesis, formerly the Goddess of Retribution but now a mortal woman. Hercules clearly believed it was Evander's upbringing that would define his nature, not his parentage. For this reason, he ensured that his loving mother, not his evil father, would raise the child. It therefore seems likely that Hope, guarded against the influence of Dahak by Gabrielle's love and Xena's sword, could have been saved. By the time she came back into her mother's life, however, Hope had been raised in her father's ways and was beyond redemption.

[29] Xena and Gabrielle were reconciled in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), but not before one of the most controversial events of the entire series, the so-called "Gabdrag". The fact that some fans felt Xena's brutal treatment of Gabrielle to be justified shows just how much the latter's character had been damaged. The Rift Arc introduced a disturbing trend in Xena: Warrior Princess that would grow stronger as time progressed, that of Xena always being right. Gabrielle's judgement would from now on be regarded as flawed by many viewers. This is ironic when one considers that Xena's own judgement in THE PRICE, THE DELIVERER, and THE DEBT had been questionable to say the least.

[30] ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) was in my opinion the most beautiful Xena/Gabrielle character piece ever written. With Gabrielle suffering from a poisoned arrow wound, Xena was faced with a stark choice -- save her friend or save Greece from the invading Persians. Abandoning all thoughts of the Greater Good, Xena was prepared to leave Greece to its fate until Gabrielle stopped her. The bard's courage and emotional maturity in this episode were truly breathtaking as she told her friend:

"The first thing is the Greater Good. You taught me that. You taught me that there are things in life that are worth dying for - things that hold a higher meaning than our own existence."
And later:
"A long time ago I accepted the consequences of our life together - that it might one day come to this. It has. I'm not afraid."

[31] As usual, Gabrielle was able to bring out the best in Xena, who replied:

"You always said that I was the brave one. Look at you now. If this is to be our destiny let's see it out together. Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you."
Later, with Gabrielle worried that she was distracting Xena from more important things, the Warrior Princess made it clear just how much she relied on her:
"But you're my source, Gabrielle. When I reach down inside myself and do things that I'm not capable of it's because of you. Don't you know that by now?"

[32] Gabrielle also had a vision of Xena's death, and her timely warning coupled with her friend's amazing combat skills enabled them both to live to fight another day.

[33] FORGIVEN (60/314) started badly for Gabrielle. An obnoxious brat named Tara, who claimed she wanted to turn her life around, unconvincingly trounced her in a tavern brawl. Xena, seeing a younger version of herself, overrode her friend's objections and gave Tara a second chance. Gabrielle did not believe Tara could be helped, saying, "You can't save everyone", but continued:

"Xena, if you can say with a straight face that you believe in her, it'll go a long way with a confused kid like that. It did with me. It's easier to believe in yourself after someone else has believed in you first."

[34] I find this statement puzzling. Although it proved to be the key to Tara's eventual redemption, it also turns the events of SINS OF THE PAST on their head. It was Gabrielle's belief in Xena that allowed the Warrior Princess to start over, not vice versa. The only early episode in which Gabrielle showed any major symptoms of self-doubt was THE PRODIGAL. If anything she was overconfident at first, and would not begin doubting her true path in life until Season Four. Incredibly, or perhaps not, both episodes were written by R. J. Stewart.


The Great Betrayal

Think it's bad for you Joxer?  Now I've got snot all over my hand!
Gabrielle doesn't forget everything in FORGET ME NOT.

[35] "Character assassination" is an unpleasant term, but that is what appears to have taken place in FORGET ME NOT (63/317). Visiting the temple of Mnemosyne, Gabrielle was forced to confront her memories. It was finally revealed that she had reached Ch'in ahead of Xena with the help of Ares, and that she had an ulterior motive for doing so:

"I wanted to get there before Xena so that I could betray her. I wanted to betray her! I gave her everything and it meant nothing to her! I hated her for loving someone else. I wanted her to hurt...I wanted her to be punished...and I almost got her killed. My hatred and jealousy almost destroyed my best friend."

[36] Compare this with her words to Xena in Ming T'ien's prison in THE DEBT II:

"I betrayed you. The pathetic thing is, I thought I was saving you. My reverence for life kept a brutal tyrant in power and led to my best friend's execution."
And again in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY:
"Xena...about China. I hope you know I never meant to hurt you. I only did what I thought was right."

[37] These two statements were totally in character. In THE DEBT I, Gabrielle was clearly horrified at the thought of her friend committing a cold-blooded murder, and even Xena appeared to have had last-minute doubts. FORGET ME NOT, however, turned Gabrielle into a traitor for purely selfish reasons. Even worse was the fact that, when both apologies were made, Gabrielle expected Xena, and in the latter episode herself, to die. Having her lie to Xena under these circumstances robbed Gabrielle of one the most important facet of her character, her moral integrity. FORGET ME NOT is a deeply flawed episode, giving every indication of having been intended both to plug the "How did Gabrielle get to Ch'in first?" loophole and to further justify Xena's mistreatment of her in THE BITTER SUITE. There are a number of glaring inconsistencies in the storyline, which merit closer examination.

[38] Firstly, after Xena boarded her ship, Ares appeared to Gabrielle and told her:

"Lao Ma must be important all right. Xena would never do anything like this for you."

[39] The second assertion is laughably untrue, as everyone knows the kind of sacrifices Xena was prepared to make for her friend, but the first reveals a serious weakness in the plot. Xena had not completed the tale of her time in Ch'in when she and Gabrielle parted company. All the younger woman knew of Lao Ma was that Xena had tried to kill her, yet when Ares stated that Xena was answering a summons from Lao Ma, Gabrielle expressed no surprise at all.

[40] Secondly, Ares offered to make sure Gabrielle reached Ch'in ahead of Xena:

"That is, if you don't mind owing a favor to the God of War."

[41] In THE BITTER SUITE, Ares had urged Xena to kill Gabrielle, yet that episode took place after THE DEBT. Had Xena succeeded, Gabrielle would have been unable to repay the favor she owed him.

[42] Thirdly, why would Ares want Gabrielle to stop Xena? He still had hopes of bringing the Warrior Princess back over to his side, but if Ming T'ien had executed her that would have been impossible. Ares should have relished the thought of Xena committing a premeditated murder, and the last thing he would have wanted was any interference from Gabrielle. Imagine the scene. Xena creeps into Ming T'ien's bedchamber and stabs him as he sleeps. As she looks down at the body she feels a familiar presence, and a seductive voice whispers in her ear:

"There now, haven't you missed that? Made you feel good, didn't it? Made you feel powerful. Come back to me, and I can make you feel like that all the time."

[43] With the entire return trip from Ch'in in which to persuade her, and no "irritating blonde" to counter his arguments, Ares would have been able to bring out Xena's dark side. By the time she reached Greece, she would have once more been the Destroyer of Nations.

[44] Finally, Xena had been unable to pass through the "water curtain" in Illusia due to her hidden guilt over the death of Ming T'ien, yet Gabrielle had crossed to the other side without hesitation or harm. This would have been impossible had she been concealing the truth regarding her betrayal of Xena.

[45] Why was this episode made? R. J. Stewart later admitted that the "owing Ares a favor" plotline had been added as an afterthought to tie in with the season finale, so its primary purpose must have been to blacken Gabrielle's character. The fact remains that it was made, and the Bard of Poteidaia was further diminished in viewers' eyes. She was seen to have given in to hatred and jealousy, emotions that had never before been associated with her. Renée O'Connor found it difficult to believe Gabrielle could become jealous enough to betray Xena, and it does her credit that she gave such a fine performance in an episode that showed her character in the worst possible light.

[46] Ares called in his favor in SACRIFICE (67/321, 68/322). Hope was to be reborn, aided once more by Callisto, and Ares was prepared to serve Dahak in return for his continued existence. The Fates had decreed that if Xena killed Hope then she too would die. Ares told Gabrielle of this and she was able to delay Xena long enough for the now adult Hope to emerge from her cocoon. Even after Gabrielle had explained her motives, Xena remained determined to finish the job -- she regarded her life as a small price to pay to save the world from Dahak. As she and Gabrielle prepared for the final confrontation with Hope and Ares, Xena had this to say to her friend:

"A lot's happened to us over the past year, and there were times when we were both very confused, but I want you to know that I still think you are the best thing that ever happened to me. You gave my life meaning, and joy. You will be a part of me forever."

[47] Armed with the god-killing Hind's blood dagger, Xena struggled against Hope's force of will to reach her enemy. Ares urged Gabrielle to intervene, expecting her to stop Xena. Like many before him, he underestimated the bard's courage and capacity for self-sacrifice. With a desperate leap, she sent both Hope and herself plunging towards a river of molten lava. It was not the first time Gabrielle had saved the Warrior Princess, but it seemed certain to be the last.


Table of Contents
Next Section



Return to Top Return to 
Index