Disclaimer: Many tears of nostalgia threatened
to overwhelm me during the writing of this review.
Similar to my review of Go Fish,
I find myself incapable of merely reviewing Xena: Warrior
Princess. The show is too much a part of me, of my experiences
as a TV watcher, as a critic, as a writer, even as a lesbian. I find it next-to-impossible to remove myself to a fair enough distance to properly evaluate.
I'm afraid if you've clicked onto this page you've inadvertantly
fallen into the lair of a hard core nutball. A Xenite. A fan.
Like many others I was deeply affected by the stories of
Xena the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle the battling bard. True
Xena fans are never ashamed to say that they love the show, despite
the severe ups and downs the quality of the writing went through
over the years.
From the first episode I saw (which was not the
pilot but an episode from early in season two) I was enthralled.
The next day I went on the Internet and discovered the huge fan
community out there, particularly the fanfic community, one of the biggest and most active of any
Despite being ridiculed by some critics and dismissed entirely
by others, Xena: Warrior Princess was an Emmy-winning
show that truly connected with its target audience. For six years I let
Xena into my heart and my loungeroom, I read and wrote fanfic,
I built websites, I participated in fan communities, I spent hundreds
if not thousands of dollars on merchandise. I had pictures of
Xena and Gabrielle on my wall, I have treasured autographed photos
in folders and my 12" Xena doll given to me by mocking work colleagues still stands proudly next
to my computer, chakram in hand.
XWP first went to air on September 4th, 1995
as a spin-off from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
The character of Xena made her first appearance in that series in what
is now known as "The Trilogy" (first season Hercules
episodes "The Warrior Princess", "The Gauntlet"
and "Unchained Heart"). The spin-off soon outrated the
original series, becoming the highest-rated syndicated series
in the USA during its second and third seasons. Episodes
of the show still rate well in syndication, and at the height of
its popularity the show was screening in more than 50 countries and was translated into more than 20 different languages.
A flawed hero was born. Unlike other genre heroines though, Xena
had no superpowers to help in her fight against evil. All she
had was her intelligence, her will, her strength, her courage,
her heart and of course her overachieving sidekick.
It didn't take long before fans began speculating on the Xena/Gabrielle
relationship. When the producers caught wind that their lesbian
audience was growing exponentially they played up the lesbian subtext
within the show itself. At times it seemed that the writing team
hadn't established an exact position on the subtext, as some writers
liked to go out of their way to play with it while others avoided
it or tried to establish Xena and/or Gabrielle as exclusively heterosexual.
As a result, going back to the canon and trying to pinpoint the
exact nature of the relationship is a farcical exercise. There
is enough evidence to support any position on it you wish to take,
but the strength and ferocity of the debate sometimes took even
the hard core fans by surprise. When asked to weigh in on the subject while the show was in first
run, actresses Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor were obviously
reluctant to pick a side on the issue, though since the series
has ceased production both actresses have commented in
interviews that they believe the pair were lovers.
Most fans however recognise
that the importance of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship lay in
the love and loyalty between the two companions, not in their
sexual relationship. It was a show that emphasised the friendship
and bonds that exist between women. It was better, I think, for
people to be allowed to make up their own minds as to the extent
of those bonds, despite how much subtext fans (myself included) cherished those
rare overtly-romantic moments that did exist.
One thing that some people failed to understand (particularly TV reviewers), perhaps because
of the sometimes childish nature of its parent show, was that
despite being a fantasy series, this was
not a show that was suitable for children. Some of the worst written episodes were dumbed down and
seemed aimed towards the younger demographic, but there were others
that were extremely violent, including the final episode that
at one point showed Xena being shot with hundreds of arrows, then
having her decapitated head hung on display.
Xena was essentially a violent character, which I am not ashamed
to admit was one of the reasons I liked her. While one of the
most important messages of the show was always that violence is
acceptable only as a last resort to protect yourself and others, when
Xena was forced to accept violence as the solution she was strong,
courageous, ferocious and unwavering.
Set up in deliberate opposition
to the Xena character, Gabrielle was positioned as the negotiator whose first thought was towards the victims of
violence. She believed that Xena was as much a victim of violence
as a perpetrator.
As the series progressed their two viewpoints
collided and clashed with dramatic consequences, but in the end
both always came to see some merit in the path chosen by the other. It
seemed so simple and even silly at times, the themes universal, but the telling of it
was more often than not both powerful and original. It might all seem a bit daggy now, but back when it first aired it was anything but.
XWP was the first show I ever personally became aware of
as having a social impact. This was probably just because it had
an impact on my own life and lives of people I knew, but still
it was my first experience with a show being able to be more than
simply a piece of entertainment. XWP made women
feel empowered, gay or straight. Within the Xenaverse we made each other stronger, told stories to each other
and encouraged each other socially and creatively. I know that
this experience is not unique to Xena fans, many fans had similar experiences within other online communities, but for me Xena really started it all.
If I ever meet Lucy Lawless it's possible I'll take one look into those seriously
blue eyes, be instantly paralysed and not wake up until I've made
a complete fool of myself. Or, I'll manage to keep control of my wits, shake
her hand and thank her from the bottom of my heart for playing,
with such humour and grace, the first superhero I ever looked
up to. I sincerely hope it's the latter.
Got a comment? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org