Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Death in Chains/ Second Hug

Very nice episode... and a wonderful ending! This is subtext at its best. The scene goes like this: Gabrielle is sad and crying because her new friend has to leave with Celesta... and Xena approaches her to give her support. Suddenly, Gabrielle just does what she needs most: she embraces Xena and stays in her arms, sobbing. Xena's face expresses a multitude of feelings: surprise and sympathy for her feelings and the need to protect her and a bit of uncomfortability and awkwardness at the novelty of the situation and at her own inability to deal with strong emotions, and also, we can see, a secret happiness that Gabrielle trusted her and needed her and embraced her. We can see all this, in Xena's eyes, in a few seconds! Bravo, Lucy Lawless! Amazing performance. And congrats too to the writers and director, for such a subtle moment.

First hug

There are a couple of things about Prometheus' episode that I forgot to mention in my last post. First one is about what is depicted in this picture. (I posted a similar one yesterday. By the way, I get the pictures from Ausxip Media Library. Thanks a lot to them for putting together such a terrific collection!).
So I was thinking that, so far as I remember, this is the first time that Xena and Gabrielle hug each other! Am I right? I don't remember any other hug before... And this occasion is very special: Xena and Hercules are heading to a very difficult mission, that could cost the life of one of them. Gabrielle and Iolaus are staying behind, because he is badly hurt. Gabrielle asks Xena not to cut Prometheus' chains (because it could kill her), and she just hugs her and asks her to be brave... it is very sweet! I particularly adore how Gabrielle's hand stays on Xena's stomach for a few seconds, when they are saying goodbye after the hug.... Awww!!!!
Another thing I wanted to mention is that, according to Lucy Lawless, this episode (8 from season 1) had just aired when they first heard about the "brouhaha" from the lesbian community regarding Xena and Gabrielle's relationship... I like very much what she says about this: first they thought it was completely crazy (in a way, it was), and after a few minutes, they started saying: 'wait a minute... it is actually perfect!', which of course is very true!!
I would have loved to witness those very first conversations and comments about the Subtext in Xena... but well, at those times I was unfortunately completely clueless about Xena and the subtext... however, I have the chance now to offer my own humble thoughts on the issue and my own reconstruction of Xena and Gabrielle's love story.
So I wonder why episode 8 was such a milestone... maybe it had to do with those little details that had been hinted at in the previous episodes, which showed what a great and special friendship Xena and Gabrielle had... Maybe it had to do with the fact that there were, at those times (and nowadays) very few shows centred on a relationship between two women, let alone a lesbian relationship. Therefore, I think lesbians were particularly keen on finding representations of themselves on screen, and this little action show with such a charming couple of friends, who were travelling together and camping together and sharing so many adventures just proved to be the perfect show for them. And, for instance, the fact that Xena was shown to be just a tiny bit too jealous of Gabrielle and Phyleus sharing a bed in episode 7 could have helped a little...
Ironically, episode 8 was very straight. But at the same time, it showed one of the first goodbyes between Xena and Gabrielle, and one of the first expression of physical affection, and one of the first times that Gabrielle was afraid of losing Xena. Just too much for an avid lesbian spectator, waiting to discover any lesbian subtext out there! ;)

Monday, 2 July 2007


Another straight episode! Both Xena and Gabrielle hit it on with guys... and this time they are none other than Hercules and Iolaus! Well, that's handy: we have everyone in both shows sorted out. Have we? Well, maybe, but just a little bit queerer than it seemed... ;)

Well, another way of looking at this sort of episodes is: OK, OK, let's make them straight for a while, let's get over with it quickly, so that we can move on to more interesting stuff, such as... Xena and Gabrielle's relationship! Of course, the development of their friendship will be much deeper than any other story they will have.

And this episode, apart from providing a straight safe point, also gives us some crucial hints at what will become Xena and Gabrielle's eternal bond: their being soulmates. Is there a nicer summary than Gabrielle's words? (NB: This comes from Aristophanes's speech in Plato's Symposium. For some people, this myth is about the origin of people's different sexual orientation. We know how it applies to Xena and Gabrielle...):

G: “Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads. And then the gods threw down thunderbolts, and split everyone into two. Each half then had two legs and one head.But the separation left both sides with a desperate yearning to be reunited. Because they each shared the same soul. And ever since then, all people spend their lives searching for the other half of their soul."

Nothing to add to that!

The Titans

What a charming episode! It is one of the first to be centred around Gabrielle's character, her process of learning, and her friendship with Xena. There are many lessons learnt by Gabrielle on this episode: about the dangers of power, and the deceiving of appearances, and the fragility and strength of friendship. Along the way, we get to see Xena jealous for the first time! Gabrielle suggests that she can sneak into the Titans's cave and get the chant that will turn them back into stone-- but Xena does not want to even hear about it: too dangerous. Too risky: she does not want to lose Gabrielle. But Gabrielle thinks she just does not trust her, and she gets upset. And Xena is clever enough to keep quiet and give her time to realise why she did it. She seems very much in control, at this point. However, Gabrielle ends up spending the night with Phyleus (although in theory, nothing happened), and at the following morning, Xena sees them together... and we can see a flint of emotion on her face. Subtle and stoic, but it does affect her! Very telling. At the end of the episode, Xena tries to talk to Gabrielle about their small rift, and they make up:

X: “Why did you risk your life by going into that cavern alone?”
G: “I wanted to make up for what I did, so that you wouldnt hate me.”
X: “For your information, I could never hate you. Your heart’s always in the right place.”
G: “Even when I tried to rule the world with the Titans?”
X: “Everybody makes mistakes.”
G: “Well, what about when I got myself kidnapped so I could stop a war.”
X: “Hey, that took a lot of guts on your part.”
G: “What about when I, I got your horse’s reins tangled?”
X: “Look-- the point is, we’re friends. And, we shouldn't let things like that come between us. Come on. Gabrielle?”
G: “Yeah?”
X: “Don’t you ever touch my horse again.”
G: “Right.”


Saturday, 23 June 2007

The Path Not Taken/ The Reckoning

Two very interesting episodes indeed...

In the first one, "The path not taken", we are introduced to Marcus, a character from Xena's dark past as a warlord, and an old love interest for her. It is one of the few people that Xena is interested in, at this stage in the series... and it cannot be denied that there is chemistry between them. However, it is remarkable how Xena remains focused on her main aim at this time, namely, to rescue the girl that has been kidnapped and to avoid a needless war. At the end, Marcus makes the biggest sacrifice possible, for that very same cause that Xena is fighting for. And this is very important for her. This brings them closer for one second, but also takes him away from her, forever. But of course, she has Gabrielle by her side...

(NB: This is the first episode in which we can listen to Xena's singing... what a lovely voice!)

The second episode, "The reckoning", is crucial one. The character of Ares, god of war, is introduced, and many core issues are explored. We can see that Xena feels very guilty with respect to her past, but at the same time, she is still attracted to her violent ways: Ares exerts a strong influence on her, and she has to fight very hard to avoid that... this creates a very interesting dynamics that we will see further explored in the future. Interestingly, we can see that her attraction to Ares is twofold: she is attracted both to him and to what he represents. The undeniable sexual attraction she feels for him can be seen as a symbol of the attraction she feels for the power and strength that (the god of) war can provide her. (And likewise, the undeniable (sexual? emotional? both?) attraction she feels for Gabrielle can be seen as a symbol of her attraction for the ways of peace, goodness and generosity).

There is a crucial and powerful moment in this episode: Xena has been tormented in prison, both by Ares and the raged villagers. She loses momentarily her mind and comes back to her violent ways, beating the villagers that were torturing her, and the prison guardians, and even Gabrielle, who happens to be on her way. But once she manages to see her and realises who she is and what she has done to her, she calms down and comes back to her senses again. She is afraid that Gabrielle will leave after that, and she indeed thinks that she does not deserve her to be back. But of course, Gabrielle does not leave, because Gabrielle believes in Xena:

X: “How could you come back after what I did to you?”

G: “What you did wasn't you; I know that."

X: “You coming back for me really meant a lot after what I did to you.”

G: “I trust you. I never thought for a moment you meant to hurt me.”

Not easy scenes, I think. It is pretty risky to present Xena as a violent character who could lose her mind and beat her own friend, and still expect us to like her. Should that be forgiven? Well, in the real world, that would be a serious issue, not to be dealt with in such a light-hearted way. But this is fiction, after all: fantasy. I think we should understand these exchanges mainly as a metaphor for the value of unconditional friendship and the virtue of forgiveness. And these, we can indeed find in Gabrielle.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Cradle of Hope

Just one brief comment on this charming episode:

Xena (to King Gregor and Pandora, when asked about her wishes for the baby she and Gabrielle had found on the river): "Just one request: Name him Gabriel".
Telling, isn't it? ;-)

P.S. This episode has many symmetries with the 3rd series crucial episode "Gabrielle's Hope", which will ignite the beginning of the infamous Rift between Xena and Gabrielle... In Cradle of Hope, there is also a baby in a basket left alone on the river, and there is also the importance of Hope as the last thing that remains when everything is lost...

Saturday, 9 June 2007


This episode is one of fandom's favourites. For a while I wondered why. Now, I know why. It is just the third episode of season one. Xena and Gabrielle haven't known each other for very long. They haven't been travelling together for very long. Gabrielle is still very innocent, and fool enough to think that a hero's life is something to admire. And still, Xena and Gabrielle already have a very strong bond! They can find each other in their dreams! Their dream passages overlap: this is an early sign for what later on will be revealed to us: Xena and Gabrielle are strongly connected to each other: they are soulmates.

In this episode, we get to meet dark Xena, and we get to see how Xena struggles with her dark past and her guilt. And how, in spite of all that, she keeps focusing on her main aim: get through her dream passage in order to help Gabrielle. This is the first episode of many in which Xena risks her life to save Gabrielle's.

We also learn how important it is for Xena that Gabrielle keeps her blood innocence: Xena has found, in Gabrielle, something pure and good that is worth fighting for (and, specially, something worth living for). Gabrielle's goodness is what keeps Xena going on. She cannot lose that.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Chariots of War

This second episode is very interesting... specially because it shows many of the things that Xena:WP will not be like at all in the future! Just by watching this episode, someone could think that we are just in front of another action show, with a mix of drama, humour, fights, and light boy-on-girl romance. Well... just wait and see!! The show will change so much...

In spite of the strong straight (and even gender-conventional, I dare say) aspects of this episode, it actually introduces some elements that will be crucial in the rest of the series. One of the main issues is the dilemma between fight and peace: When is fighting morally OK? Are we ever obliged to fight for the greater good? Or is peace always the best solution? Are dialogue and negotiation always/ever possible?

This episode addresses all these questions. And, in effect, we get to see both Xena and Gabrielle flirting with guys... which is very cute, I have to say!
We witness Xena as she gets to know a new guy, and she even considers leaving the road and settling down with this nice man and his three children... and we see Gabrielle hitting it on with a 'bad boy' for the first time... and, boy, is she persuasive!!
I think it is interesting to see how both Xena and Gabrielle are attracted to characters that are very similar to the other one! Xena's Darius is sweet and gentle and peaceful and generous... and Gabrielle's Sphaerus is a warlord, violent and tormented and dark... sounds familiar? Of course! It's the 'opposites attract' rule... which will be explored quite a lot in the future! And we know what opposite characters will get much closer in the near future...

Just a last note: at the end of the episode, Xena is sad that she has to leave Darius and his family and she asks Gabrielle: "Do you ever miss your family?". Gabrielle answers, happy to chat for once: "Yeah... sometimes... but not as much when I am with you". And this... wins Xena over! And we can see that she starts her journey along with Gabrielle, relaxed and happy and sure that she is doing the right thing. Because it feels right for her!

Sins of the Past

I saw Sins of the Past the other day, and I was as delighted as the first time! Wow, what a stunning beginning for a show. The photography, writing, acting, music... everything is so well done! And at the same time, that episode being more than 10 years old, the whole thing has a slight retro flavour that only adds more beauty and charm to it!

I really liked the melancholic tone of the beginning... Xena riding her horse, through beautiful but deserted landscapes, all lonely and regretful... wanting to end it all, but actually being at the beginning of her new life. Sad and uplifting at the same time.

One of my favourite things about this episode is, of course, when Xena and Gabrielle meet for the first time. I think that the story is told in a very classical way: it's love at first sight!! There is attraction and interest when they first lay eyes on each other... you can feel it! I really liked one little detail: when Xena is fighting Hector's men, trying to help that bunch of villagers that she just bumped into, there is a moment in which she looks at Gabrielle, who is trying her best to liberate herself from one of the baddies... and Xena just gets hooked! You can totally see it: she is staring at her, and for a minute she can't move. And then, she gets hit by one of the men, and then she reacts and jumps and fights and does the usual things. But that minute... was so intense!

The episode is full of little details like this. Xena is quite serious and focused and sad for most of the episode, but there are a few moments when Gabrielle actually makes her smile. I particularly adore the conversation at night, by the campfire (the first campfire of so many!): Gabrielle is trying to explain to Xena that she does not belong to her village, that she is different... and that hits home with Xena. She says, understandingly: 'it's hard to prove you are different'. And she smiles! A beautiful, sweet, optimistic smile... which sets the tone for all that is forthcoming...
And of course, the last word spoken in this episode is 'friend', as Gabrielle explains to Xena, under a morning sunshine that promises a new life and a new future, that friends stand by each other in trouble. Xena is not so sure about what to do with all that, so she just says 'all right... friend'. We can see that she is a bit sceptic... but also, secretly, very glad! And we know she is not mistaken at all...

Subtext in Xena

Welcome to my new blog!

I am a huge fan of Xena and the subtext. On my view, the story of Xena the Warrior Princess and her journey for redemption is one of the best stories ever told in television. In this blog, I'd like to share my views on the show and my perception of the subtextual plot, as it develops from 'Sins of the Past' to 'Friend in Need'.

I have recently purchased the first two series of Xena:WP on DVD, and I'm looking forward to revisiting all my favourite episodes... I have seen them all before, but never in the correct order! So now it's the time for that. Along the way, I plan to find out about all my favourite topics in the show: friendship, ethical dilemmas, heroism, sacrifice, history, mythology, music, theatre, cinema, acting, women's history, gender, feminism, lesbian love... and many more. In this blog I will be posting all my thoughts and rants about all these issues! I'm sure it will be fun...

Just to warm up, I will put up some links to a couple of my favourite Xena websites:

Ausxip: Australian Xena Information Page. One of the most complete websites on all things Xena, with episode guide, pictures, fan fiction, and much more.

Whoosh!: probably the most "academic" website about Xena on the web. It hosts a marvelous online journal with fascinating articles and essays on loads of issues more or less related to the series. A gem.