Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou


The Final Episode: Xena: Warrior Princess

From the archives of CinéFemme Forum

Mt Olympus, Lesbos Greece
The Xena : Warrior Princess series is classic, and invites viewers to behold it years after the episodes ended in 2001. I watched Xena now and then in Greece during summer vacations when the show was broadcast, dubbed in Greek. But I had no idea that Xena was Thracian and Mt Olympus was located on the very island of Lesbos where I was, the birthplace of Sappho. Women went to a particular souvlaki tavern to catch the show on the TV, and I have finally understood their enthusiasm years later, having recently finished watching all six seasons this week.
Yes, there are still spectators out their discovering Xena for the first time.

I went to my first convention last month and wrote a report for San Francisco Convention 2010: Still Alive and Living in Los Angeles and did a radio interview for Movie Magazine Intl, San Francisco with Steven L Sears featured on webradio this week.
I realize that my experiences are like others who have discovered and will discover the magic of Xena: Warrior Princess. But many things came clear to me about the series in the final episode.

I knew beforehand that Xena dies in the end. My sister told me and I was crushed But knowing this made me pay attention to premonitions of her eventual destruction. I noticed that there was always this cloud of atonement in the air. Xena had died before and came back to life but nowhere as brutal as in the last episode. It is not only that Xena was killed, but how she was killed.

The Greek Fates or Moirae: Clotho (Κλωθώ),  "spinner" of the thread of life,
Lachesis (Λάχεσις) ,"alloter" of the thread of life allotted to each person,
(Ἄτροπος, "unturning"),  the cutter of the thread

Xena: Warrior Princess devotees, this series would never have founds its true momentum. Thank you Xenites, for being a source of inspiration.
I am still feeling a chill about that last episode.....and a lot of sadness....

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed, So Where was Gabrielle?

The relationship between Gabrielle and Xena was carefully established over the years. Watching Gabrielle come into her own power and learn to fight like a warrior was remarkable, but it never ceased to amaze me how skilled Xena was.  She could take on more than several foes at once, and rescued Gabrielle countless times.
In the final episode Xena asks Gabrielle where they should go next. In synch with her question, a monk arrives with a beautiful sword that once belonged to Xena and he tells her that her services are requested in the East.
The soul-eating demon Yodoshi has been snatching people’s souls right and left so Akemi sends for the “Warrior Princess”  to  set things right.   Xena met Akemi a long time ago and followed her presumably to get the ransom on her head from her family. Along the way Akemi stops by her grandfather’s grave. His spirit tells her that Xena needs a better sword. The warrior princess has to fight for a mighty one from the arrogant sword makers who don’t want to make one for a woman. The monk delivers this to her with Akemi’s request. Xena has to go, and Gabrielle must follow:  "where you go, I go".

Akemi’s father Yodoshi turned into a demon after she put “the pinch” on him which Xena taught her. The pinch causes blood to rush to the brain and death in 30 seconds. Gabrielle is astonished that she would have taught this to Akemi. Perhaps now we know why Xena always hesitated to teach it to Gabrielle. She told Gabrielle that Akemi broke her heart and was the first woman to teach her about love. Well, talk about it anyway, as Xena didn’t understand that Akemi’s rapidly beating heart was a sign of passion.  It was hard to figure out  Akemi's  motives from the very beginning. After Akemi puts the pinch on her father, she suddenly commits Harakiri with a sword. Her dying wish is for Xena to take her ashes to a special shrine for protection. This tragic event causes Xena to momentarily become an alcoholic, and stumble through the streets carrying Akemi’s ashes. The villagers have hacked off her hair. When they attack her again, the urn breaks into pieces and the ashes scatter. In defense Xena takes one of their torches of fire, to defend herself, a fire that spreads through the entire village. She learns later that 40,000 people lost their lives that day. And whose fault was that?

On her new visit to the “Land of the Rising Sun” (Japan), the soul-eating demon Yodoshi has prepared a welcome for Xena with a ton of soldiers. They first set fire to a village. Xena asks Gabrielle what she would do in this case, the first time, and  a premonition of the retreat of the Warrior Princess.  Gabrielle suggests using acrobatics to approach the water tower for extinguishing the flames. “Its not what I would have done”, Xena says afterwards, “but it worked”. Xena teaches her "the pinch," and tells her that if there were 30 seconds remaining in her life, she would only feel love for Gabrielle. Tidings of things to come.
Akemi’s ghost lives in a teahouse outside of town with two other ghouls. When Xena visits, one of them alerts Yodoshi who comes running. He warns Xena what he has in store for her and that she will lose her head. Akemi knows what she is in store for too, but doesn’t tell the whole story, and never has. Xena learns hat she must die to enter the underworld and conquer Yodoshi. But Akemi doesn’t warn her there is no way back after her death.

That a manipulative and child-like waif who is a super tease leads Xena to her death is allowed to reek havoc on the warrior’s life is astonishing after so many tests and ordeals through the series. The fire that took so many lives was started in self defense because of Akemi’s sudden death and Xena’s despair, and it was  hardly an act of malice that the fire spread so quickly.  What about the conscience of the villagers for shaming a woman and ridiculing and tormenting her? But should this end the love she experiences with Gabrielle. Isn’t Xena smarter after all of these years to fall for Akemi's games? Isn't Gabrielle worthy of a life with her? Apparently not. Xena buries her copper breast plate, and adorns a royal warrior outfit with silver and crimson trim, and strikes out on her own to conquer an enormous army, without Gabrielle. She does well in the battle. She sets the soldiers ammunition on fire, which creates a huge mushroom cloud, and takes many of them out with her bow and arrow. The Captain instructs his warriors to unleash a barrage of arrows, several which hit her and wear down her strength. The warriors then attack her with swords. Xena cries out for Gabrielle, unable to hold her own alone any longer. Why would she have done this if she didn’t have the will to live?  And why, for once does Gabrielle not appear ? The Captain marches up to Xena and hacks off her head. The screen goes red, and fortunately we don’t have to witness the beheading. A bloody chakram lays on the ground, used only once when it could have saved her life. Later when Gabrielle finds Xena’s naked body hung up outside a shed and we see her devastated and tear stained face, we know the murder has been brutal.

The Captain tells Gabrielle that Xena was a worthy fighter, but she counters that she died dishonorably, was unfairly outnumbered and slaughtered. She asks to see her head, which is propped up on a nearby plank like a trophy. Gabrielle avenges her death by killing the Captain and refusing to cut off his head. She returns to the little teahouse and meets Xena, who has not yet understood she is dead, for when she reaches for her chakram she cannot grasp it in her hand. She tells Gabrielle that death is the only way to conquer Yodoshi. Gabrielle believes her and burns her body. On the second sunset she is to take Xena’s ashes in a magic spring in order for her to return. When the Captain shows up again and attacks Gabrielle, the urn rolls away. After defeating Yodoshi and seeing that the souls he has captured will be condemned, Xena tells Gabrielle to forget about her ashes. She has to stay dead to atone for the 40, 000 dead souls. Gabrielle is stunned and crushed but accepts it, perhaps all too quickly. Most fans did not.

Writer RJ Stewart scripted this problematic narrative.  Throughout the series, and despite subtle hints, it finally registers that the romanticized “friendship” of Xena and Gabrielle truly fits with the ending. Having Xena by her side in spirit should be enough for Gabrielle. They have experienced being soul mates through declarations of love to each other, or when the frequently injured Gabrielle is held by Xena. In the end, Gabrielle attends to Xena’s corpse and must say farewell to her life on earth. Soul mates or not, enduring screen love is not for same sex mortals like Gabrielle and Xena. Xena has died and gone to heaven, the biggest myth of all. The parallels are transparent. "What greater love than he who laid down his life for our sins". For didn't the villagers attack and torment a grieving woman on the streets of their village, who forgave them, and gave them eternal peace?

When commenting on the episode years later, director Robert Tapert does most of the talking in the video commentary. It is his creation. Lucy Lawless looks somewhat glum while Gabrielle is gushing with comments, true to the character they played. In the preceding episode “When Fates Collide”, both Lawless and husband Tapert make a curious comment about Xena’s love for Gabrielle. While hanging on the cross, Xena says, “ I love you Gabrielle”. Lawless frowns, and says the declaration was "forced". "Yes", says Robert,” it was forced”. Did  Lawless mean that she felt "forced" to say this? Or that she should have said it more convincingly? This is in the MAIN TEXT, not SUBTEXT. For is it not appropriate to exclaim love after taking Gabrielle’s place on the cross? 
Sacrifice is the stuff of Greek tragedies. Gabrielle gets to love Xena in spirit for the rest of her life after the final episode, as it pretty much has been all along. And with chakram on waist, Tapert exclaims, “Its Gabrielle; Warrior Princess, but we couldn’t sell it". Was this the plan? Had Lawless decided to quit and pass the series on to O'Connor?

Endings where women atone for their past with their lives, where women are beaten and assaulted after kicking ass with superior skill for more than six years are problematic. It would be more honest to end in a manner more like Lawrence of Arabia and have Xena fall from a horse in an accident far removed from the battlefield.

So Sad to Fall in Battle is the story of the Japanese General Tadamichi Kuribayashi who lost the campaign at Iwo Jima during World War II. He refused to risk the life of his men in suicidal banzai attacks, but to fight defensively. Isn’t a suicidal attack what the Warrior Princess must do in the end? Suicidal missions have happened before in the series for Xena to clear away the wreckage of her past. The rush of adrenalin released in life threatening missions is the same substance that hooks bungee jumpers, ski divers and rally car drivers.
Gabrielle is not allowed to persuade Xena to remain alive, as Xena so many times has done for her.  Must her demise be the same as Akemi’s with confinement to the underworld ? Why is Akemi’s fate intertwined so much with Xena's?. Isn't it more with Gabrielle? Thank "The Fates" for fan fiction like“The Shipper:  7th Season”.

Lucy Lawless previously said that “Xena is not real”.  Perhaps not, but her character was made “real” through countless courageous and daring episodes affirmed by a dedicated following. Episodes speak to that devotee base. Most of us did NOT think this ending was believable. Xena deserved an honorable death, and was not given one: it was this Xena who was not “real”. Last year Lawless agreed: the ending not only hurt "the fans" but went against the grain of the episodes.

One final compelling question: in their adventures, Xena and Gabrielle have met historical figures such as Caesar, Homer, and Hippocrates. Why in heading towards the end of the season did Gabrielle not get to go to a play by Sappho on her birthday and meet her, but only get a piece of her poetry?
It is erroneously claimed that Sappho died for the love of a younger man by Greeks who are ashamed or threatened of the poet who loved women
(this kind of myth making is also at work in Xena in the episodes).  There have been legal battles to change the name of Lesbos to Mytilini, the capital city of the island where Sappho was born and ran a school for women, and for Greeks to have exclusive rights to the use of “Lesbian to designate "an inhabitant of Lesbos" ( Everyone on Lesbos is a "Lesbian").

Sappho should have been in the Xena series. And Gabrielle and Xena should have also experienced corporeal rather than only romantic love.As Sappho wrote, “Aphrodite crowned in gold, please let this piece of luck be mine”.
Sappho was a right on woman....

χενα lives....

No comments: