Favorite female character …
… XENA …
Well, it doesn’t SAY “Favorite Female Secondary Character” or “Favorite Female Other Than Xena and Gabrielle.” ;-)
Thus it’s time to decide who you love most when you hit this challenge. Of course, I never had to give that question any thought! It’s always been Xena for me.
Let me count the ways I love you, warrior princess …
50 Reasons I Love Xena, in no particular order …
I love you for …
Favorite kiss …
I was going to pick the FiN kiss, for its passion. I won’t say it’s the only kiss that really indicated Xena and Gabrielle were lovers—because it’s not, to my mind—but it is the only time we saw a hint of undeniably sexual passion in one of their kisses. Other kisses have passion of other sorts: intense love and longing, intense sorrow at parting, or intense relief at being reunited/finding the other one still whole—just for example. But I have to pick …
… the fairy tale wake-the-sleeping-princess kiss from “The Return of the Valkyrie.”
Coyote-the-trickster recently wrote, essentially, that the only kiss that wasn’t made to basically pass for something else—or at least allowed to be interpreted as something else—was the kiss at Gabrielle’s wedding to Perdicus. (I do love that moment for the look that comes over Xena right before she kisses Gabrielle. Major subtext!) It should be noted that my impression of Coyote’s post was that s/he felt it was the fact that Bruce Campbell is the one we see kissing ROC that makes this a … lesser kiss—and s/he’s got a point! That’s why it wouldn’t occur to me to pick it as my favorite, in fact.
I do agree that the RoC (not to be confused with ROC!) kiss is honest and genuine, but I happen to think that the circumstances in “Return of Callisto”—Gabrielle just having wedded a man—may make that kiss seem “safe” to many a traditional, conservative viewer (or at least allow such viewers to tell themselves it’s not what it might seem). To my mind, it’s even safer than the “Quest” kiss b/c while we only see Autolycus’ body engaged in the actual kiss in “The Quest,” we clearly see XENA initiate it. (And THEN Xena punches Auto with his own fist for having his hand on Gabrielle’s butt—more thoughts on that at the end of this post for those who are interested**). For me, it all really comes down to that moment when Xena leans in for the kiss, because the way she slowly brings her face down to Gabrielle’s is so highly eroticized. To me, it seems clear even before the smash cut that this is going to be a kiss on the mouth; in “Return of Callisto,” Xena kisses Gabrielle at the corner of her mouth, but it’s practically a kiss on the cheek. And despite that wonderful look that comes over Xena’s face in RoC—she seems to become suddenly distracted and then to be unable to resist kissing Gab—it’s still not as erotic to my mind as the prelude to the “Quest” kiss. I’d be much more comfortable watching the “Return of Callisto” wedding kiss with my mom than I would be watching “The Quest” kiss! ;-) (Yes, that’s the standard by which I measure these things! *grin*)
While I personally see eros in both of the above kisses, I think that the Sleeping Beauty kiss is more inarguably a lover’s kiss than either of those two. There’s no potential confusion induced by Auto’s presence, and there’s no straight buffer in the form of Gabrielle’s wedding to Perdicus. No, it doesn’t have the sexual passion of the FiN kiss—it’s chaste: lips still, though Xena’s are parted (after all Gabrielle is ASLEEP, lol)—but it’s set up through context as a lover’s kiss.
First, already in this three-episode story, Gabrielle has explicitly stated that she and Xena are soul mates (while that doesn’t necessarily always connote a romantic/sexual love, in modern pop culture, it usually does)—and Gabrielle’s REASON for stating that fact was that she was explaining to another woman why she wasn’t open to her blatantly romantic/sexual overtures. This woman, Brunhilda, comes to agree with Gabrielle—she turns herself into the Eternal Flame that only Gabrielle’s soul mate will be able to cross, and she acknowledges Xena as that person when she eventually arrives. Meanwhile, Xena has experienced a vision of Gabrielle who told her, “Our souls are united.” If the vision was a manifestation of Xena’s subconscious, then that was essentially Xena’s own explicit statement that she and Gabrielle are soul mates. Then, proving they’re both right, Xena passes unharmed through the Eternal Flame, which has been burning eager Vikings to a crisp.
And what’s the first thing she does after pulling the enshrouding vines off the sleeping Gabrielle? Kiss her! There’s no REASON to do so; no one told her that to break the spell (to use the relevant fairy tale terminology), she had to kiss the girl. It is just what she’s moved to do when she sees Gabrielle—after, notably, experiencing those visions of their life together as she crossed the Flame. And it’s a fairly lingering kiss too, if we factor in the time for the visions (flashbacks) Xena experiences during it. The kiss in RoC doesn’t linger (though the hug that follows does).
Then there’s all the Sleeping Beauty components, which I feel strengthen rather than weaken the significance and implications of this kiss: in that fairy tale, of course, the prince enters the bewitched castle, kisses the princess to awaken her, freeing her from the spell, and then … they get married. It’s a tale about the power of romantic/sexual love, not of friendship.
TPTB drew on that tale in a few less obvious ways, too: Gabrielle was magically redressed in a fairy princess dress when the Flame surrounded her, and Xena found her covered in vines, much as the fairy tale prince finds the castle. In the fairy tale, the vines part for the prince—seemingly, he is not just any prince but The One. (Notably, before approaching the Flame, Xena says to Beowulf, “… if I’m not the one …”) This parting of the vines that recognize the prince is paralleled in RotV with the Flame only Xena can cross, the Flame that forms a face and acknowledges Xena as Gabrielle’s soul mate; what she actually says is “The love in your heart burns stronger than any flame. You belong together, Xena.”
And we might also consider it paralleled in the fact that Xena uses the chakram to remove the vines from Gabrielle because the chakram is so tightly bound up in Xena’s identity (for the most part, only Xena can catch the chakram, and if anyone else can catch it, that means something; Xena proves her identity on multiple occasions by demonstrating her skill with the chakram; when the chakram strikes Xena in “Ides,” it breaks in half, as if striking Xena were so much anathema to it that it can no longer exist after that act has occurred; it is through uniting the dark and light chakrams [an act that in essence restores the broken light chakram] that Xena is restored to herself in “Chakram,” and since a restored chakram restores Xena, one could even hypothesize that the reason Xena had lost touch with her warrior self after the resurrection was because the chakram was broken; and finally, though it hasn’t happened yet at this point in the series, in FiN, it is a blood covered chakram abandoned on the ground that will be used to suggest Xena is dead and Gabrielle’s catching the chakram will be used to represent that she has fully made the transformation from apprentice to master and essentially become Xena). And of course, earlier in this episode when Beowulf returned the chakram to Xena, she asked, “What’s it for?” and he replied, “When the time comes, you’ll know.” When the time comes, it is not time to use the chakram as a weapon and inexplicably ricochet it off 20 different objects before it hits its mark, as one might have expected; when the time comes, it’s time to use the chakram to free Gabrielle. One could happily imagine that no other tool or weapon but Xena’s chakram could have cut the vines that had grown over Gabrielle in RotV. Maybe the vines are just as magical as the Flame and the dress—after all, they conveniently grew in such a way as to leave Gabrielle’s face free for breathing (and for lovely establishing shots). ;-)
One last parallel to the fairy tale in dialogue: When Gabrielle awakes, she tells Xena, “I dreamed you’d come back for me.” In the Grimms’ version of Sleeping Beauty, when the princess awakens, she says to the prince, “Oh, you have come at last! I was waiting for you in my dream. I waited so long!”
Then there’s the special XWP spin on the fairy tale. The kiss not only restores the character fulfilling the role of the princess but also the one fulfilling the role of the prince: Gabrielle awakens, and Xena gets her memories and her identity back.
They are both restored to their habitual costumes as well. For Gabrielle, that makes sense: it was the magic that created the Flame that redressed her (making her appearance suitable for her to play the princess). Notably, her hair doesn’t return to its pre-Flame length, though. It’s more interesting that Xena gets her leathers, armor, and sword back thanks to the power of the kiss. No magic originally changed her clothes, from leathers to Wealthea’s wedding dress. Who knows what became of her usual outfit and her sword (!), but there they are again when she rises from the kiss. I would say the point of their appearance is two-fold: from a purely practical standpoint, TPTB are signaling viewers that Xena is restored—and they get to have Xena back in her own clothes for the final scenes without her having to do one of those completely impractical (and thus unrealistic) Fast Changes off screen in the middle of an emergency (think of the end of “Warrior … Priestess … Tramp”). More important, to my mind, is the symbolism: We’ve been reminded throughout these three episodes that it was Gabrielle who made Xena what she is (they’d totally dispensed with giving Hercules any credit by then! Love it), the warrior princess who fights for good. Then, as a capper on that theme, the loss of Gabrielle, aka ‘the thing she values most,’ robs Xena of her own identity, somehow creating Wealthea. Without Gabrielle, Xena—rather literally—cannot be Xena. Regaining Gabrielle not only restores her identity through restoring her memories but physically turns her back into the iconic image of the warrior princess. Nice.
An interesting point: Losing Gabrielle, and thus herself, is the price of putting on the ring. There’s not supposed to be a way of regaining what was lost by donning the ring. One is not supposed to be able to, for example, remember/find one’s love and thus remember/find one’s self. (This isn’t Beauty and the Beast! ::smile::) And Xena doesn’t remember Gabrielle—not really, not fully—not until they kiss. At least I don’t think so; I suppose one could argue otherwise, make a case that Wealthea became Xena again as she crossed the Flame, that those visions were her memories returning in full. But that interpretation doesn’t explain the visions during the kiss or the way she’s psychically transformed only during the kiss. It’s as if some other magic overrides the curse of the ring—and it happens when Xena kisses Gabrielle.
Given all of this, I don’t think there’s any valid way for even the nay-sayers to argue that this kiss was just a friendly kiss, platonic and signifying nothing more about their relationship. It was a soul mate’s kiss—true love’s kiss. With all the power such a thing has in fairy tales.
Here’s something else I find interesting about this kiss. While Xena is cast as the rescuing prince of fairy tales in this scene, it’s been made clear several times in just these three episodes, that Gabrielle saved Xena. (There’s not only the allusions to that fact between the two of them when they speak to others; additionally, Beowulf tells Xena that Gabrielle “saved you from what you were” and that now she has to save Gabrielle—Xena must have told him their story as they journeyed north, her left-behind soul mate heavy on her mind.) And while Xena’s kiss does awaken the sleeping beauty, saving her, it also saves Xena herself. I just appreciate the twist.
They save each other. It’s fitting because these are no classic prince and princess; they are much more equals than such characters are. (My opinion happens to be that one of the boons of same-sex relationships is a greater ease in getting past confining traditional gender roles, so I quite like to see XWP take very traditionally gendered, practically stock, characters and queer them and, in doing so, grant them more equality.) And the saving of each other through the kiss is just emblematic of their entire relationship, their whole history. They saved each other when they met—from unsatisfying lives alone (or in Xena’s case, perhaps from suicide). They’ve saved each other from physical danger on numerous occasions. However you parse the phrase, they save each other—always.
So, this is my favorite kiss because of …
**Maybe that punch is what makes this “Quest” scene feel the safer to some. If Xena is mad about that hand on Gab’s butt, one might argue, she didn’t put it there. And if Auto put his hand there, then Auto might have been responsible for the kiss—or at least for the fact that it was not a friendly, undeniably platonic kiss on the cheek. Maybe Auto did put the hand there—maybe—but even if he did, why is Xena so intent on protecting Gabrielle’s honor that she’d use her sparse and fleeting energy to punch him for doing so? She never punched out any of the dewy-eyed boys who pursued Gabrielle (though sometimes she looked to me like she wanted to) and Auto is not a stranger like those boys but a trusted friend (admittedly, Gabrielle mostly returned those boys’ interest). I suppose those who refuse to see same-sex love between beloved characters even when it’s staring them in the face might argue that Xena was jealous because she considers Auto hers and doesn’t like him getting *ahem* friendly with her own best friend. But that brings us to my next point: Auto routinely shuns Gabrielle in small ways; it’s Xena that he’s got the hots for. It doesn’t make sense that this would change just because he finds himself in a compromising position with Gab; he may be a player, but he’s not, imo, so much of a cad that he’ll take advantage of any woman given the chance. In my book, Xena punched Auto because his hand was still there once he was back in control of his body—or because he had put it there, taking advantage of the situation (as out of character as I find him doing that, if I really think about it), but perhaps not just because of that but also because his doing so might make it seem to Gabrielle that Xena had crassly copped a feel. Assuming they aren’t yet lovers, one might doubt that Xena herself would pick this sweet, loving moment of reassurance and reunion to grab Gab’s butt. And it’d probably piss her off if she felt Autolycus was giving Gab reason to think she was more interested in the sexual than in Gabrielle’s feelings. Of course, MY interpretation is that Xena’s hand—what was currently her hand, anyway—drifted to Gabrielle’s hip … and a little lower. Not as she crassly copped a feel but as she sweetly cuddled Gabrielle closer (ah, the power language has in shading events!). And then, perhaps a bit flustered by the kiss, she overreacted upon realizing Auto’s hand was left there once she’d withdrawn from total control of his body.
Favorite fireside chat …
You know there really don’t seem to be as many as I would have thought! A lot of good chats are had poolside, riverside, wounded soldier-side, rail-of-the-ship-side, behind-the-barn-side, in a barn, in a cave, in a prison cell, or while walking off into the distance, paddling a canoe, giving/receiving a massage, or (of course) bathing each other in a tub. (All claims to the contrary, Xena does do the sensitive chats! At least with Gabrielle!) And sometimes when it seems the chats could or even SHOULD have been fireside (i.e., it’s night and Our Girls are done with the day’s work and the scene is a little epilogue of sorts) or that they should definitely count as Fireside Chats because they take place in camp (or in a night’s lodgings) and in some cases also serve as epilogues, there’s no actual fire: Take as examples the final scene of “Many Happy Returns” and the stargazing scene at the end of “A Day in the Life.”
So I chose a Favorite Should-Have-Been-a-Fireside-Chat Chat, too.
Final Scene of “The Quest”: There’s no fire, but Xena is sharpening her sword, and that counts, right?? ;-) Sword sharpening can be a metonym for a fireside chat! After all, in fanfic, you rarely have one without the other, so the sharpening of the sword is an intrinsic part of the whole that is the fireside chat.
G: “Xena.” X: “Yeah.” G: “Promise me that you’ll never die on me again.” X: “Oh, I promise.” G: “You know, for a few moments, I knew what it was like to be you.” X: “And?” G: “It was warm, friendly, loving--” X: “Gabrielle, it was a fight.” G: “I felt protected. The world needs people like that-- right?” X: “Right.”
I really love that moment when Xena pauses—freezes—in her sharpening and looks over at Gabrielle as she says, “And?” She looks as if she’s not sure she wants to hear what Gabrielle has to say about what it’s like to be her. She seems almost afraid to know. I interpret this as a manifestation of Xena’s belief that she’s at essence a bad person, somehow evil. What a wonderful bit of continuity Lucy brought in with this most subtle bit of acting!
But of course, Gabrielle (who at this point is still the rightful Gabrielle, the one who always saw the good in Xena even when Xena herself couldn’t) found the experience purely positive. (Also cute—and rather suggestive—is the way Gabrielle glances away, brows rising, and bites her lip before she answers.)
And I love the subtext implications of her answer: Xena’s spirit in her body was “warm, friendly, loving”—even during a fight—because Xena loves her. Xena certainly wasn’t feeling all warm and fuzzy toward Velasca, right? Those feelings were for the woman for whom she was going to great lengths to come back from the dead. (Note the way Gabrielle leans in and ducks her chin as she adds the final descriptor: she’s sending more of a message than her words alone say. Meanwhile, just because it’s fun, watch Xena’s face go from blank—braced for a blow—to puzzled.)
This exchange then can serve as the resolution to the kiss in the dreamscape that they otherwise never really talk about or acknowledge in any way. In this scene, Gabrielle is acknowledging that she knows Xena loves her, just as Xena knows Gabrielle’s feelings, having been privy to them while she was dead and—then—from the inside out when she borrowed Gab’s body. It’s this unspoken knowledge that underlies Xena stopping Gabrielle from telling her she loves her in the dreamscape: “Gabrielle. You don’t have to say a word,” she interrupts. Gabrielle doesn’t have to say it because Xena already knows. And it’s Gabrielle’s unspoken knowledge that, when Xena says her name upon returning to life, must cause Gabrielle to respond, “I know.” What else, in responding to that warm caress of her name, could she possibly mean that she knows? 8-)
I also really like Xena’s response—“Gabrielle, it was a fight!” It’s classic Xena. It hearkens back to her comment when Gabrielle is simultaneously greeting her joyously and haranguing her for dying in “The Greater Good”: “Gabrielle, we’re in the middle of a fight.” I adore that scene.
Gabrielle isn’t going to be put off this time, though. She tells Xena she “felt protected.” Awwww. This is how they say I-love-you without saying it at this point in the series! And of course, that statement makes Xena abandon both a blank expression and a frown of puzzlement and smile. Her smile grows as Gabrielle continues …
I’m very fond of this final exchange as well. Even on the surface, these lines are about Xena’s reason for returning from the dead; on the surface, Gabrielle implies she’s glad Xena came back because the world needs her. (And that’s not as impersonal as it may sound; Gabrielle is playing her self-assigned role of convincing Xena that she’s a good person.)
But there’s more to the exchange. If you recall, Xena’s death was constructed as her choice, as her giving up because—faced with all the harm she’d done—she felt the world would be better off without her. And it was Gabrielle’s need, not the needs of the world, that called her back, that made her suddenly say, “I’ve go to go back,” at the end of “Destiny.”
Really, then, they are saying something quite beyond what they actually say in this “Quest” scene. On the one hand, Gabrielle sort of gives Xena a stoic-warrior-face-saving out, but on the other, she’s fishing (grin): It’s as if she’s saying, “It was the noble but impersonal need to help make the world a better place that drove you to return from the dead—RIGHT?” … all the time, believing that it was her.
The way Xena says, “Right,” in response confirms not what Gabrielle has said but what she believes. The tone of Xena’s voice is ironic. (It’s almost the same tone she gave the word when she was agreeing with Gabrielle that their next mission would be dealing with “Medusa … you know, the one with snakes all over her head” so they can get rid of Joxer at the end of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”) It’s Xena’s way of saying that Gabrielle’s statement is, on its surface, not at all true. She might as well have said, “Yeah, it was the world I came back for. Yeah right!” And by denying that statement, she confirms Gabrielle’s belief that it was Gabrielle she came back for. And look at those smiles! Just as the camera pulls up and away, we get an even bigger smile from Gabrielle. She’s pleased as punch about something.
Of course, there’s also the cuddling. Gabrielle has had her arm around Xena throughout this scene, hugging her closer when what she is saying is especially important. Then, once Xena confirms what Gabrielle suspects, she snuggles up to Xena, resting her head on her shoulder. Xena’s smile grows in response. And just before she goes back to sharpening her sword, Xena leans into Gabrielle for a moment. Aw.
It we wanted to get REALLY literary about it, we might look at the sword as a phallic symbol and, by extension, as a general sexual symbol and ask why Xena is preparing her sword during this scene, what she’s going to be needing it for later tonight. ;-)
Favorite Fireside Chat: Final Scene of “Legacy”:
Technically, there’s a fire. ;-)
G: “For a while there, I didn’t think the day would end so well.”
X: “Neither did I.”
G: “Hm-m-m— you saved me today, Xena, against the greater good. Why? Isn’t that what we’ve been fighting for?”
X: “Gabrielle, in everyone’s life, there’s something that goes beyond the greater good. That’s what you are in my life. I wasn’t about to let you die out there if there was something I could do about it.”
G: “What if it was my choice?”
X: “Especially if it was your choice.”
I love this chat because it’s the moment when we know Xena’s priorities have done a full realignment. She’s the one who espoused the idea that the greater good was more important than personal interest waaay back in S1’s “The Greater Good.” Of course, the ‘personal interest’ she was thinking of then was whether she lived or died. (Personally, I don’t think Xena was ever all that concerned with that one—she had far too much remorse, far too dark a view of herself, to value her own life very highly. At least, I don’t think she was concerned with it until she came to love Gabrielle so much that leaving her, even in death, even knowing they would be reunited in later lives, was unthinkable.)
When the ‘personal interest’ was Gabrielle’s life, it was a different story. In “One Against an Army,” Xena wants to throw Greece to the wolves (in the form of the Persian army) so she can get the antidote Gabrielle needs to survive that poisoned arrow. TWICE she’s in the process of abandoning the upcoming battle and taking Gabrielle to a place she can get her help. TWICE Gabrielle talks her into staying and doing her duty to the greater good.
In the first conversation, there are these lines:
G: "The first thing is the greater good--you taught me that. You taught me that there are things in life worth dying for--
things that hold a higher meaning than our own existence." X: "Not your existence." G: "Why? 'Cause I'm your friend?" X: "Yes!"
Even then, Xena excluded Gabrielle from inclusion in those personal interests that are less important than the greater good.
In the second conversation, Xena has this to say:
"I'm done paying for my past mistakes. My responsibility now is you."
Oh how I wish that first part had been true! But Xena went on to willingly pay and pay and pay …
(And it’s interesting to note that, for Xena, apparently the point of serving the greater good is making up for her past; it’s not that serving the greater good is an end in itself. No. It’s penance.)
Still, despite her attitude on that day, Gabrielle talks her around to staying and fighting, even if it means that Gabrielle will die. (Though it should be noted that it seems that if Gabrielle had died, Xena had every intention of joining her in death immediately after.)
By “Legacy,” Xena’s not having any of that. ::grin:: She doesn’t merely abandon serving the greater good for Gabrielle in “Legacy”; she actively undermines it, betraying the Good Guys to the Bad Guys (the hated Romans, no less! There’s no group of people Xena hates more than Romans) to create a distraction so she can rescue Gabrielle from what would have been a just execution.
Now I love Xena, Warrior for Good, but I love even more the Xena who loves Gabrielle so much that, if it comes down to the greater good or Gabrielle, she’ll say to hell with the greater good!
And it’s a nice parallel to the fact that in this same episode Gabrielle has—if unintentionally—killed a perfectly innocent boy to protect Xena. (Oh, the killing was intentional—it was the “perfectly innocent” part she didn’t intend.) In “Abyss,” speaking of that event, Xena will tell Gabrielle …well, let’s look at the whole conversation:
G: "Xena, if I had listened to my heart--do you think that boy would still be alive?" X: "You did listen to your heart. You thought he was going to kill me. Your heart said to protect me. Anyway--a trained warrior would never have ridden up behind me knowing it could have been perceived as an attack." G: "Are you saying that he sent a boy to do a man's job?" X: "I'm saying I'm glad I can trust you with my life
Xena recognizes that just as, out of love for her, she will defend Gabrielle, no matter what, Gabrielle will do the same for her, out of that same love. And by the end of “Abyss,” Gabrielle has come to the decision that, if the cause is protecting Xena, she can accept even such collateral damage as killing an innocent.
Their love, rather than the greater good, has become the most important thing to each of them. Considering the whole show is about them fighting for good … Wow. Just wow.
One would think, then, that at this point, by “Legacy,” Xena is finally—really—done paying for her past mistakes. But then TPTB threw all that character development and progress in her personal journey right out the window in FiN. Sigh.