(Part 2 of 2)
In the steps of Two Warriors (cont.):
What an awful death.
The skies filled with raining arrows had my heart in my throat. Such an awesome visual. But what, in heavens name, was Xena doing strutting around from tree to tree with no actual plan at all in evidence?
If the plan was to die - she could have done it a whole lot more efficiently than this. After all, she needs only be a ghost to take on the ghost killer. No fineprint I read says she had to die a warriors death. And it didnt bug her not going down with her boots on in Haunting of Amphipolis to go see the Lord of the Underworld. She was perfectly fine with a neckpinch "death" then thank you very much.
Here, for some reason, she does want to die with her boots on... and I really wish shed reconsidered. (Im sure Gabrielle does, too.)
So Ill go with the theory that she figured, if I have to die, I may as well take out as many of Yodoshis army in the process. Well if thats what her idea was, she usually plans things a bit better than wandering aimlessly around clearings as arrows rain down upon her. She looked absurdly amateur -- especially for one who faced an army of 10,000 and turned them all into stone without a scratch; and who turned back the whole advance army of Persia by fighting them to a standstill.
And here she kills perhaps 20 people, even while wielding some sort of super sword, and ambles around begging to become a pincushion. She looked negligent! I dont want Xena to die a stupid death, even if her intent is to die. If they had to have her die in battle, I wanted her to be fighting to the end, valiantly, superhumanly, ferociously, trying everything she possibly could to avoid being the easy target, before finally succumbing. The way she went down, awful as it was, horrible as it was, apart from some token effort at the end, it seemed like she may as well have just painted a target on her chest and be done with it.
And then the final, precise moment of death was just... blegh. She had more fight in her, weve seen it before... hell, the fire-dousing scene at the village went for longer.... and suddenly she just stops, seems to give up and waits for the blow that severs her head from her shoulders. Charming. I was really bothered by that.
I did like that her last thoughts were of Gabrielle. It was obvious but so very right.
Poor Gabrielle. Alone, she finds Xenas bloodied chakram and is disturbed beyond belief. If only Xena had confided in her, the bard would have hightailed it straight over to the teahouse and be waiting for Xena, instead of stomping through a bloody, gory battlefield looking for her soulmate. So unfair on her...
But it gets worse. Xena gets whipped and stripped by Yodoshi until shes suitably subservient. Great. At least the demon ghost didnt haul her to her feet and give her the leering once over the way Ares used to. Thank heavens for small mercies. But I was wondering if she could be any further defiled in this script... and I found I really didnt want to know the answer.
Ghost Xena then meets Gabrielle. I almost wept when Gabrielle cut through Xenas pathetic excuses like "its complicated" and, in a wounded, strangled voice squeaks out: "Youre dead?!" The shock and betrayal are plain for all to see.
"How could you let yourself be killed?" she then asks. Theres the anger. The anger at not being consulted. We feel it too, because this story is now coming from Gabrielles perspective. Notice how Xena always speaks faster when shes done wrong by Gabrielle? She does it here, too - like shes trying to rush in with all her excuses before the bard blows her top.
And Gabrielle would be more than justified. Xenas line "Weve overcome death before" is a huge joke. Theres no WE in any of this. Xenas made the damned decision and she just enacted it without even talking to Gabrielle.
Meanwhile, just because death has become another commodity to be bartered on this show, (i.e. do this and you get your body back, do that and you dont) and to some extent this and the number of times people have died and returned has lessened the value of it, does not mean we feel less afraid for our heroes when they are in the state of, well, deadness. So we feel furious at Xena at putting the bard through this with only a rushed explanation after the fact.
"Youre my whole life, Xena, I wont lose you," the bard says - a plea in her voice.
"You wont lose me," Xena replies. That sounded like a promise to me.
Then followed the scene I was most intrigued to see: Akemi meets Gabrielle - two poets; one broke Xenas heart; the other is introduced as her soul mate. If thats not the classic meeting of the present girlfriend with the ex-girlfriend, I dont know what is. *g*
I did wonder how Gabrielle would react. Someone like Gabrielle who loves Xena might be angry upon hearing the story of how Xena had been forced into a corner to kill Akemi and all the things that followed because of the younger woman's scheming. But all things considered, Gabrielle has a whole lot more on her plate to worry about than harping back 41 or so years. Of course had she met her AFTER Xena had stayed dead, Gabrielle might have had more than a few dark and stormy scowls to add to the conversation.
I notice Akemis gift was one that cost Gabrielle the only thing she had in incredibly short supply: time. And it ultimately cost her Xena. Think about it ... a tattoo like that would take a half day minimum to complete - it was on her whole back and at least one leg.
As things turned out, Gabrielle, the demon ghost and Xena all get to Mt Fuji at about the same time. If Gabrielle had not stopped for Akemis body art, she would have been to Mt Fuji at least four hours before the demon, and would have already poured the ashes in the fountain. Xena would be mortal and have had no chance to tell her not to do it.
So once again Akemi, well meaning though she is each time she intervenes, has now cost Gabrielle and Xena their lives together.
On the other hand, Yodoshi would still be alive and Xena could well have tried to do the whole thing all over again. I dont think many fans would have had the stomach to see Xena deliberately die three times in the same episode...
Now Gabrielle is after Xenas body. Alone. Xena doesnt thoughtfully send the monk or any other friendly ghosts with her or even any helpful villagers. Another reason to be a little put out by Xenas thoughtlessness at this point. Gabrielle finds her body all right. And at this point I think Alfred Hitchcock would laugh himself silly at Tapert & Co.
Theres so much you can imply that can be scarier without showing it. One of Hitchcocks scariest movies, Psycho, is little more than tricks with shadows for most of it. Imagine if Gabrielle had suddenly stopped dead and we see only her reaction, followed by that awful gagging and a strangled cry: GIVE...ME...HER...HEAD.
Subtlety is a virtue the Xenabods generally dont have much truck with, mores the pity. So now we all have in our minds the oh-so-uncharming image of Xenas headless torso, soon to be followed by the vision of her severed head. Just lovely.
It may not be gross to folks whose whole adult film lives have been spent making horror pictures, but pity the rest of us. That was uncalled for, unnecessary and not even good TV. In sum: it sucked.
But back to Gabrielle. Renee was acting her socks off and I loved it - she rose to the occasion the whole episode and these scenes were among her finest. It was like as Lucy got tireder and tireder (her stunts and action sequences were utterly gruelling), Renee got stronger and stronger...
The slow waltz around the samurai was a lovely piece of shooting and although I wondered where her sword and her prowess with it came from, I forgave them this trespass. I liked the way she disarmed him so quickly, the moment proving two things one, Xena obviously let herself be killed if Gabrielle can take this guy down so quickly. Two, Gabrielle is more and more the anointed warrior successor of Xena - she can handle herself even with a fabled samurai.
Good scene, great scene in fact, but why, oh why, cant they work dubbing into their budget? That samurais accent was atrocious. It not only drew attention to the moment but ruined the preceding one for me. And they got this guy to kill Xena? Groan...
I loved that wicked slash Gabrielle makes at the air with her sword after shes knocked him over - a way to express her rage at him without saying a word. Its the only sign of emotion she shows in front of the others. So classy.
I think there was nothing quite so sad as the sight of Gabrielle wrapping up Xenas body, in two pieces, in the rain, as the samurais bowed their heads in respect for the warrior Gabrielle is. Again, I was getting more and more disappointed in Xena that shed put her soulmate through this incredibly devastating moment. Seriously, if Xena did not have to die in battle, she could have at least done it another way to spare Gabrielle this awful, gut-wrenching, sickening process. Talk about thoughtless, Xena.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have an unnecessarily bloody encounter with Yodoshi, who punctuates his evilness by severing the head of the monk. Did we NEED to see the spraying arc of blood?
Frankly, the concentration on the special effects, like the cool Terminator 2-esque resurrection of Yodoshi, in no way makes up for the plot problems or over-the-top suffering being heaped on Xena and Gabrielle. But I can just imagine at this point TPTB sitting back and going "WOW, that was so cool, howdja get the monks head to come off like that?" and "howd you manage the Xena body hanging trick?!"
Clueless wonders at times... sigh.
All right, so now were at the big finale - everyone whos anyone, plus one pissed New Zealand samurai, is now on Mt Fuji. Gabrielle gets rid of him quickly again - he's the only guy I know who'll be miserable to yet again wake up with his head still on.
You know, for the Big Finish, I was surprisingly disinterested in what the demon ghost and Xena were up to. My whole sole attention was now on Gabrielle, her little urn quest and her not falling off the cliff. Again I come back to the argument we are so into her emotions that shes our main focus.
Anyway, when she finally comes to Xena with water in her mouth - or at least appears to, seeing the actresses arent going to be spitting water all over each other (real pleasant that would have been), I was totally feeling for her and wondering what she was thinking. So when she latched onto Xenas top lip as a, er, novel method of water transference, I thought, oh okay, thats what shes thinking. *g* Not too many people go sucking on the upper lip when the plan is to get water in the mouth. smile.
Anyway, jokes aside, it was really a tender, lovely moment... a whole lotta love coming there from the bard, and she really isnt wanting Xena to be dying on her without her showing how much she loves her - again. And I think she needs this as much for herself as she wants to help Xena. At this point shed be terrified Xena might stay dead, and she is just needing the touch to reassure her.
Okay did we all notice Xena's costume change? From her robes into the old Xena kit. Some people might be going, what gives with that? She didn't die in that outfit or anything, why's she in it now?
I figure it works like this - when she was under Yodoshi's control, he 'dressed' her the way he wanted her, so how we saw her was his mental projection. And while he had her under his thumb, she couldn't beat him either -- hence how he got out of the tea house alive. Now, with the Fountain of Strength's water in her, she is her own woman, and mentally projects what she wants which would be her old leathers. She's still a ghost and that's not her real outfit, which is still three feet under somewhere.
(Hmmm. I do hope Gabs goes back and digs that up...)
I found to my surprise, despite how much I was intrigued by Akemi in part one, I didnt really care what happened to her in the end. She did use Xena every step of the way, no matter how good her intentions, and she ultimately tricked Xena into dying, knowing full well she wouldn't be able to resurrect herself, without telling her this rather vital piece of information.
Would it have mattered if shed told her upfront it was a one-way ticket? I don't know, possibly not, but it still wasn't very nice. So when Yodoshi finally swallowed her I just thought, "eh, whatever..."
Xena finally killing Yodoshi was so inevitable that I didnt really get into the sword fight. In fact it seemed to drag on - hardly interesting when two fighters are so evenly matched they just stand there and hit each others swords for a bit.
Gabrielle meanwhile is valiantly risking her life by shimmying down a cliff to save those ashes - and yet Xena knows thats all in vain. If ever theres a moral to the story, its that a bit of communication ahead of time would have saved all this angst at the end.
Anyway, Yodoshi dies - pooffff - and frankly at this point I JUST DONT CARE ANY MORE. He could start up work in a fastfood drive-thru devillishly trying to get people to upsize all their orders and I doubt Id give a flying fig.
I did care about Xenas and Gabrielles big last moment together.
That scene - that awful, sad, shocking scene where Xena stays Gabrielles hand, just as shes about to pour the ashes in. Heres me, a grown woman, wanting to scream at the TV "Throw them in, throw them in...quickly, hurry, shes stopping you!!!"
Oh god. The look on Gabrielles face when she realises Xena is serious... that shes not wanting her to go through with this.... so, so, brilliantly, achingly, well-acted by Renee. There were little subtle things going on there. Like, in all my time in front of the Xenaverse hearth, I have never seen the bard turn her back on Xena during one of their moments together. Here she does so because she is so overcome with emotion. Her heart was simply breaking. The injustice of it all.
Many fans by this point were starting to feel like their emotions had just been played like a cheap violin. NOW they change the rules of the race? Nowhere at all before was there any HINT that Xena wouldn't be able to go back at all. That bites big time.
Its inconsistent, a blatant ambush and smacks of a fairly crappy plot contrivance. Like a last minute rewrite: "quick, can we add a line to kill her for good?"
It also really, really bothered me that Xena didn't seem as broken up about this as Gabrielle. She didn't seem nearly as bothered... maybe she was just trying to convince her it was for the best and this was Xena acting, but up until now you'd have had to drag Xena kicking and screaming away to part her from Gabrielle. Here, she seems almost itching to hurry up and go join the ghosts. She's sorry, but, y'know how it is Gabs, greater good and all that...
Her seeming lack of real depth of feeling here and empathy for the poor bard left behind made me think: "Okay lady, who are you and where have you stashed the real Xena?"
And that annoying as all hell, holier-than-thou, greater goodism, me-so-noble from Xena, in the face of Gabrielle's breaking heart and stricken, devastated, shattered response, sure didn't help...
Which brings me to a rather unsavoury theme of this show:
Vengeance: a Dish Best Served Cold:
Okay, so lets look at this plotline logically for a moment. Xena has done the people who beset her and harmed her a huge favour by getting herself killed, in an attempt to free them from a demon ghost. She then kills the demon ghost. She doesnt have to do this -- they ended up there through their own damned hatred, pettiness, superstition and foolishness. But she does it anyway. Cos thats our Xena.
And now they ask her for a new favour, the biggest of all - that she kill herself for good, so that they may be avenged. Look at the word avenged. Its a horrible hateful word, a word that revolves around the word revenge. It implies a huge wrong that must be righted by doing equally hateful things.
Firstly, Xena committed no huge wrong. Secondly, she has more than done right by them, when she didnt have to. Thirdly, it is wrong, wrong, wrong for her to put love second behind vengeance. So how can it be the greater thing to endorse, aid and abet a belief that hatefully requires a pound of her flesh - an eye for an eye if you will - at the expense of the greater goodness that is love? Especially when she saved them from swanning about Yodoshis lower intestines. These two things - the mistake she made and the good she just did should cancel each other at the very least. But oh no, these unforgiving ghosts demand more from her still.
Frankly she should be refusing on moral grounds to avenge anything. She should say "vengeance is not the answer. Love is. And I will continue to live my life doing good for others, helping the weak, and sharing the love around; rather than sacrificing myself for the negative, self-defeating concept of avenging a wrong I never intentionally committed."
Xena has paid her dues to them. In spades. To ask more of her was wrong. For her to do it was wrong. And someone should have stood up for her, and defended till they were blue in the face the love she has to offer and her good, redeeming life helping others. If not Xena, then Gabrielle.
However, Gabrielle loves Xena so much she cant deny her her need to do the right thing, so she will allow Xena this awful thing, for Xenas sake. Make no mistake, shes not happy at all about this. Gabrielles doing it only because Xena wants it and has her believing the greater good thing.
Xena seems to be blindly following Akemis demands -- which is a bit disturbing given the woman's track record on manipulation as recently as a few hours ago -- and won't step back and question the rightness of doing this. Or whether there might be other options. Xena has gotten out of worse pickles than this. Yet now, here, she just rolls over and takes it because Akemi uses the greater good argument.
Gabrielle would be feeling abandoned at this point. Abandoned by the woman she loves, whom the bard has frequently said she cant live without and who means everything to her. Xena, incidentally, has said all these things right back at her over the years, but when push comes to shove, right now has chosen something else over her soul mate...
Regardless of what her brain might tell her, emotionally Gabrielle would probably also feel betrayed and angry. And that, not surprisingly, is where many fans are at too, feeling it very much from her perspective.
But there was a one good thing that came out of all this for Xena, right? Apart from warm fuzzies she seemed to be getting for doing the "right" thing as she sees it... Seems she got that little old redemption ticket she was a-hankering for since day one.
Well is that so...
Allow me to deepen my surly frown for a moment...
How does one become redeemed, anyway?
Was Akemi right? Was Xena redeemed in the end?
The redemption idea could work as a concept if her mistakes have a fix. But at what point do you call a 10-year bloody reign of terror redeemed? When shes saved the lives of 100 people? 500? A thousand? 10,000?
Actually it seems the magic number, not unlike the frequent flier points scheme, is 40,000. Save 40,000 lives and you get redeemed for your past misdeeds and a free trip to Hawaii. Oops, sorry. No free trip. But you do get redeemed.
How do we know this? Oh, some dead girl will float by and essentially say: "Congratulations Xena! You are NOW redeemed!" (Insert happy winner music)
If this seems a little like horse manure to you, it is. Redemption just doesnt work like that. Far as I can tell, there are two ways to get redemption: one, by dedicating your life to right and righting your wrongs - the ongoing act alone is redemption; and two, by believing yourself redeemed.
The former, trying to do good is what Xenas path has been from day one of this show. Every day when she resisted the urges and dark forces with her to stray, often with Gabrielles help, was another day she had redeemed herself. From the moment she turned, she was a force of good in the universe, and thus redeemed. Of course she doesnt really see that herself, which leads me to point two:
You are redeemed when you think you are. This relates to a concept tackled in the film The Mission. A priest is being punished by hauling an incredibly heavy burden up a sheer cliff face. Over and over he does that, even when he is bruised, battered and bloodied. Someone asks when his punishment will be complete. The reply is when he thinks it is. You see, he chose the punishment for himself in the first place.
And thats pretty much the thing with Xena. She could do a thousand good deeds and have many people say, "wow, you sure redeemed yourself Warrior Princess". But until she believes it herself, she wouldnt believe a word of it from anyone else and would continue to punish herself with guilt. A person like Xena was unlikely to ever forgive herself, and such a form of instant redemption (just add water) seems highly implausible.
Yet shell believe Akemi saying "Youre now redeemed"?!
Whos she to judge anyway? Who appointed her god? Its between Xena and her maker whether shes redeemed.
Still, judging by the beatific grin on Xenas face (which also bugged me -- Gabs suffers, and she looks happy?!), Ill go with the theory she is redeemed because, ala The Mission, she chooses to now believe she is. All she really wanted all these years was someone other-worldly like Akemi to say it was so. Or maybe, because she has given up the thing she loved most, Gabrielle, she figured the price was so damned high, she had to have been redeemed by the action. Now that sounds like Xena to me.
I notice TPTB have referred to redemption being very important in this episode, essentially declaring it was what Xena has always wanted and, by receiving it at last, the show has gone full circle. They are taking that as a given. However I dont accept that at face value.
What is the focus of Xena? The Warrior Princess, and the show?
If youd asked me at the end of season one or two, Id have agreed with them and said redemption, perhaps with the help of her tagalong friend Gabrielle, keeping her on the straight and narrow.
Then it changed. At season threes end Id have said the focus was Xena and Gabrielle working out their troubled relationship in light of Solans death and the birth and "death" of Hope.
At season 4 and part of season 5, it morphed again, this time it was Gabrielles journey -- were they on the right path? It became about finding the path that they could walk in tandem but was still true to themselves.
At the end of season 5 it was such a dogs breakfast it had no point at all apart from flying about from country to country, sticking their big noses helpfully into other peoples myths and business.
At the start of season 6, it was about the Xena and Gabrielle relationship again - this time the subtext was becoming maintext, and it all seemed to be about the love they had for each other, and walking their path together, no matter what the timeline.
And at the end of season 6? The last episode of them all? Xenas individual redemption, were told. Emphasis on individual.
Excuse me while I go HUH?
This ending might have suited a season 1 or 2 finale when Xenas at her most vehement and focused about righting the wrongs and fixing the bads in her immediate past. It might have been really poignant, poetic and full circle back then, if she had gone down fighting to save the souls of say, Callistos village, who died that day when she sacked the town.
In fact it might have made (marginally) more sense if it was GABRIELLE who had done what Xena did here, seeing that, of the two of them, hers was the character who most recently was feeling guilty and distraught about taking lives and killing in error.
I just use that above example to highlight the silliness of this redemption theme resurfacing now. For at least two seasons, possibly more, Xena's redemption wasnt even close to the main thrust of the show. It was a small thread, and, if present at all, always involved her love for Gabrielle being the thing keeping her honest. The "where she goes, I go" philosophy. Definitely not the "lone warrior seeks a personal redemption without consulting her partner of a quarter of a lifetime".
But now were suddenly back to season one and two mindset/focus where the most important thing in Xenas life is fixing her mistakes. And independently at that. This seems a convenient writing ploy to force the show, which has already evolved well beyond its original concept, to go "full circle".
Frankly Id argue their idea of going full circle is more like going figure 8.
I genuinely got the sense by Season 6 that Xena was at enough peace with herself to stop guiltily flinging herself at town magistrates, virtually begging to be locked up for her misdeeds, ala Locked Up Tied Down, and was instead going with the theory that actions are more useful than doing hard labour or death. She could do far more good in the redemption stakes, alive, with her sword, than she ever could doing the ghostly watoozi with Akemi for infinity in a pretty red frock.
I really got the feeling Xena was more settled with herself, that, if not entirely redeemed in her mind, was no longer getting angsty about it. And I had rather thought Xena was happy, possibly even at peace of sorts . She sure looked it in Many Happy Returns. She had a woman she clearly loved at her side, was able to look in the metaphoric mirror every day without a sense of loathing, and she was feeling proud of herself once more.
But now, according to TPTB slant on it, it appears that was all a mistake -- and all this time the redemption thing was the focus of the show. It was actually about Xena only, after all and how she feels.
What about what Gabrielle feels? What about the two of them as an unbreakable team?
Irrelevant. Redemption mattered more than anything else. Gabrielle is not even in the equation. And so when TPTB call that full circle, my brows knit in confusion for I cant see it. Thats only full circle four seasons back. Now its just out of place, out of time and out of sync with who our characters have become and what drives them on now.
Not to forget one other thing: If this episode was only about Xenas redemption, as TPTB are forever saying -- then this would be a highly selfish choice on Xenas part and it colours the ending dramatically. Not noble in the least. Selfish. She would choose her own interests (easing a guilty conscience) over Gabrielle.
If this was really the motivater, it also makes it a very out-of-character choice because she has spent an inordinate amount of time in past episodes doing things because of her love for Gabrielle. She has leapt after her down pits, followed her to the ends of the earth, and even vowed, in One Against The Army, that the greater good doesnt matter to her any more, that Gabrielle is all that matters.
And now here TPTB are implying this redemption and fixing her mistakes is more important to her than her love for Gabrielle. And then the Warrior Princess even blames her for it, telling her that shes learnt that from Gabrielle! Ouch.
Actually I don't think Xena did do this self sacrificing act to be redeemed, she did mean it in a noble way. But the results are still the same: Gabs left alone; Gabs out of the loop; and if this show has gone full circle at all, then its only in the way Gabrielle is being treated as the bystander again.
But Was it The Smart Thing To Do?
Xena really did think she was doing the right thing. Its highly unlikely she did it for the redemption side -- that was a bonus -- and her actions could probably be considered noble (small comfort for her bard). But were her actions also the smart thing to do?
If someone tells you you can release 40,000 souls from purgatory just by staying dead, you might think, if you were a Xena-minded individual, hey, thats a pretty fair swap. And if you also had even a small hand in their dying, you might think "all righty, lets do it. Sign me up for Mr Reaper."
I argue theres two mistakes made here:
One, Xena was in error in thinking she could do more good dead than alive. Who knows how many more tens of thousands she could save before she was old and grey. More than 40,000? Its more than possible. Just ask the Persians and the Chinese. She has done incredible things in the past few years alone. What course of human history she might have changed for the better? Well never know.
This death was an appalling waste. It reminds me of the virgin being sacrificed in Many Happy Returns. Why was she being tossed off the cliff, despite how inhumane it seemed? Those were the rules.
Why did Xena have to die despite having saved 40,000 souls from being trapped in Yodoshi? Vengeance must be served. Those are the rules.
Stupid rules in each case. And a bad rule does not deserve to be obeyed...
It was up to someone to point that out and no one did. To replace a good (her life - and all those years ahead of good deeds) with a bad (vengeance) is morally and logically wrong.
And if thats the point of Xena, the grand finale weve all been building towards - that love is not the greatest power, vengeance is, then what a pathetic message to take away.
Second mistake: It may seem small but its important to us. Let's not forget Xena now has not redeemed herself with Gabrielle. To me that's something you cannot forget. The pain she has caused her soulmate will be horrific and it will last her forever. Xena swapped 40,000 souls for Gabrielle's anguish.
And what if she was never meant to do that at all? What if, like every other timeline, she was actually meant to be with Gabrielle... How would she know? She just tossed it all away...and never really looked at it critically or tried to find another option. Now THATS dumb.
Besides, we dont care:
And lastly, this was not a fair deal to many of the fans, because as Gabrielle so beautifully summed up: "I don't care."
Personally I really don't. I could never care for the people who burned to death because of their own hateful stupidity -- besetting a poor shattered woman like that -- as much as I could care for a bard I have followed around for six seasons. Six seasons of seeing her morph from a Laura Ingles-dressing, comic clutz turned bard, into a beautiful, powerful warrior in her own right.
And its a pretty brave writer who will end a show with Xena sacrificing the thing we do care about (Gabrielle) for the thing we dont. Actually was that brave or just stupid? I am losing track with all the stupidity flying around this episode...
The Ghost and Gabrielle:
Which brings me to the final scene, of Gabrielle on the boat. It disturbs me greatly. There she is, rabbiting on like some mad woman to a partner whos not even there. And can you just imagine her, years down the track, trying to find love with someone else, if she can still see the ghost of Xena? See thats the thing here: Xena tells her shell always be with her; but that means Gabrielle cant be with anyone else, by default... It seems very wrong.
Also, Gabrielle should not be smiling at all. The most appalling things have just happened to her and shes now lost the physical presence and comfort of her soulmate of many years. Gone. No more eels in bedrolls, dunkings in lakes, dribble cups and fishing, kite flyings, and hugs. Nothing. They give us this image of ghost Xena because it comforts people to think the dead are still with us... it's a nice thought, but the person left behind is still alone, whatever Xena says, no matter how they dress it up. And Xena left her that way.
Gabrielle would be devastated.
To instead show this all as some happy Disney ending of smiles all round is just ridiculous. How dumb do they think we are? How un-real and inhuman are these characters that such travesty should intersect with their lives and they dont even mourn?! That makes this episode like Saving Private Ryan with a tacked-on Brady Bunch ending. Creepy, man.
Appalled is what I was. The ending scene was so very wrong given what had just transpired.
I always felt all was right with the universe as long as Xena was with Gabrielle. Now the universe feels wrong no matter how they want to dress up their pony. They are NOT together. Gabrielle was alone on that boat and talking to thin air like a lunatic. Thats a fact. Sorry, I know it hurts, but thats what is.
And the Verdict Is...
Well, to sum up this epic, despite it all, there was actually a lot to like about the finale -- the scenery was stunning, the camera work sweet, costumes over the top but all eye-openers, special effects - well, there went the budget... and music was pretty cool.
The humour was great in places - Xena the teacher, hilarious. The acting was brilliant -- it was Renees day for sure, but Lucy gave it her all as well. You can almost see their exhaustion etched on their faces however. It must have been a really tough shoot. Youd have to really thank them for doing this gruelling job for so long for us.
(I did think it'd have been nice to farewell Argo II as well, but I guess she was out to pasture and enjoying the flowers...Shes earned em.)
The finales concept, well, thats where we get into problems. For starters, you cant really run around and change everything that the fans know about the show in the last act and not expect people to find it a little too much. Theyre in a different country, with different customs, different costumes, different people, different skills (Xena the archer, Gabs the swordsmith, whip wrangler and chakram hurler) and, heres the big one, different focus. Redemption and finding forgiveness for past sins instead of Xena and Gabrielle taking on the world together. Again I say, that was season one and two, by season 6, theyd moved on and it was more like a dull hum in the background.
The bad things about the finale were at times so small but so annoying -- not dubbing Xenas killer; not consulting Gabrielle (so disrespectful); doing Xena up like a two-bit hooker when Akemi dies (so weird); showing too much gore especially relating to Xena; and changing the rules mid-stream about resurrection.
The latter point, arggh, the whole thing was an absolute contrivance, almost as if Tapert and co were thumbing their noses at the universe (and, by default, the fans) by giving something unorthodox as an ending. Because they could, dammit. Because their peers might respect them their unconventionality or something. But by using us to compile their CV show for Hollywood, they stole from us. We werent asking for much -- our favourite characters together in the end. But they used the fans emotions, played them for all they were worth, and then seemed to smirk a little when many fans appeared to be getting in a tizzy over what was to them just a mere TV show.
Well they cant have it both ways - either its just a silly TV show, then dont bother yanking our strings and referring to a vision; or its a dramatic piece of artistry, in which case, realise that if you dramatically hurt someone we have loved for six years we will not be happily praising said "vision" and declaring it high art.
And Lastly, To Those People...
To those who think this ending was noble -- I think noble is in the eye of the beholder. To me, being beaten, stripped and beheaded isnt noble. It's a tragic misuse of a character we loved. Vengeance isnt noble. It's sick. Abandoning Gabrielle isnt noble. It's utterly sad.
To those who think it was full circle, I say check the date. It hasnt been so narrowly focused on redemption since the start of the show, and surprise, surprise, the show and characters metamorphosed into something else along the way that moved it beyond that simple original precept.
To those who think "It was Rob Taperts creation and his vision to do with what he pleases". True, although, see the first part of this review for my views on his "vision". However, just because he created the show doesnt mean he automatically deserves respect, and I do get the feeling he expects that from us. To me, thats like saying all children must respect their parents because they gave them life.
Respect is earned, not granted by mere virtue of parenthood. Some parents dont deserve respect if they abuse a child or hurt it. Id argue his finale hurt many fans and misused his characters appallingly. So why should he automatically be granted respect for misusing a really great thing he breathed life into six years ago?
For those who say "This is just a TV show, get over it already". Id say, hey we know its a TV show and for that reason wed love a little bit of consistency. If, in fantasy land called Xena, no one stays dead for long, why is it so damned important to permanently, and using an obvious contrivance, kill off the lead character everyone wants to live?
Further, TV is the myth and legend of the modern day. In the past, when great, involving stories of mystic lands and legends were told around the campfire, and passed down the generations, no one ever cynically added at the end, oh, this isn't real - don't care about the characters or anything.
For those who say, "Who cares if Xena dies?", I say this: She was more than just a TV character for some people. For the abused, the weak, the minorities and other people, she was a symbol of strength. She gave them hope to fight when they could barely stand their lot in life. To some it may be pathetic that people get their strength from a TV show of all things. I say to them who cares WHERE people get their strength from as long as they get it. Xena came to mean so much to so many people who were really on the ropes. And they killed her. Snap of the fingers, shes dead. For some artistic or creative reason ... or just to be contrary, who knows. And for all those who looked up to her, suddenly it might seem like well, why bother trying? The bastards will win in the end. When hope is gone, what is left? These people found hope from seeing Xena fight the good fight every week and succeed against impossible odds. Was it so awful to hope for their sakes she be left alive?
For those who say, "Well they kill off other characters on TV all the time, Xenas just another one". I say - Xena was special. Firstly, she was a woman - yes, yes, that shouldnt matter, but you know what? Out here in reality-land, it does. How many female action heroes were there in the 90s before Xena came along? She was great for women the world over who needed to see themselves reflected on TV as strong and confident in a mans world, able to take it on and win. What message does it send now? Oh, the oppressive world won in the end? Dont fight the system?
Worse, they hurt her and dealt with her in really awful, demeaning ways: stripping -- such a common act of violence against women. They dont tend to strip male heroes as a matter of course, now do they? Was Hercules stripped and abused, beaten and beheaded? Or was he allowed a dignified departure into the sunset? They would never dream of ending Hercules this way.
It was all very disturbing. Almost anti-woman -- so weird for a pro-woman show.
Xena was special for one other reason: she was a lesbian icon, and by shows end, virtually, if not actually, an out lesbian icon...
If you think female action heroes are scarce, name one lesbian action hero from any era.
In essence, she mattered to so many people. She gave hope to so many people. She gave joy to so many people. She was larger than life. She was Xena.
And they killed her.
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