June 12, 2001
Contains Spoilers for Friend In Need - Part 1
After six seasons, the syndicated action series comes to a close. "I think we've come up with episodes that have heart, action and spirit," says executive producer Rob Tapert, who promises that the two-part conclusion (which will air in some markets as a two-hour movie) will "surprise" and "entertain" its legions of fans. But Tapert will give away little in terms of plot. "There's an automatic want-to-know," he explains of the decision not to make screening copies of the finale available, equating the decision to parents hiding Christmas presents from children until the Big Day arrives.
A cult favorite from the get-go, the show has inspired an unofficial magazine, countless websites and more than a few Net-based discussion groups. Set in a mythical past populated by the Greek gods, the series stars Lucy Lawless as the fiery title character. Long ago, she commanded a nefarious army that left death and destruction in its wake. With a helpful nudge from Hercules (of the now-defunct series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), however, she came to see the error of her ways. The result: Where once she was evil, she now battles evil. "That was her arc from villainess to heroine," says Lawless, noting that "Xena, certainly, softened over the course of the series."
Part of that "softening" can be attributed to the influence of Xena's ever-faithful sidekick, Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor), whose poetic soul captivated (and, on occasion, infuriated) the Warrior Princess. "My relationship with Renee started to infuse into the show," Lawless adds. "The sense of humor that we share became part of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle." Another factor: motherhood not Xena's, but Lawless's. "I tried to tone down the war cries a little bit," she admits. "As a mother [of a 12-year-old daughter and an 18-month-old son], I can't stand hearing all that yelling and screaming coming from the television."
As the series finale opens, Xena's bloody history invades upon her present. A Japanese monk brings word that Akemi (Michelle Ang), a figure from her shadowy past, is asking that the Warrior Princess return to Higuchi, Japan, where the Samurai ghost Yodoshi, Lord of the Dark Land, is attempting to consume 20,000 souls. As Xena soon learns, the city is the site of one of her most horrific (yet unintentional) cruelties a turn of events that made Yodoshi what he is.
Although the show's conclusion remains cloaked in secrecy, intrigue swirls around the Xena/Gabrielle friendship and the lesbian overtones therein. As reported in TV Guide, many of the show's ardent fans undertook a letter-writing campaign asking that Xena and Gabrielle be allowed, at last, to share a passionate kiss. Lawless won't address the issue head-on, but she did say this about the characters' relationship: "We try to leave it as open to interpretation as possible. And it seems to me, straight people think she's straight and gay people think she's gay. I like being a mirror. I like the fact that our show held a mirror up."
Rumors have also been rife that (gulp!) Xena dies. But fans should remember: the Warrior Princess has survived death before, not to mention a 20-year interment in a block of ice. Add in, too, that Tapert (Lawless's husband) admits that he'd like to make a Xena movie. "I tried to take it to the big screen," he recalls, explaining that Universal which owns the rights to such a project wasn't interested. "I think if there's a time, it's probably a few years down the road," he says. "I would love to do a movie."
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