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In a time without a Black Widow movie on the horizon, two fans in turmoil cried out for a heroine. She was Xena, a mighty female protagonist forged in the fires of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The action, the camp, the queer subtext. Her adventures will rock their worlds.

Clare & Renay's Adventures in: Xena

Xena: Episode 101, "Sins of the Past"

Clare: As I've mentioned, I did not watch Xena: The Warrior Princess growing up, what with being raised by Anglophile French wolves. I did give the pilot a shot a few years ago in college, but I found Gabrielle so annoying that I couldn't make it into the second episode. Luckily, that changed this time around!

Renay: The most I knew about this show is that two of my friends were in love with it and wrote lots of self-insert fic about it, and later, I would discover, lots of Xena/Gabrielle fic that was SUPER GAY but they were always like "no! they're just friends!" even though by that time I was already pretty deep into slash fic and going "wow, this is SO GAY, guys!" I never watched the show because a) I didn't have the right channels and b) I was really bad at serialized shows. I'm better now because of DVD boxsets and Netflix/other streaming, because as all the shows I'm watching now are proving, I'm still REALLY BAD at serialized shows. Waiting is THE WORST.

Clare: See, I'm of two minds when it comes to waiting. I love that moment when you can riff in fandom because nobody knows what's going to happen next. It gets the speculative juices flowing. On the other hand, being able to sink into hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation at a time like a warm bath is great. And you can connect the dots better, I think, when everything's fresh.

First things first: I adore campy nineties fantasy. Something about low production values, big imagination, and a firmly placed tongue in cheek makes me so, so happy. Heck, that last one can be optional, thus my love for truly bad fantasy films, like Eragon and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Mmm, crap fantasy.

Renay: I was actually very surprised by the amount of camp in this first episode. It starts early in the scene where Xena fights Draco's commander (a knock-off Ed O'Neill) and really doesn't let up, Gabrielle's fumbling as she tries to sneak out, to the awesome scenes with the Cyclops, to the completely over the top fight scene between Xena and Draco at the end of the episode. I definitely love campy fantasy! Did you ever watch that miniseries The 10th Kingdom? Because I LOVED that; it was so great. Also, the Ewoks movies, ha ha. I was trying to think of other fantasy like it, but I'm afraid I go toward campy sci-fi more than fantasy (omg the Lost in Space film). Clearly I need to improve my camp fantasy knowledge! RECS WELCOME.

Clare: I'm so used to bestowing camp retrospectively that it's really interesting to see a show wholeheartedly embrace it from day one. Although perhaps Hercules: The Legendary Journeys did that transformation already, allowing Xena to flourish on its own? I see that Hercules started life as a series of TV movies, which might explain that. (Also, the dude who plays Ares in both series is named Kevin Smith, which gave me quite a start.) I've had The 10th Kingdom recommended to me before in high school. I couldn't take it then, but I imagine, being someone who watches Once Upon a Time, it is supremely up my alley. As far as camp fantasy goes, oh my sweet Lord, Dungeons and Dragons. Only Jeremy Irons knows what kind of a movie he's in.

Renay: If you can handle Once Upon a Time, you can definitely handle The 10th Kingdom, because Once Upon a Time eventually became a little much and I had to tap out, but The 10th Kingdom remains the perfect mix of drama and ridiculousness for me, and is probably why Xena doesn't send me running for the hills.

Clare: The pilot for Xena: Warrior Princess checks my camp fantasy boxes, along with plenty of ladies and, surprisingly enough for a mainstream sf program, a few characters of color. Of course, they're all in Draco's camp, but on day one, fantasy!Greece has proven itself not completely white, like, say, Troy.

Renay: My first thought when the episode opened and they shoved Gabrielle's fellow townsfolk around was "WOW that is white for ancient Greece". I'm not sure what the time period is meant to be, exactly — I'm so bad at non-American history, but since that cart guy knew of Oedipus I'm guessing around 5th century BCE? Ugh, fantasy history, why so complicated?

Clare: Yes, it's super-white for actual ancient Greece. Xena, I think, has a very loose grasp on history — towards the end of the series, we'll be getting into Roman times. It's going to be messy, but we're going to be fine.

Xena herself is as awesome as advertised, a capable woman who takes obvious glee in kicking teeth in, although she's trying to cut back and not be a tyrannical warlord anymore. I haven't seen any of the parent show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, but she made three appearances as said tyrannical warlord before getting her own show. And Gabrielle is no longer annoying! I think, when I picked it up first, I assumed that Xena and Gabrielle were meant to be the same age, but Gabrielle is just a girl compared to Xena. I was also put off by her tendency to babble, but on this go round, it reads as Gabrielle thinking faster than her mouth can actually work. It's a little Hermione on speed.

Renay: If we were to gender flip Xena and Gabrielle, I think we'd get an Obi-wan/Anakin dynamic, a little? (Obi-wan/Luke would be a little too far). That's what it reminded me of, anyway, although your example of Thor is more apt. Xena's seen just enough darkness and learned hard lessons about the world that the narrative hints at (her warring, the loss of her brother, the broken trust of her home) that Gabrielle hasn't yet gone through. I keep trying to figure out how this falls on the Monomyth scale and failing.

Clare: I would only get an Obi-Wan vibe if...Xeno? was actively mentoring Gabriel. The power dynamic is really too equal for me to see a traditional mentor/mentee relationship as we see in mainstream pop culture. At this point, it seems that Gabrielle is the one who will mentor Xena in the ways of compassion, although Xena will obviously teach her how to fight. (There could definitely be a reading where Xena is a traditional bad boy that Gabrielle can change.) Xena as a reformed Anakin-type is an interesting thought, though. I also don't know if we can start trying to map this to the monomyth just yet — perhaps after we've finished a season. But if we ever do get onto that track, we've certainly started extremely far away. It feels more like a buddy comedy than anything else, and Lord knows that I adore buddy comedies.

What impressed me more, however, is how this pilot episode is a pretty straightforward genderflip of a more traditionally male narrative. It's a bit like Thor — capable but morally reckless warrior attempts to redeem themselves and win the approval of their parent. Xena just does it with ladies, and that makes all the difference to me as a viewer. Obviously, Xena passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, but I was especially struck by the scene where Xena's mother finally forgives her. I so rarely see women striving to earn the respect of their mothers in fiction, but the reverse is so common as to be cliched. I mean, there’s an Star Trek: The Next Generation where Riker and his dad work out their issues via what appears to be Nerf martial arts in Tron costumes.

Renay: I didn't even pick up on the bit with Xena and her mother until you pointed that out! Now I'm going to go have to rewatch that bit, because you're right, the father/son dynamic is so overplayed at this point. We've gone BACK IN TIME to find more diverse media. Go us. :P

Clare: I'm sure we'll get more with the mother as we learn more about Xena's brother. Also: they totally fridged the brother, right? We know nothing about him except that he is dead and that makes Xena sad. Watching this show is like looking into an alternate dimension. This is magical. Time-traveling magic.

Renay: Things I appreciated about this is that Gabrielle is very quick on her feet. She's not a great fighter (I assume that changes as the series goes on) but she can talk/charm herself out of really tight situations, which I really like. It's a good balance for Xena, who often seems like she's rolling her eyes at you so she doesn't have to whack you in the face with the hilt of her sword instead of wasting words telling you what a moron you are. I really like how Lawless played her; very tense, always waiting for the fight to start, barely restrained, compared to Gabrielle's completely unrestrained excitement and verbal distraction.

Clare: Tense and loose is a very good way to characterize Xena and Gabrielle. Xena's power seems to lie in her self-control, while Gabrielle derives power from letting herself go entirely. You also see it in the costuming. It's a bit weird to see Xena fighting in her shift even though we've only known the character for a few minutes, because white and soft feels off for her. (Although I am glad she was wearing a shift and not a black bra and panties for that scene.) But her warrior costume is well-fitted and very constructed. Even her long hair is pretty severe, save for that maiden braid headband that's reading really young. Gabrielle, on the other hand, has very loose hair and a lot of comfortable skirts. She's not wearing one, but Gabrielle feels like she's wearing at least two cardigans. She's all cozy and approachable, which is, of course, her greatest strength—people underestimate her or take pity on her. To which I can only say: get it, girl! She's growing on me more and more.

Renay: It's really great to me how much you love Gabrielle now versus in the past, proving when you experience media in your life matters! You're totally right that she exudes a certain something that makes you want to befriend her and sit with tea for hours and chat. :D

Clare: All of this comes with a generous helping of cheese, between Draco chewing scenery right and left and the fantastically silly and improbable stunts. Oh, nineties fantasy. I'd say never change, but you can't, being tied to a specific decade.

Renay: My favorite line of the episode: "She'd never let a man get close enough to do her."

Clare: Oh, nineties writers. That was a marvelous line and I'm glad Gabrielle got it.

Renay: NEVER CHANGE, 90s writers. never. change.

So I really liked the first episode! Success! :D

Much like Xena herself, Renay and Clare have powerful allies in their quest.

The adventure continues:

Xena: Episode 102, "Chariots of War"

Date: 2015-02-04 08:01 am (UTC)
copracat: Pompeii wall frieze of Sappho with the text 'pornographer' in front and background illegible text from an explic fanwork (wrisomifu - Sappho)
From: [personal profile] copracat
Oh my! How much delight are you in for. HOW MUCH!

Anyway, realised that all of my Xena icons are spoilery and so: Sappho.

Date: 2015-02-04 08:09 am (UTC)
frayadjacent: Xena and Gab walking/riding away together, text says "Journeys" (Xena: Journey)
From: [personal profile] frayadjacent
Oh my god. Oh my god oh my god I AM SO EXCITED YOU ARE WATCHING XENA. I can't wait to read your thoughts as you progress through the series.

And really, I haven't seen another show, or at least another genre show, to feature women and their relationships as centrally as Xena does. Even Buffy can't hold a candle.

Date: 2015-02-04 03:20 pm (UTC)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanguinity
I was just gonna pop you an email saying THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT XENA, but I see you are already here, yay!

I love that so many of the antagonists are women, seriously. This world turns on women and their power and their decisions, it's such a delight.

Date: 2015-02-05 12:14 am (UTC)
frayadjacent: Buffy smirking over Giles with quarterstaff (Xena: Xena with battleface)
From: [personal profile] frayadjacent
Aw, thank you for thinking of me! :D And hell yes to the antagonist women.

Date: 2015-02-04 10:47 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
I'm so excited this column is here! I remember watching Xena & Hercules episodes (often totally out of order) when a static filled Channel 5 first appeared in the UK. We didn't yet have cable in our area & we hadn't got a dish so this new channel was a BIG DEAL. And it was full of over the top enjoyable low budget fantasy productions like this (I also fondly remember being too invested in The Tribe). Even now I get a huge wave of 90s nostalgia whenever I see Lawless or Sorbo in anything.

Date: 2015-02-04 10:48 am (UTC)
silly_cleo: black and white image of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, text: an almost all greek thing (cleopatra - an almost all greek thing)
From: [personal profile] silly_cleo
Everything Fray said in the comment above! This is so exciting, I'm so pleased you enjoy it so far! :D

One quick note on history: yeah, don't even bother. The show visits historical events spanning THOUSANDS of years (I was gonna specify but spoilers) and myths from lots of different cultures. IDEK. Hand-waving is definitely the way forward.

I think what you're getting on race is pretty accurate. It does better than average at b/g and character of the week characters of colour than lots of other shows, partly because it was filmed in NZ and hired a lot of Maori/Pacific Island actors, but it has some race diciness and could still be less white.

Date: 2015-02-04 03:32 pm (UTC)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanguinity
Totally agreed, the datable characters span more than a millennia, it's absolutely ridic if you have any specific knowledge of the ancient world. Don't try to put an era on it, you'll be much happier. (Unless it amuses you to howl at the preposterousness of who is living at the same time, in which case, howl away.)

And echoing what you say about the diceyness of race in this show. (And if things can get dicey in casting, they get really bad in the cultural appropriation front, but that's all spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.)

Date: 2015-02-04 11:58 pm (UTC)
silly_cleo: black and white image of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, text: an almost all greek thing (Default)
From: [personal profile] silly_cleo
I first watched Xena while studying for my classical studies undergrad degree so personally I LOVE to howl at the preposterousness but YMMV obv. ;D

Yeah, I think we're alluding to the same stuff but spoilers spoilers spoilers.

Date: 2015-02-04 03:38 pm (UTC)
general_jinjur: (Default)
From: [personal profile] general_jinjur
xena is so important to me, personally, and i am so excited that you're doing this. it has a lot of problems! it has a lot of greatness!

Date: 2015-02-28 09:43 pm (UTC)
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hawkwing_lb

*emerges for air*



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