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Clare & Renay's Adventures in: Xena

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.

Xena: Episode 113, "Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards"

Clare: In the twenty-first century, genre television has developed some discreet methods to cover up a lack of budget, scheduling conflicts, and pregnancy, among other obstacles. (But, like, don’t deal with a pregnant actor the same way Joss Whedon dealt with Charisma Carpenter? That’s not cool.) “Midnight,” widely considered to be one of the best Tenth Doctor stories, has little to no Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and takes place almost entirely on a bus.

But don’t ever accuse the Xena writers of being as subtle (ha!) as Russell T. Davies and company. I can’t find a specific reason as to why “Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards” is a honest-to-Bowie clip show, but age-old speculation is that it was to save money and give Lucy Lawless a break. So it’s up to them to cobble together an episode out of the ever-game O’Connor, New Zealand’s finest extras, and old movie clips.

Xena is obviously a camp television show in the first place, but I think “Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards” is the first episode to get downright meta. Gabrielle’s stories of the newly good Xena (of Xena: Warrior Princess) clash with all the other stories about the previously evil Xena (of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), and she’s left to cover the gap between the two. The episode soon abandons this tack to delight in all the clips it has access to, from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys to hilarious mid-century Hercules flicks to Spartacus.

Renay: Since we took a little (LOL, within this term, a year worth of Drastic Life Changes for both of us) break from Xena, this was actually the perfect episode to pick up on. I wish I could say we planned it that way. An episode perfectly organized to play up Gabrielle's flare with words and storytelling, remind us of who Xena was, and who she's becoming on her own and because of Gabrielle (swoon), and to catch up new viewers and potentially remind old viewers, yep, we're awesome, look at all these rad adventures!

I'm not sure why I've been trained to assume that episodes like these exists as mid-season marketing tools. Perhaps it was Saved by the Bell, which I felt did this a lot to remind us about major character arcs and events? There was a lot of Zack and Kelly flashbacks with them staring soulfully into each other's eyes after yet another makeup/breakup scene in my childhood. But Lucy Lawless needing a break probably makes more sense since as the title character, most of the movement relies on Xena pushing the plot forward. But I am curious if it was an attempt to do some cross-marketing, and tempt people into the shows they hadn't yet seen.

Clare: Clip shows may very well be a midseason marketing thing for nineties television shows; I would have no way of knowing in the French wolf pack I was being raised in at the time. It makes a lot of sense, especially during a time when you can’t rely on viewers being able to watch every episode.

Renay: And maybe this clip episode existed because of all those excellent archives of footage. Maybe that was the real reason. "Take a break, Lawless, we're gonna geek out with some clips." Then they huddled in a room and argued over the best scenes to use with snacks for a few weeks.

Clare: While they do have to shuffle Xena offstage very quickly, I was so happy that Xena is perfectly all right with Gabrielle going to Bard School. (Excuse me, Bard Academy.) It reflects both the realities of a setting like theirs—it’s perfectly normal not to see the people you love for years—and Xena’s respect for Gabrielle’s agency. It implies that Xena understands that Gabrielle’s place at her side is a privilege, not a constant to be taken for granted.

Renay: There was a sad lack of Gabrielle and Xena staring at each other soulfully in this episode, but given that Gabrielle spends the majority of the episode thinking about all the great times she had Xena had, I'll forgive the show for now (only for now). In between, there's yet more of Gabrielle making personal connections with other people, which I continue to enjoy because I'm excited to see her character grow apart from Xena, create relationships that are different and more equal.

This episode more than the others really drove home for me all the ways that Xena has really started to grow and change, and the way that Gabrielle's confidence—which I wouldn't say she was lacking, not at all—is developing as well to be more versatile. And although we're just watching rehashed material, it still feels valuable to the development of the relationship, as it's all explicitly recast as Gabrielle's memory. It was excellent.

Clare: Having been away from Xena for a little while due to life (BOO), I was worried that I would have to reacclimate to Gabrielle, who was originally a hard sell for me (though I love her now). But she reminds me of that other heroine I’ve been watching lately—Sailor Moon. Both Gabrielle and Usagi, while fundamentally decent people, are happy to use their abilities to their own ends. Usagi sees no reason not to exploit a mission for the opportunity to get what she wants; Gabrielle knows she’s good enough for the Academy and sees no reason why a falsified record shouldn’t get her where she needs to go. In short, they’re both Chaotic Good, and I like that.

Renay: What did you think of the fact that the friends Gabrielle makes at the Academy are boys, and they're all super supportive of Gabrielle's presence? This was probably my favorite part of the episode besides all the flashbacks of Gabrielle's tales of Xena's heroics. The distinction between Xena approving and supporting Gabrielle going off to the school and letting her be independent and Orion's father hovering and smothering him was a nice touch, too. Xena's confidence in Gabrielle is absolute and that's so lovely. Also, perhaps I'm trained to expect it, but I was so surprised when her relationship with Orion remained friendship. You think I'd be cured from that by this show but my expectations keep reverting to "if there's a girl the show is going to make every dude be a romantic interest". Because so far there's been a pretty solid mix of Xena and Gabrielle getting to have romantic adventures as well as friendship building moments. Trust the show, Renay.

Clare: I adored that Gabrielle makes friends with boys in this episode! According to the Hercules and Xena Wiki, Renee O’Connor has stated that they had a choice in this episode whether to have Orion be a love interest or a friend. They decided to go with Orion being her friend because Gabrielle had already had a lot of love interests and they wanted to highlight the fact that men and women can be friends. It’s really nice to see Gabrielle being appreciated as a bard and a storyteller by her male peers—in fact, the only person who is against her being a bard because she’s a lady type is Orion’s dad. I didn’t even catch that parallel between Orion’s dad and Xena, but it fits in nicely with this episode’s themes.

Also, there’s baby Dean O’Gorman all over this episode. And the rest of the Xenaverse; he plays Young Iolaus in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and in Young Hercules. Oh, New Zealand and your incestuous pool of actors.

Femslash Alert: No touchy feely goodness this episode, but Gabrielle CANNOT shut up about Xena. And why would she ever? Also, Gabrielle “casually” stumbling back into step with Xena like she can’t wait to be back home. ADORABLE.

Supplemental Material

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

Date: 2015-09-16 11:32 pm (UTC)
frayadjacent: Xena and Gab walking/riding away together, text says "Journeys" (Xena: Journey)
From: [personal profile] frayadjacent
Yay, I was so excited for you to get to this one! X:WP always has a few "Xena lite" or "Gabrielle lite" episodes every season. I think a lot of those times Lawless or O'Conner were out promoting Xena on things like The Tonight Show and Good Morning America, though there are some notable exceptions. So I don't know how often they got breaks. :(

Anyway, I love all the things you love about this episode: Gabrielle's expanding confidence, Xena's respect for Gabrielle's choices, and of course Gab's relationships with all those Bard Academy hopefuls. But my favorite moment is when Gabrielle and Xena part ways in the tavern and tell each other the story of the travelers in search of their family -- only to find out they were with their family all along. Such good gazing-into-eyes in that moment!

Too bad the writers had to lessen it by having Xena say, "you're like a sister to me."

Date: 2015-09-26 04:22 am (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I'm STILL excited about the part where those boys got up and were like "GABRIELLE SHOULD BE HERE". My jaw is probably still on the floor somewhere.

Date: 2015-09-17 02:41 am (UTC)
giandujakiss: (Default)
From: [personal profile] giandujakiss
FWIW, I think it was just part of the norms of the time to do clipshows - Xena has about one per season, and Athens City Academy is definitely the best of the bunch.

And they do have to deal with pregnancy eventually - and yeah, way better than Joss and Charisma.

Date: 2015-09-26 04:24 am (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
So maybe it was a thing, but not a structured thing. I guess we've moved toward a model of flashbacks rather than clip shows, because it's so easy to binge things these days.

It's good to hear the show did NOT treat their stars like Joss did. I remember when I learned about that. Awful. :(

Date: 2015-09-18 04:53 pm (UTC)
lynnoconnacht: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lynnoconnacht
I am a terrible fan of your Xena adventures. I saw the words 'Sailor Moon' and got distracted. I hope you're enjoying it, Clare!

And I'm glad to hear that this episode proved such a good re-introduction after an unplanned hiatus. I only vaguely remember this one, but I remember being fond of it. Clip shows being a 90s thing sounds pretty plausible to me. I think even animated series suffered from clip shows occasionally?

Date: 2015-09-26 04:25 am (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Just wait, one day I will figure out a way to talk someone into Sailor Moon anime recaps with me. >D

YES, animated shows TOTALLY did. I remember them from some cartoons I used to watch on Nick Jr.

Date: 2015-09-26 07:34 am (UTC)
lynnoconnacht: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lynnoconnacht
I'D BE GAME. I've had a lot of fun doing reaction/commentary posts that are going up every month, but it'd be so much more fun to talk about it with other people. ^_^

I thought so! I vaguely remember them doing it, but for all I know it was my memory being terrible and I was actually thinking of the title sequences. >>

... And now I have show openings stuck in my head. *chases out Samurai Pizza Cats in favour of a far more appropriate Xena*
Edited (I can spell! >>) Date: 2015-09-26 07:34 am (UTC)


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