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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.

Clare: Is it weird that I never really thought about Xena’s father at all? I had no questions about her parentage (beyond the obvious one of "HOW IS SHE A PRINCESS?"). I feel like we covered that ground in the pilot, complete with dead brother. So when Atrius showed up, I was... nonplussed.

Renay: If the show had wanted to surprise me more, they... couldn't have. The revelation that the dude Xena randomly saves turns out to be her father knocked me for a loop because I guess I just thought he was dead or something (I mean, it's not a dangerous assumption in this universe where the dudes are disposable). But after the initial surprise wore off I realized I... didn't care that much and wasn't that interested. Oops.

Clare: I don’t know if it’s because it felt underwhelming or having Ares, God of War (and Ham), in the episode meant that it was always possible that it was a ploy, but I just didn’t hook into Atrius and Xena’s bonding. According to executive producer Robert Tapert, they were trying to play around with tropes usually assigned to male heroes—in this case, the rift between father and son you sometimes see in traditional hero’s journeys.

I think that’s where it leaves me cold. Xena is not a traditional hero, and not just because she’s a woman. I almost want to call her an antihero and therefore part of that nineties trend, but she’s not grimdark in any way. Rather, she’s an antihero in the sense that her sense of morality is not inherent. Having started as a villain and then made the choice to redeem herself, Xena is always struggling with the fact that she has to work for her morality. Traditional hero’s journeys are usually about boys becoming men. Xena’s hero’s journey is about her becoming a better person through hard and sometimes counterintuitive work (and, of course, Gaby’s love). Her instincts, as we see at the climax of this episode when she’s so enraged by Atrius being mistreated that she hits Gaby, can be selfish and violent. There’s a reason she’s still tempted; there’s a reason she now refuses.

It’s the choosing of good actions that makes Xena a good person and a fascinating character. I’m more interesting in where she’s going than where’s she from.

So I’m just not really interested in seeing her trying to come to terms with a father who wants to be in her life after just abandoning her family when he was young. It seemed... I dunno, tacked on. Maybe if I found the actor playing her father more engaging or if I knew it was Ares at the beginning, I would have liked it more, but here, have a shrug. SHRUG.

Renay: My problem with playing with that trope as a one-off thing is that in general in those stories way more time is dedicated to the problems between father and son. It doesn't just pop up randomly; it's established and it's a driving force in the son's life. Here it felt tossed out and sloppy, with no emotional oomph behind it, although Lawless did her best with what they had given her. I definitely understand your point about Xena not being a traditional hero, and her future being a more interesting subject matter than establishing her past. But yeah, my problem was definitely more in how they carried off the trope itself, with no foreshadowing, no hints, just plopped in the middle of a season like it would fit no matter what. Leaving aside the Ares details, the mere fact that it feels so rushed is what annoys me. With a male hero, it wouldn't be rushed. It would have been given its due, but they took a shortcut because it let them have an easier vehicle for the Ares story line.

Clare: Do you think that the lack of buildup might be because it’s a mid-nineties action adventure series? We tend to see tighter continuity in shows like this nowadays, because it’s a lot easier to go back and catch up on whatever streaming service you so desire. But back then, you could switch the episode order without much fuss—that’s happened once or twice so far, per Whoosh!. I think it’s super-weird that they wouldn’t build this up, but I feel the blame partially lies with the media climate of the time.

Renay: I did like the Ares storyline. He's still a dick, but he was more interesting this episode for me than the last time he appeared. His impatience and frustration over not being able to turn Xena results in emotional manipulation of the worst sort, the kind that turns my stomach. Because it's obvious that Ares knows enough about Xena to hurt her, and that makes me want to break his face. The fact that he created a situation that placed Xena and Gabrielle at odds, enough that Gabrielle physically stands up to Xena, makes me want to drop kick him.

Clare: But I did like Rhea, the lead girl of the girls Kirilis’ army takes hostage. She gets a neat little plot of her own, having volunteered in her sister’s place to go, so her sister could be happy with her new husband. She’s terrified that her consent means that her village will shun her, but happily, it’s not the case. It’s also happily not the case that this was a love triangle where she left, because she reunites with her sister and her brother-in-law so happily! I wish we’d gotten more time spent on this subplot; Sonia Gray is a fun actress and she matches the show’s tone perfectly.

Renay: It kind of felt like yet another vehicle to get Gabrielle to leave Atrius and Xena, rather than a fully formed plot of its own. I am glad it ended happily, though, and that it addressed the consent issues explicitly by showing that it's not really consent when there's no real choice to be made except ones that are abusive and hurtful.

Clare: Yay feminist discourse about agency in Xena! This show is the best.

Femslash Alert, Clare: Xena awkwardly tells Gaby that their friendship means more to her than any family could. (I was fully expecting “WE’RE FAMILY NOW," but I haven’t changed my slash clock over from Hannibal Central Time, a show where Hannibal aggressively tells Will that they’re fathers together in, like, episode two.)

Renay: Picture me during the final moment as they gazed into each other's eyes screaming "NOW KISS!!!!" at top volume. Not that it's much different from any other episode, but this one was extra special on the THEY LOVE EACH OTHER!!!! scale.

Supplemental Material

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


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