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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: You know, I never thought we’d get the equivalent of those episodes on Friends and Will & Grace when they flash back to the eighties, and yet, here we are. Not that Xena necessarily goes back in time, but rather sideways, into a timeline where she and her family never stood up to Cortese and started her down the path towards becoming a vicious warlord, thanks to a wish granted by the Fates.

I am speaking, of course, of seeing Xena in teased hair and demure dress, attempting to pass as a non-hardened warrior in a timeline where nobody expects that of her and, in fact, seems to expect the opposite.

I suppose the better comparison would be It’s a Wonderful Life but, fun fact, I have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. Still, it turns out that Xena wishing that her brother had never died and seeing the whole that would have created shows us that Xena’s actions over the last season have done some real good. It turns out her village is under attack YET AGAIN, from bad guys she eliminated in “The Path Not Taken” and “Hooves and Harlots.” Her brother can’t defend against them all on his own, and her wet mop of a fiancé (seriously, show? We know what Xena likes, and it’s Draco and Marcus and Gabrielle) thinks it’s weird for him to encourage her warlike tendencies. That guy is a tool.

Renay: This season so far has taken a definite turn into fleshing out Xena's past and showing us pieces of her backstory in ways the first season didn't do. The first episode and now this episode both place Xena back at crossroads of different types and force her to grapple with choices she made when she was younger. Her wish to the Fates that she had never picked up a sword was always going to be an epic troll on their part, because becoming a warlord changed Xena in ways that no longer allow her to stand by and watch injustice spoil people's lives when she can solve it with quick talking, acrobatics, and excellent strategy. When she gets upset and can only see the ways in which she destroys lives, the Fates are like, "Hold up." Banning her from not spilling blood in anger is 100% a way to force her into a somewhat objective perspective about how she chooses to engage with the world now that she's committed to making it better.

I also agree about this glimpse of a Xena who people don't expect much of, which would explain the goofy fiancé. No wonder alternate-timeline Xena put him off multiple times. I'm suspicious about cold feet and realizations about his character, which later come horribly true!

Clare: I really enjoyed Xena trying to navigate around the Fates’ parameters. There’s a lot of fun puzzle-solving (which I know Renay likes!) as she tries to think about how to disarm people without giving away her true abilities or spilling that one drop of blood.

Renay: Yes! I love watching her solve problems without violence, which highlights how super smart and observant she is in circumstances where it's difficult to think quickly and strategically! She uses everything she learned as a warlord now to be nimble, quick, and effective to create positive change. I love it. But what a downer rule, and one that's actually impossible to keep in any way and live a life not full of second-guessing and nerves. That's definitely not Xena.

Clare: But things take a tragic turn when we discover that this universe’s Gabrielle is Mezentius’ slave, all her trust and belief in the good of people ground down by the abuse she faces daily. Xena is horrified and tries to reach out to her, but this isn’t the Gabrielle she knows.

Renay: I knew they would go there but I didn't expect for it to be so heartbreaking. It also felt like Xena stepping into a role Gabrielle inhabits in the original timeline without thinking, too; her compassion and empathy being so absent here is gutting.

Clare: That hits me right here, because I love couples that are so well-balanced that one of them shifting means that the other has to as well. It’s honestly really painful to see Xena putting herself out there for Gabrielle and Gabrielle not responding. This AU hurts, kittens! But it ends up becoming a very Xena/Gaby episode, because it turns out that no man’s life is worth Gabrielle becoming a killer. That’s right, Xena sacrifices the life of her brother for Gabrielle—and probably also all the good she’s done in the last season, but whatever. I must admit, in the moment, I cackled with delight (not unlike a certain Vuvalini), but on reflection, what a serious decision for Xena to make, even with Lyceus talking so much about how he’d rather die a hero than live a coward.

But I think it adds a really interesting shading to her moral journey—she might, on some level, wish that she had never been Warlord Xena, but that would destroy all the good things she’s brought into this world.

Renay: The moment when Gabrielle snidely cuts the evil warlord down was a GREAT moment but also a bleak, cold one. Because that's a role that, up until now, Xena has stood alone in and kept Gabrielle away from. The woman who pulls the sword away from a dead man and admires the blade coated in blood—wow. Talk about chills. Because that's not the same Gabrielle, even if in this timeline Xena manages to save her from slavery. Because she's been changed by a hard world and won't ever be the person that Xena knows she could be.

And in some ways I also think it forces Xena to recognize that she and Lyceus both made hard choices, but the choices were theirs to take or not. Perhaps they influenced one another, but her attempting to have a second chance robs some agency from Lyceus and makes his decisions her responsibility in a way that's unfair to who she is now. And here she learns that Lyceus was the type of man that knew himself and could make his own decisions, and so chooses, also, to honor the validity of his choices, even if they cost him his life.

I did love that Xena did get a real second chance from the Fates after their life lesson to save the boy's life who triggered her to wish herself and her deeds—bad and good—away from the world. She makes a different choice and gets to save one more life to keep making the world a better place.

And there was a side hug, so heck yeah. I feel like this whole episode needs a femslash alert tag because it's great.

Supplemental Material

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

Date: 2016-04-14 07:24 pm (UTC)
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hawkwing_lb
Hardened Gabrielle makes Xena very, very sad. Which is interesting, because it reinforces something that shows up in other episodes ("Dreamworker" forex): that Xena wants to protect Gabrielle, not just from physical harm, but from the same kind of moral darkness (sin? sometimes I think the show itself casts it in those terms, in the early seasons, with the emphasis on atonement) that Xena herself has experienced.

That Xena will, at this point in time, go to great lengths to do that, even if Gabrielle doesn't want her to.


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