You may have heard over here, but I am a huge Xena fan. I discovered it in reruns that I would sneak down to living room and watch while waiting for episodes of Saturday Night Live (clearly I had a wide range of tastes at age nine). The weekly plots of Xena Warrior Princess are fairly straight-forward. One, maybe two, storylines in a close-ended story. This formula does not mean that there aren’t things we can’t learn from the series. So let’s take a look and see how in episodes two and three of season 1 the series solidified the series ultimate themes and core relationship.
Season 1, Episode 2: Chariots of Fire
Logline: Xena returns to Amphipolis, the place she grew up in order to try and make up for past sins. On the way, she saves the people of Potidaea from the warlord Draco, her actions however attract the attention of a young girl called Gabrielle. who decides to follow Xena in the hopes of a more exciting life.
Xena leaves Gabrielle in a tavern and goes off, coming across a village being attacked. She is injured in the skirmish. A widower takes Xena in to see to her wounds. While Xena befriends the widower’s three young children, the villagers want her gone as they knew about her past. The son of a warlord who attacked the village spars with his father who mocks him for losing a fight to a girl. The mercenaries return and set fire to a barnyard.
Gabrielle waits at the bar and runs into the warlord’s son. They become fast friend’s opening up to one another. The widower invites Xena to the town meeting with the warlord’s to find a peace treaty. At the meeting, Xena spots a trap as the mercenaries attempt to set all the townsfolk inside on fire.
Xena attacks the warriors and saves the villagers, but the town think Xena started it and want her gone. The warlord and his son argue again with the son taking the fall again for the loss to Xena. He finds out that the woman is Xena and decides he will kill her himself. Xena finds Gabrielle on the trail and the two return to save the town.
Xena and Gabrielle fight the mercenaries in a chariot race. The son steps in and stops his father. When the father refuses, Xena steps in and kills him. Another peace meeting is set and this one is successful. Xena says goodbye to the family that cared for her. Gabrielle asks Xena if she misses her family and Xena says “not so much when I’m with you.”
Season 1, Episode 3: Dreamcatcher
Logline: While defending a small and peaceful settlement from a vicious warlord and his son, Xena is shot with an arrow. She is cared for by a local family while Gabrielle is left to defend herself in the local tavern, which is filled with thieves and cut-throats.
Gabrielle wants Xena to teach her to fight. Xena refuses, saying that once you kill someone everything is different and that if you hold a weapon people will view you as a threat. They are attacked by and Xena fends off bandits. Men in cloaks watch from the shrubbery and think that Gabrielle is “perfect.” In a village, the town is attacked and Gabrielle is taken.
Gabrielle wakes in captivity with mystics praying to Morpheus. They tell her she will go through three fights to the death. Xena goes to a blind man from the town who knows of the mystics. He tells her that they will challenge Gabby and if she kills to survive she will be sacrificed as Morpheus (the god of dreams)bride. The man agrees to help Xena venture into the dreamworld to save Gabby. He gives Xena a potion and Xena wakes in the dreamworld to soldiers telling sotries of how Xena the warrior killed them and their families. Xena’s sleeping body is losing its life. The man worries that Xena will not survive the dreamworld.
Gabrielle survives the first challenge by tricking her two attackers into killing each other. Gabrielle returns to her chamber to rest where she falls into a dream and communicates with Xena. She wakes and is taken to her second challenge where she talks the attackers into killing one another. Xena is approached by an apparition of her former self.
Evil Xena taunts real Xena. The two fight until Xena finally defeats herself by accepting that her old self and new self are on in the same. She breaks through the barrier to Gabrielle, just in time to save her and defeat the mystics. In the end, the blind man has his sight returned to him and now leads the mystics of Morpheus.
For a show that only just began and should still be figuring itself out, the creators of Xena always knew what the glue of the show was: the love between Gabrielle and Xena. It’s tough to get an audience to believe in this right off the bat. The pair only just met and already, Xena is expected to care for Gabrielle so much that she would never want anything bad to happen to her. While Hercules, the series Xena spun-off of, had a cental pairing in Hercules and Iolaus, their friendship always appeared (at least to me) more circumstantial with a some solid banter. While Gabrielle and Xena’s relationship may be a little rushed in some ways, the writers make up for this with Xena’s continued desire to keep Gabrielle out of harms way. This desire is what leads to one of the most central themes of the series: Innocence.
As we will see later on, Gabrielle’s innocence is defined by the fact that she has never killed anyone. So often in history and writing, if a female is losing her innocence they are almost always discussing the character’s virginity. Gabrielle is (most likely) a virgin, but the series never implies that if she had sex she would lose herself. Gabrielle is Xena’s moral compass, if she were to take the life of someone or something else, she would lose her ability to guide the titular character. At the end of the third episode, Xena implies to Gabrielle that if this does change she would be different but that does not mean she would lose herself if she doesn’t want to.
On the other side of the coin we have Xena, learning to accept and merge her past with her new life. This acceptance is still shaky and will come up again in the series, but it is more about making others accept the new Xena more than herself, where as Gabby’s innocence plays out in a major storyline a couple seasons.
We’re three episodes in and we have already established the affection between our leading ladies, as well as two major themes of the series. As I watch all the new pilots this year, it’s apparent how many shows struggle with finding that identity while not necessarily being given the time to find out with the pressure to get ratings so quickly. It is refreshing to see how simple it can be and a reminder to not overthink things. We just need to identify what the series is about and let the audience know through organic storylines.