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The Bitter Suite

Written by Steven L. Sears and Chris Manheim
Directed by Oley Sassone
Lyrics by Joseph LoDuca, Pamela Phillips Oland, Dennis Spiegel

Carmen S.
Mika Ariela Epstein

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AlciBIades on The Bitter Suite:

In Defense (?!) Of The Gabdrag

So much could be (and has been) said about "The Bitter Suite" that I have decided to limit myself here to only the most controversial part of this landmark episode: the first 15 minutes, including the now-infamous "GabDrag."

In light of my title, let me state emphatically, for the record, that the dragging of Gabrielle was a despicable, totally-unacceptable act by Xena. As portrayed (more on this later) it would be a heinous crime committed against anyone, much more so by Xena against her one and only love, Gabrielle.

So why am I writing a (tempered) defense of it? To understand this, we must work backwards through the episode. "Illusia" is depicted as that Reality/Metaphor where the various conflicts that occurred between X&G during the Rift arc are brought to their climax (as another reviewer called it, "rockbottom") and then (mutually, inter-personally) resolved, or at least begun to be resolved. As they enter Illusia then, the plot requires that X&G's dual behaviors must be at this point of "rockbottom." They must both completely hate each other.

We should all know by now how easily hatred comes to Xena. The difficulty is getting Gabrielle (for whom hatred was, till this point, unthinkable) to hate, and moreover, hate Xena (to whom G's feelings are, at the beginning of the episode, dominated by guilt). It is not uncommon for twisted people to hate those who make them feel guilty (e.g. as the KKK hates African-Americans), but G's tortured mind is still not quite to that point. Though she responds "Yes" to her Callisto-projection's question "Don't you hate her?" she then immediately shouts "No!" I would argue that nothing short of some kind of malevolent act of violence by her erstwhile-protector is going to prompt Gabrielle to hate Xena.

Hence, the GabDrag. Before I examine that, however, let's jump back some more to examine Xena in TBS until that point. Some people have argued that they only way they can possibly accept the GabDrag is to view X as Ares' puppet. I do not go quite that far. However, there are six important factors to consider: 1)Xena's dark nature (or was it nurture? No matter)---a given for this remarkable series. 2)Separation from Gabrielle, the best source of control of her dark side. 3) Xena's perception that the separation was caused by Gabrielle's act of betrayal, her lying about Hope. 4)G's lie leading to the extraordinary, singular occurrence of the death of X's only child. 5) A state of shock/loss/rage that could send her "postal" at anytime. X on the mountaintop is barely any different than teen-age "I'll never cry" Callisto of AN2, or for that matter, the Xena at the end of Destiny's flashback. Finally, 6) Ares providing direction for Xena's barely-capable-of-conscious-thought rage: kill Gabrielle. This combination of factors cannot be emphasized enough. The only combination that could send Xena this far over-the-edge . . . happened.

So why specifically the drag? Well, it wasn't her first reaction (I won't call it thought), her trusty chakram was. But the complications of the Amazons+Joxer (and an unwilling Argo) dictated the need for innovation-on-the-fly, a process which we now discover that, in Xena, is nearly unconscious. The brown horse with whip were just the first things at hand (though admittedly it doesn't explain why she didn't just go after G with her sword). That it was a particularly brutal act of attempted murder (even torture?) is still not at all easy to swallow. If I may be allowed one more moment of psycho-babble, perhaps X was driven further insane by the experience of so many people coming to G's aid (if ineffectively!) while X was all alone.

What dragging provided was an action (necessarily violent, I'm sorry to say) that accomplished the act of separating G from her "family," enabled G to hate X, and transported her (together with X) to the all-important gateway of the cliff/waterfall. At the same time, the drag ensured a distance between them, that would tend to prevent any way of their communicating (and hence, possibly prevent them from hitting rockbottom) prior to Illusia.

Now, as to the GabDrag itself: completely reversing what I have said to this point, XWP's actual filming and editing of this scene was one of the most disgraceful things I have ever seen on television. The obscenities of this scene can be neatly summarized: the violent collision of G into numerous and completely gratuitous obstructions. While it's officially canon that Illusia healed G's wounds, what magic power kept her so relatively unscathed from what surely would have been a fatal ride?

To reconcile these two opposing viewpoints (dragging G was acceptable, perhaps even necessary to the plot vs. the pornography of the actual scene), perhaps I might humbly suggest how the scene could be re-cut? Showing G dragged out of the village (down a road without obstructions), one shot of being dragged across a field or beach (again, no obstructions) and finally dragged to a stop on the cliff. Intercut these shots with tight close-ups of X's face to show her insanity (and I don't mean "3 stooges" style!). What's so hard about that? While I rarely try to tell Xenastaff how to do their jobs (except lengthening the Kiss between X&G in "The Quest" a second longer!), I mean c'mon! I hate to name names but editor Robert Field and director Oley Sassone really blew it, and shamefully. I know that the job of creating "The Bitter Suite" was a massive job, done so well through so much of the show, but it cannot excuse showing G crashing into buildings, firepits, stones (ad nauseaum).

As an aside, that this episode was rated "TV-PG" (and not TV14) shows how worthless the current rating system is. Kids definitely should not be exposed to this. We have enough homicidal 11 year olds as it is (I say 11, because of the age of the younger suspect in the recent school shooting, but also because an 11 year old might well be mature enough to otherwise watch XWP, including the Rift arc).

Even after the suggested re-editing, many will feel that a drag, even in concept, is too violent (to be shown or for the plot). I will not debate this; it's a matter of opinion. I would challenge those who reject the concept to suggest other ways Gabrielle could be separated from the Amazons and brought to the cliff in spur-of-the-moment fashion, in such a way as to antagonize G to the point of hating X.

In conclusion, depicting acts of violence on television will always be a problematic area. What's necessary to a plot, what "films well," what's responsible to show (blood, for example, is the actual result of many acts of violence and hence should be shown) and what's irresponsible to show (gratuitous bodily harm, as in the GabDrag) will often be competing factors in the minds of the crew. Because Xena is a Warrior Princess, and not (yet) a Diplomat Princess, we will continue to see her unleash ofttimes dangerous, sometimes fatal acts of violence. With the healing of the Rift, and the influence of her love, Gabrielle, the show should return to the track of decreasing Xena's violence (though not her commitment to justice) over time. More importantly perhaps, such less-frequent acts of violence should only be shown well short of what could turn her opponents in conflict into objects-beaten-to-a-pulp. Conflict, even conflict with Gabrielle, is okay for Xena and "Xena: Warrior Princess." Dragging (or portraying dragging) an unarmed young woman into repeated blunt-force trauma is not.

The defense (and prosecution) rests.

c. 1998 AlciBIades
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Carmen S. on The Bitter Suite:

I stayed up late to watch Bitter Suite last night (usually I tape it and watch it later, because I don't do late nights well) and I was pleasantly surprised. It held my attention throughout, and I actually bought it as the beginnings of a reconciliation. I cannot see their relationship totally healed, but it is healing. If this were followed with a bunch of episodes with them working on their friendship, their anger, their guilt, their lack of trust, etc., I would be pleased. However, I suspect that this is not to be.

About the music:
First, I like musicals, so YMMV. I thought it was fun and helped create the right atmosphere for this fantasy episode. For me, if the attempts to kill each other had continued to be realistic, the episode would have become entirely too depressing. MI was hard to watch, but impossible to stop watching. I don't think they could have pulled it off if they had continued in the same vein. The musical worked for me to lighten things up without screwing up the heavy story.

I do wish they hadn't dubbed in other voices. I found that really jarring. I would have greatly preferred that Callisto and Gabrielle had singing voices that matched their speaking voices. (If they didn't dub in other voices, it sure sounded like it to me, but I'm not exactly an expert.) The voices also didn't match their characters. Anyway, I didn't like it. I'd have preferred simpler tunes and less accomplished voices.

About the episode:
I thought it was very interesting that Ares and Callisto set up the reconciliation. Gabrielle is trying to kill herself from the inside out, and Xena has retreated into herself rather than going on a killing spree. This isn't much fun for either Ares or Callisto, so they decide to fix things. While Callisto discovered that taking Xena's family away didn't make Callisto feel better, I think that tormenting Xena did. She has been having fun causing Xena pain and watching her squirm; now she and Hope went to far and Xena doesn't squirm any more. Unless Callisto can fix things up, it won't be any fun to play with Xena any more. I think Ares believed that either Xena would get rid of Gabrielle's influence and become his warlord again or that they would make up and Xena would be herself again. Then he could continue wooing her. He wants a warlord, not a homicidal hermit.

I thought the purification ritual was very much in character for Gabrielle. She feels guilty on so many levels, but she can't forgive herself, so she doesn't ever feel purified enough. Likewise, going off to grieve and then setting out for revenge fits Xena. However, I don't see Xena (under these circumstances) messing around with the amazons. I'd expect her to kill anybody in her way without a second glance. Well, actually, to throw everybody out of her way until someone really attacked, and then to kill them all. The dragging Gabrielle behind Argo scene didn't work for me. I can see Xena torturing her, perhaps, but it would need to be a lot more personal. More likely (to me) would be a quick killing, then chopping her body to bits, and finally realization of what she has done, probably followed by suicide. On the other hand, that is awfully gruesome for TV, and it kills the show.

Instead, they try to kill each other twice. I'm not sure if Gabrielle goes off to kill Xena the second time because she wants Xena dead or because she wants Xena to kill her because she thinks she deserves it. Sometimes I think the whole war/peace/kill each other stuff was run by a puppet master. The scene after, when Gabrielle confronts Xena, suggests to me that they were just marched around. If Xena had really been controlling her actions, her reply to Gabrielle's accusation wouldn't have been, "Uh...well...uh," it would have been, "You tried to kill me!" It works for me if Callisto and Ares were forcing them to see the end result of the paths they are on.

I was happy to hear Gabrielle blaming Xena in the echo chamber. The situation is not all Gabrielle's fault. Xena set things in motion. Xena makes the plans. Xena is always in charge. Xena's refusal to be partners, to listen to Gabrielle, and to let Gabrielle be a person causes problems constantly, and it certainly set this whole arc up.

I'm willing to accept that Gabrielle and Xena can stop hating each other once they realize that this is their problem for several reasons. They have these handy-dandy images pointing out the specific problems and not disappearing until they let go of that hatred. This is a fantasy, not real life, for them. Callisto and Ares have set this whole thing up to get them back together, so they have some interest in making it possible. They don't have to stop hating forever, just for a while. I don't see this as the end of all their problems, I see this as the first step. If, as I suspect, TIIC have everybody happy in the next episode, I'll just have to imagine that a lot of time passed between this episode and the next.

When Xena is trapped with Ming Tien while Gabrielle has passed through the water to Solan and Xena sings to Gabrielle that Gabrielle should forgive Xena so that Gabrielle can forgive herself, I thought that this didn't really fit at first. Xena hasn't done such a horrible thing by not telling Gabrielle about killing Ming Tien. (Just as Xena should have known Gabrielle was lying about killing Hope in GH, Gabrielle should have known Xena was lying about making him small. Neither fits their characters.) In comparison with, say, trying to kill Hope or abandoning her to Dahak, this is not such a big deal.

Besides that, since Gabrielle is the one who has made it through the curtain, it suggests to me that she has done the forgiving already. I think that Xena needs to forgive Gabrielle (for her parts in setting up Solan's death and the release of Callisto) so that Xena can begin to forgive herself (for her part in letting Gabrielle be taken by Dahak, for not dealing with Hope the way she thinks she should have, for not protecting Gabrielle and Solan).

Xena wants it to be all Gabrielle's fault, but I think she realizes that her insistence on control is the problem. I see the Ming Tien image as representing Xena's refusal to include Gabrielle in decisions and the consequences of that. If Xena had discussed her plans with Gabrielle, they could have worked together to remove him from power. It may be that he would have ended up dead anyway, but they might have found a non-violent way to solve it. If not, at least Gabrielle would have understood why it was necessary and Xena would have understood why it was the last resort instead of the only option. Gabrielle wouldn't have been working against Xena while trying to save her. Likewise, if Xena had told Gabrielle about her discussion with Ares (about Dahak), they might not have gotten into the whole mess.

Xena has to forgive herself for this. Gabrielle complains about it sometimes, but she also seems to accept it, even though she always ends up paying the price for it. It has just been the way Xena works. I hope that Xena realizes this, forgives herself for the past, and works to change the way she interacts with Gabrielle. I'm afraid this may be way to much to hope for, but that is how I'm going to rationalize things in my mind as long as possible. (This got awfully rambly. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't express my thoughts very well, but maybe you can make sense of it.)

The ending on the beach was interesting. They play in the water, happy to be back in real life, but they don't play with each other. Once they realize they are home, they quit hugging.

All in all, I liked it. I'll like it a whole lot more if Xena and Gabrielle's relationship is fragile for the next many episodes while they mend it.

c. 1998Carmen S.
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DebR on The Bitter Suite:

I can't resist throwing some first impressions out before I digest the whole event.

Aside from the tarot dipictions there was also a huge amount of religious imagery. Arguably, those images are one and the same, but given their ties to the direct religious commentary of the eps of the arc the combining of these images brings the whole arc full circle.

Xena enters the throng of soldiers with a prominent cross over her breast. The High Priestess is being wooed. The cross contains a sword. I thought that was a pretty acute comment on the nature of fundamentalism.

Ares takes on the deceptive nature given to the Snake in the Genesis story as he tries to seduce Xena away from the true Snake, Gabrielle.

Gabrielle is pulled from the water (birth/creation) and the first thing she notices is that she is in Paradise. Then she is proud that she was considered a Hero (that she was 'good enough'). The next thing that she notices is that she is naked and then tries to hide her body from Joxer. She is Eve emerging into Knowledge after having tasted the apple (that Caesar pressed to her lips). She has learned shame from her destroyed innocence. But it is the Earth that clothes her.

During the Sharks/Jets number the Swords sing:

"Cut the tree down'
Burn the root."

A direct reference to the Tree of Life, which as an ancient symbol from Matriarchy, was in the Garden of Eden (along with the Tree of Knowledge). When Adam and Eve were banished from Eden they were removed from access. Remember in HTLJ's "Surprise" that it was Callisto who burned the Tree of Life after having the last piece of fruit.

When Ares, smug that he has succeeded in getting rid of Gabrielle, says, "Ding, dong, the bitch is dead," it is a reference both to Dorothy's loss of innocence, and the belief that the witch burnings (Wicked Witch of the West and Gabrielle, the earth mother) eradicated the matriarchal imaginings from our collective conscience. But immediately, Gabrielle reappears clad partly in snake skin as though she is shedding that skin and becoming new. Her green scales have mostly shed to reveal the white robes of Strength. She has returned and was never gone.

Ephiny seems to me to be the Ace of Cups. We first see her in her bird mask and then when her face is revealed she wears a cross-marked medalion on her forehead and drinks water from a cup that spills over into water beneath. These are specific symbols from the Rider Tarot card. Being the first image, she is the Significator representing Gabrielle's true state of being, "House of the true heart, joy, content, abode..." We see quickly though that Gabrielle is prone suggesting that in the present state the card is reversed and that her heart is false and unstable.

Ephiny says that Gabrielle has been in this state for 3 days. The three is significant on many levels. Jesus was shut in the tomb after having been crucified and on the third day he arose. (Stop me before I burst into strident hymns! "Up from the grave he arose! In a mighty triumph 'or his foes!" Ack, too late!) This is the third day after Hope and Solon have died and she rises wearing, what evokes the images we are so familiar with, a white shroud. She has been compared to Jesus repeatedly through the arc. While she is in her internal underworld she is tempted by Callisto with hate, as Jesus was tempted by, the angel, Lucifer with power. Trips to the underworld are a staple of Greek mythology and reflect the transformation of Mother Earth as Life, Death, and Birth stories. The dead return to the Womb/Earth (Stonehenge) where they are renewed and rebirthed to live on. The snake is the most primary and enduring symbol of that cycle. In this episode, though there is reference to Eden, there is no evil snake, only a false one (Ares). Gabrielle, as the Earth Goddess, and the snake that Xena attempts to choke (!) from the Wheel of Fortune card are the only other snake references. The Mother lives to tell her story and is not Evil.

What I find fascinating is that Gabrielle in the end is the transformed (the most interesting of the XWP stories, IMO, have been about Gabrielle's process.), possessing/radiating power, and it is Xena who is awed. They are finally equals.

Another point that I thought was interesting was at the end as Solon in Xena's arms disolves into Gabrielle in Xena's arms. It puts me in mind of the son/lover stories (of which Mary/Jesus/Gabriel is an extension). I'll have to chew on that for a while.

The big unanswered question is Hope. Why didn't she show up here? Are Hope and Gabrielle one and the same? Has Hope simply been a splinter of Gabrielle's self?


About Lao Ma: The Lao Ma connection struck me most at the point where Gabrielle holds out her hand to Xena as an OFFER as opposed to the DEMAND of the slap in the Debt II. It occurs to me that it is Gabrielle who learns the lessons proffered by Lao Ma. I liked the visual of Xena's walk changing as she passed through the golden shower (I am NOT going there. Don't ask me. :) as a parallel to the healing she recieved from Lao Ma. Both occured when she was READY to heal. The parallel suggests to me that Xena is not going to be all sweetness and light now, but that she has taken another step toward redemption or rather resusitation. If the scene had been more parallel to the scene in The Debt II where, she 'fell from grace', was given the opportunity to change and instead kicked the snot out of Borias, but this time she DID let go, the series would be over. Or it would be Hercules.

I think a HUGE chunk of the success of the arc of six lies with Oley Sassone as director (four of the six eps) for the amazing job her visual work does in pulling the episodes together into a coherent whole. Some of my favorite moments that I attribute to her are: Damn that's too hard. Well, when Xena is dragging Gabrielle, I appreciated a couple of things. One is that (in retrospect) the camera did not allow us any ease to fathom the cruelty. It was a definite punch in the gut for me. The other is that she manages to convey that we are watching the power of the elements. It is a big exclaimtion point on the fact that this story is archetypal. She does this by having Gabrielle dragged over the earth, through fire, through water, and finally held in the air over Xena's head.

Her direction is often parenthetical or rather filled with footnotes (see dragging scene in The Debt for example), perfect for The Bitter Suite and in my opinion what makes it work. Shoving the guy off the ladder plants the notion of Callisto. Ares with his leg over the arm of his throne scratches at our memory of The Furies, as does Ares removing Xena's clothing. The seated embrace at the end references us to the similar moment at the end of The Deliverer when Xena promised it would be all right and to the beginning of Gabrielle's Hope while it still seems that Xena will guide Gabrielle through her hard lesson.

I really like the work of Oley Sassone.

Another writer (confidentially) wrote that the scene where Gabrielle is breaking Xena's legs made the whole ep and arc work for them. That moment drove the point home for me. Our hate begins to NOT descriminate and every one will fail us. That was the point too where I finally gave up Hope. The character, not the emotion.

This episode was so incredibly rich for the character of Gabrielle that I am very excited to see the results of her transformation. I was really struck by her pride in this one. It seems that she must work to give it up. She also will have to call upon herself more. I find it very interesting that the promo for 1AAA shows Gabrielle on a horse and being thrown a sword. It appears that she is taken back. Apparently Xena has learned to share responsiblity better than Gab has learned to accept it.

Another thing I wanted to say about the Golden Shower: The shot of Gabrielle's hand waiting and then being grasped by Xena's is a representation, I believe, of the Two of Cups from the Rider Tarot. The card shows a woman and a man standing facing each other. Between and over them is a caduceus with a winged lion's head. Each holds a cup. The man is extending his hand to the woman and the woman's hand is behind the cup so we cannot tell if she is meeting his hand. In the words of Arthur Edward Waite:

"Divinatory Meanings: Love, passion, friendship, affinity, union, concord, sympathy, the interrelation of the sexes, and--as a suggestion apart from all offices of divination--that desire which is not in Nature, but by which Nature is sanctified" (The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, original copyright 1910)

I'm not sayin'. I'm just sayin.' :)

About the scene where Xena drags Gabrielle behind her horse: Gut wrenching as it was, I believe that the scene was very necessary to the story. It illustrated that the hate could escalate/snowball to such a point that Xena could do her WORST to one she loves and who loves her in return. Basically that she knows no levels to betrayal or any way to forgive at that point. If you cross a line you become nothing, as easy to damage/mutilate/destroy as a nameless faceless enemy. It is the breaking point for Gabrielle, where her hate has grown enough to try to kill Xena. Gabrielle's big step was in the scene where she confronts herself and Xena with the truth. Xena IS capable of doing the things Gbarielle was so sure were in Xena's past and that Xena can do them to HER and that she can do them too. Tough lesson for the bard! It is the beginning of a maturation of her definition of forgiveness--the realization that all forgiveness is self forgiveness. Without that scene Gabrielle is left in her fantasy and petting a wild dog while dangerously denying her own wild nature. It is one of a number of realizations that X&G had to come to in order to be able to heal, IMO.

Scattered thought:
I thought it was interesting that when Callisto caressed Gabrielle's face she rubbed her thumb over her 'third eye', her intuition, psychic abilities. It was also interesting to note that, ever so slightly, Gabrielle was combining sex and punishment. She was beginning to respond to Callisto's touch and was accepting of the slap.

When does the illusion begin?
I thought that I saw several Tarot representations before Illusia. Xena on the mountain as the 5 of Cups. Xena riding out of the village dragging Gabrielle as the Knight of Swords. Heck, the The Warriors of the Pierced Heart, I beleive where a representation of the 3 of Swords so...

This is also what I come up with. When Xena rides Argo full tilt into Amazontown she is first confronted by 5 Amazons wielding spears. I take the spears to be representations of Wands and that they are spears (aggressive) as opposed to staffs (defensive) to indicate struggle. Here is Waite's description and divinatory meaning of the 5 of Wands:

"A posse of youths, who are brandishing staves, as if in sport or strife. It is mimic warfare, and hereto correspond the 'Divinatory Meanings': Imitation, as, for example, sham fight, but also the strenuous competition and struggle of the search after riches and fortune. In this sense it connects with the battle of life. Hence some attributions say that it is a card of gold, gain, opulence. 'Reversed': Litigation, disputes, trickery, contridiction."

Maybe Xena's major flip over these women lands her within Gabrielle's vision. Or I'd rather like to think that this is where their separate realities/visions meld. Xena lands to confront Ephiny (Ace of Cups) who reaches out to her, but rather than accept Ephiny's offer Xena breaks her arm (which on the Ace of Cups holds the cup). For me that parallels the scene where Xena accepts Gabrielle's proffered hand after going through the transformation.

c. 1998 DebR
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EmperorPenguin on The Bitter Suite:

After watching "Bitter Suite", my initial reaction was:

"TIIC put us through several months of hell for this?!"

This is why Gabrielle was raped; forced to serve as a vessel for Dahak's evil spawn?!

This is why Xena lost Solon?!

This is why Gabrielle's core beliefs and ideas were presented as naive and foolish?!

This is why the "rift" was started in the first place?!

Pardon me while I hurl:(

In no way, shape, or form did the end of the "rift" justify TIIC's means of getting there.

"BS" was many things, but a satisfactory culmination of the "rift" and a believable reconcilation between Xena and Gabrielle it was not.

"BS" was very pretty. It was full of rich, vivid colors and finely tailored costumes. The talking animals and statues were cute. The songs were sung with gusto-and speed-it was difficult to hear or understand the lyrics at times.

"BS" was also chock-a-block with nifty special effects, bright flashes of light, choreography reminiscent of classic musicals from the early to mid thirties.

"BS" contained numerous "homages" to motion picture classics of the past, including"The Wizard of Oz' and various Disney cartoon musicals.

"BS" blithely intermixed Tarot imagery, Taoism, and tenets of Christianity. And I'm sure there are other religious aspects and images I missed.

But all these bright, shiny, and pleasing pieces of eye and ear candy, all the melange of symbolism and religion really did, IMO, is allow TIIC to neatly side-step any true, real, and in depth examination and resoultion of the raw, jagged wounds they had Xena and Gabreile inflict upon one another during the course of the "rift".

In fact, this entire ep with rife with red herrings, the most blatant being the supposed "subtextual" kiss Callisto gave Xena and then the "lap dance" she performed for the fallen warrior.

Don't get me wrong: I've seen, noticed, and appreciated the flirting between Xena and Callisto in past episodes.

But this seemed and felt staged, set up, unreal.

It put me in mind of Rob Tapert's vow to "...milk the subtext for some-if not all-of what it's worth."

In fact so much of what went into making "BS" such an eye popping, ear pleasing spectacle ultimately struck me as nothing more than diversionary tactics by TIIC to keep viewers from focusing on how very poorly they "mended" the Xena and Gabrielle "rift".

I'll not go over the sickening, heart breaking opening scene of "BS" again-but I will say that it was cruel, mean spirited, totally blatant and completely unnecessary.

So, Xena can help spare the life of the warlord Cortese, who attacked her village, shattered her life and took her beloved brother Lyceus from her, yet she cold bloodedly attacks, tortures, and prepares to murder her best friend/lover/savior during the past three years?!

Oh, I don't think so! And that mistake cost TIIC dearly, as I will explain later on in this post.

Okay, scattershot opinion time again, almost all of it negative, so proceed at your own risk.

When Ares sneered "Ding, dong, the bitch is dead", why did I get the feeling some members of the Xenastaff see the bard in exactly that manner?

Xena's omnipotence reigns supreme again: It's Xena who figures out what's going on in "Illusia" and explains it to the befuddled Gabrielle. Even when they're back in Dahak's temple, it's Xena who co-opts Gabrielle's idealism, who instructs the bard that only by letting go of their hate can they forgive each other and escape.

Excuse me, but when will Gabrielle teach Xena something profound this season, as she used to do during the first two years of this series?

And isn't it odd that the very ideas that made Gabrielle the great, positive character she was were ruthlessly ground into the dirt over the course of the "rift" arc, only to be conveniently "resurrected" by Xena when they needed them most?

While Gabrielle showed justifiable anger towards Xena for "killing" her in "Illusia", why did Xena react like a three year old child who'd just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar?

"Um, yeah, I killed ya, Gabrielle, but I didn't really mean it, y'know. Wanna go over to my Mom's to play?"

IMO, a prime opportunity for a real, face to face expungement of hate between them was wasted during that scene.

And boy, if Gabrielle's heart rending scream of "Not again!" as Dahak dragged her back to his temple/altar weren't the anguished cries of a rape victim suddenly face to face with her attacker again, I don't know what is.

TIIC need to get off the pot and take responsibility for that plotline and quit trying to "justify" and "explain" the rape away.

TIIC are making the images of a bound and restrained Gabrielle on the altar and Xena on the cross into quite an ongoing fetish, aren't they?

Guys, it's getting real old, real fast. Get your jollies somewhere else, okay?

Lying to Gabrielle about killing Ming Tien was the least of the things Xena had to apologize to the bard for. She should of gotten down on her knees and begged Gabrielle to forgive her for attempting to murder her earlier in "BS".

Until Xena makes a direct apology and plea for forgiveness on that specific act of brutality she's not right in my books.

But now let me focus on what almost worked for me-the last few minutes of the ep, when Xena and Gabrielle are seperated by the waterfall of "truth and forgiveness".

Ever since the "rift" arc started, I always felt that somehow, on some level, Lucy and Renee never fully bought into the evil, nasty things TIIC had their characters doing and saying to each other.

Their performances in the "rift" arc eps always seemed more than a little "off" to me.

Throughout most of "BS", I felt that same way. But when Lucy began singing Xena's ballad in which she finally admitted she was sorry and begged Gabrielle to forgive her as only the bard could, I saw the special Lawless/O'Connor chemistry kick back into life.

Again I watched in amazement as these two talented actors exchanged heartfelt feelings of deep love and forgiveness using their facial expressions and eyes. How they once more allowed Xena and Gabrielle to exchange a million words of compassion and understanding in a few longing, loving looks.

And when Gabrielle reached out into the waterfall for Xena with her hand, and the fallen warrior greatfully took it, I teared up as the bard PULLED the warrior into the safety, warmth, and love of her forgiveness.

You know what? I would have bought it, right then and there. I would have allowed TIIC to get away with everything they piled on these two up to that point.

But one thing stopped me.

The sheer sickness and raw brutality of the opening segment of "BS".

As much as I wanted to ignore, forget, avoid it, I could not.

My conscience wouldn't let me.

And so, the supposed "reunion" of one of the greatest romantic†relationships I have ever seen was forever tainted by TIIC overkill tendencies.

Like Gabrielle's rape in 'The Deliverer', if TIIC had been a little more smart, a little more sensitive, a little more understanding of the sensibilities of a large segment of their fan base/audience, they would have known showing Xena's brutal attack on Gabrielle was just plain wrong. They would have known that they had crossed a line many fans considered their own personal "breaking point" where the series and it's two lead characters were concerned.

Where the show goes from here, and whether I can follow it with the passion I once did are open to _very_serious doubt.

Already Xena fandom has lost many longtime, loyal fans who are heartsick over what has occured during season three.

I'm certain more will follow, and I might be amongst them:(

And all of this was due to TIIC not knowing-or not caring-when they stepped over the line between acceptance and betrayal in the eyes of many fans.

One last thing-without meaning to slight any of the other actors in this ep, including Lucy and Hudson-I must say Renee really shined in this ep, bringing the glow of love and life back to the bard of Potadiea for the first time in a long time.

Someone needs to convince this shy young actor that her talents are constantly growing and she is quickly becoming a world class performer.

Someone needs to convince TIIC of that fact, too.

BTW: The thought just occurred to me-since "Illusia" is the "land" where "lies may be truth and truth may be lies", how do we know the ending of "Bitter Suite" won't be revealed as a lie somewhere down the road?

Impossible, you say?

Don't sell TIIC short:(

c. 1998 EmperorPenguin
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Katrina on The Bitter Suite:

About Xena on the mountaintop...
Going to the mountain is "code" for meditating, at least in biblical scripture.

So it could be said that
Xena was meditating as Gabrielle was purifying and on the inner level things began to happen (especially since there is an indication within the series that a "bond" of a sorts already exists between them)


I loved the whole Potedia . .isn't as beautiful and blissful as it seems scenario. (The Socialized world is not Real Bliss) Both Xena and Gab were coming from dysfunctional backgrounds. Potedia was stagnant, filled with rumors, no new learning, hidebound traditions, and peace has only One meaning, rather than being something of "real" value (which also indicated to me the Illusion of Illusia).

I loved how War and Peace,suddenly started to Feel the same. .because there was an inflexibility. .about it. .(which also speaks of the learning process that Xena and Gab go through. Xena learns that peace is a state of mind, and attainable. Gab learns that there may be times when Violence is an appropriate action. . .given certain circumstances. They both learn that it is LOVE which provides the "true" boundaries to let them know what is "real," versus what is not. (Hate isn't real. .it's just an emotion...)


From my perspective, the green of Gabrielle's garb, seems equivalent of the green of the palmleaves (palmleaves?) that were used during Gabrielle's purification process. I think, the reason we don't see Gabrielle going through the "forgiveness" process is that she's already been doing so. . .For three long days (which, in a purification ritual, really isn't that long. .considering), which gives us a time frame to work with. She even comes to accept her hate, which is the first step in the process. (Have to identify the problem in order to fix it)

Now we get to the bonding part. .They've already experienced dreamsharing. My guess is that Gabrielle joins the dream in process She's certainly going to be high enough to be part of the jungian consciousness that Xena is experiencing after three days of sensory deprivation (She has been isolated in the hut, plus whatever drugs they use ..or don't.. plus her own high emotional state of grieving)

It may in fact, be those high emotions (which the imagery of Callisto awakens her to) which catapult her to whatever her next state of "awakening is" (which would be awareness of just how Angry and Hurt Xena is and how dangerous a situation that creates. .so the dream carries forward to the natural conclusion. I think, actually. .Gabrielle is there from the beginning. .and that the illusory Gabrielle is the real one. .but her own illusions of herself.

You must kill the buddha. .you must kill the self. .to attain enlightenment. (according to some philosophies) The accusation of "You killed me," is a shocked state of fact. Gabrielle was officially toppled from her pedastal. Gabrielle officially killed with her own hands. Xena's actions killed the buddha that was Gabrielle (in her mind) (All the things they *Knew* about each other and themselves are gone. .in that moment. .they're almost ready to be in the "Now" of the experience) and there's no excuse for it, because there's no need for excusing, only confrontation, but useful confrontation, rather than the cutting kind.

Which is why they end up in the Tower (the next step of awareness, I guess)

c. 1998 Katrina prosper4@ix.netcom.com
Katrina's Xena Fanfiction at: http://bearblue.simplenet.com/xenafic.html

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Lunacy on The Bitter Suite:

Well - Thursday night was B-Day for me - BITTER SUITE day - I've seen the episode twice more since then. As was the case with MATERNAL INSTINCTS - lots of mixed impressions - some good, some bad. First of all, there is no denying the fact that this episode *IS* extraordinary. Along with DESTINY, THE DEBT and A DAY IN THE LIFE, BITTER SUITE is one of those episodes that really make XWP stand out as something special on TV - a series unlike anything we've seen before that is truly redefining our notions of quality on the small screen. Having said that - let me get into the nitty gitty of this experience that is truthfully BITTER SUITE.

The opening sequence is bar none the MOST gut-wrenching scene I've ever seen in this TV series - one of the most riveting I've ever seen on TV period. I had some major problems stemming from this scene but I'm gonna discuss those later in the post and go on now to talk about the adventures in Illusia.

I'm a theatre-lover. Living in Miami I don't regularly get the opportunity to see the types of productions that are offered on Broadway or L.A. but when I have seen grand-scale musicals like MISS SAIGON or Andrew Lloyd Weber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - I've LOVED them. I've never missed an opportunity to catch PHANTOM when it's been playing somewhere I've traveled to or when it's come here to Miami and have in fact seen it over ten times. The Illusia sections of BITTER SUITE reminded me very much of these types of Broadway musicals so, not surprisingly, this aspect of the episode captivated me. I think if you've never seen a live musical, BITTER SUITE may be a bit jarring. There are elements used in musicals that we don't normally get on TV. Things are exaggerated, symbolism is often present, a single song is sometimes used to advance the story in a way that would normally require several scenes in a non-musical presentation. We see all of this in BITTER SUITE. The Illusia portions of the episode are in fact an allegory - telling the story of Xena and Gabrielle's estrangement and reconciliation through the use of symbols. Whether this was an appropriate format for the apparent conclusion of the rift I'm not sure about - but I can tell you that the theatre-lover in me loved parts of this episode. I actually found myself wishing that they could have actually done BITTER SUITE as a *REAL* Broadway musical touring the country for all Xenites to enjoy :)

The cast in this episode came through with flying colors. EVERYONE is wonderful. The first one we see singing is Hudson who is her usual terrific, wicked, playful self. GREAT VOICE too - I hear they dubbed her singing parts but the person REALLY sounded like Hudson! It's really incredible to see the acting range this actress has and how beautifully she's developed the character. Her Callisto in BITTER SUITE is at times the taunting warlord we've always known, at times Xena's guide through Illusia and at times...almost her conscience.

When Gabrielle arrives in Illusia she is greeted by her own guide, Joxer who for once I thought fit in an episode - at least this part of the episode. His quirkiness is perfect for Illusia.

In the scene which follows we see Xena arriving at a castle where Ares and a small army is waiting for her. I LOVED the epic quality of this scene. The whole thing reminded me of those high-drama German operas. Kevin is BEYOND fabulous. Terrific voice and a sensuality that makes him shine in the seductive role Ares plays here. While he is busy dressing Xena in armor, Gabrielle arrives in Poteidaia. I found myself grinning at this scene because it REALLY reminded me of the opening sequence in Disney's BEAUTY & THE BEAST where Belle dances around her village - all very light and cheery.

The different groups are brought together in the next scene which has the soldiers screaming "WAR" while the villagers scream for "PEACE" but everyone looking ANGRY. Xena and Gabrielle face off and the Warrior Princess FINALLY gets her revenge...killing the bard. Relishing the moment, Ares then proceeds to try to entice Xena back into his fold. Kevin is again spectacular in this scene. He dances this little tango with Xena while imploring her to "melt into him". Sizzling does not even come close ;-) At the end of it though, Xena's eyes once again go to the dead bard. In an ironic twist, it is Callisto who shows up and asks her if she feels better now? If her pain has gone away?

As it turns out Xena has not killed Gabrielle but just an illusion. Suddenly the body disappears along with everyone else as the REAL bard shows up, feeling quite hurt that Xena "killed" her. Xena is actually sort of funny here acting like a kid who messed up. Uhhhh - yeah - BIG TIME Warrior Princess ;-)

The episode becomes darker and more dramatic at this point. The two women are transported to a hall of some sort where if they talk about the past loud echoes keep them from hearing one another. Only if they talk about what they are presently feeling - can they hear one another. It's an interesting scene. Highly symbolic. They each start singing about their feelings and end up once again screaming at one another. Lucy's singing is fabulous as usual. The voice they used for Gabrielle, however, I found a biiiit disconcerting. She sounded like Ariel from THE LITTLE MERMAID - not bad but just NOT the bard ;-)

Their hatred symbolically opens up a portal that allows the fire of Dahok to capture them, dragging them back to the temple in Brittania. There's a great special effect here where a hooded figure emerges from a crypt and the head temporarily turns into a horn, playing a note which heralds the arrival of those that Xena and Gabrielle hate. Caesar is there as well as Callisto, Khrafstar, Ares and most importantly, evil versions of the warrior and bard with black, soulless eyes.

As Gabrielle is chained to the altar and Xena tied to a cross at the head of that altar, the two then begin singing to one another - a beautiful, poignant, meaningful song in which they dont offer blame but just wonder how they could possibly have gotten to this point of hating one another. They both realize as they sing that love is what will allow them to triumph over the hatred and in fact that is exactly what happens. All their enemies blow up one by one until only the two friends remain, now free from the shackles of hatred. Now, if done in a non-musical format, given the DEGREE to which this rift had shattered the relationship between them, I suspect it would have required a whole season's worth of episodes to even get them talking again. In a musical, however, as I pointed out before, everything tends to be exaggerated so this comes across as somewhat believable.

The final sequence is without a doubt the most moving in the episode. They see a beautiful sunny glade just beyond a waterfall. Solon is standing there. Gabrielle gets past the waterfall with no problem but when Xena tries the water burns her. She cannot get through. The one hooded figure which did not get destroyed along with their other enemies returns. Xena realizes that it is Ming T'Ien, still haunting her because she has not been completely honest. She then finally admits to Gabrielle that she did indeed kill him. Lucy now sings a song that is my favorite in the whole episode. The music, the lyrics, even her attire - once again dressed in the rags she wore while being crucified, all combine to paint a very vulnerable portrayal of a Warrior Princess who is reaching out to the two people she loves most - Gabrielle and Solon. She first sings to the bard and then her son, asking them both for forgiveness. The scene is deeply emotional. At the end, Ming T'Ien is destroyed and Xena manages to pass through the waterfall to reunite with Gabrielle and Solon. Did the scene work for me as the END of the rift? Well...if this were a self-contained musical like PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or MISS SAIGON, yes it definitely would work. Problem is - XWP is not normally a musical. We've had a bunch of episodes preceding this one in which these two women have hurt one another deeply. The episode opened with a HARROWING sequence in which Xena essentially tortures the bard and then is about to throw her over a cliff. All of a sudden at the end, they're back on the beach, NOT in a musical anymore, and Gabrielle is now wearing her BGSB (no idea where that came from) and there isn't a mark on her. That is just a bit too easy for me.

A few random thoughts...the scene with Solon at the end was supposed to make me happy I guess but it REALLY made me sad. I wish they hadn't killed him off. I didn't think much of the character in ORPHAN OF WAR but by the time MATERNAL INSTINCTS rolled around he had entrenched himself in my mind as Xena's kid. Their connection in that episode was nice too. I would have liked to see her tell him in REAL LIFE (not in Illusia) that she was his mom. On a side note, in Greek history there was actually a person called Solon who became a great statesman responsible for many of the laws that gave birth to the political system we know today as a democracy. I think it would have been exceedingly cool if Xena's Solon had ended up being THAT Solon.

Although the scene with Xena asking for forgiveness is powerful, I don't quite see the lie concerning Ming T'Ien as SUCH a sin. I thought this was a weak point in the script. Her asking for forgiveness for nearly killing Gabrielle at the beginning I could see - but I've never thought the Ming T'Ien thing should have been such a point of contention between them. I thought Xena was right in killing the little twirp and should have probably admitted it from the beginning.

After what Xena did to the Amazons, their regent and their queen, I want an episode in which the Amazons go after Xena! It really is hard for me to believe that the Amazons would just let bygones be bygones to say nothing of the fact that I think they might not like seeing their queen traveling around with someone who beat the heck out of her and then tried to kill her. Ohhhh and one rift may be over but another is just beginning! Anyone catch Xena WHIPPING ARGO as she was riding into that village at the beginning? Methinks Argo is going to be one slightly upset mare. Musical time is over folks. Lets get REAL now.

Overall impression - one INCREDIBLE episode. As a musical - OUTSTANDING. As a TV offering - highly original and exceptionally well-crafted. As the end of the rift...not particularly believable - but then the problem is that if they really tried to make it fit what I consider believable, Xena and Gabrielle would just go their separate ways and the series would likely end. Forgiveness - sure, but with the death of a child now forever between them and the memory of that attempted murder from the beginning of this episode, I just do not think ANY two people could continue traveling around, fighting the good fight like the best of friends. For me this rift just went a taaaad too far...BUT - let us rejoice! DING DONG THE RIFT IS DEAD!

c. Lunacy
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Mika Ariela Epstein on The Bitter Suite:

I don't feel like putting in 'IMO' every time I state an opinion. Okay it's dumb, because who else's opinion would I be writing IN!? I'm single, I'm home alone on the second rottenest day of the year for someone who's single (X-mas is worse I've been told, but I've never been bothered). Basically, any time you reach an opinion, you're darn right it's mine. I don't feel the need to apologize for anything I'm going to write, because in my head and heart they are right. Hence this is a 'warning' and not a disclaimer.

First impression. I like musicals. I had soundtracks to every single musical I've ever been to, but a vile ex-roomie stole a bunch of my tapes and I lost some. Still, when I was a kid, we used to watch 'Oklahoma' and 'Guys and Dolls'. I learned how to flip a record when I was 7, because my dad played the soundtrack to 'Damn Yankees' and then went shopping, and I HAD to hear side two! (he came back an hour later to find me bouncing on the couch belting out 'What ever Lola wants').

The point is, I LOVE musicals. Okay? There's a certain magic that they have where you can susspend your beliefe in reality for a second, and believe in true love and the imposiable. Some are more fancifull than others, but when I see a musical, I'm ready to believe. Now, watching Xena, I 'accept' certain things. Xena can flip and fly and fight and do all those fantabulious things. So it's not too much of a strech to accept a musical Xena, and I was looking forward to it.

On with the show.

While I was watching it, and saw Gabrielle doing the self purification since 'She and Xena parted' I nodded. Made perfect sense to me. She was feeling guilty and until she could let go of her guilt, she'd never be able to move on. Happy Happy guest shot of Ephiny (whahoo!) in her full official aspect as Boss Lady Amazon. BTW, total symbolism with Gabrielle there, in that white robe. It's like the one the sacrificial chick in "The Deliverer" wore, and white symbolizes purity. Something Gabrielle is supposed to be.

Both Xena and Gabrielle are so tormented about forgiving themselves and each other, that they loose common sense. Point One: Gabrielle listens to Callsito. Point Two: Xena listens to Ares. May I 'paraphrase' Xena from "The Furies" She says to Ares, "I must be mad, you're staing to make sense." Our girls are blinded by grief and shame and disgust. Grief over losing their children. Shame over guilt, because it may be Gabrielle's fault that Hope killed Solon, but Xena certainly obsessed over Caeser so much that she forgot to worry about Gabrielle. Number one rule of sidekicks is that the HERO is responsable for their lives and fates.

So Xena charges into the Amazon Village, where Ephiny *siiigh, drool on the keyboard* and Joxer (did Ted get a hair cut? He wasn't so annoying this time...) are. I'm not getting into figuring out how Xena got from Snowy wastelands to Amazon Village during one comercial break. Personally, if I saw Xena riding like THAT into town, I'd lock the doors and throw some nuble virgins out to appease her. Bad-ass Warlord Xena returns to whallop some Amazonian booty, and break Ephiny's arm while she's at it *sniffle*. Those were some brave amazons, becuase my MST3K comment to myself was 'Please don't make me fight Xena, she'll hurt me! *thwack, Amazon flies through the air* I told you! I can see my hut from heeeeeerrrrreeee.'

Then of course Joxer runs out holding Gabrielle asking for help. And that devlish look on Xena's face made me remember when Lucy was playing Callisto in Xena's body. That vile, evil, "You wan't HELP, little boy? I'll help that bitch, Gabrielle" leer that Xena had. *shudder*. Nice hook to Joxer's face, good way to get him out of the picture. Can they do that every episode?

Mind you, tying Gabrielle and draging her for leagues behind Xena's horse is a bit extreem. I was glad they didn't use Argo, becuase while I KNOW Gabrielle and Argo aren't the best of friends, they don't hate each other THAT much. That whole scene, Gabrielle's dragging one, is WAY to sad to watch again. It reminds me of something I saw in a movie with my dad and I cried (the heroine had that done to her by the bad guys). Wish I could remember the movie.

Anyways, back on topic.

Gabrielle comes to and does the 'holy shit' routine and kicks Xena so not to get chucked off a cliff. I'd been chanting. "Both of you jump!" for the last couple seconds, so Gabrielle's action was a bit surprising. Shows what I know. Still, gabrielle says the right, human thing. "I hate you!" and tackles Xena right off the cliff. (Anyone else have shade of Missy Good here? Gabrielle tackling Xena and both of them getting wet? Just wish it was because of what MISSY says (the I love you) and not I hate you... Ah well)

Xena's trip: Callisto actually looks pretty nice in short hair, and she lays a killer fool. Of course Xena's more pissed about what's going on than the fact she's naked as a jay bird. The song was okay, but I had trouble with my shitty TV hearing anything sung lower than a light barritone. The little ryhme about truth and lies was cute, and the one about trust was better. How many rhymes are there for Gabrielle that WORK in a song? It was nice to see Xena still pissed off, becase she WAS.

Gabrielle's trip: Naive youngster (which she STILL is) gets to the first clue. "I'm in Elysia! Where hero's go!" Then the second clue. "Where DEAD hero's go." And the last clue. "Dead naked heros" If all this nudity is for the teenage boy crowd... Course I really didn't mind. I mean, Gabrielle in the nude on TV means you see LESS than you would if she was wearing the Amazon garb she had on in "Comedy of Eros" ya know? Anyways, Joxer was a minor annoyance I could have done with out. I would have liked it better if Ephiny had been gabrielle's guide. Or Autolycus. But I guess Bruce Campbell was doing 'Men in pink'.

Xena : In the 'dark side' of Xena (musical version) all the dumb warriors (groupies) cheer about how evil Xena is. "And those eyes could kill a bloke" not kidding. Those baby blues can break your heart. Ares strips Xena, and I think only Xena/Lucy could pull of that bad-ass routine in the buff. "I'm SO bad, Ares. I may be naked, but I'm bad."

Gabrielle: In Potedia, all I can say is 'If THAT is how her home village dresses, no wonder Gabrielle wears the BGSB!'

I actually have less to say on the rest, becuase I have no qualms with how it was presented. Given in musical format, Xena kills Gabrielle, and THEN, while Ares' sings, realizes exactly what she's done. Thankfully this is an Uber-Xenaverse, so Gabrielle's alive, and of course they start yelling and fighting. Wouldn't you?

In the 'fish bowl' ampitheator place, when they bicker, YES it is Xena who figures it out (paritally). Their fighting is causing the echos, fighting about things that CAN'T be changed. So how do they feel? They love each other, of that I have no doubt, but they can't trust each other anymore. Gabrielle HURT inside, and Xena, the warrior, tried SO hard to find the words, and ended up singing (Hey, Lucy has a great voice!) about how their hearts were broken.

Then who ever was controlling this Uber-verse (pun intended) threw them back into their number one problem. Could they forgive? Not forget how shitty things were, but forgive. And since Gabrielle has ALWAYS been talking about forgiving sins and starting a new life, is it surprising that she forgave Xena? What I'm amazed at was how Xena forgave Gabrielle. She admitted to not being perfect, to having 'latent warlord tendancies' and that Gabrielle had done what any mother would do (if not in those words, then in her meaning. But I was reaching there).

Basically, using this musical format, TPTB could really speed up a relation ship. I hope next week's ep does NOT have them as best buddies again, because they're not. The rift isn't HEALED just like that. But as the buddah says 'A 1000 mile journey begins with a single step'. Our girls have remembered what they mean to each other, and that they love each other. Love may not heal all wounds, but it gives you a basis to start from.

Um... How the HELL are Xena and Gabrielle gonna explain this to the Amazons?

I can see it now..

Xena and Gabrielle walk into the village, arm in arm buddy-style, smiling, Gabrielle mysteriously dressed in the GBSB and not the white robe. Joxer is sitting with a piece of meat on a black eye, while being ignored by sexy women who are tending eachother's wounds. Ephiny (arm in a cast) sees them and grabs her sword.

Eph. : Amazons! To arms! Run Gabrielle, we'll save you!

Gab. : No! Ephiny! *waves her hands* It's not what you think!

Xena : Relax, I'm not going to hurt anyone. *in that calm, Xena voice*

Eph. : Not what I think!? By artemis, Gabrielle, she burst in here, beat us, and dragged you off behind her horse and- You're allright?

Gab. : It's sort of hard to explain...

Eph. : Sort of hard like that Dahak thing was hard?

Xena : Something like that.

Jox. : Xena, you're not going to hit me again, are you?

Xena : Only if you're stupid.

(Gabrielle relates the tale of the Uber-XenaVerse, songs included.)

Eph. : You SANG to eachother?

Gab. : I have a good voice. (Xena coughs) I can carry a tune.

Jox. : I saw you naked? (Xena decks Joxer)

Xena : Sorry.

Eph. : It's okay, I've been wanting to do that since he came to. So you're saying in this alternate universe sort of place, you two worked things out in an hour, magically were healed of all wounds and somehow got clean clothes?

Gab. : (looks at Xena) Pretty much. Right?

Xena : Sounds right to me.

Eph. : I need a drink.
c. 1998 Mika Ariela Epstein
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Pursh on The Bitter Suite:

(or very scary, contrary, hairy Ares)

What is it with the Evils on this show and major hair faux pax? (Please reference my 2D review of Maternal Instincts regarding Hope's lacking coiffeur).

Surely I'm not the only Xenite who noticed that from behind, Ares' do during the red skeleton dress tango looked like it had been stir fried in a 1970's electric curling iron and then been left to languish without the benefit of a thoughtful combing, leaving unsightly hair tubes on the back of the head of the side-burn god.

And, oh right hAres, gABrielle is a bitch. She's right up there with Edith Bunker and the Cookie Monster. You're just jealous because gABrielle sleeps next to Xena (a direct quote from gABS herself in Forgiven). And I'm sure it doesn't help your godly e go that Xena is taller than you. (Take a close looky at the wide-angle shots during the tango. Our favorite butch doesn't wear shoes when she wears her red dancinídress). And then thereís your hair tube problem. And the fact that Xena only sings to gABrielle and never to you. Poor hAres. I hear Joxer is looking for a date . . .

(and we ain't talkin' 1950's red-headed babe in a cotton frock with a Peter Pan collar, either)

Speaking of the red skeleton dress, well, let's just officially change her name to fLawless and call it done, O.K. Arguments? I didn't think so. As I intimated above, Ricky Ricardo ain't the only one Lovin' Lucy these days. And why should he be. She sings, she dances, she kicks butt in a mini-skirt, and she has a cute staff-wielding girl-friend with good hair. She even looks good standing in a water-filled jail cellar, with black grease on her face, wearing a door as a necklace (The Debt II).

(Yo, hAres, listen up)

I don't love Joxer. But, having locked the doors and pulled the blinds, I am prepared to dodge flaming air-born do-do balls for this, so here goes: IMO Joxer was well-cast as the Hanged One and the Hermit in this ep. Ted did a good job. Oh sure Joxer got in his requisite pathetic pervy moment upon gABrielle's naked arrival in Illusia. But let's face it gals, Ted is dealing with a second string character in Joxer, and frankly he does well in delivering a near perfect blend of a pubescent Mr. Rogers and a testosterone-impaired Magnum P.I.

(or Xena sets new mark on the upper limit of PMS rage)

Xena owes the Amazons in general, and Ephiny in particular, apologies for her crabby girl antics in this ep. First the big X puts the crackin' hooey on Eph's elbow. Ouch! And then she gives her a gratuitous wack-ola in the chops. Brutal. And Eph was only doing her job trying to protect the Amazon Princess.

I wish TIIC would have let the Amazons kick a little Xena butt. Even marauding barbarians put up a respectable fight before Xena gets the better of them. I suppose Xena's perfunctory dismissal of Ephiny and the Amazons let us know right quick that she was in bad-warrior mode, and not anywhere near the kinder, gentler Xena that gABS has been diligently cultivating.

(or three cheers for the four-legged blonde beast's refusal to be complicit in gABrielle's death ride to the water-fall)

Argo is a lovely creature, who stands alone as the shows only consistent contender in the well-groomed locks department. Ever since her sex change operation (she was a boy in Sins of the Past) Argo has been a good friend to gABrielle, even though gABrielle hasn't always recognized this. (In The Reckoning gABby exclaims, "this horse hates me!" But gABs said many misguided things in the early days, and besides she has Cindy Brady hair in this episode so I'm not holding her resonsible for anything).

Argo pulls through for gABrielle in this ep by taking no part in the drag race. I speak the truth Xenites. Reset your VCRs and watch the scene closely. The horse that Xena hops on after whip tying gABs at the ankles is not Argo.

I recently spoke at length with Ms. Ed, famous agent and attorney to many a show biz beast, and she informed me that Argo refused to participate in the drag scene on the basis of moral superiority. "You two-leggeds just don't treat each other right sometimes," Argo said during a recent interview.

So, while we're at it, lets add horse thievery to Xena's list of sins against the Amazons. Letís hope our girl gets going on the apology thingy post haste. It's the sisterly thing to do, plus Xena does not need a band o' angry Amazons on her case during the first moments of her reborn life. Iím sure gABS would approve if Xena initiated a socially appropriate reconciliatory move at this point.

(or sacred induction the hard way)

The Tarot, astrological and pagan symbolism in this ep have been accurately hashed out on line a gracious plenty so I won't repeat (much) here. As difficult as it was to watch a second time (the first was bad enough), I loved the thematic consistency as gABrielle is dragged first and most fully on the Earth, and then through the Water (mud puddle) and Fire (camp fire) and almost (let's hear it for the karate kick!) sent sailing through the Air, thus invoking all of the Elements.

Being the cycle that it is, the element theme immediately begins again, this time with both Xena and gABS Airborne into the rebirthing Water, and on to Illusia where the naked gABby is given a cheery 1973 Earth mama maxi that Joxer (the Hanged One) pulls straight from Mother Earth herself. Later the buxom Bard is pulled, for the second time in two eps, against her will into dahak's full-on Fire fest.

During the penultimate scene we see Xena get burned by Fire as she tries to join Solan and gABS on the other side. After she cops to the little fibby-poo about Ming Tien, and delivers a solid and quite lovely plea for forgiveness, the Fire turns to Water and she can pass through unharmed. The parting Water shot with our gals gleefully mussing their leather-wear in the salty sea brought nifty full-circle closure to the element theme. Brava!

c. 1997 Pursh
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Tracey on The Bitter Suite:

I'm only going to comment on the look and tone of the show.

Well, this was fairly impressive in its staging. LL's songs were all very demanding musically, and she sang them well. The hired guns who sang also were good, and although some have said they weren't believable, I thought TPTB did a good job of matching singers to characters.

What was with those singing animals? I mean, I know they don't have a "Babe" budget, but jeez, the lion looked like a hand puppet, fergawdsake. And I thought the old trick of giving the dog something to chew on so that he'd move his mouth went out with Benji.

Lessee, on to more prurient things... Is this the first time we've ever gotten a real look at ROC's butt? <purr> And wasn't Callisto/Fool's "breath of life" shot erotically? The Callisto/Xena subtext is getting pretty over the top -- she practically gave our warrior princess a lap dance that would do the Furies proud. : )

All in all, everyone involved obviously had dropped large quantities of acid during the development and shooting of this ep. And as Martha Stewart would say (she's my idol, dontcha know), that's a good thing.

Okay, enough. Please return to your regularly scheduled *intelligent* discussion of this ep. : )

c. 1998 Tracey
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twanda13 on The Bitter Suite:

There be magic a float

OK, as a special treat for all you Xena lovers, here's my take on the use of Tarot symbolism in the stupendous Bitter Suite.

The writers manage to take us through all 22 Major Arcana. For those of you not familiar with the Tarot, there are 22 Major cards, and 56 minor cards. The 56 minor cards correspond to the modern day card deck, with four suits. Each of the four suits has four court cards (king, queen, knight, page) and 10 "number" cards from ace thru ten.

The 22 Major Arcana cards each represent an archetype.

The Tarot images don't come into play until the dream sequence starts. I thought Callisto looked like the FOOL, but brushed it off. I sat up when she spun the WHEEL OF FORTUNE, but then was totally captivated when Xena turned into the HIGH PRIESTESS.

Anyway, after two viewings, here is what I come up with. I'll put a brief "meaning" of the card in parentheses. Love to hear your feedback.

Callisto opens as the FOOL (beginning of the journey, what you create is up to you) -- the words of Callisto's song play on this.

Callisto turns into the MAGICIAN (the Magician manipulates the elements, juggling them in the air and balancing their antagonistic energies, showing the possibility of guiding -- and being guided by -- the archetypes). Callisto continues this role as she begins playing with the chakrum/wheel, which finally turns into...

The WHEEL OF FORTUNE (the revolution of experience and progress) -- which Callisto forces Xena to spin. This is the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth, to which all souls are bound. It's the wheel of karma. To master your destiny, you must understand the process of life and death, cause and effect, from the center -- not from the periphery of the wheel.

By the way, at the four corners are the symbolic figures of the fixed zodiacal signs: the bull of Taurus, the lion of Leo, the eagle of Scorpio, and the man -- or Gabrielle -- of Aquarius. The sphinx rides above the wheel, the snake and the dog spin on the wheel.

During this sequence Xena is depicted as the HIGH PRIESTESS (Juno, Diana, the priestess of the Eleusinian mysteries, etc. She is shown in the vestments of Isis, a crown of two horn-shaped crescents astride a lunar orb, a solar cross on her breast...) The High Priestess is the potential uniting intelligence of subconscious memory. In other words, enlightenment to illumine the darkness of nonunderstanding -- and the way is through the Priestess, intuition, revelation, mystery.

Now we jump scenes, with Joxer playing the HANGED MAN, pulling Gabby out of the water. Yep, there he is, hanging upside down with one leg crossed. Water is a symbol of emotional life, as a transmitter and medium for feelings from the unconscious, which flow into forms made available for it. (The hanged man represents how feelings actually hold us up by their apparent reality.) The Hanged Man is also about spirit moving us towards initiation or understanding. Transition. Undergoing initiation or revelation or mystery in order to transcend outmoded forms of behavior. Sets us up for what is about to happen.

Gabrielle emerges next as the EMPRESS (great goddess earth mother, with dominion over the natural world). Perfect here with attendant images of villagers, farm, harvest, family, nature. The Empress is about following the path of harmony through conflict. Nurturing. Perfect for Gabby.

We flip back to Xena, who has been joined by Aries, who sits on his throne as the EMPEROR. (In Tarot, the Emperor is Aries, the fire sign, manifesting self-assertion, authority, power.)

Xena loses her clothing, and in her new attire becomes the HIGH PRIEST (an opportunity to transform material desire into higher understanding; ceremonial traditions bring guidance to worldly affairs). The symbolism on Xena's new garb is great.

Back to Gabrielle... she is taken off old Mr. Donkey and given a scythe. I believe this is DEATH (loss leads to renewal; letting go of possessions, ideas or justifications). In the struggle to follow, Gabrielle throws the first blow -- aiming her scythe at Xena's head.

Xena, for her part, is now moving forward toward Gabrielle in the CHARIOT (in traditional decks the chariot is drawn by two horses or two sphinxes with exaggerated bodies). The Chariot is symbolic of the body drawn by conflicting emotions.

Xena kills Gabrielle. Joxer shows up as the HERMIT (a wise man, wearing a hooded cloak). The Hermit is about retreating from the world in order to attain wisdom. The flame at Gabrielle's face may be a reference to the ancient who prowled the earth with his lantern, always searching for truth.

Xena and Aries go into a hot dance number, Xena in her red dress. They are the LOVERS (rather than signifying sex or romance, the Lovers card signifies that a choice must be made. Indeed, Aires is trying to woo Xena back to his side, and she is tempted. Then as she slides to the floor, she turns to Gabrielle -- who represents the virgin. In the traditional Lovers card the hero has a temptress on one side, and a virgin on the other. Only the innocence of the virgin, the true feminine, can lead the the hero to discover her individuality and wholeness.

At the end of this little dance, just as Xena notices Gabrielle again, Callisto shows up as JUSTICE (her clothes has the scales of Justice embroidered on them; Justice is about learning that all imbalance comes from within and that the restoration of balance also comes from within). Callisto prods Xena on her way.

As Xena is realizing what she has done, holding Gabrielle, Gabrielle's form appears in the doorway behind surrounded by an aura of light. Gabrielle is TEMPERANCE (a winged angel from Heaven, with a ring of stars or light around her head; Temperance is about the eternal nature of true love, the eternal nature of life). One meaning of Temperance actually states that temporary stalemate followed by reconciliation!

Xena and Gabrielle are transported to a new room or set, which I believe is evocative of the MOON (this card usually has a pair of towers or pillars, one on each side, which represent the rigid structures that develop from past actions). Xena and Gabrielle must find their balance between the rigid structures of their past experience. In fact, the echoes force them to forego yelling about the past. By focusing on their feelings right now, they begin to overcome the traps of perception and seeming reality.

During this sequence, Xena and Gabrielle look up and see the TOWER (total change and loss of security leads to a new beginning; the Tower card usually shows a tower shattered by lightning). Imbalance builds to the point where reality explodes, forcing Xena and Gabrielle to face the reality of their dilemma. It is a trial, but one that will lead them to freedom.

As they are figuring this out, the crypt opens. This is JUDGEMENT (people emerging from coffins and graves). The coffin is indicative of life's structure, that what we think of as reality is really a trap. Judgement is about transcending this limitation -- and about the merging or integration of differences between male/female into the child (where child becomes an image of unity). Of course, a few frames beyond this part, Solon makes his appearance... the image of unity.

But before that, Gabrielle and Xena are dragged off by the fire arms of DayHawk. Clearly hatred gives him opening to the world. When Xena and Gabrielle are chained up, they represent the DEVIL, so appropriate given DayHawk's general character and demeanor. (The Devil card is about overcoming the temptations of the physical world -- especially temptations like hatred. Hatred is self-centered behavior that traps the soul within the physical senses, cutting off spiritual light and spiritual redemption). No reconciliation is possible until Gabrielle and Xena deal with the hatred.

Gabrielle, naturally, makes this leap rather easily. It is within her character to do so. The scene of golden rain is the STAR (healing waters of heaven uniting earth and sea). Healing blessings set Gabrielle free, but Xena is not yet able to cross over. She still has to deal with her lie to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle at this point becomes STRENGTH (Diana, the virgin huntress, overcomes destructive desires by inner strength -- by confronting herself, and thus achieving self-mastery). Gabrielle is sure that Xena can follow this path as well. Which she can, but only if she asks for forgiveness.

Which she does, most beautifully.

The focus moves to Solon, who represents the SUN (love and friendship are equated with the warmth and creativity of the sun). Remember that the son/sun represents unity. The Sun awakens the higher vibrations of spirit within, allowing Xena and Gabrielle to experience their new found freedom from the trap of old structures, old perceptions, old hatreds.

Gabrielle and Xena land back in so-called real world. They are being washed by the great ocean, the great earth mother. As they lay on their backs in the water, laughing, the camera angle pulls way back. We see the image of the WORLD, the last and final card of the Major Arcana. The World or the Universe, is success. By understanding and living with spiritual and physical laws, Xena and Gabrielle have completed a sequence.


c. 1998 twanda13
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