Hercules and Xena Banner Exchange
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'Hard to Take a Stand'
Sheryl Crow, Bill Bottrell, Todd Wolfe, RS Bryan
The opening shot:
The camera pans down from the branches of the lushest of primeval trees to spy a river; then we are on the bank of the river, and then flying over the river as the music adds a forceful rhythm suggestive of helicopter blades. Sassone and Sears, in the first 20 seconds, reverse our evolution from the primates of the trees to creatures that crawl among the ferns and then to the water and up the river to the source of all life, AND establish a literary and cinematic context for those familiar with Joseph Conrad's, *The Heart of Darkness* and *Apocalypse Now* directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
We first see our heroes at the edge of the river fighting for/over their food.
X -- "It's moving to your right!"
G -- "I see 'em."
X -- "Let me take it! Let me take it."
G -- "No, no, no. This one's mine. He's lunch!'
Life must be sustained and we are in competition for our food.
G -- "Well fought friend fish. Know that I don't do this for pleasure--only to live.
X -- "Don't talk to your breakfast."
Sears in these two lines juxtaposes the competing philosophies to be examined. Gabrielle is the same as her friend fish -- her food. Both are part of the same whole of life and participate together in nature. Xena is separate from her breakfast. The fish serves her because she is at the top of a linear food chain. She is the dominant predator.
GABRIELLE: "Do you think that we're the first people here?" XENA: "The fish certainly seem to think so. They're practically jumping on shore."
Evolutionary humor! I love Steven L. Sears.
GABRIELLE: "I have a theory about fish."
XENA: "Oh you mean the one where they're cold and wet and slimy? Yeah, I heard that."
(the nine year old butch -- to die for)
GABRIELLE: "No that's not it. I think we all came from the ocean."
Both women are espousing theories of evolution but Gabrielle's is one of common origin rather than domination.
GABRIELLE: "Fish are just people waiting for that [life's] moment to reach out and..."
Then food that has already been consumed, in the form of a dying soldier reaches for land and hope, grabbing Gabrielle.
SOLDIER: "The garrison...surrounded...waiting for help...the Horde!" (he dies)
At the word "Horde" we see the first fear and panic in Xena's eyes.
GABRIELLE: "What's...What does he mean by the horde?"
XENA: "Go get your things, hurry."
XENA: "Now! Don't argue with me!"
Xena is already cutting off Gabrielle's attempts to understand. With no other information than their name, (SCARY -- Horde! Christian! Homo-SEX-u-al! - BOO!), one dead soldier's plea, and Xena's fear, and before we even see them, we have an Other.
Why? At that point there are only the two of them to worry about. Everything we know about Xena assures us that she is more than capable of conducting herself and Gabrielle to safety either by fighting or stealth. They have not been remotely threatened yet--it was the harmed human fish that interrupted their ease, not a threat to life or limb. We have seen Xena in countless dangerous situations where the injured or wronged beg for help in panicked fear. We can only assume that the Horde can handily kill Xena and Gabrielle.
GABRIELLE: "Xena." She sees dead men floating down stream. "Can we help them?"
GABRIELLE: "What's going on?"
XENA: "We're surrounded."
No, they are not.
XENA: "That's the way they work. Those men are Athenian infantry. They must have been ambushed."
Not defeated in a fair fight.
GABRIELLE: "Surrounded by what?" She sees Horde guys landing canoes and yells, "Your sword!"
XENA: "My sword can't help us now. Run."
GABRIELLE: "What?" She is incredulous.
Now we as the audience have been infected with Xena's fear. If Xena can't handle a situation it's got to be bad, and we, like Gabrielle, are swept into Xena's reaction without time to figure out what the hell is going on. All we and Gabrielle can do is run--and trust Xena. (Al Haig pops to mind for some reason. "Everybody panic! I'm in charge.")
Xena feels like prey. She remembers the Horde killing as brutally as though humans were only fish. We, the audience and Gabrielle, have never seen Xena in the role of prey before where she was not the stronger, with one exception. Julius Caesar was a stronger predator, and Xena's response to that encounter was to become a murdering warlord. (Does Gabrielle know about the events in "Destiny"?) Faced again with, in her mind, a stronger predator, Xena assumes her place as an animal on her evolutionary ladder--one rung down.
"You better run, run, run, run..." -- Pink Floyd
In the scene where Xena relates the story of her first encounter with the Horde, she tells an increasingly emotional tale while Gabrielle listens to her and the woods. It's been said that Gabrielle also sees the Horde as inhuman.
GABRIELLE: "What are they? They must want something."
Yes, Gabrielle calls the Horde "what" rather than "who", but she moves past that because she never stops trying to understand. Xena, however, is making no effort to understand, rather, she has begun the process of finding a rationalization to allow her to kill Them without conscience. As she feels out the balance of the Horde ax (that looks similar to and is used like a tomahawk) she works herself into an emotional lather of fear. Gabrielle is reasoning; she can do that in the face of fear because she believes that understanding is the solution. Xena, however, becomes unable or unwilling to reason when confronted by fear. Her intellect remains intact (cunning, planning, strategy, organization); just her reason (understanding, questioning, evaluating right from wrong) leaves town.
Wariness is reasonable. After all, some guys *were* just chasing them and apparently trying to kill them, but panic is not Xena's stock reaction to threat. Hell, more often than not she enjoys the challenge. Why now does she start lying, exaggerating, rationalizing? IMHO, when she sees the Horde, she sees savage more in herself than them. They remind her of the warlord and it is easier to fear them than acknowledge her own savage behavior. She pins her crimes on them and then hates them for it. (Start whistling Yankee Doodle.)
XENA: "The first time my army went west we ran into the Horde.
Where have we heard that before?
XENA: "I had a scouting party out looking for a pass through the mountains. They were below us in a ravine when they attacked."
Huh? They attacked a higher position from one that kept them trapped? Not likely. Who attacked who? Which "they" belongs to which they?
XENA: "I could only watch helplessly as my men tried to hold them back, but they kept coming."
Wait a minute. Xena watched helplessly? If she could see them she could get there to help. How many Horde people were there? They supposedly were only fighting a scouting party, so why would they need to keep coming? She isn't saying is she. Even if she did, I don't think I'd trust her numbers. She just a moment ago thought she was surrounded on land by what turned out to be 5 guys in 2 canoes. I'm suspicious that it might have been the other way around. She might have sent some guys to kick the Horde out of "her" ravine while she sat on Argo's back and watched.
XENA: "I can still remember the howl of the Horde--the screaming of my men."
I'll bet she can. Her men. Whether they were attacked or did the attacking, she led them to their death for the sake of... what? This kind of guilt would provide a pretty powerful motivation to dehumanize both the Horde and her own men in order to rationalize it. Her self-hatred becomes external hatred.
XENA: "It took most of the day to get the rest of my army into that ravine but by then they were gone."
So, she won? The Horde folk were gone? They left or were they all dead? So, okay, she has invaded, er... entered unknown territory and (giving her the benefit of the doubt) been attacked and fought a battle which she won in less than a day. Hmmn.
XENA: "My men, they were nothing but bones. Stripped of their flesh and tortured as they were skinned."
Tortured and skinned--gosh, isn't that... overkill? Isn't being skinned torture? Did ya ever, when you were a little kid, play cowboys and Indians and say something like, "Me scalp'em paleface," then pat your hand over your mouth going, "WOO, woo, woo, woo," while you performed your little version of a war dance? The winners write history. Crying for Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, the Athenian soldiers on the river bank are whole not skinned, and they hang on crosses as Xena had at the hands of Caesar, only their crosses are named for her - X.
GABRIELLE: "What are they? They must want something."
XENA: "Nobody knows. Fighting one or two would be difficult enough but they hung like a pack of dogs... surrounding their prey until they attack."
She is hyperventilating and throws the ax, now so submerged in the fear that she cannot see her discrepancies and lies. She just tangled with 5 Horde guys and their tactics were quite traditional -cut 'em off at the pass- sort of stuff. The first two she fought took only 3 blows to incapacitate. It took only one toss of her chakram to sink the 2 who followed in a canoe. The leader guy was left on the shore to scream and posture, and that had scared the bees wax out of her. She has definitely parted company with reason.
XENA: "We gotta get outta here."
GABRIELLE: "What if we follow the river? It'll take us somewhere."
Our common source. Search for our commonalty.
XENA: "Yeah somewhere but we don't know where they are. Gabrielle."
XENA: "Things are gonna get worse, especially with what I have to do to get us outta here." (Vote for Clinton.)
Xena has reached fear saturation and is officially freaking out. Oneness with nature be damned; she will survive at any cost and morality is no longer useful. She displays society's and the individual's fear of self -- the tenuousness of belief in civilization -- fear that at any moment the facade will slip and amoral savagery will prevail. And it has of course: The USA, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, Japan, The Pacific (PTO), China, Timor, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Korea, India, Tibet, Afganistan, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Italy, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Egypt, Russia(USSR), Nigeria, Zaire, Tanzania, Uganda, Barundi, Angola, South Africa, Spain, France, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Romania, England, Ireland, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Haiti, Cuba. That is just off the top of my head and (I think) in this century. Savage or be savaged. Kill or be killed. Xena will kill, thank you very much. Warlord is what she knows best.
Gabrielle of course views things differently. She would know why someone would harm her. Are they in need? Is it something that she can provide? She prefers life to death - understanding to reaction. Gabrielle's naturist view of the world is the civilized one. She doesn't fear a lapse into savagery because she doesn't need it as a tool and does not keep it handy. She is happy to be a moral animal. She needs to eat not dominate.
Xena, though, must prevent Gabrielle's understanding of the Other in order to justify her own lack of understanding. Why? Her ability to protect herself, Gabrielle, and even the Athenian soldiers would not be impaired by empathy. She fights when necessary--kills when necessary. That she has cared for or empathized with her opponent has not, to our knowledge, impaired her skill or left her vulnerable, (Marcus-The Path Not Taken, Hercules-Prometheus, Maelus-Callisto) with of course that one nasty little exception of Julius Caesar. Then she did not fear to look in Caesar's eyes because she wanted to be him. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) Now, though, she has changed and rejected the evil grown from that encounter. The Horde may remind her of her (possibly) evil treatment of them or their tactics may remind her of her own. To undo her kneejerk reaction to the Horde, to empathize with the Horde, would require that she face that evil squarely, examine the Other in her self, and forgive, but it is easier to hate.
If we believe in a form of evolution that is only vertical (and the higher the better) then it is an easy step to believe that our ancestors were "primitive savages" as opposed to moral, peaceful, civil, or any number of other possibilities. We still must win our dominance if they somehow still exist. New is better than old. More is better than less. Modern is better than primitive. Dominance is better than balance. It is irrational arrogance. IMHO of course.
Therefore, we dress the Horde as those we (USA+) have dehumanized and blithely tried to eradicate, those who refused linear evolution and lived on when we thought their time was past, and then we attribute to them our own cannibalistic behavior. We wouldn't have killed them if we had looked at them more realistically.
The generic appearance of the Horde and the stereotype of the savage *is the point* IMHO. The idea of "primitive savage" is artificial and can ONLY exist in stereotype -- the "savage" does not exist in reality. There is only savage behavior and that crosses all boundaries and has no fashion sense. The amoral/immoral Savage Other becomes our excuse to drop our own morality when we see ourselves as the "real" humans and Others as animals with no sense of right and wrong.
"The Price" places that stereotype directly on our (the audience empathizing with our heroes) shoulders. The Horde and the Athenian are interchangeably the same sans decoration, uniform or paint. THEY are US -- WE are THEM, not the Others both sides have been trained to believe threaten: Black, Queer, Female, Jewish, Redneck, Republican, Latino/a, Fundamentalist Christian, German, Communist, Muslim, Democrat, Disabled, Poor, Vietnamese, etc... etc... Make a list and pick WHATever you hate.
The Horde man who teaches Gabrielle that 'kaltaka' is not a god but water and who Xena searches for among the dead in order to torture (more fear, always more fear) wears red, white, and blue face paint. Red, white, and blue has always been a studiously avoided color combination in racist USA movie portrayals of "savages." We are asked to identify with him. He is we, and he is OUR savage. With that simple visual we wonder if the paint is meant in defiance of US(A) or if we are to see ourselves as the oppressed. We are forced to think it through. I think that is brilliant.
The Horde members each dress differently and paint themselves differently. The face paintings are as distinctive as name tags. But we see only what we are comfortable seeing -- what books, TV, movies, etc... have told us is savage, primitive, bad: bones in the nose, animal skins, headdress, body paint, bare chests. But those fashions are true. Those forms of dress and body modifications are historical reality (How many piercings do you have?) and broadly shared across many cultures. It is our human experience. It is our diminishing of people that creates our shame in their dress. To portray a person with painted face or bones in their nose is not racist (Culture does not equal race, but for the sake of the discussion...), to lessen the humanity of people on the basis of culturally prescribed dress is.
As for language, if we acknowledge the Other's language we can learn to communicate. The Horde only seem to growl and scream because that is our stereotype of our enemies. (They're just spouting dogma. They're brainwashing people.) So, then, rhetoric sounds all the more fierce when we don't listen to it -- when we discount even the possibility that an opponent might have something valid to say to us -- that a roar might have meaning. The Horde leader was challenging Xena to a dual from the very beginning. All she saw was menace.
By the time the Horde are suckered into the compound and slaughtered (before the man in red, white, and blue is captured), we are being asked to identify with ALL of the characters. I found dying men mouthing their final pleas very sympathetic.
We are encouraged to identify with Xena too in order that we may understand how fear becomes hatred, hatred becomes greed, and greed genocide. Some have said that they found "Bad" Xena even sexier than "Good" Xena, and I whole heartedly agree. What a total turn on it was when she first swung down that ramp all power and feral confidence. I thought, this is gonna be great -- Xena the strategist, Xena the commander. Yummy! But then seconds later she screams out the grisly, "We're gonna kill 'em all!" The crowd goes wild and Joe Loduca chimes into the cheering with a tolling bell. I was twisted! (Lucy was just... WOW.) That fast I was identifying with a potential mass-murderer -- nay, aroused by the murderer! (I could have lived in the German country side in 1944 outside a death camp. Not a pleasant thought.)
All fear needs is a leader, someone easily seduced by power and hatred -- someone seductive enough to allow us to absolve our individual responsibility and service the fear collectively (see the above list of nations). Someone to convince us that we can survive if _____ are gone. Once again pick whoever you hate.
As they take their second canoe ride, Xena's fear is now paranoia and she is instilling it in Gabrielle. They are everywhere but we can't see them. The Godless Communists. The Jews Who Eat Their Babies. The Homosexual Agenda. The Religious Right. The Armed Militias. The... KKK! Where? Over there! I think it is a great moment when in the midst of the paranoia something hairy is floating in the water then begins to rise in slo-motion close-up. We wait and wait till a member of the Horde is born from the common source. As he is revealed we wait for him to threaten, but his face shows only pain and sadness.
The fact that Xena has easily protected herself and Gabrielle does not occur to her anymore as she enlarges the Savage in her mind (as does the camera in ours). Now she shifts into tactical expedience. The men on the X's are already dead -- expendable, casual-ties, collateral damage, a body count -- or as I like to call them, Drag Queens and Dykes on Bikes. Black cannon fodder. The psyches of generation after generation of men. Xena's last humane act was to save the dying fish Athenian general, but she definitely weighed the options first. She is divorcing her conscience in order to deny the murderer she was, and so becomes the murderer again.
XENA: "Gabrielle when we get close to shore I want you to jump."
GABRIELLE: "I'm not leaving you!"
XENA: "I can't fight them if I'm worrying about you. Do what I say."
Once on shore Gabrielle's head is in the way of an ax so Xena, in the coolest of action moves, grabs it out of midair with her whip and flings it back to ax the guy who threw it. Fight fire with fire, using the enemies' weapons against them. Xena's face no longer shows fear; it is now covered in hate. That man falls back into the arms of his canoe mate, and the mate paddles frantically away with his hands. It is the first overtly sympathetic moment for a member of the Horde. (The next almost immediately follows in the images of dead and dying men.) Xena, Gabrielle, and the Athenian soldiers who were attacking the Horde huddle themselves away from the river (cut themselves off from water) to inter themselves in the garrison.
Xena's whip is the last of her own weapons we see her use till she draws her sword and manages to communicate with the Horde captive. "My sword can't help us now." It represents, IMO, the civilized lessons she's learned from Gabrielle and her soldier's honor, but she's not interested in that now. Her weapons are always at hand, but she'd rather use the weapons of the Horde she claims to hate.
Meanwhile, back at the compound... Why is there an Athenian garrison in territory where Xena and Gabrielle had just earlier wondered if they were the first people? (Dances With Wolves) Waiting for the road to be built I guess. ("Call some place paradise, kiss it good-bye" - Eagles) Better get those pesky natives out of the way. Did you see that!? What? A buffalo! No?!
Once they are inside the compound (cart for a gate - Road Warrior?) those soldiers are dead too.
XENA: "You can't reason with dead men Gabrielle."
When you still breathe the difference between life and death is hope. The soldiers have stopped seeing their own humanity and so has Xena.
One of my favorite director/editor moments is when Xena first starts giving orders and a fed up soldier attacks her. As we face Xena, the soldier comes from behind her and she elbows him off the wall. We see her elbow swing from the front and it will knock the soldier off the wall and our screen to the right into the compound, but as she makes contact we are reversed to the angle behind her and the man falls off the wall on the left of our screen. The effect is that for a second we are confused as to whether she knocked him into the compound or out to the mercies of the Horde.
This all happens so quickly that we are jerked viscerally into the soldiers' disorientation and get the message from Xena -- 'There is nothing left to lose, so fuck with me and you will stay meat. Do things my way and maybe, just maybe I'll find a way out and let you be one of the ones that live.' In order to get them to do her bidding she must offer a glimmer of hope and then make them fear its loss. She can now manipulate them to do anything. It's how the general gets the soldiers to play the game.
XENA: "Now take this sword, get on that wall, and do your job, cause what they might do to ya is nothing compared to what I'll do."
She's just told Gabrielle that she believes the Horde skin people alive and torture in some other way while they do it, and she's willing to do that one better?! She's going to eat them! And, oh, how handy, here comes a Horde ax with which to do the job. (On my first watch I thought she was being just TOO cool when she caught that ax -- times change)
SOLDIER: "We're gonna die Mercer. Those things out there will kill us all."
XENA: "Do? We're gonna kill 'em all!"
XENA: "I'm trying to save our skins. Those things outside will kill us all."
Xena's "Greater Good" is now saving "all" their lives (her's and Gabrielle's mainly) at the expense of as many as it takes. Let's get to work. Drag out the dead folk to make Them believe those dead are still a threat. Are there any far-left liberals that aren't too bloody to look alive. That oughta scare 'em. Get the walking wounded to the polls; we've got to show numbers.
Xena's so scary cause she slips so easily into hatred and forgets everything she has learned because she is afraid. And it feels sooo gooood to lose restraint. She becomes the cannibal, feeding on the death she creates. She wastes her own men and kills members of the Horde in order to boost morale.
Chomp, Chomp, Chomp.
As long as there are more Horde dead, it is good. Of course if it turns out that after a massacre she gets an opportunity for a little blood sport of her own, well, that's good for morale too! Lucy does fabulous work in the moment of and just after Xena throws the ax at the escaping man's back and kills him. We see the throw from outside the wall and we see the total viciousness of her face from the perspective of the Horde. The man she axes has just been lured into a trap, seen Xena slit a comrade's throat, and has run in terror. Savages are invading their land! Who knows how many will come. Maybe their word for Athenian is "Horde."
After the act Xena spins back quickly to see if anyone saw her savage and composes herself. We can see the justification process in her face as she walks off like nothing's happened. She knows right from wrong but emotion is stronger. Her rationalization is so secure that she actually (after she receives praise from the men for her murder -- morale is definitely up) seeks out Gabrielle's face to bask in her love's admiration. But the cheering from the men won't appease her conscience; Gabrielle is horrified. Has anyone ever worked on a political campaign?
We are made constant witness to the ground littered with the uneaten dead and the begging dying: kaltaka, kaltaka, water, life, us, you, Athena! To take more from the Other than the Other takes from you is to win. More is better. Greedy, Greedy, Greedy. This is not competition for food.
So Gabrielle as healer is now Xena's greatest threat. Dead men are a useful visual aid. Incapacitated live men are liabilities that eat the food and drink the water that should keep the bricks on the wall in fighting form. (Welfare Reform -- children for breakfast, women for lunch, poor folk in the old man's punch) Mainly it is Gabrielle's pesky adherence to morality that tees off Xena. She wants Gabrielle to acknowledge expedience. (Hide Hillary -- Bomb the shit outta Iraq) It would free her to take the last step into total insanity (this episode's Siren).
XENA: "I told you to ration the food to the men outside."
GABRIELLE: "What is going on with you?"
XENA: "I'm trying to save our skins. Those things outside will kill us all."
GABRIELLE: "This is insane. Your letting these men die. You axed that *man* in the back!" She is pointing an accusatory finger.
XENA: "He was inside our battlements. He saw our defenses. I couldn't risk it."
GABRIELLE: "I can't believe this Xena. You're scaring me."
XENA: "This is war! What did you expect? Glamour? There are no good choices only lesser degrees of evil."
GABRIELLE: "There is a choice -- stop fighting."
XENA: "They're not like us. There is nothing about them that we can or should understand."
GABRIELLE: "But have you even tried?"
XENA: "I know them. There's nothing. You make sure those rations get to the men on the wall."
Instead Gabrielle keeps searching for the Horde's humanity. She refuses to throw up her hands and let Xena do her worst. The torture session heats up:
XENA: "Gabrielle go outside."
Xena pressure points the red, white, and blue faced Horde man. What side are we on?
GABRIELLE: "By the god's Xena."
MENTICLES: "What have you done?" (He is interested.)
XENA: "I've shut off the flow of blood to his brain. He'll be dead in moments, and he knows it. He can feel his life draining away."
Xena is looking at the Horde member like he's a lab rat. She's curious how long it will take him to break.
GABRIELLE: "Don't do this. It's murder."
XENA: "I told you Gabrielle this is war! Go back to the hospital."
GABRIELLE: "So I can pick and choose who lives and dies. So I can be a murderer too!?" (Xena releases the pressure points.)
XENA: "Take him to the supply room and chain him up."
MENTICLES: "You mean kill him."
XENA: "I mean chain him up." (Mercer and Menticles take the man away.)
GABRIELLE: "Thank you."
XENA: "Don't you ever question my authority or methods in front of my troops. I told you I'd do what ever it takes, and if that means killing him later, I'll do it."
GABRIELLE: "Your troops? I don't understand."
XENA: "We didn't ask for this. If they want a fight to the death they're going to get it. What part of that didn't you understand?"
GABRIELLE: "You! Who are you Xena? What happened to the Xena that I know?"
XENA: "That Xena can't help us now. If losing her [the child, her conscience, the willingness to care, Gabrielle, her soul] is the price for saving us all, I'll pay it. It's just a part of me I didn't think I'd need anymore. Get back to work."
ARRRRAAAAAAAHHHH! Wail! Eyes were never so cold. Bong... goes Joe's bell. Xena has come back from her cross in Tartarus to redeem herself of her evil so to be granted the privilege of spending eternity in the company of Gabrielle. Now, she is willing to bargain that eternity in order to maintain the savagery, this time born of her fear of facing her previous savage. And in the end, she is willing to pay with Gabrielle's humanity. She is willing to turn over the blood innocence, she had till this point protected, to murder. "Get back to work." A staggering blow. (Bravo Lucy and Renee!)
But the ever HOPEFUL Gabrielle refuses death and despair and saves her own soul. The scene in which Gabrielle fully understands 'the price' and chooses to die for an idea rather than kill for one is simple and stunning. Renee is brilliant. The entire episode rests here in Gabrielle's face and shoulders. She is angry. She is worn. She is in shock from hurt. She is edging toward the hate that has destroyed everyone else, but she moves on instead. Having just taken a large dose of Xena's failings, she finds a way to understand and make a choice. (Renee portrays a clear distinction between selfless caretaking and choosing to heal. Gabrielle is not the female stereotyped nurturer; she is an active participant in moral debate.)
GABRIELLE: "Well you're right Xena. If I'm gonna die; I'm gonna die my way."
She has also found herself. I believe that scene is a turning point for the character in the series (assuming a bible, I know ;>). She stopped being Xena's conscience and became her own. (Or in a different subtext routine, Gabrielle as conscience grows enough strength to interrupt the worst of Xena's evil.) She will not kill or be killed; she will heal and die if she must, separate from Xena's choices.
It has been pointed out how important touch is in the episode. Outside on the death field Gabrielle jerks away from Xena's touch and appears disgusted. It is a first. Gabrielle has opposed Xena before but when she was under Ares' spell. Ares is not the responsible party here; that role falls to mortals. The blood dripping ax, IMO, is a symbol of the risk Gabrielle is willing to take and the depth of her commitment to her choice. That ax could have come from anywhere, retrieved from a dead Athenian maybe, or even from the back of the man Xena axed.
Steven L. Sears forever has a place in my heart for writing the -Gabrielle gets it- scene. Where Coppola gives in to despair and fire bombs the problem, Sears gives us a simple solution -- start. OFFER -- water, life, understanding. Feed someone; don't eat them -- even though you are afraid.
XENA: "You let her out!"
Not "leave" mind you, "out."
When Xena freaks about Gabrielle being outside the compound, I agree it is a great -Xena loves Gabrielle- moment. Xena is the recipient of some hormone shock therapy. (I love the little squeak she gives.) Her conscience escaped, and she found there was a price she would not pay. Though she had thought she could, she finds she cannot sacrifice Gabrielle.
It is the worst thing that can happen to a general (as opposed to a warrior). Of course it's the best thing that can happen to the walking dead. The soldiers somewhere inside had to be thinking: Hew! Thank the gods the Warrior is in love with the Bard! Me too! (That is the real problem with Queers in foxholes -- they might love each other and find hope in each other's eyes rather than the seduction of the general. Powell couldn't say that though.)
XENA: "Kaltaka turned out to be the key. When you went out there they thought it was a truce to retrieve the wounded. I let my fear and hatred blind me to everything." (Gabrielle finally looks up at her.)
GABRIELLE: "Sometimes the past can do that. Xena, if I had been through what you had been through..."
XENA: "No... No! You understand hatred but you've never given in to it. You don't know how much I love... that. Here." (She takes the cloth from Gabrielle and ministers to the wounded man.
Xena has finally remembered that she is a healer too.
This is the first real communication between the women in the episode. Xena is finally ready to reclaim responsibility for her actions, and her sadness over what she was almost willing to lose makes Gabrielle's understanding all the more heart wrenching and Xena's declaration of love so true. Xena returns to her humanity, conscience, lover, and soothes with cool water a wounded man, and Gabrielle, in the face of Xena's horrific betrayal, understands by placing herself in Xena's boots.
Thump, thump, thump. That sound is the beating of my little Dyke Survivors heart. I choke up every time I watch that scene. I want a whole new Emmy category for that one. Maybe... Most Poignant Love Scene Between Two Women and a Wounded Guy In Which the Wounded Guy Is the Only One Touched -- In An Hour Drama.
GABRIELLE: "Maybe we can talk to them?"
XENA: "Peace and understanding don't happen over night Gabrielle. This is the only form of communication we both understand -- a warriors code of honor. If I defeat their leader, I defeat their army. Gabrielle, If this doesn't work I want you to go to the river."
GABRIELLE: "No. You do what you have to do , but we'll walk down that road together.
Glance. Glance. Glance.
X - Does that mean...?
G - You know I love you. We'll talk about it later. Now go kick ass.
X - I don't deserve you. I love you too. I hope I don't die.
Gabrielle and Xena are now making the choices of war together. Warrior and Bard. Warrior and conscience. Warrior and historical posterity. Gabrielle recognizes the need for a warrior but only one with a sense of right and wrong and specific uncrossable boundaries. A tempered sword. ("Peace in the struggle to find peace." Sarah McLachlan)
Xena goes to fight but this time is unimpressed by the Horde leader's posturing and, now recognizing his humanity, answers his challenge. She defeats him but does not kill him. That is left to the Horde men who, in the most human of acts, kill their defeated champion with blades to the back (Hillary Clinton). Sears reminds us that to see the Horde as truly human we must realize that they are capable of the same failings for which we condemn ourselves. He does not let us romanticize the Horde into "Noble Savage."
In the end the Horde men and the Athenians are the same size, and Xena has looked at her own savage. Gabrielle has offered understanding and commitment, and there is Hope in the world, though sadness lingers.
Steven L. Sears moves us through emotional contact with our Other selves and beyond the despair born of our fear. His script is an anti-war, anti-hate, and most definitely an antiracism statement that explains to us that all our wars and hates are from the same source. Fear governs hate whether in individual interactions or genocide -- hate must eradicate. But he also reminds of the humanity we will see reflected in our Others if we will look them in the eye. I'm so grateful I'm going to go hug a Fundamentalist... person.
c. 1997 DebR
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The episode starts routinely enough with Xena and the Gabster fishing. Pay attention to their easy interaction here, the amused look Xena shoots at the bard while Gabrielle "talks" to her fish, the slight teasing which is somewhat reminiscent of A DAY IN THE LIFE. Remember this exchange between them because it will make what comes later that much more difficult and poignant.
The relative peace is abruptly and irrevocably broken when a badly wounded soldier lunges out of the river grabbing Gabrielle's hand. He has time only to tell them that his garrison has been destroyed by the Horde before he dies. Xena's reaction to the man's words make it clear she knows exactly who the Horde are... and the Warrior Princess is terrified. Bodies of Athenian soldiers then appear floating downriver, just before the Horde blast through the forest - wild-looking, snarling and wielding small axes they throw with ease and deadly accuracy. Xena knows her sword is no match for the sheer numbers so she instructs Gabrielle to run. They steal one of the canoes the Horde had been using and a wild river chase scene ensues. Xena uses her Chakram to disable the canoe following them, providing for a momentary reprieve. It is during this time that they stop and Xena tells the bard about her first encounter with the Horde - the account is terrifying. The entire episode,in fact, turns very ominous when we see the palpable fear on Xena's face. She finishes by warning Gabrielle that things are going to get worse...particularly with what she is going to have to do to get them out the war zone.
They continue the trip downriver and to their horror soon see Athenian soldiers staked out along the river banks, dying. Gabrielle despearately wants to help them but Xena refuses knowing they are being hunted. A wounded Athenian then starts swimming toward them as Horde warriors come out of everywhere. Gabrielle manages to hold on to the man as their canoe races on. Eventually Xena realizes they are headed straight for some falls. She orders Gabrielle to jump when she manuvers the canoe near shore but the bard refuses. Suddenly more Athenian soldiers show up and Xena decides to join them onshore. They manage to beat back the Horde temporarily and then they all head toward the fort where the soldiers are making their last stand.
The Athenians are completely demoralized, their supplies almost gone, hundreds dead. Xena tells Gabrielle that if she's going to die she's going to do so as a warrior and then calmly proceeds to take command of the fort. The transformation in Xena is a site to behold. This episode is a tour-de-fource for Lucy Lawless. Those of you who've seen the Xena episodes that introduced the character on HERCULES, will recognize the swagger to her hips, the air of authority she immediately assumes, the wicked glee on her face as the soldiers start chanting her name and Xena the warlord is reborn. In sharp contrast, the look on Gabrielle's face is one of confusion and fear - but not fear of the Horde now. She begins to suspect in that moment I think that a deadlier battle may have to be fought in that fort - a battle for her friend's very soul.
As Xena makes battle plans, Gabrielle decides to help the wounded, recruiting a couple of the injured men who can walk as nurses. Moments later when Xena walks in she begins to tell the warrior what she has been doing assuming perhaps that Xena has come to help or may be willing to offer suggestions. Instead the new commander orders Gabrielle's "nurses" outside to fight and instructs the bard not to give any food or water to the seriously wounded since that must be rationed to the men who can still fight. When the girl begins to protest, Xena makes it very clear her orders are to be carried out. This is the first scene in which we see a growing distance between warrior and bard.
Convinced that the men need some sort of small victory to get their spirits up, Xena goads the Horde into a skirmish near the gates of the fort. As the Athenians attack, a few of the enemy make it past them into the fort. Gabrielle has just come of the hospital when she sees Xena grab one of the Horde and slice his throat with the man's own battle ax. The bard screams "No!" in horror then watches helplessly as Xena sees one of the enemy running away and launches the ax, driving it into his back. Xena has an absolutely feral look on her face as she turns back to the Athenian soldiers who having won the skirmish are reinvigorated. She smiles in delight when the men start chanting her name - the smile disappearing only when she sees Gabrielle in the distance and spots the disgust and horror on her face.
Xena orders the dead men from the hospital brought to the walls of the fort so they can tie them up there to make it look as if they have more men than they actually do. When a couple of soldiers try to take one dying soldier from the hospital Gabrielle refuses to let him go, only to move aside a moment later when the man dies. Physically and emotionally drained, the bard heads for a room at the back to be alone for a moment as Xena enters the hospital. She sees a man who only has an arm wound and orders him outside to fight. She then goes to face Gabrielle, demanding that her orders be carried out to the letter. The scene which follows is perhaps the most intense displays of anger and rage we've seen between these two since RETURN OF CALLISTO. Gabrielle is hurting, confused and frightened. She accuses Xena of murdering the man who was running away from the fort by throwing the ax into his back. She tells Xena that she's scaring her. With BARELY controlled rage, Xena grabs her wondering what she expected war to be like and pointing out that they don't have a choice. Gabrielle counters that there is a choice - they can stop fighting - but for Xena this isn't even a consideration. She is convinced that the Horde are not like them and could never be rationalized with.
Xena then organizes a diversion so one of her lieutenants can get through the Hordes outside, hopefully to get reinforcements. As the battle is raging she moves outside in search of something - then she finds it - a Horde who is still alive. She takes the man prisoner and drags him back inside the fort. A confused Gabrielle can't understand why Xena would apparantely save one of the enemy until the warrior princess points out that she brought him inside because she needs information and the man will provide it...one way or another. Gabrielle looks on in utter disbelief. She is present moments later when Xena begins her "interogation" of the prisoner. Xena warns her to wait outside but the bard does not budge. Xena then proceeds to hit the man and put the neck pinch on him trying to force info. from him. At one point Gabrielle begs her to stop. Eventually Xena takes the pinch of and has her soldiers take the prisoner away. Gabrielle starts to thank her for not killing the Horde then is stunned when a furious Xena warns her never to question her authority in front of "her troops" again. The words shock Gabrielle who wonders when Xena started to think of the Athenians as her troops. She wonders too where HER Xena is. The Warrior Princess looks at her coldly and points out that the other Xena cannot help them now and if loosing her is the "price" she needs to pay for saving them all - she will pay it.
Gabrielle later goes to get some water and sees that the Horde prisoner is being held a few feet away. When he sees the water he starts repeating the same word the dying Horde have been chanting outside. Gabrielle realizes then that the strange men hadn't been calling on any god as the Athenians had assumed but were simply asking for water.
The next scene shows an absolutely furious Xena grabbing an Athenian soldier when she looks outside the fort and sees Gabrielle walking among the dying Horde. The terrified soldier explains that Gabrielle told him Xena had given permission for her to go outside. Besides herself with anger and worry, Xena orders her men to get ready to attack then looks on helpless from atop the battlements as Gabrielle is surrounded by the Horde. To her shock, the savages do not harm her. They saw her giving water to the wounded and see that as a truce so they simply start taking their men away. Xena orders some unarmed Athenian soldiers outside as well so they can retrieve their own men and so she can get to Gabrielle. She goes to get the bard herself and tries to get her back inside the fort but Gabrielle sees the Athenian they had earlier sent out to get reinforcements, returning wounded. She goes to help the man.
Gabrielle is in the hospital caring for that man later when three soldiers come in. One of them explains that Xena told him to report to Gabrielle so he can help with the wounded. The soldiers also have food with them. A small smile makes its way to the bard's lips when she realizes that perhaps HER Xena is finally coming back.
Xena, meanwhile, has her lieutenants once again bring the Horde prisoner to her. She has the man released and his weapon returned. The Horde starts to attack the lieutenants but will not attack Xena. When she takes out her sword he even kneels before her. Xena begins to understand the strange code the Horde observe. She realizes that the man will not fight her because he sees her as a superior. She then understands what she needs to do - fight their leader and win so they then recognize her authority over them all.
In one of the most touching scenes in a XWP episode to date, the Warrior Princess then goes to the hospital to talk to Gabrielle. She finds the bard quietly tending to one of the wounded man. She admits that Gabrielle's discovery of what the word for water was turned out to be a key in beginning to understand the Horde. Seeing them accept the apparent truce they thought Gabrielle was offering helped Xena see past her fear and hatred of those strange people to try to understand them. Gabrielle points out that if she had lived through what Xena has in her life perhaps she would be more quick to hate but Xena quickly disagrees. She knows Gabrielle understands hatred but she doesn't "feel" it. A beautiful line makes it way to the script here - Xena tells her simply that "she loves...that". This is as close as the warrior has ever gotten I think to an apology and an admission of how much she cares for Gabrielle.
The next day, as both the Athenians and Horde look on, Xena goes out to meet the leaders of the Horde in battle. Before doing so she starts to tell Gabrielle that if anything happens to her the bard should head for the river but Gabrielle will have none of it. She is staying with Xena.
The ensuing battle between Xena and the Horde leader is FANTASTIC. Very exiting and Lucy as always just proves she was BORN for this role of hers. At one point, when she manages to get one of the curved knife weapons the hoder used, she just smiles in delight at the new toy. Of course, our warrior princess triumphs. She doesn't kill the Horde leader but then his own men do. Gabrielle wonders if they will be back someday and how they will defeat them then. Xena suspects they will but that it wont be warriors who will stop them...it will be someone like Gabrielle.
What can I say of this episode. It is a RESOUNDING success. EXACTLY what we had been wanting to see. Lucy and Renee are both at their best. The relationship between warrior and bard is tested but comes through stronger than ever. If this was the so called "rift" we've been hearing about - it was well-executed but definitely nothing to worry about. Both Xena and Gabrielle grew out of this experience, and grew to understand each other better as well. I think the bard finally got to see what Xena is like when she's not on that pedestal Gabrielle puts her on - and as for Xena, I think she gained a new respect for her friend. Gabrielle's "power" she now realizes, her sense of goodness and belief in people, can conquer even the worse of enemies.
This episode and everyone associated with it deserves an EMMY!
c. 1998 Lunacy
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