eruthros: Xena and Gabrielle looking at each other in the dark (Xena - looking at each other)
[personal profile] eruthros
For reasons possibly related to someone on my rlist looking for recs for Xena episodes, a while ago I rewatched "The Bitter Suite" for the first time in five years.

And then I sniffled a lot.

Guys, I miss that show. I miss the strange and beautiful combination of camp and wtf and tragedy and drama. I miss the women who love each other that intensely. I miss women with emotional scars. I miss (my corner of) the fandom(s) where the most common pairings were Xena/Gabrielle and Xena/Callisto and Xena/Lao Ma. I miss the working-motherhood and the fighting and the joking and the parodies and the hugs. I miss Xena singing and dancing and leaping over people's heads, and Gabrielle hitting everyone with sticks and writing it down later. I miss their despair and their tears and their hope and their joy. I miss the anachronisms, and the giant snakes, and the people in foam monster costumes, and the centaurs filmed only from the waist up, and the styrofoam monuments they borrowed from ST:TOS, and the fight scenes that completely ignore the laws of physics. I miss Xena and Gabrielle's determination and their anger and their laughter.

I miss two ladies riding off into the sunset together after saving the day.

(Though on the other hand I do not miss the noncon-mystical-pregnancy and the sexual assault metaphors and the Orientalism and the weird Christian season and the way Gabrielle and Xena could say they loved each other but could never actually, canonically, be sleeping together.)

So then I watched two vids that made me sniffle some more, and here they are in case you, too, have been missing Xena and/or ladies riding off into the sunset lately. They're both massively, massively spoilery for the main arcs of the show.

[personal profile] killabeez's These Two Arms (scroll down), which is the truest story that was ever true about Xena and Gabrielle. One of the most amazing things about the show, for me, was the way that they (usually) didn't have super strength or anything, they just had skill and practice and trust. And this is a vid about how beautiful that was, but also about how it was never enough, so it's simultaneously about love and death and sadness. Oh geez, killa, way to make me cry every time. (It is also, though, a vid that uses the Orientalist tropes of the show, and I really wish that one line in the song wasn't taken literally here.)

And [personal profile] charmax's Devotion. There they go together, Xena and Gabrielle, holding each other no matter what happens. <3! And they ride off together on one more adventure. This is like the happy-ending version of These Two Arms, and sometimes I need that happy ending.

And since I'm writing this post now I might as well copy the recs over. So!

You might like Xena if you like: the early seasons of Supernatural (they have similar road-trip-jokey-buddy-cop-heros-with-camp-and-tragedy thing going on, though Xena takes it to a whole nother level), ladies who love each other, pseudo-historical settings filled with anachronisms (kiwis at the siege of Troy?), seriously epic drama, tragedy and humor in the same episodes, camp, cheap special effects, loyalty, emotional arcs (oh Gabrielle!), tragic villains, women kicking ass, women saving the day with science or diplomacy or cons as well as ass-kicking, fight scenes, fight scenes that completely ignore physics, people who seem to use their swords just to add weight to their punches, boomerangs chakrams that always come back, or shows that love their tropes. Also other things I'm sure I can't think of right now, but perhaps people will leave them in the comments.

And now, some eps I recced the other day!

What I love about Xena has always been how it blends the camp and comic and the tragic drama into a big ball of completely weird. Some classic episodes, depending on what part of that ball you like best, might be:

2x15, "A Day in the Life," which is pretty much my favorite Xena episode of all time. It's just a standard day of heroing for Xena and Gabrielle: it's got stopping for breakfast, and debating about which village to save, and arguing about using frying pans as weapons, and figuring out how to kill giants. It's silly and charming and tremendously Xena/Gabrielley. (It does also have a subplot about a het couple in which the man falls for Xena and the woman gets jealous, but there's not a lot of it.)

3x02, "Been There, Done That." I can't help it, I love time loop episodes. Especially if they have hugs. And this episode does that thing where Xena is just completely weird at the world, which I also love. And it also does the thing where Xena saves the day through geometry, which always makes me giggle. (This episode contains some discussion of suicide.)

2x11, "Here She Comes ... Miss Amphipolis." This is an episode in which there are evil deeds planned for the Miss Known World beauty pageant, so Xena goes undercover as a contestant to protect everyone. And Gabrielle goes undercover as her wealthy sponsor. No, seriously. This is but one example of the "Xena and Gabrielle go undercover as..." trope, which is borrowed from buddy-cop shows to rather hilarious effect, considering that they're wandering warriors and not cops. (Why is Xena undercover as her innocent-princess double? Who knows! Why is she pretending to still be evil? For funsies! Why is Gabrielle pretending to be Xena? Long story!) This episode contains some queer stereotypes, but it doesn't treat the queer character badly - it's sort of surprisingly not-painful. Also it contains the threat of sexual violence.

3x12, "The Bitter Suite." This is kinda a weird episode to rec for early watching, because it's the denouement of a huge half-season of angst. But the above three are all very much on the lighthearted side of Xena, whereas this fits in the camp/tragic space that Xena is so good at (but often only does as part of giant arcs). It's a tense relationship drama! With death and grief and despair! In musical form! In a land with blinking eyes on banners and Xena's biggest enemy inexplicably dressed as a fool and gargoyles singing! That right there is seriously Xena in a nutshell. (If you want to watch it before watching the beginning of season three, though, you would almost certainly need a short-version plot rundown; the previouslies are totally unhelpful.)

You might notice that none of those are in the first season or the last couple seasons; that's because it takes them a while to figure out what they're doing and what the tone of the show is in the first season, and then the plots in the later seasons are more arc-y and also I don't remember them as well.

If you're into the complete all-episodes from-the-beginning thing, the beginning of Xena is not the pilot of Xena but some episodes of Hercules, back when Xena was a bad guy: 1x09 "The Warrior Princess," 1x12 "The Gauntlet," and 1x13 "Unchained Heart" all come before the pilot. There are some later crossover episodes, too.

And here are some extremely spoilery things that some people might want to know about the show before deciding whether to watch or what parts to watch.

There are several really common and/or dramatic plot points on the show that some people might want to avoid; they're under stacked cut tags here, so if you just opened the post as a whole you're about to hit some spoilers and you might want to click here to make the cut tags reappear:

1. Plots with children: Xena and Gabrielle have children. Some of them are killed horribly. Some of them are killed horribly by Xena and Gabrielle. I'm sure I can't recall all of the episodes where there are flashbacks, but the eps where that's a main arc are "Maternal Instincts" and "The Bitter Suite" and, uh, basically everything with this one character named Hope ("Gabrielle's Hope" "Sacrifice Part 1" "Sacrifice Part 2" "A Family Affair" and iirc flashbacks in "Paradise Found").

2. Plots with pregnancy: There's a bunch of mystical pregnancy on Xena. Some of it is extremely noncon ("The Deliverer" and "Gabrielle's Hope"), and some of it is "miraculous" ("Fallen Angel" and "God Fearing Child").

3. Themes of death and sacrifice: There's a lot of self-sacrifice and sort of ritual-death stuff going on in Xena, including main and recurring and guest characters, many of whom die and stay dead for reals. But the most important thing here is: Gabrielle and Xena die and come back from the dead a lot (really a lot), until the series finale, when one of them doesn't. It's pretty awful, especially when compared to the ending of Hercules in which the leads walk off into the sunset together -- and people did a lot of comparing. A lot of post-finale fanworks therefore have to explain what happened, or pointedly ignore the finale, or whatever, so it's hard to avoid seeing the repercussions of it in the fandom.

4. Themes of sexual assault: There's a lot of implicit or threatened or suggested sexual assault on the show, including mind-altering drugs/spells/gods/etc (see: basically everything with Aphrodite), noncon mystical pregnancy ("The Deliverer"), women being stripped by evil dudes, women being captured and threatened with rape or slavery, women being forced into scanty clothing for laughs or to protect their lives, women flirting or making out with evil dudes to get close to them or maintain their covers, and that sort of thing. Generally speaking, the threats of sexual assault are dismissed quickly -- it's often, like, some soldier leers and threatens and Xena or Gabrielle punches him -- but that's not always true, and the threats happen all the time. And the (threats of) sexualized violence can be pretty long and detailed (dudes running knives over Xena and expounding on where they should cut, sort of thing). There is also one episode, "Who's Gurkhan," that is particularly focused on sexual assault; it involves Xena being sold as a sex slave.

5. Orientalism: This show has a serious Orientalism problem. It's visible in a lot of the vids -- Boom Boom Ba in particular uses a lot of it, if you want to get a sense of the aesthetic choices the show's making -- but it's not just set dressing, it's a structural problem with the show. Xena's conversion from evil to good involves visiting China and learning about love and magic and spiritual journeys from Lao Ma (who Xena later has to save from patriarchy, no, srsly), and Gabrielle's evolution as a character involves spiritually journeying to India. And part of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship, especially in fandom, includes this moment in which Xena and Gabrielle go to India and learn that they're "spiritually and karmically linked through several reincarnations" (I paraphrase, but it's something like that). On Xena, Asia is about spiritual journeys and romance and veiled women and sexiness and magic, and all good Asian people are always willing to teach said magic or sexiness or spiritual messages to Xena and Gabrielle. I mean, it's very telling that Boom Boom Ba, which sets out to be about the sexiness of Xena, ends up also being a vid about the Orientalism of Xena, because those two things pretty much can't be disentangled.

So it's embedded in a lot of the show, and in a lot of the fandom, but there are some episodes that are particularly bad. Standouts for me are "Devi" and "The Way," which are set in India and are completely awful. (That's the one in which everyone in India is a mindless follower or a sword-swallower, except this one guy, who is, as it turns out, pretty much Jesus. Also, Xena prays to Kali after her arms are cut off and Kali possesses her and she suddenly has four arms to fight the bad guys. No, I am not joking.) Other particularly cringeworthy eps include "One Against an Army" (in which the Persian army is totes the most ruthless and evil, and Xena kills basically the whole army herself; it's Xena does The Battle of Thermopylae except she's all the Spartans), "Who's Gurkhan"(set in a palace in North Africa, all North African dudes are evil, all the ladies are sex slaves, Xena gets tortured by the lead bad dude at great length, there are extended belly dancing sequences), "Paradise Found" (somewhere in the Himalayas, guru turns out to be using yoga(ish) and meditation for evil), and "Between the Lines" (India, mystical wise woman, Xena and Gabrielle get sent on a mystical spiritual journey; this is the one with the spiritually-and-karmically-linked stuff and the mehndi that's in Boom Boom Ba). A lot of those episodes are part of the same "spiritual journey" that Gabrielle goes on in season four.

(I haven't seen seasons 4, 5, and 6 since they aired, and iirc that's where the Orientalism is worst, so I might have missed something really glaring; I'd appreciate it if you'd point it out to me, so that I can be prepared when I come across it in my rewatch and can also mention it here.)

6. Christianity = The Best: In the first couple of seasons, there are a bunch of Greco-Roman(ish) gods (Ares, Aphrodite, Hades, both Bacchus and Dionysus, Cupid, etc), intermixed with some plots from the Hebrew Bible - they find the Ark of the Covenant, help David fight Goliath, and do a plot that's basically Abraham and Isaac. It's like, this week on Xena: Troy! Next week: Abraham and Isaac. Next week: someone tells the tale of long-dead Spartacus. (See above re: you have to be amused by anachronism rather than annoyed by it to watch the show.)

Later, though, the show's attitude toward religion changes in a really weird way when Xena gives birth to a daughter named Eve. Who is the child of a god of light. Who is the messenger of said god. Who is destined to destroy all the Greco-Romanish gods that were the show's original deities. Which Xena actually does for her, in the end. Along the way they meet Michael and Lucifer and a whole bunch of bewinged angels and a dude who is basically Jesus. Oh, and Xena tempts Lucifer with the seven deadly sins. SERIOUSLY. And Xena and Gabrielle are crucified and end up in a vaguely Christian afterlife. Basically Xena ends up facilitating the spread of Christianity as part of her redemption arc. It's a sudden whoah this show is Christian now? arc.

... aaaand between the time I started this post and now I might've started a rewatch and made it all the way to episode 1x20. I clearly need to post this before I'm in season four and this post is even more ridiculous. But it makes me smile and brings me joy! Mostly! Except for the parts that don't!

Date: 2011-02-05 09:03 am (UTC)
calvinahobbes: Calvin holding a cardboard tv-shape up in front of himself (Default)
From: [personal profile] calvinahobbes
This is great! I recently realized that I have never watched an episode of Xena in my life and that this is probably a mistake on some level. I tried googling for episode recs but weren't exactly successful, so thanks for the list :o)

Date: 2011-02-05 01:03 pm (UTC)
twistedchick: General Leia in The Force Awakens (Default)
From: [personal profile] twistedchick
Since the Bitter Suite's design is based on the major arcana of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, in which the fool is the first guide to knowledge, having Callisto dressed as the Fool isn't bad casting. All the major arcana cards are there -- I don't know of any other popular tv show that even tried to do anything similar. It's amazing.

Date: 2011-02-05 03:17 pm (UTC)
lotesse: (btvs_tara)
From: [personal profile] lotesse
God Xena yes. I watched it with my mum over holiday, because she actually got to meet Renee O'Connor and had no idea who she was. It had to be rectified. We started out with "For Him the Bell Tolls" because I grew up with Danny Kaye movies, and that ep's such a wonderful tribute to them.

It's simply the happiest, bestest show on earth.

Date: 2011-02-07 08:15 am (UTC)
copracat: foreground gabrielle with xena in the background, laughing (xena lovers)
From: [personal profile] copracat
It's an amazingly happy show for a show that doesn't shy away from the ordinary heartbreak of living. Another reason I love it, of course.

My girlfriend and I were completely unspoiled for the final episode. How unspoiled? So unspoiled we didn't even realise we were watching the final episode. There was a lot of clinging and disbelief in the final minutes.

Date: 2011-02-05 04:42 pm (UTC)
xie_xie_xie: (Xie - X/G)
From: [personal profile] xie_xie_xie
Sigh, I followed a link from an InsaneJournal friend to here, and it was so great to see someone talking about Xena in this way again -- I was a first generation fangirl, and have been to the conventions and met most of the actors and creatives, and yet, I often feel like I'm the last Xena fan standing, online!

What I love best is that you APPRECIATE the crazy mixed-up mess of serious, camp, impossible, grittily real stuff that was X:WP. That's the part that people I try to get interested in the show now find unappealing. They want it to be all one thing or another.

Date: 2011-02-06 04:58 am (UTC)
xie_xie_xie: (Xena love my dead gay wp)
From: [personal profile] xie_xie_xie
Sigh, I miss my show.

Date: 2011-02-15 05:43 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] nixwilliams
just wanted to give this post some belated <3 <3 <3

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eruthros: Delenn from Babylon 5 with a startled expression and the text "omg!" (Default)
eruthros

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