Warning: There are seriously huge spoilers for the finale of Xena: Warrior Princess in this post.
I realize I usually use this space for a mini shipping manifesto and fan music video, but I'm going to do something a bit different for this one. I'd like to get a bit meta about how I got back into this ship, as it's been consuming my fannish thoughts a lot this week.
So, reading about the upcoming Xena
reboot made me realize (with a great wave of fannish guilt, I assure you) just how much I love and adore and miss this series. I've taken a deep dive back into the fandom over the last 10 days or so and fallen in love all over again. (Oddly enough, at the same time I've also been getting back into ER
fandom, which is a very strange combination that has led to a number of odd crossover ideas.)
That said, due to medical issues (and the complications of trying to graduate high school while going through extensive, years-long physical rehab), I fell out of the fandom after the first few seasons.
I only found out about the gut-punchingly cruel way Xena died (and the way the show made sure to use it as a means to torture Gabrielle) a few days ago, and I've been pretty upset about it most of this week. It's just so egregiously traumatizing for the characters and the fanbase and, in light of mainstream TV's history of killing off LGBT characters (and the recent fandom outcry and protest that happened when they did it to Lexa on The 100
, which has been loud and coordinated enough to make mainstream news), pretty damn offensive.
So how did I find out that she died (and the means of her death)? Looking for shipping videos for this post. I feel like their relationship is best served by 1990s and early 2000s power love ballads, and the top hits on YouTube for those Xena/Gabrielle videos are set around the series finale. DEATH EVERYWHERE.
So, yeah. There's gonna be a delay while I find something I like that's not set at the series finale and doesn't depress the hell out of me.
In the meantime, I will say this about why I ship them. I didn't at first, mostly because I hadn't really hit puberty when the series started and I started watching it (because I loved Kevin Sorbo's Hercules
), so I didn't really have the awareness or emotional intelligence to detect the subtext. But I was old enough within just a couple of years, and it was immediately obvious why the LGBT community loved Xena
, because they were absolutely perfect for each other, and it wasn't a matter of will they/won't they. They did
, almost from the first day.
And once I was old enough, I couldn't believe people could watch the show and not
see they were a couple in all the emotional ways that actually matter.
The showrunners now say they were constrained by the executives, but even with those constraints, the subtext between Xena and Gabrielle was basically text
. They weren't allowed to come right out and state in universe that they were a gay couple, but they pushed that boundary to the breaking point, and more importantly, they didn't really need to make it explicit. I'd even go so far as to argue the writers had to explore the depth of their emotional connection even more thoroughly and artfully because they couldn't fall back on the stock physical cliches of heteronormative storytelling, and the relationship was better written for it.
Love is love. Sexual orientation doesn't matter; when you love someone you love them, and if you know how to recognize love in other people, it's impossible to miss. The writers on XWP
realized they couldn't regularly give us explicit dates, regular physical intimacy, etc.--all the hallmarks of a standard TV dating plot. They couldn't even imply it or have the characters talk about it as though it happened off screen.
So they tore out all the window dressing and garnish, and gave us two people who were partners and best friends and loved and lived first and foremost for each other. They were each other's world, floating through a universe of other people who came and went but were never more important than each other. They fought gods and demons and armies of men, and did extraordinary feats reserved for demigods and warriors of legend, but their relationship with each other was the most down to earth and human thing about them
. The legendary Warrior Princess and her Bard-Who-Would-Be-Amazon-Queen were identities they grew to wear like masks, like Clark Kent in the Superman suit.
When they stopped to eat or trade for supplies or mend their clothes or talk and bicker about anything not having to do with their wandering adventures, or at night curled up together by the fire, they were really no different from Rob and Laura Petrie or Jill and Tim Taylor or Andy and Connie on NYPD Blue
and so many others. They led extraordinary lives, but when all that fell away they were just two ordinary people.
Without ever saying the words we associate with courtship, we saw them meet and date and utterly devote themselves to each other for eternity over the course of the series, and it was beautiful until the end.
And I think that's what makes them so wonderful and adorable and enduring for fans. They fought gods and monsters and despots, but when they were alone, they were a happy, content, utterly devoted married couple
who shared the same emotions, thoughts, and relationship struggles we all do here in the post-magical real world. Their relationship was pure and wonderful and stuck out like a beacon thanks to its normality and reliability in an otherwise high-fantasy, sometimes narm-tastic setting.
There are some characters that you think could never survive outside their own canon because they're so specialized and adapted to their own world they can't really exist anywhere else. (e.g.: What would Josh Lyman and Donna Moss, two 20th century US political operatives, do with themselves if you dropped them into Star Trek
's universe and a post-scarcity, near-utopian political system unlike anything they know? They are defined not just by themselves or their relationship, but what they do
Just as in the ideal marriage, Xena and Gabrielle have their own likes and dislikes and hopes and dreams, but as for defining who they are? They can't do that without first inextricably tying themselves to each other. They share their strengths and weaknesses and are each stronger for it. Each of them admits several times in the series they are only what they are because the other one is in their life, for better or worse. They would have no trouble anywhere or anywhen because what they are--before anything else--
is each other's, always and forever. Their relationship is immutable and independent of the setting, which is what real true love is suppose to be.
That wouldn't change even if they were the weirdly affectionate "roommates" who moved into the house next door to Rob and Laura Petrie in the 1950s and lived completely peaceful lives and only showed up as drop-in characters on The Dick Van Dyke Show
when Rob and Laura needed a babysitter. It wouldn't change if Xena spent her days fixing hot rods with Tim Taylor while Gabrielle wrote best-selling novels and griped affectionately with Jill about their partners' lack of appreciation for things like opera and high art while Xena and Tim tried to make sense of Wilson's life advice. It wouldn't change if they were an experienced and rookie detective pair just partnered together by Lt. Fancy, ready to patrol the mean streets of New York City.They don't need extraordinary lives to justify or energize their relationship, because what makes their lives extraordinary is each other.
So, I kind of went off on a mini-ship manifesto anyway, I guess. As to the video that I decided to use for this, there's a compilation of canon clips from an episode that chronicles what they do when they're not being legends. That they operate as demigod heroes in a high-fantasy setting and the most important part of their personalities and relationship with each other is utterly rooted in something so completely normal and pure as mundane human companionship fills me with squee. It's the only thing about their lives that isn't rooted in the supernatural and myth and legend and the eternal battle between good and evil.
And most of the time that normality translated into them being utterly adorable goofballs that we all identified with and loved to watch.
In conclusion, the series finale never happened. Because I'm not ever going to accept that something this adorable and lovely and pure could end like that.