Xena Gets Shifts Gears Suddenly When Sexual Violence Is Introduced To The Show
By Alex Cranz
Things start off light-hearted enough. Ares is doing some “sword” exercises when Discord shows up rocking a bad wig, a worst costume and a desire to talk about cults in England. It must be a big deal because all powerful gods are concerned and Ares has Julius Caesar handling the destruction of the cult’s temple.
Then things shift to Xena and Gabrielle being happy and adorable. In season three this means that things are about to get AWFUL. Sure enough they run into some Brits escorting some other brits and Marton Csoskas. Lets’ take a moment to acknowledge that I spelled his name correctly on the first try.
And also let’s acknowledge how fabulous he looks.
Xena is all for the bounty hunters doing their work but CSOSKAS mentions Caesar and Xena goes into a fightin’ rage and next thing you know Xena’s British adventure is beginning.
TITLES. Notice how Xena sees red at the name of Caesar. It’s her pride and anger talking and becomes important later.
You know these brits Xena is with are the best because they rock skirts. Xena is less the best because she leaves Gabrielle with them so she can ride around on her horse like a boss.
As soon as Xena rides away Gabrielle and Csoskas start talking theology and he talks about his one god and then Xena skewers her one god and is that blasphemous to say? Whatever. This episode is full of good-looking dudes talking theology and rocking long flowing locks of hair.
As Gabrielle heads down the path of religious conversion Ares asks Xena to destroy that aforementioned temple. We are to assume he’s asking her to nuke a church. I love it. I also love how Xena is all “maybe I SHOULD destroy a church for Ares so I can enrage Caesar.” Her priorities are skewed.
Because Britain is an island they have to hop a boat and Gabrielle immediately starts putting the moves on Csoskas with Xena’s anti-seasickness treatment. It involves touches and looks and Xena walking by looking pissy.
Also, forgot to mention Xena was BFFs with Boudica until she screwed her over because Xena cares not for your beloved historical heroes! You know unless she needs to use them to kill Caesar.
Xena’s non-guilt over trying to kill Boudica is halted so Romans can board their vessel and be jerks. Then Xena goes up into the crow’s nest and for NO REASON starts twirling her sword before using it’s reflection to send a message. Why was she twirling it people? Someone explain it to me!
Night fall and Boudica rolls in. Literally. She is in a chariot. Then she straight up FLIES. Then Xena shows up and flies too. And then a bunch of scraggly Brits run in and they all kill the Romans. Except Gabrielle. She’s busy making pacifist eyes at Csoskas and getting caught by some Romans.
Gabrielle…why were you and Csoskas all alone and then racing ahead to act like you’d been fighting the whole time? Hmmm.
Xena doesn’t even notice her best friend has been kidnapped. She’s too busy trying to kill more Romans and get along with Boudica. Afterwards she realizes Gabrielle hasn’t shown up to touch her shoulder and say something nice and decides to attack Boudica. Turns out Boudica knew Gabrielle was kidnapped and hid it to use Xena.
AT THE ROMAN CAMP. Gabrielle and Csoskas talk more about pacifism and Caesar rolls in all “Oh, Xena? She can suck it.” In my head he also does a little hip thrust whilst eating his apple with a knife.
And then he’s all GABRIELLE EAT MY APPLE. And she does. And it is almost as dirty as it sounds.
Instead of rescuing Gabrielle Xena plans on waging a little war and then maybe freeing Gabrielle in the process.
And instead of sleeping or trying to escape Gabrielle makes eyes at Csoskas and he talks about how his god saved him from his anger and you know they totally banged in the interim though that meant banging in front of Romans.
Caesar wakes them up the next morning and informs them they will be killed to piss off Xena. And then they’re on crosses. Right before Gabrielle’s legs are crushed to goo Xena pops up from beneath the crucifix and fightin’ ensues. Yes it is important but let’s talk about how this means they were just sitting there under some grass while those guys built crucifixes and then put Gabrielle and Csoskas on them. Was this Xena’s way of punishing Gabrielle for getting lost or something?
Gabrielle agrees and is all “timing Xena” and Xena’s all “let me free you with some knives and piss of Caesar and ignore your comment.”
Post crucifix break Gabrielle hints at maybe a crush on Caesar? Xena gets irritated at the idea and then goes and takes that temple Ares was all worried about because it will stop Caesar. The best part is how Xena demolishes the most powerful military maneuver of the ancient world by just hopping into the middle of the legion and kicking people. I do not think that is accurate historically.
Gabrielle joins Csoskas and his cult buddies in reclaiming the temple and fails to notice the complete lack of crosses.
Boudica and Xena prepare for the final great battle that will crush Caesar forever but Xena gets’ waylaid by Ares. He’s still upset out the temple. Xena correctly assumes that Ares is just worried about himself and Ares then tells her to trust him, which she can’t do because, you know, he drove her insane a few episodes back.
So the cult is very clearly not Christianity. It is something else and Gabrielle, not being well versed in Judeo-Christian theology, misses the problem. Then the cult decides to murder Csoskas as a human sacrifice. There is a SHIT TON of chanting to go along with it.
Gabrielle, being a bad ass stops the murder and then accidentally kills one of the cultists. Her refusal to kill has been a major part of her character since midway through season one and the blood covering her hands sends her into a fugue state, further compounded by Csoskas revealing he planned it all to bring about the Kingdom of Dahak.
Shit. Is. Serious.
Down in the hills Xena gets excited about the major impending battle. It’s heavily implied that her presence will single handedly change the tide of the war.
Which is a bummer because she sees clouds over the temple and rushes off to save Gabrielle. Who is still royally emotionally fucked up from killing a woman and being horribly manipulated, humiliated and betrayed.
Then Csoskas shows up to gloat.
Xena is horrified and completely out of her element when she realizes that she was also fooled and that this guy and his cult are just as horrific as Ares suggested. It’s made even worse when Csoskas blames Xena for putting Gabrielle into this situation.
Suddenly the alter bursts into flames and explodes and Gabrielle is pulled forcibly into the fire where she hovers while Xena fights Csoskas, who is now a horned monster.
Xena mocks the god and then kicks the horned asshole into the flame and then rescues Gabrielle who has been groaning while the flames wrap around her.
Then the whole temple collapses and explodes…what is in the masonry in prehistoric British temples to evil gods?
Amidst the wreckage is Xena holding Gabrielle who says:
It hurts inside. Everything’s changed. Everything.
What should be a powerful moment is promptly ruined with the last shot of the episode: the reveal that the temple is Stonehenge.
How This Episode Makes Historians Weep
WHERE TO BEGIN. I saw this episode when it first aired back in 1997 and little 14-year-old me was so incensed by the historical inaccuracies I refused to watch the show…until the musical episode. I was pissed man.
Caesar was old when he went to Britain. Also he died in 44 BCE.
Boudica did fight the Romans and it’s what she’s known for. However she died in 60 CE. She and Caesar missed each other by a hundred years.
Dahak is based on Zahhak, an evil snake creature/man of Iranian folklore and Zoroastrian mythology. It is unlikely he was waving his fire around up in England.
You cannot go from Greece or southern Gaul or wherever Xena and Gabrielle were to England in a day or two. That is not how ancient geography and travel work.
Stonehenge was created more than 2000 years ago, and presumably not from Xena kicking a horned demon into a fire god’s maw.
The Roman testudo formation (that turtling thing with the shields) was a major innovation in warfare and allows the soldiers to stay mobile while defending themselves from missiles. If someone HAD just dropped into them like Xena did that person would have been skewered with their gladius, which were design precisely for close combat like that.
- Gets from southern Europe in Britain in two days
- Flies like fellow superhuman hero Boudica
- Knows all the heroes
- Laughs in the face of gods (also stabs them)
- Enrages Caesar
- Battles Dahak’s Deliverer who is apparently superhuman. And wins.
- Has a sluggish sixth sense when it comes to Gabrielle
Where It Stands In The Series
This is one of the most critical episodes in the entire show’s history. From it stems “the Rift” which lasts the entire season. From it also stems the biggest and most tragic aspect of the Gabrielle character.
Under all that bronzer was KARL URBAN playing Caesar. Again.
This is also the first appearance of Marton Csoskas! Between this guy and a dude later in the series he will play two of the most important men in the Xena mythos. And he will be oddly attractive as both characters.
The general consensus among the creative staff of Xena: Warrior Princess is that Gabrielle was not raped. The reasoning is that the violent act wasn’t committed by a person (just a god represented as fire) and thus was not sexualized. I guess they missed the part where she was very clearly mimicking intercourse both vocally and physically? Also the part where rape doesn’t need to be sexualized and often isn’t.
Also the fact where Zeus has been a noted rapist for more than a millennia. It isn’t called the “tender lovin’ of Leda.”
The worst part of the creative staff’s refusal to actively engage this interpretation of what we see on screen is that it reinforces the idea that rape victims are weak. By refusing to acknowledge that one of the most interesting and “badass” women in television is a victim of rape they imply that women who are raped can never be as strong. Which is messed up especially when coming from a show that’s all about women and their strength.
However, by choosing to interpret it as a rape we then bring sexual violence into the Xena world. It’s the rare fantasy world where women are NOT under the constant threat of rape. After reading the first five books in A Song of Ice and Fire I can firmly attest to the delight I felt watching Xena and not having to worry about people maligning Xena outright for her gender or threatening to rape her. It was a pure bit of escapism that has now been hit with a hefty dose of reality.
Which segues me into the episode itself. What a switch-a-roo. More than half of the episode is normal Xena: a bit silly, a flagrant disregard for history, some neat moments that touch on the core of the character of Xena and some sword fighting.
Looking back it’s really easy to pass off the first half of the episode as a con played on the audience. They wanted us moving in one direction while they prepared to pull us in another. They give us a few warnings so it isn’t entirely unexpected. There’s callbacks to Xena’s hatred of Caesar and her hubris in matters of warfare and even Csoska’s character is meant to emulate all the pseudo Judeo-Christians we’ve met over the course of the show.
Then those cultists start chanting and everything changes. The music could be considered oppressive but it’s so violently different from what we normally hear on the show that it helps reinforce the fundamental shift we’re witnessing on screen. Gabrielle caught up in the divine plans of an unknown god, Xena (and Gabrielle) completely fooled by some cultists and this guy turning into a demon. That’s a far cry from the villains of the show’s past. The episode then chooses to end on a complete down note. There’s a war raging on another hill and Xena is fully confronted with the damaging effect of her own pride while Gabrielle curls into a ball and expresses the kind of shock only one thoroughly victimized can express.
It’s a fascinating and ballsy as hell sucker punch and the very first of many throughout this season.
Season 3, Episode 5, “Gabrielle’s Hope”
Xena and Gabrielle are still stuck in England. Also Gabrielle is pregnant with devil spawn and they meet the Knights of the Round Table.