Back in late July, I took on the enormous task of re-watching all of Xena Warrior Princess before heading to Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend, where I would be one of the panelists on the 20th Anniversary Panel. And as I was power-watching this summer (my first time through the show, comprehensively, since it’s original airing), I realized something very important: This show taught me a lot.
Xena originally aired from 1995 to 2001; These were my teenage years. And I now know that it was teaching my about life when I thought I was just being entertained. …It was also surprising to be reminded of what this show got away with in the mid- to late-90s. So I started making some notes about things that affected me this time around – and I assume back then, as well, though subconsciously – to remember as life lessons from this silly show with a big heart. Because who doesn’t want to be remembered that way?
1. Take a stereotype and turn it into a superpower.
From the very beginning, Gabrielle lives up to her nickname – “gabby.” Except not really. Her talkativeness could easily fall into the trappings of a tired stereotype. But she’s exceptionally good at noticing details and thinking quickly, and can talk herself into or out of just about anything.
2. No one owns you but you.
Philemon: When she returns, the wedding will go as planned.
Xena: Only if you let it. Tell Diana you love her.
Philemon: My brother is first-born. Diana is rightfully his.
Xena: Diana belongs to no one but herself, and the sooner you both realize that, the better off your kingdoms will be.
3. Ladies should support ladies.
Strong female friendships are so important, and there is no better example than Xena and Gabrielle. They’re certainly not perfect, and they’ve hurt each other deeply, but they also love each other deeply and always support one another.
4. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to scream.
It would have been really easy for the showrunners to keep Xena “strong and hard” and Gabrielle “soft and emotional,” but they didn’t. Xena cries and Gabrielle screams, and they’re both more real because of it. Sometimes your emotions make you cry, sometimes they make you scream, and sometimes they make you do both. The only wrong thing to do with your emotions is ignore them.
Go places. Experience other cultures. Immerse yourself in your surroundings. Get to know people who are different from you. Listen to to their stories. Learn about their beliefs and traditions. (But don’t appropriate their culture, like Gabrielle often did.)
6. Your past, even though it is a part of you, does not define you.
I’m pretty sure that is close to an exact quote from an episode, but I couldn’t find it anywhere (but did come across some interesting fanfic). Xena is a redemption story. In the first episode, we see her try to bury her armor and weapons and leave it all behind to make a change. But it’s immediately apparent that her past experiences will help, rather than hinder, the good that she wants to do. What defines her is the path she chooses to take going forward.
7. Love and forgiveness are more powerful (and healthier) than hate.
Gabrielle: The hurt was tearing up our souls.
Xena: The fury in us made us blind.
Gabrielle: We could not see beyond the pain.
Xena: If we can turn again to love.
Gabrielle: If we can heal these open wounds.
Xena: We’ll leave this hatred far behind.
Gabrielle: So not a trace of hate remains.
Both: We’ll overcome our damaged past! / And we’ll grow stronger side by side! / To stand together through the storms! / We’re safe ’cause love will be our guide!
(“The Bitter Suite”)
8. You’re at your best when you are true to yourself.
Gabrielle has a tendency to get caught up in the ideas and philosophies of others, perhaps most notably when she begins following Eli and “The Way of Love.” She changes her behavior, stops writing her scrolls, throws away her staff, and embraces complete pacifism. But soon realizes that that’s not her, and this “way” prevents her from defending those who need her help. She decides that needs to make her own way – “The Way of Friendship.”
9. “Soft” doesn’t mean “Weak.”
Waltraut: It makes me sick to see you’ve grown so soft.
Xena: Softness and weakness are two different things.
(“Return of the Valkyrie”)
10. It’s totally normal to make up songs about your life.
Joxer the mighty, roams through the countryside…
Bonus: If you want to re-watch a TV show with 134 episodes, don’t try to do it in 6 weeks.
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