When the announcement was made a few months ago that there was going to be a Xena reboot, my initial reaction was not good. I’ll admit that. No Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Conner? Pfft, peace out. If they were bringing back Xena, I wanted a fifteen years later kind of thing, not a new show with tiny young things pretending they were my warrior princess and her bard.
I know. My reactions to these kind of things is not always good. I’ve seen too many terrible reboots of favourite things to feel confident about something as important and formative as Xena being done right.
(Full confession: despite loving Xena and reading a ton of Xena/Gabrielle fiction back in the day, due to the vagiaries of UK telly programming, I’ve seen S1 many times and only parts of the rest. That’s being fixed now through a complete rewatch on Netflix. Although I’m still only on S1 right now.)
Xena fandom was the first place where I found a large community of other lesbian and bisexual women. Although I’d read some Buffy femslash, it was Xena fic that really showed me what a great F/F romance could be. I devoured so much canon fic. I devoured even more Uber* fic. This was in the early 2000s, before LGBT romance publishers and indy authors and ebooks, so my access to good F/F romance outside of fanfic was pretty much nill. I didn’t need it, though, with so many wonderful novel-length stories to read. It made me picky about my F/F in fanfic afterwards, and grateful that a lot of those authors went on to write profic. Now, there’s a thriving F/F romance industry, but for any woman who was queer or questioning back then, there was Xena. There was a community, there were stories, and at the heart of it all there were Xena and Gabrielle on our screens every week.
They got as close as anyone could to stating outright that Xena and Gabrielle were a couple, particularly in the last couple of seasons, but at the end of the day, it was still all in the subtext for us. Fanfic had to fill the gap.
That is why Xena is so important to so many people, and why I’ve been eyeing the reboot with a certain amount of suspicion.
Over the last couple of days, Javier Grillo-Marxuach has been doing some interviews about the reboot. Attitude has a brief article quoting a post he made during a Tumblr Q and A, and The Mary Sue has a slightly more detailed report on that Q and A. io9 has a great interview between Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Genevieve Valentine (she’s writing the Xena comic right now, if the name isn’t familiar). I’ll give you a couple of minutes to read both of those.
The headlines have all been “Yes, Xena will be gay!”, which isn’t quite what Grillo-Marxuach is saying. For all of us who have claimed Xena as bi, what he’s said is more encouraging: fully exploring a relationship that could only be shown in subtext.
Which definitely more than implies there will be an on-screen romance, without dismissing any chance of bi representation. My fingers are still crossed on that point.
What has really turned me from side-eyeing this to feeling cautiously optimistic is the combination of that exploring a relationship comment, and his discussion in the io9 piece about embracing the things that made the show so iconic while telling the kind of big, long arc stories we’ve grown to expect. If he can pull that off, then this could be amazing. It could be the Xena that we could only explore in fanfic, on the screen in front of us. Just think about that for a moment.
The Mary Sue piece also addressed concerns about Grillo-Marxuach’s recent episode of The 100, which had been a bit of a worry for me. The last thing I want is to finally get Xena and Gabrielle’s subtext becoming text on the screen, only to have the Tragic Lesbian trope enacted on the screen in front of me. It sounds like that isn’t his intention – phew!
It sounds, to me, like what we’re going to get is a relationship that’s complicated and messy, but always goes back to that core story that they could never actually talk about in the original: a story about Xena and Gabrielle always coming back to each other, the centre of each other’s world.
And not in a platonic friendship kind of way.
All I want is out and proud Xena romancing Gabrielle, telling messy and complicated stories, with the potential for an ass-kicking HEA end game, and it’s starting to sound like there’s a chance I might get that.
(And if I don’t, there will be a whole new generation of Xena femslash writers to fill the gap again. With us oldsters digging up links to the old fic.)
* Uber: the Xena fandom equivalent of alternate universe (AU) fic, born out of the S2 episode that saw Xena and Gabrielle reborn in the 1930s and still kicking ass.