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Welcome to Very Important Binge (VIB), where SYFY FANGRRLS tells you how to navigate your favorite TV shows.
When we think of Xena, there are a few key things that come to mind. That high-pitched battle cry, a bunch of cool weapons, an amazing sense of style, and, oh right, the fact that she was undeniably in love with Gabrielle and the whole series was basically just a slow-burn (but highly epic) romance between them. Xena: Warrior Princess was a show that fully ignited the world of early internet fanfiction, and looking back, it’s pretty easy to see why.
Xena and Gabrielle are remembered for their subtext more than just about anything else these days, and that’s fair because it is substantial. In a time of censorship and sparse queer representation, it’s kind of wild how much the creators of this show got away with, and not a day goes by that we don’t thank them for that.
Yet it wasn’t all subtext. Major parts of their incredible love story are just in-your-face, on-the-screen text. Xena and Gabrielle are one of the great love stories of all time, and these are some of their greatest (queerest) moments.
Season 3, Episode 13: "One Against an Army"
The first few seasons of Xena were by no means short on subtext, but it isn’t until Season 3's "One Against an Army" that we started to see this whole series is a queer love story disguised as an action-filled romp. This isn’t to discount early entries, such as the very first episode in which Gabrielle is so into Xena that she packs up and leaves home on the spot, but this is a prime example of the show going out of its way to show how much Gabrielle truly means to Xena.
When an army attempts to take Athens, Xena realizes that she’s the only person that can hold them off to buy time. Gabrielle is shot with a poison-tipped arrow and spends much of the episode teetering on the brink of death. Xena is gripped with uncharacteristic indecisiveness as she struggles with wanting to protect a city and needing to save her, um, best friend. Multiple times, she tries to abandon the mission to prioritize carrying Gabrielle to safety, but Gabrielle won’t let her. Even on the brink of death, Gabrielle flirts with Xena and makes a joke of her own pending death, but she doesn’t lose sight of the greater good and won’t let Xena do that either. Gripped by delirium, fading in and out of consciousness, Gabrielle whispers, “I want so much to be like you,” to which Xena responds, “I want to be like you.” She stays and succeeds in saving the day, but at the end of the episode, when she wearily collapses next to Gabrielle, we realize that even in the midst of a life-or-death battle over the fate of thousands, there was never a moment when Gabrielle left her mind.
Season 4, Episode 4: "In Sickness and In Hell"
A lot of people cite this incredibly goofy episode as one of their favorites of the series, and it is indeed a great stand-alone mini-saga. This story was meant to tonally break up the fairly bleak plotlines of the third and fourth seasons with a little comedy, and it definitely succeeds. It is easily one of the funniest episodes of a series that isn’t remembered enough for its great sense of humor.
Xena and Gabrielle search through a swamp for Xena’s beloved horse Argo, who shuns Xena until the two can win her back over. Love isn’t always pretty, and this episode emphasized the sheer grossness of traveling through a swamp with another person, unable to attend to hygienic needs, and picking up all kinds of rashes and bugs along the way. Of course, all of this is just an excuse to pop Xena and Gabrielle right in the bath together halfway through the episode, where they do best friend things like bathe each other and splash around naked. Xena is reunited with her horse, and when all is right with the world, she and Gabrielle fall asleep talking lovingly to one another, as gal pals often do.
Xena Season 4, Episode 21: "The Ides of March"
Some episodes of Xena are just there to break your heart. This is absolutely one of those. Two of Xena's greatest villains, Caesar and Callisto, team up to destroy Xena and Gabrielle. Xena has been having a prophetic dream warning of her pending demise via crucifixion and has done everything she could to prevent her and Gabrielle from ever setting foot in Rome. However, when Callisto returns from Hell, Caesar is on the brink of establishing a dictatorship, and Gabrielle is trapped in a Roman prison, she has no choice but to ignore the fates and go to be at Gabrielle’s side.
Gabrielle had attempted to take on a vow of nonviolence, but that all goes up in smoke when Xena falls after Callisto hits her in the back with her own Chakra. Gabrielle sees men coming to harm Xena, and picks up the sword, killing several of them before they are thrown back in prison together. An incapacitated Xena begs for Gabrielle’s forgiveness, but Gabrielle says that everything she’s ever done, she’s done out of love for Xena. Xena feels responsible for ruining Gabrielle’s life, but Gabrielle responds, “Before I met you, no one saw me for who I was. I felt invisible. You saw all the things that I could be. You saved me, Xena.” Though they end this episode brutally killed, they do get better. Despite everything terrible in their lives, Gabrielle never loses sight of her love for Xena, and in the end, she acknowledges that any path she took would have led them to be together.
Xena Season 6, Episode 6: "The Abyss"
Though the first five seasons of Xena were pretty high on the queer subtext, Season 6 is where the show just went full steam ahead establishing Xena and Gabrielle as an old married couple. After the events of Season 6, there is just no way there could have been a Season 7 without full acknowledgment of them as a canonical couple.
Gabrielle is stabbed through the side by a cannibal, and she and Xena nearly drown. Xena pulls them into a watery cavern, but Gabrielle is quickly dying from the combination of her wound and the frigid water. While Xena tries to find a way to help Gabrielle out of the cave, Gabrielle stops her and tells her that she doesn’t want to be buried with the Amazons, nor with her family, but with Xena. She expresses guilt over their situation, but Xena argues that it’s her own fault for setting her on a path she was never meant to walk. Shivering from the cold and afraid of death, Gabrielle says that any path she walked would have always led to Xena. Then Xena straight up carries Gabrielle up the side of a cliff in the rain. Then she takes on a group of cannibals to save her. Listen, this episode is a lot, but if you walk away from it thinking anything other than this is one of the greatest love stories of all time, I don’t know what to tell you.
Season 6, Episode 7: "The Rheingold"
This isn’t just one episode, it’s three! We call that a cheat, but it’s for the greater good, because this is definitely one of the very gayest arcs of this whole dang series. In the opening sequence, we discover that Xena had once trapped a great monster with the help of a mystical ring. They meet Beowolf, who tells them that the cage has been broken and the monster roams free. Xena departs in the night, leaving a letter for Gabrielle that pleads with her not to follow. Naturally, Gabrielle does not heed this, and goes right after her girlfriend.
The ring can be worn only by someone who has forsaken love, as Xena did in her past, or by someone with great love whose love will soon be taken from them. When Xena puts on the ring, she defeats the beast, but she loses all memory of Gabrielle. Meanwhile, the Valkyrie Brunnhilde confesses to Gabrielle that she’s in love with her, while Gabrielle has to decline her advances in favor of her love for Xena. Gabrielle finds herself trapped in a ring of fire, and only her true soulmate can brave the flames to free her. Even without her memories, Xena gravitates towards Gabrielle and awakens her with a kiss. This is right around the place in this series where the word "subtext" no longer applies. It doesn't get much more openly gay than this, folks.
Season 6, Episode 18: "When Fates Collide"
When the deceased Caesar discovers the mythical loom of the Fates, its threads interweaving, representing the lives and stories of humanity and their gods, he tries to pull a fast one by forcing them to change the course of his life. He moves the threads around until he is able to go back to the day he met Xena. Rather than betray her, he marries her, and the two of them become an unstoppable world power using Rome as their home base.
Then, Xena meets Gabrielle, a playwright who performs a ballad one night while she and Caesar are in attendance. To Caesar’s chagrin, Xena is immediately attracted to Gabrielle and goes to her despite his protests. Gabrielle sends Xena’s world into a tailspin with just a few sentences, and she begins making a plan to leave Caesar behind. This episode wholly takes place in an alternate reality, but it is almost more poignant as a result. Even in a world where they were intentionally kept apart, Xena and Gabrielle always find one another and fall in love. Cryptically, the Fates agree that separating them would be impossible.
Season 6, Episode 19: "Many Happy Returns"
This is where this epic series starts to draw to a close, and it’s certainly the last truly fun and campy episode we would see from our girls. On Gabrielle’s birthday, Xena plans a series of elaborate pranks to celebrate. Everything goes off the rails when they save a virgin from being sacrificed. Because she is committed to throwing her life away to gain favor with the gods, they feel compelled to stay with her and protect her. Hijinks? Ensue.
There is no way to fully prepare a viewer for how queer this episode is. The flirting between Xena and Gabrielle is blatant, references to Sappho as Gabrielle’s all-time favorite poet abound, there is a lot of friendship baths, and the fish puns are plentiful, to say the least. Xena dresses in drag, Aphrodite appears in all her godly glory, and Xena goes through heck just to gift Gabrielle with a love poem. If that weren’t enough, she pops on the helmet of Hermes and flies around holding Gabrielle in her arms. Truly, one of the queerest episodes of television we have ever seen, and a nice (almost) end to the love story between Xena and Gabrielle.