This is my least favorite trope. Character finds something good and it all goes wrong. I always feel betrayed1. Having Paradise Found and Crusader so close together is gut-wrenching. But so important for Gabrielle’s journey. And ours. I want goodness and peace for Gabrielle. I want her to feel belonging and love. I want her to be forgiven.
Chris Manheim is totally forgiven. What a great episode.
First, some housekeeping. Watch 4.13 of Xena: Warrior Princess and listen to episode 57 of Xena: Warrior Podcast.
I went ahead and listened to the DVD commentary by Chris Manheim and Rob Tapert. I don’t recommend it as part of the so-serious commentary we’re doing because… they are doofuses.
Rob does apologize for having Gabrielle turn her back to get dressed.
Rob also explains that the hare and the tortoise have no significance.. They’re just funny visuals. He and Chris tried to ret-con some meaning, but couldn’t really come up with much. He just did it for the LOLs, and appropriated those symbols. This is an example of the commentary’s tone and why we shouldn’t put so much faith in our heroes.
“‘Rob Tapert has regrets’ should be the name of a podcast” – Geonn Cannon
Meanwhile, Gabrielle’s in pain. Gut-wrenching, personal, sinful pain. She’s done bad things, guys.
Gabrielle’s redemption not to be. Because Gabrielle hurts inside, and to be without pain is Death. Gabrielle is on a journey to learn this lesson. Xena has already learned it. I won’t go into all of that, it’s important here only because Xena is supporting Gabrielle unconditionally, and that’s sweet and sad.
There are two factors for Gabrielle having release/peace ripped away from her in “Paradise Found”:
1) Teachers are assholes.
Gabrielle is never going to achieve Enlightenment (let’s define that as awareness of the nature of reality: spoiler alert, it’s pretty shitty) if she keeps trying to follow spiritual leaders. Whether it’s Death herself, or Najara, or Eli, or Krafstar, or The Mother of Peace, sublimation into another person’s reality is not the answer. This is a painful lesson, every goddamn time, and I ache for her.
(For more on this subject, Josh Korda’s podcast “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road” is great. I’ve linked to this before, because this issue of Gabrielle’s is repetitive.)
Let’s also mention how this is affecting us in real life as the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfolds around us. Our own evil mentors are betraying us right now. Joss Whedon was one of the first to fall. George Takei may be another. This is universal, but deeply applicable to lesbian fandom, where our content creators are often outsiders who quickly get Othered. There’s Andrew Kreisberg, who has Power over our shows, our fandoms, and essentially, us. We’ve put these people on pedestals and having to kill them hurts.
Goodbye, Greater Good! Love triumphs! Aristotle was wrong. He was so fucking off about virtue. It’s refreshing that Xena, for all its problematic coins, at least acknowledges that there are other paths to virtue and enlightenment, whether it’s “Taoism” or “Buddhism” or “Christianity” or “Hinduism” or just Xena being Xena. (My college Ethics teacher in college literally showed a clip of Xena to start a discussion. Yay, the 90s.) It would be so easy to go Greek show = Aristotle and leave it at that, but this is a well-informed, ever-evolving TPTB. I am grateful.
2) Peace is Death.
The podcast ladies have made a few references to Freud lately. Freud’s time has finally come (rimshot).
I’m first going to talk about Immanuel Kant’s student, Friedrich Schiller, who said that when man is free of “toil” (The struggle for Life and the need to work for resources), then man is free to “play,” which literally means to put things on display for the sake of beauty (Schein). And Aiden makes beautiful sculptures out of enlightened/dead people. It’s so fucking literal I love it so much. Kant said that form should be free of usefulness, which is what happens when warriors become blue statues.
Freud and Jung were like, “LOL, play, wut.” Instead, it’s only our civilization that keeps us from becoming barbarians who have sex all the time.
This erotic act is also violent. This episode is so well-constructed.
Thomas Hobbes says, “Hey, girl. How’s that state of Nature working out?”
The German philosophers know what we know and that Gabrielle doesn’t know and Xena does know, that utopia is bullshit. The only way out is Death. Herbert Marcuse writes, “The descent toward death is an unconscious flight from pain and want. It is an expression of the eternal struggle against suffering.” (Further reading: The Nirvana Principle).
Herbert Marcuse then writes of Freud, “Freud describes the ‘ideational content’ of the surviving primary ego-feeling as ‘limitless extension and oneness with the universe’ (oceanic feeling).” And THEN says, “[Freud]…suggests that the oceanic feeling seeks to reinstate ‘limitless narcissisms.'” So Aiden’s douchebaggery is the obvious result of enlightenment.
Gabrielle chooses Xena over enlightenment. She keeps suffering, but it’s incredibly romantic. And that’s life.
Outerspace-Iiinnerspace on Tumblr offered this analysis of the lotus symbolism in the episode:
“What I got from all the lotus imagery was the lotus eaters from the Odyssey. It’s a Greek story so there’s that connection with the characters already, but when they show up in the bath and when Aiden gives one to Gabrielle it’s when she’s convincing Xena to stay and when he’s convincing her to stay and in the story eating the lotus plants made Odysseus’s men not want to leave the island. It also goes with Gabrielle being so complacent and blissed out, because that’s what eating the lotuses does! I didn’t notice Xena crushing one when I watched the episode but that’s probably because she’s Odysseus in this metaphor, and he doesn’t eat any.”
That is so amazing and beautiful. You could look at this whole episode series from the perspective of the hero’s journey, and Homer, and stories that go back as old as civilization. A completely different lens and still completely valid. That’s what a good episode does–it lends itself to everything. That’s why the hare/tortoise thing is annoying, Rob, and why the ladies get so frustrated at the poorer episodes where there’s not as much to say. “Paradise Found” is a thousand possibilities and stories in one.
Gar’s exit here recalls Plato’s cave, the man who finally realizes there is more to reality than the shadows on the cave wall. Aidan’s palace, too, was just shadows on a cave wall. Does that make liberated Gar the Philosopher King? #xena pic.twitter.com/wS44d78Hij
— xena warrior podcast (@xenawarriorpod) January 29, 2018
I’m not endorsing (and not not endorsing) these, but I thought I’d see what was out there
Worth the Pain by IseQueen – Xena’s obsession with Alti’s fourth-season vision of Gabrielle’s death severely tests the soulmates’ bond during “Crusader,” “Past Imperfect,” and “Paradise Found.”
Tantricks by Cath, Bard – Aiden and Gabrielle have sex.
Not a Pretty Tale by Azurenon & Savanna Mac – Xena deals with sexual assault in her past. Covers the opening scene of “Paradise Found” AND includes the “Let’s go to India!” conversation Katie wanted.
What would a world free from hunger look like? Star Trek: Discovery is doing an amazing job exploring utopia. If you buy into the idea of a hopeful future where people are free to live virtuous lives based on pure ideals, you’ll find a lot of material. Episode 8 in particular focuses on Enlightenment = Death / Pain = Life in an Original Series/Roddenberry-esque way.
1Freud says that art’s purpose is to show us that we’ve been betrayed. So thumbs up? Poor Gabrielle.