Xena: Warrior Unrealist

The Xena: Warrior Princess episode "A Comedy of Eros" is curiously mistitled -- it's much more a reworking (using the term very loosely, of course) of A Midsummer Night's Dream than A Comedy Of Errors. But what's in a title?

The great thing about fantasy is that it lets you tell stories like this, where characters just senselessly and without warning fall in love with each other, and you can absolutely have it NOT be their fault. If this weren't a fantasy, these people would be lunatics, and we'd be unable to watch the story. It wouldn't even make sense to us. But because it's fantasy, and there's a giggling little goofball with a magic bow and arrow running around behind the scenes, we accept the inevitable chaos and enjoy the anticipation of each wacky plot twist.

There's something to be said here for UNREALISM. Steph and I have talked at length about why authors write fantasy, and one of the notions we've come up with is that fantasy allows you to talk about things that reality doesn't. Xena takes place in the same place Midsummer does: in the forest of the imagination. In this place, characters can endure pressures and influences that are personified in ways that a "realistic" show could never do. Which lets you focus on exploring aspects of human nature in, sort of, isolation.

So for example, "A Comedy of Eros" lets the storytellers look at how people REACT to love, without worrying about how they fall in love in the first place. Without the bow-weilding cherub, the story would have to explain how Xena falls for Dracos, or how Dracos falls for... and so on. But the story's not about HOW people fall in love with inappropriate objects but rather how people can, even in the face of otherwise-all-conquering passion, exercise their will and their faculty for reason to maintain control over their own destinies.

Which is what Xena was always about. Xena did terrible things. She was hate-filled, angry and selfish. But using her brain and her heart, she was able to behave like a rational, compassionate person. At its best, the show bore witness to the human capacity for re-definition of the self.

"A Comedy of Eros" isn't quintessential Xena. There's no Kevin Smith smirking deliciously as Ares and there's no Hudson Leick out-loonying Lucy and heck, the climactic sequence isn't even a fight; it's the best live-action "Hallway Full Of Doors" sequence ever filmed. But it does express the core idea of the show. When Xena overcomes her own feelings and is able to see clearly what's going on (and come up with a solution that saves the day and STILL lets her express her misguided passion), she is re-defining herself consciously in an effort to do what she knows is the right thing.

Our temporary passions can mislead us, but they only do so through distraction. Our priorities and our standards don't ever go away; we just trick ourselves into thinking we can ignore them just this time. At its best, Xena reminds us that exercising our will and our capacity for reason is our best defense against cruelty and unhappiness.