Xena and Gabrielle’s Friends to Lovers progression
My personal interpretation of a censored lesbian couple’s journey from the ’90s (during my first watch of the show).
I’ve always been quite skeptical about the rule of ‘only seeing what you want to see’ instead of what it actually is. Because Xena and Gabrielle only ever referred to each other as best friends, family (& eventually soulmates) and also because of the restrictions from the network (making it a platonic relationship by censorship) the audience who saw their relationship never can differentiate when it ‘transitioned’ to romance or if ever did at all.
From the second episode, Gabrielle called Xena her best friend — that was the label that was always used for their relationship despite what stage they were in. It was never like ‘this is my travelling companion’ to ‘this is my sister’ to ‘this is my friend’ to ‘this is my best friend’ to ‘this is my wife’ etc. There was no clear progression from one to the other within the writing itself. (This may of been ‘no homo damage control’ on the writers part’) Their dynamic had long past that kind of ‘romantic duality’ by that point. In theory, they just grow closer.
There have been many theories and statements, analysing when they got together or started being intimate, but neither one is confirmed. Which is part of what makes it one of the greatest love stories I have ever witnessed on screen. When I started to watch Xena, I tried to clear my head and judge it by the way the episode was written, rather than my own or other peoples thoughts clouding my judgment.
What I found is that when the restrictions on Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship loosened over the course of the series, bits of their relationship were slowly revealed to the audience. It was like the characters themselves were controlling what the audience could see of their “very private bond”
This season was very much about developing Xena and Gabrielle as separate characters rather than their ‘relationship’ with each other.
When Xena first sees Gabrielle in the first episode, she is stunned by her bravery to stand up to the warlords, and she feels the need to save her. It’s like she knows instinctively that this is her soulmate. Immediate love at first sight, even if she’s not aware of it. Gabrielle is absolutely fixated on Xena when she first meets her ‘it’s like a celebrity crush’ — and also sees this as a ticket way out of her environment. At first Xena kind of sees Gabby as a bit of a burden. But as she talks to her brother in the tomb she finds comfort in knowing this strange farm girl is on her side. Though she tells her she’s “sending her home” she realises that she’s not leaving any time soon and sort of goes ‘why not?’ This seems to be apparent in all relationships that queer people have with each other. Even if no one has ‘come out’ we just flock together and give one another a home, when the outside world rejects us.
At the start of the season, the show establishes that these two women are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Gabrielle believes in soulmates. Xena however does not.
Over the course of the episodes, Xena quickly becomes fond of her because of her innocent, chirpy demeanour and also because of her intelligence. Gabrielle is quick witted and finally has a good use of her skills now that she’s removed from her soul crushing environment. She no longer seems like a blank slate. And Xena understands that. In episode six, when Gabrielle is trying to get her out of prison, we see Ares try to manipulate Xena into going onto his side. When Xena bulks out, and accidentally hits Gabrielle in the face, she’s sees what she’s done and is immediatley brought back to herself — which it indicated to me that ‘she has feelings for her’ — and is so surprised when she receives unconditional love from Gabrielle in return. In episodes 7 and 9 and 14, she shows her first signs of jealously over Gabrielle’s boyfriend of the week. Its unclear how Gabrielle feels because Gabrielle is only nineteen and she’s still trying to find her soulmate.
Basically in the first part of the season, although there are definitely some feelings there on Xena’s side and a crush that Gabrielle has, they really are ‘like sisters’ and friends to start off with. Their boyfriends each episode consist of Xena facing her past loves again, and Gabrielle’s want to find a soulmate. So regardless of ‘if it makes sense character wise or not’, it does serve a purpose in the story.
Its only till I got to episode 16, that I started to question if they had a sexual relationship (that she might have been teaching her some stuff) — I know that sounds odd even that early on but anything can happen in the bedroll at night. And ‘Prodigal’ happened, and it established that Xena was not like ‘Gabrielle’s sister’ at all and Gabrielle realised that she was meant to be travelling her. This is by far my favourite episode of season one.
In ‘Altered States’, which make me definitely think that Xena could have been teaching her some “stuff”, since the ‘fishing scene’ is a metaphor for oral sex. (In fact the “fishing” metaphor in general used throughout the show is to connote queerness and lesbian sex) And Gabrielle confessing her attraction for Xena sort of solidified that for me. The ending scene for that episode, made me think that Xena was definitely falling in love with this woman.
The second part of the season is when they’ve established that they have a great friendship that goes beyond blood.
In ‘The Greater Good’, when Xena “died”, It was clear to me that Gabrielle was falling in love with Xena as well, but whether she realised it or not was a bit unclear. I think she did a little bit. “I’m going home one day” GABRIELLE IS HER HOME.
In ‘A Doctor in the House’, when Gabrielle is dead, I think this was the moment that Xena started to realise how essential Gabrielle was to her since this the first time that she shows any kind of real emotion in the season. Gabrielle is her anchor. It was also apparent to me that she was in love with her, but i’m not sure she realised the extent her feelings yet. At the end of the finale, it’s established that they have an unbreakable bond/deep friendship and they aren’t going leave each other any time soon.
I started to question if they were having sex or not in the beginning of the season. (Not that they were together) I don’t know why. But there was definitely a lot of things unspoken between the two of them. This became apparent in the vampire episode. And in ‘Return of Callisto’, I came to the conclusion that was the episode where Xena realised that she was officially in love with Gabrielle. And before, people say anything, Perdicus manipulated Gabrielle to marry him. I don’t really buy that she did it because she was “in love with him” per-say. She’s still trying to find her ‘soulmate’ and thought it was him because they grew up together & he was her first chaste love. But when he was killed, she was traumatised by that event and was changed forever. The bit of ‘her being taught how to use a sword’ was structured like a sex scene.
This second season was the first season that started to hint at Xena and Gabrielle being soulmates
In ‘Miss Amphipolis’ Gabrielle shows her first real sign of jealously of Xena kissing someone else.
In ‘Destiny’ when they visit Xena’s battle filed, Xena obviously feels remorse over her past wrongs while Gabrielle tries to console her. But her depression over what happened is too much. And she’s ready to give up on life there and there. So when she gets knocked into a tree, she doesn’t even try to fight it. She just wants to die. But her last request for Gabrielle is to bring her to the place where she really began to go down to “wrong path” to understand what went wrong.
When it flashes back to that moment (when she turned evil) it flashes forward to Gabrielle being in denial of her death — which suggests to the audience that she’s trying to save her from the moment in time. Meanwhile on the other side, Xena hears her words and realises that she has to go back, not just to save the world, but for her. Gabrielle gave her a reason to live again!
In ‘The Quest’ (it seems like a few months has past) she admits to Iolaus that she’s in love with Xena in which Iolaus responds with so much compassion. ‘Gabrielle you just told her’
All episode long, while she tries to set up her new life with the Amazons, Gabrielle is spouting speeches about ‘how she’ll always love her but that she has to let her go’ and ‘we’ll be together again one day’. Not knowing that her feelings won’t be in vein and she’ll be confronted about it.
When Gabrielle is brought into the dreamscape, Gabrielle tries to say how she feels — but Xena says that Gabrielle doesn’t need to say anything since she heard what she said and kisses her. Yes thats right. It just happens. No gloating about it. It simply just happens. More television shows should do this. And I love Autolycus’ reaction to it as well as Gabrielle’s. The most romantic part of the episode is when Gabrielle puts the ambrosia in Xena’s mouth, holds her hand and whispers for her to come back to life. Xena immediatly responds to this, making Gabrielle hold her face. ‘Gabrielle.’ Xena starts and Gabrielle just says ‘I know’ (This was quite a main-text episode). It’s from that point on that Xena starts to build a new life with Gabrielle.
For the audience, its hard to differentiate when or if they got together because the creators could only tell a quarter of the story on screen (while constantly being censored by a homophobic network) and also the fact that we are so used to watching everlasting slow burns on screen, that our brains are long a-tune to it (Or maybe its not a bad thing, depending on if you like to over analyse what your’e watching).
But judging from a personal standpoint, I don’t think its that complicated. I think it’s quite simple.
At the end of the episode, When Gabrielle sat down and and put her arm around Xena, my brain went ‘Yup. That’s her wife.’ It was as simple as that. I didn’t even have to think about it.
In the early stages of a romantic relationship, depending on who your’e with, it really is just like two friends hooking up with each other, and things get a lot more serious later on as you both grow together. It’s a learning process i.e. Seasons 1–4 was the development of their relationship. (You could say that its the love affair part of their relationship) It makes sense to me that they would take it slow in their relationship instead of just jumping right into it because of Xena’s healing heart (the fact that she’s never been in a loving committed relationship before that wasn’t solely to do with sex/manipulation) and Gabrielle’s journey of self discovery.
By Season 5 and 6, their relationship has reached to the point where it’s fully ‘developed’ because they’ve grown as people and also by then the show was entering the 2000′s so the creators were able to make it more “main-text”.
But by that point, in Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship, for me it’s hard to believe, from the way that it’s written, that they’ve just entered a romantic relationship with each other because they’ve already moved past those extremes by Season 5 and 6. (‘The not tonight’ in ‘Kindred Spirits’ is a good example of them being past the honeymoon phase and their marriage being a lot more solid and monogamous.) One could argue the label of ‘best friend’ and ‘family’ hasn’t changed because they have always been married.
Thats not to say Xena isn’t a friends to lovers story, but its also primarily about a married couple.
THIS ANALYSIS WAS RESPONSE TO @GIRL4MUSIC ‘FRIENDS TO LOVERS THEORY’.