I just watched an episode of Xena last night called “A Comedy of Eros”. People are being shot by Cupid’s arrows randomly left and right, and falling in love with whoever they next see. Naturally, this leads to some funny love triangles among people who normally can’t stand one another. The main tension point of the episode is that Xena ends up besotted with the man she’s supposed to fight. Will she be able to protect the village, or is she compromised?
On most shows, she’d be compromised, because gosh, that’s what happens to our fairer sex when their emotions get the best of them, poor dears. Women simply aren’t as stalwart about disciplining their baser instincts, like Menfolk are. (I’m sorry, I should have warned you not to have a drink in your mouth before that last sentence.)
Fortunately, it turns out Xena regards battle as a sort of foreplay. She launches into fighting her enemy with the usual joie de vivre she exudes in battle. More importantly, at all points in the episode she puts her mission to defend the village ahead of all her feelings. Just like always. Even when she knocks the guy unconscious and has to spend a minute assuring his crumpled form “That hurt me more than it hurt you” and calling him “sweetie” (much to her own abject horror).
One might argue that this one doesn’t count because it wasn’t real love. Okey-dokey. But there’s an earlier episode where Xena has to kill the man she really really loves, knowing he may be damned to Tartarus (Greek Hell) for eternity. There’s a very early episode where a nice widower wants Xena to stay with him (marriage is implied), and there’s nothing hindering it – except that she likes what she’s doing and believes it’s important, and staying with him would mean giving it up. There’s another episode where she and a guy fall for each other, and when they discover that his wife of years ago isn’t dead as was presumed, Xena tricks him into thinking she never felt anything for him so he’ll go back to his wife. He eventually sees through that trick and still wants to ditch the wife for her – Xena refuses to have any of that.
It’s simple: Xena is a hero. We’re used to seeing male heroes fall in love, but gently leave the fair damsel behind in the end, because they must go save the universe. Xena’s role could easily be played as a male character, with nothing more than a switch of the pronouns. Xena’s creators are all male: why is this so straight-forward for them, and so perplexing for most mainstream shows?