Casey Martinson is a writer from Ithaca, NY, currently enrolled in the Stonecoast MFA program at University of Southern Maine. He holds a BA in English Literature from Oberlin College. Check out his tumblr page here.
We’ll Always Have Potedaia
by Casey Martinson
I don’t remember our first time watching Xena: Warrior Princess but I’m sure it happened by accident, early senior year, 1998. The day’s classes behind us, I can imagine myself absently channel surfing on our thrift store couch as you prepared the afternoon tea. (For legal reasons, I’m going to say it was tea.) Probably, there wasn’t much on.
I’m sure we watched ironically at first, smirking at the low production values of an early episode: the amusing twang of a bit character’s New Zealand accent, a CGI monster that looked about as life-like as the stop-motion Gorgon from Clash of the Titans, Xena’s lamentably trampish Season One make-up, designed no doubt to entice straight, adolescent males.
Yet, as September died into October, we progressed from watching accidentally to tuning in on purpose when the opportunity presented itself to recording every glorious minute on VHS: Monday through Friday afternoon re-runs, and once a week, the newest episode in Season Four.
I still remember the evening I came home at the appointed time to find that another of our housemates had already claimed the television to watch Party of Five. When she refused to cede control of the remote, I stormed off to my room and fantasized about Xena murdering all the Salinger siblings in a berserker rage. That’s when I knew: I had reached a new level of fandom.
We seemed to have discovered the Warrior Princess at the very height of her cultural impact. Lucy Lawless hosting Saturday Night Live joined our collection of tapes. Then Lawless on the Today Show. We did not go home for Thanksgiving, but stayed in our drab little house on Pleasant Street to watch the all-day Xena marathon on USA. My mother drove from three hours away to make sure we had a proper dinner.
How epic was Season Four? How we ground our teeth over Gabrielle’s journey into pacifism and the cult of Eli. “Fight, Gabby! Fight!” We’d yell at the TV. “Pick up your stick and kick some Roman ass!”
But no, they would have to be captured, and in the spring finale, Xena would have to battle through a legion of centurions to save her friends. Just when escape seemed within reach, arch-enemy Callisto would use Xena’s own Chakram against her, throwing that Hephaestian aerobie-of-death from beyond the grave to break Xena’s back!
The look on her face as she fell to the ground. The look on Gabrielle’s face. The looks–no less horrified I’m sure–on our faces, as a Roman soldier bore down on our incapacitated hero, ready to kill. Gabby had but a moment to make the fateful choice between keeping her faith and saving her best friend.
“Fight, Gabby! Fight!”
Then, she picked up that spear and launched it. Down went the enemy! She scooped up Xena’s sword, rushing forward, and we were on our feet, cheering, “Yes! Yes!” Slice! Slash! Stab and stab twice more for good measure! The floodgates of whoopass had been opened. Finally, Gabrielle had embraced her true path.
Of course, they were also horribly outnumbered, and the episode ended with their crucifixion. But watching in a livid stupor as the credits rolled swiftly by, the promise of a fifth season brought consolation. Somehow, they would be resurrected to fight again. They had a contractual obligation to do so.
But there was a different kind of season ending that spring. We’d had our own four years of adventure, and after graduation, there was no coming back. When Xena’s fifth season debuted the following September, I was living in a remote Maine wilderness with no access to television. I remember writing to you–“You’re taping the new episodes, right?”
But you did not write back. When I finally returned to civilization, you confessed that you had missed a few episodes and taped over one or two others by accident. I tried to contain my disappointment. I wasn’t about to start watching in the middle of the season, and having waited months already, I could wait a while longer for the re-runs to kick in.
In the end, I never did see all of the last two seasons. Having come out of the closet right before graduation, you were busy that year exploring the gay bars of Cleveland. I was looking for dates of my own when I wasn’t doing temp work for the College. Despite living less than twenty minutes apart, we saw each other less and less. The last time we spoke was almost seven years ago.
I desperately wanted to call you when Lucy Lawless showed up on Battlestar Galactica as Cyclon Three, but I no longer had your number. You’re not on Facebook. I know I could track you down if I tried, but you would be evasive. You’d promise to call me back soon, and then you wouldn’t. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is.
Yet surely, you will someday be flipping through the channels, perhaps at this very moment, and the keening crescendo of bagpipes in Xena’s opening theme will break through. “In a time of ancient gods… warlords… and kings… A land in turmoil cried out for a hero.”
The years will fall away, and you’ll find yourself once again on that dingy old couch, swept into a past both ancient and not so ancient, part fantasy, part history, inhabited by the ghosts of who we used to be, resurrected, ready for adventure.
(photo credit: imbd.com)
Way too much rouge. The show was a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary–[Yawns] Excuse me. [Clears throat]–Journeys, and it took the producers a couple seasons to discover their audience.