Unto Us A Child Is Born
"Gabrielle's Hope" Plot Summary:
Haunted by nightmares and morning nausea, Gabrielle feels that her hope in life is gone, but Xena tells her she's just reacting to her first kill and will feel better once they leave Brittania. When they try to travel, however, they are accosted by banshees, who attack Xena, yet pay homage to Gabrielle. In the nearby village, Xena tries to arrange passage to Greece while Gabrielle indulges food cravings at a local inn. While Xena does battle with Roman legionaries, Gabrielle is attacked by the villagers, who believe that she carries the seed of the Lord of Darkness.
Fleeing into the woods, Gabrielle again meets up with the banshees, who tell her she's pregnant with the child of the Dark Lord. Xena hides her in the castle of the Warriors of the Pierced Heart, who are divided as to whether the child will be of the Darkness or the Light and who fight with each other while Gabrielle gives rapid birth to an ordinary-looking baby girl. Two of the knights protect her, though one turns traitor and the other dies under mysterious circumstances which convinces Xena that the baby is in fact evil and must die.
Gabrielle, who has named the baby Hope since she brought back her joy in life, flees with the child, taking a rowboat down the river before Xena catches up. While she struggles up a mountain with the bundle in her arms, Xena tells her that if she wants to end the cycle of violence, she should kill the baby. When Xena reaches her, Gabrielle claims that Hope turned on her and she threw the baby into the ravine. But she actually hid the child in a basket that she floated down the river, and when Xena is asleep, she offers up a prayer that the girl will grow to be a force for good.
It takes a lot to make me not like an episode of Xena, but I have to say: Yuck. I can't stand this Gabrielle storyline. Her flirtation with her dark side was all too brief and lacked any real depth, and her flirtation with motherhood was the most embarrassing I've witnessed since Deanna Troi got pregnant, gave birth, and raised a child in the space of forty excruciating minutes on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
That storyline, like this one, began with a pseudo-rape and ended with a woman having such ludicrous maternal feelings that she immediately loved a baby she never wanted to bear, and fought to protect the child even when it threatened the lives and principles of everyone and everything she cared about. It's phony, it's shallow, it makes Gabrielle look frivolous - she's going to let her satan's spawn mean more to her than a woman who'd give her life for her a dozen times over, though she barely experienced pregnancy and had the child for the space of only a few days? Ugh. This is a mockery of motherhood, reinforcing the conservative notion that all women have instincts that cause them to desperately desire children and lose their sense when they have them. On a show which is usually so progressive, I find it sexist and offensive.
It's hard to talk about character development since we don't yet know the long-term effects of these incidents on Gabrielle and Xena's relationship, but I found Gabrielle's return to Xena's loving embrace rather forced. If she cared so for the child, I'd think she'd resent her friend not even trying to understand those feelings. I didn't like listening to Gabrielle put "you're my friend" and "she's my daughter" on a scale throughout the episode with the assumption that daughter should always win, but I also didn't like the speed with which she forgave Xena. Renee O'Connor was marvelous with the material she was given, and almost made it convincing...but then, Renee O'Connor is almost always marvelous as girl next door, amazon princess, or complicated woman.
I did like Gabrielle's attitude about the child's not being fated - like Hercules, Hope is half-human, and he's not a bad role model. I got a kick out of Moses and Jesus references being directed toward a girl child, like in George Lucas' Willow, and the silly Arthurian references from the Round Table to the Sword in the Stone (which Xena pulled out to check the blade!). The banshees and the talk of witches, however, were also sexist, promoting the idea that females and their forms can be turned to passive appendages for the Lord of Darkness. This episode distorted several different northern European mythologies into a bad fairy tale, with the usual unnecessary prejudices against Wicca attached.
Next week, Xena travels to the Far East; I for one will be glad to have her out of Brittania and its myths.