"Maternal Instincts"
by Michelle Erica Green

The Next Generation

"Maternal Instincts" Plot Summary:

Xena and Gabrielle return to the land of centaurs and are greeted by Solon, Xena's secret son. Xena tells Kaliapas, the leader of the centaurs and the boy's adoptive father, that she has no intention of claiming the child, but merely wants to assist in working out a treaty between the centaurs and the Amazons. Her friend Ephiny, who has a centaur son named Xenon, is there as well. Meanwhile, a little girl bounces a ball into a pit, from which Callisto emerges.

Gabrielle tells Ephiny that she is sad because she had a child which died. When Ephiny leaves, Gabrielle realizes she's being spied upon and finds Hope in a chest. The girl warns Gabrielle that Callisto is free, and has a message for Xena: "She knows your secret and she's going to take it to the grave." Xena realizes that Callisto knows about Solon, which Hope duly relates to Callisto, claiming that her father's evil kingdom is at hand.

While Xena and Kaliapas insist that Solon go into hiding, Gabrielle talks to Hope and discovers the toy she hid with her baby when she floated her down the river. She realizes that the girl is her daughter, and asks her to wait in her hut for her. Once Gabrielle goes, Hope reveals that she knows Gabrielle is her mother. When Xena sneaks into the woods with a hooded figure, Callisto confronts her, but it's Gabrielle under the hood; Kaliapas was hiding Solon elsewhere. Hope comes across Kaliapas and kills him, but Xena finds Solon safe in his hut and promises to take him with her.

Callisto wants to kill Solan herself, but Hope demands the right to do so and threatens Callisto, telling Callisto to kill the rest of the children. Then she returns to Gabrielle, who admits that she is the girl's mother. Hope says Callisto has been mistreating her, and Gabrielle promises to send her to the safest place she knows...which is of course where Solon has been hidden. While Gabrielle tells Xena what she's done and insists that Hope can be trusted, Hope kills Solon.

Xena finds the boy and tells Gabrielle to get away, then screams, much to Callisto's satisfaction. Hope goes to Gabrielle and tells her that the boy was already dead when she reached the hut, but makes the mistake of naming Solon, which Gabrielle had never done in her presence. Xena and the centaurs attack Callisto, but she turns their weapons back on them and chases Ephiny and the centaur children into the caves where they are hiding. Xena challenges Callisto there, and the goddess admits that hurting Xena by killing her family has not comforted her as she always thought it would. She shoots lightning bolts at Xena and collapses the cave; Xena, Ephiny and the children escape, but Callisto does not.

Gabrielle poisons Hope, then nearly kills herself, but decides not to do it. Xena approaches, but doesn't speak. The two stand together at the funeral pyres, but when Gabrielle apologizes, Xena demands that the other woman never speak Solon's name. She says the boy is dead because Xena trusted Gabrielle and Gabrielle betrayed her. Gabrielle tells Xena that she loves her, but Xena refuses to answer, and the two walk in tears in opposite directions.



"Maternal Instincts" is a good name for this episode, because I think they're a crock and so was this storyline. Once again, television has taken two strong women and redefined them by their hormones. In this case, both Xena and Gabrielle wigged out completely over children they didn't raise. Their friendship is in tatters because they both put an abstract called Maternal Instincts above everything else they value. I don't like these characters a bit.

If I were Xenon, I'd get out of Greece, because the mortality rate for children on this show is absurdly high - kids of Xena and friends die even more often than boyfriends of Xena and friends. I was sad to lose Solon, who was an interesting character, but we barely knew him and so did Xena. Gabrielle was closer to Hope during the brief days after the child was born and grew preternaturally fast than Xena ever was with the son she never acknowledged. For her to use her own maternal instincts as a reason for condemning her best friend for fighting for her daughter's life seems both hypocritical and ridiculous. Xena demanded that Gabrielle murder her own child, then rejected Gabrielle's sympathy when Solon died - excuse me, but this woman is just as selfish as Callisto accuses. Gabrielle may have acted like a total idiot, but at least she wasn't blindly cruel.

Hope, the demon girl, was inconsistent; weakened after freeing Callisto and killing Kalaipas, she was just fine after killing Solon, apparently without benefit of a weapon. It's unclear how Hope knew about Callisto's existence. While she indicated that her grudge against Xena stemmed from her memory of the fact that Xena wanted her dead as an infant, why did she forgive Gabrielle, whom she trusted enough to follow into the woods and drink poison with? And is the Kingdom of Dahok, her demon father, coming anyway?

It's ironic that the act of murder, which enabled Dahok to possess Gabrielle and conceive Hope, is also the only act which could free her from Dahok's offspring. But the Gabrielle we knew from last season seems to be dead. Xena seems to have made a project out of weakening its lead women this year in the name of variety; well, I don't know about anyone else, but I'd rather skip the variety and go back to the show the way it was when it was about tough, smart, witty women. Ephiny didn't help matters; she was nothing but a mother here, not an Amazon leader, so we're supposed to buy her empathic bounty towards Xena and Gabrielle and her protective adoration towards all the centaurs' children.

Ironically, Callisto was my favorite woman in the episode. Her insanity has an external, non-hormonal cause - Xena murdered her entire family right in front of her - and it's easy to believe in her as a battered, damaged woman who can't find peace even as an immortal or a goddess. I found it poignant that she didn't even have to get her hands dirty, in the end; Hope did that for her. Her violence was generally triggered by attackers, and her threats were witty as well as spooky.

I'm sure Xena and Gabrielle will get back to lovey-dovey and it will be as if all this had never happened in a few episodes. Thing is that I don't really want that; it'll ring phony. It would almost be more responsible if Xena and Gabrielle could never go back to the way things were, but I don't expect that kind of real-life consistency. In general, though, I don't tune into Xena for real-life suffering, and I don't get why we had to sit through this storyline in the first place.

There were two things I really liked: that the children's murders were both completely offscreen, and that we never saw anything resembling a body on the pyres. That sort of discretion kept the episode from falling into grotesqueness or melodrama, and made the tears poignant, if misguided.

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