Isn't It Rich? Isn't It Queer?
"Send in the Clones" Plot Summary:
Alexis, a dead ringer for Alti, buys Xena's chakram and some 2000-year-old hair samples in a shady midnight deal. Then she calls three rabid Xena fans -- Polly, Clea and Mac (vague Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer lookalikes, but it's more a type resemblance than anything) -- asking them to finish compiling the clips they're watching from Xena, Warrior Princess. At her lab, Alexis reveals to the others perfectly cloned replicas of Xena and Gabrielle, created from strands of hair from the Tomb of the Scrolls. The two beautiful naked women have no souls, but Alexis hopes that if they upload data from the television show, the two will become the heroes portrayed therein. Neither action nor romance clips rouse the women, so Alexis calls it a day. Later, a mysterious person wearing gloves uploads many "Evil Xena" scenes after disconnecting Gabrielle from the EKG.
In the morning, Alexis, Polly, Clea and Mac realize that someone has implanted unauthorized data. When they show a clip featuring Callisto, Xena wakes up and hurls her chakram (Clea ordered her an "authentic" outfit from an official merchandise catalogue). Putting the pinch on Mac, Xena demands to know what they're doing. Polly and Clea explain that the world needs heroes to stop the violence and mayhem. Clea also thinks the world needs lesbian role models like Xena and Gabrielle since Ellen has been cancelled. When Gabrielle wakes, she protests that Xena's writers have taken outrageous liberties with her scrolls. The scientists are thrilled that the two women seem to be remembering things from actual history, not just from the television show.
Alexis explains to Gabrielle that she's afraid they may inadvertently have brought back Evil Xena. When she takes the bard outside to talk privately, she promptly has Gabrielle arrested as a psycho fan. Then she sends Xena after her sidekick, explaining that "local warlords" -- the cops -- have imprisoned Gabrielle. Polly, Clea and Mac realize that Alexis is Alti, and that she wants to bring back Evil Xena in order to destroy the reputation of the historical heroine. Moreover, Alti believes she can recruit Xena as her own sidekick if she can keep her acting evil.
In a violent rampage, Xena frees Gabrielle. Then she heads to a junkyard to create more contemporary weapons than the chakram, which isn't much good against a pistol. Gabrielle begs her friend to remember all the good they once did together, but Alti arrives in a red car to remind Xena of all the times Gabrielle betrayed her. Still, Xena remembers many tender and spiritual moments with her soulmate. She ends up attacking Alti, who gets fried on top of her car by a loose electrical wire. But the fire sparked by the explosion ignites gasoline spilled on the ground near Polly, Clea and Mac.
Xena and Gabrielle rescue the fans, apparently sacrificing themselves when a bunch of flammable canisters explode. The fans agree that the clones weren't as exciting as the TV characters anyway -- though Mac, who thought they were sexy, still thinks it might be worth trying to clone Mr. Spock. As they walk away, Xena and Gabrielle drive past in a taxi, drinking champagne.
An enjoyable but somewhat hollow episode, "Send in the Clones" offers lots of fun for postmodernists interested in how Xena propagates its own legend, but suffers from weaknesses in execution and long sections with mediocre dialogue. The opening in which we meet a rabid fan played by the actress who previously played rabid fan Minya is a hoot. So is the special effects sequence where it's obvious that the actress playing Polly has doubled for Xena before. The fans argue vociferously about subtext, about which Xena and Gabrielle offer little enlightenment, though when one watches all the kissing clips back-to-back, it's hard not to draw the most obvious conclusion.
As clip shows go, "Send in the Clones" lacks the manic brilliance of the two contemporary Hercules episodes in which the titular character pretended to be "Kevin Sorbo" so he could save Los Angeles and save the TV show at the same time. Hercules already has the cachet of having been an actual Greek hero, so he fakes being a television character. Xena, however, doesn't exist outside the television show, so this episode is already one step beyond in its self-importance; first it has to establish a historical Xena, then it has to establish itself as the best source of information about her!
One expects Polly and Clea's inevitable conclusion that the "real" Xena and Gabrielle aren't as exciting as their television counterparts, but one also expects them to find the heroes within themselves, and it's sort of disappointing that they don't. If the fans saved the day, would that look like the show giving itself too much self-important credit for influencing people's lives? I think not -- I think that if the writers are going to poke fun at Clea's "Wind Beneath My Wings" video and her unhappiness that the clone doesn't have "Classic Gabby" hair, they should acknowledge the real impact Xena and Gabrielle have had on real women -- to stand up to abusive lovers, to develop physical strength, to think about what history might have been like had it been recorded from a feminist perspective.
"Send in the Clones" can't decide what its message is. Does it want to demystify Xena and Gabrielle in the eyes of overzealous fans, to show the extent to which the characters are constructions who can be "cloned" differently depending on which clips one picks as the most relevant? Does the show want to offer Xena and Gabrielle as contemporary heroes, or to demonstrate that they'd be utter failures as such, acting like the very villains from whom we'd all like protection? Would even rabid Xena fans find them annoying, irrelevant, even dangerous in our own era? Is Xena a feminist role model, a lesbian role model, a vision of strength and intelligence, an image of a woman who can stand up to evil, or is she a joke, a caricature, a blank slate for whatever any given viewer wants to see in her, particularly since there's no "real" historical Xena as a basis for comparison?
Maybe the questions rather than the answers are the point of the episode. Shatner's "Get a Life" routine on Saturday Night Live worked because it was a parody of his own success as well as of his fans' passion for Star Trek, and "Send in the Clones" does something similar. Without people like Clea making their subtext videos and Polly wanting to learn to kick butt, Xena wouldn't still be on the air, finishing a run that, like it or not, has impacted many lives and inspired many fans. What does it all mean? We might not know until an anthropologist from some future era of cloned humans, but it sure isn't just a joke.