Monday, 12 April 2010

Xena Warrior Princess: Dreamworker

First of all, I haven't managed see Clash of the Titans, which I'm actually quite sad about, coz it looks like big, silly fun, but big silly fun best enjoyed on a cinema screen. Perhaps I will make up for this by eventually seeing on TV with friends and alcohol. However, Cleolinda has done a short parody of it, so here's a link to that in lieu of an actual review!

Anyway, on with Xena. Only the third episode in and it’s an entire episode about dreams, yay! In this episode, Gabrielle is kidnapped by ‘mystics’ who want to sacrifice her to be the bride of Morpheus, god of dreams. Xena must go through a series of challenges in a dreamscape in order to rescue Gabrielle.

The use of dreams in this episode generally has little to do with ancient dream beliefs beyond the use of the name ‘Morpheus’. The dream vision the blind former mystic tells Xena he has seen is most like an ancient dream. It’s a direct vision-prophecy, showing him exactly what would happen, which is unusual but not unknown in ancient texts, and they way he reports and acts on it is reasonably ancient.

The ‘dreamscape’ and the other uses of dreams, however, come not from classical myth or history, but from modern science fiction and fantasy, where the dreamscape is an ideal way of exploring your main characters’ worries, preoccupations and desires. I’m stumped to think of any pre-Xena examples right now, though I’m sure the older Star Trek series (Classic and TNG) can provide some. Post-Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Restless), Star Trek: Voyager (Waking Moments), Farscape and Stargate: SG-1 have all used dreams in this way. The idea of the ‘dreamscape’ or dreamworld, where living characters can meet and interact even when separated by great distances (used to great effect, for example, in Robin Hobb’s Liveship Trilogy, an excellent series of fantasy books I would thoroughly recommend, but best to start with the Assassin trilogy first) in rarely attested in reality if at all. Various cultures see dreams as a way to meet and communicate with the dead or the divine, but not with other living mortals.

In this case, although Xena is able to meet with Gabrielle to give her advice, for the most part we’re strictly in character study territory, with some of Xena’s dark past, alluded to in the first episode, being filled in, though so far it’s mostly your basic village attacked, forced to kill lots of nasty men story. Scary black-contact-lens Xena, meanwhile, seems to be a projection of Xena’s Jungian Shadow, her dark side which, like all good warrior heroes, she is constantly battling.
Gabrielle is still the ‘innocent’ comic relief and still hasn’t got out of her blue blouse/red skirt combo, at least until she is put into a bridal dress for ‘marriage’ with Morpheus. Xena wears an intriguing purple outfit in the dreamscape, which looks almost Japanese-ish in design – whether this is a clue to her origins or a random decision on the part of a bored costume designer is, at this point, impossible to say.

This episode uses the dreamscape pretty effectively, especially in Xena’s final acceptance of her darker side, and Gabrielle’s enforced use of brain over brawn is nice too, though, presumably, she will indeed have to kill someone at some point during the series – I hope they remember to make something of that when it happens. And she’s still stuck in that peasant costume! Overall, though, I liked it - I'm always a sucker for dream-y episodes and although this one was a bit obvious, it was nicely done.




  2. Hmmm, I can't think of any TOS episodes that deal with dreams, unless you count the wish-fulfillment aspects of Shore Leave. But I'm sure TNG must have done a dream episode or two. None come to mind, other than the first Barkley episode where he sort of parodies everyone on the holodeck, but there must have been more traditional versions, too.

  3. In TNG there's an episode about *lack* of dreams (which sends everyone nuts). There's also one or two episodes which focus on Data's dreams.

  4. I remember that one - at one point I planned to reference it in my thesis! Can't remember if I actually did or not... Haven't seen the Data ones though

  5. don't remember this one...but then I saw so few Xena episodes I'm not surprised!

    Don't give up on Clash of the Titans! there's still time, it jsut came out! At least that's what I keep telling myself after a movie-date with a group of friends fell through this weekend... :s
    What I have heard is that the 3D isn't good enough to warrant the extra pay...

  6. If you're interested, the Data episodes are 'Birthright' (Season 6), a two-parter where the Data stuff is the B plot, in fact it might only feature in the first episode.

    The other is 'Phantasms' (Season 7), where it's central to the story.


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