2. "Rob's Vision"

I mentioned that many elements from Euripides' plays were borrowed for "Hercules" and "Xena". There were quite a number of other influences, as well. When these influences are identified and separated out, we can detect even more. Having tracked down as many likely sources as I could over the past several years, I've come to realize that there are three main strands comprising the shows' "DNA": a Greek/historical strand, a world religions strand, and a cinema strand. In virtually every episode we can identify how all three intertwine. Since both shows share the same "DNA", we can think of them as one related story, with "Hercules" the originating story, and "Xena" the concluding. In a Whoosh interview, writer Paul Robert Coyle explained that "Xena" was always intended to last a season longer than "Hercules"01. The only logical reason for this is that "Xena" must have been intended to complete the overall themes and patterns of both shows. That's because when Xena originated on Hercules, she took his original dark, Orphic backstory with its tragic implications. It would not have been appropriate for "Hercules" sunnier hero, and it would have lost its impact had it concluded before Hercules' story did.

Now, the conventional view towards these shows is that there's no point to examining their underlying logic, because there isn't any. A commonly used acronym by fans, YAXI (Yet Another Xena Inconsistency), illustrates this attitude. Try and make sense of them, and you'll go mad. It's true--but only if one tries to impose their own expectations of how these apparent inconsistencies should be resolved. This was a lesson of "The Bacchae": imposing one's blind will on the world, without understanding how it works, will lead to madness. So let's keep our eyes open, and examine the evidence without prejudice.

We'll start by examining a quote on this subject of consistency by the show's creator Rob Tapert. In "Hercules, The Legendary Journeys: An Insider's Guide to the Continuing Adventures", author Robert Weisbrot discusses the fifth season of "Hercules" with him. During this season, Hercules' sidekick, Iolaus, a Greek, is killed in Sumeria, possessed by a Zoroastrian god, and is restored to life by a Judeo-Christian archangel, Michael. It's just one of many deaths and resurrections of major characters, and it made the author wonder just what sort of logic governs death and resurrection on the show. Mr. Tapert's answer addressed it from the perspective of trying to keep his audience glued to the screen, and death of a beloved character always works. Prof. Weisbrot kept pressing, though, since that didn't explain how the writers themselves made sense of it, within the story. Mr. Tapert again emphasizes that for him, the real problem is not the internal logic, but the interest factor: how to defy audience expectations when they're doing the same thing season after season...

Prof. Weisbrot: "So I would go mad looking for an underlying consistency?"

Rob Tapert's response: "Yeah. There is no consistency. Or the consistency is in finding a way to bring them back that has never been done before, so the audience is kept guessing. Yes, of course, they're going to come back, but how are they going to come back? That's the real question. And what's happened throughout the seasons is that people's favorite episodes are about how close a character came to death or somebody dies and then comes back. Hercules's going to the underworld and running across his family [in the second-season tale "The Other Side"] is one of my favorite Hercules episodes ever. Bob Bielak wrote it, and John Schulian polished it up. I handed him the story--it's been told a thousand times, as in [the movie] Black Orpheus--but we gave it a new twist. So, going back to season [five] and the 'rules of the dead', there is no consistency in how they come back. It's all about entertaining the audiences in a new and different fashion."

The first part of this statement appears to strongly support the "YAXI" theory, that the show is a series of random borrowings and plot devices that are used only for immediate effect, to goose the audience's interest and keep them coming back next week. The producer's interest seems merely utilitarian, and if there's any deeper meaning, he doesn't seem aware of it, or much concerned by its absence. The second part of the statement implies just the opposite: we're given a glimpse of just why the question of afterlife logic was not dealt with by the writing staffs: because these "deaths" weren't many, but one, and come from a single source: "Black Orpheus".

This film, about the universal and recurring nature of myth, sets the Orpheus legend in modern-day Rio de Janeiro. Its influence on "Hercules" and "Xena" is beyond question, and it's our first clue that there's more to their story structure than meets the eye. Here's how I interpret Mr. Tapert's statement above, with this in mind:

There is no logical consistency when it comes to the shows' depiction of death and resurrection, because these are shows that deal repeatedly with themes of death and rebirth, so to establish an internally consistent rule would inevitably drive the audience mad with boredom. Better to leave such technical questions unanswered, than to spoil their fun with a bunch of details that, in the end, really don't matter. They'd only distract the audience from the real reasons they're watching: to be moved and entertained.

Placing Rob's statement in the larger context of other interviews, this is the interpretation that makes best sense of its entirety (not just the first sentence or two). Going back to that Whoosh interview with Paul Robert Coyle, he says that during his time as writer on "Xena", and as a producer on "Hercules", every episode began with a one-line summary from Rob. "Xena"'s head writer, R.J. Stewart, said pretty much the same thing02. Reading through all of Prof. Weisbrot's books on these two shows, it's clear that there were repeated objections to Rob from his creative team about the logistics of the stories. Rob's response to all of them tended to fit in the same dismissive mold as his answer above. I think his response about "inconsistencies" to Prof. Weisbrot, therefore, was very much in line with how he dealt with his staffs: he presented the story concepts, expected the artists to come up with new and entertaining ways of dramatizing them without time wasted piecing together the story physics of them in a logical way, because the logic was already inherent in his initial suggestions (which were reinforced by his strategic rewrites). The writers could concentrate on telling good stories, while he provided the vision: in interviews, "Rob's vision" is a phrase used often by the staffs when they've come to the limits of their knowledge. In other words, his answer to Prof. Weisbrot above might pretty much be channeling the same kind of speech he'd deliver at the beginning of a typical story meeting, in order to quell any objections from writers who wanted to divert energy towards solving the "inconsistencies". That's because there was no need to solve them: in a later passage of Weisbrot's book03, Rob describes how he personally kept track of his mythical and historical references for the show. Co-star and occasional director for the series, Renee O' Connor, has testified to this as well: "I know Rob (Tapert) has shelves of books on mythology, Greece, I mean, every story that we've approached, he has several books, that he's actually read and been through as research in order to create these stories. So I think what happens is that he usually begins with the idea and then within the group of writers, they all add to it and it becomes something else, but Rob definitely does a lot of research. It's done so well - he's (Rob Tapert) just been the most passionate man behind the show, even more so than Lucy and myself."04 Clearly Rob is the consistency behind the "inconsistencies", or as Xena would say, the "sound behind the sounds".

This interpretation gives us the freedom to consider the implications of a possible "Unified Theory" of the Xenaverse and Hercaverse. To illustrate how this would work, the remainder of this essay will explore the likely role that Euripides played as an influence on these shows. The next few pages will outline several key stories that influence these shows' "Powers That Be." In particular, we'll look at "The Bacchae", featuring Dionysus, and a satyr play, "The Cyclops", based on an episode from "The Odyssey" (as well as "Black Orpheus"). Details from these works will provide the raw material for themes and motifs used through all combined 12 seasons of both shows (not to mention, their spin-offs, and even to a certain extent such future projects as "Legend of the Seeker" and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand"). This should be enough to give an idea of how the show's higher logic provided a meaningful context for all the talented artists who helped bring Xena and Hercules to life each and every time.

02The Official Magazine, Xena Warrior Princess, May 2000, issue 6, p.41
03Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, An Insider's Guide to the Continuing Adventures by Robert S. Weisbrot, p.78
04"Xena' Star Renee O'Connor- Deeply Soulful And Subtly Engaging - Renee O'Connor" Interviewed by Bridget Petrella


The Types and Patterns of All Things Xena  > Free To Be Euripides: Chapter Index

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