35. "Xena," season five:
God Fears Child


"God Fearing Child" is part of what appears to be a new arc, the Twilight of the Gods, and the god in the title is Zeus, fearing the child who will signal the end of his power. The theme of the usurping child, which began in "Cradle of Hope," all the way through the Rift, and "Adventures in the Sin Trade," is now manifested in Xena's own child, whom she gives birth to in this episode. it's not a new arc, though; it's merely a retooled version of the "Rosemary's Baby" storyline. In retrospect, it looks obvious, so why wasn't it recognized as such when it first aired? Because when these arcs take place over months and years, we don't pay attention to how they work: instead, we're more concerned with how they affect the characters. The birth of Hope was perceived differently, because the child's supernatural development happened so quickly. The big issue was how the child affected the characters: should she be killed, before she had a chance to kill? In the Twilight of the Gods arc, Xena's baby occurs over a more natural timeline. We have almost a season of pregnancy that raises questions over how a child will affect Xena and Gabrielle's adventures together. How can they raise a child in their present circumstances? How can they protect it in such a violent world, especially one in which the gods are trying to eliminate the child? At no point do we wonder about the child itself, really. In this episode, the child receives a name: Eve. Seemingly named after the first woman in the Bible, this child, prophesied by the Fates to bring about the downfall of the Olympians, is regarded by us as the first real sign we're about to enter the age of the Christian god's ascendancy. We've already met Eli, who seems to be a Christ figure, and now we have Xena's baby with the biblical name, and a new age is about to begin. Right?

Not quite yet! We've fallen for the same old trick that was played on us in "Altared States," and "The Deliverer." Once again, through sleight-of-hand, we're set up to believe this is all about the One True God of the Bible usurping the Olympians' powers, but in fact, we're back to the story of "The Bacchae," the return of the Stranger. Before, we saw the rise of the evil side of Dionysus in Hope and Dahak, and we're about to see something like that again with Xena's baby, who will inherit all her bacchic powers, and then some. Her name is Eve not because of the Old Testament, but because of Aristophanes' "The Thesmophoriazusae." Here is the relevant passage:

"Do thou, oh divine Bacchus, who art crowned with ivy, direct our chorus; 'tis to thee that both my hymns and my dances are dedicated; oh, Evius, oh, Bromius, oh, thou son of Semele, oh, Bacchus, who delightest to mingle with the dear choruses of the nymphs upon the mountains and who repeatest, while dancing with them, the sacred hymn, Evius, Evivus, Evoe. Echo, the nymph of Cithaeron, returns thy words, which resound beneath the dark vaults of the thick foliage and in the midst of the rocks of the forest; the ivy enlaces thy brow with its tendrils charged with flowers."


Eve is surely based on these surnames for Bacchus: Evius, Evivus, and Evoe, as sung by the devotees of Persephone in the Women's Festival, echoing Bacchus' surname in adoration. This is the play that features Euripides and Mnesilochus trying to sneak into the Women's Festival, and once we know this, we can clear up a big mystery of the fifth season: Why did Xena and Gabrielle travel all the way to the Siberian Amazons to initiate Eve, when they could have done so more easily with the local Amazons near Greece? We'll address that later this season when we look at "Kindred Spirits," which is based on this play.

"God Fearing Child" continues the "Black Orpheus" theme: Xena returns to the lake where she wept, like Cyane the nymph, in "Mortal Beloved." This time she's going to Tartarus to steal back Hades' Helm of Invisibility (which she took in that previous episode), only she discovers that Solon, her dead son, is in torment like Tantalus or the Danaids: he's trapped in a cocoon (similar to the cocoons we saw for Hope in "Sacrifice I & II" and "Hercules and the Maze of the Minotaur"), forced to watch the life he'll never have--which includes watching his new sister take his place in his mother's affections. Xena explains that no one could ever replace him in her heart, and Solon agrees to allow her to rescue him from the cocoon and spend eternity in the Elysian Fields. Shortly before he does, he names Xena's baby Eve. It's appropriate he does so, in terms of character, since by naming the child he's forever taking his place in her and his mother's life. But it's also appropriate in terms of the show's patterns: as we saw back in "Callisto," the real Solon's backstory supplied the story for Callisto, and since Eve will inherit the spirit of Callisto, whom his mother rescued from Hell in another "Black Orpheus" mission of mercy, Solon is a logical choice to pass on this legacy to the new baby. If that sounds a bit complicated for an episode of "Xena," another way to think of it is that when it came time to begin Eve's story, the idea of involving Solon seemed logical considering his previous connections to Callisto and Xena. Prior to this, I don't think there was any intention to show Solon again, and certainly not in any Tantalus-cocoon condition. After all, in "Adventures in the Sin Trade," Hades offers to give Xena a few moments with Solon, presumably in the Elysian Fields. I doubt he would make that offer had there been any decision by the creative team to have Solon festering in torment all this time, awaiting the right episode to have him rescued. "Adventures in the Sin Trade" was co-written by Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart, so they would have known Solon's fate, if anybody did. And in any case, Xena turns down Hades' offer, not wanting to burden Solon with her troubles, and given the life she leads, there's always going to be trouble! What this tells us is that the decision to bring Solon into the story arose from the story itself, and not from some decision from long before. Much is often made about how the show's story isn't planned in advance, but that fact can also reveal the patterns of the story by making us aware of how changes to character and story were made to accommodate those patterns.

"God Fearing Child" continues the Ares-as-Satyr pattern as well. When Zeus decides it's time to lean on Hercules to get him to stop Xena, Ares takes this opportunity to get Zeus to waive his protection of his brother. We're all set to watch Ares finally pulverize Hercules, but just as he does, his mother, Hera, shows up and knocks him out. Later, Ares goes to Tartarus to make a deal with Xena, and explains that he has no power in his brother's kingdom. Since Hades is not Ares brother, but his uncle, in the myths, this sounds like something the writers cooked-up for this episode. It's actually part of a pattern throughout the show of stripping him of his power, and there's always a different reason. The real reason is that Ares must never deal with Xena or Hercules from a position of strength, dramatically speaking, so there's always going to be something that takes him out of commission whenever he threatens divine coercion. His stated love for her and desire for an heir is another story element that restrains his power, but it's all part of the same Silenus-the-Satyr pattern, in which Ares is a comical antagonist for Xena, just as Joxer and Salmoneus provide complicating situations for her and Hercules. Ares is Silenus to her Dionysus, his successor. A confirmation of this can be seen in those episodes when he becomes mortal, and instead of displaying any of his previous nobility, he descends right into goat-man behavior. The same thing happens to Zeus when he loses his immortality temporarily in "Reunions," in the previous season of "Hercules." Even in this episode, Ares is not far from Silenus, in one of his moments of powerlessness: when he's recovering from being knocked out by his mom, he mumbles a parting line from one of his randy dreams: "Yeah, yeah, baby!" That's a strange dream to be having when his mind is supposed to be preoccupied with saving the woman he loves. Of course, he could be dreaming of Xena, but that type of dream in such a dangerous situation only reinforces his depiction as a satyr-play goat-man.



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