39. "Xena," season six:
The "Homecoming" arc


The final season of "Xena" also needed to serve as the final season of "Hercules," as we surmised from Paul Robert Coyle's interview at Whoosh.01 The "Rosemary's Baby" arc, and its sequel arc involving the Twlight of the Gods had both run their course, and there was nothing left to do but to bring the overall stories of both seasons to a close, in a manner that would satisfy the premises they were based on. This doesn't mean that there were no more stories left for these characters, only that this particular story was coming to a close, and it would have to resolve both series, thematically. Since the structure of these stories were based on the characters' leaving home and wandering the known world, the final episodes would all be about coming home, and that's the title of season six's first episode. "Coming Home"02 begins with a return to the Amazon thread. Ares, now mortal, is leading an army himself, and as we established before, a god without his immortality resembles not a powerful or wise human, but rather, a satyr. In the satyr plays, the relationships between men and gods are reversed, and clearly we see that played out here. Ares even quotes the silly lead character from the Jim Carrey film, "Dumb and Dumber," when he appears grateful for even a nearly impossible chance with Xena. Xena sums up his satyr nature best when she says: ""You might be mortal, Ares, but you will never be a man." We can see connections to season five's ice-freezing of Xena, inspired in both cases by "Three Swordsmen," and a connection to the resuscitation scene in the first season-ender, "Is there a doctor in the house?" That scene was inspired by the James Cameron film, "The Abyss," and we'll see that title again later this season, in what I like to call the "Coming Home" arc in just a bit. The resuscitation here is the inverse of the one in "Is there a doctor in the house?" with Gabrielle the rescuer of Xena, this time.

The return home continues in the next two episodes. Xena returns home in "Haunting of Amphipolis," to find her mother imprisoned in Hell along with other souls, repeating the motif of trapped souls that Xena must be released to find peace. This is another installment in the "Black Orpheus" thread, tailored for the arrival of Christianity, but it's combined with the religious thread from Mircea Eliade. The name of the ruler of Hell is not Satan, or Lucifer, but rather, Mephistopheles. This unusual choice no doubt comes from Eliade's book, "Mephistopheles and the Androgyne," which, as the name implies, also influenced the androgeny motif on the show. In it, we can find the rationale for Xena's needing to take Mephistopheles' place in Hell after she defeats him:

"In Goethe's conception, Mephistopholes is the spirit who denies, protests and, above all, halts the flux of life and prevents things from being done. Mephistopholes' activity is not directed against God, but against Life. Mephistopholes is 'the father of all hindrance' [Faust, v. 6209]. What Mephistopholes asks of Faust to do is to stop...Mephistopholes knows that the moment Faust stops he will have lost his soul. But a stop is not a negation of the Creator; it is a negation of Life. Mephistopholes does not directly oppose God, but his principal creation, Life. In place of movement and Life he tries to impose rest, immobility, death. For whatever ceases to change and transform itself decays and perishes. This 'death in Life' can be translated as spiritual sterility; it is, taken all in all, damnation. A man who has let the roots of Life, in the deepest part of himself, perish falls into the power of the negating Spirit. The crime against Life, Goethe gives one to understand, is a crime against salvation."


In other words, this is related to "Paradise Found," and other episodes on "Xena" and "Hercules" that present some kind of immobility or turning to stone as impeding the spiritual progress of its heroes. Mephistopholes is described as an enemy of life, not heaven, and this leaves the door open for a story about Lucifer's war against heaven. We can detect signs of other motifs in this episode: the mouth to Hell dates all the way back to the last Hercules movie, "Hercules and the Maze of the Minotaur," plus the extensive borrowing from "The Exorcist," which also began on "Hercules," in the conclusion to the Dahok arc there, "Redemption." Gabrielle's possession by Mephistopholes comes about from her eating the cursed fruit, reminding us of the eating of food in Hell in "Fallen Angel," which we determined came straight from Euripides' "The Cyclops."

There's another reference to Eliade in the fate of Xena's mother, Cyrene. She was executed as a witch, after she was driven mad by Mephistopholes. The demon is a horned devil from Medieval theology, and this imagery was inspired by the ancient rituals of the Bacchae, in which the maenads celebrated with a single male figure representing Dionysus, a horned figure. The Christian church used this image for its conception of the devil in its witch trials, and in "Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions," Eliade explains further:

"...the so-called satanic elements of the witch orgies may have been practically nonexistent but forcibly imposed by the trials; ultimately, the Satanist clichés became the principal indictment in the denunciations made during the witch crazes."


So the coming of Christianity on "Xena" does not eradicate it; it merely takes the place of the Greek patriarchy in persecuting the followers of Dionysus. Xena's return home to avenge her mother has its parallel in Dionysus's return home to avenge his, in Euripides' "The Bacchae." In "Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions," Eliade explains that the persecution of the female secret societies by the Church may have eventually ended up pushing those societies to an extreme state of degradation in which they did indeed stage the abominable practices the Church accused them off. This could well be behind the concept in "Heart of Darkness," in which Xena escapes her curse as ruler of Hell by tempting Lucifer to take her place. It's inverted here, so just as the Church created its villains through persecution of the innocent, so Lucifer's own damnation is drawn out by the Dionysiac "witch." Once again, Xena is the historical avenger of those oppressed by the patriarchy. Lucifer is referred to as a Seraphim, and we can take note of the similarity to Seraphin; the presence of any variation on this name means the presence of the "Black Orpheus" motif.



01AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL ROBERT COYLE, paragraph 174
02The title comes from freelancer Missy Good, but she noted at Whoosh that unlike her other episode, the title was never changed, probaby because the producers felt it was appropriate symbolism. Given the nature of the entire season, I'd say they recognized how well it would fit in.

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