Originally published in 2010.
Edited and republished at Sharonda.net on March 20th, 2017.
“Sins of the Past” is all about establishment, man. It establishes Xena’s reputation (you know, the one Hercules was completely unaware of in “The Warrior Princess”) in its very first bit of dialogue. A young boy whom Xena encounters explains that his parents “were killed by Xena, the Warrior Princess. She came down out of the sky in a chariot, throwing thunderbolts and breathing fire.” This might be an indication that disregarding Xena’s orders about sparing women and children went well-beyond the Cirra incident.
Which, of course, would only serve to compound the guilt that has just been established. (But just to clear up the speculation about the loosely-buried weapons: What do they really mean? They mean “Hey! I don’t want anyone to find my weapons while I wash this guilt off in yonder stream.” Seriously. If Xena were planning to commit suicide, with no Japan army in sight, doncha think she might be inclined to use her sword, Akemi-style? And maybe not do it in her underwear?)
Far more important than those little bits of character development, the primary goal of “Sins of the Past” is to establish the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. Xena is drawn out of the bushes, in her shift, to rescue a bunch of girls from slave-traders. Gabrielle is not only one of those girls, she’s the most vocal of the bunch. It’s perfectly natural for Xena to jump into the fray, ’cause—let’s face it—right, wrong, and moral obligation aside, Xena likes to fight. But here’s where things get squirrelly: After kicking tons of slave-trader butt, our Warrior Princess—who puts great faith in focus—manages to get herself clonked over the head because she’s busy watching Gabrielle’s mini-fight with one of the slavers.
Xena is apparently wounded in the battle. Back at the village, it’s Gabrielle’s house where Xena is tended to, before she’s asked to move along. And if Xena was distracted by Gabrielle back at the slave-trader rally, Gab has gone full-on fangirl. She’s asking Xena questions, wanting to be shown things, defending Xena to her father, and brushing off her betrothed.
She even begs Xena to take her with her when she leaves:
“You’ve got to take me with you, and teach me everything you know. You can’t leave me here.”
Oh, yeah. There’s also the stalking.
Was this Xena’s first real experience with being regarded as a hero? Maybe. In any case, it had some sort of effect on her, because when she leaves Gab’s village en route to Amphipolis, she stops by Draco’s camp and asks him to leave Gab’s village alone. “You care about those peasants?” Draco asks. Umm… Obviously. But since Gabrielle was the only one that actually spoke to Xena, beyond telling her to get out, you’ve got to assume that it’s not some great fondness for the village as a whole.
“I’m going to be a warrior. Like her.”
Oh, Gab. You don’t know how true that eventually becomes! But not for a good, long while. In the meantime, “Sins of the Past” is working hard to establish that you aren’t just some young, idealistic, easily-led snip of a girl. It actually goes to great lengths to establish some sort of equal footing between you and Xena.
Xena saves you. Everyone understands that. She’s gonna save you a lot. She saves you, first, from life as a slave. She saves you, again, from a life you don’t fit into, by inspiring you to get up and leave. She saves you, ‘though not without having to be prodded, from being alone on the new journey that you’ve chosen for yourself.
But you save Xena, too, Gab. You “save” her from angry, rock-bearing villagers—even though Xena could’ve easily saved herself—by talking them out of stoning her. You save her, during the scaffold death match with Draco, by tripping one of Draco’s men who plans to interfere. And you save Xena from being alone, too; an act which Xena later mirrors. We find, through the course of the episode, that while Xena’s primary strengths are physical, you are a quick-thinking manipulator. Your primary strengths are talking your way into or out of situations, a vivid imagination, and an absolute willingness to lie, lie, lie. (Sure, it’s fairly innocent—even helpful—now, but how important does that last bit become later?)
I’m not going to go so far as to say that “Sins of the Past” lays the groundwork to establish that Gabrielle is a big ol’ lesbian, but it definitely establishes her disenfranchisement, and it lays the groundwork for establishing the possibility that Gabrielle likes girls. A lot of this is done through dialogue:
- Gabrielle, to her sister, as she’s getting ready to chase off after Xena: “Lila, you know I’m different from everybody else in this town.” Of course, there are lots of ways that a girl can be different, but anybody with a finely-honed gaydar knows that “different” is just literary code for “gay”.
- Gabrielle, later in that same conversation: “And the idea of marrying Perdicus…” To which Lila replies “He loves you, you know.” Then Gab says “But I don’t love him.” OK. So she doesn’t love this one particular guy (whom she happens to be betrothed to). I’d be willing to bet that for every straight chick in existence, there’s at least one guy she doesn’t love. Some may even be engaged to one of those unlucky fellows. But if it isn’t an important point, why put it in the script?
- Gabrielle, to the cyclops, talking about Xena: “She’d never let a man get close enough to do her.” Sure, she qualifies the statement. But that statement was no accident on the writers’ part.
- Gabrielle, to Xena, in an effort to convince the warrior not to send her home: “I’m not the little girl that my parents wanted me to be. You wouldn’t understand.” Oh, but Xena does understand! She understands all too well. We’ve seen Cyrene’s overt rejection of her. (Gab’s smart enough to know this, too. Don’t underestimate the power of that scheming little bard.) But that first sentence? Gay, gay, gay!
And then there’s this little gem:
Gabrielle: “Hey, Xena!”
Gabrielle: “I could probably get up there behind you…”
That didn’t tell you anything? Really? Have an accompanying screen shot:
This leads us to what should’ve been the bard’s best-selling scroll:
Gabrielle’s Guide to Getting Girls
- Ask her nicely, but with tons enthusiasm.
- Beg her.
- Follow her across the country, even if she tells you not to.
- Save her from a bunch of rock-bearing, angry villagers.
- Save her from a dishonest warrior.
- Save her from being alone.
- Give her a reason to sympathize with you.
- Get a bed roll!
And the lesson to young lesbians? Persistence pays off!