Well here it is. Many a fan’s all-time, bar none, absolutely favourite episode of Xena. Why? Well it is partly the sizzling subtext, the terrific humour and endless rewatchability. But mainly it comes down to the feel-good factor of A Day in the Life being like a hangover cure without the hangover. If they could bottle the astonishing chemistry between Xena and Gabrielle in this episode you could power a few small cities for millennia.
In essence, this episode is one funny, flirty, frustrated, fabulous tribute to the power of U.S.T.
A Day in the Life also addresses many a burning issue – so here’s my
top 10 ADITL vital life lessons we can all take away from it:
- Scrolls make for excellent toilet paper but grumpy travelling companions
- Frying pans can be substituted for chakrams in a pinch
- Chakrams can be substituted for cutting knives in a pinch
- Breastplates can be an excellent climbing apparatus
- Never play 20 questions with anyone who has body-swapped
- Never go fishing with someone with good aim who is standing in eel-infested waters
- Cleavage-grabbing is an acceptable motivational tool for tardy bards
- Never piss off someone who knows where you keep your whip
- Xena has actual groupies. (Lariel doesn’t.)
- When looking for the soap, remember to grope carefully. You never know where you’ll find it
I hope that helps. Now then, for the uninitiated, U.S.T. means Unresolved Sexual Tension. It’s all about how many times you can touch, needle and gaze/smirk at the person you’d rather be doing the horizontal watoozie with before you (and we) can stand it no more.
The subtext in ADITL is so plain to see – thanks to a snappy entendre-riddled script and some Sapphically-charged ad-libs from our two stars – that it’s pretty hilarious there was any debate at all about the kind of love the pair were, ahem, gaily portraying when the episode first aired.
As proof, we have Exhibit A… The completely unnecessary touching count is off the scale. Because, sure Xena, you need to grab a bunch of cleavage to get Gabrielle to move it to the town of Laurel. Not to mention a fistful of hair when she’s about to bowl up to Hower. And Gabrielle, naturally, needs to claw her way up Xena by way of her shapely breastplate. And both of them need to be grasping at arms and shoulders during their guessing game, not to mention whacking each other with staffs and legs and flinging fish in each other’s faces.
They must also, when faced with an entire riverbank at their disposal, sit so close you couldn’t squeeze a desiccated scroll between them. And then there’s bath time. If there’s a more sensual, slow, and loving way to wash a friend’s hair and back than the way Gabs was doing it, well I sure haven’t seen it.
On the needling front – Exhibit B: Using your partner’s scroll for loo paper, swapping her whip for a frying pan; using her prized weapon as a fish knife, cockily rubbing your thumb and forefinger millimetres from her face, and trying to leap on her or hit her with your staff at every opportunity.
Just a bonus – Exhibit C: A kiss before sleeping; and the ultimate act of love from a former conqueror - letting her partner win at something, just to make her feel good. Ahhhh.
Come on now grrls, why don’t you just pull each others’ pig tails and ask each other to the school dance?
For the record, all this flagrant UST marks a turning point, showing that the kiss in The Quest was no mere fluke or a passing fancy to tweak some of the fans. Mercifully, though, there was no earnest, excruciating scene articulating just what the kiss or their relationship means now. Hell no! Those two are just gonna flirt each other to death instead – which is far more fun all round – and believable.
My subtext take of what’s going on under the surface is that while Xena and Gabrielle have both admitted, thanks to that kiss, they’re into each other, Xena’s still trying to be the gentleman about it and not leap the bard’s bones – tempting bones they may be to her. The bard, meanwhile, is having none of it, and is on a singular one-woman mission to get Xena’s attention any way she can, be it egging her on, verbally sparring, touching her, jumping on her, whatever it takes. Xena, competitive bunny that she is, can’t help but respond in kind. So all the mini wars they keep having are, as Xena points out, not about frying pans or whips at all. Oh, the pathos.
The result is that a large part of the brilliance of this episode comes from its sheer playfulness – their seductive verbal Viagra mingled with gazes so deep it’s amazing neither woman has drowned. But even that audacious fun takes a back seat to the fan-adored insights and detail into what a regular day is like for our two heroes when they are not saving the known universe.
In the true Seinfeld sense, ADITL is really an episode about nothing, making the traditional A-plot – the attacking warlord and giant – a far-distant B-plot, while the relationship dynamics and personal minutia take centre stage instead. Sure, bathroom perils, placing your lunch orders and taking a soak in the tub may not sound impressive, but with the right scriptwriter, director and stars, it’s pure gold.
Now to some specifics, broken down by each scene’s topic and most famous quote…
Domestic blitz: Can We Cook With Your Juices?
Now this is not a question one is often confronted with, but bless Xena’s cotton socks, we get to ponder it in one of the funniest fight scenes ever devised. From the moment that flying frying pan first takes to the air, we learn it is not the chakram itself but Xena’s wrist action that ricochets her weaponry all over the place. And we learn she loves nothing more than a bit of biffo. The look on her face says it all - she’s really into it.
Although how she kept a straight face when an enraged bard asks if they can cook in her juices is beyond me. The fact we are even asked to contemplate the dietary components of Xena’s juices is simply eye-popping to begin with. I note neither woman actually answers that particular question ... good move.
Sharp-eyed fans will also note the huge distance between the bedrolls at the start of this episode. Xena was virtually sleeping in the "kitchen". No wonder Gabrielle woke up grumpy (and all UST ridden).
Workplace relations: You ask good questions
Gabrielle, for so long living by Xena’s boss rules, in this episode gets a powerful gift. Equal-opportunity interrogations. You know you’ve made it at work when you feel allowed to change the status quo. This makes Gabrielle officially Xena’s equal on the battlefield – albeit one who can still be hauled about the boss by her hair or sports bra. Good thing for Xena she has no HR department. Oh wait, that’s Gabrielle’s job.
Love the non-verbals in this scene. Xena narrows her eyes when Yo-Yo man (Hower) first identifies her as Xena. Yep, her reputation still precedes her and she just can’t help but be suspicious. Then Xena, instead of asking Hower which way to his town, just thrusts out her hands, palms up, and glares at him impatiently. Who needs dialogue with the big X around! It was hilarious.
The pros and cons debate Gabrielle has with herself (notice the peanut gallery did not utter a word) is also funny – not the least because Xena just stands back and lets her write out her screeds and screeds and THEN tosses the coin. Gabrielle, not to be outdone, gets in one more good AWOL-frying pan crack at Xena as they head off into the distance. Followed by a playful whack and a set of hers-and-hers rump kicks, it’s safe to say these two do love working together.
UST 101: I let you get this close
I’ve never seen Xena flirt before. No, seriously. Up until this episode she has always had that lazy, predatory look for the blokes she plans to conquer (eg Caesar), but never any major hint of playful, youthful flirtiness. It’s like she’s a teenager all over again – although one who also exudes a very grown-up gleam of danger that probably gives Gabs some heady little heart-starts and restless nights.
The 20 questions game was an amusing if macabre cover for all those currents coursing through our presently uptight duo. They are touching constantly now for no good reason, stepping pointedly into each other’s personal space and it all culminates with that fabulous, famous eyeball-to-eyeball line, "You got this close cos I let you get this close", with Xena’s finger and thumb emphasising her cocky dismissal in a pinching motion. Oooh. For a second it looked like Gabrielle was completely lost in that molten gaze. She just – stared, transfixed. The entire moment was so electric, it’s amazing the sparks didn’t ignite a brush fire and immolate the pair of them.
And then, in a flash, it’s over. Xena pointedly dismisses Gabrielle, brushing by her to ask Hower some completely un-vital question just so she can declare game, set and match. That sound you hear is the grinding of Gabrielle’s teeth as Xena’s own perfect white pearlies gleam back in amusement. Yes, folks, welcome to Flirt Central. The funniest part of it all is the fact lovesick Hower can’t even see he has no chance in blue blazes.
Guys and Dolls: She likes what I do
Hower is a hard guy to dislike. Sure the big lug may be excessively clueless, and you can’t exactly add loyal to his list of attributes given how quickly he forgets, and later, remembers Minya. But he’s funny and does adoration like no other big lug in the biz. In short he’s a non-threatening nice guy who rather naively (in a sweet way) thinks "flowers for a flower" is the best way to woo a kick-butt warrior princess. He’s also a metaphor for society’s congenital blindness to two grrls in love. He really can’t see what’s going on right under his nose, which is so obvious to the two women next to him, they’re virtually telegraphing their amorous intentions with flashing neon signs.
Xena’s first reaction to discovering Hower has fallen for her, all while she’s squeezed next to the bard on that riverbank, is incredulousness. Her solution is pretty telling about how much interest she has in the Y-chromosome right now: it’s to devise ever-funnier, and smellier, wardrobe changes to fend off any and all red-blooded menfolk. It’s safe to say, as Gabrielle explains to Hower, Xena really does like what Gabrielle does.
The original script, it should be noted, says only "she likes what she’s doing" so, thanks Renee for that saucy little ad-lib.
On the flip side is Gabrielle’s reaction to all this – notice how she can quickly reel off Xena’s alluring features to her without thinking. It’s the "blue eyes, the leather", she informs her smartly. Uh huh. So you haven’t spent much time thinking about it then?
The bard really is a kindly soul – earlier she tells Hower "anything is possible" rather than break his heart on the Xena front, fully knowing the snowball in Tartarus chance he actually has with her.
The most gorgeous part about that scene for me, aside from the fun dialogue, Xena’s fabulous fish faces and eel-ewws, and Gabrielle’s fish-whacked eye-narrowing assaults, is just how real their laughter is. It was completely adorable – those two, the actors and the characters, are absolutely having a hoot.
Married with fish shticks: It’s gonna smell like fish for days
Over the years, many earnest scholarly types have explained in various papers that the chakram is also a symbol for the female anatomy. Well I’ll let y’all work out why that is yourself. But don’t tell me the Xenabods weren’t fully aware of that when they did the fish slicing with the chakram scene.
"Gabrielle – what do you think you’re doing," cries an outraged warrior princess, before adding, "It’s gonna smell like fish for days!"
When Hower offers to wash it off for Xena, she snatches back her precious weapon hastily. This is one job that’s hers alone to do, it seems. Yes, I can hear Michael Hurst and RJ Stewart tittering from here.
In a less sexual-politics vein, I always thought the scene reminded me of a married couple arguing over the woman nicking a bloke’s razor to do her legs with. World wars have started over less.
Meanwhile, who knew chakram etiquette was so complicated?
Been there, dung that: You used my scrolls?!
One friend claims that this torn-scroll scene, while hilarious, is also the most important scene in all of Xena – as in all episodes ever made. Seriously. She argues it’s the first time we have ever seen the Warrior Princess voluntarily cede the power in any of her relationships (business or pleasure) to anyone else. And if you watch Xena’s face – she is indeed actually a little fearful of pissing off the bard to the point that a rampaging giant comes as a welcome relief.
It’s true Xena allows Gabrielle to have this power over her. And it’s an amazing gift to offer her – the power of equality – to use or misuse as she sees fit. For a control-freak used to always being unquestioningly in charge, the leader, the conqueror, to let Gabrielle simply pick up the reigns when she wants them, to boss Xena around if she feels she needs to, is a true act of love and friendship. So now we discover the pair are domestically as well as professionally equals. At last.
Facing the fans: Does she sleep in th…?
Ahhhhh Minya. She’s ever the fan favourite because, let’s face it, she’s one of us. Her gentle send-up of the more zealous fandom has only ever endeared her to us more. She’s as funny as can be, whether it be clutching a goat or accusing Xena of boyfriend-snatching treachery, and Alison Wall thoroughly deserved her NZ equivalent of an Emmy for playing Minya.
Lucy plays opposite her beautifully. Witness their arrival – when Minya gives Xena a rock-star reception, Xena instantly looks over her shoulder to check there’s no one else behind her who better deserves the welcome.
And you can’t but love the cocked eyebrow from the big X when Minya struggles to work out Gabrielle’s name. No help there, nuh uh. Honestly, Xena is such a beast to Gabs at times…
Gabrielle, unimpressed at her anonymous sidekick status, gets over it quickly when asked to spill the dirt on Xena’s sleeping attire. Love the conspiratorial way she bends her head in to tell all to this riveted fan. That just serves Xena right for leaving her to hang out to dry moments ago. Those two. They so need to get a room. Or a tub…
Battle planning for business and pleasure: Are you sitting on the soap?
Now, see, the problem with having a vision but not spelling it out fully is other people, like the impish director Michael Hurst, are gonna take liberties. You know this. The original idea behind the hot tub scene was apparently like in those Wild West movies where a pair of cowboys have individual tubs, side by side, and they yak to each other as they scrub their own body parts. For some reason (and no complaints here), that morphed into one big tub and a whole lot of mutual cleanliness being next to godliness.
It’s really, um, interesting watching the differing styles between the pair as they wash the other. Gabrielle is slow and loving, enjoying herself as if luxuriating over a particularly luscious piece of chocolate. Xena meanwhile is all down-to-business, making any grime deeply regret ever thinking about making a home in Gabrielle’s ears. The squeak-squeak sound as she does it only adds to the comedic value – which was presumably the point, because the whole scene was starting to look a little steamier than mere hot water could explain away.
The most fascinating snippet of dialogue is Gabrielle explaining to Xena that Minya is "in that I’ll-do-anything-to-please-the-warrior-princess stage". Yup, I bet the bard knows all about that embarrassing phase. I think it’s safe to say she considers herself well and truly over it. Sure you are, sweetie.
We also learn that if you want to know where your soap is at all times, ask Gabs. Her expression is priceless as she shifts and ponders aloud "I wondered what that was".
I know a lot of people love the Masai-warrior bouncing action Gabs does in the tub (by the Gods she certainly is buoyant), so consider that bit, er bits, mentioned. But my favourite part is the water fight. Completely unscripted, and preceded by the pair having the most ridiculous verbal stoush over who is less competitive (!), the squeals of delight you hear are real. Love it.
Calling a horse a horse: She’s yours…
Theodorus!!! Hey, that’s cheating. Even as you digest Xena thinks having someone else’s thoughts in your head still makes you responsible for their murders, we discover Gabrielle has done the unthinkable. No, not missing a sitting-duck target from the roof just so she can shimmy up Xena’s breastplate. She has, trés scandal, swapped Xena’s whip for a frying pan. Gasp. And Minya will not be shifted on her store’s no-returns policy.
I love the way Minya says: "It’s mine. You don’t get that concept real well do you ... Hower’s mine. She’s yours." And didn’t a thousand subtexters’ hearts adore that flippant diva spit.
You’d think, though, that if Minya can so accurately identify the horse as a horse, (i.e. Gabrielle is to Xena what Hower is to Minya), she’d also get a rather large clue that the warrior princess isn’t remotely interested in sniffing around Hower. Perhaps it’s easier than considering the unsavoury truth that Hower just isn’t that into her.
Attack of the clones: There’s two of them!
We’ve seen angry Xena, happy Xena and feral Xena and a few variations in between. But never bored Xena. And what a hoot she is in the scene where she practises chakram tossing and everyone watches it zip around like a tennis match, as they wait for the billed giant v warlord smackdown to begin. Right about here it hit me that part of the fun of this episode is that for most of it there are only four people in it, and rarely all at the same time. That means heaps more screen time for our stars, and again, that just ratchets up the enjoyment for fans who, quite frankly could care less about either giants or warlords right now.
Given our nil care-factor, it made sense to provide only a silly villain in Zagreas, easily dismissed as a fool so we can laugh at him fall over comically from Minya and her least-convincing hit ever.
Fickle fellow that Hower is, his attentions are back on Minya and the two bolt off to have some philosophical discussions about this season’s summer fashions. You have to laugh at how leather-clad Minya ruined her come-hither look at Hower by then walking off like a truckie – clomp, clomp, clomp. Xena meanwhile has quite the speculative look when listening to the pair indulging in loud nookie. Now what could our hero possibly be thinking? Hmmm?
In one of the few serious scenes of the entire episode we have a touching moment of apology between Xena and Gabrielle: "I’m sorry I’m traded your whip for a frying pan." "I shouldn’t have used your scrolls. We’re even."
I must say it’s pretty wise given their occupational hazards to never head off to a fight with things left unsaid. The lingering look was a nice touch.
Esprit de corpse: Goliath says hello
Xena invents the kite and, despite her doubting Thomas choir of three, uses it to kill Gareth. As you do. Yay her. Boo-hiss Tapert and team, though. See, I really wanted to give this episode 10/10 – was dying to in fact, and would have but for those 20 long, hideous seconds of fried giant that tainted the easy-going fun by being stomach-churning in its grotesque, lingering, dead-man-burning detail. Cutting a close-up of a smoking corpse into the middle of a slapstick comedy is about as smart as sending Grandma to a strip club for afternoon tea.
Alas the Xenabods were so in love with their special effects and so completely immune to the repugnance of that scene (thanks to their horror film-making backgrounds) that they didn’t realise the impact of what they had done. Nonetheless, even a sautéed stiff in size 100 boots can’t take away the brilliance that is A Day In the Life. But for the record – oh how I wanted to give it 10.
Sweet dreams: I know you let me hit you
Finally we have the star-gazing scene which unlike at the start, sees Xena and Gabs with their sleeping blankets close together this time. Whatever UST angst they’ve been suffering all day is clearly winding down to a bit of a tired snuggle and some bemused companionship.
In that much-debated about scene, Gabrielle also finally manages to clock Xena with her staff. The fact the staff hit Xena’s head but the WP grabbed her nose has caused more than a few fans to declare it was the proof she was definitely faking. Well, maybe. I think the look of surprise on Xena’s face was telling, too.
But in the end this is Xena we’re talking about. You know – the sublime superhero who catches arrows out of thin air before anyone even sees them coming. No way a mere staff could sneak up on her. So I argue she has basically done the most loving act she possibly can to give Gabrielle her little victory.
The bard isn’t stupid and quickly works out what Xena did, too. So she gives her partner a grateful kiss (unscripted, thanks Ren) to which Xena responds with her fake outraged "Hey" (equally unscripted), pretending, as always, she is no mushy-mush warrior princess.
But of course we all know, as with all other hit-and-run acts of affection by Gabrielle, Xena secretly loved it – just as she loves the bard, and utterly adored their whole flirtatious, action-packed day.
The episode might have been called A Day in the Life and was meant to be about nothing. But this became one of the finest episodes the show ever made, if not the finest. It was compelling and hilarious, captivating and heart warming. It stands the test of time and most importantly it put Xena and Gabrielle’s friendship above all else.
A Day in the Life? Please. Anyone can see it was really A Day in the Love.
Simply put - genius.