“Stories can be anything you want them to be”
A comedic episode turned into serious subtextual canon of the Gabrielle/Ares relationship.
The episode starts with one of Aphrodite’s temples having been vandalised by kids “worshipping” Xena. A fuming Aphrodite is visited by Ares who takes the opportunity to manipulate, but also to project some of his own problems onto her. He manages to convince his sister that Gabrielle is the true problem behind her new-found vandalism problems. During their exchange it is heavily implied that Ares has in fact read Gabrielle’s scrolls, “Have you read some of her so called stories?”. Talk about having an impressive audience. Clearly it’s not just Xena that fascinates him, Gabrielle has caught his attention enough for him to “research” her.
When Gabrielle is describing herself in her scroll she uses the term “lone warrior”. By doing so she links herself with the head of all warriors, the God of War. It’s a brief link, but it should be emphasised. Furthermore while she is fighting the Barbarians it is clear that she is enjoying herself, the smile on her face is a mile wide and as the fight is finished she’s experiencing the rush of battle lust. Perhaps that link to Ares is stronger than we think?
As she accidentally strips Ares of his powers her immediate response is to try to restore them. At first something very close to fear appears on her face only to quickly be replaced by a determined look and enough confidence and attitude to order Ares around to her liking. Still she never falters in her aim to restore him to his full powers.
Ares first response to Aphrodite in regards to Gabrielle’s new-found powers is highly interesting, “You’ve given her powers of destiny!?”. Is it his belief that given the power of destiny Gabrielle would bring them together and take away his power? From a psychological point of view this is glorious. Subconsciously he fears that it is his destiny to lose his powers to this mortal woman? Not only is it sweet subtext, but prophetic as well.
It’s a brief moment of nothing in particular, but as Gabrielle sends Scabardus to the caves Ares mentions with a voice dripping with sarcasm that “Those caves are gonna start gettin' pretty full”, he winks at her. Simple, but sweet.
Ares and the three go-go!Gabrielles is an entire chapter in itself. However it is better watched than describes, but before you pop the dvd into the player I’ll point out some things to keep an eye on. First we have the obvious pleasure on his face, then there’s the straightforward bum-looking where he compares the dancing ones with the original. Furthermore throughout the entire scene keep watching Ares eyes and hands. They way he’s holding (read squeezing) his sword…yeah, just have a look. Also there’s some beard/moustache stroking which could be submitted to a Freudian oral analysis. I shall refrain, but…think about it.
This would be the stretcher (even in my book), but as Gabrielle wakes up with the necklace on her chest her eyes immediately look in the direction of the sleeping Ares. Was that her first thought? Did her eyes betray a hidden wishful thinking?
Then there’s the infamous bonding-scene. On the surface this plays at their joint fascination of Xena. However if you approach it from a subtextual angle this all of a sudden becomes such honest and beautifully insecure attempts at closeness. As they’re hunting down the peddler and scroll Ares asks Gabrielle where she’s learnt to read trails like that. This is the God of War (even though he at the moment happen to be mortal) what possible interest could he have in from where Gabrielle has learnt tracking skills?! No, this is Ares showing an interest in her, the mortality has gotten to him and he shows a genuine interest in her. He does bring up Xena, but what he does is to brag about what he did for her. He’s sharing his abilities with Gabrielle, wanting her to look up and respect him despite his mortality. He’s using Xena to puff up his feathers. The easy bantering/small-talk continues between them, both of them smiling and sharing easy laughs, up until he voices what they both felt, “We were starting to-- warm up to each other there, weren't we?”. Something that scared them both enough to take a step back. If there had been no honesty in it there wouldn’t have been a need to take that step back.
As Xena returns we have one of those honey-dripping emotional scenes between Xena and Gabrielle. In the middle of Xena giving Gabrielle the puppy-dog eyes Ares interjects into their seemingly private conversation, drawing their attention back to him and away from each other. Jealous perhaps?
During the finale we have Ares working as Gabrielle’s eyes as to what she should be writing. As she begins discussing the literary qualities of the language, one look from Ares has her submitting to the simpler language. It’s not intimidation, it’s merely him giving her a strangely familiar look of “not right now”. It’s one of those moments that send chills down your G/A shipping spine.
[Doing a good impression of a married couple]
Finally Ares’ powers are restored and while he tests them by torturing the soldiers a little Gabrielle is watching him, smiling and laughing at the look on his face. She finds happiness in his enjoyment. That’s not lust for a God, that’s something more. That’s actual concern and emotion. Also note Gabrielle’s raised eyebrow, faint smile and “hm” in reply to his “I’ve still got it!”.
[He's still got it]
As they then are to part we have one moment of looking deeply into each others’ eyes. Gabrielle obviously affected by the power he once again was oozing, but there was a hint of honesty in Ares eyes. However neither of them was ready for anything more and Ares showed incredible compassion and concern by taking the step back and turning it into a silly joke.
[No smoke without fire?]
It should also be pointed out that during the entire episode Gabrielle and Ares kept close to each other. From the second half of the episode, during which the “bonding” took place they never leave each other’s sides with the exception of a brief moment during Xena’s return. Plus never once during the episode does Ares question Gabrielle. Sure he’s snarky and sarcastic, but never questions her course of action. They’re behaving strangely similar to an old married couple.
[I've tasted blood and I want more]
I’ve always thought that G/A works best when you play with the entire angst, deity and forbidden love angle, but at the moment I’m questioning that. In an alternative universe this could actually be a surprisingly sweet love story between a former god and a mortal.
Have I ever mentioned I love overanalysing?