The Family Way

With the sixth season of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and the fifth season of Xena: Warrior Princess now underway, Renaissance Pictures continues to deliver its winning combination of action, adventure, comedy and drama. While the story lines enthrall us, the special effects astound us and the action excites us it is perhaps the humanity that compels us to keep watching the series.

Hercules may be the strongest man in mythology and Xena may be the greatest warrior ever to walk the known world but it is their human nature, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, that makes them the believable heroes that the fans have come to admire. One aspect of this human nature that was established in the pilot episodes of both shows was the importance of the family and the relationships within them.

Through the seasons we have seen many different family relationships developing. Hercules has a mortal half-brother Iphicles, now the King of Corinth, but their relationship is always overshadowed by the main story line. 'War Wounds' is perhaps the only episode to truly explore their brotherhood as Hercules bargains for Iphicles freedom when he has been captured by angered war heroes when they return as outcasts. There is also the never-ending supply of half-brothers and half-sisters of the immortal kind. Aphrodite and Ares are seen to have the most exposure within the series but their relationships are usually portrayed as that of sibling rivalry as they compete for Zeus's attentions. But each of these links has always been secondary to the bond that Hercules shares with his mother.

Hercules may be the son of Zeus - the King of the Gods, but his mother Alcmene was a mere mortal woman.  The lighter moments of Hercules and Alcmene's relationship includes Hercules ongoing mission to construct a wall around his mother's land to protect her, but when the Champion of Men needs advice it is to his mother that he always turns. 'Twilight' saw the final few moments of this remarkable mother and son. The death of Alcmene not only shattered Hercules but also Iolaus, who on some levels considered her to be a surrogate mother. Iolaus's devotion to his best friend's mother could be seen in the earlier two part episode 'Armageddon Now' as he travelled through time in order to save her from Callisto and ensure that Hercules would be born.

Admired and respected by most he meets there is one individual whose hatred for the demi-god has caused Hercules great suffering. For Hera, the Queen of the Gods, his existence is a constant reminder of her husband's adultery and she takes any opportunity she can to torment him. In 'The Wrong Path' Hera finally destroys what Hercules loves the most - his family. The story follows Hercules as he deals with the loss of his wife Dieneira and his three children and begins his Legendary Journeys.

'Sins of The Past' sees the Warrior Princess beginning her path to redemption, seeking atonement for her past misdeeds. On her return to Amphipolis, her hometown, Xena is shunned by the villagers. Even her own mother turns against her and leaves her to be stoned by the resentful townsfolk.

It is here that we learn of her devotion to her younger brother Lyceus, whose death triggered the cycle of hatred in which Xena became trapped. His presence would continue to have a hold over Xena in episodes such as 'Death Mask', 'Remember Nothing' and would be the driving force behind Xena's obsession for fishing and the flashback to childhood in 'Fins, Femmes and Gems'. The episode 'Death Mask' also reveals the existence of Xena's older brother Toris, who fled the invasion of Cortese leaving Xena and Lyceus to defend the town against the warlord, which resulted in the death of Lyceus.

Once again the sibling relationships between Xena and her brothers are over-shadowed by her building relationship with her mother Cyrene. On their reunion Cyrene draws Xena's sword and holds it to her, publicly disowning her before the villagers. At first she is filled with a deep resentment and mistrust for her estranged daughter; she feels hurt by Xena's past betrayals but her anger is constantly warring with her eternal bond as a mother.

In a tearful farewell we discover that Cyrene has never forgotten the love that she has for her 'little one' but it is not until the third season episode 'The Furies' that we realise just how deep that love runs. Driven mad by the Furies for not avenging the murder of her father Atrius, Xena goes in search of the truth, only to discover that it was Cyrene who murdered her father. When she was a child Atrius was told that he should sacrifice Xena to Ares, the God of War; Cyrene did the only thing that she could in order to protect her child - she killed her husband. This theme would play itself again in a more comedic episode 'It Takes One To Know One', when in trying deduce who killed Ravenica, the bounty hunter on her trail, Xena questions her mother. Although not guilty this time Cyrene confesses that she would still kill in order to protect Xena, no matter what her age, but she is glad that she does not have to.

The devotion that Cyrene has for Xena is reciprocated in turn by her daughter. Her adamant refusal to kill her mother in 'The Furies' in order to satisfy the Punishers of the Gods is in keeping with this, but her complete about turn at the request of Ares is a little frightening. It is not until the conclusion that we discover it was simply a ruse, to buy time with the God of War and the Furies, whilst she found a way out of the situation. Xena's love for her mother truly comes to the fore in the closing scene as she reassures her mother that they will become stronger from the truth they have shared.

The first episode also introduces us to Gabrielle's family, albeit very briefly. There is not nearly as much emphasis based on the Bard of Poteidaia's family. In fact we did not even discover her mother and father's names until the fourth season episode 'A Family Affair', however it was always stated that they were called Hecuba and Herodotus. Younger sister Lilla features much more prominently and she would return in 'The Prodigal', 'The Bittersuite' and 'A Family Affair' along with their parents.

It is perhaps the seeming lack of relationship between Gabrielle and her parents that reveals most. From the beginning Gabrielle states that she is not 'the little girl her parents wanted her to be'. The fact that they have never understood her speaks volumes as to why the young village girl ran away to join the Warrior Princess on her adventures.

As daughters Xena and Gabrielle on a fundamental level were just like any other - rebellious and independent, but it was when our heroines became the parents that things became more than a little unusual. Not every mother has to deal with their child blaming them for the death of their father and not every mother gives birth to a demon that will destroy the world.

When viewers settled back to enjoy the second season of Xena they were in for a shock. 'Orphan of War' opened with a revelation from Xena that left the audience as shocked as Gabrielle. "He's my son," revealed a whole new facet of the Warrior Princess's dark and mysterious past, giving her already complex personality yet another dimension.

Solan is filled with a deep hatred for the Warrior Princess having been told by his adoptive father Kaleipus that Xena killed his father, The Great Borias and his mother. Xena proves herself to the young boy and they develop a friendship, which leaves Xena with mixed feelings when she is unable to reveal her maternal link to him.

Despite being murdered in the third season episode 'Maternal Instincts' by Gabrielle's daughter Hope, the story of Solan would continue to unfold in subsequent stories. 'Adventures In The Sin Trade' told of the pregnancy and the curse that Alti bestowed upon him, that he would never feel the love of either parent. In

'Past Imperfect' we would witness the birth of Solan, the death of Borias at the hands of Dagnine and the realisation of Alti's curse as Xena gives up her son to Kaleipus. Both 'Orphan of War' and 'Past Imperfect' show us the moment that Xena hands over her son, knowing that it is for the best because he would grow up as a target for Xena's enemies and eventually become like his warrior mother.

Beginning with 'Gabrielle's Hope' we experience the indestructible bond of motherhood through the young Bard's eyes. From the moment that her newborn daughter is placed into her arms a connection is made, one that not even Xena can sever. Blinded by what she sees as her redemption - for the murder of Meridian in 'The Deliverer' - she is unable to see Hope for what she really is. Though Gabrielle finally opens her eyes to the truth of her daughters capability for evil during the events of 'Maternal Instincts', 'Sacrifice' and 'A Family Affair' we still feel her pain at the loss of her child as she either watches or assists in the death of her daughter.

Both Solan and Hope would play a pivotal part in what would become known as the Rift Saga; the darker events of the third season that proved that Xena and Gabrielle could turn on one another. Starting with Gabrielle's lie over the death of Hope, to her betrayal of Xena in the Kingdom of Chin and Xena's anger that Gabrielle would do this to her their friendship would appear to have survived. The introduction of their children to this volatile situation was the final test that broke them. Their deceptions and anger cost them the lives of the ones they loved the most - their children. They stood side by side at the funerals but their lives would be forever torn apart.

In 'The Bittersuite' Xena is given the chance to make amends with her son, and Solan finally calls her mother. For Gabrielle there can be no happy reunion and her conflicting emotions as she watches Xena with Solan says it all; her failure as a parent, the loss of her child and that her deceit led to Solan's death.

As the latest season unfolds and reveals Xena's mysterious pregnancy we wonder if this is Xena's chance to be the mother that she could never be for Solan? A chance to succeed where she had failed before?