Digital Scholarship: Anna Rinko

Overview

During the course of this project, I decided to examine a piece of "text" that could provide both visual and textual aspects for analysis. I opted to analyze one of my favorite episode from Xena: Warrior Princess. This episode (When Fates Collide) has been voted the fourth best episode by fans, an amazing accomplishment considering the show's six season run (The 12 Best Xena:Warrior Princess Episodes as Voted by the Fans). In addition, this episode played with many intriguing themes in a very unique way. It is an episode that explores the road not taken through an alternative timeline, where the two main characters, Xena and Gabrielle, are separated, causing dire consequences for both the characters and the world they inhabit (Millward 141). The writer herself commented that she hoped to explore the necessity of Xena's dark past as a means to bring her to the redemptive path she eventually travels (Krickel). My hope was that in exploring the structure of the episode, I would gain a better understanding as to what made it so engaging. I ultimately processed the transcript of the episode, in addition to the video-files and images.

Visual Analysis

A barcode representation of the episode

One of the first items I created was a barcode of the episode, compressing 1000 screenshots into one image. The color patterns it presented were very intriguing. Sections of reds and blacks give way to skin tones, greens, blacks, and finally blues. Each of these represents some of the key settings (and scenes) of the episode. To examine this further, I created a more detailed film strip that linked together many of these screenshots. From examining this, the meanings of the colors becomes clearer. The initial reds come from the grandeur of Rome. The sections of black correspond to several dungeon scenes. The strips of skin-tones in the middle arise from a crucifixion scene that utilized many facial close-ups. The green sections are part of a large fight scene that took place in a field outside of the city. Finally, the ending shades of blue are associated with the final crucifixion scene, which took place in the pouring rain. The color patterns help illustrate what is occurring in a more macro-sense. It also emphasizes the amazing work done to establish the sets. Each color largely matches the overall tone of the scenes (red connected to opulence, black to darkness, etc.). In this manner, analyzing compressed version of the episode provides some intriguing insights into both its overall structure and tone.

Textual Analysis

A word bubble representing the most common words in the episode transcript

I opted to use Voyant and Lexos to examine the most commonly used words in the episode transcript. Character names such as Caesar and Gabrielle naturally occurred quite frequently. Importantly, Voyant's updated site linked the character names Xena and Gabrielle, establishing a textual bond between the two that seems to acknowledge their status as soul-mates. But other words clearly hinted at the themes of the episode. Words such as dying, destiny, fates, and betrayed acknowledge the high stakes present in the episode. Others such as Rome, playwright, and empress provide some idea of the context and setting of the episode.

Using Voyant word trend software, I was able to examine the usage of some of these words in more depth.

A graph examining the frequency of various words over the course of the episode transcript

Words such as love, world, screams, and death all had increased usage in the last half of the episode, most of which rise quite dramatically around the last quarter of the episode. This provides another means to illustrate the rising stakes that occur as the plot progresses. These words are often connected to large-scale epic struggles between good and evil, and thus is a very good indicator of where the climax occurs. This sense of epic struggle is further supported by a piece of sentiment analysis software, which gave the episode an overall negative result. Another program allowed me to examine trigrams, or recurring groups of three words. One phrase in particular was quite prominent: "worth dying for". The phrase appeared four times over the course of the transcript, and truly illustrates one of the major themes of the episode, namely that death can have value when it is the result of sacrifice for a higher principle.

Conclusion

The structure of both the written text and the visual text complement each in their efforts to convey the themes of the episode. Visual analysis shows that darker moments of the episode, especially toward the climax, occur at the same time as the rising stakes present in the language of the transcript. In this way, it is clear that the creators were able to successfully convey the tone of the script using filmic techniques. This congruence helps the viewer to have a more cohesive and immersive experience. In addition, the content of both the visual and textual elements further a truly epic episode, establishing large-scale conflict and major values, such as love and friendship. Ultimately this analysis reveals the incredible craftsmanship that went into the creation of this episode, establishing it as one of the most successful in the show's history.

References

"The 12 Best Xena:Warrior Princess Episodes as Voted by the Fans" Whoosh.org. Whoosh!, 23 Dec. 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Krickel, August. "Interview with Katherine Fugate." Whoosh! Online Edition 58 (2001): 36-45. Web.

Millward, Liz. "Xena and the Warrior Poets: Audre Lorde, Monique Wittig, and the Myths of Lesbian Origins." Feminist Media Studies 14.1 (2014): 135-146. Web.