A spin-off from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys that went on to eclipse its predecessor, Xena: Warrior Princess became a pop culture phenomenon thanks to its tone and iconic title character. So here I am ready to review the first season of this show. Let’s get on with it and be warned, spoilers may be in this review.
In Ancient Greece, former warlord and Warrior Princess Xena( Lucy Lawless) is travelling and attempting to rectify her brutal past and atone for the suffering she caused so many. She’s beginning to renounce her title of Warrior Princess, but she’s spurred into action when she encounters villagers being attacked by rampaging men. Taking back her sword and power, she vows to do good with her skills as a fighter. One of the girls she saved, an aspiring bard named Gabrielle( Renée O’Connor ), is bored with her life and wants some adventure. She sees Xena as her ticket to the wide open world some form of fun. Xena, who is used to being alone allows Gabrielle to come along with her. although skeptical at first, the two become very close friends in the long run . On their travels they encounter all manner of action and adventure as they come up against warlords, God’s and many things from Xena’s past coming back to menace the warrior and tempt her back to the dark side.
What immediately strikes you about Xena is the tonal diversity of the episodes. They go from serious dramas to tongue in cheek comedy and almost everything in between. There’s something for everyone to enjoy here. It’s best not to take most of it seriously because of the often goofy sensibility that colours a few areas, though there are deep moments of emotion to behold on the other end of the spectrum. Especially in the case of Xena and her search for redemption after her former darkness. I will say that Xena: Warrior Princess is a show that can be a bit like Marmite for some because of how oddball it gets. But it hits the spot for me with its multitude of tones and well-executed ideas. One of the main things that I’m aware of with this show is the endless debate over the nature of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. They are very close and almost always together as friends would be. But many see something deeper to it and I can understand why some think of Xena and Gabrielle as a couple. The writers are canny enough to sly and ambiguously reference this in many instances with innuendo appearing a handful of times between the two and situations that put them closer together. There are only snippets of something more than friendship in this season, so it will be interesting to see how their relationship grows and how it will turn out.
On the visual side, the use of New Zealand as a filming location is inspired in how it stands in for Ancient Greece in all its beautiful splendour. And it’s pretty great how anachronistic the show is. It doesn’t purport to be the gospel truth about the mythology it references, instead running with it and having a blast. It plays by its own rules and is in my view, all the better for it. A rousing score that fits the shifting ups and downs of Xena’s life and can be so many things given the episode at play.
Great episodes abound in this introductory season. The opener cleverly sets up the title character as she begins her journey to some form of redemption while hinting at what will come. ‘Dreamworker’ has Xena entering a dreamscape to save Gabrielle from being sacrificed to the God Morpheus, which will happen if age spills innocent blood. Xena must contend sit her past here as it quite literally comes back to haunt her. It’s a very striking episode. In ‘Reckoning, we are introduced to the darkly charismatic Ares. He will, from what I’ve read, become a more prominent character in the series. I’m glad to hear that as he is very smooth and dark and the story of him trying to coax Xena back to the dark side is extremely watchable and Kevin Smith is ideally cast as the silver-tongued God. The episode in question does a great job of showing how Xena may be trying to right her wrongs but could easily go back to the dark side if swayed. In ‘Hooves and Harlots’ Xena and Gabrielle come into the middle of what could be a war between the resourceful Amazons and traitorous Centaurs. It is in this episode Gabrielle comes into her own a bit more and displays skills as a fighter that will come in handy. She may be the sidekick of the series, but we see that she’s no slouch either as evidenced by her willingness to learn.
‘Warrior … Princess’ is a fine comedy episode where Xena impersonates a damsel in distress that is far removed from her tough girl persona, leaving the other princess to attempt to emulate the fierceness of Xena. All of this has hilarious results for both and shows off the comedic chops of Lucy Lawless. Another standout ‘The Royal Couple of Thieves’ features Bruce Campbell as a thief with a big ego that teams up with Xena to retrieve a powerful object. The banter and chemistry between Xena and Autolycus is something to behold and makes the episode a particularly strong venture. On a more serious note, ‘Callisto’ introduces a vengeful nemesis for Xena who has dedicated her life to destroying her as it was Xena’s army that slaughtered her family. This episode makes an interesting case for Callisto being the dark side of Xena, like the other side of a coin. She embodies, thanks to the frightening and unnerving work of Hudson Leick, a psychotic evil that is taunting and won’t rest. The dynamic between them is fascinating as Callisto attempts to get Xena to kill her, putting the Warrior Princess in a dilemma over whether to kill what she has created The episode also serves to introduce the comic character of Joxer( a very funny Ted Raimi), an incompetent wannabe warrior who is lovable nonetheless. And the season is closed out in emotional fashion when Gabrielle seemingly slips to the other side after being injured in the middle of a civil war. Watching as Xena screams and pounds her chest is heartbreaking, but thankfully Gabrielle is soon back with the land of the living and the two are soon on their way to new adventures. It’s a high point of the show that displays the close relationship of its protagonists.
The cast is a big selling point of Xena and one that makes you truly buy into it. At the centre is the sexy Lucy Lawless as the eponymous Warrior Princess. She projects a strong, intimidating but also sardonic and seductive image of a woman you wouldn’t want to mess with. Lawless has the athleticism and when the occasion calls for it emotion when discovering Xena’s pain and regrets that she has harnessed into a tough visage. Renée O’Connor has the innocence and pluckiness to counterbalance the seriousness and worldliness of Xena. And though she is often the main sidekick, O’Connor makes Gabrielle just as important as a character. Plus the chemistry between the two of them is exemplary. While best friends, Xena is the more hard-edged of the two. Gabrielle on the other hand has a thirst for knowledge and a desire to discover the world and all that it has to offer.
And now for my episode rankings:
- Sins of the Past – A
- Chariots of War – B
- Dreamworker – A
- Cradle of Hope – B-
- The Path Not Taken – C
- The Reckoning – A+
- The Titans – C-
- Prometheus – B
- Death in Chains – C+
- Hooves and Harlots – A
- The Black Wolf – B+
- Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts – C
- Athens City Academy of The Performing Bards – D-
- A Fistful of Dinars – B
- Warrior .. Princess – A+
- Mortal Beloved – B
- The Royal Couple of Thieves – A
- The Prodigal – C-
- Altared States – C
- Ties That Bind – B
- The Greater Good – B
- Callisto – A
- Death Mask – C
- Is There a Doctor in the House? – A
So so all I have left to say is that Xena Season 1 is a blast that has me gearing up for what follows. With a feisty and fierce leading character and entertainment galore, you can’t ask for more.