‘Following on from the successful first season, Season 2 of Xena: Warrior Princess expands on the building blocks created and crafts more mythology and eventfulness for us all to enjoy. It’s safe to say that Season 2 is full of quality and more opening up of narrative
Xena(Lucy Lawless) continues journeying through Ancient Greece with loyal best friend Gabrielle(Renée O’Connor). She is still on her quest for redemption for the bloody actions she caused and the suffering she inflicted on others. On her journey this time, the past is opened up once more as we learn about Xena’s past and why she did what she did. We see that she gave birth to a son named Solan, who she gave to the centaurs to raise and the difficulty she has to live with in letting her child go. Joxer(Ted Raimi), the wannabe warrior is back and journeys with the duo with his own mix of bumbling misfortune and complete lack of understanding that he isn’t skilled at all in combat. Callisto( Hudson Leick) returns to wreck vengeance on Xena and undergoes a number of transformations while destroying all she can around her. Many more enemies and familiar faces return, along with some newer ones. Let’s just say it’s eventful for Xena and company in their testing travels.
One of the biggest things to discuss with Season 2 is how everything seems a little more crisp and you can see that the budget has been upped and that every bit of money is on screen to relish. Some effects have lost a bit of edge, but the vast majority handsomely hold up. But most importantly is something that happened behind the scenes that had the greatest impact on Xena. Lucy Lawless, while filming a skit for the Jay Leno Show, fell from a horse and fractured her pelvis. With the second season in production, the producers and writers had to think of a way to accommodate the main star. They settled on a body swap between Xena and Callisto, which worked surprisingly well. Also there are episodes where Xena is incapacitated. It all could have been a jumble, but thankfully it is quite seamlessly done and the improvisation and quick thinking on the producer’s part is ace. Watching Lucy Lawless and Hudson Leick play versions of the other as is the return of Kevin Smith as the smooth Ares.
My further discussions of main standout episodes is next and there are a good few to discuss. The opener entitled ‘Orphan of War’ delves into Xena’s internal scars as we witness her protecting the son she gave up years before, but doesn’t tell him that she is his mother for fear of something bad befalling him. It is an episode that really shows the woman underneath the warrior and how she is human after all, when not being the fierce fighter we all know her as. A fun episode and one of the best that blends both a creepiness and campiness are ‘Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun’. In it, Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer search for missing girls who have been kidnapped by Bacchae; bloodthirsty followers of the God Bacchus. They bite the necks of victims and seductively lure them to the catacombs of their master, where the victim must drink his blood to become an irreversible Bacchae. Gabrielle is pulled into this and is turned into a temporary Bacchae, which results in her biting Xena( pushing the subtext of them being romantically linked in a very suggestive way). It’s a very intriguing and atmospheric episode with a slinky techno score and a highly kinetic visual style. This involves frantic point of view shots, fast motion followed by slow motion and multitudes of overlapping images. It all culminates in a darkly sexy and tongue in cheek episode to really sink your teeth into.
‘Return of Callisto’ is another highlight as it brings back a fine nemesis. She kills the man who Gabrielle marries, who she could have been happy with. If anything, Callisto does us a favour as it allows us to see that Gabrielle when pushed could have a darker side to her than expected. Although she comes to her senses, it sets up that maybe Gabrielle could be swayed to evil just as Xena is tempted often. Added to this is a brutal chariot race and Callisto seemingly dying by being pulled under by quicksand. Obviously, she isn’t dead and comes back even more vengeful later, setting the stage for much drama. A very meta episode appears in ‘The Xena Scrolls’, which has 1940’s descendants of the main characters searching for the fabled title artefact. It’s hugely entertaining as it has fun the mythology of the show and has the actors portraying varying personas. It’s like an Indiana Jones adventure twinned with cheeky humour for extra, knowing measure.
Of special mention is ‘Destiny’, which stands as one of my favourite episodes so far. In it, Xena’s life hangs in the balance after being injured in battle. As she hovers precariously between life and death, she is reminded of her past and we finally get some answers on what made her who she was. We’ve heard parts about what lead her to be the destroyer of nations, but now we get the full picture. After her home village was butchered by a ruthless warlord, Xena took to fighting. But even though it started good, she grew evil from all the power she had. After becoming a feared warrior, she entered into a relationship with the brash Julius Caesar(a sneering Karl Urban). He accommodated Xena and their collective desires for power grew. But crafty Caesar betrayed and had her crucified, her legs broken and left to die of malnutrition. Luckily Xena was saved and learned her trademark sleeper hold from a woman who sacrificed her life to save the warrior. She continued to be evil until her renouncing into the pillar of good she attempts to be in the present. It’s one excellent episode that has everything you want in Xena; fun, darkness and revealing adventure. Plus it’s fantastic to finally grasp more about Xena herself and what lead her to this moment.
The follow-up in ‘The Quest’ is further goodness featuring Xena’s spirit attempting to get back to the mortal world as it isn’t her time to go. Comedy and drama ensue as she takes control of both Gabrielle and returning Autolycus(returning favourite Bruce Campbell) in order to reclaim her body and stop the power crazed sadism of new Amazon Queen Velasca(a nasty and sexy Melinda Clarke). Subtext here is stronger and the kiss between the girls in ‘The Quest’ is a leading example, along with the aforementioned Bacchae episode. The kiss is in a sort of dreamscape so whether it counts is up for debate, but it’s certainly memorable in how it continues to tease the audience. On the goofy side of things we have ‘A Day in the Life’ which takes the form of an amusing reconstruction of what a day for Xena and Gabrielle consists of. The humour wisely makes fun of some of the show’s staples, like men always falling for Xena upon first meeting her and the banter between both girls. It’s very jaunty and effortlessly engaging in laughing at itself and I loved what it did. Darkness abounds in ‘The Price’ which is unusually stark and ferocious as Xena comes to the aid of a depleted army fighting The Horde. The trouble is Xena gets back in touch with her more disturbing impulses that she has repressed and it spills over into the present. Whenever Xena gets tempted back to the side of evil, it’s always fascinating to watch as she could easily sway back into it or return to good. The main crux of the show is Xena attempting to right her wrongs but also the fact that some darkness may still lie in her soul. All it takes is something to stir it, even though it’s been dormant for a long time.
One can witness things going up for Xena and it becoming the cult show we all know. The producers really went for it on the action and expanding on story, which paid off handsomely. This accounts for the long run of high quality episodes in here, as you’ll see in my rankings. There’s a bit more cohesion here and you generally feel that the Xena hit its stride here. Not that the first season wasn’t a success( it was a resounding one), but Season 2 is the show at its best in terms of what it gets from the past and its elaboration on the building blocks. You can sense that this was the high water mark of the show and while not every episode was a hit( some new additions like Aphrodite don’t work), it was still mightily fun.The general score is a further impressive one that gets to the heart of action and atmosphere, while being a fine way to compliment beautiful scenery. And the action set pieces are upped with fierce style, adding another sheen to a high quality season.
Lucy Lawless once more makes a steely and formidable impression as Xena. Lawless navigates the physicality of the role and the general understanding of wanting to change. She’s tough and spiky, but possesses a genuine heart and growing selflessness. Plus, she’s one hell of a kick ass heroine who continues to evolve with fun, seriousness and attitude. It’s hard to picture someone else playing the role quite as well as Lucy Lawless, who is ace as our Warrior Princess. Renée O’Connor is excellent as an ever-growing Gabrielle. She has ideas of decency that are frequently challenged in a world of war, but sticks to her guns as well as learning s lot along the way. Plus, she’s toughened up a lot but doesn’t scrimp on emotion as it’s one of her defining trademarks. Lawless and O’Connor continue to display the closeness of their friendship in excellent ways, while suggesting that there is more to their bond than meets the eye. Ted Raimi is on goofy form as the returning Joxer, whose completely deluded but strangely lovable. Joxer is a character that divides many, but I like his addition to the show. Hudson Leick rocks it again as Callisto, relishing the despicable, damaged and disturbed nature of the vengeful woman. Her scenes with Xena sizzle with anger and resentment, culminating in some exciting scenes. Kevin Smith is on charismatic, burning form as the returning Ares. He has this wicked grin and appeal to him that are hard to resist and despite the fact we know he’s mainly bad news, Kevin Smith does it in style.
And now to my episode rankings, which are as follows:
- Orphan of War – A
- Remember Nothing – B+
- The Giant Killer – C
- Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – A+
- Return of Callisto – A
- Warrior … Princess … Tramp – B+
- Intimate Stranger – A
- Ten Little Warlords – B+
- A Solstice Carol – D
- The Xena Scrolls – A+
- Here She Comes … Miss Amphipolis – B-
- Destiny – A+
- The Quest – A
- A Necessary Evil – B
- A Day in the Life – A
- For Him The Bell Tolls – C-
- The Execution – C+
- Blind Faith – B+
- Ulysses – B
- The Price – A
- Lost Mariner – C-
- A Comedy of Eros – C
A fine sophomore season with darkness, humour and always supplying action, Season 2 of Xena provides many thrills and fun as it uses the template set up and moulds it into its own creative and divergent thing.