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We are now up to the third season of Xena, which follows both a succesful Season 1 and a fine sophomore entry. Season 3 is where Xena: Warrior Princess goes in a more daring and adult direction, and I for one am thrilled. Real emotion and gruelling darkness follow, making it more mature than some may think the show is capable of. It’s standing as my favourite season so far for its impact and way it progresses the show. Be warned, spoilers may follow in my overview.

The legendary Xena( Lucy Lawless) is once more travelling around Ancient Greece and beyond with her trusted best friend Gabrielle(Renée O’Connor). Fighting for the side of good against the evils that stand in the way, the duo are a force to be reckoned with. Only this time, things will turn very personal and threaten to tear apart the bonds of friendship between them. It begins when they arrive in Britannia where Xena wants to have it out with her old nemesis Caesar. Gabrielle is entranced by someone claiming to be a holy man, but it turns out to be something darker. After a fiery encounter with the followers of the dark lord Dahak and the fact that she loses her blood innocence, Gabrielle is impregnated with the child of darkness. Soon after giving birth, all hell breaks loose and the strong bond that Xena and Gabrielle possess reaches breaking point. You genuinely worry about the outcome of all this darkness for the two of them. Though events bring them back together and approaching some reconciliation, just how much longer can their friendship really stand on solid ground after all they’ve been through? With characters returning and more emotional and disturbing stories, Season 3 is a journey into thrills and drama.

As I stated earlier, Season 3 is my favourite season of Xena: Warrior Princess so far. I think everything comes together very neatly and it’s why there is such a high percentage of episodes rated A or A+ below. You can tell that the creators where going for something different but still with that zing that made the show so popular. They weren’t afraid to do different things with the show and incorporate genuine feeling into the mix either. On the visual side, the scenery and camerawork continue to impress with their scope. And once more, the music has a certain epic charm ripe for this kind of adventure. It’s a mightily impressive season of a show that just keeps growing.

Anyway, onto my appraisals of standout episodes. ‘The Furies’ mixes humour and darkness well. A conniving Ares( Kevin Smith of the smooth voice and deadly charm offensive) has The Furies put a curse on Xena for not avenging the murder of her father, which opens up a massive can of worms. In the beginning, the madness Xena suffers is mainly unusual but with a funny twist( like Xena repeatedly referring to Gabrielle as Mavis). But as it continues, harshness and shock set in as she spins further towards losing control, while strangely being not altogether incoherent. It’s an interesting opener that’s for sure and displays two of the show’s finest assets; it’s off the wall goofiness and underlying seriousness. ‘Been There, Done That’ is another exemplary chapter which features the day repeating itself and Xena attempting to figure out how to break the cycle. Once more, humour and eventfulness go hand in hand as two feuding families seem to hold the key to unlocking how to stop Groundhog Day. Speaking of which, this episode is clearly another version of that story of a day on a loop and it has a lot of fun with it. Watching Xena get more frustrated with the repeating events is hilarious as are the various ways she attempts to stop the loop continuing. Really a very funny episode and hugely entertaining. Despite being the darkest season thus far, Season 3 of Xena: Warrior Princess has its share of good comedy too, exemplified by the early entries. And of mention is ‘The Quill is Mightier’. The spiteful and impudent Aphrodite( who has grown on me since her last appearance as Alexandra Tydings is stepping it up) enchants Gabrielle’s scrolls as payback for making Xena more popular than her. In turn, things that Gabrielle writes become true, but chaos ensues as it gets overly literal. Ares makes another appearance, entertainingly squabbling with Aphrodite as they are both accidentally made mortal. And for an episode that doesn’t have Xena in it a lot, “The Quill is Mightier “shows that Gabrielle can be just as interesting as the hero she rides with.

‘The Deliverer’ is when the show starts what is known to fans as the beginning of The Rift. Xena has been a show that has dabbled in darkness before, but here in Season 3, it’s the darkest it’s ever been and all the more fascinating for it. Starting with’ The Deliverer’, where Xena and Gabrielle head to Britannia to help Boadicea battle Xena’s old nemesis, Julius Caesar. Conflict becomes a big theme and not just the physical kind. We have Xena having to reconnect with who she betrayed in the past and Gabrielle becoming closer to a priest she helped save. It’s more what happens to Gabrielle that’s most important here. The priest speaks of the One God and how he will change the world, to which Gabrielle becomes fascinated. But it’s all a ruse that causes her to unintentionally lose her blood innocence after killing another, which in turn frees a dark God known as Dahak. Gabrielle has always been the person against killing so for this to come along and shatter it, it’s pretty momentous and tragic. You can feel the pain of her suffering, which is further cemented by her being levitated above flames( this will have a big impact later). Let’s say it packs an emotional wallop and further kicks off this dark story arc. The follow up in ‘Gabrielle’s Hope’ is just as effective. In it, we discover Gabrielle is pregnant by Dahak and gives birth in a matter of days to a baby girl, prophesied to be the bringer of darkness. Gabrielle believes that the baby( which she names Hope) will be good due to her own , but Xena is severely sceptical . Xena is proved right when the baby kills within hours of birth and attempts to kill the baby. Gabrielle won’t let this happen and runs, hiding the baby in a basket she sends down the river. She then lies to Xena by telling her that she had to kill Hope because she turned on her. It once more functions as something to divide the close friends and put a strain on their relationship. Again, the darkness is at the forefront in a way that is unlike most of Xena, but a very welcome one for me. Plus, The Rift is coming out in major full force, building slowly to something dark. A two parter entitled ‘The Debt’ is Xena at its most lavish and ambitious, once more weaving together timelines. We discover more about a woman who shaped Xena and The Debt she has to pay to the now deceased mentor. We travel to ancient Chin where Xena is saved from betrayal by Lao Ma, a wise woman who sees the good in her despite her sins. instructs Xena in the ways of love and forgiveness, while caring for the warrior woman and helping her to fight when needed. Back in the present, Xena is charged with killing the evil son of Lao Ma, but Gabrielle tries to stop her thinking she is doing  good and not letting Xena go back to her murderous wats. Ultimately, Gabrielle betrays Xena by informing those closest to the man she is about to kill what Xena is planning. The sting of betrayal further exemplifies the growing rift between them that is briefly healed, but you just know will return to bite soon in some way. I’m a sucker for episodes that go into Xena’s past and shows us how she was shaped into what she is in the present.  Overall it’s a gorgeously shot and exciting double header that digs into the past and has some of the most gorgeous imagery so far in the show.

Now it comes to two of the best episodes. In ‘Maternal Instincts’, Hope returns now with the appearance of an innocent girl. She brings back the terrifying and psychopathic Callisto( a memorable Hudson Leick), who persuades her to hurt Xena. Meanwhile, Xena and Gabrielle head to the Centaurs for a peace treaty and to see Xena’s son, Solan( who still isn’t aware of who his mother is). But this reunion is cut short, when Solan is killed by Hope and when Gabrielle realises this, she poisons her offspring which devastates her. Xena’s scream while cradling her son’s dead body is gut-wrenching as is the later funeral for both children which is the major part of the rift as the wedge is driven to near irrevocable between the two. Watching as they walk off in separate directions after this is tragic as their friendship is being nearly obliterated. It’s a highly emotional hour of television. Then of course we have the fantastic musical episode entitled ‘The Bitter Suite’ . After a vengeful Xena attempts to kill Gabrielle and the two take a tumble into the sea, they are transported to a strange world called Illusia. Here, musical numbers reveal their grievances and what feelings of hatred they aren’t dealing with. The musical sequences are excellently astute at bringing humour and dark atmosphere to the events playing out, plus it looks like the producers really went for it on the visual and sound front. From the off kilter feeling of Illusia, through a tango with Ares and ultimately a reconciliation between the girls, it’s an unforgettable episode. And the biggest message of the importance of friendship helps save the day as our heroines find some way to resolve the friendship that they once had. Thankfully, it looks as if the wounds are healing but it’ll be interesting to see if they ever truly get past this dark chapter( my bet and hope is that it does as I love their relationship and think it’s enduring). These two are some of the finest episodes so far in Xena and rightfully hold a high place in the hearts of fans and me. They challenge us as viewers as we watch a friendship nearly go up in smoke, but gradually get back on track for us all to rejoice in. And as if by magic, the following episode ‘One Against An Army’ cements just how much they care for each other by putting them in a major life or death situation as an army invades as Gabrielle lies injured. I think it’s here to reassure us of the close bond that was shattered but was never truly severed. It’s another poignant episode that grows in dramatic quality thanks to the acting. Also of note is the dark but rewarding ‘Forget Me Not’ where Gabrielle finally reconciled with feelings of guilt by going on a sinister trip down memory lane, guided by a prowling Ares. She can decide whether to live with her memories or erase them. Ultimately she decides to reconcile and this is the end to The Rift. And the two part finale is excellent and very surprising, but I’ll leave it to you to see what I mean.

In terms of acting, Season 3 is a high point, especially when it comes to Lucy Lawless and. Lawless excellently conveys both a fighter and someone who is all too human in Xena. The blend of toughness and vulnerability, coupled with undeniable sexual appeal and athletic swagger, is a match made in television heaven that keeps getting better. Gabrielle is put through the mill of emotions and trauma this seas. Renée O’Connor depicts how Gabrielle really starts to wise up more and develop a more harder edge to her personality. Her compassion is still there it’s just counteracted with a sense of weariness from all that has happened to her. Lawless and O’Connor still share a fine chemistry that charts the resentment and resolution of their clash excellently and believably as nothing can tear them apart. Once more, Kevin Smith is superb as the shifting Ares; who like a fox switches sides when he feels like it but does it with style. In the villain stakes as well is Hudson Leick as the oddly tragic but seriously twisted Callisto, who finally gets the release she’s craved since she began her path of vengeance. There’s a real presence whenever these two take to the screen. And with added comic relief coming from Joxer( played by one Ted Raimi, things only get better as throughout the season. Plus, the welcome appearance of Bruce Campbell is a bonus in many ways and I very much enjoy when he returns to Xena as the King of Thieves, Autolycus.

And now on to my episode ratings:

  1. The Furies – A
  2. Been There, Done That – A+
  3. The Dirty Half Dozen – B-
  4. The Deliverer – A+
  5. Gabrielle’s Hope – A
  6. The Debt Part 1 – A
  7. The Debt Part 2 – A
  8. The King of Assassins – C
  9. Warrior … Priestess … Tramp – B
  10. The Quill is Mightier – A
  11. Maternal Instincts – A+
  12. The Bitter Suite – A+
  13. One Against an Army – A
  14. Forgiven – C
  15. King Con – B
  16. When in Rome – C+
  17. Forget Me Not – A
  18. Fins, Femmes and Gems – B+
  19. Tsunami – C+
  20. Vanishing Act – A
  21. Sacrifice Part 1 – A+
  22. Sacrifice Part 2 – A+

My favourite Season so far, Season 3 of Xena has all you’d want from the show and more. Trust me, this is the show at its apex with everything operating at a high level.