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Picking up from Season 3( which was a personal favourite of mine), Season 4 of Xena is an excellent follow up that’s pretty eventful and continues to be an action-packed spectacle. Though not as consistent as the past season, you can’t fault Season 4 for what it delivers. Be aware, spoilers will follow in this overview of Season 4.

We pick up where with Gabrielle( Renée O’Connor) sacrificing herself and her diabolical daughter Hope. Presumed dead, Xena(Lucy Lawless) goes in search for her, hunting high and low along with across earthly and spiritual plains. Discovering that Gabrielle is in fact alive, Xena is also shown a potentially dark future for both woman that results in their crucifixion at the hands of the Roman. After finally destroying Hope’s child The Destroyer , things look like they might just get back to some form of normality for both women. Though as the audience, we just know things are never going to be calm for long. In the meantime, all assortment of evil visits Xena’s door and she and Gabrielle will face off against it. Integral is a level of spiritual examination as the two venture to India and begin to reflect as well as open up. At the back of their minds is that vision of the future and figuring out just when it is going to happen along with how they could possibly prevent it. Let’s just say, things get pretty eventful from here on out.

Xena: Season 4 carries on with some of the darkness of Season 3( which was the darkest thus far and all the better for it), but sprinkles in a tad more humour to this series as some of the heavy burdens of last season have been lifted on the characters but others may lay ahead. That’s a big plus of this show; it’s willingness to be both fun and goofy and then crank things up occasionally to make it emotional and shocking. It’s a tool that’s served Xena well. And here, the darkness and serious nature of the things is very much high on the agenda, with levity in outrageous episodes provided to keep fans enjoying it. Sometimes the dichotomy doesn’t work and consistency can be lacking, but the vast majority of this show is exceptionally entertaining that a few flaws along the way. A sense of mystery and suspense does find its way in there, especially with regards to the death prophecy that we are left to ponder. Season 4 isn’t quite at the same high level of Season 3 as the overall main arc in the last season was more focused, but it’s pretty close to it in terms of creativity and fun, especially in the home stretch.

Standout episodes begin with the two parts of ‘Adventures in the Sin Trade’. A distraught Xena searches for Gabrielle, fearing she has died and either gone to the Elysian Fields or Tartarus. Remembering that Gabrielle belonged to the Amazon’s, she enlists her many skills to journey to their Land of the Dead. Along the way, we are gifted with flashbacks to the people Xena encounters and her past misdeeds being brought out in the open. In the past, Xena and Borias were ruthless criminals and came across Alti, a powerful shameness with a cunning evil in her heart. It was her who showed Xena the ability to go into another plain, but she also plotted and poisoned her with malice. A frenetic camera lends itself to contributing a mystical quality to the show as Xena is faced with the past once more and events blend strikingly with dizzying angles, unusual symbolism and hypnotic ambience. Overall, both parts are visually out of this world and it’s wonderful to see more of the world in the show, especially when it comes to the different factions of Amazon’s. We get more backstory, which is always a plus as we get to glimpse the old Xena who was ruthless and also seeing her dressed in unusual Amazon attire. Plus the evil Alti( Who makes for a powerful adversary) provides a glimpse of the future to Xena, that lays the groundwork for darkness ahead. Overall, the two parts show just how dedicated Xena is to both her best friend and to purging herself from the evil of her past. Following is “A Family Affair’ where Xena discovers that Gabrielle is still alive and living in her childhood village. But all isn’t as it seems for Xena and a returning Joxer unearth that Gabrielle survived and is back in her homeland. But although overjoyed to see Gabrielle, something sinister is afoot. For the version of Gabrielle Xena sees is in fact the evil offspring Hope who is eerily identical in appearance to her good mother. Her son, The Destroyer is picking off unsuspecting people at the behest of its mother. Importantly, the real Gabrielle returns for good which is fantastic, though we aren’t sure it is her at first because of Hope impersonating her. I liked this aspect as we are kept on edge watching for little tip offs as to who is the real Gabrielle. Suspense is bolstered as are many scenes with The Destroyer lurking are used and crank up one eerie aura. And with it seems to wrap up the whole story of Gabrielle and her bond to Dahak and Hope. I think it was the right time to wrap that part of the story up and concentrate on future things. We have the pretty intense hour called ‘Locked Up and Tied Down’. The running theme of Xena’s past still haunting her is the main thread throughout the show and is a fine example of it. Xena finds herself imprisoned in a remote jail where cruelty rules as punishment for ‘murdering’ a virtuous woman. The episode has some horror movie style elements like the torture inflicted on Xena in a pit infested with rats in retaliation for similar treatment of another. It asks some very pertinent questions about whether vengeance is a hollow pursuit or justifiable. Once more Xena is forced to relive the pain she inflicted on others and Gabrielle has to contend with her friend’s dark side. It’s a recurring theme but one that is the very essence of the show and when explored this well, brings depth to the overall narrative again.

The season really hits its zenith with the spiritual episodes that coincide with Xena and Gabrielle visiting India. “Devi” starts it off as the two aid a seemingly powerless fake magician named Eli, who is actually more in power than he thinks. As a result of an exorcism, he inadvertently transfers an evil spirit from his partner into someone else. That someone happens to be Gabrielle. As Gabrielle ends up possessed by a malevolent spirit,  it’s quite a thrill seeing a vicious and Gabrielle than we’ve ever seen before. Granted she is possessed, but it’s fun nonetheless and the episode really runs with it as the bewitched Gabrielle flaunts herself, hoodwinks everyone and brawls with an angry Xena. It also boasts important questions on just how trusting people can be when it comes to believing in miracles and the often dubious nature that hides behind the front. Between the Lines’ contains time travel and the involving concept of Karma and reincarnation. After being sent to the future via a powerful young woman and placed in the bodies of their reincarnated selves, Xena and Gabrielle face off against the wicked Alti, who’s been reincarnated once more and is attempting to spread her evil throughout the world. It’s good to see Alti back as she’s a formidable opponent for Xena and Claire Stansfield plays her to the hilt. This episode is the filling in an excellent sandwich of episodes, which includes Gabrielle getting a new short haircut that makes her look more grown up and signifies her stepping up. The main point of interest comes in ‘The Way’ . Some took issue at the time with how the show used the Hindu religion and felt it was disrespectful, but I don’t think it was intentional. It takes things from the religion and adds fiction, but I’m no expert so can’t judge whether it’s blasphemous or not. Regardless of the controversy, is a compelling episode where Xena opens her mind in order to save Gabrielle and a returning Eli is aided by the God Krishna. Fighting against an evil demon named Indrajit, she transforms into Kali; multi-armed goddess of death and it’s a sight to behold. ‘The Way’ also probes the idea of non violence as promoted by Eli and how Gabrielle struggles to discover her right path. Ultimately, her and Xena’s ideals are different but their friendship is the ultimate bridge that joins them. For me it’s one of the most compelling episodes due to both the action and themes, plus the big developments of our central characters. Episodes like these three really hit philosophical heights while also being darn entertaining in the process with a neat helping of character developments and prompting questions.

Great comedy comes in the shape of “Takes One to Know One’ which resembles an Agatha Christie mystery just set in Ancient Greece and its rollicking entertainment. Capping off the end of the season(penultimately but it still feels like a finale) is the epic ‘The Ides of March’. Everything has been building to this as Caesar comes into view and an old enemy in the form of Callisto(Hudson Leick) taunts Xena after striking a bargain to get out of hell. The whole episode of power play is very cinematic in execution and as everything slots in, it really takes hold. Xena and Gabrielle are both crucified before Xena can kill Caesar , but he is savagely murdered by senate members tired of his actions. Although we’ve seen flashes of this fate, the crucifixion still has a huge impact emotionally. With Caesar also biting the dust  it balances out quite well, especially as the spirits of Xena and Gabrielle rise from their bodies giving us hope of a way they can come back. A very powerful episode indeed and make no mistake.

On the visual front, Xena excels with its gorgeous locations, individual uniqueness and music. New Zealand still provides yet more gorgeous terrain for our heroine and sidekick to traverse and is given added exoticism when the story moves to India, which is really still New Zealand but wonderfully crafted to be convincing as another country. Music has always been a key ingredient to Xena and it’s doesn’t slack here as adventure is the watchword for the day. Blending exoticism and emotion with an action packed pulse, it’s gorgeously intoxicating for all. I’m a sucker for interesting visuals, symbolism and music so I naturally will praise it as it really deserves it to.

Lucy Lawless is superb as the fighting Xena whose is a figure you wouldn’t want to tangle with. Lawless projects strength, lethal charisma and underlying emotional core as she goes on in her atoning journey. Lawless is simply the only actress who can do the character of Xena justice with her combo of tough steel and inner turmoil, harnessed into a sexy package that’s as fun as it is convincing. Renée O’Connor  again impressive as Gabrielle. Too often the character is written off as being a do-gooder and too much of a damsel and while some areas of her are, most of the time she is shown to grow in terms of personality( which some overlook). A lot of that is down to O’Connor , who plays Gabrielle as being fierce when she needs to be and compassionate in various ways . Gabrielle can be infuriating with her at intervals but it makes her human as she is the representation of trying to do the right thing. She’s definitely changed since the first time we saw her, her naivety has softened, her confident sex appeal increased and her backbone has formed gradually. Ted Raimi expands on Joxer, still retaining the core of the comedy but also getting the opportunity to flesh him out more and unearth more to him. Hudson Leick and Alexandra Tydings make the most of their guest appearances as respectively, the wicked Callisto and the immature, Valley Girl goddess Aphrodite.  The only niggle I had with the cast is that Kevin Smith barely featured this time around as Ares.

Episode rankings:

  1. Adventures in the Sin Trade – A
  2. Adventures in the Sin Trade – A
  3. A Family Affair -A+
  4. In Sickness and in Hell – C-
  5. A Good Day – B+
  6. A Tale of Two Muses – B
  7. Locked Up and Tied Down – A
  8. Crusader – C
  9. Past Imperfect – B+
  10. The Key to the Kingdom – D-
  11. Daughter of Pomira – D
  12. If the Shoe Fits – B
  13. Paradise Found – B+
  14. Devi – A
  15. Between the Lines – A
  16. The Way – A+
  17. The Play’s the Thing – B-
  18. The Convert – B+
  19. Takes One to Know One – A
  20. Endgame – B
  21. The Ides of March – A+
  22. Deja Vu All Over Again – C

Occasionally not as focused as before, the darkness, humour and characters that Xena is well known help to make it another fine season of fantasy.