‘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.
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.
I thought it was about time I got back into my X-Files reviews again after a hiatus. So here is my review of last season of the original run. At this point in the show, it was running out of steam and becoming a bit stale. Season 8 was redeemed by an emotional finale, but I could sense that the show was running a bit low. With Season 9, there are obvious flaws here, but it still has moments that shine. Spoilers will be following in this review so be warned.
Mulder(David Duchovny) has gone into hiding after bring tipped off by Kirsch about the fact that he’s in danger. Meanwhile, Scully(Gillian Anderson) is taking care of her son William and is on maternity leave for the beginning of the season feeling she must protect her son from the possible dangers her work poses, before coming back slowly to work. Determined Doggett(Robert Patrick) is investigating Kirsch as he believes he has links to the conspiracy of creating super soldiers that has been referenced by many for a while. It turns out that Kirsch actually despite his own terse and shifty persona has been helping all the agents present even though those above him have been manipulating him. Doggett and good friend Monica Reyes(Annabeth Gish) continue investigating the X-Files and experience more strange cases, later being joined by Scully and often Skinner(Mitch Pileggi). There is also another new Assistant Director, Brad Follmer(Cary Elwes), who has history with Reyes and is something of an ambivalent character who you’re never quite sure what to make of. More evidence is discovered of the covert experiments to create indestructible beings within the darkness of the government. Scully’s baby begins exhibiting signs of powers far beyond logical explanation, that leads all the agents down into the conspiracy and how it holds links to baby William and the dangers that are posed to him. The main danger begins with a UFO cult who believe that William will lead the Super Soldiers and resort to kidnapping the child. Thankfully, Scully and Reyes manage to rescue him, but the experience leaves Scully having to make an important and painful decision.When Mulder comes out of hiding, more danger is sure to follow. So what will become of everyone in the story?
By this point in the scope of The X-Files, I believe it was obvious to many that the show had run its course. The absence of Mulder poses one of the biggest problems in Season 9. Season 8 can be forgiven because Mulder reappeared again in the middle and remained, but here his presence is limited greatly bringing incoherence and inconsistency to the mix. A lot of it has that disjointed feeling again that continues. Some Monster of the Week installments are good, but then there are those that start to feel dated and stale later. The various story lines vary in quality, with some very good and some sinking ships. The William story line was one of the better stories as it had some genuine emotion present. Plus, it led to some of the best episodes of this up and down season so it’s something to be grateful for. The Super Soldiers part of the story is good enough, but it never quite makes an indelible work where it really should have.
Despite mounting weaknesses and diminishing results, some shining moments of note can at least be gleaned. The two-part season opener has an excellent air of mystery and intrigue to it, that starts what becomes a very flawed season off very well. ‘Trust No 1’ in which a mysterious man who is in fact a Super Soldier plays on Scully desire to see Mulder in order to draw him out of hiding again is a nail-biting episode. This is an episode that really plays upon the fear of being observed without knowing it through black and white integration of camera footage prowling around the characters. It has a real flavour of The X-Files of old. Emotions run high in both ‘Provenance’ and ‘Providence’ as William is kidnapped and Scully is prepared to do whatever it takes to get her son back from the hands of the cult. It showcases Scully as a fierce matriarch going the distance and fighting with all she’s got to save her son. A comical highlight has to be ‘Improbable’ which guest stars Burt Reynolds as a most mysterious man whose card playing and numerology somehow chimes in with cases of murder revolving around the number three(luck, chance and fate play a large part too). Some of the situations in the episode are hilariously done with Reyes and Scully both having to play checkers with him before discovering something important. Reynolds has a blast in his part and steals the episode away from everyone with his amusing yet mysterious personality. ‘William’ provides sadness as Scully has to decide to give her son up for adoption as the powers of evil will never stop searching for him as long as he is with her. And I have to talk about the final two episodes ‘The Truth’ in which Mulder surfaces again after being accused of killing a military man, who was in fact a Super Soldier. A trial ensues with Skinner representing Mulder and a whole array of characters past and present being seen in various forms. An exciting getaway for Mulder and Scully is helped by those closest, where they must now ponder a unnerving future. The use of flashbacks and past characters is a good touch to have as well as Mulder’s return. Yet while the finale answers some burning questions, it gives even more of them more convolution. I just really wanted a bit more closure than anything in the finale, but as it was, the finale was pretty good albeit ambiguous.
Season 9 may be something of a nadir, but at least there is excellent acting to be found. Gillian Anderson once more provides the show’s emotional anchor as Scully and is as adept as ever portraying her as a maternal figure of determination. By this point, Anderson has fully embodied the character to such a degree that we believe every move she makes because we’ve been along on the same journey as she has over the course of nine seasons. David Duchovny is shortchanged this time around as Mulder, as he appears only twice and it is the finale. He’s still exemplary as Mulder, no one else could have played the character, but I just wanted more of him this season considering it was to tie up loose ends. Robert Patrick impresses as Doggett, whose skepticism brings out the stern yet sarcastic side to his character, even as he begins to come around to the idea of the paranormal. Doggett is a very by the book guy and Patrick captures this excellently, while revealing a vulnerability beneath his tough guy image. Partnering him is Annabeth Gish, who comes into her own as Reyes. Balancing logic with a curiosity towards things that defy natural laws, Gish plays Reyes as a determined yet caring agent. Doggett and Reyes are no Mulder and Scully, but then again I don’t believe there were meant to be. Mitch Pileggi is resolute as always playing Skinner, who finally added to the main cast. I liked seeing this touch as Skinner has proved a very good and purposeful ally to the show and the characters. Cary Elwes is a shifty presence as Follmer, whose loyalties are very much called into question during his time on the show. An underused Lucy Lawless manages to be intriguing and alluring as a renegade super soldier who passes on information to Doggett. The problem is I would have liked to have seen more of her character than what the show had.
- Nothing Important Happened Today – B
- Nothing Important Happened Today II – B+
- Dæmonicus – C-
- 4-D – D
- Lord of the Flies – C-
- Trust No 1 – A+
- John Doe – B+
- Hellbound – B
- Provenance – A
- Providence – A
- Audrey Pauley – D
- Underneath – C-
- Improbable – A
- Scary Monsters – C-
- Jump the Shark – C
- William – B+
- Release – C-
- Sunshine Days – D-
- The Truth Part 1 – B+
- The Truth Part 2 – B+
So the original run of The X-Files is a definite mixed bag, that sometimes over complicates itself. Still, there is some respite to be found, even though the show could have ended on a somewhat better note.
Though I must say I’ve enjoyed delving into the show and going to the beginning to full experience it after hearing so much about the show. I have found the show to be excellent and can see why it is so iconic, even if the quality slowly ebbs away as it goes on. And fear not, I will continue charting my X-Files watching with a review of the second movie and the six-part series from earlier this year.