I’ve always said that the only fair way to judge a program is to ask whether they did the best they could with what they had to work with. And “Hooves & Harlots” clearly doesn’t have anywhere near the resources that the script demands – about seventeen times as many extras would have been nice, for starters – but it does a simply splendid job with the cast that it can afford to assemble. It also demands that Lucy Lawless become proficient with yet another weapon and fighting technique. Her training regimen must have been beyond exhausting.
The story isn’t anything unusual. This is the second time in ten episodes that we’ve seen a third party try to start a war between two already tense armies. But there’s an interesting hitch this time because the groups this time include a nation of Centaurs, with whom Xena’s old army once battled to a stalemate, and a nation of Amazons. Xena goes off to investigate a murder that’s going to set the two at war, not knowing that Gabrielle is keeping quiet about something really important: before dying, the targeted Amazon made the selfless Gabrielle her heir. When Xena and her new pal Ephiny get back the next day with the evidence they need, Gabrielle sheepishly admits that she is an Amazon princess now. Xena, who really didn’t need any more headaches, quietly growls “Great,” and I about died from laughing.
Overall, it’s a very entertaining story with some extremely good fight scenes. I really enjoyed Gabrielle’s interactions with the Amazons and the way that they balanced the silly comedy of her situation with her desire to do right by the dead girl. It helps that the Amazons have a couple of great characters among their number. Ephiny, played by Danielle Cormack, is portrayed as Xena’s equal, both physically and intellectually. She appears another nine times in this and Hercules. Oddly, Alison Bruce’s character, the Amazon’s queen Melosa, doesn’t appear again, although Bruce does show up as several different characters in this and Hercules.