Xena: Warrior Princess 3.21-22 – Sacrifice (parts one and two)

We’ve been navigating around and occasionally dipping into an arc story this year. A demon-god called Dahak gave Gabrielle a magical pregnancy, and she gave birth to a powerful, evil, demigod daughter called Hope, and some ugly stuff happened that we missed, and then Hope is reborn, played by Renee O’Connor in a dual role. She even says “Hello, Mother,” just like Morena Baccarin would keep saying a few years later in the last season of Stargate SG-1. And hey, stay tuned to this blog for more on the subject of babies who grow up into adults in just a few days, because this trope never gets old. Really.

Since this arc has caused nothing but grief and despair and our heroines snapping at each other, I decided we’d power through both parts tonight. Our son hated it completely, mainly because Hudson Leick shows up as Callisto, and he can’t stand her. I thought there were a couple of good moments, but no real surprises. I had trouble swallowing the insane number of Dahak followers who have sprouted from out of nowhere in this region in what seems to have been maybe six or so months, and wonder how the assizes of the ancient world are going to deal with this many freaks needing prison time and/or execution for all the attacks on villages in part two of this story. The real problem is that Ares’s motives are so insanely unclear that he seems to switch sides every time he’s on screen. At one point, he sends a warlord running to build the largest army the world has ever seen to attack Hope and Dahak, and this plot is completely abandoned without comment.

It ends with Hope dead – I think I believe that’ll stick – and Gabrielle dead – pretty sure that won’t – and Callisto dead. I’d have to think about risking any money on that one sticking. The poor kid squirmed through both hours just ready for it to end. I try to judge with an open mind and a kind heart, but really, while the individual hours were mostly made quite well and the comedies featured a few good gags, this season was just too full of angst. I hope that when they get Gabrielle back from the afterlife, season four’s a lot less heavy.

We’ll look at some selections from season four of Xena: Warrior Princess in February. Stay tuned!

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.17 – Forget Me Not

Well, I knew it was a clip show going into this, but it turned out to be a very specific clip show, recapping all the bad memories and unhappiness that Gabrielle racked up between episodes 4 and 16 of this season. We’d watched all but one of the installments this drew from, and didn’t much enjoy going back over them again. The only interesting bit was expanding a scene from part one of “The Debt” to clarify that Xena had not taken the slow boat to China in that story. Gabrielle, broken-hearted from jealousy, actually asked Ares for the favor of speeding her to China ahead of Xena, and she’s been lying to herself and trying to forget it ever since. I thought it was quite neat the way that they extended that scene, but nothing else here was worth rehashing.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.10 – The Quill is Mightier…

Another Lawless-lite comedy episode, this one had us all chuckling quite a lot. Ares manipulates Aphrodite into doing something about Gabrielle and all the mythmaking that she’s doing with Xena, and Aphrodite blesses/curses her by enchanting her new scroll. Anything that the bard writes upon it – or that anybody writes upon it – comes true. But the scroll is incredibly literal, and pretty soon drinks are on the house and it starts raining money over a town, and both gods lose their powers and really come to regret this intrusion. And Gabrielle has three doubles as well now, only they don’t wear any clothes and go-go dance.

Well, the grown-ups chuckled and enjoyed a couple of good belly laughs, but the kid lost his mind roaring. When Xena finally shows up for the climax, Gabrielle having sent her away for a remarkably successful fishing trip, I thought the kid was going to pass out. The onlookers’ grumbling about whether Xena is using a squid or an octopus as a bolas is easy to miss under the weight of all the rest of the gags, but I’m glad that I caught it.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.4 – The Deliverer

It would be overstating things somewhat to call this great television, but it has several moments. I picked this one because it’s got both Ares and Julius Caesar in it – this is Karl Urban’s second turn as his other recurring character in the show – and then got a little discouraged because it turned into another story of Gabrielle about to get her heart broken by another cute boy, this one a follower of one of those new-fangled “one God” sorts, and ended up very impressed by the number of tricks it pulls. There are some downright delicious twists in this one, not the least of which is Gabrielle straight up killing somebody to defend the cute boy.

Ares pulls Xena aside for another one of his parlays, which is a bit selfish of him because Xena’s supposed to be working with Boadicea to march against every one of Caesar’s legions in Britain. Xena reads between the lines and figures Ares and the rest of the Olympians are really frightened of the new “one God,” because he’s going to do to them what they did to the Titans. Marie’s about tired of Ares and wishes this show would consign him to history as well. I’m afraid we’re nowhere near done with him yet.

But speaking of recurring characters, the really strange thing is that Boadicea doesn’t become one. The actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand looks totally like she’s being set up as a player in a multi-part arc, but Boadicea’s rout of Caesar’s forces takes place offscreen while Xena and Gabrielle have to deal with other matters. It’s weird storytelling, but I appreciate the show pulling the rug out from under me.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.1 – The Furies

And now back to 1997 and another “greatest hits” season of Xena. I picked 15 episodes from this run, with what looks like a good mix of recurring players and two-parters. The season started off with a mostly kid-pleasing installment with plenty of slapstick fighting. This time out, Xena’s old enemy Ares alerts the Furies that there’s an unpunished crime that warrants their attention. Xena has never avenged the murder of her father; the killer was never brought to justice.

The Furies agree that she deserves persecution and madness, and, in a massive shift of tone from what sounds like something dark and serious, Xena is fighting with slaps and spanks instead of swords and making comedy gibbledy-noises and doing everything short of saying “nyuk, nyuk” as she pokes people in the eyes instead of brawling properly. So of course, the kid thought this was ridiculous and wonderful, and the climactic wire-fu scrap completely thrilled him.

However, the kid really doesn’t like embarrassment onscreen, a trait he’s inherited from his mom. Early in the story, Xena beds down, wakes up in the middle of the night with the madness clouding her judgement again, strips naked, finds a village and threatens to burn the helpless people. Gabrielle shows up in the nick of time to talk her down, and even though the scene is shot with afternoon TV-safe nudity, all silhouettes and shadows and camera angles obscuring everything, our son still felt so awkward that he shielded his eyes.

There did seem to be a bit more skin onscreen than usual, though. The Furies dress and dance like they’re performing with Prince during his New Power Generation period.


Xena: Warrior Princess 2.7 – Intimate Stranger / 2.8 – Ten Little Warlords

Well, I thought that was cute. Xena followed up the “identical doubles” story with another classic, the bodyswap episode. But they kept it going for an additional week, I guess to give Lucy Lawless a vacation. And just to keep things fun, they also gave Kevin Smith a new role, kind of. Ares manages to lose his seat in Mount Olympus in between installments, so the villain gets to see what it’s like to have a hangover and feel pain.

“Intimate Stranger” is the better of the two, because it’s such fun to see Lawless and Hudson Leick play each other’s parts. They each do a simply fabulous job, though clearly Lawless gets to have more fun because she gets to be really rotten for a change. That’s part of why Ares and Callisto’s teamup feels like it came straight from Batman, since the actors playing the bad guys look like they’re having way more fun than our square and conflicted do-gooders.

It ends with Callisto stuck in the Underworld again, but somehow Xena returns to the land of the living in Callisto’s body. This left our son looking for logic, because it didn’t make sense to him. Ehhh, Greek gods, magic, just go with it, we said.

And so with a name like “Ten Little Warlords,” it won’t surprise you to learn, we get the Agatha Christie plot. It’s unclear how much time has passed on Earth, but there’s been chaos among the gods and with all his wheeling and dealing in the Underworld of Tartarus, Ares lost his sword to Sisyphus, rendering him human. Sisyphus has put together a competition on a remote island allegedly to find the warlord most worthy of becoming the new god of war. Xena and Ares strike up a truce, but he’s not as handy in a fight as he thinks, and eight ruffians, who think that she is Callisto, want them dead.

I thought this was a very fun pair of episodes, but my son was relieved when Ares restores Xena’s body in the end. The kid said he was about ready to suggest that Xena dye her Callisto-colored hair and start over in a new Xena costume. And why not? “Warrior… Princess… Tramp” showed that somebody out there is making custom Xena suits, even if they build the round killing thing from wood instead of indestructible magic steel!

Xena: Warrior Princess 1.20 – Ties That Bind

I thought there were a couple of interesting things somewhere in this very predictable episode. Seriously, when you bring back the very manipulative Ares and simultaneously introduce a character who’s very passive-aggressive in his own manipulations, the only people who are going to be fooled that this isn’t Ares in a supernatural disguise are the under-nines in the audience. And while I do like the way that Ares can count on Xena’s unresolved daddy issues to make her lose her temper, I didn’t like the way that she went directly from the angry but careful tactician of every previous adventure we’ve watched into an uncontrollable battlefield lunatic. I didn’t buy it. The kid found it pretty boring as well despite lots of fighting. Maybe it would have been better if we hadn’t known from the very beginning that Ares was up to something?

I’ve not commented on any of what the fans call the subtext of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship, because as far as I have approached this show, Xena and Gabrielle are simply a couple who occasionally have wandering eyes for cute boys and the camera’s just never on them when they’re holding hands. I don’t need to spotlight lines that read as “They’re gay” when I know perfectly well that they’re gay. That said, however, I can appreciate the fannish desire for evidence of this POV, and the story ends with Xena telling Gabrielle with bedroom eyes “Our friendship binds us closer than blood ever could.”

This episode is about a quarter century old and yet I still heard a cobweb-covered Usenet group spark back into life with the posts of thousands of fanfic writers squeeing with delight and punching the air over that sentence.

Xena: Warrior Princess 1.6 – The Reckoning

I picked tonight’s episode of Xena because it’s the first to feature Kevin Smith – not the American director, but the actor from New Zealand – as Ares, god of war. I believe that Ares makes the most appearances among Xena’s recurring players. He’s a silky, sly adversary and I did enjoy the fun of realizing – maybe about five seconds ahead of the story – how Xena was going to get out of the frame-up he’d created for her. The story was written by Peter Allen Fields, one of two that the veteran writer contributed to the show. Our kid enjoyed it very much, and really loved Ares getting his comeuppance.

The only thing I didn’t really like was Xena passively accepting her arrest and acting like she’s had this coming for years. That’s as maybe; it isn’t justice that’s going to be served if you want to die for crimes of the past that have nothing to do with the trial in the present. Gabrielle makes a pretty shrewd advocate on Xena’s behalf; it’s just a little unfair when your opposition has supernatural powers and can magically dispose of evidence. Ares is a fine villain and I look forward to seeing him again in a few weeks.