Welcome to another Xena Thursday! We’re continuing with my 60 favorite episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess. I’ve been a fan of this series since I was about three years old and believe me–this list was tough to make! If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it was a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and aired in first-run syndication from 1995 to 2001. Taking place primarily in Ancient Greece, the show focused on Xena (Lucy Lawless), a reformed warlord seeking redemption for her evil past by helping others. She traveled with her best friend, Gabrielle (Renée O’Connor), an aspiring bard and the chronicler of Xena’s adventures.
I have chosen the best 60 of the 134 produced episodes. Of course, these are all subjective. For those who are familiar with the series, I hope my points-of-view will prove fascinating and perhaps inspire you to reexamine your favorite, or perhaps least favorite, episodes. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, this list might spark your interest and give you some places to start. Because the series did so many different things over the 134 episodes, Xena is the type of show that requires multiple viewings to be properly assessed. Though we are starting at the end of the list, the ranking is subjective. If a particular story strikes your fancy, I encourage you to give it a try! In fact, contact me and I will be able to hook you up.
With all that said, let us resume with episodes 41-45 on the list.
41. Season 2, Episode 6: “Warrior… Princess… Tramp” (Aired: 11/04/96 | Filmed: 04/15 – 04/24/96)
The Warrior Princess tries to protect a look-alike friend, Princess Diana, from the machinations of yet another Xena look-alike, a trollop named Meg.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0205
This is the series’s first outright comedic episode and it’s a delight! Filled with classic moments, this was the first produced episode of the second season, and the tone of the year is already established — visually dark, but still a lot of fun. After meeting Xena’s look-alike, Diana, last season, the producers decided to add another character to the mix… Meg, a tramp. The funniest story of the episode is Joxer’s relationship with Meg, whom he initially thinks is Xena. Meanwhile, Gabrielle and Meg’s interactions are also a riot and their catfight — a Dynasty moment — is standout. But in addition to all the hijinks, the episode manages to bring in moments of genuine feeling, arousing the audience’s sympathy for both Meg and Diana, while also instilling a sense of danger among the villains. Most importantly, it’s an entertaining episode and a fine way to kickoff the comedic episodes of the second season.
42. Season 2, Episode 1: “Orphan Of War” (Aired: 09/30/96 | Filmed: 05/29 – 06/07/96)
Xena comes to the aid of a community of centaurs menaced by a member of her former band, and upon her arrival is reunited with the young son whom she left in their care nine years earlier.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V0206
The Season Two premiere, this episode would inevitably alter the course of the series. Building upon Xena’s history with the centaurs (established last season in “Hooves And Harlots”) the audience learns that Xena birthed a son that she gave away upon her ceasefire with the centaurs. The core of the episode is Xena’s dilemma: does she tell her son that she’s his mother? The most interesting layer is the initial clash in beliefs between Gabrielle and Xena over whether or not she has the right to tell him the truth. The last scene is the best of the episode when Xena makes the decision to either tell him or not tell him. (I WON’T SPOIL IT FOR YOU NEWBIES.) However, though Dagnon is an interesting villain, after he turns into Ixion’s wicked creation, he’s just silly. Besides that, this is a wonderful episode and an excellent representation of the series enjoying its unique tone. This is a fabulous lead-in to the season that builds and deepens both characters and what the audiences knows about them, and it’s a good place to start for first-time watchers.
43. Season 5, Episode 1: “Fallen Angel” (Aired: 09/27/99 | Filmed: 05/10 – 05/24/99)
Xena and Gabrielle, now released from their mortal coils, join forces with the Archangel Michael to battle Callisto and the infernal forces of Hell.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0903
Some seasoned fans might be surprised to see this episode as #43 on my list. A lot of people consider this one a classic, and it is a great episode. Besides being well-produced, well-directed, well-acted, and entertaining as… pardon the expression… hell… “Fallen Angel” covered a lot of ground. Not only did it introduce elements of Christianity that would influence the rest of the series, but it also introduced Xena’s pregnancy, figured out a way to bring Xena and Gabrielle back from the dead, and most importantly, give Xena a chance to redeem Callisto. In fact, the best part of the episode occurs when angel Xena assumes Callisto’s suffering and redeems her. It’s a beautiful scene and provides the Callisto character with needed closure. Also, the moment when Gabrielle sees Callisto in Heaven… WOW. Great scene. And the earlier scenes of Callisto and Gabrielle in Hell are hilariously wicked as well. I’ll save my complaints for what this episode did in changing the series for a later post. For now, this is a strong episode that will appeal especially to casual viewers.
44. Season 6, Episode 18: “When Fates Collide” (Aired: 05/07/01 | Filmed: 01/25 – 02/02/01)
Xena becomes the Empress of Rome with no recollection of her past when Caesar chains up the three Fates and cuts the strands of time to alter his destiny.
Written by Katherine Fugate | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V1421
Diehard fans will be even more surprised to see this episode so far down on my list. Like “Fallen Angel”, it’s well-produced, well-directed, well-acted, and very entertaining. Also, it gives us a chance to see Caesar, Brutus, and Alti for a final time. An engaging story by a first-time writer, this episode appeals most to fans who “ship” the relationship between Xena and Gab. And despite being melodramatic at times, the episode captures the essence of the characters and makes sense for the story and the series. In general, I’m not a fan of alternate universe or “what if” episodes; I find them gimmicky, devoid of anything that makes characters grow. Additionally, the end of this episode offers little explanation for the events that have just transpired, rendering the affair unfortunately frivolous and in stark contrast to the preceding 40 minutes of high drama. But there are many thing to love here, especially Alti, who provides the episode with its coolest moments. This is an entertaining installment, but because it’s an alternate universe episode, it would be inappropriate for first time viewers. This one is most rewarding for fans who have watched all six seasons first.
45. Season 6, Episode 21: “A Friend In Need (I)” (Aired: 06/11/01 | Filmed: 03/08 – 03/19/01)
Summoned by a long-lost spiritual soulmate, Xena heads for Japan with Gabrielle on a daunting mission to save the city of Higuchi from destruction and make amends for her past.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V1424
Yes, this is the first part of the series finale. This episode has provided over a decade of debates, and to this day, some people love this it and some people loathe it. My feelings are a bit more complex. Some of the storytelling is obviously clunky, and I would have, without a doubt, preferred a story set in Greece. The core of the story is perfect for the finale: Xena must fix one of the mistakes of her past. But the individual story elements of Akemi and Evil Xena’s drunken fit… perhaps misguided. However, Part I is MUCH better than Part II. (Part II will not be included on my list.) The script for Part I is better-paced and tighter than Part II’s. Cutting between flashbacks and the present day, I primarily enjoy this episode because it houses so many beautiful images. It also has one of my favorite sequences of all time — Xena asking Gabrielle what she would do to put out the fire in Higuchi. Gabrielle’s development as a warrior comes to a head here and it’s a great moment. An undoubtedly important episode, it’s nice to look at and undeniably fascinating.
Come back next Thursday for numbers 31-40! And check back tomorrow for another Film Friday post!