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 36-40 on the list.
36. Season 3, Episode 1: “The Furies” (Aired: 09/29/97 | Filmed: 03/28 – 04/08/97)
At Ares’s prodding, the Furies curse Xena with madness for failing to avenge her father’s death. But lifting the curse may prove troublesome when she learns who the murderer was.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Gilbert Shilton | Production No. V0224
The Season Three premiere immediately sets the tone for the third season: heavy emotional drama coupled with occasional bouts of off-the-wall humor. Interestingly, this episode was produced at the end of the second season and held over. This is a very dark episode, so the moments of comedy (particularly in the first act) may seem out of place, but this IS Xena and the contrast is part of its unique appeal. In “The Furies”, the question of Xena’s paternity returns. (SPOILER ALERT: ) Xena learns that her mother killed her father to protect Xena. So, to spare her mother’s life, Xena convinces the Furies that her biological father is not Atreus, but Ares himself. Fandom is divided as to whether or not Ares is truly her father, and the writers were apparently torn as well. Personally, I think she made the whole thing up to get the curse lifted. Furthermore, I like the idea that Xena is all-mortal. Being half-god would make her feats less special. (And don’t even get us started about the incestuous questions that would raise about Xena and Ares’s future relationship.)
37. Season 1, Episode 6: “The Reckoning” (Aired: 10/16/95 | Filmed: 09/14 – 09/22/95)
Ares frames Xena with the murder of four innocent villagers in the hope that she will return to him and rule by his side.
Written by Peter Allan Fields | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. 876908
This is the first appearance of Ares on Xena and it’s one of Season One’s most powerful episodes. Xena comes to the defense of a group of villagers, battling a mysterious man in a black cloak. After he disappears, Xena tends to the villagers’ severe wounds. But when the other townspeople arrive, all they see is Xena standing over the bodies with blood on her hands. She is arrested and put on trial. Ares visits her in prison and reveals that he was the cloaked stranger, asking her to return to his tutelage and rule by his side. The best moment in the episode is a chilling one in which Xena rages, breaks free from her chains, beats the guards, and accidentally wallops Gabrielle in a fit of anger. I love when Xena gets pissed. And this early episode shows just how chronologically close she still is to her days as an evil warlord. The inner conflict is great, and the introduction of Ares as a force drawing her back to the past is a great pull. But we know things will work out in the end. After all, it is only the sixth episode.
38. Season 4, Episode 2: “Adventures In The Sin Trade (II)” (Aired: 10/05/98 | Filmed: 06/29 – 07/09/98)
Xena’s continuing search for Gabrielle in the Amazon Land of the Dead leads to a climatic battle with the evil shamaness Alti.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. V0608
This is Part Two of the Season Four premiere. (Part One is actually a stronger episode than Part Two, so you’ll be seeing that one featured in a later post.) Part Two continues where the first part left off. We get to see more of Alti, the evil shamaness with a deliciously raspy voice, and her dramatically thrilling power to make her enemies experience moments from both their pasts and futures. The writers make brilliant use of that device when Alti and Xena face off in an exciting battle where Alti intends to kill Xena by making her experience her death prematurely. (Do you follow me?) But the vision Alti shows Xena has her being crucified alongside Gabrielle. Since Gabrielle is dying in Xena’s future, Xena knows that Gabrielle IS in fact still alive. What a wonderful way to bring the two-parter back around: Xena’s quest to find Gabrielle. However, the best moment of the episode is the flashback where Evil Xena kills the entire Amazon tribe just for fun. She’s great when she’s bad.
39. Season 1, Episode 21: “The Greater Good” (Aired: 05/06/96 | Filmed: 03/20 – 03/28/96)
When Xena is incapacitated and left near death after being struck by a poisoned dart, Gabrielle is forced to impersonate the Warrior Princess in order to protect a group of innocent villagers.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Gary Jones | Production No. 876924
This episode belongs to Gabrielle, who gets most of the action after Xena is struck with a poison dart. Gabrielle must impersonate Xena to scare off a warlord that’s threatening a village. This is the first time in the series that Xena dies. (Although, as we see, her system only TEMPORARILY shuts off.) A strong episode for the growth of Gabrielle as a warrior, this installment gives Renée O’Connor some wonderfully dramatic moments on which to flex her acting muscles. With a consistently engaging story, this episode is especially worthwhile for its moments of incredible pathos. My favorite moment occurs when Gabrielle takes out her anger over Xena’s death by beating her staff against a tree. Also of note: Salmoneus, the comic relief character on Hercules, makes his second of four appearances on Xena. He’s good – in small doses. This episode would be a good place to start for action, character, and tone, but because Xena is not the focal point of the episode, I wouldn’t recommend it as a blind watch for first-time viewers.
40. Season 4, Episode 16: “The Way” (Aired: 02/22/99 | Filmed: 12/03 – 12/15/98)
Still in India, Xena seeks the help of the god Krishna to rescue Gabrielle and Eli from the clutches of the King of the Demons.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0617
This is the conclusion of the Season Four India arc. Eli, a street magician whom we met two episodes ago, returns, seemingly embracing his newfound role as a spiritual healer. He’s a Christ-like figure who will factor prominently at the end of the fourth season and into the following season. “The Way” includes many mish-mashed elements of Hinduism and sparked a controversy after it’s initial airing for its depiction of the Hindu gods. The episode was pulled from repeat broadcasts until the producers cut out a shot of Xena head-butting Hanuman, a Hindu deity, and added a message at the beginning and end about the beauty of the Hindu religion. But if anything were to be offensive in the episode, it would be the incredibly high amount of violence. The fight between Xena and Indrajit, the King of Demons, is one of the series’s most graphic. It’s appropriate, however, that Gabrielle, who has witnessed this altercation, finally denounces violence and decides to become a pacifist. This had been developing all season and the conflict it brought to Gabrielle and her relationship with Xena, who was also questioning her way in this episode, was fantastic. Loved it. Important episode, but maybe too much for first-time viewers.
Come back next Thursday for numbers 31-35! And check back tomorrow for another Film Friday post!