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 17 and 18 on the list.
17. Season 3, Episode 4: “The Deliverer” (Aired: 10/20/97 | Filmed: 05/27 – 06/05/97)
Xena, Gabrielle and the first priest of a monotheistic cult head for Britannia to battle their common enemy Caesar — who promptly captures Gabrielle.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0403
There is no way to do this post without spoilers. Unfortunately, spoiling this episode for new fans removes a ton of its effect. This is the episode that formally begins “The Rift,” which as we discussed a few weeks ago when highlighting “Gabrielle’s Hope,” was the storyline that essentially broke up Xena and Gabrielle’s friendship for a short time during Season Three. It is probably the series’ most shocking, bold, and entertaining storyline. Xena encounters Caesar for the first time since his betrayal and (STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED) Gabrielle loses her blood innocence. That’s a fancy way of saying: she kills for the first time.
The story revolves around Xena and Gabrielle’s decision to journey to Britannia (modern day England) after they encounter a group of disciples being persecuted by Caesar. The leader, Khrafstar, tells Xena that they have allied themselves with Boadicea, a warrior woman who is hoping to prevent Caesar’s invasion. On the way to Brittania, Gabrielle learns that Xena and Boadicea were once allies, until Xena split the army and defeated her in battle. Meanwhile, as Gabrielle also begins to learn more about the one god that Khrafstar worships, Ares unsuccessfully tries to manipulate Xena into ensuring that Khrafstar and his disciples do not reclaim their temple. Boadicea begrudgingly accepts Xena’s help, but Gabrielle and the disciples are captured by Caesar. Of course, Xena recuses them and makes plans with Boadicea to lead a big attack on Caesar the following day. As the warriors prepare for battle, Gabrielle decides to join Khrafstar at a ceremony in the reclaimed temple. Things take a dark turn as Gabrielle is tricked into shedding blood for the first time in a ritual by Khrafstar to bring the evil god Dahak into the world.
One of the truly excellent things about this episode is how the sinister Khrafstar storyline deliberately sneaks up on the audience. Not only are we led to believe that the episode’s main focus will be on Xena confronting two figures from her past — a man who betrayed her and a woman she betrayed — but when the episode turns out to really be about Gabrielle’s loss of blood innocence, it’s at the guidance of a disciple whose god we have been tricked into believing was good. Obviously the most memorable moment of the episode is the entire chilling sequence in which Xena battles Khrafstar, who has morphed into “The Deliverer,” while Gabrielle is engulfed in flames and suspended in midair above the altar. The scene is exhilaratingly scary and the personal danger imposed by the ruthless Caesar seems minuscule to the threat of Dahak, an evil whose scope is still unknown to the audience — especially considering how deliciously he was able to surprise Xena and Gabby!
Beyond that, it’s always great for this show to explore stories and people from Xena’s rich past. When it comes to Caesar, Xena is still governed by hatred. Xena doesn’t have to go to Brittania. She chooses to go merely because of her desire to whoop Caesar’s ass. As Boadicea says to Xena: “Your hatred for him won’t allow you to be elsewhere.” Unfortunately, we don’t get any sort of resolution here, as Xena leaves Boadicea to find Gabrielle at the temple. Meanwhile, Boadicea herself is a fascinating character, and it’s a shame that the episode didn’t have more time to explore her complicated relationship with the Warrior Princess. (I would have loved to see this battling Brit again!) Plus there’s Ares, whom Xena so mistrusts that she allows herself to be blinded to the possibility of a threat posed by Khrafstar’s one god. Xena is wrong in this episode, and that’s delicious storytelling. This episode is recommended for those who love the dark dramatic episodes, because this one surely delivers.
18. Season 4, Episode 20: “Endgame” (Aired: 05/03/99 | Filmed: 02/26 – 03/08/99)
When Brutus kills Ephiny in the heat of battle, Gabrielle becomes queen of the Amazons; while Xena pursues Brutus, hoping he’ll lead her to Pompey.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0622
This is the best Post-India episode that addresses Xena and Gabrielle’s differences and the obvious conflict between “The Way of the Warrior” and “The Way of Love.” Furthermore, this episode also reintroduces the Greek Amazons, whom we haven’t seen since Xena beat the hell out of them at the beginning of “The Bitter Suite.” Most importantly, however, this episode sets up the events that transpire in the following episode, to which the entire season has been building. It’s a BIG episode before an even BIGGER episode. (SPOILERS AHEAD.)
The episode begins as Caesar’s righthand man, Brutus, kills Amazon Queen Ephiny in battle. Gabrielle is summoned by the Amazons to resume the throne. When Xena and Gabby return to the village, they learn that the battle was initiated because the Romans had captured and sold Amazons as slaves. However, Xena realizes it’s not Caesar who’s responsible, but his enemy, Pompey. Xena and a few Amazons, including a young troublemaker named Amarice, capture Brutus and bring him back to the village where Amarice tries to kill him. Xena stops her and interrogates Brutus for information regarding the whereabouts of their mutual enemy, Pompey. Though Xena considers leaving him to die, Gabrielle insists that Brutus be jailed until she can determine his punishment. As Xena leads an ambush on a legion of Pompey’s soldiers and frees the captive Amazons, Gabrielle decides to pardon Brutus, offering him a peace treaty that he agrees to take back to Caesar. Xena frees Brutus and he leads Caesar’s army away from Amazon land, while Pompey’s army mobilizes. As the Amazons battle Pompey’s army, Xena deals with Pompey herself.
Writer Steven L. Sears, who also wrote “The Deliverer,” is excellent at crafting smart characters and smart dialogue. The story is expertly designed with many different threads being woven together. In “Endgame,” we meet two new recurring characters: Brutus, who is integral to setting up Caesar’s impending doom in the following episode, and Amarice, who was initially introduced to handle more of the action and further challenge Gabrielle and Xena’s contrasting viewpoints. Also in “Endgame,” two formerly recurring characters are killed: Pompey, who makes his third appearance here, ending the Roman Civil War arc that Xena initiated in “When In Rome…,” and Ephiny, whose death is vital in driving Gabrielle’s conflict in this episode. Though Xena dominates the script with all of the fighting and most of the talking, the episode is secretly about Gabrielle.
As a current peacenik, Gabrielle would be the last person you’d want to lead an army into battle. But because its for Ephiny, Gabrielle steps up and does things… her way. Because she’s chosen a life with Xena, Gabrielle realizes that violence is inescapable, and she, like Xena, begins drawing lines between what’s acceptable and what’s not. This episode just pushes everything forward as Gabrielle, like she did in Sears’ “A Good Day,” is forced to lead others into battle. But as Xena’s views have rubbed off on Gabrielle, her views have rubbed off on Xena: “We don’t kill just for the sake of it.” The best moments of the episode (and the series) involve the two heroines confronting things that challenge their ideals. And since the characters are so three-dimensional, their flaws make for great television — especially Xena’s hatred for Caesar, which in “Endgame” is channeled at Pompey. Angry Xena is always a highlight — not only is there a kickass fight in the third act, but Xena’s fury when she beheads Pompey is awesome. It’s an action-packed, character-packed, dialogue-packed episode. “Endgame” is, in short, excellent.
Come back next Thursday for numbers 15-16! And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for another Film Friday post!