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. 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 episode number four on the list.
04. Season 2, Episode 15: “A Day In The Life” (Aired: 02/17/97 | Filmed: 01/06 – 01/10/97)
Xena has 24 hours to prevent a warlord from plundering one village and the world’s biggest giant from destroying another.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V0223
This fan-favorite episode quickly became the gold standard by which all future comedic Xena episodes were judged. The series has always had a sense of humor like no other — but this episode takes things to a while new level. It’s a subtexter’s dream, as the series, more than in any other episode, uses the perceived romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle to its comic advantage. From a litany of double entendres to a steamy bathing session, this is Xena and Gabrielle like you’ve never seen them before. Fortunately, for you non-subtexters, there’s plenty to enjoy as well — chief of which is the hilariously original plot.
The show opens with a band of ruffians sneaking up on the sleeping Xena and Gabrielle. Xena wakes first and beats a couple of them with the nearest tools — a pot and a frying pan. Gabrielle eventually wakes up and gets captured by one of the men. Xena uses the frying pan as a temporary chakram and knocks the guy out. She puts the pinch on another soldier and learns that the warlord Zagreus is planning to loot a nearby village and wanted Xena out of the way. Meanwhile, Gabrielle is pissed that Xena destroyed their frying pan in the fight. On their way to the village, Xena and Gab pass the time with games — which include Gabrielle’s feverish attempts to catch Xena off guard and whack her in the nose — when the duo are stopped by Hower, a simple man whose village is about to be attacked by a giant. Now they must decide which village to help. Gabrielle makes a list of the pros and cons; Xena flips a coin. They’re taking on the giant.
On their way to Hower’s village, the trio stops for a lunch of eels (which the bitter Gabrielle uses Xena’s chakram to slice open), and Hower becomes enamored with the Warrior Princess. Partly to get him out of her hair, Xena gives Hower a cryptic message to send to Zagreus. Meanwhile, Gabrielle, still annoyed about the frying pan, is even angrier when Xena uses a piece of one of Gabrielle’s scrolls for toilet paper. But the giant grows nearer, and Xena and Gab put their squabble on hold. At Hower’s village, they meet his girlfriend, Minya, who is the ultimate Xena fangirl. She draws Xena and Gabrielle a bath as the ladies strategize. Hower returns and says that Zagerus has turned his army around and is now headed towards them. Minya notices that Hower has a crush on Xena. Spitefully, she agrees to the devious Gabrielle’s proposal: a trade — Xena’s whip for Minya’s frying pan. This is, of course, much to Xena’s chagrin.
Meanwhile, Xena and Gab realize that the giant is Gareth, the world’s biggest. This makes things more personal — for Xena is determined to avenge Goliath’s family. (Goliath was Xena’s giant friend who died in “The Giant Killer” when he sided against Xena and the Israelites.) Xena develops a plan that involves “bringing the power of Zeus to earth.” She fastens a belt buckle to a string and creates the world’s first kite. After Gabrielle’s attempts to assuage Minya’s jealousy fail, Xena decides to give Minya a few pointers on how to keep her man. In the distance they hear Zagreus’s army being crushed by the approaching Gareth. A delirious and angry Zagreus staggers to the village and confronts Xena. But he’s knocked out by a leather-clad Minya, who’s undergone a “badgirl” makeover. Aroused, Hower and Minya sneak off behind the hut. Gareth approaches and Xena sets her plan into action. Fortunately, it works and Gareth is soon electrocuted. Later that evening, Xena and Gabrielle gaze at the stars. Gabrielle finally catches Xena off guard and whacks her in the nose. Or did Xena purposely let Gabrielle hit her?
The above summary, while accurate, does not do the episode justice. It doesn’t include the little things. And that’s precisely what “A Day In The Life” is about — all of the little things that Xena and Gabrielle do in a day. That’s the unique hook for this episode: the entire story unfolds in a 24-hour period. The script is divided by ten title cards in an almost “mock-umentary” fashion. Indeed, even the look of this episode is different, relying on handheld shots and coming off almost more reality show than action show. Here in lies the brilliance of both Stewart’s script and Hurst’s direction (Hurst starred as Iolaus on Xena’s “big brother” show, Hercules), as the episode’s unique style manages to remain special, but not distractingly different. Incidentally, the episode was completed in a record amount of time: five days. In fact, the majority of the final act — the entire sequence between Gareth and Xena — had been previously shot for “The Giant Killer.” But when that episode ran too long, it was lifted out and used in “A Day In The Life.” (Honestly, if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t be able to tell.)
There’s so much we could say about Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship in this episode. From the moment the episode starts we just know we’re seeing Xena and Gabrielle raw and uncensored — double entendres and all. (There are quite a few — “Can we cook with your juices?”; “She likes what I do…”‘ “Are you sitting on the soap?”; etc.) Through a ruined frying pan, an eel-gut covered chakram, a piece of a missing scroll, and the ultimate whip trade, the ladies banter akin to a married couple, or for you non-subtexters, like the best of friends. We don’t get to see these things in the other episodes, which are so tied up to story points that they have little time for the Seinfeldian asides. (Well, early Seinfeld, that is.) Again, the little things — the conversations about wardrobe changes, the “Who am I?” game, the splash fight — are what make their relationship, and this episode, in particular, so rich.
Beyond Xena and Gab, this episode boasts a couple of excellent guest stars. Zagreus is the ideal totally loony warlord who desperately wants revenge on Xena for manipulating him into destroying his army. His quick cameo is a real hoot! But then there’s Hower and Minya. Hower does well in a thankless role, but Minya, oh, Minya — one of my favorite recurring characters. She’s quite brassy, a little bit trashy, and incredibly hilarious. She starts as a huge Xena fan (though she can’t remember the name of Xena’s sidekick!) but eventually becomes disillusioned when Xena moves in on her turf. Gabrielle, naturally, says that Xena would never steal anyone’s boyfriend, but Minya isn’t quite convinced. And she makes an excellent point too — what exactly is Gabrielle leaving out of these scrolls? From simple farm girl to leathery goddess, Minya gets some excellent lines and Alison Wall is a superb presence. Glad the series was able to bring her back a few times.
Like leathery Minya, “A Day In The Life” is a classic. It’s hilarious, knowingly campy, and actually provides fresh and original looks at our heroines. There’s some pathos with Xena’s connection to Goliath, but this is ultimately a laugh fest. This is the epitome of the joyfully excellent Pre-Rift Xena, providing ideal glimpses of the series’ unique tone. And “A Day In The Life” is special because it uses a whole lot of littles to help illuminate our characters in their day-to-day interactions. Per Minya’s snide remark, we’re seeing all the things that Gabrielle leaves out of the scrolls. It’s a totally unique premise, and an absolute treat to watch.
Come back next Thursday for number three on our countdown! And remember to tune in tomorrow for an all new Film Friday!