Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today we’re finishing up our blog series on 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 continue with the post we’ve all been waiting for: my choice for the best episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.
01. Season 4, Episode 21: “The Ides Of March” (Aired: 05/10/99 | Filmed: 03/09 – 03/18/99)
When Xena learns that Caesar has put a six-million-dinar price on her head, she decides to go to Rome and kill him. Meanwhile, Caesar sends Brutus to capture Gabrielle and Amarice. Complicating matters is Callisto, who has been released from Hell and put on a double mission.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Ken Girotti | Production No. V0624
“The Ides Of March” is the best Xena episode for a number of reasons. Not only is it the series’ most exciting hour, but it is also the culmination of several season-long and series-long storyarcs that crescendo in a painfully satisfying way. Additionally, this episode features some of the series’ finest scenes, and a particularly character-defining moment that has the power to drop the jaws of many an unsuspecting fan.
The episode opens in Hell, as Callisto is tormented with visions of both Xena and Gabrielle. Her Lord offers her a bargain: she can escape torment if she goes to Earth and both ensures that Julius Caesar is made emperor, and corrupts Xena’s soul by tempting her away from “The Way Of The Warrior.” Callisto eagerly accepts and visits Caesar. Meanwhile, on the way to visit Eli, Xena, Gabrielle, and their new Amazon friend, Amarice, fight off attackers. They learn that Caesar has put a huge bounty on Xena’s head. She decides that she’s going to end this feud once and for all — she’s going to go to Rome and assassinate Caesar. Xena insists that Gabrielle and Amarice stay behind (much to the latter’s chagrin), determined to keep the crucifixion vision from coming true.
So Gabrielle and Amarice meet up with Eli, who has become a renowned healer. As a skeptical Amarice watches, Gabrielle asks Eli to teach her how to heal, and he tells her the key is love. Soon Gab, Amarice, Eli, and Eli’s followers are captured by Brutus’s men. Brutus assures Gabrielle that they won’t be harmed; they just need to ensure that Xena will not attempt to harm Caesar. Meanwhile, Xena sneaks into Caesar’s place and hurtles her chakram at his throat. To her complete shock, Callisto catches it. As Xena escapes the palace, Callisto materializes and tells Xena about her new life in Hell, about Caesar’s plans to become emperor, and about Gabrielle’s recent captivity. As Xena rides off to free Gabrielle and the gang, Amarice is almost executed for trying to escape. But Gabrielle shields the foolish Amazon with her own body, and Brutus demands that the soldier lower his weapon against Gabrielle.
Later, Xena encounters Brutus. She tells him of Caesar’s plans to make himself emperor, and that Caesar plans to have Brutus assassinated in Gaul. Brutus doesn’t believe Xena, but tells her where to find Gabrielle. Xena is haunted by the vision and hurries off. As Gabrielle and Eli meditate and enter tranquility, Callisto tries to tempt Xena by offering her, not only Gabrielle’s freedom, but insurance that her vision won’t come true, plus ultimate serenity. The catch? She has to lay down her weapons and dedicate her life to peace. Xena refuses, telling Callisto that her way is “The Way Of The Warrior,” and she’s put all of her past guilt behind her. Meanwhile, Brutus learns that Xena’s warnings were true.
As Xena busts into the prison and frees the captives, Callisto alerts the Romans of Xena’s presence by doing her signature war cry. Xena battles the soldiers as Gabrielle and Amarice lead Eli and his followers to safety. Callisto watches as Xena seems to be winning. Enraged, Callisto screams and hurls Xena’s chakram, which bounces off the wall and breaks Xena’s back. Xena falls to the floor, and Gabrielle, having witnessed Xena’s fall, picks up a sword and begins killing the Romans. But she finally realizes what she’s done and stops, as the soldiers surround her.
Brutus makes plans with the other senators, while a jailed Xena and Gabrielle await their crucifixions. Xena apologizes for making Gabrielle abandon her way, but Gabrielle insists that her way is “The Way Of Friendship.” Callisto watches as Gabrielle and a crippled Xena are dragged out onto the snowy mountain and put on crosses. Their crucifixion is intercut with Caesar’s assassination. Callisto is summoned back to Hell, her mission having been unsuccessful. The episode ends with Xena and Gabrielle’s spirits arising from their dead bodies and meeting in the sky.
First, let’s note that “The Ides Of March” was written and produced as the Season Four finale. When “Deja Vu All Over Again,” ran into some Post-Production snags and didn’t air when it was originally intended, the producers decided to tag it on to the end of the season, justifying its location by offering that the depictions of the reincarnated Xena and Gabrielle in 1999 presented a “happy” ending to counteract the gloom of the previous episode. (In fact, the final scene of Xena and Gabrielle’s spirits in “The Ides Of March” was also added later — to make the episode end on less of a downer.) But for all intents and purposes, this is the end of Season Four for our characters, which means that it’s the capper for all the storyarcs initiated in Season Four. Let’s address some of those.
The season launched with Xena seeking Gabrielle’s soul in the Amazon Land of the Dead. There she reunited with Alti, who showed her a vision of Xena and Gabrielle being crucified. So, obviously, the season was building to either a crucifixion, or a narrowly missed crucifixion. Furthermore, Season Four was the year of spiritual quests, as Xena and Gabrielle ventured to India. There, Xena fully committed to “The Way Of The Warrior,” after having seen that her reincarnated spirit was to be a peacemaker. Essentially, Xena needed to embrace the “dark” and warlike side of soul, and understand that it was spiritually acceptable. Just keep fighting for justice, Xena!
Gabrielle’s spiritual quest was more overt, having built up for about two seasons. In India, Gabrielle decided to give up violence and try following in Eli’s footsteps with “The Way Of Love.” Many fans have spoken out about how BORING the nonviolent Gab was, but I respectfully disagree. Not only was this a necessary development, but I thought it made for excellent conflict between Xena and Gabrielle, especially since the two were committed to staying together, even though their paths were diametrically opposed.
So in this final episode of the season, Gabrielle is put into one of those moments where there’s no time to think; all she can do is act. (This is the character defining moment I mentioned earlier in the post.) Xena’s down, and rather than see her friend die, Gabrielle abandons “The Way Of Love” and kicks some Roman booty. As far as I’m concerned, this shocking and powerful sequence is the most THRILLING of the entire series. It’s always a treat to see Xena kick butt, but when GABRIELLE does it — it’s something really special. And as the character hadn’t actually fought anybody since “The Way,” it was a breath of (bloody) air. It’s not only the best moment of the episode, it’s the best Gabrielle moment of the entire series. Here, she chooses her path. Her path is Xena, and Xena’s path is the Way of the Warrior. So that’s Gabrielle’s path too.
Before we get into Xena’s role in “The Ides Of March,” I want to briefly address the previous episode, “Endgame,” in which Xena and Gab picked up the Amazon spitfire, Amarice, and Gabrielle pardoned Brutus after he murdered Ephiny. Those events come into play in this episode, specifically, as Brutus is determined to protect Gabrielle from harm, and realizes that what Xena has been telling him about Caesar is true. The Gab/Brutus story will come back in next season’s “Antony And Cleopatra,” but the Xena/Brutus connection reaches a head here. Basically Xena’s indirectly responsible for Caesar’s assassination by alerting Brutus of his plans.
That’s part of why this episode is the best of the entire series. I’ve always felt that Xena had three main villains in her life. The first was her past, which she continuously struggled with in almost every episode. The second was Callisto, the embodiment of all the evil she created. And the third was Caesar, the embodiment of the evil that created her. And, in this episode, Xena must address all three. I love that she decides to finally assassinate Caesar, and that Gabrielle doesn’t blink much of an eye. (Remember how out-of-joint Gabrielle was when Xena was going to assassinate “The Green Dragon”?) That’s because Gabrielle knows that there’s reasonable justification behind Xena’s actions. It’s poetically brilliant that both Xena and Caesar are indirectly responsible for each other’s demises at the end of the episode. Xena and Gabrielle were at the prison on the mountain because Caesar ordered Gab and the gang captured. Caesar was assassinated by his peers because Xena alerted Brutus. The intercutting between the two sequences is stunning. “The Ides Of March” marks the end of the physical conflict between Xena and Caesar. It is concluded and in a big way.
The only thing that could possibly top that conflict is the conflict between Xena and Callisto. Xena killed Callisto at the end of the previous season, and we hadn’t seen her since. She’s always a welcome addition to the show, and Leick is the smartest actress of the series. Her scenes with Xena are some of the best the two ever shared, as Callisto’s dark calmness is bizarrely off-putting. The scene in which she catches Xena’s chakram is, like Gab’s later moment with the Romans, one of the show’s most climactic. Interestingly, the original plan was to have Alti return for this episode. That does make some sense, as Alti was the one who gave Xena the vision to begin with, BUT Callisto is much more integral to Xena and her conflict. It’s fitting that Callisto is there — a reminder of Xena’s guilt and past sins. Callisto and all the other Callisto’s out there are what Xena is atoning for by following “The Way Of The Warrior.”
I want to point out something interesting. Xena tells Callisto that she’s put her guilt behind her, which indicates a huge transformation in the character. It makes the series’ conflict less internal, and more like the typical “we’re fighting bad people” variety. Of course, that’s only if we assume that Xena is telling the truth about feeling no more guilt. Has Xena put that behind her? Obviously not, as she’s going to redeem Callisto’s sins in the Season Five premiere. But I’m still a bit stunned that the producers would even let Xena say something like this, since, in my opinion, it removes a fundamental part of the character’s fascination and depth. So she knows what her purpose is — that’s all well and good. But if she’s not tormented by her past, there’s little room for the antiheroism integral to the series’ depiction of Xena. But the sentiment — Xena putting the guilt behind her — is an interesting cap on her arc from this season, and I can appreciate the way this concludes its trajectory.
Conclusion of its trajectory… those words are fitting. That’s probably the biggest reason that I believe this to be the best Xena episode ever produced. In addition to the many stellar moments, and the many great climaxing conflicts, “The Ides Of March” represents a pinnacle of quality that the series, in my opinion, never quite reached again. Even if we argue that “The Ides Of March” is as good as a few other earlier episodes, this is the LAST time the series ever was this good. In that regard, it’s special, especially when the episode not only resolves the conflict between Xena and Caesar, Gabrielle and her way, and Xena and Callisto (if you choose to believe that Xena is no longer tormented by guilt), but ends the Xena and Gabrielle relationship on such a phenomenal note. The scene in the jail is excellent. Xena apologizes for leading Gabrielle on a path of darkness, and Gabrielle tells Xena that it was her choice. “You brought out the best in me.” Shipper or subtexter, it’s excellent. Pulls on the heartstrings without being cringeworthy. It’s a meaningful end to their journey this season.
This episode capitalizes on so many things from both Season Four and the series at large. It’s a powerful episode that could WOW any newbie. You’d have to do some explaining and recapping, but it’s exactly the type of episode that could “hook” someone. So if you’re a curious new fan and are only motivated enough to watch one episode, you might as well go with the best one — “The Ides Of March.” You might not understand its entire significance, but if it fascinates you enough to watch the entire series, then it’s worth it.
This concludes our series on the sixty best episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess. For those who are curious, here is my full list of choices. Contact me for access to any episode.
The next two weeks will be spent covering my eight least favorite episodes of Xena, so be sure to join us next Thursday as we examine the first four! And tune in tomorrow for an all new Vivien Leigh Film Friday post!