Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re continuing our series on 18 “Honorable Mentions” that were not included in my list of the 60 best episodes. But first, if you’re unfamiliar with the series, Xena: Warrior Princess 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.
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. Since Xena did so many different things over the 134 episodes, this is the type of show that requires multiple viewings to be properly assessed. So, newbies, 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’s discuss two more underrated Xena episodes that nearly made my “best of” list. (They are presented in chronological order.)
11. Season 4, Episode 19: “Takes One To Know One” (Aired: 04/26/99 | Filmed: 02/18 – 02/25/99)
Friends and family gather for Gabrielle’s surprise birthday party, only to become suspects in a murder investigation.
Written by Jeff Vlaming | Directed by Christopher Graves | Production No. V0623
This often overlooked episode gains points for its well-handled balance of comedy and drama, and its roster of guests — which includes Joxer, Autolycus, Cyrene, Lila, and, best of all, Minya. The script is surprisingly full of laughs, capitalizing on the murder mystery device that necessitates intimacy: forcing every character into the same room at the same time. Thus, the best stuff from the episode occurs in the nuanced dialogue between the well-established characters. That’s where the show most succeeds — in its usage of the ensemble. Everyone has moments to shine, and while Minya maintains delightfully quirky, it’s a treat to see Campbell and Raimi once again working effortlessly off one another. Also of note is Darien Takle’s airy but realistic portrayal of Xena’s mom — a veritable highlight.
But I don’t mean to over-sing the episode’s praises; “Takes One To Know One” is a silly installment — a wasteful throwaway. Its triviality, at a time when the series is moderately serialized, is a major distraction, and the static feel of the story is not in keeping with the typically action-packed Xena style. Unfortunately, Discord is only an adequate villain — not menacing enough to prove a true threat. Meanwhile, freelancer Jeff Vlaming has no idea what to do with Gabrielle — who is actually (and I hate to say this) a bit annoying here. (Personally I think that the “pacifist Gab” phase was wasted on episodes like this and the funny but inessential “The Play’s The Thing.” Installments from this time should have been dedicated to showing the conflicts arising between Xena and Gab’s contrasting beliefs.) In these regards, the episode as a whole is a let down, even if the sum of its parts are very entertaining.
Essentially, it’s the wonderful appearances by some of our favorite guest stars — including the last appearances of both Autolycus and Minya — that overcome the episode’s futility and the shortcomings in both the script (at times too obvious) and the execution (which is functional, but lacks distinction). So while “Takes One To Know One” is certainly not a classic episode, if taken simply for what it is, it’s a very enjoyable installment that deserves more recognition than it gets.
12. Season 5, Episode 5: “Them Bones, Them Bones” (Aired: 11/01/99 | Filmed: 06/14 – 06/21/99)
The spirit of the evil Shamaness Alti attempts to capture the soul of Xena’s unborn child.
Written by Buddy Williers | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0908
“Them Bones, Them Bones” is one of the series’ campiest episodes. With delicious lines and overblown performances, the installment builds to a climactic sequence involving an impressive (but overbearingly gratuitous) CGI fight between the skeletons of Xena and Alti. This episode also officially dumps Amarice — a character who, if she had potential, never really lived up to it during her six episodes on the series. To that I say: “Oh, well. Good riddance.” Incidentally, this episode was initially outlined by Steven L. Sears, who left the series shortly thereafter. Later revisions were made to the script, so he opted to use the Williers alias. (I don’t blame him.)
The premise is excellent, even if it means revisiting the kooky but significantly less interesting Northern Amazons. (I’ve always preferred the grittier Grecian Amazons.) The opening sequence with Xena’s nightmare is appropriately spooky, and the horror elements extend throughout the rest of the episode. Additionally, Alti returns, and (for the first, last, and only time since her death in “Adventures In The Sin Trade (II),”) the character works organically inside the action with a script that isn’t a hackneyed disappointment. (Can’t say the same for “Between The Lines” and her sixth season appearances.) In fact, Alti’s moments with Gabrielle here are some of her best — a mix of camp and wit: “Xena’s little bitch. Welcome to the dog house.” Of course, the quote that most fans remember is the delicious double entendre, “I’ve always wanted to be inside of you, Xena,” which Alti says as she’s stealing the spirit of Xena’s unborn child.
As the dialogue above indicates, “Them Bones, Them Bones” is over-the-top. While the cinematography heightens the drama, the actors also unfortunately resort to overcompensation– masking an episode that (like the majority of these CGI-packed installments) lacks a fundamental humanity. Lawless keeps things grounded, however, and there are some genuinely strong moments near the conclusion. At any rate, “Them Bones, Them Bones” is one of the best from the misguided fifth season, and the last good episode before a trio of flops.
Come back next Thursday for more honorable mentions! And tune in tomorrow for another 1935 Film Friday post!