HONORABLE MENTIONS: Eighteen More Excellent & Undervalued Episodes of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (Post 7 of 9)

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.)

 

13. Season 5, Episode 10: “Lyre, Lyre, Hearts On Fire” (Aired: 01/17/00 | Filmed: 08/02 – 08/16/99)

To avoid a war over who gets possession of Terpsichore’s lyre, Xena organizes a battle of the bands in this musical episode that reunites Xena with her mother, Joxer with his twin brother Jace, and Gabrielle with a lovesick Draco.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0911

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If “The Bitter Suite” shows casual audiences the dramatic heights and daring risks that the Xena staff regularly reaches, “Lyre, Lyre, Hearts On Fire” shows exactly how much fun the series can be and why it’s earned one of the kookiest (and most dedicated) fan bases. Another musical episode, “Lyre” doesn’t have major territory to cover, so the emphasis shifts from heavy story development to (mostly) lightweight examinations of the relationships between characters. But let’s no get ahead of ourselves. The existence of this episode has less to do with creativity and more to do with functional decision making. With Lawless’ maternity leave approaching, it was decided that another musical would be a clever way to involve Xena without forcing her into some incredibly laborious action sequences. (Of course, putting on a musical is much harder than one might expect!) Furthermore, as many of the crew was soon to depart for The Lord Of The Rings, this episode was intended to be a fun and memorable sendoff. (Incidentally, this aired as the 100th episode.)

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Since the intentions were different, it’s not surprising that this episode uses popular music in favor of an original score. As a “battle of the bands” episode, this is an appropriately campy way to go, and it works quite well. But what I most enjoy about this episode — beyond the music — is that the script simultaneously entertains multiple storylines. Perhaps the most memorable involves Joxer’s reunion with his flamboyant identical brother Jace (who sings a fun “Dancin’ In The Moonlight”) and the accompanying theme of acceptance. More enjoyable to me, however, is Joxer’s semi-relationship with Amazon Queen Amoria (a one-off character), which riles Gabrielle’s feathers. (This is a partial continuation of the story that began in “Chakram” when Joxer OFFICIALLY confessed his love for Gabby.) Not only is this slightly humorous, but there’s a real honesty that comes from Gab — softening her character for the first time in a while. It’s well done.

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Speaking of love, Draco returns and though he’s not written quite as multi-dimensionally as he had been in the past, he definitely elevates the material — providing conflict without making the character totally repulsive. Plus, what would this episode be without the surreal screamo version of “Always Something There To Remind Me”? Meanwhile, the continuity regarding his Cupid-induced love for Gabrielle is appreciated. But what I MOST like about this episode is, naturally, Xena. She gets a light story in which her mom finds out about the pregnancy and tries to hook her up with an eligible bachelor. There’s a couple of big laughs — making this the best material Lawless has had in episodes. As for the music, it’s fairly well done (though more entertaining than artistically satisfying — but I’m not complaining). As mentioned above, we must consider the purpose of the episode, and in those terms, the episode is an undisputed success.

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14. Season 5, Episode 13: “Eternal Bonds” (Aired: 02/07/00 | Filmed: 12/02 – 12/10/99)

When Joxer is wounded by a poisonous sword intended to kill Xena and Eve, it’s up to Gabrielle to get him to the antidote while Xena combats armies sent by priests of the gods.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0916

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This is a much more conflicting episode than the one above. Though it houses some of the season’s best and most essential moments, “Eternal Bonds” is also cursed with some of the worst. Additionally, the episode seems to be indecisive about its overall purpose, resulting in a strange futility that undermines the story’s necessity. All of this makes for an episode that comes off as spectacularly uneven, and most noticeably, as a deeply flawed installment. First, let’s discuss what the episode DOES. Following Zeus’ death, the other gods are hunting Xena’s child in fear of the Fate’s prophecy. Joxer unwittingly leads three disciples of Artemis, Apollo, and Poseidon to Eve and accidentally gets injured by a poisoned blade in the process. To retrieve the antidote, Xena insists that Gabrielle escort Joxer alone, so that the pair aren’t targeted alongside Xena and Eve.

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So the episode is divided between the time that Gab and Joxer spend together, and the time that Xena spends with Eve. It’s in these moments that the episode works best of all. Principally, this episode forces Gabrielle to confront exactly WHAT she feels about Joxer: she loves him, but not in the way he wants her to love him. It’s sort of an obvious development, but its dramatically significant and handled well by both the performers and the writer (Chris Manheim, who usually excels at writing character-driven dialogue). Meanwhile, it’s important that this episode shows us what Xena is like as a new mother — traveling with Eve on her back. It’s not great television, but it’s vital that we see exactly how the character is physically going to make this big adjustment. More importantly, this installment kicks the Xena/Ares thing off in full gear, as the War God offers Xena a deal: he’ll protect her child if she gives him one of his own. Needless to say that Xena doesn’t accept his deal, but she does have an erotic dream about him in the meantime. This potential bargain comes into play during the following episode and certainly factors in to the course of the second half of the season.

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What doesn’t work? Well, the fourth act fight sequence is one of the worst of the entire series and lacks all logic, and the absence of a properly satisfying climax is a major detriment. But beyond that, the story simply has little focus. The final scene attempts to tie things together by reckoning the entire episode to the necessity of exposing Eve to violence. Okay, I can see that. But, the script makes no effort to bind the Xena/Ares and Joxer/Gab storylines, leaving the entire episode almost in suspended animation. What is the episode trying to say about these relationships? Like in Manheim’s “Paradise Found,” the muddiness of the theme serves as a major hinderance to the episode’s cohesiveness. This is a bigger problem than it may seem: essentially revoking the episode’s satisfying developments by ascribing a triviality that portrays the entire episode as hackneyed. With a tighter conclusion and more overall cohesion, this episode might be perceived as better and perhaps would have made my “best of” list.

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Come back next Thursday for two more “honorable mentions!” And tune in tomorrow for another 1935 Film Friday!

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