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.)
15. Season 6, Episode 3: “Heart Of Darkness” (Aired: 10/16/00 | Filmed: 05/10 – 05/19/00)
Xena fights to avoid inheriting the throne of Mephistopheles by devising a plan to turn the cocky archangel Lucifer into the King of Hell.
Written by Emily Skopov | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V1402
I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t like when the series began exploring Christianity and thus deviated from its Ancient Greek roots. This is one of those episodes in which these religious themes are the most overt. Picking up from the previous week, Xena has killed the ruler of Hell (who was haunting her childhood home) and is now called upon to take his place. But, naturally, she has no intention of going to Hell — been there, done that, right? — so when Michael sends down Lucifer to do his dirty work, Xena decides to manipulate the situation. It’s a premise ripe with opportunity, even if I think its firmly rooted in territory that isn’t as entertaining or organic as the fodder from seasons past.
So, my disfavor for the story’s existence is my most substantial qualm with “Heart Of Darkness.” Beyond that, there are lots of little things that I like. Surprisingly, Skopov’s first script for the series is excellent — filled with great dialogue, including sassy lines for both Xena and Gabrielle. (Gabrielle: “Xena, no one is ready to go to Hell. That’s the point.”) More to the point, it’s also great for the series to address — and so early on too — how annoying the Eve character has already become since being reformed. Her function is already tiresome and, in my opinion, not living up to its full potential. Though her character is the right and morally centered one here, she’s probably the weakest member of the team because her multi-dimensionality is wasted on one-dimentional functions.
This is also one of the sexiest episodes of the series. And though I don’t mind a little titillation, I can’t help but feel that it’s very gratuitous here. (I get it — they wanted to show us lust.) But that pretty much encapsulates the whole episode — very flashy and gaudy but, if we could strip all the hype away, we’d probably find something hollow underneath. Essentially, an enjoyable script helps to elevate a potentially rich, but equally problematic, premise. Typical Season Six.
16. Season 6, Episode 6: “The Abyss” (Aired: 11/06/00 | Filmed: 06/28 – 07/07/00)
Xena and Gabrielle are forced into a deadly confrontation with cannibals when they go in search of Virgil.
Written by James Kahn | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V1406
“The Abyss” was a grueling shoot and both Lawless and O’Connor later cited this as one of their least favorite experiences. (This is also the accidental last appearance of Virgil, who was expected to return.) I suppose my sentiments regarding this episode are similar to those from above — the script is better than the story. But, to be clear, the premise here isn’t bad. It’s very simple actually — Xena and Gabrielle have to rescue Virgil from cannibals, and when a wounded Gabrielle gets captured, Xena must save her too. I guess my only issue with “The Abyss” stems from the fact that the story lacks distinction. There’s little in the premise that is unique to Xena. Cannibals have nothing to do with Xena’s past nor her quest for atonement. And though not every episode can be exclusively about that, installments that do hit upon that theme are generally more successful and more memorable.
Now, what does work here (and I give major credit to onetime Xena writer, James Kahn) is the continuation of the mini Gabrielle storyarc that has extended through the previous two episodes. In the last episode, “Legacy,” Gab accidentally killed an unarmed boy when she thought he was going to attack Xena. So, her guilty conscience is still plaguing her in “The Abyss,” and is actually what distracts her enough to be injured by the cannibals. This is where the script most succeeds — when a delirious Gabrielle begins talking to Hope, her infamous evil twin daughter, making for one of those great continuity moments in which longtime fans scream with delight. (Many fans felt that Hope should have been addressed more directly last season with all the Livia drama. This was a small attempt by the producers to rectify that.)
So, while I’m not crazy about the story, the episodic action-adventure aspects are quite appealing. Furthermore, the script is great, concluding the mini-Gab arc solidly. And though it didn’t make my list, “The Abyss” might actually be one of the best Season Six installments — with strong action and interesting character development.
Come back next Thursday for two more honorable mentions! And tune in tomorrow for another 1935 Film Friday!