Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re continuing our three week sojourn into the crossovers that Xena: Warrior Princess made with her big brother show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, from which the character of Xena was initially spun-off. These three posts cover all the times that Lucy Lawless, Renee O’Connor, and/or Hudson Leick appeared on Hercules as Xena, Gabrielle, and Callisto respectively. (Note that I will not be covering the times in which these actresses portrayed other characters, as those aren’t crossovers.) I’ll also cover the one episode in which Hercules and his sidekick Iolaus appeared together on Xena, while the other two Hercules crossovers on Xena (“The Quest” and “God Fearing Child”) have already been covered here and will not be repeated.
Last week’s post looked at the three pre-X:WP episodes that established the Xena character and primed her for the spin-off. Today we’re moving on to the only episode in which Hercules and Iolaus both appeared together on Xena, the first episode in which Callisto appeared on Hercules, and the only time that Xena and Gabrielle appeared together as themselves (in a non-alternate universe/timeline) on Hercules.
XWP: Season 1, Episode 8: “Prometheus” (Aired: 11/06/95 | Filmed: 09/04 – 09/13/95)
Xena and Gabrielle team up with Hercules and Iolaus to free the kidnapped Prometheus, the god responsible for making fire available to Earth.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Stephen L. Posey | Production No. 876910
Obviously an attempt to get some of Hercules‘ established audience into the recently launched and still struggling Xena, this episode marks the only time that Hercules and Iolaus appear together on this series. Also, with the possible exception of Season Five’s “God Fearing Child,” this is the only crossover episode that, in my honest opinion, successfully merges both series together in a way that doesn’t make the guests appear sidelined or unnecessary. I suppose the reason that the union works so well in “Prometheus” is that the episode, though giving proper focus to Xena and Gab, features a premise that seems more aligned with the Hercules series rather than Xena‘s. But this is true of many first season episodes (among them “Cradle Of Hope,” “The Titans,” and “Death In Chains.”)
The premise involves mankind’s loss of both fire and healing abilities after Hera chains up Prometheus. Xena must retrieve the only thing that can break the chains — the sword of Hephaestus — however, whoever strikes the chains will die. So, Hercules joins the mission, determined to free Prometheus himself and keep Xena from death. Meanwhile, Gabrielle tends to a wounded Iolaus, who hovers near death until Prometheus is freed. I won’t spoil things for you, but needles to say, none of the foursome dies. (It’s too early in the season for a death. Those normally come near the end of the seasons or right at the very beginning.)
This episode has the most blatant romantic pairing of both Hercules with Xena, and Iolaus with Gabrielle, who treats us to a memorable (and oft-quoted by fans) parable about soulmates. It’s a little heavy handed for my tastes, but it elevates the drama and functions well in the narrative. Narratively, however, this episode has never been one of my favorites because, even though it’s exciting to see these four together, Xena’s investment in the story is not personal, and thus, it comes up dramatically short. However, if you’re a fan of Hercules or his relationship with Xena, this is an episode you don’t want to miss!
HTLJ: Season 3, Episode 12: “Surprise” (Aired: 01/27/97 | Filmed: 11/18 – 11/26/96)
Xena’s old enemy Callisto returns from the afterlife when she makes a deal with Hera to kill Hercules in exchange for immortality.
Written by Alex Kurtzman | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0117
This episode is most important for Xena fans because it explains a plot point that is only briefly covered in “A Necessary Evil.” Remember when Xena and Callisto switched bodies back at the end of “Ten Little Warlords,” and Callisto returned to Tartarus, only later to be visited by Xena in the ruins of a temple in “A Necessary Evil”? Well, this shows us what happens in between. Hera frees Callisto for a mission: kill Hercules, naturally. Meanwhile, it’s Hercules’ birthday, so Callisto shows up at the party Alcmene’s throwing and spikes their drinks with a poison that causes insanity. The only cure is taking a bite of a golden apple that’s produced from the Tree of Life, located in the Labyrinth of the Gods. If Hercules wants to save his friends and family, he’ll have to travel with Callisto.
Leick is a wonderful actress, and she and Sorbo work exceptionally well together. They have a nice playful relationship that allows for moments of delicious dark comedy. However, given the absence of the emotional history that Callisto shares with Xena, there’s a certain lack of gravitas that undermines the character’s edge. So while she is expectedly entertaining and is almost solely responsible for making this one of the best episodes of Hercules‘ third season, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that her inclusion here is gratuitous and a glaring attempt to inject the series with some of the magical ingredients that allowed Season Two of Xena to eclipse her big brother show.
But one of the things that makes this episode special is the constant feeling of danger that lingers while the entire birthday party goes insane. This is excellent for raising the stakes and elevating the drama. Anyway, when Hercules and Callisto finally get to the tree, Callisto intends to trap Hercules, but naturally she is unsuccessful and gets the nice big scar she sports the next time we see her. Plus, she eats an apple and becomes immortal. (Not a goddess, but immortal.) So while this is a great Hercules episode, I recommend this episode to all Xena fans for the story gaps in which it fills.
HTLJ: Season 3, Episode 15: “Judgment Day” (Aired: 02/17/97 | Filmed: 12/09 – 12/18/96)
Xena and Gabrielle intervene when Ares and Strife frame Hercules for the murder of his new wife, Serena.
Written by Robert Bielak | Directed by Gus Trikonis | Production No. V0120
Although Xena and Gabrielle will make brief appearances in two episodes during the following season of Hercules, this is the only time they appear in the proper timeline and universe as themselves. It’s evident that the writer of this installment has little experience and/or interest in writing for our heroines, so they’re really included here as props. But given that this is a Hercules episode, this maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise.
This episode, the conclusion of a trilogy, requires some story explanation. I’ll be brief: In the prior two episodes, Hercules meets and weds Serena, the last of the Golden Hind, a half-deer who used to belong to Ares. In exchange for her freedom to marry Hercules, Hercules agrees to give up his demi-god status. So he’s completely lost his strength. In “Judgment Day,” Ares and his goofy henchman Strife concoct a convoluted plan — that *tries* to give merit to Xena’s inclusion) — he’s going to get Xena back into his fold by framing Hercules for murder. While the newlyweds sleep, Strife gives Hercules disorienting nightmares and kills Serena. Both the townsfolk and Hercules himself are convinced of his own culpability, but Xena smells something rotten. The foursome stage a fake battle in which Strife and Ares are revealed as the culprits. Zeus retores Hercules’ powers but argues that he can’t bring Serena back to life. Cue Xena delivering her signature “Burial” song.
There are some nice emotional moments — particularly near the end — and there’s a surprising (almost throwaway) nod to Xena and Hercules’ romantic past. (Meanwhile Gabrielle is basically background scenery.) The biggest problem with this episode is the ridiculous plotting that comes across as sloppy and really counteracts what could be a potentially gut-wrenching episode about Serena’s death. It seems like there could have been a better way to reach this point that Hercules makes: “If I hadn’t fallen in love and married [Serena], she’d be alive today.” Sloppy storytelling and a misuse of Xena and Gab make this episode inessential viewing for Xena fans. That being said, if you’re an X:WP junkie (like me) and need something new to watch, you’ll know this episode is there.
Come back next Thursday for more Hercules and Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another 1935 Film Friday post!