Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re concluding 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.)
HTLJ: Season 4, Episode 5: “Stranger In A Strange World” (Aired: 10/27/97 | Filmed: 05/12 – 05/21/97)
Herc and Iolaus find themselves in parallel worlds, each saddled with lookalikes of the other who act very differently. Meanwhile, Zeus appears to be dying.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. V0302
Usually I find alternate universes/alternate timelines a gimmicky device used for cheap entertainment in place of character driven narratives. However, this episode is surprisingly excellent: both entertaining and well-written. Admittedly, the premise DOES feel like a bit of a gimmick — in fact, the episode was initially supposed to be shot in 3-D — but because the story’s illogical tendencies are supported by logic, everything works, and it works well.
The inclusion of Lucy Lawless is wonderful. She and Sorbo, no matter how resentful he may have been over the success of her series, have excellent chemistry. But as with “Judgment Day,” it does seem like this is partially an attempt to help the sagging Hercules, which had since been eclipsed by its more buzz-worthy little sister series. O’Connor’s cameo is totally goofy and gratuitous, but the inclusion of Raimi as the alternate Joxer packs a nice comedic/dramatic irony.
The fun of this episode lies directly with the actors — all of whom are clearly enjoying themselves. Sorbo seems particularly rejuvenated in the chance to play someone not goody-goody for the first time. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith and Alex Tydings are divine as their alternate selves, providing comedy that hinges on representations that contrast their usual personas. So, I’d recommend this episode to Xena fans — it houses lots of our favorite guest stars and features a well-crafted script.
HTLJ: Season 4, Episode 13: “Armageddon Now (I)” (Aired: 02/09/98 | Filmed: 12/01 – 12/09/97)
Evil Hope, who survives her own cremation, frees Callisto and sends her back in time to keep Hercules from being born.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0319
The following two-parter was, like “The Quest” for Xena, a last minute addition that was brought about as the result of a star’s illness. This time it was Sorbo, and he was out of commission for a while. The thought behind this episode was to bring in a lot of high powered guest stars that could take the focus away from Hercules, who would still be included in the action — only separate and contained. And since Xena was doing so well, why not use some characters from her series?
The idea of bringing Hope and the Dahak storyline over to H:TLJ was always expected. In fact, the initial plan, before Sorbo’s illness, was to do more crossovers — culminating in a big season finale. But this became impossible, and the Dahak arc was concluded on Xena and moved to Hercules for the following season. This episode takes place following the events of “Maternal Instincts,” as Hope rises from her ashes and frees Callisto from the cave in which Xena has just trapped her.
Xena fans, the events of these two episodes are essential in our understanding of “Sacrifice.” For instance, this episode introduces the Hind’s blood dagger — which will become mighty important — and shows us the moment in which Callisto kills Strife. So this episode — though a huge gimmick — does contain information that is beneficial. However, this episode is only the build-up to the second part, which will undoubtedly be of more interest to Xena fans.
HTLJ: Season 4, Episode 14: “Armageddon Now (II)” (Aired: 02/16/98 | Filmed: 12/10 – 12/19/97)
Iolaus encounters the evil, unreformed Xena during his journey into the past to stop Callisto from killing the pregnant Alcmene before she can give birth to Herc.
Story by Paul Robert Coyle, Gene O’Neill & Noreen Tobin | Teleplay by Gene O’Neill & Noreen Tobin | Production No. V0320
This episode picks up from where the following left off and features appearances by Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor as Xena and Gabrielle in the alternate Hercules-less universe. Xena as the Empress and Gabby as the slave girl have spawned numerous fan fictions, and despite the unappealing flashiness of these scenes (clearly designed to fill time and give the installment more excitement), there is something undeniably electrifying about seeing the characters in this setting.
Meanwhile, there’s actual dramatic weight in a subplot that sees Callisto going to Cirra to prevent her family’s death, only to become the cause of it. The sequence in which Leick holds the young Callisto and cries is hauntingly beautiful. There is little else to say about this complex and brilliantly played character, other than how formulaic and dull the episode would be without her. She and Michael Hurst instill this installment with both focus and entertainment.
However, Sorbo is still a presence, albeit reduced, in this episode. In fact, he plays both Hercules AND the Sovereign. However, it’s all in a parallel world that keeps him away from the rest of the players, allowing for short and quick scenes that he could film by himself. Still, he IS doing double duty, and I commend the storytellers for their originality with the premise. Even though this isn’t a favorite episode of mine, I know it will appeal to fans of Xena, and I do consider it essential viewing.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another 1935 Film Friday post!