Welcome to a new Xena Thursday! Today’s post continues our 11-week series on the show from which our beloved Xena: Warrior Princess was spawned. While these posts aren’t set up like the Opinionated Episode Guides with quotes and articles about the making of the show, I’m covering my thoughts on every episode — some of which I’m watching for only the second or third time for these entries. Thus, they are designed as a starting point for Xena fans, like myself, who are interested in FINALLY taking the time to get into the “big brother” series, and I’ve personally invited all my Xena readers to join me in this 11-week marathon! Most episodes are on Netflix, and for anyone who doesn’t have access to the series, contact me and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. If a marathon is too much of a commitment, these posts can be used to help you choose which episodes to watch, because as a Xena fan, although I will do my best to appreciate Hercules: The Legendary Journeys for the unique show that it is, my allegiance is still to Xena — and I know what the Xenites (particularly this Xenite) like!
Today we’re covering the second half of Season Five, which aimlessly contends with the recent changes to the series (namely Iolaus’ death) and features a lot of middling, forgettable episodes. There’s still some good stuff found here, but nothing that approaches that which preceded in the first part of the year…
93. Season 5, Episode 12: “Sky High” (Aired: 01/25/99 | Filmed: 11/09 – 11/18/98)
Hercules, with the help of the Amazon Ephiny, the Centaur Nagus and a youth marked for murder, must stop a volcano from destroying the people of Mount Pelion.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by John Laing | Production No. V0718
Although this installment is neither a favorite among the fandom nor the cast/crew, I find the story, of Hercules accompanying Ephiny, a centaur, and the convicted murderer of the centaur’s son, up the side of a volcano to stop it from exploding, marvelous. It’s very dense, but there are some complex issues addressed in the confines of the script, and for a change, there’s no point in which the narrative drags. On a more superficial level, it’s nice to see Hercules with Ephiny as his sidekick, especially when the show is able to weave in the backstory established for her on Xena and make it part of the story. It’s a surprisingly good action-adventure story; like old Hercules, but darker and more thoughtful. Can this quality of storytelling be maintained throughout the rest of the year?
94. Season 5, Episode 13: “Stranger And Stranger” (Aired: 02/01/99 | Filmed: 10/28 – 11/06/98)
Hercules travels to the parallel Netherworld to rescue the gods of Olympus before both worlds are destroyed.
Story by Paul Robert Coyle | Teleplay by Gerry Conway | Production No. V0716
With this episode, we usher in the age of sequels, in which the show begins to revisit successful stories and formulas that worked in its pre-Dahak days. This episode goes back to “Stranger In A Strange World,” but swaps Nebula for the unavailable Xena. (And, frankly, this works better for the story and for the series at this point in time.) The episode was initially supposed to be shot in 3-D, and was marked for a grand crossover special. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Really, the sole reason for this episode, however, is to bring back Iolaus II (and Michael Hurst) as Hercules’ new sidekick. In that regard, this is a very functional episode, one that had been intended almost from the moment that plans were made to kill off Iolaus. Enjoyable, but nowhere near as good as the first AU episode.
95. Season 5, Episode 14: “Just Passing Through” (Aired: 02/08/99 | Filmed: 05/04 – 05/11/98; 07/09-07/10/98)
While traveling with Iolaus 2, Herc recalls a “typical” day with Iolaus. It involves a stolen gem, Autolycus (of course), and a curse that could destroy an entire village.
Written by Gene O’Neill & Noreen Tobin | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V0702
Production numbers and filming dates reveal that this was actually the second episode produced for the season, but because of the developments regarding Iolaus, it became essential to weave the regular story with another: one in which Hercules bonds with Iolaus II, who’s now become his traveling companion. Those scenes actually form the heart of the episode, and are probably the most rewarding for viewers. The regular adventure has been likened to Xena‘s “A Day In The Life,” but don’t let anyone fool you: this episode isn’t nearly as comical nor crafted as cleverly. Autolycus swallowing a gem is an amusing, if juvenile bit, and the cast is clearly having fun, but there are no real stakes, nor anything of real value — outside of the Iolaus II wraparound scenes, that is.
96. Season 5, Episode 15: “Greece Is Burning” (Aired: 02/15/99 | Filmed: 11/19 – 11/30/98)
In the big city of Trendopolis, Herc and the Widow Twanky help Althea put on a fashion show. But first, they must fend off the fashion police.
Written by Andrew Landis & Julia Swift | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V0715
Another sequel, this time to Season Four’s “…And Fancy Free,” which featured Willa O’Neill (whom you remember, Xenites, as Lila) as a wannabe dancer and Michael Hurst as the Widow Twanky, her instructor. They’re both back in this mildly amusing, but far less clever or memorable episode, in which O’Neill’s character, Althea, is now an aspiring fashion designer, whose style is viciously mocked by the antagonizing “fashion police.” Like several installments from the back end of Season Five, the camp value is off the charts; unfortunately, this becomes a forgettable entry. Aside from Hercules’ regard for these people, where’s the emotional pull that made some earlier entries so strong? It’s nowhere, and this episode, although not horrendous, seems like just another quota filler.
97. Season 5, Episode 16: “We’ll Always Have Cyprus” (Aired: 02/22/99 | Filmed: 12/01 – 12/09/98)
Herc and Morrigan recall their romance as they venture to Cyprus to aid an Oracle who has foretold her own death.
Story by Stephanie C. Meyer | Teleplay by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0721
Based on The Crow, this episode — on paper — seems like a good idea: a murdered woman on the eve of her marriage rises from the dead for revenge on the oracle who promised her happiness. It’s a wonderfully scary story with emotional weight and potential for some serious action. Interwoven through all of this is the story of what happened between Hercules and Morrigan, who seemed to be developing a relationship before she disappeared without a trace. We find out what happened: he proposed to her, and after accepting, she walked out on him in the middle of the night. Although this is an interesting story to tell, it’s not completely believable that Herc would care so much about Morrigan, with whom he never shared the attraction he had with his other main love interests.
98. Season 5, Episode 17: “The Academy” (Aired: 03/15/99 | Filmed: 02/01 – 02/09/99)
There’s trouble at Cheiron’s old military academy, and Herc must straighten it out. Meanwhile, Jason meets his daughter Seska for the first time.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Charlie Haskell | Production No. V0724
The cast of Young Hercules, including Ryan Gosling, who assumed the titular role at the start of the television series, appear as other characters in this episode, which finds Hercules, Iolaus II, and Jason taking charge of Cheiron’s military academy. Despite some emotional stuff with Jason meeting his daughter by Lilith, played by Jodie Rimmer (who played Lilith in Young Hercules, but is probably best remembered by Xenites as Seraphin), the installment is one of the year’s weakest, with hackneyed scripting and a premise that only works for those who have a fondness for the aforementioned spin-off. As a Hercules episode, despite its ties to the character’s past, it is unfortunately a forgettable dud; another quota filler.
99. Season 5, Episode 18: “Love On The Rocks” (Aired: 04/19/99 | Filmed: 12/10 – 12/18/98)
An unsuspecting Iolaus 2 falls in love with Triton’s daughter, unaware she’s really a mermaid in human form.
Written by Kevin Maynard | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0720
Kevin Sorbo is written light in this episode (which is okay; he’d worked exceptionally hard this season — especially compared to the last), as Iolaus II becomes the focus of the proceedings when he falls in love with the daughter of Triton. It’s a fun, sweet episode, blessed with appearances by Aphrodite, who establishes a great rapport with the new Iolaus, and a crazy scenery-chewing warlord who never fails to make me laugh (played by the same actor who was the warlord in Xena‘s “Many Happy Returns”). A favorite of Tapert’s, the episode is nevertheless bogged down by Discord, a villain who’s too cartoonish to be taken seriously. So although it’s a great episode for Hurst and Iolaus II (and Aphrodite), this has never been a favorite of mine and seems another example of late Season Five’s forgettable streak.
100. Season 5, Episode 19: “Once Upon A Future King” (Aired: 04/26/99 | Filmed: 02/10 – 02/19/99)
A young Merlin enlists Hercules to save Britain from a cruel and calculating tyrant — Arthur of Camelot.
Written by Gene O’Neill & Noreen Tobin | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0722
A strange choice for the 100th, this surprisingly inventive offering finds Merlin sending King Arthur and his wicked lady friend Mab back 1000 years to learn the lessons (from Hercules, no doubt) he needs before he can claim Excalibur and become the king. The stuff between Arthur and Herc, who’s given the hilariously pithy dialogue that made the Schulian days of the series so charming, is well written and well played. On the negative side, our principal antagonist, Mab, overacts shamefully, and the inclusion of Morrigan, despite adding to the episode greatly, feels unwarranted — her story has already been told and wrapped. Otherwise, this is a fresh, exciting episode with an original premisse, and a script that seems like a “return to form.” It’s grown on me, and is now a favorite.
101. Season 5, Episode 20: “Fade Out” (Aired: 05/03/99 | Filmed: 02/22 – 03/02/99)
A curse cooked up by Discord, Deimos and Ares has Hercules fading fast.
Written by Gerry Conway | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V0723
In the excellent Weisbrot book on the last three seasons, Kevin Sorbo remarked that this episode would have been a better fit in Season Four, when the series had to make due with little Hercules, as our protagonist is rendered invisible for the majority of the episode. Yes, this is a new premise for Hercules and Xena, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen in silly places like Gilligan’s Island. So we already know we’re in for an inconsequential episode from the premise alone, however the inclusion of Discord and Deimos (a not-too-distant cousin of Strife and also played by Joel Tobeck) neuters the episode’s sense of danger even further. Although Discord was interesting in her initial appearances, neither she nor Deimos are menacing enough to warrant audience investment in the conflict.
102. Season 5, Episode 21: “My Best Girl’s Wedding” (Aired: 05/10/99 | Filmed: 03/03 – 03/10/99)
Fishermen Hercules and Iolaus 2 get second chances at the ones that got away — Serena and the mermaid Nautica.
Written by Gerry Conway | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0727
In some ways, this episode could be called a sequel to both this season’s “Love On The Rocks,” which established a romance between Iolaus II and Nautica, and the third season’s “The End Of The Beginning,” in which Hercules changed Serena’s fate so that she never died and had a nice, normal life. So there’s a fine parallel here with the twosome’s love interests, as Hercules meets with Serena and is once again forced to give her up, while Iolaus swims off into the sunset (literally) with Nautica. I’m also fond of this episode because of its usage of Aphrodite as Herc’s sidekick (which they did a few times in the past), and for the closure it gives to both Serena and Iolaus II. Of all the episodes in today’s post, this one is probably the most thematically coherent and freshly constructed. A balanced hit.
103. Season 5, Episode 22: “Revelations” (Aired: 05/17/99 | Filmed: 03/11 – 03/22/99)
Iolaus returns from the dead to warn Hercules that the end of the world is at hand.
Written by George Strayton & Tom O’Neill | Directed by Bruce Campbell | Production No. V0726
Although the serialization that had played a part of the first half of the season had disappeared in the latter half, the season finale (not surprisingly) brings that back into the forefront. No, Dahak doesn’t return, but Iolaus does — this time to warn Hercules that the end of the world is nigh. I am inherently against this episode, for it really is the first time that Judeo-Christian elements are introduced in a major way into the Herc/Xena universe, and I don’t think that boded well. Of course, it’s nice to have Iolaus back for good, but the installment just seems so out of place for Hercules that it ultimately doesn’t work. It tries so hard to be a big, grand finale, but it ends up a story-heavy mess that lacks the character exploration that made the fifth season of Herc so special.
MVE (Most Valuable Episodes): “Sky High,” “Once Upon A Future King,” and “My Best Girl’s Wedding”
Come back next Thursday for more Hercules! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code film Friday!