Welcome to a new Xena Thursday! Today’s post concludes 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 abbreviated final season, which features a handful of strong, if unconnected episodes, that illustrate a series not afraid of tapping into darker areas, but still unsure of what kind of stories it should be telling. However, these eight episodes boast some of the best action sequences that this series has ever seen and reveal a show still filled with possibilities…
104. Season 6, Episode 1: “Be Deviled” (Aired: 09/27/99 | Filmed: 04/22 – 05/03/99)
Hercules meets a Serena lookalike who persuades him to help her return one of his enemies to Hades.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V1102
Many Xenites may recall that this was a story intended to be about Callisto and her return from Hell to save her corrupt sister, but due to the plans that Xena still had for the character, the episode was rewritten for the always dependable Jeremy Roberts. While the premise of this episode is strong, and gives Hercules the opportunity to wrestle with a potential dark side (and even become a quasi-antagonist), the script never fully commits to exploring this explicitly, and the result is an offering that doesn’t quite live up to its hype. Meanwhile, I must continue to be vocal about the mistake it was to introduce (or even hint at) Judeo-Christian themes in this series, as it brings about the downfall of all that initially made Hercules so special: the Greek mythology. And furthermore, the inclusion of Serena feels like overkill; yes, she gives Hercules an emotional hook, but her story was wrapped up so nicely at the end of last season. It wasn’t necessary to see her again. Solid episode, but not without some flaws.
105. Season 6, Episode 2: “Love, Amazon Style” (Aired: 10/04/99 | Filmed: 05/17 – 05/25/99)
The god of terror Deimos exploits a tribe of Amazons when Aphrodite accidentally puts them under a spell.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by David Grossman | Production No. V1106
Aphrodite is given her Hercules swan song in this installment, which revisits her relationship with Hephaestus and brings back the Amazons for the final time. Unfortunately, this is a case of an episode with two dichotomous tones, yielding a final product that’s not quite sure what it wants to be. (In many ways, it reminds most of Seasons Two and Three, when this conflict was more prominent, and impacted the majority of the episodes produced.) What ultimately keeps this episode from working, I think, is that everything is too obvious — from the feminist message behind the Amazons being forced into servitude, to the unquestionably non-threatening Deimos, and the silly spat between Aphrodite and Hephaestus — this is exactly what the later seasons of Hercules were trying to escape. However, its inability to function as a great episode doesn’t hinder its inherent comedy, and there are several moments in the episode that will repeatedly make you laugh out loud.
106. Season 6, Episode 3: “Rebel With A Cause” (Aired: 10/11/99 | Filmed: 07/02 – 07/13/99)
Hercules and Oedipus battle the ruthless Creon to help Antigone assume her rightful position as Queen of Thebes.
Written by Lisa Klink | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V1104
Rob Tapert has wavered back and forth on his opinion regarding this episode, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of support among the fandom for it either. I must separate myself from the crowd and voice the opinion that this is one of the most unique episodes of the entire series, for it contends with some of the most tragic figures in all of Ancient Greek theatre (a wealth of potential stories that should have been mined more in the later years on this series — especially since some of them are so dark). Additionally, the casting of Antigone is intriguing; she’s part annoying, part likable, and ultimately perfect for the role. But what appeals most about this installment is that all of the conflict is driven by mortals; while Hercules, by design, is put up in conflict against Gods, these human stories are often better at evoking genuine drama. So although it’s not a classic episode, it’s solidly imagined and realized with outstanding fight sequences (among the most impressive) and one of the most memorable stories from the short final season.
107. Season 6, Episode 4: “Darkness Visible” (Aired: 10/18/99 | Filmed: 05/26 – 06/03/99)
Hercules and Iolaus are summoned by an old friend, Vlad, to fight vampires only to discover that they are to be his next victims.
Written by Phyllis Strong | Directed by Philip Sgriccia | Production No. V1101
This is a supremely well executed Halloween episode, taking a character from history, Vlad, and narratively transposing him into a time that allows for an interaction with Hercules. It’s well directed with great action sequences, and the prior relationship gives Herc that personal connection that helps elevate the conflict above the usual “hero on a mission” fare. But despite its excellent rendering and my unquestionable enjoyment, I find the episode indicative of the rut into which the series put itself following the end of Hera (in Season Four); while Hercules faced off with other gods like Discord, Deimos, and Ares none but the latter ever came close to posing as much of a threat as she did. (And Dahak came and went in a period of 11 episodes.) But without gods as a main source of conflict, Hercules had trouble redefining itself. What kind of stories should it tell? It seems like the solution was to have our hero face godlike forces — vampires, witchcraft, demons; but that isn’t making use of the character’s Greek origins, and thus, doesn’t work as well.
108. Season 6, Episode 5: “Hercules, Tramps, And Thieves” (Aired: 11/01/99 | Filmed: 07/14 – 07/22/99)
When Autolycus is charged with robbing the first bank of Greece, it’s up to Hercules to save him from taking the rap for his ex-wife.
Written by Liz Friedman & Vanessa Place | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V1105
Traci Lords is fantastic in this episode as Autolycus’ vengeful ex-wife Luscious, who steals from the first bank of Greece and frames her ex-husband in retaliation for their split. The last episode produced for the series, this amusing offering reminds of some of those early seasons episodes, in which the conflict makes room for lighthearted quips from Hercules and his sidekick of the week — in this case, Autolycus, an always welcome presence on both Hercules and Xena. On the whole, however, this is a really tight episode, featuring, like “Rebel With A Cause”, some of the best action sequences of the entire series. (They definitely stepped up their game with the fight choreography in these final eight episodes!) It’s a funny, uncomplicated installment that typifies the best of this series’ foray into comedic episodes (which generally didn’t work as much as Xena’s, because of the series’ increasing reliance on the genre instead of harder-hitting stories). Great fun — early charm recaptured.
109. Season 6, Episode 6: “City Of The Dead” (Aired: 11/08/99 | Filmed: 06/23 – 07/02/99)
Hercules and Iolaus also travel to Egypt on a diplomatic mission only to become embroiled in a royal family feud that threatens the life of Queen Nefertiti.
Written by Tom O’Neill & George Strayton | Directed by Chris Long | Production No. V1108
Given the impressive grandiosity of Ancient Egyptian art and architecture, one can’t help but wish that both series ventured over to the Land of the Pharaohs more often, for in addition to the opportunities for fabulous production design, there’s a lot of new storytelling potential. This installment tries to employ some of that, and for the most part, works very well. It begins as a family drama, involving Nefertiti and her two kids and turns into more of a horror flick as the Queen’s son gets hold of the Necronimicon, the Book of the Dead. While I’ve heard some complain that the former is perhaps boring and plodding, I actually prefer it to the CGI fest that ensues. While that’s more visually and explicitly exciting, something about the quickness of the set-up and the cheapness of the device as the fourth act conflict makes it off-putting. Lots of undeveloped opportunities for the setting and the characters, but the two-dimensional conception and easy cheesy elements dampen its power.
110. Season 6, Episode 7: “A Wicked Good Time” (Aired: 11/15/99 | Filmed: 06/11 – 06/22/99)
The wicked Haleh frames Hercules as a warlock and seduces the daughter of Hercules’ friend into joining her coven of witches.
Written by Liz Friedman & Vanessa Place | Directed by Adam Nimoy | Production No. V1107
Again, using witchcraft as a force against which Hercules can fight is indeed darker than the routine monsters-of-the-week that he had to face back in Season Two, but it’s fundamentally unrelated to Hercules and his existence, so it’s thematically underwhelming. The story knows to make things personal by including Lilith and her daughter (played by Jodie Rimmer from Young Hercules, and known to Xenites as Seraphin), whom we met in last season’s lugubrious “The Academy” and with whom both Hercules and Iolaus have a personal connection. Additionally, the casting of Katrina Brown as Haleh is superb, for she manages to be a really a sexy and threatening antagonist — much more so than Discord, who’s best when the series acknowledges that she can ever be more than comic relief. The Crucible elements are interesting, and the darker parts of the story are undoubtedly superior to the lighter fare of some other wannabe dramas from this series, but, due to its premise, this one is no more than mediocre.
111. Season 6, Episode 8: “Full Circle” (Aired: 11/22/99 | Filmed: 05/04 – 05/14/99)
The fate of the world rests with Hercules when Zeus releases Hera from the Abyss of Tartarus and inadvertently lets loose the Titans.
Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman | Directed by Bruce Campbell | Production No. V1103
Unlike Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was able to craft the perfect series finale; not only did the story tap into its thematic roots by ushering in a return of Zeus, Hera, and Nemesis (all of whom were major players in seasons past), but the episode also leaves things on a positive, and ultimately, brilliant note, as Hercules and Iolaus, after briefly considering retirement, walk off into the sunset to continue on their adventures. Now, the conflict provided by the Titans, while situated firmly in the Greek myths, isn’t as fully realized in the production as it might have been on paper. (They’re a bit too cartoony; but hey, this is Hercules!) Instead, what’s most exciting about this episode is the closure it gives to Hercules’ relationships with both Zeus and Hera, which served, initially, as the show’s most important arcs (and had been missed over the past few seasons). As Hercules comes to terms with Zeus as his father, he and Hera also reach an understanding that’s brought about by the death of Evander, the son that Ares shares with Nemesis. These elements make this episode infinitely rewarding, and I can’t impress enough how satisfying this episode is as a finale. Unfortunately, Xena had to come along and wreck things two months later with “God Fearing Child”…
MVE (Most Valuable Episodes): “Hercules, Tramps, And Thieves” and “Full Circle”
Come back next Thursday for a new Xena Thursday! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code film Friday!