HAPPY 20th! The Best of XENA: Enemies Edition

Welcome to another Xena Thursday! In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Xena: Warrior Princess, which premiered 20 years ago this month (September 4, 1995), we’re finishing a series of posts celebrating the best Xena episodes per character. While I’ve already voiced my thoughts on every single episode and chosen my picks for the best, I’ve long wanted to choose which installments best represented the characters, furthering their individual journeys and strengthening the audience’s understanding of them. We’ve already done the two heroines and their allies, and now we’ve come to the villains! I have selected these installment due to the things revealed about each character and their importance in the person’s growth and development. They are listed in airing order.

 

ARES

01. Season 1, Episode 6: “The Reckoning” (Aired: 10/16/95 | Filmed: 09/14 – 09/22/95)

Ares frames Xena with the murder of four innocent villagers in the hope that she will return to him and rule by his side.

Written by Peter Allan Fields | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. 876908

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I featured this episode as #37 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Of all the villains in today’s list, Ares’ trajectory is the most complicated, for although he spends the first few years antagonizing Xena, he eventually becomes a bit of an ally, motivated by his love for her. In this episode, his debut, Ares frames Xena for a murder that she didn’t commit in the hopes of winning her back to the dark side. He and Xena share some of their most sensual scenes of the series.

02. Season 3, Episode 1: “The Furies” (Aired: 09/29/97 | Filmed: 03/28 – 04/08/97)  

At Ares’s prodding, the Furies curse Xena with madness for failing to avenge her father’s death. But lifting the curse may prove troublesome when she learns who the murderer was.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Gilbert Shilton | Production No. V0224

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I featured this episode as #36 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

One of the most debate-sparking episodes of the series, this installment has Ares manipulating the Furies into driving Xena insane (again, in the hopes of winning her back). But she turns the tables and proves to the Furies that she isn’t responsible for avenging her Father’s murder because Ares is her father. Is he? You can read my thoughts (along with the dissenting cast/crew’s) in the link above.

03. Season 5, Episode 13: “Eternal Bonds” (Aired: 02/07/00 | Filmed: 12/02 – 12/10/99)

When Joxer is wounded by a poisonous sword intended to kill Xena and Eve, it’s up to Gabrielle to get him to the antidote while Xena combats armies sent by priests of the gods.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0916

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I featured this episode as one of the 18 honorable mentions that narrowly missed inclusion on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

In the previous episode, Ares confesses his love to Xena, and in this one, he makes her an offer that she refuses: he’ll protect Xena and Eve if she’ll give him a child of their own. While the following installment has some great scenes when Ares attempts to make good on this promise after Xena asks for his help defeating Athena, this is the installment where Ares’ villainy first becomes clouded.

04. Season 5, Episode 22: “Motherhood” (Aired: 05/15/00 | Filmed: 03/17 – 03/29/00)

With the lives of Gabrielle and Eve hanging in the balance, Xena faces the gods in a final showdown.

Story by Robert Tapert | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0923

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I featured this episode as #34 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Ares sacrifices his mortality — and the longevity of his family — when he resurrects Gabrielle and Eve from the dead, thereby allowing Xena to defeat Athena, who’s been leading the crusade against Xena and her daughter. His love for Xena allowed him to make the ultimate self-sacrifice, as he had to give up his immortality to save them. Ares is now officially a good guy. How long will it last though?

05. Season 6, Episode 10: “Old Ares Had A Farm” (Aired: 01/15/01 | Filmed: 09/15 – 09/22/00)

To protect the mortal Ares from a gang of revenge-seeking warlords, Xena brings him to her childhood home and disguises him as a farmer.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V1414

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I featured this episode as #47 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Although I toyed with selecting another Season Six episode, in which Ares (with restored powers) returns to his role as a villain, this is the God of War’s best appearance in the final year, as Ares adjusts to mortality when Xena and Gabrielle help him go undercover as a farmer. This is the funniest material Smith ever got to play, and with the whole episode centered around him, it’s a great Ares showcase.

 

CALLISTO

01. Season 1, Episode 22: “Callisto” (Aired: 05/13/96 | Filmed: 02/06 – 02/16/96)

Xena is once again reminded of the sins of her past when a malicious female warrior, whose family was killed by Xena’s former army, exacts her revenge on the Warrior Princess by impersonating her.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. 876920

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I featured this episode as #3 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

This episode introduces the series’ most memorable villain, Callisto, the perfect embodiment of the collateral damage caused by Xena’s evil ways. Although she does worse things in future shows, the initial jolt of meeting this villain, who’s clearly psychotic — but with a legitimate gripe that makes her cruelly sympathetic, this may be the most riveting of all Callisto’s fabulous appearances.

02. Season 3, Episode 11: “Maternal Instincts” (Aired: 01/26/98 | Filmed: 06/18 – 06/27/97)

Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship is strained after Callisto manipulates Gabrielle’s daughter into killing Xena’s son.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0405

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I featured this episode as #13 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

While the main thrust of this episode is the destruction of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle after Hope kills Solan, this is a fantastic Callisto episode, for the Warrior Queen finally gets her revenge on the Warrior Princess. There are some really chilling moments, especially in the final act, when Callisto realizes that vengeance has not sated her, leaving her uncomfortably empty. Wow.

03. Season 5, Episode 1: “Fallen Angel” (Aired: 09/27/99 | Filmed: 05/10 – 05/24/99)

Xena and Gabrielle, now released from their mortal coils, join forces with the Archangel Michael to battle Callisto and the infernal forces of Hell.

Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0903

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I featured this episode as #43 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

The best thing about this overblown and ill-fitting episode is that Xena is given the opportunity, as an archangel, to redeem Callisto (who had been making one deliciously wicked demon) and switch places with her, taking on Callisto’s sins and absolving her from all the pain and suffering that Xena caused. It’s a beautiful moment, and Callisto as an angel — you have to see it to believe it.

 

CAESAR

01. Season 2, Episode 12: “Destiny” (Aired: 01/27/97 | Filmed: 06/17 – 06/27/96)

A fierce battle with Sitacles and his men leaves Xena lying near death and dreaming of the past encounters that have shaped her into a warrior princess, including her adventures with Julius Caesar and her relationship with a mysterious girl.

Story by Robert Tapert | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart & Steven L. Sears | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V0207

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I featured this episode as #22 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Julius Caesar makes his debut in this, the first flashback show, which explains that the future Roman emperor’s betrayal of Xena, who became a nomadic pirate after Cortese raided her village and killed her brother, was responsible for making her commit to evil. For Caesar fans, this episode sets up exactly who this power-hungry character is, and helps explain Xena’s intense hatred for him.

02. Season 3, Episode 16: “When In Rome…” (Aired: 03/02/98 | Filmed: 01/08 – 01/16/98)

Efforts to engage in a prisoner exchange involving a Gaul warrior and a member of the Roman hierarchy are hindered by an uncooperative Caesar.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by John Laing | Production No. V0416

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I featured this episode as #12 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

The second episode in which Xena meets Caesar since his initial betrayal, this episode is fascinating, for the possibility looms that part of Xena’s plan involves enacting revenge on him. As it turns out, his belief in her hatred  ends up backfiring on him, and helps her make the prisoner exchange, leading to the dismantling of the triumvirate. Set almost entirely in Rome, this is one of my favorites!

03. Season 4, Episode 21: “The Ides Of March” (Aired: 05/10/99 | Filmed: 03/09 – 03/18/99)

When Xena learns that Caesar has put a six-million-dinar price on her head, she decides to go to Rome and kill him. Meanwhile, Caesar sends Brutus to capture Gabrielle and Amarice. Complicating matters is Callisto, who has been released from Hell and put on a double mission.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Ken Girotti | Production No. V0624

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I featured this episode as #1 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Per the title, this is the installment in which Caesar finally meets his fate. Of course, because Xena is indisposed at the time (she and Gabrielle are being crucified, thanks to interference on behalf of the devilish Callisto), his murder comes at the hands of Brutus. But fans can at least relish in the fact that she planted the seeds in Brutus’ mind, thereby setting the stage for the infamous assassination.

 

ALTI

01. Season 4, Episode 2: “Adventures In The Sin Trade (II)” (Aired: 10/05/98 | Filmed: 06/29 – 07/09/98)

Xena’s continuing search for Gabrielle in the Amazon Land of the Dead leads to a climatic battle with the evil shamaness Alti.

Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. V0608

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I featured this episode as #38 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Alti, the evil shamaness with the power to inflict pain on her victims by giving them glimpses of their past, present, and futures, is one of the series’ most interesting villains. Unfortunately, it was always a challenge to find ways to incorporate her into the stories, and so she never clicks as well as she does in this initial two-parter, which goes back and forth between the past, during which Xena allied with Alti, and the present day, when the two engage in one of the best choreographed fights of the series.

 

DAHAK/HOPE

01. Season 3, Episode 11: “Maternal Instincts” (Aired: 01/26/98 | Filmed: 06/18 – 06/27/97)

Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship is strained after Callisto manipulates Gabrielle’s daughter into killing Xena’s son.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0405

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I featured this episode as #13 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Of all the episodes in the Rift storyline, this is certainly the most emotional. And frankly, I think this is the installment that has the most negative ramifications, as Gabrielle’s decision to let Dahak’s daughter live enabled her to return and kill Xena’s son. The Warrior Princess’ wailing over Solan’s lifeless body is among the series’ most haunting and unforgettable moments. While the next time Hope returns will see higher stakes, the emotional trauma of this installment is unmatched — even throughout the entire series.

 

THE PAST: EVIL XENA

01. Season 3, Episode 7: “The Debt (II)” (Aired: 11/10/97 | Filmed: 07/28 – 08/06/97)

Flashbacks recall Xena’s spiritual reawakening at the hands of her mentor. But in the present, the “Green Dragon” has captured Xena, and is breathing fire at her.

Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0407

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I featured this two-part episode as numbers 5 & 6 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts on this episode (and the prior) here. Check out what the cast and crew had to say about the episode here.

Xena’s worst enemy was always the sins she committed in her past. In effect, I needed to choose the best Evil Xena episode, which limited my choices to the flashbacks. I chose “The Debt (II),” for not only does it begin with Xena at her most evil, but it shows her learning at the feet of Lao Ma and being granted the opportunity to become good. The moment when she decides to re-team with Borias and take down Ming Tsu is one of the most electric scenes of the season, but it also marks the end of Xena’s brief chance of converting from evil to good. It will take about a decade and an encounter with Hercules before she allows herself to change.

 

Other notable Ares episodes include “Ties That Bind,” in which Ares pretends to be Xena’s father, and “Path Of Vengeance,” in which he returns to his role as villain (after being an ally in early Season Six). Other villains, who didn’t appear as frequently as the ones above but are still worth mentioning, include Velasca, whose best episode is “The Quest,” Najara, whose best episode is “Crusader,” and Athena, whose best episode is “Amphipolis Under Siege.” 

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Come back next Thursday for a new series of posts on Xena Thursday! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!

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2 thoughts on “HAPPY 20th! The Best of XENA: Enemies Edition

  1. Eternal Bonds – “this is the installment where Ares’ villainy first becomes clouded”.

    That’s an interesting reading. I always thought it was particularly villainous (not to mention manipulative and creepy) for Ares to essentially threaten the lives of Xena and Eve unless Xena agreed to have sex with Ares as many times as required for her to conceive and give birth to their child.
    Sure, Ares may have said that he loved Xena, but threatening someone’s life (and the life of their child) in order to force the other person to consent to the violation of their body isn’t a great way to demonstrate such love.
    I actually thought that Ares’ demand in this episode (which was repeated a number of times in subsequent episodes) was a disservice to the development of the character. And I’m still surprised that it isn’t as contentious as events like Gabrielle’s betrayal of Xena, Gabrielle’s forced impregnation and the subsequent birth of Hope, the Gab-drag and the Gab-chak.

    • Hi, Agent86! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think that’s a fascinating and valid reading of Ares’ behavior in this installment, which, for the record, I believe is loaded with flaws (hence why it’s not among my favorite offerings). But my point-of-view is shaped by the implications of his offer. Yes, it’s a totally self-serving arrangement and Ares’ primary aim is to ensure his own durability, but it’s also an opportunity for him to be with Xena; per his offer, he will make certain concessions just to be with her. So there’s an inherent vulnerability within his villainy, no matter the threats he makes (and I think it should be stressed that he is STILL a villain, thus any outrage at his smarminess makes little sense — to me). My frame of reference is also heavily impacted by the surrounding installments. We know from “God Fearing Child” that Ares is in some way motivated by love, and coupled with his actions in “Amphipolis Under Siege,” in which he is shown to make good on his part of the bargain, the act of self-sacrifice he makes in “Motherhood” becomes the obvious and most viable course for his character. “Eternal Bonds,” along with the two surrounding episodes, sets this arc in motion, and I believe this particular installment — situated right in the middle — treats his development with the most complexity (and, frankly, this may even be evidenced by our own personal dissenting views).

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