Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday and the launch of our bi-monthly return to my favorite hour-long action series, Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001, Synd.) — an ambitious and joy-filled prognosticator of the limitless world for off-network original programming in the 21st century… Now, if you’ll all remember back when this blog started in 2013, I began by crafting a list of my 60 favorite Xena episodes. Today, over four years later, I thought a perfect way to resume our focus on the series would be to re-examine those selections and see if I’d make any new and surprising decisions. As expressed in my December 2015 “Regrets… I’ve Had A Few” post about Sitcom Tuesday choices that I’d call differently, I am acutely aware that my opinions are ever-changing, just as I am ever-changing. (That’s why I guarantee this blog will end by revisiting the sitcom with which we began, I Love Lucy, to illustrate the expansion of my perspective and the evolution of my tastes, while providing some fitting “full circle” closure.)
For Xena, calling “Regrets” is a slightly different endeavor than it was in that aforementioned 2015 post, because I chose to rank my favorites of this series in a particular order — something I never do on Sitcom Tuesdays. Yet, before I present the new arrangement and go through some of the alterations, I’d like to emphasize that my original 2013 list (featured above) is still to be considered my OFFICIAL ranking. Those listings are not going to change, nor are they to be reflected in our extensive Opinionated Episode Guide series of posts, of which I’m most proud. Rather, this “updated” reference sheet is meant to serve as an enhanced understanding, for regular readers who’ve already enjoyed those entries, of how I feel about the show — and how my point-of-view (and likely your point-of-view) subtly changes over time. Okay? Let’s dive in to the new list (seen below).
First, take note of the color key that I’ve included. You’ll see that of the 60 episodes, 37 have not changed their positions at all. This means that over 60% of the 2017 list is the same as 2013’s. The biggest difference is the three outings that have been dropped entirely: “The Convert,” “A Fistful Of Dinars,” and “God Fearing Child.” I like them all — “The Convert” has great moments for Joxer and gives us more Najara, “A Fistful Of Dinars” is a terrific contained adventure with a thawing Xena characterization, and “God Fearing Child” pushes the Greek mythology to the forefront, features Hercules, and boasts a big narrative development. If the list included 63 titles, those three would be #61, #63, and #62, respectively. In 2017, they’re relegated to the Honorable Mentions (of which I originally chose 18, but would now pick 10).
Those three aforementioned episodes have been replaced on the new list by “Devi,” “Path Of Vengeance,” and “Intimate Stranger,” all of which were highlighted in 2013-2014 as Honorable Mentions. While my opinions on the latter two have genuinely improved — I think they both deliver splendid character drama, one from the series’ golden era and with its best players, and another with the most potent particulars of the final season — “Devi,” in contrast, was closer to an actual oversight in 2013. It deserved to be featured as one of the series’ best then, and it deserves to be featured now. So, all three take their positions within the last fifth of this list, replacing three otherwise enjoyable (and tough-to-exclude) offerings.
Meanwhile, the 2017 list includes nine episodes that have seen their rankings improve, while 11 have dropped. There are no new additions to my Top 20, but the ordering has shifted. I’ve dropped “The Price” down to #13, elevated “Return Of Callisto” to #9, and made room in the Top 10 for another dynamic Steven Sears script, the expertly written “When In Rome…” And with both “Is There A Doctor In The House?” falling only slightly behind the grippingly tragic “Maternal Instincts,” and “Crusader” besting my two favorite installments from Season Five, we leave the Top 20 where it stands.
The Top 30 finds more change — “To Helicon And Back” has swapped positions with “Dreamworker,” both of which serve as companion pieces to Gabrielle’s trajectory as a warrior, but show the improvement within the series’ understanding of itself. Bigger surprises come for the #29 and #30 spots, with “Legacy,” previously #59 on the list, moving 30 places — the highest jump of all! I was just coming around to the importance of this episode in 2013; with a few more years of reflection, it’s now one of the few from the final season that I watch with regularity. Rounding out that Top 30, and hopping up seven spots, is “The Reckoning,” which introduces Ares and hammers home Xena’s proximity to her dark past.
The rest of the changes are smaller. The entries formerly in the #29 and #30 positions (“Forget Me Not” and “Remember Nothing”) are dropped into the Top 40 and various installments here and there moved up and down — the biggest being the first part of the series finale, “A Friend In Need (I),” which has fallen 12 places. I really appreciate the artistry that went into its production — and enjoy a few sequences especially (like Gabrielle showing Xena how she’d save the burning city) — but am even less enthused about the narrative now than I was in 2013.
And lastly, I’ve listed the episodes I would highlight today as being Honorable Mentions — close to making the list. I originally featured 18, three of which were moved onto the 2017 cut. Now, I’m only selecting 10 — the three that were knocked down, six of the previous Honorable Mentions, and then “Warrior… Princess,” the first lookalike excursion and a landmark entry regarding both Lawless’ portrayal of Xena and the show’s use of humor. This offering, along with the other nine, are each meritorious. I’m pleased to be recognizing them — either again or for the first time — here.
So, that’s it. These are my changes for 2017 — a few small shifts, a couple of big leaps, and three swaps. Keep this in mind when we press forward with more of my musings on Xena: Warrior Princess, the next post on which you can expect here in November! Battle on!
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Tuesday for more Newhart!