The 25th Anniversary Guide to the Best of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (Season One)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’m proud to announce the long-awaited return of Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), the classic syndicated action show that informed my love of television as a child and influenced my creative sensibilities, for on Xena ANYTHING could happen: one week a French farce, the next a Greek tragedy. When I began this blog in 2013, I started our coverage by making a list of my 60 favorite episodes. Soon after, I produced one of our most popular series of posts ever, The Opinionated Episode Guide, which combined my thoughts with episodic reflections and recollections from the cast and crew. This year, as the series approaches its 25th anniversary, I’ve decided to look at Xena: Warrior Princess once again — this time monthly, offering a seasonal episode rundown that includes brief snippets of my own commentary, links to the Opinionated Episode Guide, and a notation of how/if I ranked the entry among my favorites back in 2013, how/if I ranked it when I updated my selections in 2017, and how/if I’ve ranked it on my NEW 2020 list (which will be shared in full at series end), from which I will also be choosing (in red) the ten episodes that I consider each season’s best. (To add a bit of confusion, I’ll also be citing if the episode was an HM, or Honorable Mention. I chose 18 in 2013, ten in 2017, and have compromised at 15 for 2020. These are not necessarily ranked, but may inform my ten-per-season favorites.)

My thoughts on Xena are ever-evolving, so I celebrate any and all new impressions as I continue to engage with the series — 25 years after its debut! So, it’s always a good time to revisit the show, but especially now on its anniversary… Let’s begin this month with Season One, a year of developing themes and characters. Seven of its 24 episodes have made my 60 favorites list. This is the least amount of any season, but if you add in the Honorable Mentions, five of the 15 come from One, meaning I’m singling out 12 first season entries in total. This is numerically higher than the totals for Seasons Five and Six, and proportionally higher than Six’s.

 

01. Season 1, Episode 1: “Sins Of The Past” (Aired: 09/04/95 | Filmed: 06/26 – 07/05/95)

Xena journeys homeward determined to make amends for the sins of her past, but her efforts to begin a new life are challenged by the vengeful warlord Draco.

Story by Robert Tapert | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Doug Lefler | Production No. 876901

2013 Ranking: #23 | 2017 Ranking: #23 | 2020 Ranking: #23

The series premiere is a classic, with a strong sense of thematic purpose, a terrific fight scene, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship! See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

02. Season 1, Episode 2: “Chariots Of War” (Aired: 09/11/95 | Filmed: 07/06 – 07/18/95)

After being befriended by a peace-loving homesteader named Darius, Xena takes on a blood thirsty warlord and his son, who have mercilessly pillaged Darius’s community.

Story by Josh Becker & Jack Perez | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Harley Cokeliss | Production No. 876902

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

The sophomore outing separates the two leads to its own detriment, but boasts a memorable chariot sequence and gives Xena added humanity. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

03. Season 1, Episode 3: “Dreamworker” (Aired: 09/18/95 | Filmed: 07/19 – 07/28/95)

When Gabrielle is kidnapped by a mystic, Xena enters an altered state of consciousness and must face ghosts from her past in order to rescue her friend.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Bruce Seth Green | Production No. 876905

2013 Ranking: #24 | 2017 Ranking: #28 | 2020 Ranking: #26

This seminal but green offering starts Gabrielle’s path to becoming a warrior, while pinpointing Xena’s own drama: facing the demons of her past. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

04. Season 1, Episode 4: “Cradle Of Hope” (Aired: 09/25/95 | Filmed: 07/29 – 08/04/95)

Xena and Gabrielle set out to find the parents of an abandoned baby, and discover that the infant has been marked for death due to a prophecy declaring him a future threat to a local king.

Written by Terence Winter | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. 876906

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

Often regarded as the first lighthearted/comedic entry, this early show is still a little too generic and Hercules-like for these unique characters. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

05. Season 1, Episode 5: “The Path Not Taken” (Aired: 10/02/95 | Filmed: 08/14 – 08/21/95)

Xena faces ghosts from the past when she visits one of her old haunts and ingratiates herself with murderous former “colleagues” in order to locate a kidnapped princess who is being hidden there.

Written by Julie Sherman | Directed by Stephen L. Posey | Production No. 876907

2013 Ranking: HM | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

Xena’s past gets more dimension with the introduction of Marcus, but this emotional outing wants for more Xena/Gabrielle bonding. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

06. 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

2013 Ranking: #37 | 2017 Ranking: #30 | 2020 Ranking: #46

Ares makes his debut in this dark episode that maybe moves a little slow, but powerfully shows how Xena’s inner rage is still a palpable threat. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

07. Season 1, Episode 7: “The Titans” (Aired: 10/30/95 | Filmed: 08/22 – 09/01/95)

When Gabrielle unknowing utters a chant that releases three imprisoned Titans, Xena must figure out how to save the innocent villagers.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Eric Brevig | Production No. 876904

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

This premature script doesn’t quite get the characters right, and with a story more suited to Hercules, it’s one of my least favorites. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

08. Season 1, Episode 8: “Prometheus” (Aired: 11/06/95 | Filmed: 09/04 – 09/13/95)

Xena and Gabrielle team up with Hercules and Iolaus to free the kidnapped Prometheus, the god responsible for making fire available to Earth.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Stephen L. Posey | Production No. 876910

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

With appearances by Hercules and Iolaus, the fact that this doesn’t feel like a Xena is okay, as you’ll probably want to see it for the crossover alone. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

09. Season 1, Episode 9: “Death In Chains” (Aired: 11/13/95 | Filmed: 10/06 – 10/13/95)

Hades, god of the underworld, asks Xena to undertake the daunting task of freeing his sister — the embodiment of death — from the clutches of a greedy king who’s captured her.

Story by Babs Greyhosky, Adam Armus, & Nora Kay Foster | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. 876903

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

Despite a story featuring gods that might fit better on Herc, this entry is tinged with darker material, as Xena‘s style begins coming to the fore. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

10. Season 1, Episode 10: “Hooves And Harlots” (Aired: 11/20/95 | Filmed: 09/25 – 10/05/95)

Xena tries to prevent a war between the Amazons and the Centaurs, while Gabrielle finds herself chosen to replace an Amazon Princess who died in her arms.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Jace Alexander | Production No. 876911

2013 Ranking: #20 | 2017 Ranking: #20 | 2020 Ranking: #22

Boasting the debut of the Amazons, this series-defining installment does a lot for building the show’s world, Xena’s past, and Gabrielle’s future. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

11. Season 1, Episode 11: “The Black Wolf” (Aired: 01/08/96 | Filmed: 10/30 – 11/08/95)

Xena purposely fights her way into a dungeon in order to rescue the freedom-fighting daughter of an old friend.

Written by Alan Jay Glueckman | Directed by Mario Di Leo | Production No. 876912

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

Xena says “I have many skills” in this underrated stylistic showcase that features Salmoneus, a Spartacus take-off, and fine character beats. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

12. Season 1, Episode 12: “Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts” (Aired: 01/15/96 | Filmed: 11/20 – 11/28/95)

At the behest of Helen of Troy, Xena goes to the embattled city to help end a 10-year war with the Greeks. But while trying to rein in the hostilities, she discovers a Trojan horse who’s working with the enemy.

Story by Roy Thomas & Janis Hendler | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. 876914

2013 Ranking: HM | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

Although it’s great to see the series engage with the Trojan War myth, the obviousness of its drama undercuts this entry’s tension. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

13. Season 1, Episode 13: “Athens City Academy Of The Performing Bards” (Aired: 01/22/96 | Filmed: 10/24 – 10/27/95)

Gabrielle cons her way into a prestigious storytelling competition and ends up helping a fellow bard who is under pressure from his father to win.

Written by R.J. Stewart & Steven L. Sears | Directed by Jace Alexander | Production No. 876916

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

The series’ first clip show may be among its least imaginative, but it explores Gabrielle and her interest in barding with noble sincerity. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

14. Season 1, Episode 14: “A Fistful Of Dinars” (Aired: 01/29/96 | Filmed: 11/09 – 11/17/95)

Xena is drawn into a treacherous treasure hunt that forces her to team up with a desperate assassin and a ruthless warlord — who happens to be her former fiance.

Written by Steven L. Sears & R.J. Stewart | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. 876918

2013 Ranking: #50 | 2017 Ranking: HM | 2020 Ranking: HM

My appreciation for this episode has dipped over the years, but it’s a solid action adventure show with earned emotional moments via Xena’s past. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

15. Season 1, Episode 15: “Warrior… Princess” (Aired: 02/05/96 | Filmed: 12/08 – 12/15/95)

The Warrior Princess learns that life as a blue blood can be a royal pain in the neck when she stands in for a lookalike princess whose life has been threatened by assassins.

Written by Brenda Lilly | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. 876921

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: HM | 2020 Ranking: HM

I consider this the first outright comic offering, finally letting Lawless loosen up her depiction of Xena by playing someone else: an actual princess. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

16. Season 1, Episode 16: “Mortal Beloved” (Aired: 02/12/96 | Filmed: 11/29 – 12/07/95)

A visit from the ghost of her beloved Marcus prompts Xena to travel to the Underworld — where a madman has stolen Hades’ Helmet of Invisibility.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. 876919

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

With the return of Marcus and some applied mythology, this entry has a following, but it’s a tonal mishmash — again, more suited to Herc. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

17. Season 1, Episode 17: “The Royal Couple Of Thieves” (Aired: 02/19/96 | Filmed: 01/08 – 01/16/96)

Xena’s asked to steal back a pilfered chest containing the world’s most powerful weapon, so she enlists the help of Autolycus, the self-proclaimed King of Thieves.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by John Cameron | Production No. 876922

2013 Ranking: HM | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: HM

Claiming Autolycus, this episode has an inherent spark, but some of the plot elements (like the Indiana Jones rip-off) keep it from being top-tier. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

18. Season 1, Episode 18: “The Prodigal” (Aired: 03/04/96 | Filmed: 01/17 – 01/25/96)

Gabrielle returns to her home town, only to find it under attack by a greedy warlord, and under the protection of a faded warrior, who’s lost his self-confidence.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by John T. Kretchmer | Production No. 876915

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

It’s another “Lucy lite” offering as Gabrielle returns home and takes center stage — it’s not bad, just one that doesn’t represent the series at its best. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

19. Season 1, Episode 19: “Altared States” (Aired: 04/22/96 | Filmed: 03/04 – 03/12/96)

Xena and Gabrielle agree to hide a 12-year-old boy who has run away from home after learning from his mother he was to be sacrificed in the name of a new “Supreme Deity.”

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. 876926

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: HM

Although I find this popular entry clunky, I’ve grown more amenable to the further loosening of Xena and her dynamic with Gabrielle. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

20. Season 1, Episode 20: “Ties That Bind” (Aired: 04/29/96 | Filmed: 02/21 – 03/01/96)

Xena saves a mysterious warrior who later professes to be her estranged father. But the reunion is anything but happy, as a suspicious Xena tries to find out if the man’s claims are true.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. 876923

2013 Ranking: #53 | 2017 Ranking: #59 | 2020 Ranking: HM

Ares is back, we learn about Xena’s dad, and the series proves that its title character is still only a bad day away from going back to the dark side. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

21. Season 1, Episode 21: “The Greater Good” (Aired: 05/06/96 | Filmed: 03/20 – 03/28/96)

When Xena is incapacitated and left near death after being struck by a poisoned dart, Gabrielle is forced to impersonate the Warrior Princess in order to protect a group of innocent villagers.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Gary Jones | Production No. 876924

2013 Ranking: #39 | 2017 Ranking: #39 | 2020 Ranking: #29

The most important outing for Gabrielle here in Season One, this is a classic Xena with humor and heart, not to mention growth-providing action. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

22. 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

2013 Ranking: #3 | 2017 Ranking: #3 | 2020 Ranking: #3

Xena introduces its most potent villain (shaped by Xena’s evil past) and its most loyal ally in the strongest episode from Season One; don’t miss it! See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

23. Season 1, Episode 23: “Death Mask” (Aired: 06/03/96 | Filmed: 01/26 – 02/05/96)

After being reunited with her estranged older brother, Toris, Xena decides to join him in his plans to kill the raider who destroyed their village years before.

Written by Peter Allan Fields | Directed by Stewart Main | Production No. 876917

2013 Ranking: HM | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: N/A

There’s a good idea here, but it’s so ill-handled the series will pretend it never happened, eventually swapping Cortese for Caesar as Xena’s foe. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

24. Season 1, Episode 24: “Is There A Doctor In The House?” (Aired: 07/29/96 | Filmed: 03/13 – 03/19/96)

Caught in the middle of a fierce war, Xena and Gabrielle aid the wounded inhabitants of a healing temple, then try to mediate talks between the warring factions.

Written by Patricia Manney | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. 876925

2013 Ranking: #11 | 2017 Ranking: #12 | 2020 Ranking: #12

More a medical drama than an action show, this smart character study shows Xena vulnerable for the first time — when Gabrielle nearly dies. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

 

Come back next month for Season Two! And stay tuned next week for more Andy Griffith!

6 thoughts on “The 25th Anniversary Guide to the Best of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (Season One)

  1. Yayyyy! I’m so glad Xena’s back. I just started watching the show on Syfy, in large part because of your reviews here. The opinionated guide is a gods-send and I’m so glad you’re picking seasonal favorites now too. Can’t wait for S2!

    • Hi, Eboni! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I really appreciate your kind words — hope you’re enjoying the show!

  2. Cool, great to see new Xena stuff. I never watched the show when it first aired, but I recently saw the whole series on the Sci-Fi Channel here in Canada and immediately fell in love with it. Your site is a great resource … really helped me get a handle on the show, although we disagree somewhat on which episodes are the best :)

    (I actually agree with a lot of your choices overall, but for the record, my top five are: One Against an Army, Kindred Spirits, When Fates Collide, Sins of the Past, and Remember Nothing. Yeah, I like the “relationship” episodes.)

    As for the first season, I agree with eight of your top ten choices, but I’d swap in Mortal Beloved (I like how Marcus is used in that one) and The Prodigal (Gabi’s my favourite character, so I love when she gets a chance to shine) in place of Fistful of Dinars and Warrior…Princess. But that’s the great thing about Xena; you ask a dozen people for their favourite episodes and get a dozen different answers. Anyway, I’m looking forward to your Season Two post.

    • Hi, Mike! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      That’s a nice compliment — thank you!

      With only seven favorite episodes from this season, I had to reach into my Honorable Mentions to round out a full list of ten. I selected “Warrior… Princess” because it’s instrumental in establishing the tone that the series will take in its forthcoming comedic offerings, which will become an important part of XENA’s identity as early as Season Two. So, I consider this one a game-changer, completing the thought that began with the merely cute “Cradle Of Hope.”

      I selected “A Fistful Of Dinars” because, although I’ve been up and down on it in the past, I think it’s the season’s best example of an episodic action adventure that simultaneously displays A) the growing friendship between Xena and Gabrielle, B) how Xena’s past shapes her present, and C) the darker, more dangerous tone that was starting to delineate XENA from HERCULES. It’s not a perfect showing, but its flaws are not so imperative that they’re a handicap, and they ably reveal what the show is like at that specific moment in time.

      As for why I didn’t select “Mortal Beloved,” that’s an entry with which I struggle — principally because I think it’s tonally schizophrenic, due largely to a depiction of Xena that’s way more emotive and sentimental than she is at any other point during the season, and since this has to do with a relationship in which our investment is limited (because we only met him briefly and now he’s dead), I don’t think the portrayal is fully motivated. I also think that it uses so many story elements from HERCULES, particularly from a much superior entry in that series called “The Other Side,” that I fundamentally think the premise is not a match for XENA, especially in comparison.

      With regard to “The Prodigal,” while I do have an affinity for shows about Gabrielle’s development and don’t mind a good “Lucy lite” episode when it’s well-handled (see: “The Quest” and “Forget Me Not”), I don’t think the series has figured out how to do a show without Xena at this point in the run and not have us miss her. We’re still getting to know the character — and her relationship with Gabrielle — at this early juncture, and seeing them together is vital in making a strong, representatively ideal episode for Season One.

      Thanks again for commenting and stay tuned next month for Season Two!

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