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

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’m eager to continue our renewed look at 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, along with notations of how/if I ranked the entry among my favorites 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 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 continue this month with Season Two, a year where the show’s identity has been established and scripts have no problem exploring the world and these characters within premise-affirming stories. 12 of its 22 episodes have made my 60 favorites list. This is the second highest showing, behind only Season Three. If you add in the Honorable Mentions, two of those 15 come from Two, meaning I’m singling out 14 entries from this year in total. That stat, again, is second only to the top-rated Season Three.

 

 

25. Season 2, Episode 1: “Orphan Of War” (Aired: 09/30/96 | Filmed: 05/29 – 06/07/96)

Xena comes to the aid of a community of centaurs menaced by a member of her former band, and upon her arrival is reunited with the young son whom she left in their care nine years earlier.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V0206

2013 Ranking: #42 | 2017 Ranking: #42 | 2020 Ranking: #49

Xena’s past gets major definition when we meet her son, in this mostly great entry that’s typical of this season and quintessentially Xena. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

26. Season 2, Episode 2: “Remember Nothing” (Aired: 10/07/96 | Filmed: 05/08 – 05/16/96)

The Three Fates offer Xena the opportunity to erase her past — including her younger brother’s untimely death — but only if she vows to never shed blood in anger again.

Story by Steven L. Sears & Chris Manheim | Teleplay by Chris Manheim | Directed by Anson Williams | Production No. V0201

2013 Ranking: #30 | 2017 Ranking: #40 | 2020 Ranking: #34

This smart alternate timeline show further fleshes out Xena’s past by reuniting her with brother Lyceus, whose death changed everything. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

27. Season 2, Episode 3: “The Giant Killer” (Aired: 10/14/96 | Filmed: 05/17 – 05/28/96)

Xena is caught behind a rock and a hard place when she’s pitted against her old friend Goliath in a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines.

Written by Terence Winter | Directed by Gary Jones | Production No. V0204

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

Xena is thrown into the story of David and Goliath for this slow outing that goes by the book, keeping its heroine too removed from the action. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

28. Season 2, Episode 4: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Aired: 10/21/96 | Filmed: 04/25 – 05/07/96)

Xena is forced to take on the Bacchae — bloodthirsty minions of the wine god, Bacchus — in order to get their power-hungry leader and foil his plan to take over the world.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. V0202

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

It’s Xena‘s MTV lesbian vampire episode — a popular, campy reputation-maker that isn’t among the series’ finest, but is fun and unforgettable. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

29. Season 2, Episode 5: “Return Of Callisto” (Aired: 10/28/96 | Filmed: 07/05 – 07/16/96)

Gabrielle’s consumed by hatred and a desire for vengeance after an escaped Callisto murders her beloved, Perdicus, in an attempt to punish Xena.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. V0210

2013 Ranking: #10 | 2017 Ranking: #9 | 2020 Ranking: #10

Callisto makes her second appearance in this classic entry that could have used more space, but is filled with iconic moments nonetheless. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

30. Season 2, Episode 6: “Warrior… Princess… Tramp” (Aired: 11/04/96 | Filmed: 04/15 – 04/24/96)

The Warrior Princess tries to protect a look-alike friend, Princess Diana, from the machinations of yet another Xena look-alike, a trollop named Meg.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0205

2013 Ranking: #41 | 2017 Ranking: #41 | 2020 Ranking: #40

Lucy Lawless once again plays multiple roles and adds Meg, the tramp, to her repertoire in this, the first of the series’ truly rollicking comedies. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

31. Season 2, Episode 7: “Intimate Stranger” (Aired: 11/11/96 | Filmed: 07/17 – 07/26 & 10/21/96)

Xena’s life takes a nightmarish turn when Callisto escapes from the Underworld by infiltrating her dreams.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Gary Jones | Production No. V0211

2013 Ranking: HM | 2017 Ranking: #54 | 2020 Ranking: #57

Callisto exploits Xena’s guilt and switches places with her, resulting in some hit-and-miss performances, but solid character drama. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

32. Season 2, Episode 8: “Ten Little Warlords” (Aired: 11/18/96 | Filmed: 10/22 – 10/30/96)

While still trapped in the body of her mortal enemy, Callisto, Xena is forced to enter a competition where warlords vie to become the new god of war.

Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V0215

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

Lawless’ pelvis accident forced Hudson Leick to play Xena again for this cool story that probably always would have been middle-of-the-pack. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

33. Season 2, Episode 9: “A Solstice Carol” (Aired: 12/09/96 | Filmed: 07/29 – 08/06/96)

Xena and Gabrielle try to bring the warmth and spirit of the holiday season to a cold-hearted king who has outlawed the annual winter solstice celebration.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by John T. Kretchmer | Production No. V0209

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

Xena‘s holiday offering, a takeoff of A Christmas Carol, is sweet, heartwarming, and clever… but nothing to write Senticles about, quite frankly. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

34. Season 2, Episode 10: “The Xena Scrolls” (Aired: 01/13/97 | Filmed: 06/28 – 07/04/96)

In 1940 Macedonia, a determined archaeologist and a visitor to her excavation site stumble upon the “Xena Scrolls,” ancient manuscripts that chronicle the Warrior Princess’s adventures.

Story by Robert Sidney Mellette | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Charlie Haskell | Production No. V0208

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

The series’ second clip show is its first truly creative endeavor in this category — an Indiana Jones parody set on an archaeological dig. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

35. Season 2, Episode 11: “Here She Comes… Miss Amphipolis” (Aired: 01/20/97 | Filmed: 12/06 – 12/13/96)

Disguising herself as a contestant, Xena enters the Miss Known World beauty pageant in order to flush out a saboteur.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Marina Sargenti | Production No. V0212

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

With a pro-feminist message and some decent laughs, this is not a bad representation of the series’ non-serialized storytelling in this era. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

36. 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

2013 Ranking: #22 | 2017 Ranking: #22 | 2020 Ranking: #19

Tapert helms the series’ first flashback foray into Xena’s past, as we meet Caesar and learn why the Warrior Princess became an evil murderer. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

37. Season 2, Episode 13: “The Quest” (Aired: 02/03/97 | Filmed: 11/14 – 11/25/96)

Xena’s spirit puts into action a plan that may allow her to return to the land of the living and reclaim her body. And Gabrielle is faced with a big decision after meeting up with her old friends—the Amazons.

Story by Chris Manheim, Steven L. Sears, & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. V0221

2013 Ranking: #21 | 2017 Ranking: #21 | 2020 Ranking: #17

This well-promoted classic was written to accommodate Lawless’ injury, but it’s an important growth-giving showcase for Gabrielle. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

38. Season 2, Episode 14: “A Necessary Evil” (Aired: 02/10/97 | Filmed: 11/26 – 12/05/96)

In order to stop the evil, and now immortal, Velasca from hunting down Gabrielle, Xena must unleash an even more depraved immortal to vanquish her—Callisto.

Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0219

2013 Ranking: #26 | 2017 Ranking: #26 | 2020 Ranking: #30

A continuation of the above, this popular entry contrives a reason for Xena and Gab to ally with Callisto, and though it’s forced, it’s delightful. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

39. Season 2, Episode 15: “A Day In The Life” (Aired: 02/17/97 | Filmed: 01/06 – 01/10/97)

Xena has 24 hours to prevent a warlord from plundering one village and the world’s biggest giant from destroying another.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V0223

2013 Ranking: #4 | 2017 Ranking: #4 | 2020 Ranking: #4

The show’s most seminal comedy, this 24-hour slice of life is hilarious and reveals more of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship — don’t miss it! See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

40. Season 2, Episode 16: “For Him The Bell Tolls” (Aired: 02/24/97 | Filmed: 10/31 – 11/08/96)

While engaged in a battle of wills with her son, Cupid, Aphrodite turns Joxer into a dashing war hero tasked with stealing a princess’s heart away from her betrothed.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0220

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

Although not a clunker — it’s a riot for fans of Joxer or Aphrodite — this Lucy-lite offering just isn’t competitive with this year’s finest. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

41. Season 2, Episode 17: “The Execution” (Aired: 04/07/97 | Filmed: 01/30 – 02/07/97)

Gabrielle is torn between her beleaguered hero Meleager, who’s accused of a murder she’s certain he didn’t commit, and Xena, who’s not so sure.

Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0218

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

Meleager returns for this tonally uneven drama that only works when it puts Xena and Gabrielle in conflict — a taste of “The Rift” that’s to come. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

42. Season 2, Episode 18: “Blind Faith” (Aired: 04/14/97 | Filmed: 02/20 – 02/28/97)

A warrior wants to make his name by killing Xena. He fails, of course, but he succeeds in putting the warrior princess in a blind rage when he kidnaps Gabrielle and sells her to agents of a king.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0214

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

Xena and Gabrielle are separated for this bifurcated installment that employs two worthwhile ideas, but never coalesces into anything better. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

43. Season 2, Episode 19: “Ulysses” (Aired: 04/21/97 | Filmed: 01/20 – 01/29/97)

Xena and Gabrielle encounter pirates, the sea god Poseidon and the alluring Sirens when they help Ulysses sail home to Ithaca to re-claim his kingdom.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. V0213

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

It’s fun to see Xena take on The Odyssey, with Ulysses and Poseidon and the Sirens, but the title character falls in love too fast, and it’s not motivated. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

44. Season 2, Episode 20: “The Price” (Aired: 04/28/97 | Filmed: 02/10 – 02/19/97)  

Xena reverts to her old ways to whip a dispirited Athenian army into shape to take on a horrific foe known as the Horde. But her ruthlessness appalls Gabrielle.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0217

2013 Ranking: #9 | 2017 Ranking: #13 | 2020 Ranking: #14

With Xena reverting to her army-leading ways, this one’s got juicy thesis-born drama, pitting the leads against each other for a heady conflict. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

45. Season 2, Episode 21: “Lost Mariner” (Aired: 05/05/97 | Filmed: 03/06 – 03/18/97)  

After a shipwreck, Gabrielle finds herself aboard the cursed vessel of the lost mariner Cecrops. Soon, she and Xena are confronted by pirates and the nasty god Poseidon.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0226

2013 Ranking: #56 | 2017 Ranking: #56 | 2020 Ranking: #53

We meet a great one-off character, Cecrops, in this solid action adventure that typifies all the myth-based one-offs that permeate this era. See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

46. Season 2, Episode 22: “A Comedy Of Eros” (Aired: 05/12/97 | Filmed: 03/19 – 03/27/97)

Even the warlord Draco becomes a comedic victim of Cupid’s son, Bliss, when the mischievous boy creates unlikely romantic pairings among Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer and Draco.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V0225

2013 Ranking: #54 | 2017 Ranking: #51 | 2020 Ranking: #54

An amiable comedy with more mythological trappings, this entry uses established character relationships to its advantage — it’s very Season Two! See the Opinionated Episode Guide here.

 

 

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

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

  1. Some more great selections and I find myself in agreement with most of them, but my Season Two top ten is slightly different:

    I know Destiny is a classic, but the flashback episodes always fall a little flat for me, probably because Gabi is missing. A Necessary Evil doesn’t hold much appeal for me either; I’m not really convinced by Velasca as a villain and Callisto is kind of a sideshow in the story. Orphan of War is key for establishing Xena’s back story, but I find Solan kind of annoying and the stuff with the Ixion Stone is pointless. I do like Lost Mariner, but I think I’d put Xena Scrolls just slightly above it … I love seeing Renee play Indiana Jones.

    For the other three episodes I mentioned, I’d swap in A Comedy of Eros (which has some great lines and great physical comedy), Intimate Stranger (which goes hand in hand with Return of Callisto but is even better for me because of the body swap stuff and Gabi’s reaction to it), and Blind Faith (for which I have a soft spot, despite Gabi being sidelined through most of it; I like how Xena educates Palaemon without even trying and the reunion scene between her and Gabi is great).

    So, we’re pretty close to agreeing, other than those four (and Lost Mariner could bump Xena Scrolls out of my top ten, depending on what kind of mood I’m in).

    • Hi, Mike! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Flashback episodes reinforce the series’ central premise, so they’re inherently vital, particularly when the scripts are building Xena’s backstory logically and in an obvious progression. Like “Destiny,” “Orphan Of War” is seminal for this reason as well. (And the Ixion Stone is a plot point on several HERCULES episodes too, so it has greater relevance within the series’ shared universe.)

      As for “A Necessary Evil,” I’m surprised that, as such an obvious fan of Gabrielle (which comes across in your posts), you’re not better able to appreciate what this offering, as a companion to “The Quest,” does for her character — not only progressing her emotionally in her relationships with both Xena and Callisto, but also developing her identity as an Amazon leader, which comes with her very own personal enemy as a result. Additionally, it’s a female-filled action adventure for a series that prides itself on being a female-filled action adventure; it’s one of the most straightforward affirmations of the series’ identity.

      I definitely share your appreciation for “A Comedy Of Eros” — you’ll notice it’s only one notch behind “Lost Mariner” on my list. I simply like the latter slightly more because of its grounding central theme and the way it uses its characters in support of a true dramatic thesis. “A Comedy Of Eros,” while fun, is a bit more driven by its amusing plot, with an emotional core that only shows up at the very end (with Joxer). Nevertheless, it’s a classic XENA comedy…

      …Unlike “Blind Faith,” about which I’m decidedly less enthused because it separates the two leads without good reason, and gives neither any development that would make the division worthwhile (as the flashback installments are for Xena and our understanding of her). And ultimately, there are better contained, episodic dramedies from the second season that benefit the characters more.

      Now, “Intimate Stranger” is a tough one for me. I like part of it — enough to rank it in my Top 60 — but not enough to overlook Lawless’ strained portrayal of Callisto and the diminishing jeopardy that develops because of this lesser performance. Also, as the climax of the initially planned Callisto trilogy, it falls so short of the powerful drama of her first two outings, which are MUCH more complicated and revealing for the title character (not to mention Gabrielle and Callisto, too), that it looks inferior as a result.

      And lastly, I also like “The Xena Scrolls.” But it’s a gimmicky clip show that takes us out of the show’s regular world and only has character moments via proxies. It’s not as affecting as the majority of Season Two’s entries, even the comedies, and as far as clip shows go, I much prefer the one that actually progresses the characters’ arcs, purposefully and intelligently. Stay tuned…

    • Hi, Agent 86! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      No chance of that — but I will say I don’t think it’s the second season’s least re-watchable hour! (That honor goes to “The Giant Killer.”)

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