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

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 reflections and recollections from the cast and crew. This year, for the series’ 25th anniversary, I’ve decided to look at Xena 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 some 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, and 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, which is this week, for I want to remind everyone that because Xena debuted in first-run syndication, local markets had the discretion to schedule the series whenever they wanted. That means, while Monday, September 4th was the first day the premiere could officially be shown, most viewers saw it later in the week, most likely on Friday the 8th or Saturday the 9th. Therefore, it’s appropriate to celebrate (for at least) a whole week… Let’s continue now with Season Three, where the show takes some huge dramatic risks in narrative and character development and turns out a number of the most dramatically interesting installments of its entire run. 14 of its 22 episodes have made my 60 favorites list. This is easily the highest showing. If you add in the Honorable Mentions, two of those 15 come from Three, meaning I’m singling out 16 entries from this year in total. That stat, again, is easily the highest. Put more succinctly: this is the series’ finest season.

 

47. 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

2013 Ranking: #36 | 2017 Ranking: #36 | 2020 Ranking: #39

Produced at the end of Season Two, Three’s opener combines Greek myths, character drama, and a prescient look at this year’s tonal extremes — seldom offered together. See more here.

 

48. Season 3, Episode 2: “Been There, Done That” (Aired: 10/06/97 | Filmed: 04/09 – 04/16/97)  

Xena realizes her day is repeating itself so she can break a cycle of death that hinges on two lovers’ warring families.

Written by Hilary J. Bader | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0227

2013 Ranking: #8 | 2017 Ranking: #8 | 2020 Ranking: #9

Using the “time loop” trope, this premise-driven entry (produced last year) ends up being one of the series’ best, courtesy of a smart script with effortless character comedy. See more here.

 

49. Season 3, Episode 3: “The Dirty Half Dozen” (Aired: 10/13/97  Filmed: 08/07 – 08/15/97)

Xena rounds up a gang of cutthroats to battle the warlord Agathon, a protege of Ares who possesses weapons made of indestructible metal.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0411

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

Despite a cool premise, this ham-fisted attempt to create new peripheral players for future stories (that never happen) makes for a so-so show by Three’s high standards. See more here.

 

50. Season 3, Episode 4: “The Deliverer” (Aired: 10/20/97 | Filmed: 05/27 – 06/05/97)

Xena, Gabrielle and the first priest of a monotheistic cult head for Britannia to battle their common enemy Caesar — who promptly captures Gabrielle.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0403

2013 Ranking: #17 | 2017 Ranking: #17 | 2020 Ranking: #16

Xena faces off against Caesar while Gabrielle discovers the cult of Dahak in this controversial, shocking episode that launches the series’ most dramatically potent arc: the Rift. See more here.

 

51. Season 3, Episode 5: “Gabrielle’s Hope” (Aired: 10/27/97 | Filmed: 06/06 – 06/17/97)

Gabrielle must make a difficult decision regarding her allegiance to Xena after she gives birth to the daughter of Dahak, the Evil One.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Charles Siebert & Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0404

2013 Ranking: #27 | 2017 Ranking: #27 | 2020 Ranking: #32

The Rift kicks into high gear as the series does its own version of Rosemary’s Baby when Gabrielle finds herself pregnant with Dahak’s spawn — and at odds with Xena. See more here.

 

52. Season 3, Episode 6: “The Debt (I)” (Aired: 11/03/97 | Filmed: 07/16 – 07/25/97)

As Xena and Gabrielle travel toward the Eastern kingdom of Chin, Xena recalls a kidnapping episode from her dark past involving two rival Chin clans.

Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0406

2013 Ranking: #5 | 2017 Ranking: #5 | 2020 Ranking: #6

Xena goes to China in this ambitious two-part excursion that fleshes out her past and introduces us to some of the most important people in her young (evil) life. See more here.

 

53. 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

2013 Ranking: #6 | 2017 Ranking: #6 | 2020 Ranking: #7

The story continues as Gabrielle’s betrayal of Xena situates these offerings within their ongoing conflict, but it’s the grand dramatic scope that makes both parts top-notch. See more here.

 

54. Season 3, Episode 8: “The King Of Assassins” (Aired: 11/17/97 | Filmed: 06/30 – 07/08/97)

Gabrielle, Joxer and Autolycus sneak into a palace to thwart an assassination attempt by Joxer’s evil lookalike brother, Jett. The intended victim: Cleopatra.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Bruce Campbell | Production No. V0410

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

Gabrielle and Joxer are joined by Autolycus, Cleopatra, and Joxer’s evil twin brother for this “Lucy lite” episode that surprisingly offers a lot of fine, memorable moments. See more here.

 

55. Season 3, Episode 9: “Warrior… Priestess… Tramp” (Aired: 01/12/98 | Filmed: 05/15 – 05/26/97)

An evil religious leader plots to destroy a rival sect led by a virgin priestess, who looks exactly like Xena, with the aid of another Xena look-alike. 

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Robert Ginty | Production No. V0402

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

Lawless trots out her Meg persona while another lookalike is added, Leah the Hestian Virgin Priestess, for this silly outing with many laughs, but little common sense. See more here.

 

56. Season 3, Episode 10: “The Quill Is Mightier…” (Aired: 01/19/98 | Filmed: 10/28 – 11/04/97)

A jealous Aphrodite casts a hex on Gabrielle’s scroll, which causes everything she writes to come true. Of course, what Gabrielle writes isn’t always precisely what she means.

Written by Hilary J. Bader | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0408

2013 Ranking: #52 | 2017 Ranking: #52 | 2020 Ranking: #58

Among the more creative “Lucy lite” offerings, this showcase for Gabrielle uses Ares, Aphrodite, Minya, and Joxer superbly, developing their characters with humor. See more here.

 

57. 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

2013 Ranking: #13 | 2017 Ranking: #11 | 2020 Ranking: #13

It’s full Greek tragedy when Gabrielle’s daughter teams up with the series’ greatest villain (Callisto) to kill Xena’s only son, leaving both mothers in gut-wrenching pain. See more here.

 

58. Season 3, Episode 12: “The Bitter Suite” (Aired: 02/02/98 | Filmed: 11/05 – 11/19/97)

Xena and Gabrielle’s bitter conflict reaches its climax when both are transported to the dream world of Illusia to settle their mutual differences.

Written by Steven L. Sears and Chris Manheim | Lyrics by Joseph LoDuca, Pamela Phillips Oland, and Dennis Spiegel | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0409

2013 Ranking: #2 | 2017 Ranking: #2 | 2020 Ranking: #2

Resolving the Rift, this imaginative and well-made musical episode is undoubtedly one of the riskiest decisions Xena ever made, but with dramatic relevance, beautiful songs, and superb production design, it’s a classic, unique hour of television. See more here.

 

59. Season 3, Episode 13: “One Against An Army” (Aired: 02/09/98 | Filmed: 11/20 – 12/01/97)

Xena’s solo efforts to stop an approaching Persian army leave a poisoned Gabrielle to fend for herself after the duo are double-crossed by a Persian spy.

Written by Gene O’Neill and Noreen Tobin | Directed by Paul Lynch | Production No. V0413

2013 Ranking: #7 | 2017 Ranking: #7 | 2020 Ranking: #5

Aside from the leap-requiring plot and historical inaccuracies, this unforgettable entry boasts the series’ finest action scenes within a relationship-focused package; it’s a gem. See more here.

 

60. Season 3, Episode 14: “Forgiven” (Aired: 02/16/98 | Filmed: 12/11 – 12/18/97)

A brash teen tries to convince Xena that she would make a better partner than Gabrielle by leading the duo to the stolen Urn of Apollo. 

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0415

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

Xena empathizes with a young brat hoping to turn her life around in this amusing outing that touches upon the series’ larger themes of forgiveness and redemption. See more here.

 

61. Season 3, Episode 15: “King Con” (Aired: 02/23/98 | Filmed: 12/02 – 12/10/97)

Xena and Gabrielle join forces with two con men to prevent Joxer’s death at the hands of a vengeful gaming-club owner.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Janet Greek | Production No. V0401

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

The year’s only total turkey, this installment where Xena takes on a corrupt casino and flirts with a standard “man of the week” doesn’t feel like it belongs in this elevated era. See more here.

 

62. 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

2013 Ranking: #12 | 2017 Ranking: #10 | 2020 Ranking: #8

Xena goes to Rome for this brilliantly written outing where the Warrior Princess’ motives once again put the Battling Bard in a difficult moral spot: as an accessory to murder. See more here.

 

63. Season 3, Episode 17: “Forget Me Not” (Aired: 03/09/98 | Filmed: 01/19 – 01/23/98)

Haunted by images of the past, Gabrielle goes to the Temple of Mnemosyne to forget her painful memories.

Written by Hilary J. Bader | Directed by Charlie Haskell | Production No. V0417

2013 Ranking: #29 | 2017 Ranking: #37 | 2020 Ranking: #44

This is the strongest clip show of the entire run, courtesy of its decision to include an important dramatic development that services the characters and this year’s arc. See more here.

 

64. Season 3, Episode 18: “Fins, Femmes, And Gems” (Aired: 04/13/98 | Filmed: 01/26 – 02/04/98)

Aphrodite steals the “mystic diamond” that keeps the North Star lit and casts obsession spells on Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer to keep them from retrieving it.

Story by Rob Tapert and Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0418

2013 Ranking: #46 | 2017 Ranking: #46 | 2020 Ranking: HM

Exemplifying the series’ broadening comic style here in Season Three, this fun offering almost made my favorites list, if only its character concerns didn’t feel so incidental. See more here.

 

65. Season 3, Episode 19: “Tsunami” (Aired: 04/20/98 | Filmed: 02/19 – 02/27/98)

The eruption of Mount Aetna produces a tidal wave that submerges Xena, Gabrielle and Autolycus inside a sinking mining vessel.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by John Laing | Production No. V0414

2013 Ranking: HM | 2017 Ranking: HM | 2020 Ranking: HM

With a wonderful premise that traps different characters in a contained space for a contained period of time, this solid adventure show also just missed my favorites list. See more here.

 

66. Season 3, Episode 20: “Vanishing Act” (Aired: 04/27/98 | Filmed: 02/05 – 02/13/98)

Autolycus’s reputation as “king of thieves” is at stake when a 20-foot statue turns up missing—and he didn’t steal it. So he vows to steal it back. 

Written by Terence Winter | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0421

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

Although this is said to be one of the cast and crew’s least favorites, I can find a little bit of value in both the actors’ clowning and the emotional exploration of Autolycus. See more here.

 

67. Season 3, Episode 21: “Sacrifice (I)” (Aired: 05/04/98 | Filmed: 03/02 – 03/11/98)

Xena saves Gabrielle’s friend Seraphin from being sacrificed, then learns that she’s willing to die — so that Gabrielle’s evil daughter Hope can be reborn.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by David Warry-Smith | Production No. V0420

2013 Ranking: #32 | 2017 Ranking: #32 | 2020 Ranking: #41

The first half of the season’s popular, story-heavy two-part finale is probably better written than its second in terms of character, but it’s a lot of setup and not as iconic. See more here.

 

 

68. Season 3, Episode 22: “Sacrifice (II)” (Aired: 05/11/98 | Filmed: 03/12 – 03/20/98)

Gabrielle’s evil daughter Hope takes the form of her mother and joins forces with Ares to create a race of superbeings; Xena is forced to team up with Callisto.

Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0419

2013 Ranking: #31 | 2017 Ranking: #31 | 2020 Ranking: #37

Season Three ends with the show’s most gripping cliffhanger ever, all part of a dramatic culmination of the ramifications from this year’s semi-serialized Rift storyline. See more here.

 

 

Come back next month for more Xena! And stay tuned next week for The Beverly Hillbillies!

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

  1. Another cool list, although we again disagree on some of the choices. My Season 3 top ten would exclude Deliverer and Gabrielle’s Hope (I know they’re fundamental for setting up the Rift AND they’re Gabi episodes, which I love, but Gabi doesn’t have a lot of agency here; things happen TO her, but she doesn’t get much say in them … or to paraphrase Xena, Gabi is reacting, not acting). And I’d also leave the Debt two-parter off my list (heresy I know, but the flashback episodes always kinda drag for me because Gabi’s not around; the best part of The Debt is the “scratch my nose” scene in Ming Tien’s prison. Plus, I really don’t have a high opinion of Borias.)

    On my list, I’d replace those four with: Quill is Mightier (my favourite comedy episode, where Gabi takes over and everyone–even Ares–defers to her); Forget Me Not (another Gabi episode where she discovers something fundamental to her character, although I wish the resolution at the end was handled a bit differently); Warrior…Priestess…Tramp (I love Meg and even though she doesn’t get as much to do in this one, Leah is funny as hell); And Tsunami (a cool disaster premise that shows Xena’s true character and heroism … and Gabi’s too, the way she jumps in to help Autolycus at the beginning).

    Other than that, I agree with all your choices (One Against an Army is my #1 favourite) and I’m looking forward to your Season 4 list.

    • Hi, Mike! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Gabrielle literally kills somebody in “The Deliverer” and aggressively defies Xena in “Gabrielle’s Hope.” Decrying her lack of agency in those episodes ignores the part she plays in the Rift conflict; both characters made choices that led to mutual pain. Additionally, the show has been tracking Gabrielle’s relationship with violence since “Dreamworker,” so there’s no way an episode where she instinctively murders someone for the first time, and then another where she lies to Xena to avoid killing again, aren’t vital to the arc of her character, even if her reactions are motivated by the situation. Said reactions reveal character and lead to action.

      Now, we’ve talked about the flashback entries before. The majority of them are both seminal to the development of our understanding of Xena and a reinforcement of the series’ dramatic premise. What’s more, they’re the basis of all the great character work in the comedies and episodic adventures you seem to prefer, for the added depth to those offerings is a direct result of our increased knowledge of who Xena is and why she is the way she is. And that goes for Gabrielle, too, especially in “The Debt (I)” and “The Debt (II),” where her actions legitimize “Forget Me Not” as a worthwhile character piece. Heck, “Forget Me Not” would not exist without that two-parter.

      Meanwhile, I basically enjoy all the other entries you mentioned — okay, I think “Warrior… Priestess… Tramp” uses the same jokes over and over and suffers from some weakened logic in its dramatic construction, but it’s not a dud — and I especially see the value for Gabrielle in “Forget Me Not” and “The Quill Is Mightier…” (which is why both indeed made my 60 favorites list). But they don’t reveal or explore the characters as much as those early Rift episodes do, and preferring them to the four I ranked higher would be like crediting the study foundation of a house to its wallpaper, not its walls.

      Stay tuned next month for my thoughts on Season Four!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.