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

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… Let’s continue with Season Four, where the show broadens its narrative scope but intends to be more introspective with its leads, creating some of the best segments of the entire run, but… not as consistently. 11 of its 22 episodes have made my 60 favorites list. This is the third highest showing, behind only Seasons Three and Two. If you add in the Honorable Mentions, one of those 15 comes from Four, meaning I’m singling out 12 entries from this year in total. Numerically that’s tied with One at third place, behind Three and Two, but proportionally, it’s again, the series’ uncontested third highest.

 

69. Season 4, Episode 1: “Adventures In The Sin Trade (I)” (Aired: 09/28/98 | Filmed: 06/16 – 06/26/98)

Distraught with grief over the loss of Gabrielle, Xena travels to Siberia and the Amazon Land of the Dead to find her friend.

Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. V0607

2013 Ranking: #35 | 2017 Ranking: #35 | 2020 Ranking: #42

Four’s frenetic (sometimes confusing) two-part opener once again delves into Xena’s past when she goes to the Amazon Land of the Dead and we meet the deliciously evil Alti. See more here.

 

70. 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 climactic 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

2013 Ranking: #38 | 2017 Ranking: #38 | 2020 Ranking: #43

The two-parter continues as Xena faces off against Alti directly — in a memorable fight scene — and receives a vision of her future that sets up an arc for the entire season. See more here.

 

71. Season 4, Episode 3: “A Family Affair” (Aired: 10/12/98 | Filmed: 05/20 – 05/29/98)

Heeding her vision, Xena travels to Gabrielle’s home town, where she’s reunited with her presumed-dead friend. Or is she?

Story by Liz Friedman & Chris Manheim | Teleplay by Chris Manheim | Directed By Doug Lefler | Production No. V0605

2013 Ranking: #33 | 2017 Ranking: #33 | 2020 Ranking: #27

The Dahak story concludes with a creature feature that has a dubious explanation for how Gab survived the lava pit, but a return to Potadeia and some character introspection. See more here.

 

72. Season 4, Episode 4: “In Sickness And In Hell” (Aired: 10/19/98 | Filmed: 08/07 – 08/17/98)

Xena (who has lice) and Gabrielle (who has a fungus and a variety of other ailments) take on marauding Scythians who have captured Argo.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0612

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

Another attempt to recapture the triviality of “A Day In The Life,” this average comedy has a couple of good character ideas, but too much repetitive potty humor. See more here.

 

73. Season 4, Episode 5: “A Good Day” (Aired: 10/26/98 | Filmed: 05/08 – 05/19/98)

Xena orchestrates a plan for a quick battle between Caesar’s and Pompey’s forces in order to save Greece from being trapped in the middle of Rome’s civil war.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0606

2013 Ranking: #51 | 2017 Ranking: #45 | 2020 Ranking: #45

Gabrielle’s struggle with violence and killing continues with an elevation in stakes from the last time: now Xena wants her to lead men into battle (and their deaths). See more here.

 

74. Season 4, Episode 6: “A Tale Of Two Muses” (Aired: 11/02/98 | Filmed: 06/08 – 06/15/98)

Gabrielle’s friend Tara is arrested for dancing in a town run by a puritanical magistrate.

Written by Gillian Horvath | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V0603

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

A parody of Footloose featuring Autolycus and Tara (the brat from “Forgiven”), this offering simply isn’t funny enough to compete with the series’ best comedies. See more here.

 

75. Season 4, Episode 7: “Locked Up And Tied Down” (Aired: 11/09/98 | Filmed: 08/18 – 08/27/98)

Xena is sentenced to life in prison for a crime she committed in her dark past.

Story by Robert Tapert & Josh Becker | Teleplay by Hilary J. Bader | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0614

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

There’s probably a good show here somewhere, but it’s buried under illogicalities (why is Xena going to prison now?) and too many time cuts at the expense of emotional beats. See more here.

 

76. Season 4, Episode 8: “Crusader” (Aired: 11/16/98 | Filmed: 07/27 – 08/06/98) 

Xena and Gabrielle are attacked and then befriended by a radiant young woman who preaches about the light, but their budding friendship ends when she later competes with Xena for Gabrielle’s heart and soul.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Paul Lynch | Production No. V0613

2013 Ranking: #16 | 2017 Ranking: #14 | 2020 Ranking: #11

Xena considers dumping Gabrielle and leaving her with righteous zealot Najara, a unique villain who raises moral questions for the characters and their relationship. See more here.

 

77. Season 4, Episode 9: “Past Imperfect” (Aired: 01/04/99 | Filmed: 08/28 – 09/08/98)

Xena has a series of flashbacks in which she recalls military exploits from her evil past—which echo the strategies attackers are using on a town she’s defending.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0609

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

With a script that tries to balance the year’s arc with flashbacks to Xena’s past (Borias’ death and Solan’s birth), this weepingly indulgent story is necessary, but too obvious. See more here.

 

78. Season 4, Episode 10: “The Key To The Kingdom” (Aired: 01/11/99 | Filmed: 04/20 – 04/28/98)

Joxer, Autolycus, and Xena-lookalike Meg team up to search for a lost crown. At least that’s what Meg and Joxer tell Autolycus.

Written by Eric Morris | Directed by Bruce Campbell | Production No.  V0602

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

One of the series’ weakest, this supposedly comic entry with Joxer, Autolycus, and Meg seeks emotional relevance for all three, but without Xena and Gabrielle, do we care? See more here.

 

79. Season 4, Episode 11: “Daughter Of Pomira” (Aired: 01/18/99 | Filmed: 04/29 – 05/07/98)

Xena must come to grips with a past defeat when she ventures into the lair of the Horde to retrieve the daughter of one of her fighters from the old days.

Written by Linda McGibney | Directed by Patrick Norris | Production No. V0604

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

This so-so sequel to the “The Price” uses The Searchers as its template, offering an evolved understanding of the Horde but not enough personal stakes for the two leads. See more here.

 

80. Season 4, Episode 12: “If The Shoe Fits…” (Aired: 01/25/99 | Filmed: 11/03 – 11/11/98)

Gabrielle, Xena, Joxer and Aphrodite use storytelling to help a runaway princess realize the importance of home.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0619

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

Despite some really funny moments scattered throughout the hour, its easy structure, weak guest stars, and ham-fisted character drama all limit this comedy’s value. See more here.

 

81. Season 4, Episode 13: “Paradise Found” (Aired: 02/01/99 | Filmed: 07/10 – 07/17/98)

Gabrielle finds inner calm, but Xena is plagued by violent images in a land ruled by a man who claims to know the true path to peace.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V0611

2013 Ranking: #55 | 2017 Ranking: #55 | 2020 Ranking: #55

This prelude to the India trilogy uses the year’s guiding drama to grapple with pertinent character themes… before devolving into cartoon silliness in its last act. See more here.

 

82. Season 4, Episode 14: “Devi” (Aired: 02/08/99 | Filmed: 11/12 – 11/20/98)

While traveling in India, Gabrielle suddenly acquires the power to heal, but Xena is suspicious of the power’s source.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0615

2013 Ranking: HM | 2017 Ranking: #49 | 2020 Ranking: #56

Eli makes his debut in this otherwise solid but inconspicuous outing set in India, where a demon inhabits Gabrielle’s body, forcing Xena to consider killing her friend. See more here.

 

83. Season 4, Episode 15: “Between The Lines” (Aired: 02/15/99 | Filmed: 11/23 – 12/02/98)

The power of Mehndi sends the souls of Xena and Gabrielle into the future to protect their good karmas from a reincarnated Alti.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0616

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

Alti returns in this overwrought episode about reincarnation that introduces the “soulmates” concept — a notion that I think robs the series of needed relationship drama. See more here.

 

84. Season 4, Episode 16: “The Way” (Aired: 02/22/99 | Filmed: 12/03 – 12/15/98)

Still in India, Xena seeks the help of the god Krishna to rescue Gabrielle and Eli from the clutches of the King of the Demons.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0617

2013 Ranking: #40 | 2017 Ranking: #48 | 2020 Ranking: #48

The India trio concludes as Xena questions her path as a warrior and Gabrielle finally decides to give up violence entirely — an important moment in her overall journey. See more here.

 

85. Season 4, Episode 17: “The Play’s The Thing” (Aired: 03/15/99 | Filmed: 01/25 – 02/02/99)

Gabrielle makes her debut as a playwright. Too bad her producer is actually a con artist who has her reasons for wanting the play to bomb.

Written by Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden | Directed by Christopher Graves | Production No. V0620

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

This “Lucy-lite” installment traffics in metatheatricality as Gabrielle tries to put on a play about her and Xena, with the help of Joxer, Minya, and some crooked producers. See more here.

 

86. Season 4, Episode 18: “The Convert” (Aired: 04/19/99 | Filmed: 02/09 – 02/18/99)

Najara returns claiming a newfound mantra for nonviolence while Joxer wrestles with the guilt of his first kill.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0621

2013 Ranking: #49 | 2017 Ranking: HM | 2020 Ranking: N/A

Najara returns for this offering that proves why she was only built to be a one-off villain (that is, she goes crazy), but succeeds in giving Joxer some rare emotional progression. See more here.

 

87. Season 4, Episode 19: “Takes One To Know One” (Aired: 04/26/99 | Filmed: 02/18 – 02/25/99)

Friends and family gather for Gabrielle’s surprise birthday party, only to become suspects in a murder investigation.

Written by Jeff Vlaming | Directed by Christopher Graves | Production No. V0623

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

Xena does a murder mystery in this self-contained entry that maybe is a little silly (Discord is not a threatening foe), but features great moments with the recurring ensemble. See more here.

 

88. Season 4, Episode 20: “Endgame” (Aired: 05/03/99 | Filmed: 02/26 – 03/08/99)

When Brutus kills Ephiny in the heat of battle, Gabrielle becomes queen of the Amazons; while Xena pursues Brutus, hoping he’ll lead her to Pompey.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0622

2013 Ranking: #18 | 2017 Ranking: #18 | 2020 Ranking: #18

Gabrielle, now a pacifist, is called to lead the Amazons in a war against Pompey, who’s fighting Caesar, setting up the point to which this whole season has been building. See more here.

 

89. 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

2013 Ranking: #1 | 2017 Ranking: #1 | 2020 Ranking: #1

My choice for the best episode of the entire series, “The Ides Of March” is the culmination of both lead’s personal arcs, as Xena tells the returning Callisto that she’s done feeling guilty for her past crimes — all she can do is be the best do-gooding warrior she can be, while Gabrielle decides that her path is Xena’s path, even if that includes violence. See more here.

 

90. Season 4, Episode 22: “Deja Vu All Over Again” (Aired: 05/17/99 | Filmed: 02/03 – 02/08/99)

In 1999, a woman is convinced she is the reincarnation of Xena the Warrior Princess.

Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Renee O’Connor | Production No. V0618

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

Renee O’Connor makes her directorial debut in this intermittently amusing clip show set in the present day and utilizing the reincarnation theme introduced in India. See more here.

 

 

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

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

  1. Another interesting list, and we’re pretty close to agreeing on this one. The only differences in my Season 4 Top Ten would be switching Between the Lines in for Paradise Found (I know you hate the “soul mate” stuff, but I love it, and although I like Paradise Found, it’s the weakest of the India Arc for me … maybe it’s a little too esoteric for my tastes).

    And I’d drop the two Sin Trade episodes (as I’ve mentioned before, flashback episodes tend to drag for me because there’s no Gabi, and while I agree that Alti’s a great villain, I thought she was overused later on, so that takes something away from her appearances here for me); in place of the Sin Trades, I’d have The Play’s the Thing (a Gabi episode that I find hilarious) and Locked Up and Tied Down (the fourth season placement doesn’t bother me because there’s so much powerful stuff in the episode, though I agree about the editing … I’d love to see the Director’s Cut of that episode (and of A Good Day, for that matter)).

    Looking forward to next month’s list!

    • Hi, Mike! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Once again, I think you can’t ignore the importance of the flashback shows, and in particular the two “Sin Trade” outings, which introduce one of the series’ most prominent villains and establish the dramatic arc for the entire fourth season. Now, I agree Alti’s future appearances are weaker, but that’s all the more reason to appreciate her debut — never again is she so compelling.

      As for “Between The Lines,” the soulmate stuff I consider a definite wrong turn, but I also bump against the episode because it falls into the trap of relying too much on supernatural mumbo jumbo to justify its narrative beats, and with a “make it up as you go along” sensibility, I think it cheats to get to the character moments that otherwise work. I know I’m in the minority in undervaluing this entry, but I do think it’s the least individually successful of the India arc. Meanwhile, I agree that “Paradise Found” is not perfect, but its character concerns are more at the fore of its plotting, and it’s only the fourth act — when it gets flashy like “Between The Lines” — that it lets itself down.

      I wish I enjoyed “Locked Up And Tied Down” more, but it’s a case of a decent premise — Xena atoning — being undermined by its execution, and with Season Four offering its fair share of stories that manage to satisfy the terms of the series’ thesis and explore the characters without nearly as many unfulfilled promises, it’s a segment that becomes more lackluster in comparison. And, sorry, but I can’t even entertain the idea that “The Play’s The Thing” is a valuable entry for the characters, even Gabrielle. It’s a fun 43 minutes; that’s it.

      Stay tuned next month for my thoughts on Season Five!

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