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

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.)

Let’s continue with Season Five, where the series was plagued by turmoil behind the scenes, coinciding with Lucy Lawless’ — and Xena’s — pregnancy, which ended up yielding the most focused dramatic narrative of the entire run… along with some of the worst scripts ever greenlit. Eight of Five’s 22 episodes have made my 60 favorites list. This number is lower than those for Seasons Two, Three, and Four, but it’s tied with Six, and higher than One’s. If you add in the Honorable Mentions, three of those 15 come from Five, meaning I’m singling out 11 entries from this year in total. Numerically, that puts it in second-to-last place (ahead of only Six), but proportionally, it’s tied for fourth with One. Even though these stats aren’t the worst, the dichotomy between good ideas and bad ideas is never greater, and if you ask me to select which year I find the weakest, the density of rottenness gives Five the edge.

 

91. Season 5, Episode 1: “Fallen Angel” (Aired: 09/27/99 | Filmed: 05/10 – 05/24/99)

Xena and Gabrielle, now released from their mortal coils, join forces with the Archangel Michael to battle Callisto and the infernal forces of Hell.

Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0903

2013 Ranking: #43 | 2017 Ranking: #43 | 2020 Ranking: #47

This full-fledged adoption of Christian ideology marks a rejection of the show’s original ethos, but the production is impressive, and Callisto’s redemption is seminal. See more here.

 

92. Season 5, Episode 2: “Chakram” (Aired: 10/04/99 | Filmed: 04/19 – 04/28/99; 06/11/99)

Xena has no recollection of being a warrior after she and Gabrielle are resurrected from the dead, seemingly, by Eli.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Doug Lefler | Production No. V0901

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

An important entry in progressing the characters, “Chakram” introduces the new form of the Warrior Princess’ iconic weapon but squanders too much dramatic potential. See more here.

 

93. Season 5, Episode 3: “Succession” (Aired: 10/11/99 | Filmed: 04/29 – 05/07/99)

Ares merges Xena and Gabrielle into the same body and force them to fight Mavican, Ares’ new potential right hand.

Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0902

2013 Ranking: #58 | 2017 Ranking: #58 | 2020 Ranking: #60

Steve Sears’ last credited script is an episodic “think piece” that toys with the notion of Gab catching Ares’ eye — it’s a fascinating premise, despite some silly moments. See more here.

 

94. Season 5, Episode 4: “Animal Attraction” (Aired: 10/18/99 | Filmed: 05/25 – 06/02/99)

Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, and Amarice travel to the town of Spamona where Xena is shocked to learn that she is pregnant.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0905

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

Xena’s pregnancy is officially announced in this tonally disjointed ensemble comedy that relishes in spoofing the Old Westerns — it basically succeeds, but isn’t great. See more here.

 

95. Season 5, Episode 5: “Them Bones, Them Bones” (Aired: 11/01/99 | Filmed: 06/14 – 06/21/99)

The spirit of the evil Shamaness Alti attempts to capture the soul of Xena’s unborn child.

Written by Buddy Williers | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0908

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

Alti returns and Amarice is dumped in this memorable excursion that delivers several classic (and campy) bits with the ex-shamaness, including a CGI skeleton fight. See more here.

 

96. Season 5, Episode 6: “Purity” (Aired: 11/08/99 | Filmed: 06/25 – 07/06/99)

When Xena returns to Chin to recover Lao Ma’s book of power, she must defeat one of Lao Ma’s twin daughters, who wants to acquire the power for her own evil purposes.

Written by Jeff Vlaming | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0907

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

Xena returns to China for a two-parter that nearly jeopardizes the reputation of its remarkable predecessors from the third year; it’s a low point for the season and series. See more here.

 

97. Season 5, Episode 7: “Back In The Bottle” (Aired: 11/15/99 | Filmed: 07/07 – 07/16/99)

Xena must master Lao Ma’s powers to save Gabrielle, Joxer and the people of Chin from a militia led by the evil spirits of Pao Ssu and her brother, Ming Tien.

Story by Rob Tapert & Steven L. Sears | Teleplay by Buddy Williers | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0909

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

There’s absolutely no redeeming character value here whatsoever, as the show continues its attempt to drain every last ounce of possible drama from this tired premise. See more here.

 

98. Season 5, Episode 8: “Little Problems” (Aired: 11/22/99 | Filmed: 08/26 – 09/03/99)

Gabrielle and Aphrodite have until sundown to save Xena’s soul from being trapped inside a young girl forever.

Written by Gregg Ostrin | Directed by Allison Liddi | Production No. V0913

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

It’s time for a trivial Lucy-lite offering as Xena is trapped inside the body of a troubled little girl, while Gabrielle grows closer (literally) with Aphrodite. See more here.

 

99. Season 5, Episode 9: “Seeds Of Faith” (Aired: 01/10/00 | Filmed: 08/17 – 08/25/99)

Eli takes on Ares in an effort to overthrow the gods and Xena finally learns the true identity of her baby’s father.

Written by George Strayton & Tom O’Neill | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0912

2013 Ranking: #25 | 2017 Ranking: #25 | 2020 Ranking: #25

The Twilight of the Gods is teased in this entry that tries to deliver great drama for Gab — despite a time crunch — and actually has some powerful moments. See more here.

 

100. Season 5, Episode 10: “Lyre, Lyre, Hearts On Fire” (Aired: 01/17/00 | Filmed: 08/02 – 08/16/99)

To avoid a war over who gets possession of Terpsichore’s lyre, Xena organizes a battle of the bands in this musical episode that reunites Xena with her mother, Joxer with his twin brother Jace, and Gabrielle with a lovesick Draco.

Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0911

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

The series wastes its 100th episode on a lighthearted musical that’s dramatically limp and unnecessary compared to “The Bitter Suite,” but… is still somewhat fun. See more here.

 

101. Season 5, Episode 11: “Punch Lines” (Aired: 01/24/00 | Filmed: 07/19 – 07/23/99)

Gabrielle and Argo are shrunken into miniature versions of themselves when they cross paths with Lachrymose, the god of despair.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0910

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

Another installment designed to alleviate Lawless’ burden, this clip show also helps to progress the Gab/Aphrodite bond, but is otherwise highly forgettable. See more here.

 

102. Season 5, Episode 12: “God Fearing Child” (Aired: 01/31/00 | Filmed: 11/22 – 12/01/99)

Xena’s baby is born after Hercules steps in to battle his father Zeus, who learns that the birth of the child will signal the end of the Olympian order.

Story by Chris Manheim | Teleplay by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman | Directed by Phil Sgriccia | Production No. V0915

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

While Xena gives birth, Kevin Sorbo crosses over for this bifurcated episode that feels more like a Hercules, messing up his recent tidy finale with Zeus/Hera. See more here.

 

103. Season 5, Episode 13: “Eternal Bonds” (Aired: 02/07/00 | Filmed: 12/02 – 12/10/99)

When Joxer is wounded by a poisonous sword intended to kill Xena and Eve, it’s up to Gabrielle to get him to the antidote while Xena combats armies sent by priests of the gods.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0916

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

Season Five is officially in its Twilight of the Gods storyline, but the year’s pregnancy aesthetic lingers, as the action is split to keep Lawless from overworking. See more here.

 

104. Season 5, Episode 14: “Amphipolis Under Siege” (Aired: 02/14/00 | Filmed: 01/10 – 01/20/00)

Athena wages war on Xena’s hometown of Amphipolis in an effort to kill Eve and stop the Twilight of the Gods.

Written by Chris Black | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0919

2013 Ranking: #14 | 2017 Ranking: #15 | 2020 Ranking: #21

Xena is back in her regular duds and meets a new villain (Athena) during this popular outing that feels like a return to form but previews some of the final era’s trends. See more here.

 

105. Season 5, Episode 15: “Married With Fishsticks” (Aired: 02/21/00 | Filmed: 11/10 – 11/19/99)

When Gabrielle is knocked unconscious into the sea, a merman convinces her that she is his wife and the mother of three.

Written by Kevin Maynard | Directed by Paul Grinder | Production No. V0914

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

Yet another Lucy-lite offering, this installment is often called the worst, but frankly, it doesn’t even try to be a Xena, so why bother holding it to the same standards? See more here.

 

106. Season 5, Episode 16: “Lifeblood” (Aired: 03/13/00 | Filmed: 01/20 – 01/24/00)

Xena and Gabrielle travel to the Amazon village to make Eve an Amazon princess and discover that it’s up to them to prevent unnecessary bloodshed in a vengeful war.

Story by Rob Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart, George Strayton, & Tom O’Neill | Directed by Paul Grinder and Michael Hurst | Production No. V0924

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

The year’s reputation for laziness continues as the series recuts an unsold pilot called Amazon High and inserts a few measly Xena/Gab scenes around it. See more here.

 

107. Season 5, Episode 17: “Kindred Spirits” (Aired: 03/20/00 | Filmed: 12/13 – 12/17/99)

Joxer breaks Amazon laws that force Queen Gabrielle to choose between settling down in the Amazon village and life on the road with Xena.

Written by George Strayton and Tom O’Neill | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0918

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

This uneven entry is one-part juvenile comedy with Joxer and one-part sincere relationship drama between Xena and Gabrielle (a rarity in Season Five). See more here.

 

108. Season 5, Episode 18: “Antony & Cleopatra” (Aired: 04/24/00 | Filmed: 02/10 – 02/17; 03/01 – 03/03/00)

When Cleopatra is murdered, Xena assumes her identity to uncover the assassin and protect Egypt.

Written by Carl Ellsworth | Revision by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V0904

2013 Ranking: #15 | 2017 Ranking: #16 | 2020 Ranking: #24

One of the series’ most lavishly produced — with plenty of sex and violence — this is among the few stories in Five where we can pretend the baby doesn’t exist. See more here.

 

109. Season 5, Episode 19: “Looking Death In The Eye” (Aired: 04/24/00 | Filmed: 01/25 – 02/03/00)

Old Joxer obtains a scroll describing Xena and Gabrielle’s final attempt to trick the Fates into bringing about the Twilight of the Gods.

Written by Carl Ellsworth | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0920

2013 Ranking: #48 | 2017 Ranking: #53 | 2020 Ranking: HM

Xena makes maybe its riskiest move ever by “killing off” its two leads for this atypical Twilight of the Gods story that’s fun to watch, despite some logistical strain. See more here.

 

110. Season 5, Episode 20: “Livia” (Aired: 05/01/00 | Filmed: 02/18 – 02/29/00)

Xena and Gabrielle are freed from their icy prison after 25 years and set out to find Eve, who has become a fearless commander in Rome.

Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0921

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: #52

Jumping 25 years ahead was gutsy, and I previously undervalued this two-parter due to its heavy plotting, but it’s pure Greek tragedy and uses some of the series’ core themes. See more here.

 

111. Season 5, Episode 21: “Eve” (Aired: 05/08/00 | Filmed: 03/07 – 03/16/00)

Xena must decide whether she can kill her own daughter, who continues her murderous campaign to eliminate Eli’s followers.

Written by George Strayton & Tom O’Neill | Teleplay by Chris Manheim | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0922

2013 Ranking: N/A | 2017 Ranking: N/A | 2020 Ranking: #31

Perhaps the most emotionally wrought hour of the entire series, this important outing sees the death of Joxer and the reformation of Eve in a literal deus ex machina. See more here.

 

112. Season 5, Episode 22: “Motherhood” (Aired: 05/15/00 | Filmed: 03/17 – 03/29/00)

With the lives of Gabrielle and Eve hanging in the balance, Xena faces the gods in a final showdown.

Story by Robert Tapert | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0923

2013 Ranking: #34 | 2017 Ranking: #34 | 2020 Ranking: #33

This troubling season ends with a well-liked action-packed adventure that brings a close to the Twilight of the Gods arc when Xena gets the power to slay them all. See more here.

 

 

Come back next month for more Xena! And stay tuned next week for more sitcom fun!

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

  1. Another great list and again, we’re about 70% in agreement. From my list, I’d leave out Fallen Angel and Succession (the first four or five episodes are all good, especially if you watch them all in a row, but they don’t quite make my top ten), and I’d also drop God Fearing Child (Eve’s birth is certainly important–and well done–but there’s way too much Hercules for me).

    To replace those three episodes, I’d have Kindred Spirits (a great relationship episode–especially if you assume Xena and Gabi are de facto married at this point, as I do–which is why it’s in my top five); Eternal Bonds (I like the resolution of Joxer’s love for Gabi and Xena teaching Eve the rudiments of being a warrior); and Little Problems (I know most people don’t like it, but there’s just something about this episode that works for me. It’s completely subjective … it’s one of those episodes–Blind Faith and Key to the Kingdom also fall into this category for me–where I can’t give any logical reasons why I like it, I just do. It gives me a good feeling when I watch it and I always look forward to it in the rotation).

    Looking forward to your Season Six picks!

    • Hi, Mike! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Although I have problems with what “Fallen Angel” portends for the course that the series takes in its final seasons, it’s hard to deny that it’s both well-produced and a seminal experience for the characters, with some truly thesis-related concerns. Similarly, I have issues with many of the details in “Succession” (namely the female antagonist), but it’s a vital exploration of the two leads’ changing dynamics, and it suggests an interesting conflict with Ares that this season could have explored more directly (had the pregnancy not happened). Also, the emotional continuity is expressly valuable, helping transition Season Five from Four.

      As for “God Fearing Child,” it’s obviously not a favorite of mine, but every portion of it is dramatically well-developed — even the Hercules scenes, which, yes, don’t feel like they belong on XENA, but are necessary to set up the rest of the season and series. It’s a torch-passing moment that honors the association between the two shows.

      Meanwhile, I like the Xena/Gabrielle material in “Kindred Spirits” a lot, but I just can’t reward an episode that’s so tonally uneven (see: the Joxer stuff) without a unifying theme or narrative purpose in support. It’s an ideal Honorable Mention because I can recognize what works without having to excuse what doesn’t. Similarly, “Eternal Bonds” has a lot of great moments — particularly in the progression of the Joxer/Gabrielle relationship — but it’s fatally devoid of dramatic cohesion. What’s the thesis at the end of the last act? “It doesn’t matter where we take a stand, as long as we make one.” Uh, what does that even mean? And what does that have to do with Joxer and Gabrielle (or Xena and Ares)? Your guess is as good as mine.

      Regarding “Little Problems,” you already know what I think — there’s nothing valuable for the two main characters there at all, outside of some airtime given to Gabrielle’s growing friendship with Aphrodite, which goes through quite the pivot this year. But with minimal Xena, it’s fighting an uphill battle — there’s no way it could be a favorably ideal sample of the series (or even the season).

      Stay tuned next month for my thoughts on Season Six!

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