Welcome to another Xena Thursday! In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Xena: Warrior Princess, which premiered 20 years ago last Friday (September 4, 1995), we’re dong a monthlong series of posts celebrating the best Xena episodes per character. While I’ve already voiced my thoughts on every single episode and chosen my picks for the best, I’ve long wanted to choose which installments best represented the characters, furthering their individual journeys and strengthening the audience’s understanding of them. Last week we started with Xena (for obvious reasons), and today we’re continuing with Gabrielle, whose development, some say, is really the focus of the entire series. (I don’t believe it’s the show’s primary theme, but because I think Xena’s arc ended at the end of Season Four, Gabrielle’s journey may provide even more of a through-line between all six years.) So I have selected each installment in today’s post due to the things they reveal about Gabrielle and/or their importance in her character’s growth and development. The episodes are listed here in airing order.
01. 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
In addition to being an important episode for the Xena character, this installment, the first written by Steve Sears (who wrote most of the essential Gabrielle episodes from the first four seasons), introduces Gabrielle’s blood innocence as a stake that both characters aim to protect. Also, the episode furthers Gabrielle’s ability to cleverly talk her way out of problems, first illustrated in the premiere. Really the start of her growth.
02. 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
The inclusion of this episode is a “no-brainer,” for it’s the installment that introduces the series to the Amazon nation and concerns Gabrielle becoming an Amazon Princess. On a more practical note, this is also the episode that takes Gabrielle from just a watcher of the action to a participant, elevating the character’s function within the narratives and expanding her potential in the series. Great Gabrielle offering.
03. 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
Gabrielle’s maturation during the course of the first season is actualized in this episode, in which she’s forced to impersonate the Warrior Princess while the real one hovers near death. Not only does this episode reveal the developing bond that the two women share, but it gives Gabrielle the chance to see just how much she’s learned — and changed — from her time spent traveling with Xena.
04. 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
This is a big Gabrielle episode — both narratively and thematically. Story wise, this installment sees Gabrielle leave Xena, marry her old flame, and become a widow. More importantly, it’s notable for Gabrielle’s bloodlust upon being widowed by Callisto. The scene where Gabrielle demands that Xena teach her to use a sword is a powerful one, as is Gabrielle’s ultimate inability to take a life. Essential.
05. 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
Xena’s death in the prior episode (necessitated by Lawless’ much spoken about accident) forces Gabrielle to take control of the narrative, as her mourning for Xena is put on hold by the Amazons, who are in desperate need of a queen to replace and challenge the power-hungry Velasca. Gabrielle takes charge in this installment and establishes for herself a personal enemy in the bitter Amazon. Great O’Connor showcase.
06. 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
“Everything’s changed” as Gabrielle loses her blood innocence when tricked by a priest for the evil one god, Dahak. Launching the infamous Rift storyline, this episode, more than any of the other installments in the arc, is seminal in our understanding of Gabrielle, for the thread that Sears established way back in Season One finally comes into fruition, forever altering the character’s course (and the series’).
07. 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
Although the Rift has technically ended, this episode contends with a lot of the emotional residue, as Xena’s hatred for Caesar again threatens to put Gabrielle in a position in which she doesn’t want to be: deciding whether or not a potentially guilty man deserves to be executed for her crimes. Although Gabrielle isn’t doing the actual killing, she condones it by playing “judge, jury, and executioner.” Powerful outing.
08. 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
I’ve always praised the series for its inventive clip shows, and this is probably the best, for in addition to catching viewers up to speed, it reveals important story points (namely how Gabrielle got to Chin ahead of Xena). But the reason it’s here is because it asks the question of whether or not all the pain Gabrielle’s been through with Xena so far has been worth it. Ultimately, she decides that it is.
09. 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
Sears’ exploration of Gabrielle’s immersion into violence is furthered in this episode, in which Xena’s plot to screw over Caesar asks that Gabrielle be around to lead a group of otherwise peaceful villagers into battle, and unfortunately, some of their deaths. Furthermore, the death of Phlanagus, in particular, has sparked a lot of debate: could Gabrielle have killed the Roman and saved him? (Check the link above for more!)
10. 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
Another episode important for both our heroines, this is the installment in which Gabrielle renounces violence, a point to which the show has been building all season, but maybe even since the start of the Rift. I’ve always felt this was a necessary arc for her character to go through, and its effect on her relationship with Xena poses a lot of interesting questions. Incredibly seminal Gabrielle episode.
11. 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
While Xena’s desire to rid the world of Caesar and her reinforced commitment to follow “The Way of The Warrior” forms the plot that leads to their predicted crucifixion, this episode is most thrilling for the moment in which Gabrielle forsakes “The Way of Love” for “The Way Of Friendship,” a highfalutin way of saying that she knows to travel with Xena, she also has to be a warrior. Their moment in the prison is beautiful, but her slaying of those Romans is maybe the series’ most heart-palpataingly rewarding scene.
12. 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
Gabrielle listens to Eli the peacenik and allows him to be murdered by Ares, forcing her to wonder if the God of War is right: that the whole world IS shaped by warriors. While Gabrielle returned to violence to protect a fragile Xena, Ares’ attempts to manipulate this development for his own gain was established in “Succession,” and in this episode, he brings her to the dark side — but not for long.
13. Season 6, Episode 5: “Legacy” (Aired: 10/30/00 | Filmed: 06/12 – 06/22/00)
On their travels through the North African desert, Xena and Gabrielle intervene to help two tribes of warring nomads unite against their Roman enemies.
Written by Melissa Good | Directed by Chris Martin-Jones | Production No. V1405
One of my favorite things about the uneven final season is this Gabrielle mini-arc, which begins with her seeking vengeance against a slaver in “Who’s Gurkhan?” and continues in this episode, in which she questions her violent impulses after the accidental murder of a young boy. It’s a meaty area to explore, as Gabrielle is able to question her decision to go with Xena and commit to being a warrior.
14. Season 6, Episode 15: “To Helicon And Back” (Aired: 02/19/01 | Filmed: 12/05 – 12/15/00)
When the Amazon Queen Varia is kidnapped by a masked warrior, Gabrielle leads the Amazons to Helicon on a bloody rescue mission.
Written by Liz Friedman & Vanessa Place | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V1419
This is the episode that shows just how much Gabrielle has changed over the course of the series, as she assumes the role that we would typically expect of Xena: leading a bunch of warriors into a bloody battle in which few of them will survive. Unlike “A Good Day” and “Endgame” where she was forced to command an army, this new Gabrielle is decisive and tough. But are these changes for the better?
15. Season 6, Episode 21: “A Friend In Need (I)” (Aired: 06/11/01 | Filmed: 03/08 – 03/19/01)
Summoned by a long-lost spiritual soulmate, Xena heads for Japan with Gabrielle on a daunting mission to save the city of Higuchi from destruction and make amends for her past.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V1424
Despite mixed feelings for the two-part finale, it’s undeniable that they are important Gabrielle episodes. Some fans may have expected to see the second part here, in which Gabrielle learns how to throw the chakram and goes off on her own adventures, but the first part, in which she shows Xena how she would save the burning town of Higuchi illustrates her growth less cloyingly and more effectively.
Other notable episodes for the Gabrielle character include: “Maternal Instincts,” in which Gabrielle resolves to kill her daughter after the shocking murder of Xena’s son, “A Family Affair,” in which Gabrielle mysteriously evades death and begins her fourth season quest for understanding, “Paradise Found,” in which Gabrielle learns that Xena’s dark side is essential, “Devi,” in which O’Connor gets to play Gabrielle as possessed by an Indian demon, and it’s also important for introducing Eli and allowing Gabrielle to be the healer that she’s always wanted to be, and three more shows, all of which explore themes similar to those highlighted in today’s list, mentioned above, “Endgame,” in which Gabrielle the pacifist leads Amazons into battle, “Succession,” in which the characters must adjust to Gabrielle’s return to fighting, and “Who’s Gurkhan?,” in which Gabrielle plans to assassinate an evil slave trader.
Come back next Thursday for the best episodes for several of Xena and Gabrielle’s allies! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!