My God, has it been 20 years already?! 20 years since a woman in armor rode across our TV screens, fighting gods, monsters, warlords and kings? 20 years since this TV show revolutionized the way women were portrayed as action heroes? Yup, Xena: Warrior Princess turns 20 this week and I remember what it was like to be a viewer of the most popular feminist action fantasy show of the 90s. There hasn’t been a fantasy series before, or since, to measure up to the brilliance of this show.
Though the series premiered September 4, 1995 as a spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, I didn’t start watching the show until 1997, when I was a 7th grader in middle school. I remember hearing a lot about the show but not seeing it until channel surfing one day. I’ve been hooked ever since.
You had to have been a hermit, to have not heard of Xena: Warrior Princess or Lucy Lawless. She was everywhere: t-shirts, books, magazines, toys, coloring books, comics, and jewelry. She was named dropped on every other show that aired at the time. IMDB.com has a complete list. Lucy Lawless was one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People In the World”. She was also on the cover of TV Guide, Ms., and featured in Entertainment Weekly.
But I’m not going any further explaining Xena’s contribution to pop culture. I will leave that honor to freelance journalist (and devoted Xena fan) Kathy Young with her awesome 2005 article, “What We Owe Xena” . Instead I’m going to make a list of some of my favorite episodes, season by season, summarize them and explain why they’re my favorite episodes. Let’s begin, shall we (warning: watch out! Spoilers about!)?
“The Path Not Taken”: Xena infiltrates a band of criminals to rescue a kidnapped princess. There she’s reunited with an old flame, Marcus (Bobby Hosea), an arms dealer who secretly regrets his lifestyle choice. Xena convinces him that it’s never too late to turn a new leaf.
Why I Chose It: This episode probably marks the first time network TV depicted a sexual relationship between a white woman and a black man, something that’s still controversial to this day. Xena and Marcus’ kisses are so passionate and consensual it would put Kirk and Uhura to shame. Lucy Lawless’ tearful delivery of the episode’s final lines are also memorable: “he was my friend. He was my friend!”
“The Reckoning”: While trying to save a group of men from being attacked by a mysterious cloaked figure, Xena is caught and accused of murder. This is all a part of Ares’ (Kevin T. Smith) plan to make the Warrior Princess resort to her evil ways.
Why I Chose It: Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor) shines here when she uses her bard skills to prove Xena’s innocence. Xena shows off her brilliance as a tactician when she takes up Ares’ offer to grant her request for an army. She chooses the men that were killed. They call her a hero. Case closed.
“Prometheus”: Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst guest star in this episode as Hercules and Iolaus respectively. The noble Titan, Prometheus has been chained to a mountain and humanity has lost their ability to heal and make fire. Guess who has to free him?
Why I Chose It: It gives a fresh take on the Prometheus myth and has a scene where Gabrielle explains to Iolaus why people search for their soulmates.
“Death In Chains”: The ancient Greeks believed that Death came in the form of a woman holding a candlestick. King Sisyphus has chained (see a pattern here?) Celestia, the personification of Death, so that her candle will melt and death will be no more. Think that’s a good thing? Think again.
Why I Chose It: It presents a very interesting argument on why we need death: because without it, we’d be left with pain, disease, old age and bad people would never die. You need to get rid of these things first before you can end death.
“Hooves And Harlots”: Xena must solve a murder mystery before war breaks out between the Amazons and the Centaurs.
Why I Chose It: One of the show’s greatest aspects was its depiction of the Amazons as an authentic warrior culture with customs, laws and government as opposed to mere fantasy no different from Atlantis or Shangri-La.
“Warrior…Princess”: Xena has a twin! And she’s an actual princess! And she’s in danger! Xena must take her place! But the princess is to be married! Will Xena find the assassin and avoid a walk down the aisle?
Why I Chose It: Lucy Lawless’ talent as an actress shines here. She has to play two roles. The uberconfident Xena and the naïve, pampered Diana. And she pulls it off beautifully.
“Mortal Beloved”: A ghostly Marcus returns from the underworld to ask for Xena’s help in retrieving Hades’ stolen Helmet of Invisibility.
Why I Chose It: Xena’s heartfelt plea to Hades to grant Marcus an eternity in the Elysian Fields while having to face separation from him again is touching and food for thought.
“The Royal Couple of Thieves”: Autolycus (Bruce Campbell) can steal anything! He’s The King of Thieves after all! So will he help Xena steal a secret “weapon” from some arms dealers?
Why I Chose It: It has Bruce Campbell for heaven’s sake! Any episode where he shows up as Autolycus is bound to be hilarious. And the slapstick between an incognito Xena and Autolycus is golden!
“Callisto”: Who is that blonde woman committing crimes in Xena’s name? A former victim of Xena’s crimes.
Why I Chose It: Thanks to Hudson Leick’s twisted performance, Callisto became one’s television’s most memorable villains. Plus we’re introduced to Joxer the Mighty (Ted Raimi)!
“Orphan of War”: Xena is reunited with the son she gave up for adoption years ago.
Why I Chose It: We see another side to Xena: a more softer, maternal side.
“Intimate Stranger”: With Ares’ help, Callisto switches bodies with Xena.
Why I Chose It: Once again Lucy Lawless and Hudson Leick show off their supreme acting chops by playing each other’s roles. And they succeed.
“Ten Little Warlords”: Ares has lost his divinity. Xena is still trapped in Callisto’s body. And everyone is acting crazy. Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer and a mortal Ares have to race against time to make things right again.
Why I Chose It: Once again, Hudson Leick gives a knockout performance as Xena and we learn why the world needs a God of War.
“The Xena Scrolls”: In 1940s Macedonia, Janice Covington, an archaeologist and Melinda Pappas, an interpreter, are searching for the fabled “Xena Scrolls”. Scrolls that will “turn myth into history”. Unfortunately finding the scrolls also awakens Ares, the God of War.
Why I Chose It: Have you ever secretly wished that you were the descendant of some famous warrior woman? Do you imagine yourself getting bonked in the head only to possess the fighting abilities of said warrior. I myself secretly wish I was the descendant of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, but that’s beside the point. The scene where Mel gets knocked out and awakens as Xena with sword in hand and theme song is one for the ages.
“Here She Comes…Miss Amphibpolis”: Xena enters a beauty contest to see who’s trying to sabotage the pageant.
Why I Chose It: “A WOMAN’S A NATURAL THING!!!!”
“A Necessary Evil”: Power hungry Amazon, Velasca (Melinda Clark) has eaten ambrosia and became a god. She wants rival Amazon queen Gabrielle dead. To Gabrielle’s dismay, Xena enlists the help of a now immortal Callisto to fight Velasca.
Why I Chose It: The highest-rated episode of the series and it’s easy to see why. Two scary villainesses for the price of one!
“A Day In The Life”: Xena and Gabrielle have to prevent a warlord from plundering one village and the world’s biggest giant from destroying another. Xena also has to fend off an annoying admirer. All in a day’s work.
Why I Chose It: This episode introduces Minya (Allison Wall), a comedic character who wants to be a “tough broad” like Xena.
“Lost Mariner”: Xena and Gabrielle are trapped aboard the cursed ship of Cecrops, doomed to sail the seas for eternity. But there may be a way to break the spell.
Why I Chose It: You can’t help but feel touched by Cecrops plight, thanks to Tony Todd’s performance. It also teaches a lesson about the true meaning of love.
“A Comedy of Eros”: Speaking of love, Cupid’s son, Bliss has escaped with his father’s bow and arrows. He shoots an arrow into Xena, Gabrielle and their enemy, Draco. Xena falls for Draco, Gabrielle falls for Joxer and Draco falls for Gabrielle. Love stinks.
Why I Chose It: Not even infatuation can stop the Warrior Princess from doing the right thing! Star Warriors will recognize Jay Laga’aia as Draco before he was cast as Captain Typho in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
“The Furies”: In another attempt to make Xena revert to her evil past, Ares strikes a deal with the Furies. It involves her sanity and her mother.
Why I Chose It: Seeing Xena overcome mind control (again) proves how really brilliant she was at beating enemies at their own games. Unlike other female protagonists with missing moms, it was always refreshing to see how Xena’s relationship with her mother was depicted throughout the series.
“Been There, Done That”: The same day’s events just keeps repeating itself over and over again and only Xena’s noticed. Can she get to the bottom of this conundrum? Or will she go crazy from just trying?
Why I Chose It: What other TV show can make an episode that seamlessly blends Romeo and Juliet and Groundhog’s Day into one story? Answer: none so far.
“The Debt, Parts 1 and 2”: Xena receives a message from the land of Chin (China) to repay a debt for an old friend.
Why I Chose It: It introduces Xena’s greatest influence, the beautiful and wise Lao Ma (Jaqueline Kim), true ruler of the Lao Dynasty.
“Warrior…Priestess…Tramp”: Xena reunites with Meg and meets another look-alike who works as a high priestess in the temple of Hestia, the Virgin Goddess. Leah is her name and her temple’s in danger. It’s up to Xena (and *sigh*, Meg) to find out who’s after the sisterhood of the Hestian Virgins.
Why I Chose It: “I hope that was a petting zoo! PLEASE TELL ME THAT WAS A PETTING ZOO!!!”
“The Quill Is Mightier”: Aphrodite curses Gabrielle’s scroll with the ability to make anything Gabrielle writes a reality.
Why I Chose It: Minya returns in all her wanna-be warrior glory. Xena fights an entire army with seafood.
“The Bitter Suite”: Xena blames Gabrielle for Solan’s death. Gabrielle blames Xena for her unwanted pregnancy by Dahak. They stumble into the musical land of Illusia to patch things up.
Why I Chose It: It was (arguably) the first time a major prime-time TV show did an all-musical episode. It’s also tear-jerking to hear Xena sing an apology to Solan for not being a good mother.
“Forgiven”: A feisty teen named Tara (Shiri Appleby) picks a fight with Gabrielle so that she could help the duo find the stolen Urn of Apollo.
Why I Chose It: I like how this episode teaches us that helping someone change their life isn’t always easy especially when the person is very difficult to get along with. But when we learn about their background, and we overcome those personality hurdles, we can make new allies, if not friends.
“Fins, Femmes and Gems”: Cursed once again by Aphrodite, Xena becomes obsessed with catching a special fish, Gabrielle becomes obsessed with her appearance and Joxer believes that he’s a legendary “ape-man”.
Why I Chose it: I like how the curse was lifted when the ladies came to terms with the source of their obsessions.
“Vanishing Act”: A statue of Pax, the goddess of peace has been stolen. Two cities accuse each other of the crime. Autolycus, the King of Thieves, is also a suspect. But did he do it?
Why I Chose It: By now, you should understand the formula: Autolycus + Xena & Gabrielle = hilarity. And Xena is hilarious as a wacky bidder named Ezra with a mole for an eyesore while Gabrielle is another bidder named Myopia.
“In Sickness And In Hell”: A Scythian army is advancing towards a defenseless village. Xena has lice and Gabrielle has a nasty skin infection. What’s a poor girl to do?
Why I Chose It: You know the saying “an army moves on its stomach? Well now we can say “defeat an army with its stomach.”
“A Tale of Two Muses”: Gabrielle and Xena reunite with Tara who’s about be punished by her new home for committing a shocking crime: dancing.
Why I Chose It: It’s Footloose Ancient Greek style. Good to see you doing well, Tara.
“Daughter of Pomira”: Xena and Gabrielle once again face the dreaded Horde, only to discover that a Greek girl is living among them. Turns out that she is the kidnapped daughter of one of Xena’s soldiers from the past – and the girl’s biological family wants her back home.
Why I Chose It: If you’re familiar with the 1956 film The Searchers you may be familiar with true life accounts of little white girls taken captive during “Indian raids” and made to assimilate into Native societies. Many of these girls grew up with these tribes and when given a choice to leave instead chose to stay with them. The Ancient Greeks used to call all non-Greeks “barbarians” because the languages they spoke sounded like they were saying “bar-bar”. Xena suggests that the Ancient Greeks may have also suffered from this clash of cultures. Being a child of two worlds myself, I like how the episode resolves the conflict by having Vanessa/Peelee learn that she doesn’t have to restrict herself to just one family or culture. That she can be both Greek and Pomira and love both her families.
“If The Shoe Fits”: Gabrielle, Joxer, Xena and Aphrodite help a runaway princess return home by relating their own version of Cinderella.
Why I Chose It: A gap-toothed Gabrielle, warlords in drag and “swimming instructors”. The LOL meter just got louder.
“The Play’s The Thing”: Two con artists discover one of Gabrielle’s scrolls. They convince her that it’ll make a great play. But the play is financed by vicious warlords and theatergoers want sex and violence. Can Gabrielle stand by her beliefs and produce a good play?
Why I Chose It: Minya: “Gabrielle, I wanted to thank you! I never would have met Paulina if it wasn’t for you! In fact, the two of you made me realize something deep down about myself that… I guess I always knew, but… just didn’t dare admit. Yes… I’m a… thespian.” Gabrielle’s new mature, sexy look. Faster Chakram! Kill! Kill!
“Takes One To Know One”: A bounty hunter lies dead in Cyrene’s (Darien Takle) inn. Cyrene, Minya, Lila, Autolycus and Gabrielle are suspects. A goddess (Meighan Desmond) wants Xena to solve the murder or else she’ll take someone with her.
Why I Chose It: The Xenaverse take on Agatha Christie and Clue. Discord: “So, you’re saying that your horse killed her?” Xena: “In self-defense!” Discord: “But I can’t take back a horse! I don’t do animals!” Minya: “That’s not what I heard!”
“Deja-Vu All Over Again”: In modern-day America, a woman named Annie believes she was Xena, warrior princess, in a past life. Her boyfriend, Harry, scoffs, but they both get a surprise when they visit a new age practitioner who takes them through their former lives.
Why I Chose It: Lucy Lawless and Ted Raimi flex their acting chops by switching roles as the reincarnations of Joxer and Xena respectively. And they pull it off.
“Chakram”: Xena gets resurrected but has lost her warrior memories. Ares and Kal, another god of war, are plotting to use her to get their hands on a new chakram with the power to kill gods.
Why I Chose It: It’s a shame Kal got killed off because we didn’t see anymore of Antonio Te Maioha (in the role at least). He’s easy on the eyes.
“Succession”: In order to fulfill a promise to an aspiring warrior, Ares merges Xena and Gabrielle into one person to battle her to the death.
Why I Chose It: Ares merges Xena and Gabrielle into one body so that one of them fights Mavican by day and another one fights by night yet both women manage to avoid bloodshed.
“Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire”: Gabrielle, Cyrene, Joxer, his flamboyant brother Jace, and a pregnant Xena must face off against Draco in a “battle of the bands” for the possession of Terpsichore’s Lyre.
Why I Chose It: The second musical episode of the series but this time with covers instead of original content. Nevertheless you can tell the cast had a lot of fun doing it. Jay Laga’aia returns as a lovestruck Draco and Ted Raimi acts for two as Jace.
“God Fearing Child”: Xena is about to give birth to her daughter but Zeus (Charles Keating) has other plans…
Why I Chose It: As they say on Tumblr, so many feels! Xena reuniting with her deceased son, Solan and assuring him that he will always have a special place in her heart (the name Eve was his suggestion). Hera (Meg Foster) decides to put aside her hatred of Hercules (Kevin Sorbo) and help him defeat Zeus. Zeus’ dying confession to Hercules.
“Who’s Gurkhan?”: Gabrielle learns to her horror that a northern African warlord kidnapped her niece and killed her parents and brother-in-law. Will her desire for justice be met or will she become obsessed with vengeance to the point of betraying Xena?
Why I Chose It: This episode takes a big jab at polygamy, ’nuff said.
The Rheingold/The Ring/Return of the Valkyrie: I’m lumping these stories together as a trilogy because the Norse are famous for their trilogies. Did you know that Xena was once a Valkyrie? Neither did Gabrielle, who secretly travels to the Norselands to meet up with her soulmate and help her correct yet another grievous mistake from her deadly past. To bad she’s been cursed to eternal slumber by a jealous Valkyrie and can only be awaken by her soulmate.
Why I Chose It: If Xena can have episodes about Amazons, why can’t there be episodes about the other most famous race of warrior women? I’m glad that Xena finally broke Grinhilda of her curse and helped her regain her rightful place at Odin’s side.
“You Are There”: A modern-day news reporter (Michael Hurst) follows Xena around and interviews everyone she’s come into contact with on whether she has ulterior motives in her quest for the Golden Apples.
Why I Chose It: Aside from the humorous aspect I like this line Xena says: “you can’t have love without a little bit of hate and you can’t have peace without a little bit of war.” So true.
“Send In The Clones”: Three Xena fans, with the aid of a scientist, successfully clone Xena and Gabrielle into the 21st Century. But can this new Warrior Princess and Battling Bard handle the modern world?
Why I Chose It: The three fans bear a striking resemblance to a certain heroic trio. Xena and Gabrielle eat Pizza and drink soda as they watch clips of past seasons. Then the duo ride off into the sunset in a taxi while sipping champagne.
“Soul Possession”: Xena once made a deal with Ares that involved marriage. Now Ares wants to “seal” the deal. But Xena and Joxer are still in the “wrong” bodies (see “Deja Vu All Over Again”).
Why I Chose It: Annie once said that she could be Xena in her next life. Now she finally gets her chance. What a way to end a marriage contract.
“A Friend In Need, Parts 1 and 2”: A mysterious woman from the island of Jappa (Japan) sends a plea for help. Xena must fight in the land of the dead to defeat an evil spirit while Gabrielle uses her chakram to fight in the land of the living.
Why I Chose It: Yes, I actually liked this controversial episode. I thought it was the most poignant episode to address death since the Star Trek: TNG episode “The Evil Skin”. All warriors must accept their deaths sooner or later, it comes with the job (and since Xena lived in the ancient world, she’d be dead by now). But while other fans were saddened and angered at the finale, it left me with more questions about Gabrielle’s fate. Now that she’s inherited the mantle of the Warrior Princess, what will her new life be like without Xena? What adventures will await her in the Land of the Pharaohs? Will she get a new sidekick? Will it be Eve? Or someone else? Since Xena “will be alive in her heart”, does mean she can still get advice from a Xena apparition a la Obi-Wan Kenobi? What type of mythical creatures, gods and historical figures will she meet/fight? Which historical events would she have a part in? It’s questions like this that make me wish that some talented writers would publish some spin-off novels and comics chronicling Gabrielle’s post-Xena adventures…
Anyway, happy 20th anniversary, Xena: Warrior Princess! There will never be another show as unique as you.
P.S.: Which Xena episodes were your favorite? How did this show impact your life?