Yes, my reward to myself for… oh, something or other, mostly having money in my bank account for the first time in months, was the Big Ginormous Xena Boxset. It’s so shiny! I’ve been rather longing for a proper Xena rewatch for some time. So here we go, in order, from the top.
1.1. Sins of the Past
They manage to pack quite a lot into this episode. It’s rather clever in that it is basically a sequel to three linked episodes in Hercules: the Legendary Journeys from the year before, and yet there is no mention of Hercules or the fact that he pretty much set her on the road to redemption with his Magical Wang. Instead, we see Xena trying to deal with her decision to give up her warlording ways, and the various ramifications of this as she tries (not overly successfully) to change her spots.
Lucy Lawless has Xena down from the first few seconds of the episode – which is no mean feat for such a complex character. The opening scene in which she nobly buries her armour and weapons in order to disassociate herself from her old life, and promptly digs them up again less than a minute later to defend some villagers from their attackers, pretty much sums up Xena’s character. She used to fight for power and glory, and now she fights to defend those who can’t defend themselves, because that’s truer to herself than pretending not to have the skills she does. Less enjoyable at this point is Gabrielle, her earnest girl-companion-to-be, who makes me cringe as much as she always did in this first episode. Renee O’Connor did a brilliant job with Gabrielle and her journey as a character but… not in this episode. There are so many elements that should work – and indeed do work in later episodes, such as her sweet relationship with her sister, her reasons for leaving her village in search for adventure, and her gift for the gab as an alternative way (to Xena’s sword) to get her out of trouble, but it isn’t hanging together yet, mostly because O’Connor is still a bit too awkward and overacty. Also the blue and brown outfit makes me want to hurl things at the screen. That colour combination just makes me irrationally angry, which explains a lot about my previous dislike for season one Gabrielle.
The episode does show us Xena’s complex relationship with her mother, and introduces us to Draco, the best of all the Random Warlords™ who were introduced throughout the show’s run, played by a very buff and disturbingly hot Jay Lagai’ia. The fight scene at the end of this episode, in which Draco and Xena go at it with staffs, balancing on sticks and attempting not to fall, and finally battling it out while standing on the shoulders of the villagers, is still pretty legendary.
1.2 Chariots of War
While the first episode makes a strong case for watching Xena, the second one is a pretty strong case against. I always hated this episode, which I remember as being about Xena’s failed romance with a poor but honest single dad who makes her feel bad about herself – an attempt for her to live a “normal life.” There’s something so horribly Little House on the Prairie about it all. On rewatch, I disliked it just as much, but noticed something interesting. While the episode LOOKS as if it is about Xena trying out a more “feminine” life and being tempted by it, it actually isn’t. That is, Lucy Lawless is sneakily acting in a different episode to everyone else. Gabrielle tells Xena that she could try being “softer” (in radically different characterisation from the previous ep Gab also fantasises about having kids) and Darius (The Bloke Whose Wang Is Not As Magical As Hercules) attempts quite creepily to make Xena take the place of his dead wife (even dressing her in her clothes, yuk) but Xena herself never actually seems that interested. Also, though it is framed as if it is, it’s actually not a romance beyond a few speculative looks.
Even when wounded and “weakened,” Xena is tough as nails. She talks Darius through removing the arrow from her body, and never flinches about what has to be done. She puts herself in armour even when she is falling down with exhaustion. And oh yes, while everyone else is tangled up in the social mores of diplomacy and negotiation, she just kicks butt when she sees the villagers under threat. Symbolically she rips the hell out of the dead wife’s dress at the same time. She enjoys hanging out with the kids but we never see a single flicker of interest in staying with them.
While everyone else is sighing about how Xena can never have a normal life as a wife and mother, in other words, she’s rolling her eyes at them all and saying “Duh, move on.” I do kind of love her.
Even when the scripts are at their dodgiest and the characters are still being worked out (Gabrielle is truly awful in this one), the action scenes are brilliant. I never actually watched the show for the action, and thus took the high quality for granted, but come on. Episode two and we get a chariot race! I’m also enjoying the way that the various scenes from the opening credits pop out of these early episodes – they kept the same credits for most of the show’s run and they’re made up of these first few episodes, so I suppose the visuals had to be awesome.
Thanks largely to episode 2, I only watched season one patchily and in some cases avoided it (or at least the first half of it) altogether, so there are some episodes here I’ve actually never seen. This one, in which Gabrielle is captured by a gang of priests to be the Bride of Morpheus, is one of those. It’s mostly forgettable, apart from the usual Lucy Lawless awesomeness, but at least Gab gets into a different outfit. I really, really hate that blue and brown thing, did I mention? I was intrigued to see that the concept of ‘blood innocence’ (ie not yet having killed someone) was introduced this early, as it was to form a pretty vital aspect of Gabrielle’s character arc over the first
three four seasons.
1.4 Cradle of Hope
By Zeus, I think she’s got it! Gabrielle has suddenly shifted from being awkward and over-acty to funny and cute. Meanwhile, Xena has developed a touch more comic timing to match her dark and angsty angst. The relationship between the two actresses has warmed up nicely so that they are actually believable travelling companions instead of a pushy kid tagging along behind a grim warrior. I’m really pleased – I had a vague impression that this didn’t happen until much later in the season. It’s already less painful to watch, hooray!
This episode, another I hadn’t seen before, started out looking like it was a Moses story but unexpectedly turned into a Pandora story instead. Despite the unexpected Gabrielle coolness it’s mostly a throwaway, memorable only for having Xena pose as an exotic dancer (yes, that bit of the opening credits) to get close to the wicked/misunderstood king. I liked that while the main antagonists are men, the bulk of the story is told through four female characters. This is by no means uptypical for a Xena ep, but I had forgotten quite how nice it was to immerse myself in a fantasy TV world which is about the women first. I think I’m going to enjoy this box set!
Boys who want romance with Xena: 2
Boys Xena wants to romance: 0
Gabrielle boyfriends: 2
“Adorable” children: 4
Babies tossed humorously in the air during fight scenes: 1