Let’s just say I meant to make this a separate post, and didn’t completely forget to add it to the end of Rolling Around Like Weasels.
Season 3 was always my favourite season of Xena, the one where the concept for the show really came together with some brilliant, epic stories. It’s also the season where the production team seemed to relax into trusting just how good their main actors were at handling comedy, drama, fight scenes and sometimes all three at once.
Too many classic moments to count, from Xena’s manic obsession in Been There, Done That, to the martial arts (and other war movies) homages to Ancient China in The Debt. Not to mention the utter looniness of The Bitter Suite.
This is the season in which Gabrielle grew up, quite literally, to be more than Xena’s kid sidekick. We saw the two of them go through hell together and separately, saw them hate each other enough to kill, and love enough to forgive the past. All that by the time the season was half over!
There are still the inevitable filler episodes, the by-the-numbers ones, and they feel more problematic in amongst the genuine angst and trauma of what I think of as the ‘real’ Xena stories. The balance was definitely off, particularly in the wake of the spectacular run of stories culminating in The Bitter Suite, when it felt at times like there was a reset button hovering in the wings (or, more likely, the scripts had been drafted in ignorance of the big emotional episodes, and had to have brief references tacked on to them but never quite resonated with the aftermath of those stories).
Season 3 brought development in several of the supporting characters. Kevin Smith’s Ares who had really started being interesting back in Season 2 was completely on fire by this point, and the chemistry he developed with Xena and separately with Gabrielle, Callisto and grown up Hope made all of his appearances deeply compelling – like Xena, his contribution to the comedy episodes works most effectively when he is the straight man, as in The Quill is Mightier, but he can turn on a dime to do the dark scary stuff too. Ted Raimi’s Joxer, who was on the verge of being one-note and over used in Season 2, was able to play beautifully on the melancholy (and occasionally creepy) aspect of his unrequited love for Gabrielle, and showed some real depth in episodes like Been There, Done That, King of Assassins and the first few scenes of The Bitter Suite. Both he and Autolycus got more of a dark and tragic backstory to round them out as characters.
This season often looks more like an ensemble piece rather than a two hander show, with many repeat performances of characters, and new combinations. The Bitter Suite showed this quite literally, with many regular characters taking repertory roles in Xena and Gabrielle’s subconscious (representing of all things the characters of the traditional tarot deck), but it was evident throughout the run. If an episode doesn’t have Joxer, Ares, Autolycus, Aphrodite, Callisto, Caesar or Ephiny in it, it does feel a bit like a waste of time.
While I do enjoy some (not all) of the massive character development coming for the show, I will miss this era – which to me is most firmly represented by Gabrielle’s little green top, her adorable red boots, and her long fringed hair. Change is coming, and Xena: Warrior Princess will never be quite the same again…