One season down, five more to go!
My decision to re-watch all six seasons of the show Xena Warrior Princess – which is set in Ancient Greece – corresponded with my decision to someday rewrite my shelved first fantasy novel as historical fiction, also set in Ancient Greece.
That and because Xena is such a thrilling character – my favourite fictional character, in truth – whom I hadn’t watched since the show ended in 2001.
The first episode opens with Xena literally trying to bury her past as a bloodthirsty warlord: she has dug a hole and tossed in her sword and iconic armour, and is preparing to return to her home village of Amphipolis to try to make amends.
Her goal to give up her warrior ways is short-lived, however, for she immediately comes upon a band of raiders attempting to kidnap a group of young women to sell into slavery, one of whom is Xena’s soon-to-be sidekick and BFF, Gabrielle.
Xena kicks the raiders’ butts and escorts the girls back to their village of Potidaea. But again Xena’s evil past rears its head, for she is unwelcome both in Potidaea and later in Amphipolis, where even her own mother turns against her.
However Xena soon discovers that a fellow warlord from her past has designs on Amphipolis, and with the initially grudging assistance of its citizens – as well as the exuberant assistance of Gabrielle, who has run away from home to join her – Xena defeats the warlord and reconciles with her mother and neighbours.
Welcome to the Xenaverse
That was just the first episode, which was fast-paced, exciting, intentionally campy, but also contained a surprising amount of heart.
The rest of the season was enjoyable overall as well. Some episodes were a bit slow, and they all suffered a bit for their low production quality, including some very poorly-rendered CGI mythological creatures.
However in general, season one kicked the show off to a rousing start, focussing mainly on Xena’s crushing guilt over her past, her quest for redemption through helping people in need, and her growing friendship with Gabrielle, which corresponds to Xena learning how to forgive herself.
Xena, we are shown, is a well-connected individual who treads across much of what’s recognizable as Greek history and mythology, including the legend of King Sisyphus, the bard Homer, the Amazons, the Titans, the Greek gods, the Trojan War, and even hints of the burgeoning Christianity of the time.
We’re also introduced to a number of memorable recurring characters, including Autolycus, a roguish, Robin Hood-like figure who steals from the rich and gives to … himself; Salmoneus, a sweet yet shady merchant; Joxer, a bumbling wannabe warrior with a heart of gold; Ephiny, the noble Amazon; Callisto, Xena’s murderous nemesis who lost her family to a raid by Xena years earlier, and of course, the ever-faithful Gabrielle.
Lows and Highs
In the beginning, I wasn’t a fan of Gabrielle, her being portrayed as an overly sweet, innocent, cheerful heart who cares about everyone and turns the heads of five different guys over the first half of the season.
Thankfully, these Mary Sue-ish tendencies were tempered as the season progressed, and she was shown to be more clever and resourceful than just a cute country girl in a pretty dress.
Another thing I didn’t like was the casting choice for Callisto. Actress Hudson Leick played the role well enough, capturing Callisto’s crazed mood swings between sociopathic rage one moment and borderline remorse and understanding of Xena the next since she herself has become what Xena used to be.
However Leick just didn’t look the part, being far too model thin and small-boned to be a convincing equal to Lucy Lawless’s glorious athleticism.
Something in particular I did like was the amount of diversity in the show, which I didn’t recall from watching the first time around.
A number of key guest characters were non-white. Marcus, the man styled to have been Xena’s true love (as opposed to a handful of random lovers or men she seduced to get her way), was black, and the fabled Helen of Troy appeared bi-racial, thereby demonstrating that the most beautiful woman in the world doesn’t have to be white.
As well, whenever there was a crowd scene, such as in a village or an army, there was always diverse faces to be seen – black, Middle Eastern, East Asian. From the limited historical research I’ve conducted to date on Ancient Greece, this corresponds with the fact that the Ancient Greeks both knew about and interacted with people from different countries and cultures
Would Xena air today if it were a brand new show? It’s hard to say given the lukewarm climate for female-led works of fantasy/sci-fi these days. Xena’s final season was in 2001. To me, she’s essentially a superhero, and it doesn’t seem like there’s been much progress for female superheroes shows and movies since then.
Thank goodness Xena did air in 1995-2001, for it’s been a huge inspiration to me, both as a writer and a person, and will likely inspire me all over again as I continue to watch.
- “Sins of the Past” (Ep. 1): Xena has an epic staff fight on a scaffolding against a warlord from her past.
- “Hooves and Harlots” (Ep. 10): Our first introduction to the Amazons. And centaurs.
What are you watching right now? Let me know in the comments.