It was with season 2 of Xena Warrior Princess, I now recall, that I fell in love with the show.
Thinking back on it, season 2 may well have been the first season I actually saw. My memory of it all is rather cloudy. While watching season 1, I remembered every episode, but for some reason don’t recall having viewed them on TV, at least not from the beginning.
In any case, I do remember that it was also season 2 that made me want to be an adventurer – to roam far and wide meeting people, solving problems, battling evil, and having fun.
It’s a feeling that returned in full forced during my re-watch.
That I now know myself to be completely unsuited to a peripatetic lifestyle where I don’t know where my next meal or dollar is coming from is entirely beside the point. The show just makes it look so easy! Xena and Gabrielle, although making occasional mention of dinars (the currency of Ancient Greece), rarely seemed to suffer the lack of them.
Probably because Xena is just so awesome at what she does, she’s provided for by grateful people in one way or another at every turn.
I am become a name
Another reason I loved this season so much is because, much more than season 1 – in which Xena is acting largely out guilt over her past as a murderous warlord – in this one, although still concerned with doing good and atoning, it’s now more because she wants to help people rather than her feeling like she has to.
Particularly upon re-encountering fellow warlords from her past, Xena offers much less explanation as to why she’s since changed. She likewise feels less obliged to try to change these people; she’s made her own choice and so too must they choose for themselves.
She does briefly slip up and deem a return to her ruthless ways a necessary evil to save those around her in an impossible situation, but this only happens once. Overall, Xena now owns her goodness.
She seems to know herself better and believe much more in the rightness of what she’s doing and her ability to see it through. This change gives her way more agency and interest as a character: actively choosing her fate instead of driven by one imposed upon her.
She even relaxes her obsession with do-gooding long enough to fall in love (although it’s not a permanent pairing, to the relief of the Xena and Gabrielle shippers everywhere).
Xena and Gabrielle’s friendship has grown strong and at times very amusing (Xena has quite the sarcastic streak). And although Xena has come to accept herself as a good person, she still often relies on Gabrielle for help navigating many of the sensitive and/or difficult emotions arising from this new way of living and seeing the world.
More of everything
The production values of season 2 are significantly higher compared to season 1, most likely indicative of the show having been well-received by audiences. This season contains more of what made the first season great, including:
- More Callisto, Xena’s mortal enemy (although I still say actress Hudson Leick is no physical match for Lucy Lawless, let alone a convincing substitute for Xena in the body-swapping episode).
- More diversity, including LGBT characters, female characters who aren’t super-skinny, and even greater ethnic representation within crowd scenes.
- More recurring characters, particularly Joxer (actor Ted Raimi), who carries one of the season’s best and funniest episodes.
- More plot continuity across episodes and the previous season. Given how positively I, at least, respond to this, it makes me realize how important the recurrence of those relatively minor details can be in keeping the audience engaged.
- More impossibly awesome, gravity-defying Xena stunts and, of course, her bracing battle cry.
- More gods! In season 1 we met the ultra-sexy Ares, god of war, played by the late Kevin T. Smith. In season 2, Ares returns and brings with him Aphrodite, the goddess of love and Cupid, played by a very young and very blonde-dyed Karl Urban (AKA Dr. McCoy from the reboot Star Trek movies, AKA one of my Hollywood boyfriends).
The presence of the gods in Xena was one of the things that most inspired my unfinished, shelved first novel, of which my desire for its rewrite to be my next writing project was the impetus behind my decision to replay Xena to begin with.
Seeing again how the show portrays the Greek gods, I realize just how imitative I was in my flattery and how much I need to change that aspect of my story.
Additional season 2 highlights include a couple of holiday-themed episodes (for Halloween and Christmas). I didn’t much care for these when they originally aired but was able to appreciate a bit more this time around.
Also, the fact that we learn more of Xena’s origin story.
A superhero always needs a good one, and beyond having first taken up the sword in her youth to battle a warlord who attacked her village and killed her favourite brother, Xena has travelled the world to learn her eclectic fighting skills from a number of different warriors, most of them women.
In this season, we’re shown how Xena learned her famous use of pressure points.
She also continues her movements across the lore of the ancient world through encounters with even more historical (or historically fictitious) figures: Goliath the giant and the future King David of the Israelites; Ulysses of The Odyssey fame (it is with him that Xena falls in love; we’re also given a slightly different interpretation regarding the stringing of the bow of Apollo at Ithaca).
And last but not least, an all-new enemy who, in subsequent seasons, will prove even more persistent and dangerous than Callisto: the ruthless and ambitious Julius Caesar*.
(*Also played by Karl Urban)
- “A Day in the Life” (Ep. 15): The much less glamorous side of life as a travelling hero. Introduces Minya, an awesome audience surrogate for all Xena fangirls.
- “For Him the Bell Tolls” (Ep. 16): Joxer finally gets to the be the hero he’s always wanted to be thanks to Aphrodite’s meddling (he gets a theme song as well).
- “A Comedy of Eros” (Ep. 22): The theft of Cupid’s arrows results in unwitting love all around.
What are you watching right now? Let me know in the comments.
(Image source #1, #2, and #3)