Season 4 of Xena Warrior Princess was one marked by both growth and death.
Part of that growth was external. By season 4, the show had gained widespread popularity and started tell stories that demonstrated this. The sets were more complex, the costumes more elaborate.
The Xenaverse itself expanded: moving beyond just Ancient Greece and the gods and heroes of Greek mythology, Xena and Gabrielle travel to an entirely different country and have encounters with the gods of a different culture.
The other part of this growth was internal. In this season, Xena and Gabrielle both learn to stop fighting their inner natures and accept themselves as they are.
Xena is finally able to overcome the guilt of her past as an evil, bloodthirsty warlord and embrace her current role as a warrior for good. The Way of the Warrior it’s called, and is revealed to be Xena’s proper spiritual path during a pilgrimage she and Gabrielle make to India.
Gabrielle, meanwhile, chooses to eschew fighting altogether – something that has provoked so much existential tension among her pacifist sensibilities in past seasons. She instead embraces the Way of Love – the spiritual path of a messiah-like faith healer named Eli who is introduced in this season.
Eli is a follower of the One God of the Israelites – the counterpart to the One Evil God, Dahak, who first appeared in season 3. Both Dahak and his demon spawn, Hope, had a profoundly personal impact on Gabrielle’s life, in the process prompting the first real threat to hers and Xena’s relationship that we’d seen.
Both Dahak and the One God are presented as more powerful than the Greek gods. This along with the increased presence of Romans (particularly Brutus and Xena’s longstanding nemesis, Julius Caesar) shows how the Xenaverse sits poised between the death of one era and the birth of a whole new one.
Do mine eyes deceive me?
I really liked this season because, although I’ve remarked all along about the great continuity of the show, more so than previous seasons, this one felt much less episodic, instead seeming to follow a true story arc.
The season kicks off with a new villain from Xena’s past – Alti, the evil shamaness – who remains a recurring villain for most of the season.
(On a side note, I’m not sure how old the character of Xena is meant to be, but damn, she’s had a lot of drama, both good and bad, in her past. And she’s been almost everywhere in the ancient world, even the Greek Underworld.)
Another recurring feature of season 4 is the vision of doom Xena experiences at Alti’s hands – that of her and Gabrielle being crucified by Romans.
Xena is naturally horrified by this and is willing to do anything she can to prevent her beloved Gabrielle from suffering such a dire fate. On more than one occasion, Xena is even prepared to prevent it by forever parting ways with Gabrielle, as much as Xena is loath to do so.
However Xena and Gabrielle are soulmates and not so easily parted, whether they want to or not. This fact remains true despite their fundamentally incompatible outlooks on life (the Way of the Warrior vs. the Way of Love). More and more, though, this incompatibility causes both of them pain.
One of the most powerful examples of this is in the episode that introduces the character Najara. Najara is an adherent of the Way of the Light who claims to possess a spiritual connection to divine benevolent beings called the Djinn.
She and her army battle evildoers but then give them the opportunity to repent of their wicked ways and come over to the side of goodness. She also dreams of building a hospice where all people can come to recover from illness and trauma regardless of their class and ability to pay. Unsurprisingly, all of this appeals greatly to Gabrielle.
Of course, there turns out to be more to Najara than meets the eye, but she is sincere in her fondness for Gabrielle. When Xena expresses doubts about this, Najara asserts that she would never hurt Gabrielle, for that is Xena’s job.
It’s so chilling because it’s true, emotional/existential pain being the worst possible type. Not to mention that vision that just won’t go away, which will hurt Gabrielle physically as well should it come to pass.
Xena has a past of corrupting people who are trying to do good in the world (her former lover, Borias, a character who has recurred since season 2, solely in flashbacks). And although we’re certain Xena would never do so again intentionally, the road to Hades is indeed paved with good intentions.
Beware the Ides of March
Serious stuff in season 4, but not without at least a couple of the usual Ancient Greek fun and games we’ve come to love in the show. These include a Clue-style murder mystery, a feminist retelling of Cinderella, and an episode where Xena and Gabrielle attempt to defeat an invading army while plagued with head lice and a full-body rash.
Long-time favourite characters like Joxer, Autolycus, Minya, Ares, Aphrodite, and Meg continue to make appearances. Diversity continues to feature notably, and Xena continues to kick serious butt, right up until the moment that she doesn’t at the hands of her two greatest enemies, Julius Caesar and Callisto.
This season features some notable character deaths. It also ends on a wicked cliffhanging, somewhat literally, with Xena’s chakram (her signature weapon) broken in pieces and Gabrielle having once and for all chosen been the Way of Love and her love for Xena.
There’s a lot of season 5 I missed when it originally aired on TV in 1999. I can’t wait to watch it now!
- “Adventures in the Sin Trade” (Eps. 1-2): Xena is reunited with an enemy from her past and has a vision of doom for the future
- “Crusader” (Ep. 8): Gabrielle is captivated by a Warrior of the Light, who seems to embody all Gabrielle holds most dear
- “The Play’s the Thing” (Ep. 17): With Joxer’s help, Gabrielle tries to put on a play about her spiritual journey and debates becoming a sellout to draw a bigger audience
- “The Ides of March” (Ep. 21): Xena’s two greatest enemies join forces against her and Gabrielle must choose between her love of Xena and her spiritual path