In the second last season of Xena Warrior Princess, we have come to the climax of the overall arc of the story.
Up to this point, Xena has gone from being a former bloodthirsty warrior, newly repentant and wracked with self-loathing, to a devoted friend and fighter for good and justice, to a self-assured paladin following the righteous spiritual path known as the Way of the Warrior.
Meanwhile, Xena’s best friend and sidekick, Gabrielle, has gone from a plucky, idealistic peasant girl, to an unwitting Amazon princess and novice fighter, to an adherent of the nonviolent spiritual path known as the Way of Love, to an eventual apostate of that path in favour of becoming a warrior – no longer a sidekick – in her own right.
Along the way, both Xena and Gabrielle have faced triumphs, heartache, adventures both heroic and absurd, meddlesome gods, monsters, love, loss, spiritual awaking, and the potential destruction more than once of that which matters to them the most: their friendship with each other.
At this point in the story, both have all but completed their respective character arcs. Their personalities are pretty much set, and as such, most of the conflict from this season, rather than internal to their needs and desires, instead involves the external world around them.
No longer centered at the height of the Ancient Greek era, the show has arrived at the point in history when the Roman Empire is on the rise. So too is the One God of the Israelites, which presents a significant prophesied threat to the Greek gods. Xena herself threatens the gods as well, for she has an important role to play in this prophecy.
Namely, she is to give birth to a child who will be the bringer of the twilight of the Greek gods.
(Which is convenient since Lucy Lawless, the actress who played Xena, was visibly pregnant at the time.)
Higher powers at work
Religion was a significant plot driver throughout this season, beginning with the aftermath of Xena and Gabrielle’s harsh punishment at the hands of the Romans that Xena spent all of season 4 having premonitions about and doing her (unsuccessful) best to try to prevent.
There is nothing that Xena won’t do for Gabrielle. She would go to hell and back for her – would substitute herself in Gabrielle’s place no matter how foul her resulting fate. So too has Xena always felt she owed a debt to the warrior woman Callisto – one of her greatest enemies whose village and family Xena destroyed when Callisto was a child.
It thus comes as no surprise that, after all these years, when Xena finally has the chance for redemption on a spiritual level for her evil past, she transfers that grace to someone who needs it even more.
All hope is not lost for Xena, however, for she has friends in high places. One of whom is Eli, a faith healer, teacher of the Way of Love, and prophet of the One God introduced in season 4, whose influence has since grown significantly.
Although never a firm adherent of his teachings as was Gabrielle, Xena nonetheless comes to understand his message, especially as Eli has a showdown with Ares, the Greek god of war, and suffers his ultimately messianic fate.
More than once Xena finds herself serving as the champion of the followers of Eli, and not just while struggling to defend her child from the entire pantheon of Greek gods seeking to prevent the twilight’s fulfillment.
And when it comes down to it, during the climax of the season when all hope truly seems lost, Xena comes to recognize the limits of what a warrior – even the greatest warrior like herself – can and cannot do. She finally acknowledges when it’s time to lay down her sword and call upon an even higher power for help.
In love and war
Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship remains more or less solid in this season. They’ve had their problems in the past when their opposing spiritual paths and outlooks on life have caused each other pain and genuine suffering on account of their actions.
Having now settled upon stable common ground, the stage is set for the examination of yet another of Xena’s important relationships: the one she has with Ares.
Ares and Xena have always had an underlying attraction to each other as far back as her warlord days, for it was his influence that helped make her who she was back then.
Even when she eventually turned good, Ares retained his old feelings for her, and even a level of respect for the new Xena.
Now, with the impending twilight, Ares is tasting mortality for the first time. In his overbearing, macho way, he’s forced to examine the depth of his feelings for Xena and determine just how far he’s prepared to go to prove his devotion. This despite the fact she’s long since moved on from both his way of life and him in general, thus making his chances of actually winning her affection all but impossible.
It’s a wonderful character arc for the super-sexy god of war, who looked great while doing it as well thanks to the shearing of his previously shoulder-length hair.
(Sadly, Kevin T. Smith, the actor who played Ares, passed away in an on-set accident the year after Xena concluded.)
This season features the smallest number of longtime recurring characters to date: only Joxer, Callisto, Ares, Aphrodite, and Xena’s mother.
We are, however, finally introduced to some of the higher Olympian gods, if briefly, including Zeus, Hera, and Athena. In addition, Xena’s male counterpart – the legendary Hercules (upon whose own show the evil warrior princess first debuted) makes a key appearance during another climatic moment.
The (hopefully) last laugh
There was only one thing about this season I didn’t like. There was a dramatic shift in the style of humour that didn’t at all feel congruous with the show.
In the previous four seasons, the humour involved a lot of sight gags, slapstick, and dry wit, which was very much in keeping with the show’s overall campy nature, it’s at times serious plotlines notwithstanding.
In this season, however, a lot of the humour took on a crude, sexual, mocking quality. Some examples include the following:
- Upon discovering that Xena is pregnant, Ares remarks that he hadn’t known Xena wanted to be a mother and alludes to himself taking on the role of the baby’s father. Xena wittily replies that her baby already has a father; that Gabrielle serves in that capacity. To this, Ares says, “I would have paid good money to see that.”
- During a magical duel between the goddesses Discord and Aphrodite, Discord tells Aphrodite, “I almost didn’t recognize you with your legs so close together.”
- The goddess Athena is leading a group of female warriors in a siege against Xena’s hometown. Included in this group is one particular warrior woman who seems special to Athena, most likely a lover. Ares arrives and tries to offer Athena battle advice, but she rebuffs him insisting she doesn’t need his help. To this, Ares replies, “Nor any man’s, it would seem.”
- After the passage of many years, Xena and Gabrielle reencounter Meg, a feisty, raucous barkeeper who recurred in earlier seasons. Meg doesn’t recognize Gabrielle in her new incarnation as a short-haired, muscular warrior woman and thus remarks, “You kind of look like her. Except Gabrielle wasn’t so butch.”
Xena was always been an empowering, female-friendly, feminist program, regardless of being a work of fantasy. To me, this demeaning style of humour – if it can be called humour at all – felt jarring and just plain wrong for the show. I was not at all amused seeing so many strong female characters subtly denigrated through this male-centric lens for cheap laughs.
I don’t know the reason for the change, although I did notice this season of the show had two new executive co-producers – Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Gaston Orci – where previously these positions were filled by others.
Kurtzman and Orci are a long-time producing duo who are still in the business today. They are responsible for films within various male-centric, blockbuster, brain candy franchises like The Amazing Spider-Man, Transformers, Mission Impossible, and the Star Trek reboot movies
Maybe it’s just a coincidence. I don’t want to lay blame without facts. I don’t even really know what executive producers do. I just hope not to see a repeat of these icky humour in season 6, the final season.
- “Animal Attraction” (Ep. 4): Love is in the air for Xena’s friends while Xena herself discovers the unexpected news of her impending motherhood
- “Amphipolis Under Siege” (Ep. 14): Xena defends her hometown against the goddess Athena and at the same time has to deal with Ares’s romantic advances
- “Looking Death in the Eye” (Ep. 19 ): Xena enacts her most cunning plot yet to save her child from the Olympian gods seeking to avert the twilight, but then Ares gets involved
- “Eve” and “Motherhood”: (Eps. 21 and 22): The climatic showdown between Xena and the gods of Olympus
(Image source #1, #2, #3, and #4)