Season 1:22 Callisto





Reviewed by SLK

Rating: 8 chakrams



It’d be easy to ramble on about the general plot of Callisto, talk about the introduction of Joxer and the campfire scene that launched a thousand fanfics. But that would be like dwelling on the workmanship of the frame on the Mona Lisa. So I’ll get to that other stuff in a bit – but first it’s time to stop and admire the masterpiece in the middle of the room. 

The old Hollywood adage has always been that a good villain makes a great movie. A weak villain will sink even the best hero. And so it goes for a little show called, Xena, transformed completely and irrevocably by the best bad girl in Ancient Greece. 

Enter Callisto –with wispy waves of blonde hair, innocent big brown eyes, standing proudly in her dominatrix leather bikini complete with knee-high boots, and boasting thin shopping-mall-groupie arms that look incapable of snapping a twig, let alone mastering Chakram 101 and Swordplay For Serious Stalkers. 

With Callisto’s deceiving little-girl looks and constantly surprised expression comes that bored sing-song high-pitched voice, punctuated by the erratic hisses of a cornered cougar, the blood-curdling scream that goes right through you and ’50s-style cackles that would put to shame the arch, over-the-top Flash Gordon moustache-twirlers. 

No doubt she’s an attention grabber. But this Barbie doll on acid is also easily the show’s greatest villain. Why? 

Well she was the only villain who ever had the ability to utterly crush Xena – and from the inside out. And, worse, she knew it, too. 

And how come Callisto was so very good at being bad? 

Simple: Callisto is Xena’s own tortured conscience. (Albeit tweaked one or two rotations into madness.) Plus Callisto shamelessly exploited against Xena the fact she was her victim. Guilt trumps all for Xena.

The first moment we meet Blonde Ambition, the Xena bods mirror her with the warrior princess – same angles, same glimpses of leather outfit from the boots up, same fighting techniques, and, most crucially, the ability to handle the chakram like Xena herself. 

But there’s way more to high-end villainy than mere fighting ability or any number of the show’s bad ugly guys would be contenders for the Most Evil of Them All crown. 

What sets Callisto apart is her motivation. She is so dangerous to Xena because she’s not focused on power, bloodshed, wealth or conquest. She’s not focused on anything at all except her goal of sticking the knife into Xena, and twisting. Twisting. Twisting. 

For Callisto – it’s what she lives for. And does she ever have Xena’s number. Witness this merry little assortment of guilty digs, Callisto style: 

Callisto’s favoured little grenade: “Oh no, it’s not her fault at all I dream every night of my mother’s screams coming from my burning home.” 

There’s my personal favourite for its etiquette-teacher style delivery as though one is merely eating with the wrong fork: “No, no, no not to fear Xena, I won’t be screaming out like my sister.” 

Then the big one, when Xena talks about justice, pretty much the only thing a reformed killer like the warrior princess has to cling to when she’s feeling so low, the blonde is there to sweep even that conceit right out from under her feet with the rejoinder: “Have you ever been tried for all of the things you’ve done? Have you ever been handed over to a mob that wanted your blood?” 


So powerful are all these verbal jabs, that Callisto even has Xena wanting to release her. Yes, Xena’s having a dangerous dose of empathy in this episode and Callisto is just loving it. Twist, twist, twist. 

You have to pity Xena as she’s in a lose-lose situation. For Xena to kill her would be to kill her old self and, at the same time, paradoxically, to also kill again the victims of her past. To let Callisto live, is to let her old self live even with all the evil that she knows would follow. There is no easy answer, and Xena is completely wrong footed by the entire experience.  

Callisto’s line that sums up all of Xena’s agony best is: “I’m a painful reminder of what you used to be and how you will never leave it behind.” 

There’s little wonder sooner or later we find Xena gazing blearily into a camp fire seeking answers from the flames. That is the most beautiful piece of framing, deciding to have the flames in the foreground, then shooting through them to the actresses. 

Flames have such a great imagery all throughout this episode – for they remind Xena of the deaths in Cirra she caused plus the birth of vengeful Callisto that she also feels responsible for. They are used to mirror her past when Xena is trapped in an inferno in Callisto’s cell.  

But most powerfully of all, flames can also represent cleansing. And that’s one of the most touching moments of this episode. We find ourselves here, in front of the fire, closely watching Xena’s ice-chip blue eyes coursing with emotion. 

Her voice is a sad weary monotone as she spells out her crimes to Gabrielle. Then, as Gabrielle digests it all, she suddenly comes alive. She demands, for the first time, something from Xena. She doesn’t ask – she demands. She wants her friend to stay away from the darkness for good.  

When Xena blows her off with a laugh and a snatched half hug, Gabrielle isn’t buying it for a second. No, she’s not finishing this conversation without her promise. At that moment you can see the dawning respect on Xena’s face as she regards Gabrielle with new eyes. The farm girl from Poteideia, the chatterbox hanger-on who trailed around behind her hero is gone. In her place is a powerful equal to be reckoned with and accorded with respect. You sense even without a fire it would be sizzling around these two. 

It’s little wonder this scene is viewed by many fans as Subtext Central. The kid sister dynamic is completely shattered by it. These women are now equals and sharing a deep, deep friendship – however you choose to view it. All the penetrating long looks and intimate fingers-brushing-away-hair gestures, just added to the feeling we’re intruding. 

The only jarring moment in that scene was Xena’s reference to Hercules in her list of people whose deaths might tip her over the edge. Er. Right. Whatever. Cos she mentions him so often and is clearly so into him these days. 

That aside, this one scene could be used as a Xena showcase to encapsulate everything you ever needed to know about the show: Xena’s past, Gabrielle’s relationship to her (she’s fierce and she’s loyal and her opinion matters), Xena’s tortured soul and her slightly blokey persona (brusquely wiping away a tear and looking embarrassed at her lapse of emotion). 

What a powerhouse scene.  

Of course with all this high-end drama, from killing women and kids in the opening scene to an unhinged villain cutting a swathe through Xena’s emotions, you can almost imagine some behind-the-scenes panic attacks that they were going too dark. 

Enter that other, er, villain, Joxer the Mighty. Even Argo whinnied disdainfully at his self-important intro. You know, I never minded Joxer in his early days – mainly because he had a certain self awareness about exactly who he really was: “People don’t fear worthless idiots so it’s easier to get the drop on them.” 

And he knew in his heart he wasn’t all that as a warrior, his self awareness assisted by Gabrielle expertly pummeling him at every encounter (oh wait, now I just remembered why I liked early Joxer…) 

He’s not even all that observant either, referring to Gabrielle as the “irritating little blonde”. Um, hey mashed hubcap dude, she’s a redhead here. Oh wait, maybe Joxer’s a seer. 

But to be fair, it’s hard to play the joker and an exposition man, and that’s what Joxer spent a fair bit of time doing, having Callisto’s evil plots and motivations explained patiently to him as she derides him mercilessly. Ted Raimi did a fairly good job at taking a very unflattering character and making him amusing.  

Anyway – welcome Joxer. 

A couple of quibbles – how did Melas escape the ropes when he was tied to the tree? (And didn’t Xena feel like a murderer leaving him there without food or water?)

How did Gabrielle catch up so quickly to Xena and Callisto when the pair had galloped flat out for miles across the dunes? And how did Xena know where to look for Callisto’s lair after the blonde had snatched the bard? And when, oh when, will they stop finding male leads with the worst accents in the biz? I do wish Melas had been less of a Houdini at times. 

While I am detouring about, I have to give a huge nod to the fight co-ordinators for the brilliant ladder fight, which was breathtaking. 

Also, seeing the Xena stunt double take a huge dive into the side of that sand dune from a horse at full gallop was nothing short of amazing. Having personally visited that very sand dune I can tell you it’s incredibly high, and the way she was tumbling down its side made me pray for more than just her ability to keep sand out of unmentionable places. That’s bravery. Seriously. 

Finally, I can’t finish up without referring to a passing comment Hudson Leick (Callisto) made at one Xena convention, when asked if her tortured character would ever find love.  

“She’s already found love,” was the actress’s adamant response. 

If you have to ask with whom, well go back and have another look at this episode and you’ll see Hudson has been busy value-adding. There is something very sexual in the way Callisto eyes, manipulates and stalks, her unwitting prey.  

Callisto actually slowly and pointedly kisses Xena’s chakram, her eyes closing sensually. She also wanted all the details from her second in command, Theodorus, after he’d been interrogated by Xena.  

“Did she put her touch on you?” Callisto asks excitedly. She giddily enquires as to whether Xena then let him go with a warning, with barely concealed excitement. Her delight when he answers yes is almost blush-worthy, like a schoolgirl being told her dream idol is going to be asking her to the dance. 

They say the line between love and hate is a thin one. And you’ve got to hand it to Hudson on this – the way she put layers upon layers into her character was just mind blowing. Every time you thought you’d figured her character out – monster, victim, flirt, sadist, she turned the knife again. Another twist, another layer. 

I also recall Hudson saying once that she always preferred working on the Xena set (as opposed to Hercules) because the cast and crew never made her feel like a chick in a leather bikini, despite that being exactly what she was.  

I would hazard a guess that the Xena people were so blown away by her untamed talent and characterisation of Callisto here, that even the thought of objectifying her would have been the last thing on their minds. Yep, no matter how you slice or ice the cake, in the end, this episode was completely stolen by Hudson.  

She came, she shrieked, she conquered.  

No wonder they called the episode simply Callisto.



SCROLLS & SCRIBES: Written by R.J. Stewart, Edited by Robert Field, Directed by T.J. Scott.

PASSING PARADE: Hudson Leick (Callisto), Ted Raimi (Joxer), David Te Rare (Theodorus), Ian Hughes (Melas), Kenneth McGregor (Akteon)

DISCLAIMER:  Joxer’s nose was not harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, his crossbow was severely damaged. 

STORY SO FAR:  Xena’s day of reckoning arrives in the form of Callisto, a warrior hell-bent on her own twisted version of redemption. 



‘Xena’ and ‘Gabrielle’ disappearing over the hill after their first meeting with Joxer. The stock shot featured a not-so-look-alike Xena, and Gabrielle in her early season one garb – oops!

Ancient Greece’s good cop, bad cop: Xena ties Melas up to the tree. Gabrielle adjusts a nice pillow of clothing for behind his head. Cute. 

The magic disappearing/reappearing sword – when Xena takes off after Callisto from the temple, she has no weapon in her scabbard, but when she gallops up to Callisto on the sand dune, it’s back.  


You see that look of fear and hatred on their faces? I used to want to see that – meant I was doing my job right.”  Xena, ever the high achiever, explaining why she was always Employee of the Month. 

“No! You promise me - if something happens to me, you will not become a monster. There’s only one way to end the cycle of hatred…and it’s through love and forgiveness.”  
This battle cry in reverse from Gabrielle left an indelible mark on Xena and became an iconic moment in the show’s history. 


“What happened to you was terrible. It was my fault – I’m sorry.”

“Oh – well! That makes all the difference and now we can be the best of friends.” 




US Promo #1
US Promo #2