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TV Zone (UK)
Scanned/Transcribed by MaryD
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is a rarity in genre television. With tongue stuck firmly in cheek it stands alongside brother series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as an antidote to the conspiracies and doom-laden ongoing plots that seem to be afflicting just about every other show currently on air. Entertainment is to the fore, with a winning combination of fast paced plots, outrageous action scenes plus a visual flair and eye for comedy that is often sorely lacking in television Fantasy.
The decision to make both leads women has, whether by accident or design, tapped into the current rise of girl power. Xena (Lucy Law- less) and her travelling com- panion, Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor), are both strong characters, well written with just the right amount of self-deprecating humour. They have pre- dictably been labelled 'role models', although the idea of a former killer be- ing a role model is some- what disturbing to say the least. It is practically guaranteed that the world will one day be taken over by monosyllabic, karate-chopping, sword-wielding babes in leather bodices. Actually, it doesn't sound so bad...
Producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, not content to simply duplicate the success of Hercules, have given Xena a darker side, opening up new avenues for the series to explore. Xena's introduction (in the Hercules episodes The Warrior Princess,
The Gauntlet and Unchained Heart) charted her fall and rise from all-conquering warmonger to lone warrior in search of her identity. Lucy Lawless has said, "Xena's agenda is just to get through the day without killing someone". Whereas Hercules is the perfect hero, Xena is flawed. She can, and often does, kill and is not above making mistakes. Her journey down the long and difficult road to redemption provides the foundation stone for the series.
The efforts to make Xena as different from Hercules as possible can also be seen in the almost total absence of monsters. Instead, the writers must content themselves by dealing with the monsters within Xena, the violent urges she is constantly trying to suppress. It is a good decision, which adds much needed depth to the show.
In the second episode, Chariots of War, she kills a warlord without the slightest hint of remorse. By Season Two's Return of Callisto we are seeing a very different character. Xena is no longer a heartless killer, and her guilt over one act of vengeance has crucial consequences further down the line.
Her struggles with her conscience manifest themselves almost immediately. In the pilot, Sins of the Past, she is rejected by her mother and stoned by the villagers of her hometown, Amphipolis. Eleven years before, Xena had rallied them to defend the village against the warlord Cortese. Many died, including her younger brother, Lyceus. She refuses to defend herself against their wrath, knowing that they are right to blame her for the tragedy which befell them. She is only saved by the arrival of Gabrielle, who promptly talks - as she tends to do! - the warrior out of trouble.
Lights, Camera... Action!
We are quickly shown, however, that this is not how Xena usually extricates herself from sticky situations. She likes to fight. In fact, she loves to fight. She's the kind of person you would definitely want on your side. It is hard not to feel sorry for her opponents as she glares at them with flashing eyes, smiles that wicked smile - and then flattens them with her trademark split-kick. The bad guys may as well beam into the scene wearing Starfleet security uniforms for all the chance they have of getting out in one piece.
Fans of Raimi and Tapert's Evil Dead movies will feel instantly at home with the knockabout humour. The action sequences are a giddying mix of quick cuts, swooping cameras, hilarious stunts and exaggerated sound effects. Xena's ability to pluck an arrow out of mid-air, to anticipate a blow before it arrives, and the uncanny way in which her trusty Chakram always finds its way back to her hand, all embellish her mythical nature. When she defies gravity, running up trees and somersaulting through the air, it merely serves as proof that the Force is not limited to a galaxy inhabited by Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. And as she breathes into the ear of her victim, after paralysing him with her infamous pressure point attack, "I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain - you'll be dead in seconds unless I release you" you have to believe her. They always tell her what she needs to know.
Friends and Foes
Xena : Warrior Princess features several recurring characters. Ares, God of War (Kevin Smith), is Xena's biggest fan. Striding about in black leather, his attempts to woo her back to a life of murder and mayhem are both dramatic and amusing. Smith has appeared in several episodes and always steals the show.
Ares isn't the only god on hand, with both Hades (Erik Thomson) and Aphrodite (Alexandra Tydings) taking time out from their duties on Hercules. Tydings, as always, is a delight, playing the Goddess of Love as a self-absorbed Californian beach babe with attitude.
Other characters to look out for are the Amazons Ephiny (Danielle Cormack) and Velasca (Melinda Clarke), Hercules regular Salmoneus (Robert Trebor), and Autolycus, the King of Thieves (Raimi stalwart Bruce Campbell). The appearance of Autolycus in The Royal Couple of Thieves provides one of the comedic high points of the series, as he joins forces with Xena to try to recover a stolen weapon. When he tricks Xena into posing as his concubine you have to wonder about his sanity - and fear for his life. '
Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst reprise their Hercules roles in Prometheus, one of those rare crossover stories that actually works. Hurst also makes cameo appearances in The Quest, as Iolaus, and Mortal Beloved, as the whinging
old ferryman Charon who gives Xena an amusing tour of the underworld; "Looking to the left you will see the Caves of Despair. And coming up on the right, the Hanging Gardens of Disgusting Diseases". Sounds just like a Club 18-30 holiday...
Towards the end of the first year the producers changed the shows' emphasis slightly. Xena's most interesting foes are those who can hold their own against her, and the introduction of Callisto (Hudson Leick) was a turning point. She is the embodiment of Xena's darker side, out to avenge her family's deaths at the hands of the warrior's army. Leick is superb in the role, conveying the madness she has been driven to with wild eyes, a manic smile and a barely perceptible quiver in her voice. Callisto is also the first character to make the leap from Xena to Hercules, in the episode Surprise.
Last, but by no means least, is Joxer (Ted Raimi), a bumbling would-be warrior who takes over the reins of comic relief from the maturing Gabrielle. Raimi does a fine job in the role - which is no mean feat considering he is beaten senseless with alarming regularity. "I cultivate this image," Joxer says, "it let's me get the jump on people". Obviously the endless physical abuse has had more effect than he cares to mention.
The importance of Gabrielle to the development of the series cannot be underestimated. The strong and believable friendship that grows between the two women over the course of the first year is the heartbeat of the show.
Gabrielle is the series's moral centre, keeping Xena's wilder emotions in check and effectively ensuring that our hero retains the viewer's sympathy. This is beautifully illustrated during a campfire scene in 'Callisto'. When Xena wonders what the need for revenge might drive her to should Callisto harm anyone dear to her, Gabrielle makes her promise that, no matter what happens, she will not give in to the hatred that burns inside her. It proves to be both a moving and pivotal scene, beautifully played, and exemplifies the depth of character that has been woven over the course of the first 22 episodes.
The most important event in Gabrielle's growth, however, occurs in one of the first season's lesser instalments. Hooves and Harlots sees her, by a bizarre twist of fate, become an Amazon princess. During the course of the story she begins to learn how to use astaff. This fulfils the necessity for the character to be able to fight at Xena's side - without killing anyone - and also marks her transformation from sidekick to able companion.
These developments are handled deftly and consistently. Although it comes as a shock when Gabrielle demands that her friend should teach her how to use a sword in Return of Callisto it is a wholly believable change, born out of the depths to which their enemy will plunge in order to torture Xena. The scene is played with fierce conviction by O'Connor and Lawless in what is undoubtedly the series' most intense story to date.
This episode also sees Xena and Gabrielle's first kiss, an event which has been jumped upon by gay viewers. Whether or not this is justified is open to debate, as it could be viewed as a simple declaration of the depth of their friendship, but it is handled with an admirably light touch and adds another facet to the series' growing back story. Maybe we'll find out one day.
Changes of Pace
The road Xena and Gabrielle travel is much like a pinball machine. They have been hurled into adventures from legend (the siege of Troy in Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts) and bounced into meetings with history (Julius Caesar's appearance in Destiny). Then, when the ball gets stuck, the writers tilt the table, throwing up comedies such as Warrior... Princess... Tramp, in which Lucy Lawless is given the opportunity to play both Xena and her remarkably coincidental twins Diana and Meg. In Here She Comes... Miss Amphipolis, Xena is amusingly offended to be called in to help a group of "under-dressed, over-developed bimbos" in the Miss Known World beauty contest, despite her own scantily clad state. She wins the contest herself, naturally.
The show isn't above lampooning itself either, as illustrated by The Xena Scrolls, which ends in the present day with a young writer (Ted Raimi) pitching the idea for the series to Robert Tapert, suggesting that it could be made on the cheap in a Third World country using the locals as extras! One imagines that went down well in New Zealand.
Looking beyond the action and humour, it is the underlying core of the characters' respective 'journeys of the soul' that proves to be the most satisfying aspect of the show. For Xena it is the rediscovery of her humanity. Although we spend each episode rooting for her, it must be remembered that she was once a brutal killer. It seems safe
to say that, when the character does find inner peace (of which she is given the briefest glimpse at the end of Remember Nothing, Xena's answer to It's a Wonderful Life), the series will draw to an end. For Gabrielle it is the voyage to maturity. Considering this is a character who started out idolizing Xena and hanging on her every word, it is a journey that has already come a long way.
Both actresses have thus been given the scope to show considerable acting ability. Lucy Lawless is a master of the sardonically raised eyebrow, and her wonderfully expressive features allow her to speak volumes with just one look. She has an unquestionable flair for comedy, and revels in the series' dramatic moments (as shown by her marvellous performance in the season one finale Is There a Doctor in the House?). It is also easy to forget that her natural voice and New Zealand accent are quite different to those that she gives the character. Along with her ability to handle the physical demands of the series, she continually amazes with both the depth of emotion she portrays and the conviction with which she carries this, her first starring vehicle.
Renee O'Connor is also excellent, forcing the writers to abandon any plans for Gabrielle to remain as mere comic relief -although she is still not averse to the odd wisecrack ("You're not much for girl talk are you?" she asks Xena in Prometheus). She has also had plenty of episodes in which to shine. In The Greater Good, possibly the series' finest hour to date, Xena is shot with a poisoned dart that gradually incapacitates her. O'Connor is a revelation in the scene where Gabrielle returns to find Xena dead, silently kneeling beside her friend's body and stroking the warrior's hair. Moments later we see her expelling her rage and grief by furiously battering a tree trunk with her staff. It is a sequence that is so simply shot and wonderfully acted that it carries an immense emotional impact, something few people would have thought a series such as this was capable of.
Never Work With Animals
On 8th October 1996, while filming a promotional sketch for The Tonight Show, Lucy Lawless suffered multiple pelvic fractures when her horse fell. Naturally, this had a dramatic impact on the filming of the second season and the writers and producers had to dig deep in order to cover for her absence. The ending of Intimate Stranger was changed to leave Xena's spirit trapped in Callisto's body, allowing Hudson Leick to continue as Xena in Ten Little Warlords. She does an impressive job, perfectly imitating Lawless's phrasing and intonation. The biggest compliment to her is that it was as though Lawless had never been away.
The running order was then re-shuffled and the end of Destiny altered so that Xena 'dies' after taking a massive blow to the head, allowing the events of The Quest to take place. In the end, a potentially damaging situation was catered for with such ingenuity that you might almost think it had been planned. And, happily, Lucy had recovered enough by the end of November to be able to return to work.
Hit or Myth?
Xena is currently a regular in the top three syndicated action shows in America, even beating Hercules and Deep Space Nine to the top spot with its' second season Hallowe'en episode Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. A long and prosperous future seems assured. One thing is for certain; the series has yet to rest on its laurels since hitting its stride midway through the first season, and Raimi and Tapert do not seem like the kind of people who are afraid to take chances in order to prevent format becoming formula. With them at the helm it is possible that Xena's courage could indeed change the world.
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