Many thanks to Kevin James for the transcript

Cult Times #50
November 1999




Cult Times has shared the path to redemption with Xena: Warrior Princess. We take a look at her exploits leading up to the show's fifth season.

BOTH Xena: Warrior Princess and this very magazine were unleashed upon the world in the autumn of 1995. Since then they've grown and expanded, eventually rising beyond their humble beginnings. Xena itself proving to be superior to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Many of you are no doubt thinking, 'But surely Hercules came first, thereby making Xena an extension of the Fantasy genre, rather than actually revolutionising it!' And of course, the answer is, 'Goodness, you know a lot of big words, don't you? Now shut up and let me explain.'

Hercules, by its very nature, had to stick to tradition. The backstory of Hercules, the monsters he met, his godly relations, his labours, are all well-documented in Greek myth. Therefore, there wasn't much scope for the series beyond Herc travelling the world doing many of the same deeds we were already familiar with. Xena was another matter entirely. Inhabiting the same universe of gods and monsters as Hercules, Xena's adventures were, at least in the beginning, far more grounded in reality, with warlords and kings turning up far more often than the ancient gods mentioned in the opening narration. For this reason, rather than retreading old traditions, the adventures of Xena resulted in the creation of a new kind of Fantasy hero: a strong woman who could hold her own against any enemy. And it didn't stop there, as Xena continues to grow with each new event in her life.

Despite resorting to borrowing characters from Hercules in attempts to draw audiences to both shows, some of these guests actually found a home in Xena, where there was a greater possibility for them to make their mark. After first turning up in the Hercules tale The King of Thieves, Autolycus arrived in Xena's neck of the woods (and she does travel through a lot of them) in The Royal Couple of Thieves. As a thief and con artist, Hercules is obliged to catch Autolycus so that he can be imprisoned, but to Xena he can be a useful (and sometimes less-than-useful) ally, with skills that Xena is willing to use rather than turn him in for.

Ares is another character inherited from Hercules. Although actor Kevin Smith goes back and forth between the two shows, Ares being Herc's brother and all, there's more potential in the God of War taking on a woman with no special powers except her own cunning, rather than a man who can hit really hard. The relationship between the two has broadened in surprising ways as the series has progressed, of which more later.

Since the beginning of her adventures with Gabrielle, Xena has come a long way, both physically and mentally. She has journeyed across Greece from one side to the other, and paid a visit to India as well, where her adventures got so sacrilegious they were banned from all right-thinking countries so as not to offend any more people.

It was towards the end of Season One that Xena's scope began to broaden. The introduction of Callisto was the first step, as a character was introduced to demonstrate just how far Xena had come and what she could have been like had she continued her warlike ways. Despite being given several chances to change her way of Life, Callisto refuses to give up on her mission to avenge her parents by making Xena and Gabrielle's lives hell. Although Callisto does stop by to make trouble for Hercules, she seems at odds with the lighter atmosphere that normally exists in his series, making Surprise close to being a Xena episode without the star. It even paves the way for Callisto's next return in the sister show as an immortal.

Season Two of Xena continued in a similar vein to the first, featuring a mix of dramas and comedies, but it could gradually be seen to be working its way towards a darker area. The last episode of Season One, Is There a Doctor in the House? showed a grim and gritty realism that Hercules was far too upbeat to be able to pull off. It was Callisto who once again spelled changes for the show, as the marriage of Gabrielle and murder of her husband shortly after by Callisto began a story and character are for both of the two leads that would play out in the following year. Part of this could also be seen in Season Two's The Price, in which Xena is forced to put all of her ruthlessness to use fighting against the Horde, a group of silent, vicious killers who she knows of old. Attempting to protect a beleaguered army from a Horde attack, the warrior princess, to Gabrielle's dismay and disgust, must become the soulless killer she once was.

Season Three, now running on Channel 5, begins a two-year storyline that takes both Xena and Gabrielle through more trials than the rest of us could manage in several lifetimes. The Furies sees the start of this, as Xena is driven increasingly insane by the Furies through not avenging the death of her father. After two seasons with little information revealed about Xena's ancestry, news of her father comes as something of a surprise, as does the revelation that Xena may be the daughter of Ares, a fact that rings true with events in Ties that Bind. If Ares could impersonate her father then, maybe he simply was the same man all along.

It's the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle that forms the basis of the series, though, and the start of the pair's problems is in Gabrielle's Hope. Themes of motherhood and loss are prevalent as the birth of daughter Hope to Gabrielle, thanks to dark god Dahak, drives a wedge between the two. Gabrielle's determination to halt the child's destiny through love is countered by Xena's knowledge that where evil has taken root it cannot be removed, and the child must die. Due to inaction on both the pair's parts, Hope and Xena's son are killed, leading to guilt, recriminations and blame in Xena and Gabrielle's relationship. Even after a trip to Illusia in Bitter Suite, there is still an underlying tension between them, to the extent that in Forget Me Not, Gabrielle visits a temple hoping to have her unpleasant memories of her time with Xena completely erased, the only way she can regain the friendship she once had. It is only in season finale Sacrifice that Gabrielle finally makes peace with her decisions and forgives Xena, sacrificing her life so that Hope cannot be reborn.

As if further proof were needed about Xena surpassing the series that spawned it, the fourth season began with Xena undertaking a quest to find Gabrielle's soul and return her to the world of the living, a quest undertaken by Hercules a year later when Iolaus is killed in tragic circumstances. In both cases, our hero's losses are so great that they act out of character. Hercules loses his desire to help others, and without Gabrielle to anchor her, Xena reverts to her more vicious warrior nature. When Xena succeeds in restoring Gabrielle, both she and her companion build a stronger relationship, while rediscovering a purpose in life. At the end of the latest season their friendship left both of them being crucified for their crimes against Caesar, but in Xena death is never the end but the start of a new phase in the characters' lives. Rest assured, they'll be back.

Paul Spragg

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