Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Xena: Warrior Princess Rewatch – Season One

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Xena Season 1 Overview: Xena and Gabrielle Come Together

Xena: Warrior Princess introduces us since they one to a fictitious, over-the-top Greece filled with warlords, overzealous gods, small-minded villagers and fantastic characters. The show opens with Xena, former warlord herself, who is ready to leave everything behind as repentance for her crimes. Just as she is finished stripping and tries to literally bury her past, cries for help call her attention.

A group of villagers from the nearby Potedia (Poteidaia? The Internet doesn’t seem to agree how it’s spelled) is being terrorized by warlord Draco, Xena can’t help the calling to help, a calling which will guide her throughout the season. There she meets Gabrielle, a young ingenue who’s desperate for adventure, and decides to follow Xena, despite the warrior’s protests.

As Xena is a series and not a serial, the episodes pretty much follow an “adventure of the day” chronology. And while there is a connection between episodes, as characters recur and previous episodes’ adventures are mentioned, there is no overarching plot. What it does have are strong overarching themes. These are represented in Xena and Gabrielle’s character arcs.

Xena’s overarching theme throughout the season (and the series) is redemption. We know going in that Xena organized her village to fight a warlord that was terrorizing it, and in the process became what she most hated. She committed great crimes, was widely feared, and eventually repented her ways. She struggles to come to terms with what she did, and as a symptom, she has trouble letting people in. Gabrielle practically bulldozes herself into her life, and Xena treats her like an inconvenience at first, though she’s never unkind, and protects her from the beginning. It is through Gabrielle that Xena learns how to connect properly with people again, and most importantly, that she is still deserving of friendship and love.

Gabrielle, meanwhile, is a young girl with big dreams living in a tiny village, destined to marry the man her family chose for her. She’s restless, and hungry for living, and sees in Xena an opportunity to escape and become the kind of hero she idolizes from the tales she recites. Her narrative arch is very much about finding her place in the world, he true identity. All through season one she learns new skills, tries them out and weighs them. She struggles with Xena’s lifestyle, sometimes, and on three occasions during season one, considers a different option: the Amazons, bard university, and most seriously, going back home.  On the latter occasion, she wonders for the first time, not if she could be or do something else better, but if she’s really cut out for the wandering warrior’s life.

Despite the predominant independence of narrative arcs, the show very much has continuity. Various characters appear more than once during the season, and there are recurring mentions of the past (Gabrielle’s but especially Xena’s) that are never simply forgotten, such as Xena’s trauma over losing her younger brother Lyceus comes up through the series. We also meet recurring characters like Ares, God of War, Gabrielle’s Amazon sister Ephiny, one of Xena’s better male love interests, Marcus, Autolycus, king of thieves, and near the end, wannabe warlord Joxer and arguably the most important villain of the show, Callisto, played by the remarkable Hudson Leick.

Xena is characterized by copious amounts of camp, cheese, and whoosh sound effects, so it is easy for it to trick you into thinking it’s just fun and games, especially on episodes like “Warrior… Princess”, where Xena finds a doppelganger in a meek, clueless princess. Then suddenly you’re hit with an episode like “The Greater Good” and you find yourself wondering if it’s secretly amazing.

Spoiler alert: Yes, it is.

But enough of that, let’s get into the fangirling.

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Image courtesy of NBCUniversal Television Distribution

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