Every hero needs a great villain. The Dark Knight his Joker, James Bond his Blofeld, and John McClane has Hans Gruber. Xena finally found hers, in the shape of Callisto, a blonde nemesis whose family was killed in a fire during a raid by Xena's army, and who has now set her sights on destroying the Warrior Princess and everything she stands for. And she makes no bones about it; after Xena captures her and prepares to lead her to justice, only to discover a lynch mob lies in wait, here's what Callisto says:
Let me answer your question of what I would do if you let me go. You let me go, and I will dedicate my life to killing everything you’ve loved: your friends, your family, your reputation, even your horse. You see, I am being so honest with you, because the idea of your pity is worse than death for me. You see - you created a monster with integrity, Xena. Scary, isn’t it?
This is frickin' marvelous stuff, played with unabashed gusto by Hudson Leick, who - to be brutally honest - has never done anything else of note. But it doesn't matter, for she has a pivotal role here, in what is one of the best episodes ever. Not the best of this season. Not even the best of Xena. This is flat-out among the best TV episodes of all time: right up there with...oh, Hush, or Blink, or the episode of 24 where Nina Myers... But that'd be a spoiler.
The beautiful darkness here is so amazing. It's as if the episode was inspired by the quote from Nietzche: "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Callisto is the abyss, and is absolutely the creation of Xena's past come back to haunt her: as C. says, "Tell me this, Xena: have you ever been tried for all of the things you have done?"
That would be an absolutely fair question. It brings up the viewer short, to be reminded that they have been rooting for someone who probably deserves to be tried as a war criminal. Xena realizes this, and there's an agonizingly intense conversation with G by a camp-fire: this is one episode where Gabrielle's purpose, as Xena's moral compass, is absolutely essential, as she makes Xena promise that, if anything happens to Gabrielle, there will be no revenge.
And yet, X and C are almost a match. It's clear that Xena provides Callisto with a reason for existing; when Callisto's henchmen returns after encountering Xena, look at her rapt expression as he describes what happened. There's just as much subtext going on there as between X+G [my issue with subtext has never been the concept, just that Gabrielle is entirely unfitting as a partner. Someone like Callisto, much closer to Xena's equal, would be... Well, frickin' awesome :-)]
The action is among the most spectacular yet seen, with X and C having a battle on top of a series of ladders [Callisto's army must possess an entire construction battalion], which was inspired by a similar fight in Once Upon a Time in China. It's a credit to all involved - in particular, the actresses and stunt doubles - that this is little less impressive than the Jet Li version. [I couldn't find it on Youtube, which may have to be rectified...]
And yet, the episode also introduces Joxer, Ted Raimi's "warrior idiot", who became one of the most polarizing characters among Xena fans. His clumsy slapstick could have derailed the more dramatic elements, but actually provides a nice chance to breathe before the darkness descends once again.
All these elements combine into something that hits all the right notes almost perfectly. It's episodes like this which demonstrate why the show has such a devoted following, and has had a huge impact on the pop-culture landscape.
Overall rating: A+ [you expected, perhaps...?]
Post subject: Re: Xena: Warrior Princess, Season 1
Posted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 2:22 pm
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2010 8:03 pm Posts: 472
Since I've posted the review, should finish off the individual episode notes!
Series 1, Episode 23: Death Mask
Hang on, didn't we bump into another estranged member of Xena's family just a few eps ago? We sure did: her father, three episodes ago in Ties That Bind. This time, it's her brother, Toris, but it still feels like a too-quick recycling of the same concept. Here, he's trying to work his way into the confidence of warlord Cortese, and take revenge for what he did to Xena's village and family.
That's an act that set both of them on their present paths, but in radically different directions. He is feeling guilty about his own actions - or lack thereof - back then, which he interprets as cowardice, though self-preservation would be an alternative explanation. He wants to make up for it by killing Cortese, who is also being hunted by the local king, without much success (for reasons which are eventually explained, and should fail to surprise anyone).
Turns out Xena and Toris must have gone to the same gymnastic school, as they needlessly flip over each other's heads, in order to kick people. And, as the photo below shows, the same hair stylist. Not really one of the show's best episodes, with little to make it stick in the memory. Hell, I watched it two days ago, and had to look up a synopsis.
Overall rating: D
Series 1, Episode 24: Is There A Doctor in the House
Probably one of the most claustrophobic episodes: it starts with X + G going through a forest where a war is raging, but 90% of it takes place inside a healing temple, where they take Ephiny the Amazon, who is on the verge of giving birth to her half-centaur baby [which, really, raised far more questions than answers, and I'm not going there]. They also take along the general in charge of opposing army, though no-one knows who he is.
Xena shows her skills extend to the medical side, seriously kicking the ass of Galen, the supposed founder of modern medicine who a) was a good deal more competent than seen here, and b) was not a contemporary of Hippocrates, as shown here, who actually predated him by about six centuries. It's just an example of how the show has absolutely no regard for true history, not that it really matters.
That said, it's long on drama and blood, short on action, unless the show's name was changed to Xena: Nurse Princess, which sounds more like a dubious anime show. It culminates in Gabrielle dying in Xena's arms, up until another medical revelation is invented by X - ok, I sniggered, but there's no denying the dramatic oomph Lawless brings to the scene, even if it isn't enough to redeem the episode entirely.
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