Friday, 26 February 2016

Xena: Warrior Princess, Season 2 (1996)

One of the interesting things about Xena as a series was its complete disregard for staying in a particular niche.  Of course the basic premise of the show - repentant former villain Xena roams the land, fighting bad guys with the assistance of her sidekick Gabrielle - remains in place, but beyond that all bets are off.  The show is happy to pinball its episodes back and forth between historical events that occurred hundreds of years apart, and also happy to leap from slapstick comedy to angsty drama to pop culture knock-off.

An example of the historical flexibility?  In this season alone the warrior princess encounters both Julius Caesar and Nazis.  Yes, actual Nazis from World War 2.  Admittedly this is in what came to be called an "uber" episode, featuring a reincarnation of Xena on an archaeological dig, but it's a useful illustration of the wacky things they sometimes came up with. Because yes, if you're thinking "archaeologists vs Nazis sounds familiar", well it is indeed a pretty transparent Indiana Jones riff.  They also yoink episode concepts from A Christmas Carol and Ten Little Indians, and do their Halloween episode in a rock video style.

The above probably gives you an idea of the thematic flexibility of the show, as well, come to think of it.  I don't even need to mention the way it'll have an episode where Gabrielle's husband dies and Xena finally accepts that she won't be able to fix one of her biggest mistakes, and then follow it with an episode of pure farce involving a prissy princess and morally flexible bar wench - both of whom happen to look exactly like Xena herself.  It's a wild mish-mash that shouldn't really work but somehow does.

For fans of the show, season 2 features some pretty significant events in Xena "lore", with the introduction of her son (whom she left to be raised by centaurs in the best Greek mythic tradition), the first appearance of Caesar (played by Karl Urban), and the first time the warrior princess dies (it's okay, she gets better).  It also has the first "uber" episode, as I mentioned above, and the first example of connected episodes running back to back - where each has a complete story in and of itself, but also directly follows on from the one before.

From a cultural perspective, this season also features lead actor Lucy Lawless performing an on-screen kiss with an openly HIV positive actor, which was a pretty courageous thing to do, given then-current beliefs about the disease.  It may not have any real relevance to whether the show was good or not (though clearly I think it was) but it's worth saluting either way.

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