Sunday, 5 September 2010

Xena Warrior Princess: The Path not Taken and The Reckoning

Not all episodes of Xena have enough directly Classical references in them to fill a whole blog post, so I thought I'd look at them two-at-a-time unless they have really substantial Classical content or do something really unusual and particularly interesting with the material.

'The Path not Taken' contains little, if any, Classical material. There's the usual scattering of Classical names - Marcus, and I think I heard a 'Dionysus' somewhere - but most of the episode has little to do with Classics specifically. The episode ends with what I thought was a funeral pyre after it's burned down, which is an unusual sight as TV usually shows the body being set alight at the start of the burning - but Brother thought it was a brazier. It's a method of burial that was used at various times and places in the ancient world, though not universally.

As for the episode itself, I like the idea of ‘the path not taken’ being about the way Xena’s life could have gone, if she hadn’t changed, but I’m also a teeny bit disappointed that it’s not a parallel universe/alternate timeline story, which is what I was expecting from the title (though episode 5 season 1 would be a bit early for that, as really that sort of episode needs to use the audience's knowledge of the characters to throw them in new directions). There was some funny stuff and the bit with Gabrielle wandering around pontificating while Xena casually knocks people out was hilarious. The young couple were rather irritatingly soppy, though, and Brother pointed out that the seedy bar looked bizarrely Hawaiian. There was also a throat cut! It wasn't quite as gory as Spartacus, but still, I was surprised, Xena is usually more family-friendly than that.

'The Reckoning' has a stronger Classical bent to it, as it features Ares, the (Greek) god of War, but most of the episode is actually taken up with Xena being put on trial for the murder of several men (killed by Ares).

As I understand it, Ares had a history with Xena on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Unfortuantely, this episode assumed that the viewer knew about this and had seen the relevant episodes, and did little to explain their relationship or what had happened between them before. This may have been a deliberate choice, to leave an air of mystery around him, but it means I'm reliant solely on this episode in my judgement of how they've interpreted Ares on the show and may be missing something viewers of Hercules would have picked up on.

In this episode, Ares doesn't really come across as warlike so much as he seems slimy and unpleasant. He has an evil little goatee and wears a distinctly impractical velvet robe with black leather underneath it. All the 'war' element in his character comes out in his dirty talk to Xena and his attempts to get her to join him and become a Warrior Queen, but he himself just seems sleazy. He kills three men at the beignning, of course, but I'd hardly consider ambushing an unarmed cart to be a 'warlike' act, that's more like banditry. Hector, Agamemnon and Achilles get name-checked and it is established that they're 'long gone', but really, this episode is little concerned with war. Ares' presence is an excuse to go through how Xena's changed from the cold, violent warrior she used to be and how she fights for good now - it's a worthy theme, but we've seen the same essential ground trodden in episode after episode now and it's getting rather tired. We need to find out more about her past, or move on for a bit - or both.

As for the rest of the episode, it does little beyond cover this same ground. It does, however, include several scenes of Xena wearing a corset. Chained and suspended in a jail cell. Being whipped. No prizes for guessing which part of the audience that's supposed to appeal to.

Ares leaves with a 50s-bad-guy style voiceover cry of 'Until next time!'. Here's hoping that he will actually do something god-of-war-like in his next appearance, rather than wasting time unsuccessfully trying to tempt Xena back to the Dark Side, as so many others have done before him.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful summary Juliette - I must admit my memories of Xena and Hercules are somewhat foggy, as I only ever saw them when they were first on TV.

    However, I liked Lucy Lawless so much in Battlestar and Spartacus, that I am planning on acquiring the whole Xena canon and watching them from scratch without the distractions I had the first time around!


  2. This assumption that one was also watching Hercules is what led me to give up on Xena. The plot lines involving Callisto (in series 3? 4? I forget) became completely incomprehensible without a detailed knowledge of what she was also doing on Hercules, which was on at an inconvenient time.


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