Xena: Warrior Princess is a six-series television show set in mythological ancient Greece. It is a spin-off from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Conceived by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, Xena ran from 4 September, 1995 to 18 June, 2001.
In Hercules, the character Xena was originally written in for just three episodes of the first series. As an evil warlord, she worked against Hercules and seduced his best friend to split them up. But Hercules managed to convince her to fight for good. Xena opens at this point in her life, with the character burying her armour as a symbolic gesture (burying her past).
Halfway through the first series of Hercules, the spin-off was already underway. Xena's humorous approach coupled with a (then rare) female lead won many fans, both new and from Hercules. At its peak, the programme had five million UK viewers.
The music was written by Joseph LoDuca.
Xena, Played by Lucy Lawless
Xena is a iconic, tall, dark-haired, leather-clad warrior with a big sword and chakram - a circle of sharpened metal that is used as a multipurpose throwable weapon1. At permanent war with her inner dark side, Xena fights for good in an effort to finally forgive herself for the terrible deeds she committed in her early life.
Xena has two doppelgangers: a princess called Diana and a tramp called Meg2.
Gabrielle, Played by Renee O'Connor
The show may be named after Xena, but many would argue that it is the story of Gabrielle which drives the show. Leaving her home to follow Xena, her idol, she develops from a naive village girl into a seasoned, battle-weary warrior. Along the way Gabrielle becomes an Amazon queen, a mother, an experienced fighter, and a renowned bard. During their sojourn in India, she even embraces pacifism, as well as the new monotheistic religion of Eli3. Gabrielle is almost always the voice of moral reason and Xena often relies on her to judge what is right and what is wrong. Unfailingly optimistic (especially in the early series), Gabrielle may be referred to as the 'irritating blonde', but she gains many friends with her open and loving nature.
Joxer, Played by Ted Raimi
Dear old Joxer is almost always the show's comic relief, playing the bumbling, inept wannabe-warrior with the heart of a lion. He falls in love with Gabrielle soon after meeting her, but realises these feelings will never be returned.
Joxer has two identical brothers: Jet, a slick, cool assassin, and Jace, a camp entertainer/singer.
The Olympian Gods
Ares, God of War, Played by Kevin [Tod] Smith
Of the Olympian gods, Ares appears most regularly, and is the most influential. He took a special interest in Xena in her early days and honed both her fighting skills and her ambition to rule to world. Their relationship was very close and fraught with sexual tension. When Xena turns her back on her old ways, Ares tries many times to get her back - both as a warlord and a lover - sometimes through tricks, sometimes simply by asking. The very human love he has for her becomes a crucial aspect of series five and six.
Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, Played by Alexandra Tydings
Aphrodite is a blonde, self-centred, vain 'valley girl' who wears lingerie and not a lot else. Despite her vanity she does have a heart, and her openness and caring nature mean she and Gabrielle get along well. She occasionally helps Xena and Gabrielle out when they are in a tight spot - when it pleases her.
Cupid, God of Romantic Love, Played by Karl Urban
Cupid, Aphrodite's son, only appears in a few episodes, but it is well worth seeing Karl Urban with blonde, spiky hair, not many clothes and a pair of white angel wings.
Callisto, Played by Hudson Leick
Callisto was just a child when the dark Xena invaded her village and murdered her family. With her happy childhood cut short, Callisto followed the way of Xena and became a fierce warrior, with even fewer morals. She seeks out Xena to kill her, as revenge for her lost childhood.
Autolycus, Played by Bruce Campbell
The king of 'B' movies, Bruce Campbell, plays the King of Thieves: a smooth-talking, loveable rogue who cannot help but do the right thing when asked by Xena. The fact that she could beat him in a fight while blindfolded may influence this, however.
Livia/Eve, Played by Adrienne Wilkinson
The daughter of Xena, she was named Eve at birth but grew up as Livia, as the adopted daughter of Octavius of Rome (in Xena's absence). She is said to embody the characteristics of both Xena and Callisto4, and in the first 20 years of her life became a cruel warrior, nicknamed 'The Bitch of Rome' and guided by Ares. When Xena discovers her and tries to persuade her to change for good, Livia is unreceptive. But she eventually repents and becomes a founding disciple of the Eli religion.
Hope, Played by Amy Morrison5
Hope is the daughter of Gabrielle and Dahok, an evil god who is intent on taking over the world. Hope was not conceived naturally (either), with her gestation, birth and growth taking just a few weeks. Hope resembles Gabrielle and can pretend to be an ordinary child if it suits her. However, she is evil to the core and will stop at nothing in order to serve her father.
Solen, Played by David Taylor
Solen is the naturally conceived child of Xena and her then-partner Borias during her early days. Xena decides she is unfit to be a mother and leaves Solen to be brought up by the centaurs. They are reunited briefly during series three, when Solen asks to travel with her, still unaware she is his mother.
So Why Watch Xena?
Xena has been accused of many things, and a few of them are correct! It has, on occasion, mangled historical events and legends, been terribly cheesy, and had some poor acting, with plots that stretch the boundaries of believability.
Xena does have some redeeming characteristics, however. Although the show values its comedy element, it isn't afraid to tackle moral conundrums or topical dilemmas. The re-occurring theme is forgiveness; just how much further does Xena have to go before she can be forgiven? Other issues that are tackled include judging people on first appearances, single mothers, revenge, and just how far people will go for love. Just because it is set in ancient Greece doesn't mean it can't be relevant to our lives!
As one of the first shows to truly develop characters across the different series, it's essential to watch them in sequence. Seeing characters being put through their emotional as well as physical paces gives the viewer an empathy that instils certain episodes, such as the musical The Bitter Suite6 with a depth that isn't there in a one-off viewing. Many of Xena fans' favourite episodes aren't understood by people who haven't seen the show before. Although this effect isn't exclusive to Xena, the programme was one of the first to feature it.
Speaking of firsts, let's talk about females - specifically female lead characters. Try to name some - any show, any time period. OK. Take out the ones that are wet and annoying. Right. Now only include those which are physically able to take care of themselves in a fight. Now take out the ones that have a male character who backs them up. Finally, take out any that were created after 1995. Who've you got left? Odds on it's only Xena. Never before had there been a mainstream female lead who, without losing her femininity, was able to physically control the situation around her. Couple that with a female sidekick and a personality you could crack coconuts with and you had a pretty new concept.
Speaking of sidekicks, let's talk about Gabby and Xena for a while. For the first time we have two lead females, both of whom can take care of themselves and have no need for a man in their lives7. That in itself is a novelty, and what also remains a novelty is the close bond between these two characters. Yes, it's time to introduce the:
No discussion of Xena would be complete without some discussion of subtext. Even if you choose to believe that the two characters are simply best friends, the phenomenon this has sparked means it's sometimes hard to talk about Xena without someone saying: 'Oh, that show with the lesbians?'
For those who haven't heard the term before, subtext - think 'under' 'word' - is the 'unspoken' plot in the story. It could be the bored glances that two characters exchange. It could be the calm-sounding words in an argument that give away a rage that's burning beneath.
In this context, it's the unspoken insinuation that Xena and Gabrielle are long-term sexual partners. Even as early as A Day in the Life, a comedic episode in series two, there are hints that these two aren't just close, they're close. In series six a camera crew8 is desperately trying to get them to tell the audience, but during the answer the camera conveniently loses sound and picture, just as Xena is about to confirm or deny the accusation. The makers of the show consistently refused to confirm or deny the rumours, saying viewers could make up their own minds.
Before the arrival of the Internet, people wrote fiction based on pre-existing universes. The Star Trek universe (in particular, the Kirk/Spock relationship) is a good example. Then enter Xena and the birth of personal Internet use. Not only was there now a show that had a subtext which could be explored, but a medium through which viewers could communicate. For the first time they could exchange opinions and thoughts almost instantly. Admittedly there were bitter disagreements, and not just over the Xena/Gabrielle relationship. The ending of series three caused much disquiet among fans, so much so that the makers heard the 'noise' they'd made, although they didn't get involved directly. A more complete discussion can be found at Xena: Warrior Princess - The TV Series.
Although 'fanfiction' wasn't a new idea, the Internet allowed it to develop much quicker than before. People from all walks of life wrote stories within the Xena universe; some better than others. One author was so good she was invited to write three episodes, two of which made it to production9.
These days less Xena fanfiction is written than when the show was being filmed and aired, but it's become a part of the overall fanfiction movement that followed it. Star Trek, Stargate SG-1, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings, works by Shakespeare, Final Fantasy games - you name it, it's probably got a 'fandom'10 dedicated to writing fiction within it.
So, just what do we take away from watching Xena? Apart from eye candy in the form of a very pretty woman in leather, we have a show that, ten years on, is still a recognised phenomenon, spawning a notion that girls can be both feminine and strong, and don't have to be masculine to be taken seriously. We have a show that pushed lesbianism to enter the public consciousness in a positive light, and that doesn't shy away from hard decisions and difficult endeavours. And, when it comes down to it, it can usually make us laugh at the same time. What more could we ask?