Xena Takes The Wrong Path

So what happened to our warrior princess, then? ...

 

As far as television is concerned, quality and longevity seldom go together. I think few would disagree that series like The X-Files or Babylon 5 ended as pale shadows of their former selves, and sadly, such was also the case with The Warrior Princess.

All began well, and in her first few episodes the character of Xena blossomed into something special. Here was a 'heroic' character that had a very dark side, who retained something of her evil past - she was as likely to beat you up as help you, and often only took the side of good due to the influence of her newly acquired sidekick. Gabrielle was a village girl who saw in Xena a way to a life with more excitement than she could foresee in her own village. She had a strong moralistic outlook on life, believing good would always prevail, and this often led to clashes with the more realistic Xena, who saw the world in shades of grey.

As time went on, almost all the Greek Myths were played out, though usually in a twisted form. We got to meet a parade of Gods and demi-gods, villains and heroes, the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The show veered from witty humour ("Royal Couple of Thieves") to gritty drama ("Is there a Doctor in the House?"), from farce ("A Day in the Life") to swashbuckling adventure ("For Him The Bell Tolls").

By the middle of the Third Season, the show was pulling in large audiences worldwide, even in Saudi Arabia (though there they insisted that all 'cleavage' shots were removed!). Sadly though, like The X-Files before it, the characters were starting to become bogged down by ever-increasing histories that made it impossible for the casual viewer to keep track of events. Xena was turned from having been just an ex-warlord into someone who had been the most evil and famous warlord in the world.

It seemed that there wasn't an event in history that Xena didn't have a hand in. Every storyline had to be of earth-shattering importance, rather than just affecting a small group of people, and after a while it becomes a bit stale. One person threatening another makes for drama; one person threatening the world becomes melodrama, though the Xena writers couldn't see this. If there was a famous man in history, Xena either had a love affair with him or had killed his Brother/Father/Mother. If there was a famous woman in history, chances are it was Xena/Gabrielle in disguise.

By its closing season the show was floundering in a mire of complicated back story, unsubtle attempts to lure audiences with more titillation, and confusing storylines. Each episode would try to top the previous one for spectacle, but sadly the show's budget could in no way stretch to meet these demands. When we visited Rome it was a small sandpit. When Bodicia drove the Romans out of ancient Briton, it was depicted as a fight between ten people.

Timelines were mixed and matched at will; the birth of Christ, the Roman civil war, the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, the fall of the Greek Gods, they all happened at roughly same time. This isn't a bad thing in itself, after all Xena was never meant to be a History lesson, but it was painfully obvious that these events and characters were being used to shore up weak scripts.

Xena and Gabrielle started to roam the Ancient World, going from Greece to Britain, to India, to China, etc, but sadly all these places looked remarkably similar to New Zealand on a wet afternoon. The only way to tell one from another was the way the extras were dressed. If the guards wore coolie hats, must be China; see a lot of white folk in turbans? Must be India.

Rapidly running out of ideas the writers hit on the idea of having Xena and Gabrielle frozen in ice and thawed in the future. This could have been a way to wipe the slate clean, to ditch the horrendously over complicated baggage the show was carrying round with it and start afresh, but they wasted the idea by only moving Xena 20 years into her future. This was mainly so Xena could battle her now grown-up baby daughter. They were still saddled with the complicated plotlines but now couldn't use the family of characters they had carefully built up. As the whole Xena/Daughter saga lasted only a few episodes, it seemed a bit pointless, especially as it was all a very watered down rehash of the original Callisto plot in any case.

I wish I could tell you it all ended on a high, but sadly it didn't. The final season was like meeting a once healthy friend who had become a sick, enfeebled person. Even the diehard fans were deserting in droves, mainly for a new, fresh show called Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but that's another story. I did purposefully watch the very final episode, mainly for old times sake, but also to see if they could pull one last rabbit out of the hat.

What I viewed was a dull mishmash of martial arts movies, incoherent plot and pious dialogue. I was glad when it ended, it was like a mercy killing, and that's a shame for a fan of the show to have to say.

I still think the first three seasons of Xena are some of the most watchable, funny, risk-taking television around. They have stood the test of time and are as enjoyable today as when they first aired; they combine excellent acting, witty and clever scripts, and two of the most charismatic lead characters on TV. What a pity it didn't end on a high note, but dragged on when the show was clearly past its sell-by date.

Poor Xena, why did it all go so wrong?


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