Growing up I was obsessed with the show XENA. I didn’t tell any of my friends about it because no one I knew watched and I thought that meant it was “nerdy.” Once I figured out its schedule, I made sure I never missed an airing (new or repeat) and my sisters quickly became addicted as well. As I work on my own pilot, I find myself going back to rewatch the show a lot. Yes, the series was campy but the world creation and female characters were amazing.
As all these new reports come out regarding a new series in development at NBC, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the pilot and go even further, with a weekly rewatch. So today we will break down the pilot episode (chosen in honor of fall premiere week) and starting next week I will be breaking down two episodes every Wednesday. Let’s get started!
XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS
Season 1, Episode 1 “Sins of the Past”
Xena, formerly a ruthless warlord, appears on the scene to prove she has changed her ways. While fighting to protect the innocent she rescues a young aspiring bard, Gabrielle, who becomes her traveling companion.
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS premiered in 1995 and was created by writer-director-producer Robert Tapert and writer-producer John Shulian, and later executive producers R.J. Stewart and Sam Raimi. The show was a spin-off of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEY. On HERCULES, Xena was a villainous warlord with her own army. I have never seen the specific episode, but at some point in the series, Hercules convinced her to change her ways. The series follows Xena as she tries to do good with the help of her best friend and moral compass, Gabrielle, in order to make up for her very dark past.
The time period is technically Ancient Greece, but the clothing styles, locations, and fantastical elements change drastically throughout the series. Greek Gods are often seen but exist alongside many other deities. It is an episodic series but there are some storylines that carry over. Each episode the pair of friends are tasked with a close-ended mission, such as saving a village from a warlord, assisting a king, manipulating the gods, etc.
Xena, Warrior Princess, former warlord
Gabrielle, Xena’s travelling companion and aspiring bard
Draco, Warlord, Xena’s nemesis, former ally and lover
Hector, Draco’s crony
Cyrene, Xena’s mother
Cyclops, speaks for itself but he’s blind
Xena rides through a decimated town, flashes back to her time as a vicious Warrior Princess.
Xena finds a boy looking for food. He tells Xena that his parents were killed by the ruthless warlord Xena. Xena tosses him what food she has and heads off into the forest to bury her armor, seemingly giving up her old life for good.
Hector, one of Draco’s cronies, rounds up the women of a local village to take them captive. Gabrielle, one of the women, steps forward and offers herself up if Hector will let the others go. Hector refuses, choosing to take all of them.
Xena overhears Hector, his small army, and the women and goes to investigate. She quickly steps in to challenge Hector.
As Xena and Hector’s men fight, the women begin fighting back against those that would hold them captive.
Xena wins the fight by employing her battle cry, incredibly fighting skills, and throwing her unique Chakram. After winning she tells Hector, “You’re with Draco. Tell him Xena says ‘hello.'”
In the village, the women take care of Xena’s wounds while Gabrielle berates Xena with questions. Gabrielle’s father tells Xena he knows who she is and her history and she needs to go. Xena calmly agrees.
Perdicas, Gabrielle’s boring betrothed, tells Gabrielle to leave Xena alone and to follow him. Gabrielle refuses, she wants to continue talking to Xena.
Gabrielle tries to figure out where Xena is heading off next but Xena will give her no answers. Xena thinks that Gabrielle is going to try and follow her.
Warlord Draco tests his skills, catching arrows fired at him by soldiers. One arrow gets by him. Draco awards this soldier.
Xena sneaks into Draco’s tent while he is alone. Xena asks Draco to spell Gabrielle’s village. Draco will only do this if Xean will join his army. Xena refuses.
Xena tells Draco she is going home. Draco is furious but agrees to the request.
Draco warns Xena that she will not get a warm welcome at home. She leaves.
Gabrielle sneaks out of bed, waking her sister Lila. She tells her sister she is going to join Xena and the two have a heartfelt goodbye.
Xena guides her horse, Argo, across a bridge as he is spooked by something. When they reach the other side, Argo runs away and a giant Cyclops (that is missing its one eye) comes storming out of a nearby cave.
Xena taunts the cyclops (apparently she removed his eye) who threatens her. She easily knocks him off balance and he falls to the ground, crying.
Xena recommends he get a new job. He refuses and she leaves.
Draco tells his men he is heading to Xena’s hometown, Amphipolis, and that he will spread rumors that Xena is en route to destroy the town.
Gabrielle comes across the bridge and the cyclops traps her in a cage.
Gabrielle tells the monster that she is going to kill Xena. He takes the bait and sets her free.
Draco’s men track Xena in the woods. She notices and takes them out.
One of the men, Hector, is stopped by Xena. She blocks off the blood flow to his brain and tells him he has 20 seconds left to live unless he tells her what Draco is up to. The man tells Xena the plan and she restarts his blood flow again.
Gabrielle lays on the ground praying for a ride to Amphipolis. A rider stops.
The traveler says he has no room for her. Gabrielle sweet talks him into taking her along.
Xena reaches Amphipolis. She enters a local tavern and her mother, Cyrene, takes Xena’s sword and points it at her daughter.
Cyrene says Xena is not welcome. Xena wants to build an army to fight off Draco, but the townspeople refuse. They have heard this form her before.
Draco punishes Hector for telling Xena the plan. They fight while Drack plans the army’s attack. Draco kills Hector.
Xena attempts to have a heart-to-heart with her mother. Cyrene says she doesn’t believe Xena.
Villagers say Xena’s army is burning their fields. They are going to kill her.
The villagers start to throw stones at Xena. Gabrielle arrives to Xena’s defense and talks the villagers out of harming Xena.
Gabrielle reminds Xena that she saved her life. Xena agrees to let Gabrielle stay with her for now.
Xena visits her brother’s grave.
Draco arrives to hear a deal from the villagers. He rejects the deal, and only wants Xena.
Xena arrives, wants to know what will make Draco stop. He says he only wants her.
Xena tells Draco she will not join him but she will duel him. They set the terms.
The pair fight with staffs in the scaffolding. Xena wins.
Xena threatens to kill Draco if he doesn’t leave the valley. Draco agrees.
The villagers offer Xena a reward. She says she wants nothing.
Xena asks Cyrene for forgiveness, her mother gives it to her as they embrace.
Xena catches Gabrielle following her. Gabrielle insists she’s not going home. Xena agrees to let Gabrielle join her.
Having been made in the 90’s the structure is very clear 4 Acts. Xena’s decision is to go home, as she tells Draco. Gabrielle’s goal is to join Xena. In the final act, Gabrielle achieves her goal as she joins Xena onto the next journey, and Xena achieves her goal in receiving her mother’s forgiveness (her reason for wanting to go home). The end of Act 2 and the Midpoint is the arrival of Cyrene’s disapproval of her daughter. The end of Act Three and Low Point is when Draco arrives to destroy the town.
This kind of storytelling may seem simple compared to what is on TV today, but think about this week’s breakdown of BLINDSPOT. That story was equally direct in its goal. The difference is the added commercial/act breaks where the writers had to come up with extra twists, and the darker tone. What made Xena and 90’s television so different from today is that a drama could be light-hearted without being a “dramedy.” There was a lot more room to play with the tone from episode to episode. Fans of Xena might talk about the compelling and dark stories of Callisto, Hope, Ares, etc., but you also had campy musical episodes and characters like Joxer and Autolycus to bring the humor. It is a tone that has come back into fashion recently, but with the additional act breaks to up the complexity of the storytelling as seen in shows like AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and JANE THE VIRGIN, making for a fantastic combination.
What kinds of shows were you obsessed with growing up?