Anchor Bay // 1998 // 1056 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // September 29th, 2004
"I am the destroyer of nations." -- Xena
I openly admit I had never fully seen an episode of Xena. After watching a full season and then some, I think I was really missing out on something. After all, how can I not warm up to a woman in a leather corset who could pin me in less than two seconds? How could I not fall under the demure Gabrielle's Siren-like spell? What's not to like about a show that gives the world more Bruce Campbell? How does one resist Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Four?
Set during the heyday of Greek/Roman gods and Titans, Xena (Lucy Lawless) roams around righting wrongs in order to make up for her past deeds. Her companion, Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor), acts as Xena's moral compass and undertakes a spiritual journey of her own. During their time together, Xena and Gabrielle encounter a variety of threats and allies.
In their fourth season, Xena and Gabrielle find themselves questioning their motives, relationship, behavior and personal philosophies. As in all friendships, people grow and change at different rates. Xena fears that Gabrielle might be outgrowing her. Though coping with interpersonal changes, Xena and Gabrielle have to deal with life-threatening baddies, family, zealots and the theater. Did I mention this show also has its share of comedy?
Not knowing what happened in the three previous seasons, it seems the intent of the fourth was to allow everyone to change and force the characters to question everything. Xena's crisis this season revolves around her continuing having to pay for past sins. It seems every other week (or every other episode), someone's got it in for Xena. Perhaps mirroring the viewer who has stayed with this show, Xena grows weary of this. She's thinking of hanging up her Chakram. After all, Gabrielle has traded in her staff for some internal peace and meditation. Why shouldn't Xena?
Somehow, the people behind Xena managed to make our main character's internal crisis work through the season. By opening with a two-parter that makes Xena revisit one the darkest times in her life, we are shown how far she's come and how central Gabrielle is to helping Xena change. I don't think this show would work if not for their relationship. Despite its sexual overtones, theirs is a relationship that transcends sexuality and ventures a deeper area. Much like the Sean/Christian relationship in Nip/Tuck, Xena and Gabrielle would choose each other above all others. Even the comic relief character, Joxer (Ted Raimi, Spider-Man), has to cope with an onslaught of emotions when he takes his first life.
Broken up over ten discs, this full season contains the following twenty-two episodes and includes a heavy dose of bonus features. Beware of spoilers below!
* "Adventures in the Sin Trade -- Part One"
Not certain that Gabrielle died fighting her own daughter, Xena believes she can still save her friend by venturing into the afterlife. Set in her past and present, Xena must do battle with herself and the evil priestess Alti. This episode sets the darker tone for the rest of the season. Pay attention to Alti -- we'll be seeing much more of her.
* "Adventures in the Sin Trade -- Part Two"
Xena has to make amends with the Amazons she's killed, protect a group of women she's leading, fight off Alti's attacks and find Gabrielle. She also begins experiencing the first of several visions she believes to be her future. It's Xena in buckskin performing animal sacrifice and engaging in astral plane fighting.
* "A Family Affair"
Xena and Joxer travel to Gabrielle's home hoping to find her alive. They find Gabrielle's town is being plagued by the Destroyer. Despite being reunited with Gabrielle, Xena has her suspicions something is amiss.
* "In Sickness and In Hell"
Reminding audiences that the past was not clean and hygienic, this episode showcases Xena and Gabrielle battling lice, foot rot and diarrhea. Xena also must win back the love of her horse. Watch Gabrielle trying to whistle with a numbed tongue in one of the season's best bits. This episode also had some of the sharpest and tightest writing of the season.
* "A Good Day"
Roman Generals CAESAR and Pompey bring their war into a Greek city. Xena devises a plan to stop the Romans and send them packing. Gabrielle has to decide if she thinks she can handle the responsibility of command and taking lives.
* "A Tale of Two Muses"
Nobody's getting footloose in a city where dancing is outlawed. Autolycus (Bruce Campbell Evil Dead), the king of thieves, helps Xena and Gabrielle bring some boogaloo to the Lambada-starved town. Watch for Campbell's convincing portrayal of a Southern minister and a riotous dance number.
* "Locked Up and Tied Down"
Xena is convicted of murder and sentenced to live the remainder of her life at Shark Island. Gabrielle must find a way to free her friend. Shark Island may sound a lot like Sea World, but it's more like the Oswald Correctional Facility.
Najara (Kathryn Morris Cold Case) introduces Gabrielle and Xena to her philosophy of reform. Gabrielle is turned onto Najara's teachings. Xena suspects there is more to Najara than meets the eye, causing strain between herself and Gabrielle.
* "Past Imperfect"
Xena fights an enemy that thinks just as she does. Someone from her past is using her battle tactics to their advantage. Xena must remember another painful time in her life to figure out the identity of her nemesis and put a stop to them.
* "The Key to the Kingdom"
Joxer uses Meg, a dead-ringer for Xena, to steal a legendary key to Athena's Crown. Autolycus gets drafted into their scheme. Things go wrong when the key is actually a baby and Meg's true intentions come to the surface. Lucy Lawless pulls double duty in this installment as both Xena and Meg. She does a tremendous job playing Meg and manages to make the characters distinct.
* "Daughter of Pomira"
A girl thought dead surfaces as member of the Horde. Xena tries to reunite the girl with her family but all doesn't go as planned. Probably the most heavy handed of this season's episodes, it is clear the lesson for this outing is tolerance.
* "If the Shoe Fits."
Cinderella by way of Xena. Xena and company take turns when a princess runs away from her stepmother and toward Aphrodite. It speaks well of a series to pull off a variety of genres. "If the Shoe Fits." is a simple but effectively comedic episode. Did you know that disco existed in ancient Greece?
* "Paradise Found"
Xena and Gabrielle begin their Indian journey. Gabrielle learns yoga and meditation from newfound guru Adian. As usual, Xena is jealous and wary of Gabrielle's new friend. Gabrielle hasn't learned that there's more to people than meets the eye. A pattern is emerging here. Thankfully, the episode is good enough that its repetitive nature can be overlooked. Gabrielle's spiritual journey takes off from this point forward.
Gabrielle believes she has the newfound ability to heal people. Xena is not convinced and works to uncover what or who is truly behind Gabrielle's miracle-working. This episode introduces Eli, a character who has importance later.
* "Between the Lines"
Xena catches a glimpse of her and Gabrielle's future lives. It seems that they're destined to meet up again. Unfortunately for Xena, she's due to meet Alti again, too. "Between the Lines" introduces a possible future timeline for the series.
* "The Way"
Indrajit, the King of Demons, has kidnapped Gabrielle and Eli. Xena and Honuman enlist the aid of Krishna to get their friends back. I loved this episode. Why? Simply put, "The Way" has a battle between two beings with six arms apiece. Despite some odd looking special effects, the battle sequence is something that has to be seen to be believed. Gabrielle also makes an important decision concerning the way she will do battle.
* "The Play's the Thing"
Gabrielle gets bitten by the theatre bug when two con artists use a plot right out of The Producers.
Normally, aping a popular movie/musical makes the viewer long for the original. This time around, Xena puts its own spin on everything and makes it work. When played for laughs, Xena can work perfectly.
* "The Convert"
Najara is back with a new belief in non-violence. Joxer takes a life and wrestles with breaking the news to the victim's son. The fight between Najara and Xena is well executed and stands out as one the season's strongest.
* "Takes One to Know One"
A surprise birthday party takes a murderous turn when a bounty hunter looking for Xena ends up dead. It is a game of "Clue" Xena-style with some Bruce Campbell thrown in for good measure.
Gabrielle becomes Queen of the Amazons as Xena stands between Pompey and Caesar's armies.
* "The Ides of March"
In what could have been the season finale, it all comes down a huge battle and the fulfillment of a vision. Old nemesis Callisto returns to taunt Xena and ensure that Caesar declares himself emperor. Gabrielle decides what path she will finally take. A wonderfully intricate and huge battle ensues, resulting an ending that will have the viewer wondering "How are they going to get out of this one?" It's the best combination of fighting, writing, directing and acting throughout the entire season.
* "Déjà Vu All Over Again"
In the present day, Annie (Lucy Lawless) is a woman obsessed with the Xena television show who believes she is Xena's reincarnation. She and her boyfriend, Harry (Ted Raimi), visit a reincarnation specialist, Mattie (Renee O'Connor). Through hypnosis and clips from past episodes, the three discover they are all reincarnations of Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer -- the catch being who's reincarnated into whom. Throw in a plot by Ares and the episodes find a warm, comedic ending that answers some questions and raises a few others. Those wondering just how Xena and Gabrielle feel about one another will finally get their answer. Or do they? "Déjà Vu All Over Again" is an odd way to end the season. It could have gone out on a high note with the heavy finality of "The Ides of March." Instead, year four ends with a reflexive and self-deprecating clip show. The cast shows more of their acting chops playing completely different characters than usual. This episode marks the directorial debut of Renee O'Connor.
Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Four puts its characters through the wringer and leaves the viewer dangling. By setting expectations at the beginning of the series through a series of visions of the future, Xena was in danger of writing itself into a corner. Thankfully, what would have been a crutch for most series is one its greatest strengths. I wanted to know how these characters would end up the way they did. I want to know what's going to happen to them later.
The acting, like Xena and Gabrielle, is all over the place. Particularly in the comedic episodes, the actors occasionally overdo it. However, in the world of centaurs and anachronisms, it becomes part of the overall package. Lawless and O'Connor come across perfectly at ease playing Xena and Gabrielle, no matter the setting or situation. Raimi's Joxer also stands strong as the show's comedic center. Any Bruce Campbell is good Bruce Campbell, so seeing him as Autolycus is always welcome.
Thank you, Anchor Bay, for putting together such a lovely package. Most episodes have a series of interviews on them or a commentary. The commentaries and interviews are very candid and honest, particularly those involving series producer Rob Tapert. Additionally, one disc contains cut or extended scenes that run simultaneously with the aired scenes. While rough, the inclusion of these scenes fleshes out what is discussed in the interviews and commentaries. All three featurettes make good additions for fans. A CD-Rom featuring trivia, background information and other information nuggets is also included. All these discs are housed in a nicely illustrated folding case.
The shows are presented in a full-frame format. Most of the time, the picture is lovely. However, the picture can get murky when heavy amounts of black or darkness are on the screen. One episode in particular suffers from this effect, making it less enjoyable to watch. The Dolby Digital sound was strong with only a few dropped or muffled moments.
I'm hard-pressed to find something negative about this series. At times, the special effects fell short. Additionally, the episodes grew repetitive. Even still, the series has won me over.
Suspend disbelief and embrace the anachronisms, sound effects, occasionally bad special effects, mad fight scenes, memorable characters and smart writing. Give the girls a chance.
Xena is a good deal more complex than it appears. It is funny, dark, philosophical, tongue-in-cheek, sexy, intelligent and simple. It's surprising, a testament to the team behind the series that the show works and is widely accepted.
Given the treatment that Xena and Gabrielle received in Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Four, all charges are dropped and the parties are free to go.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Gutierrez; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1056 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode commentaries/interviews
* Special Effects Featurette
* Bruce and Ted "Cabin Fever" Featurette
* "Adventures in the Sin Trade" An Exploration Featurette
* Alternate takes and cuts
* CD-ROM with series trivia, bios and chronicles
* DVD Verdict review of Xena: Warrior Princess, Season One
* DVD Verdict review of Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Two
* DVD Verdict review of Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Three