Anchor Bay // 1999 // 1056 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // October 27th, 2004
"How could we have strayed so far?"
Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Five is perhaps the most the series' most ambitious and uneven season to date. Employing different philosophies and religions, Xena focuses on polytheism giving way to monotheism -- with some musical numbers thrown in for good measure.
Xena (Lucy Lawless) and Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) return from the dead. Xena also deals with motherhood and a prophecy involving her child detailing the final days of the Greek gods. Plus, Xena gets a spiffy new Chakram while Gabrielle upgrades to a pair of sais.
Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Five contains twenty-two episodes and a few Special Features spread out over nine discs and one CD-ROM.
First, some forewarning. The following review contains its share of revealed plot points and spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.
Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Five starts off with a bang. Season four closes with Xena and Gabrielle crucified and left for dead. Xena ends up in heaven; Gabrielle ends up in hell with their nemesis, Callisto (Hudson Leick). Right out of the gate, Xena begins to merge the Judeo-Christian beliefs of the afterlife with the ever-present Greek Pantheon. The best parts of the season revolve around the "Twilight of the Gods" -- the waning days of the many gods giving way to the days of the one, true god. Xena finds herself with child, one immaculately conceived and housing the soul of the divine and redeemed Callisto. How messed up is that? Eve's birth sets in motion a chain of events that lead to the last days of gods, leaving only a couple remaining and near powerless. It's ambitious, and quite a feat to show the downfall of all of Xena's main nemeses in one season. It makes for terrific television.
Not only do Xena and Gabrielle have to deal with a variety of threats (the divine and the mortal), they must also cope with family problems. Involvement with Xena spells nothing but disaster for anyone involved. Xena already lost one child, her second child's fate is not much better. It's a tough life, but it makes for good storytelling and good dramatic tension.
This season of Xena seems to be about cleaning house. Without revealing too much, by the end of the season the show has everywhere to go. By bringing the title characters slightly forward in time and allowing Xena to forego the motherhood role, the show is open to a wealth of possibilities. Understandably, longtime fans might be turned off by the dismissal of five years of series' canon. Still, the finality of season five leaves me curious about what is to come in Xena's final season.
Year five's batch of one-offs and standalone episodes are a mixed bag. One of the positive standouts of year five is "Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fyre." In this episode, Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer (Ted Raimi) find themselves amidst a Battle of the Bands. We are treated to cast renditions of "War," "Always Something There to Remind Me" and "People Got to Be Free." "Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fyre" also showcases O'Connor go-go dancing. It really doesn't get any better than that.
Unfortunately, there are some stinkers. "Punchlines" and "Married with Fishticks" are nothing more than filler used to deal with Lawless' real life pregnancy. The most disappointing episode of the season is "Lifeblood." As explained during an interview, "Lifeblood" is the Selma Blair (Hellboy) pilot Amazon High edited into a Xena episode. A nice attempt at filling some Amazon backstory ends up disconnected and futile.
Overall, the writing remained heavy, funny and innuendo-laden. The writing staff dealt creatively with having Lawless absent for about a third of the season by focusing on Gabrielle. When in doubt, focus on Gabrielle -- you can't go wrong.
The acting has improved over the season. Kevin Smith's Ares is so well played it only makes the actor's passing more regretful. The best acting scenes involve Joxer trying to communicate his feelings for Gabrielle -- it's comedy gold. Xena and Gabrielle always play well off each other as their relationship moves even closer than before.
The fight choreography was incredible this time around. "Chakram" in particular has some amazing fight sequences. O'Connor does some phenomenal sai-fu that's not to be missed.
Also mixed were the Special Features included in the DVD set. The interviews and commentaries by cast and crew continue to be candid and honest. It's nice to see producers and actors admit something didn't work out as planned instead of trying to spin it. The commentaries also illustrate how well versed the cast and crew are in the Xena mythos. It's impressive they remember episode titles, events that took place while filming and other anecdotes and trivia. The Alternate Cuts show what could have been. It would be nice to see the footage edited into the episode instead of presenting it as a side-by-side comparison with the televised version.
Xena fans will no doubt get a kick out of the "100th Episode B-Roll" -- a featurette depicting the filming of "Seeds of Faith." Xena newcomers should give a look at the wealth of series information on the CD-ROM. Most questions about the show and its origins can probably be answered the there. Fans will also enjoy the "K.N.B. EFX Group" featurette spotlighting the creatures and prosthetics used in season five.
The "Gabrielle's Wardrobe" feature confuses me. In a terrible video transfer, O'Connor stands around modeling her new battle outfit in different locations. While I'm not opposed to seeing O'Connor modeling for me, adding "Gabrielle's Wardrobe" to the DVD set doesn't make any sense. It's not as though it features alternate costumes or anything.
Presented in its original Full Frame glory, Xena looks terrific despite the occasional murkiness. The sound mix appears to have improved since the last DVD set. It sounded great -- especially the musical episode.
Xena fans may be might livid by the close of season five. Even with a few "light" episodes, the series gets consistently darker in tone and meaning.
Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Five may not go as far as it could have. It may have stumbled a bit. However, Xena had the guts to tackle a storyline that few series could attempt. For that alone, this DVD set deserves a look.
On a side note, Hercules: The Legendary Journey fans won't want to miss the last appearance ever by Hercules in "God Fearing Child."
Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Five is free to go. If she can take out a few gods, who am I to hold her? Gabrielle has to stay, though.
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: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interviews with cast and crew
* Audio/video commentaries
* "Bringing Monsters to Life -- K.N.B. EFX Group" featurette
* 100th Episode B-Roll footage
* Alternate cuts and scenes
* Photo Gallery
* "Gabrielle's Wardrobe"
* Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Four Review
* Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Season Four Review