Xena: Warrior Princess - Sins of the Past

“You must know by now you can never escape your past. Xena, celebrate you dark side. Don't run away from it”

Like many I first started watching Xena: Warrior Princess because I loved the cheesy fun of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. And like so many more I ended up being an even bigger fan of the warrior princess than the son of Zeus. Although both shows possessed the same tongue-in-cheek sense of humour Xena could often be a much darker, more complex and character driven series. Xena was the Batman (and Wonder Woman) to Herc’s ancient world Superman. It was also cheesier than the entire dairy section at Sainsbury’s as the writers were never afraid to indulge even their loopiest ideas.

Xena first appeared in a trilogy of episodes from Hercules’ first season (‘The Warrior Princess’, ‘The Gauntlet’ and ‘Unchained Heart’) where she was a cold and ruthless bitch of a warlord who merrily slaughter her way across ancient New Zealand for shits and giggles. But after being betrayed and beaten to a pulp by her army Xena turned her back on her dark ways and became a force for good. Originally it would’ve all ended there with Xena sacrificing herself in one last act of heroic redemption. But the ancient TV gods smiled upon the warrior princess and gifted her with a spin-off series all of her own. Xena would go on to become a cultural phenomenon, eclipsing its parent show and turning its stars into icons. It might’ve all turned out differently if the producers had been stuck with their first choice. British actress Vanessa Angel was their first choice to don the leather armour but she fell sick and was unable to travel to New Zealand leaving the way open for the future Mrs Robert Tapert.

Forgive me while I descend into some pathetic fanboy worship but Lucy Lawless is a goddess. I’d crawl through fifty miles of broken glass just to sweat in her shadow and no doubt be bitch slapped with a restraining order for my troubles. On paper Xena is pure male fantasy; a gorgeous woman kicking butt while dressed in impractically revealing leather armour. But Lawless brought so much more to the role than simply looking good in impractical leather armour (although she did look pretty damn stunning). It’s actually almost sickening how talented she is. Drama, comedy, fighting, singing, dancing, you name and she could do it with gusto.

And then there’s Gabby. Lawless might’ve been the star and the rock holding everything together but it all would’ve been nothing without Renee O’Conner as Gabrielle, unquestionably the heart and soul of the entire series. If anything the show was more about her journey of self discovery than it was about Xena’s quest for redemption. Over the next six seasons we got to watch as Gabby went from innocent farm girl to...well, that would be spoiling.

Right, now me being shameless geek is out of the way let’s talk about the actually episode. Although I’d never rank ‘Sin of the Past’ amongst the series’ best, the plot is nothing more than your basic ‘defend the helpless villagers from the evil warlord’ scenario (a tried and tested formula with lots of mileage) and the encounters with the blind Cyclops is just extra padding to stretch out the runtime, it still works effectively as a second pilot for those who never watched Hercules, reintroducing Xena and giving us some much needed insight into her origins without ever becoming too much of a brain aching info-dump.

While she might’ve turned her back on being a murdering bitch Xena still loves to fight. In a pre-credit scene ripe with obviously obvious symbolism Xena, having conveniently just pass through a village she’d previous torched, tries cleansing herself of her dark past by stripping off her armour and burying it. But then some villagers in turmoil cried out for a hero and since Hercules was in a different timeslot it’s up to Xena to save the day. Quick as a flash she’s forgotten all about feeling bad about that torched village she conveniently passed and is instead kicking the crap out of Draco’s men with a gleeful relish.

Redemption is the core theme of Xena’s entire character arc. She doesn’t just want to be forgiven for all the pain and misery she’s caused over the years she wants to make up for it. ‘Sins of the Past’ is essentially all about Xena being caught between her past and her future, represented here by Draco and Gabrielle, respectively. He might be the bad guy but Draco is also cool, sexy and seems, for a bloodthirsty warlord, kinda fun. He wants Xena to forget all this hero nonsense and join him so it can be like the good old days of bloodshed and conquest (and, presumably, loads of post-battle sex). She’s tempted, a big part of her misses the lifestyle, but Draco isn’t nearly as good at the smouldering seduction act as a certain hunky god of war. So Xena ultimately rejects him the only way she knows how; a ludicrously over the top fight sequence. Why simply have a boring fight with staffs when you can an awesome fight with staffs while standing on a crumbling scaffold before moving onto to the heads of helpless villagers. Brilliant! Certainly one of the series’ best action sequences.

With Draco out of the way that leaves Xena to deal with her stalker, Gabrielle. Gabby is a feisty farm girl with strawberry blonde hair who doesn’t want to stay at home, marry the village idiot and raise his children (sorry, Perncus). She wants to travel the world, have adventures, explore her sexuality and, above all else, be Xena’s sidekick. Sure, she seems like a bit of an annoying pain incapable of keeping her mouth shut but Gabrielle is the one person in this entire episode who believes without a shadow of a doubt that Xena can be a good person. She has more faith in Xena than even Xena has in herself. To paraphrase Jim Gordon Gabrielle might not be the sidekick that Xena wanted but she is undoubtedly the sidekick that she needed.

Plus Gabby’s entire stalker act isn’t nearly as desperate and clingy as Draco’s whole ‘I’m going to ransack your village until you agree to go out with me again’ routine.

Myths and Legends:

--I like that, even after being defeated and humiliated, Draco still keeps his word to Xena even going so far as to kill one of his own men when he tries to attack her. Makes Draco a more interesting villain than the snarling over the top warlords you usually see on Hercules and Xena.

--Amphipolis, Xena’s home village, was an ancient Greek city while Potidaea, Gabrielle’s home village, was actually a Corinthian colony in the western point of Chalcidice.
--Not that I’m an expert on such things but what is with Xena’s Marsha Brady hair?

--I love how Draco continues on with his strategy meeting while nonchalantly killing Hector.

--This is the first time that Xena performs her signature ‘pinch’ move.

--Actress Sunny Duach was originally cast as Gabrielle. She didn’t want to leave her boyfriend in LA so she was replaced by O’Connor.

Xena: You know, you should find a different line of work.
Cyclops: Well, like what? I'm a blind Cyclops, for crying out loud.

Gabrielle: I’m going to join up with Xena.
Llia: (laughs) Are you serious?
Gabrielle: Absolutely, going to be a warrior, like her.
Lila: A warrior? Gabrielle, I can beat you up.
Gabrielle: Yeah, but you’re very strong for your age.

Cyclops: Shut up, I hate chatty food.

Xena: (to her dead brother) Since you've been gone, I kind of lost my way. Now, I found it. I thought I could start over. But no, they don't trust me. Not even Mother. I can't blame her. She can't see into my heart. But I've got to believe that you can. And I wish you were here. It's hard to be alone.
Gabrielle: You're not alone.

Draco: Xena! How was the homecoming, did they throw you a party?

Gabrielle: Xena, I'm not cut out for this village life. I was born to do so much more.

Gabrielle:Did you see the guy they want me to marry?
Xena: He looks like a gentle soul, that's rare in a man.
Gabrielle: It's not the gentle part I have a problem with, it's the dull, stupid part.

1 comment:

Mark Greig said...
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