Special to Whoosh!
By Kym Masera Taborn (ktaborn@lightspeed.net)
Copyright (c) 1996 held by author
1593 words

[1] XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS premiered the week of September 4, 1995. It quickly became the most highly rated new syndicated hour of the 95-96 season. The show also became a cult hit attracting a very active fan base. XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS was based upon a character who appeared in three shows which had aired on HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEY earlier in 1995. These three episodes are commonly referred to as the "Xena Trilogy" and consisted of the episodes WARRIOR PRINCESS (HTLJ #09), THE GAUNTLET (HTLJ #12), and UNCHAINED HEART (HTLJ #13). The following essay considers the episode WARRIOR PRINCESS (not to be confused with XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS episode #15, WARRIOR...PRINCESS), which featured the debut of the character, Xena.


[2] Said plea was the punchline of a HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS episode titled WARRIOR PRINCESS. WARRIOR PRINCESS was the energetic story of best friends torn apart by the machinations of a seductive woman. A woman who used her wily and potent charms to induce one friend to attempt to kill the other. The punchline referred to Iolaus, who was both the cuckold and the speaker of the line. The woman which inspired his plea, was Xena, the warrior princess.


Herk and Iolaus, friends 4 ever

[3] Iolaus in mythology was Hercules' nephew and fellow Argonaut. In HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, Iolaus was Hercules' best friend and primo fighting buddy. They even attended the 10th Anniversary convention for Argonauts together! These guys were thick. So thick, that if their legendary loyal friendship were to be challenged, it would have to be by something, or someone, mighty spectacular.

[4] What possibly could put a wedge between such a superlative friendship? Just like in high school, it turned out to be a woman. But not just any woman. Fear ye, all who would study the strange and enlightening tales of Hercules, the high school which would matriculate the likes of Xena, Warrior Princess.

Unlike Iolaus and Hercules, Xena had no basis in traditional Greek mythology. She was concocted anew to test their renowned friendship. And tested it, she did.


[5] WARRIOR PRINCESS aired after six Hercules films starring Kevin Sorbo and eight episodes of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. Iolaus, played by Michael Hurst, appeared in several of the movies including the first one, HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN. Ironically, AMAZON WOMEN had an actress by the name of Lucy Lawless playing the part of an Amazon lieutenant. Lawless eventually was hired to play Xena in WARRIOR PRINCESS. Too bad it was not Lawless's character who got to bump off Iolaus in HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN (do not even ask how Iolaus got killed only to continue on as Hercules' best pal -- myths work in mysterious ways). Perhaps it is good she was not, since then the irony would have been unbearable: the Amazon lieutenant would have succeeded where would Xena fail.

[6] After his first foray with Hercules in AMAZON WOMEN, Iolaus continued showing up in HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. By the airing of WARRIOR PRINCESS, there had already been much care and attention in developing the Hercules and Iolaus friendship. Iolaus betrayed occasional bouts of flakiness, but his exuberance and loyalty to Hercules always glowed through. Iolaus was portrayed exhibiting classic human frailties and failings which were always present in some degree. This was his Achilles heel for Xena to exploit.


[7] The character Xena was created for the episode WARRIOR PRINCESS, which was written by John Schulian and developed by Schulian and Robert Tapert. The script asked and answered the questions of what would happen, how would it happen, and what kind of woman could pull it off, if a woman were ever to dare to come between Hercules and Iolaus.

[8] Xena was presented as a ruthless, ambitious, disciplined, and extremely focused warrior who was obsessed with being the best in her field. What better way than to display her success and superiority than by directing Hercules' death?

[9] Xena's insidious plot not only required the big guy's demise, but also his disillusionment and pain. She wanted to mess with his mind. Xena believed that Hercules could be killed if he were distracted. What better distraction could there be than killing your best friend?

[10] It was fool-proof. Xena would entice Iolaus to kill Hercules. If Iolaus was successful, she would be triumphant. If Iolaus wasn't successful, that could only mean that Hercules had just killed Iolaus, his best friend. Hercules' disorientation after doing the foul deed would allow Xena to strike him at his weakest. Either way, Hercules was dead meat.

[11] It was an ambitious plan. Xena would have to endear herself to Iolaus and then slowly turn Iolaus against the best friend he ever had. Xena was up to it.



Xena, about to make a deal with Draco

[12] Xena was no stranger to seduction. She used it on her officers and she easily used her charms on Iolaus. Xena represented one of the most deeply rooted subliminal fears a man can have: a woman who uses sex not only to make him write bad checks (and love it) but also to see the logic in killing his best friend (and only friend?)


[13] Xena executed her plan flawlessly, although losing Estrogon, an ultimately disposable warrior minion, would not have earned her a perfect 10 in the Manipulation Olympics (but no doubt her artful use of Theodorus, an earlier disposable warrior minion, would have gained her points). Xena moved everyone in the show like a master chess player, including Hercules. It would have been a fool-proof plan but for one misconception on Xena's part. She did not understand Hercules' motives. Xena would not even get a hint as to his motives until the HERCULES episode, UNCHAINED HEART.

[14] In WARRIOR PRINCESS, Xena was clearly clueless. She did not understand that no matter how annoying she could make Iolaus act (and she made him act EXTREMELY annoying), Hercules would never kill Iolaus intentionally. Xena understood revenge, the heat of battle, and how to use people to her advantage, but she did not understand the brawny demi-god who was on a mission of service to atone for the sins of his father's people. That was the fatal flaw to her grand scheme.



Lucy Lawless or Mel Pappas -- you decide

[15] The casting of Lucy Lawless in WARRIOR PRINCESS was the result of many coincidences. She simply was at the right place at the right time after meeting the right people. Lawless first came to the producers attention when she was cast in the supporting role of Lysias in HERCULES AND THE AMAZON WOMEN. Her acting career, which had started a few years prior in earnest, was beginning to take off. She had appeared in a short art film (PEACH), a TV movie (RAINBOW WARRIOR), and an episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATRE (FEE FIE FO FUM), to name a few of her credits. When HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS shifted to a weekly hour format, Lawless was cast again in another supporting role as Lyla, a centaur's "moll", in AS DARKNESS FALLS.

[16] Lawless was not the producers first, second or even third choice to play Xena, Warrior Princess. She was actually the seventh! The first actress to be cast as Xena fell ill a few days before primary filming of the episode. The producers then scrambled to find a replacement. They went through five more actresses over a long weekend. All of the actresses refused. One of the frantic producers thought of Lawless. Even though they feared that they were contributing to the joke that there were only really twelve different actors in New Zealand, the other producers agreed. They put in a call to Lawless. She was on holiday and was in a remote area camping with her family. The producers sent a person to hunt her down. Luckily, she was located and within a few days she was on the set filming WARRIOR PRINCESS.


[17] The episode WARRIOR PRINCESS is precious among Xenaologists because it shows Xena in her feral, pre- redemptive state. By the time THE GAUNTLET (HTLJ, episode no. 12) and UNCHAINED HEART (HTLJ, no. 13) were made, Xena was already beginning to soften up and make her first ethical and moral stands (not to mention the first frizzing out of her hair). Consequently the Xena concerned with honor debuted in THE GAUNTLET while the Xena concerned with restitution did the same in UNCHAINED HEART.

[18] The Xena in WARRIOR PRINCESS was quite scary in her singlemindedness and pure delight in trickery, seduction, politics, and the thrill of the chase. She was also pretty hot on herself.

[19] Lucy Lawless played Xena more broadly and less uptightly than she did in the later HERCULES shows and the series. The WARRIOR PRINCESS Xena would just as soon sleep with someone as kill them if it got what she wanted. As the Borg were the perfect foes for The Next Generation crew in Star Trek; Xena was the perfect nemesis for Hercules. And as the Borg produced Hugh, who became a 'good' borg, so did Xena become good, and was rewarded by her own weekly series (the Borg only got a major motion picture!).

If you would like to read further about WARRIOR PRINCESS in a scene by scene analysis, see companion piece to this essay: THE ANNOTATED "WARRIOR PRINCESS" in this same issue.

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