The Fifth Season
The television series Xena: Warrior Princess is set in the same world as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which is more or less a rough adaptation of Greek mythology. It's a spin-off series that began in 1995 and can trace its roots to the first season of Hercules. The series is about the redemption of Xena, a warrior with unbounded skill and a dark past. Similar to her cohort Hercules, Xena walks the path of righteousness, while at the same time tackling and confronting her dark past. By her side is Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor), a bard turned Amazon warrior. She's another character whose roots can be traced back to the first season of Hercules . In past seasons of Xena, the pair have saved the lives of innocents, stopped merciless warlords, confronted the Gods, and danced with death. As well, during their journeys they have created a bonded friendship that is impossible to break. It becomes an important part of the series, because both are more than willing to sacrifice themselves for each other.
In my humble opinion, the fifth season isn't nearly as exciting as the earlier seasons. The reason is simple. Instead of the common action-packed episode that we're used to seeing, we get a few too many episodes that are slow and dull. In addition, while not necessarily bad, we also get some playful, fun, and silly episodes. Generally, these episodes have very little to do with the development of the series and quite frankly, it's just too much of a detour from the life of Xena. For me, the outright action is one of the biggest attractions of this series. Despite that its realism is dubious, it's still really fun to watch Xena and Gabrielle take on a small army and pummel them.
The first episode of season five kicks off with a really intriguing episode. It's the climax to the cliffhanger left in season four. The reason it's a great episode is that it's full of action and provides the foundation for the big story of season five. The time of the Gods is nearing its end and those who reign in Mount Olympus are less than thrilled at the prospect. A previously reoccurring character Eli is presented as a messenger, savior, and martyr of a new way a life... one without the Gods. Unfortunately, we quickly lose sight of this extremely intriguing story. Instead, the tempo of the each episode gradually declines. Lucy Lawless was pregnant and her condition had to be worked into the season. Instead we get some slower episodes (a lot less action), a few without much of Xena, and a handful of the fun and silly episodes. I felt that this was the weakest part of this season. Limiting the action, the role of Xena, and the diverting episodes just didn't make for great entertainment. However, this meant that there was more camera time for reoccurring characters. For instance, Joxer (Ted Raimi), who has been in both Hercules and Xena is a goofy character, whom I will compare to Jar-Jar Binks of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Of course, he's no where near as annoying as Jar-Jar Binks, but his character always seems to take the serious tone way down. That's not always a bad thing, because his character can be great for a few laughs.
One great example of this was in the episode "Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire". This episode was one of those fun and silly ones that I thought worked well. This episode is an on and off musical. There's a lot of singing and dancing. At first it appears to be an action-packed episode, but that all changes when Xena and crew jump into song and dance. They perform "War". There are also some other funny elements to this episode, like Xena's mother trying to find her a father for her baby, Gabrielle getting courted by the former Warlord Darco, and Joxer and his fruity The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince-like brother Jace. Check out Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire: Original Television Soundtrack for a full track listing of the songs in this episode.
Jumping back to the first half of the season, the tempo really slowed down. Instead of sword swinging and ass kicking action, we're left with a pregnant version of Xena who seems to rely too much on Gabrielle, mystics, and magic. The episodes tend to revolve around her pregnancy. There's always someone (or something) trying to kill her and her baby, truths to be learned, and other things that just didn't appeal to me. In "Animal Attraction", we get a fairly boring episode that has a Wild West facade. In "Little Problems", Xena's soul gets trapped in a little girl's body. Gabrielle and Aphrodite race against time to get things back to normal. In "Punch Lines", Gabrielle recounts an awful day to the Goddess Aphrodite. Quite frankly, the day wasn't really exciting. There was some grocery shopping, a shrunken horse, and a food fight. While in the second half of the season, "Married With Fishsticks" is an example episode that really strays away from the series. Gabrielle gets hit on the head, passes out, and ends up in a dream state, which is a life that she's happy isn't her own.
Fortunately, the second half of the season had a lot more dramatic, action-packed, and outright exciting episodes, with the exception of an episode or two. This half of the season picks up the story introduced in the beginning of the season. A war between the Gods and Xena is on the brink. The child that Xena bares becomes vital part of this story. Her daughter is central to the destruction of the Gods or at least that's what they believe. What really made this a gripping story were the extremely dramatic changes that occurred as a result of the war. It was so gripping that I couldn't stop watching episode after episode. The season also ended with an episode that isn't much of a cliffhanger, since the story is concluded in the season finale. However, what was done very well is that it leaves a lot of little questions unanswered. As a result, it leaves you really wanting to see what unfolds in the series' final season.
Overall, I had some mixed feelings regarding the second to last season of Xena. The entertainment value seemed to vary greatly. I really had a hard time watching the first half of the season, because it boring. Fortunately, I was surprised that the second half came off very strong. There's a wonderfully gripping story to be told. It's just too bad that the entire season wasn't as great. If it had been, I'd easily give this release a better recommendation. However, as it stands this release isn't as strong as some of the previous season releases.
1. Fallen Angel
4. Animal Attraction
5. Them Bones, Them Bones
7. Back in the Bottle
8. Little Problems
9. Seeds of Faith
10. Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire
11. Punch Lines
12. God Fearing Child
13. Eternal Bonds
14. Amphipolis Under Siege
15. Married with Fishsticks
17. Kindred Spirits
18. Antony & Cleopatra
19. Looking Death in the Eye
The fifth season DVD release of Xena is in its original television aspect of 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. The video has been "digitally mastered" to provide better picture than the original broadcast airing. In fact, the picture quality does look substantially better, but it still isn't perfect. There are traces of grain, which are most noticeable during the darker scenes. I noticed no problematic issues with video compression, (i.e. color distortions, low frame rate, et al.) Overall, the picture is quite good and should please the fans.
The audio track in this release is a remixed English 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound track. In general, the sound quality is good, providing clear and audible dialogue. The remixed 5.1 track does well revealing sound effects and music in a rich and vibrant form. I was pleased with the remixed 5.1 audio track. I thought it was slightly better than some of the earlier releases in this season. There are no subtitles in this feature, but it is closed captioned enabled.
The bulk of the special features come in three flavors. There are audio commentaries, video commentaries, and interviews with cast & crew. However, they're mostly interviews, as four episodes have audio and video commentaries and sixteen have interviews. Overall, they're pretty interesting. I really enjoy the commentaries and interviews with Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor.
In addition, there are some featurettes, which aren't really that exciting. The first is a short clip, "Gabrielle's Wardrobe". It has a really bad picture with some tacky background music. It's less than four minutes of watching Renee O'Connor in one of her revealing outfits. She poses, turns, and moves about. Very pointless. The next featurette is a lot more entertaining. "Bring Monsters to Life At the K.N.B. EFX Group" is twenty-two minutes with Howard Berger. He gives us a tour of life at the K.N.B. EFX Group. We get to see some special effects make-up and a few explanations about the various "monsters".
There's also a behind the scenes featurette, "The 100th Episode B-Roll". It is thirty minutes of behind the scenes footage for the episode "Seeds of Faith". There's also a special feature of alternative cuts for episodes "Motherhood" and "Animal Attraction". However, neither is a full length episode. Instead, we get to see side-by-side differences between various scenes in the rough alternate cut and the final cut. I thought it was a pretty cool idea. It was easily my favorite special feature of this DVD release.
There's also a bonus CD-ROM disc that contains a variety of fanfare. It's similar to the bonus disc found in other DVD releases from Hercules, Xena, and Highlander The Series. It contains storyboards, production drawings, background information on Greek mythology, cast & crew biographies, character biographies, episode synopsis's, and a trivia game.
I enjoy both Hercules and Xena and I'm not afraid to admit that neither show is exceptional. In fact, I think as a series, they both tend to extremely vary in quality from episode to episode. However, both series have always done well providing episodes that are action-packed, silly and fun, and/or dramatic. Unfortunately, I felt that the fifth season of Xena just didn't do very well. There were simply too many episodes that completely strayed away from Xena. Furthermore, these episodes tended to be borderline awful. Fortunately midway through the season, the intense action and some intriguing stories were introduced. This made the second half of the season five pretty hard to set down. Since the fifth season of Xena had a fairly even mix of good and bad episodes, I don't think you'd be getting your money's worth out of this season release. For that reason, it's probably best to rent season five.
Be sure to check out DVD Talk's other reviews in the
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
and Xena: Warrior Princess series.