Xena: Warrior Princess “A Solstice Carol”
One of the charms of Xena: Warrior Princess, as well as its progenitor Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, is how episodes could alternate from charming romps to dark dramas. This episode certainly falls into the former category, since (as the title obviously states) this is a take on the classic Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol.
The Scrooge of this story is King Silvas (Peter Vere-Jones) who, at the episode’s opening, is sentencing an elderly couple to a decade of hard labor for evading their taxes. He adds another year to that after also condemning them for singing Solstice carols (remember, this was before the birth of Christ, so it wasn’t called “Christmas” yet), as well as engaging in other holiday activities.
After the couple is taken away, the king calls for his aide Senticles—you can guess what that name sounds like—to ask about the eviction notice for the day. Senticles (Joe Berryman) is scared to remind the king that it’s the eve of the winter solstice, so he says it’s getting late, which prompts the king to tell him to get on it.
Elsewhere, Xena and Gabrielle are girl-talking while going through a village. Suddenly, a boy snatches Xena’s chakrum and darts off. She and Gabrielle follow him to a room where they see he and some other children have used the chakrum as the star for their tree. Their caretaker Melana (Sher Booth) expresses disapproval when Xena says the chakrum belongs to her, but more immediate concerns arise when Senticles shows up with a proclamation saying she and the kids will be evicted from their orphanage if they don’t pay 1,000 dinars by midnight. One of the guards with Senticles says everyone should be arrested now, but Xena puts a stop to that when she flings through the air and grabs her chakrum. As Gabrielle pulls Senticles away, Xena uses her weapon to tie the guards up. The children’s caretaker explains that King Silvas has made it a crime to celebrate the winter solstice in their town.
After the title sequence, Senticles explains to Xena and Gabrielle that he was once a toymaker, but Silvas forced him to take his current job after outlawing toys. Gabrielle sympathizes with him as she remembers owning a toy he made when she was younger. Melana states that Silvas took such a hard stance on the solstice when he lost his wife Analia on Solstice Eve thirty years earlier.
This prompts Gabrielle to remember a story she once heard, which the children are all too eager to hear her recite. Said story is about a hardened man who was visited by the Fates. Sadly, this visit did not prompt him to change his ways, so they turned him into a spirit destined to roam for eternity in limbo. But Gabrielle thinks they could give Silvas a happier ending. Xena has her doubts, but as this is the holiday season and all, agrees to try it. But they can’t just walk into Silvas’s castle, which is why they draft Senticles to let Xena in, while Gabrielle goes off to get needed supplies.
In the marketplace, Gabrielle sees a man trying to get his donkey to move. She expresses interest in purchasing the animal, which she learns the owner is attempting to take to have skinned. No wonder the donkey won’t move. She and the owner do some bantering about the price, agreeing to all 35 dinars Gabrielle has with her.
In Silvas’ castle, Xena lets herself into the king’s bedroom as he’s napping. He’s understandably freaked out when he wakes up, but Xena introduces herself before saying that things could be better if Silvas lets his people celebrate the solstice. He summons his guards, prompting Xena to bolt while giving Silvas a warning. She swings to the castle’s lower level and sees solstice decorations covered with years of dust and cobwebs. She also sees a portrait of Silvas with his wife Analia.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle is trying to kindly break the news to the donkey, named Tobias, that he can’t stay inside for the night. But she’s having difficulty getting him to move, until one of the kids, named Lynal (Daniel James) whistles to his friends, which does the trick.
Xena commends Senticles when she sees him making changes to the king’s orders. But he doesn’t view himself as a hero, and tells her he can’t risk going to prison if he goes along with what she has in mind. However, Xena tells him not to discredit himself or the children.
Gabrielle tells the children, Melana, and (yes) Tobias about the magic of the winter solstice. This prompts a couple of kids to make their own solstice wishes, such as a nice dinner and presents. As they go off to hang their stockings, Xena and Senticles come in, with the former hoping things don’t get physical if Gabrielle’s plan doesn’t work. Gabrielle is confident and tells Xena that she spent all their money to buy Tobias. But Xena states that they have everything they need for their plan.
Said plan begins with a return to Silvas’ bedroom as the king is, once again, woken up by Xena. This time, though, she’s disguised as Clotho, the first of the Fates who represents the past. The irritated king asks if she’s really one of the Fates, which Xena answers by pointing to a rotating hourglass that Senticles is manipulating behind a nearby curtain. The king is convinced when Senticles shoots a dart, which shatters it.
Xena takes Silvas to the abandoned lower level, where he sees Gabrielle disguised as his wife Analia, seemingly floating in the air, and telling him to change his ways. That’s when we see that it’s Tobias, with Senticles’s supervision, who’s holding the rope that’s levitating Gabrielle from outside the castle. Alas, nearby guards whistle at a passing village girl, prompting Tobias to move, which in turn causes Gabrielle to fall to the floor. Fortunately, Xena is able to correct things with a whistle of her own, while Silvas downs a drink she gave him a moment earlier.
“Analia” tells Silvas to not let her death haunt him any longer. But our heroines are surprised when the king states that his queen didn’t die, but rather she left him. Gabrielle tries to say she’s speaking metaphorically, but the king becomes confused until the sleeping potion in his drink kicks in. As Xena takes him back to bed, Gabrielle goes outside and finds Tobias, but no Senticles.
Silvas’s sleep is again interrupted by Xena, now disguised as the second Fate Lachesis, representing the present. She also insists the king put on rags she threw on his bed and leave his crown behind in order to walk among his subjects.
Gabrielle finds Senticles, who informs her that he bolted because he was afraid the guards would throw him in prison. He further tells Gabrielle to leave him alone, but her eyes widen when she sees all the toys in his room. He becomes smitten with her idea of putting the toys in a nearby sack and hiding them for the children to find. Gabrielle also suggests that he disguise himself so the guards won’t recognize him. When Senticles once again expresses his fear of prison and small spaces, Gabrielle tells him to grow a pair.
“Lachesis” takes Silvas to the orphanage, where Lynal offers them shelter. This offer is accompanied by Lynal stating how greedy and cruel the king is, which perks up Silvas’s ears.
Gabrielle, Tobias, and Senticles (wearing a big fake white beard) head for the orphanage and come across Silvas’ guards heading in the same direction. At the orphanage, Silvas is moved by the children’s singing, but not enough to change his ways. Rather, he starts blaming the Fates for ending his marriage and storms out, but is stopped by his own guards, who think he’s an average citizen.
Xena takes care of the guards by blocking the entrance to the orphanage. Silvas is shocked that his own guards tried to arrest him and promptly faints. Xena tells Lynal to look after the other orphans, and taking note of Melana’s necklace, instructs her to look after Silvas. Senticles and Gabrielle join them after they (yep!) enter the orphanage by falling down its chimney, with Senticles wearing a red suit. As he compliments himself for conquering his fear of small spaces, Gabrielle admits that their plan didn’t work, and she and Xena must resort to more physical methods.
The guards break in, and sure enough, Xena, Gabrielle, and Senticles fight them with the toys and ornaments, prompting him to go “ho, ho, ho” as they take the guards down.
Silvas wakes up and sees Melana. Her face is partially concealed, which convinces him that she’s the Fate representing the future. The chilliness in the room makes him think that he’s in a tomb, and he thinks that the noises from the fight are the souls of his subjects crying out to him. When Melana offers Silvas a hand, he thinks she means to carry him away. This is when he forcefully states that he’ll make amends, and heads out to where the fight is.
Senticles shoots a guard with a toy crossbow (saying “Go ahead! Make my day!”), while Xena fights off other guards with a Hercules puppet, which she thanks. Gabrielle briefly pauses when the bells she uses to knock out two other guards then play the tune of “Jingle Bells”. Another guard annoys us with his sword-twirling until Xena puts him out of our misery by sending a toy unicorn’s horn up his ass. The orphans ward off more guards as Silvas joins the fight.
The children cheer as the guards run off and Silvas says they won’t be evicted. Melana appears, and as it turns out, she’s actually Analia. Silvas apologizes to her and they make amends.
Shortly afterward, Xena and Gabrielle head off with Tobias and Xena’s horse Argo. They come across a couple with a baby heading west. Gabrielle generously gives them Tobias to make their journey easier. Xena compliments Gabrielle on her generosity and gives her a solstice gift of her own: a small wooden lamb. The episode ends on a sweet note when Gabrielle notes her lack of a gift for Xena, and Xena replies that Gabrielle herself is a gift.
This episode shows how the series was definitely firing on all cylinders by this point, with the bond between our heroines as strong as ever. Despite the curious lack of snow for the winter solstice, and no explanation for why Senticles said Analia was dead, this episode ranks right up there with A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas as must-see TV for the holiday season.