Xena: Warrior Princess “Callisto”
I’ve noted before that, despite being a spin-off of another show, Xena: Warrior Princess didn’t take long to become the syndicated ratings champion of the 1990s as Star Trek: The Next Generation had been before it. There were many reasons for this great success, of course, and one of the biggest is this episode, which aired in the latter half of the show’s first season.
The story begins with a young boy in a state of shock as he witnesses thugs chopping and burning both the surrounding village and its inhabitants. The boy is soon knocked to the ground, although still alive. Someone who’s not so lucky, however, implores a leather-clad woman (Hudson Leick) to run for it. But she responds to his pleas with a sword through his chest. The woman then orders one of her thugs to spare an older woman, whom she instructs to tell the world that they’re in for the same fate as the village if she’s crossed. When the spared villager asks the woman for her name, the reply is “Xena, Warrior Princess,” accompanied by a maniacal laugh.
After the title sequence, the real Xena is seen in a tavern. A man named Melas (Ian Hughes) seats himself next to her and asks the bartender for a drink. Xena offers her own drink to him, saying he looks like he could use it. He thanks her before introducing himself and asking for her name. When Xena gives it to him, he goes apeshit, but Xena quickly subdues him. She and Gabrielle are surprised when Melas says that a woman from his village told him that an army led by Xena murdered everyone in their town, including his son. Xena quietly tells the vengeance-fueled Melas that she’s not the one responsible and leaves him as she and Gabrielle head off to find the real culprit.
En route, they pass through a small band of villagers. Xena notes the look of fear on their faces and tells Gabrielle that she once actually enjoyed seeing that look from people. One of this group introduces himself as Joxer the Mighty (Ted Raimi). Xena rightfully tells him to piss off (with the super-dorky armor he’s wearing, I don’t blame her). But this guy obviously can’t take a hint, which is why he states that he’s a great warrior who loves to shed blood. Thankfully, this blowhard actually gives Xena some space when she grabs his nose, saying, “You like the sight of blood so much, you keep talking!”
Our heroines’ good luck continues when further up the road, Melas leaps out of nowhere with a dagger trained on Xena. Once again, she pins him down with little effort. She even calls him a slow learner as she ties Melas to a tree. Gabrielle tells him that Xena would’ve killed him already if she was the monster that killed his son.
The ladies soon reach their destination when they see crucified bodies amidst a burning village. They head in and kick some ass, with Xena using her famous boomerang-esque chakrum to take out some of the bad guys. But instead of returning to its owner, the chakrum is caught by the murderous impostor, who taunts Xena with, “You want it? Come and get it!”
On horseback, they charge at each other with their swords. Xena gets a cut on her arm, prompting her opponent to pat herself on the back, telling Xena that she “made” her. Xena disarms her and correctly deduces that she was the one who shot her with a poison dart in the previous episode (“The Greater Good”). Using nearby poles, both combatants knock each other to the ground. Xena asks her opponent what she meant by saying she made her, and her adversary asks her to remember Cirra. That name takes Xena aback before her adversary departs.
Xena then gives Gabrielle a hand with the thug she’s fighting by giving him the famous pinch that cuts off the flow of blood to his brain. He tells her that the woman’s real name is Callisto and that her family was killed at Cirra. He also says that Callisto wants the world to see Xena as a monster before killing her. The thug also states that Callisto’s next target is the Oracle at Delphi, who she plans to murder the next day and then pin the deed on Xena. She undoes the pinch and tells him to tell Callisto that Xena did make her—and she’ll destroy her.
Melas joins up with Xena and Gabrielle, apologizing for his earlier behavior. He asks to help them fight Callisto, and since he’s less annoying than Joxer, Xena reluctantly agrees.
Speaking of Joxer, he’s brought to Callisto’s hideout, where’s she’s testing her skills against some of her troops. Apparently, he was found hiding in a wagon they stole (yeah, he’s warrior material, alright). Joxer offers his services to her. She and her troops laugh, but Callisto agrees to it if Joxer brings Gabrielle to her. He excitedly departs, while Callisto savors the moment, saying that everything, including her thug spilling the beans to Xena, is going according to plan.
That night by a campfire, Gabrielle asks Melas to get some rest. But he says he can’t truly rest until Callisto is dead, and that Gabrielle would have the same feeling if she lost a loved one in a similar manner. She doesn’t disagree with his assessment, but goes over to Xena and asks her about Cirra. The warrior princess says that it was a village she conquered during her mercenary days, but unlike other such conquests, women and children were victims because a fire somehow burned through the town, trapping the villagers in their homes because they didn’t want to face her army. Hence, she doesn’t fault Callisto for her blood lust, although Gabrielle does. She says that Melas, like Callisto, has become blinded by an intense desire for revenge. She also points out that Xena overcame such a desire when her own village was destroyed way back when. Xena admits she did, but she may get that feeling again if something happened to her mom, Hercules, or Gabrielle. This prompts Gabrielle to make her promise not to become mad with vengeance if something happens to her.
The trio arrives at Delphi the next morning and splits up to look for Callisto. Gabrielle runs into Joxer and hands his ass to him numerous times as he tries to kidnap her.
Inside the town’s temple, Xena is keeping watch as the Oracle herself prepares to give her speech. Sure enough, a disguised Callisto tosses the chakrum in Xena’s direction, but Xena intercepts it before she chases Callisto on horseback. Xena subdues her and ties her to her horse. Walking back to the village, Xena outright apologizes for being the catalyst for what Callisto is now, but Callisto literally spits on this apology. Gabrielle informs Xena that Melas has organized a lynch mob. Callisto laughs, asking Xena if she’s ever been handed over to a lynch mob or tried for the atrocities she’s committed. Xena briefly ponders simply letting Callisto go, over Gabrielle’s objections.
This prompts Callisto to give this memorable tidbit: “The sight, just the sight, of Xena, Warrior Princess, arguing on my behalf amuses me so. Let me tell you. Let me answer your question of what I would do if you let me go. You let me go, and I will dedicate my life to killing everything you’ve loved: your friends, your family, your reputation, even your horse. You see, I am being so honest with you because the idea of your pity is worse than death for me. You see, you created a monster with integrity, Xena. Scary, isn’t it? Now, take me to the mob.”
As Callisto’s words torture Xena, the Warrior Princess arrives at the village and makes sure that the mob doesn’t touch Callisto as Xena puts her in jail to await a fair trial. Xena continues to be emotionally tortured by the incarcerated Callisto.
Elsewhere, Joxer again attempts to capture Gabrielle, which ends predictably. He explains that he comes from a long line of warlords (could’ve fooled me), with Gabrielle attempting to lift his spirits by saying he could do other, more legitimate, things with his life. He thanks her before (yep!) she kicks his ass again when he tries to take her.
The lynch mob tosses a torch into Callisto’s cell. As she delights in the irony of dying like her family did, Xena unlocks her cell, but unbeknownst to her, Callisto has already freed herself from her chains, which she promptly uses to knock out Xena before escaping with a captured Gabrielle. Melas and Xena chastise themselves for not listening to people like Gabrielle and then Xena takes off after Callisto.
At Callisto’s hideout, Gabrielle is strung up while Joxer bumbles his way in again. Callisto is as annoyed with Joxer as we are, but she gives him another chance to prove himself by ordering him to kill Gabrielle. But he ends up giving incompetence a good name when he can’t bring himself to do it, prompting Callisto to string him up as well.
When Xena arrives, Callisto announces that she’s ready for that duel to the death. As an added bonus, she has Gabrielle hoisted high in the air over spikes and has one of her thugs set the rope on fire.
As they battle, Xena and Callisto make various uses of the ladders on either side of them. Xena eventually uses three of them to make a teeter-totter plank that she has Gabrielle land on, while sending Callisto onto the rope over the spikes. She orders the rope to continue burning, but Xena prevents her from hitting the spikes.
The episode concludes with Callisto and her thugs being taken away. Gabrielle approves of Xena’s decision not to kill her, but Callisto quietly states that it was a mistake.
This installment sets up a great deal of what many remember about the show. It shows off how wonderfully Xena and Gabrielle were starting to complement each other, and gave fans a villain who would leave a big mark on Xena’s psyche, in effect becoming Khan to Xena’s Kirk (at least until the third season, but that’s a story for another time). One could say Callisto has an even more legitimate grievance against her adversary, as Kirk had no way of knowing Ceti Alpha VI would go boom.
Joxer, on the other hand, would become to many fans this show’s Neelix. The fact that they’re both ostensibly comic relief characters that are full of themselves probably didn’t help. Ironically, I found Joxer a bit more interesting during his final appearances on the show towards the end of the fifth season, when due to a god-influenced time jump, he meets up with Xena and Gabrielle as an older man. But alas, this also turns out to be the moment when the producers decided to kill him off.