Merry Christmas! For today’s Christmas episode, we’re going to look at an episode that somehow incorporates A Christmas Carol, Santa Claus, and Jesus into a single, gloriously insane story. Along the way, it reminds us of mid-90s syndicated television was really like. I’m not going to bother to pointing out when somebody is a terrible actor, so just assume that unless they’re Lucy Lawless, they absolutely are. Ladies and gentlemen, the Christmas episode of Xena.
Xena: Warrior Princess – “A Solstice Carol”
Original airdate:December 9, 1996
I think it’s important to note before we begin that, like all Xena episodes, this takes place at some point in the generic past. It’s also set in a place that is simultaneously Ancient Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and 19th Century London. Basically, everything that happened in the past happened at the same time and in roughly the same place. And that’s not even the weirdest part of this episode. Also, it’s a given that Xena and Gabrielle are in love and I’m not going to point out every meaningful glance or bit of subtext. Like, we’re all on board with that anyway, right?
We open with King Silvus sentencing an older couple to prison for tax evasion but also for celebrating the Winter Solstice. (Please note – they say “Solstice” a lot in this episode, and what they really mean is “a thing that is exactly Christmas”.) His scribe, Santicles asks that he be lenient for Solstice, but Silvus is having none of it.
Xena and Gabrielle are at a marketplace, discussing Solstice gifts. Xena is much more Grinch-y, but that never becomes a thing because a ragamuffin steals her chakram. (That throwing disc that was common in India, because this show happens everywhere simultaneously.) Xena tracks him back to the orphanage, where her weapon has been used as the topper for a Solstice tree. (Please note – one of the orphans is named “Lionel”, which I think we can agree is a period-accurate name.) She asks for it back, and then Santicles arrives with the King’s guards, looking to arrest then for not paying their taxes. And also for celebrating the holiday. Xena ties the guards up with ribbon, which incapacitates three armored men holding swords.
Xena and Gabrielle question Santicles, and he reveals he used to be a toymaker until it was outlawed. He had to take a job as a scribe to make ends meet. (Also, if you haven’t caught on that ‘Santicles’ = ‘Santa Claus’ yet, well, it’ll get much more obvious very soon. Don’t worry.) The lady who runs the orphanage feels vaguely sympathetic toward the king, and then Gabrielle tells the kids the Christmas Carol story, only it has a sad ending. Way to read the room, Gabrielle. This inspires Xena to try and fix things. That, and Gabrielle’s puppy dog eyes. And so they hatch a plan and recruit Santicles.
Gabrielle buys supplies for their ruse, and along the way picks up a stubborn donkey that’s on its way to the tannery. They will not shut up about this donkey, by the way. The point is that the donkey backs up when somebody whistles, and this is not nearly a hilarious as the music cues would have you believe.
Xena breaks into Silvus’ bedroom as he sleeps. She wakes him up to tell him that he’s going to be visited by the Fates unless he changes his ways, and when the guards rush in, she John McClanes out the window and onto a lower floor, where she finds a dusty but fully decorated Solstice tree and a pile of unopened gifts. There’s also a portrait of the King and a mystery woman. Could it possibly be the only woman (besides the stars) who’s appeared onscreen for more than one second? I’ll never tell! (But yes.)
Xena learns that Santicles has been modifying the King’s sentencing to minimize the prison time people face. Presumably just the people sentenced for Solstice-related crimes and not murderers.
Later that night, Xena appears in the bedroom again, wrapped in a white gown that hides her face. Although it still has a boob window. She claims that she’s the Fate of the Past, and using props, makes it look like an hourglass is floating. Xena leads Silvus to the forgotten Solstice room, somehow not running into any guards. Gabrielle is there, held by a rope tied to her donkey, pretending to be the spirit of Silvus’ wife. Who is not dead. Also, they totally screw this up because at one point the rope gets longer on both ends at the same time. For shame, Robert Tapert! The King passes out from a mixture of fright and sleeping herbs, and it’s on to Phase Two.
Gabrielle and Tobias the donkey go out in search of Santicles. Xena returns to the King’s bedroom, this time wrapped in a different cloth that covers everything except her cleavage. And props to Lucy Lawless for doing a hilarious Fate Voice in this scene. She tells Silvus that he’ll be going out anonymously among his subjects to see how his cruel laws affect them.
Cut to Santicles in his toy shop, feeling sad. Gabrielle finds him and chews him out for running away. He’s afraid of being caught and going to jail. He just can’t be in a confined space, you guys! Gabrielle is easily distracted and decides to put toys in a sack and bring them to the orphans, and then she says Santicles will have to wear a disguise so the guards don’t recognize him. Hey, how about a big white beard?
Xena brings Silvus to the orphanage. I can’t decide if the orphan who greets them recognizes them and knows about the plan and is in characters as a terrible actor, or if the character doesn’t recognize them and is just an actual terrible actor. Gabrielle, Tobias, and Santicles (who is an unholy mixture between Santa Claus and the Gorton’s fisherman) head for the orphanage. They spot some of the King’s soldiers along the way, who are also headed to the orphanage, and they realize they have to warn the orphanage lady. About the coming attack from people who are going to get to the orphanage ahead of them.
Silvus is not won over by the terribly depressing orphanage and demands to go back home. On the way out, they encounter the soldiers. Man, I hope Gabrielle gets there to warn them soon! The soldiers don’t recognize the King without his crown, so they go back to the orphanage and seal the door. Also, at this point it is made clear that the orphan from earlier didn’t recognize them and is an actual bad actor.
You are not prepared for how crazy this episode is going to get. Xena leaves the orphanage lady to watch the now-unconscious King. Santicles and Gabrielle come down the chimney to warn Xena about the attack that she’s dealing with, and Santicles loves going down chimneys so much that he’s going to do it every year. Of course. And then, because this is Home Alone all of a sudden, they decide to defend the orphanage using toys. Instead of the weapons that they have on their person. First, they soliders trip on marbles, which I’m reasonably sure is straight from the Kevin McAllister handbook. Then they shoot other soldiers using plunger arrows, and the minor inconvenience of having something stuck to their foreheads takes them out of the fight. (Oh – this whole scene is filled with cartoon sound effects.) Xena uses ornaments as throwing stars, which terrifies the people who are wearing full armor. Then, while she’s filling socks with bits of candy, Gabrielle distracts two soldiers by hula-hooping. I did not make that up.
The creepy part is that these guys are so enticed by Gabrielle’s navel that they drop their weapons and walk right up to her. They could not look more rape-y in this scene if they were replaced by Arrow’s Tommy Merlyn. Oh! She also tells them to “Come and get your Solstice present” while burlesque music plays. It is messed up. Then she puts the hula hoop around them and Santicles knocks out these people wearing metal helmets by throwing balls at them.
Silvus wakes up to see Orphanage Lady, who’s covering her face. He thinks she’s the Fate of the Future and reacts like Scrooge did to seeing his own grave, even though he is not in a cemetery.
Xena finally uses her socks full of candy as nunchucks, because this show has given up all pretense of acting like armor does anything. Santicles quotes Sudden Impact (NOT Dirty Harry. He doesn’t say “Go ahead. Make my day” until the fourth movie.) and shoots a soldier with a candy cane. In a bit that I legitimately laughed at, Xena clobbers a dude with a Hercules marionette. Gabrielle actually plays “Jingle Bells” by clonking two soldiers on the head repeatedly. Xena needs a sword to fight a tough guy, and Gabrielle gives her one made of rubber. Instead, Xena realizes that he just happens to be standing in front of a toy unicorn on wheels. She gives the unicorn’s rope a tug and… yeah. The horn goes straight into the guy’s ass. Xena beats a dude by anally violating him with a pull toy. And because we still have the cartoon sound effects, this is punctuated with an “aa-oogah” effect.
And then it ends in a pillow fight. Of course, what the audience wanted was a Xena-Gabrielle pillow fight that involved making out. This one instead gives us a bunch of armed soldiers overwhelmed by a feathery onslaught. A gleeful King say that the orphanage will never be closed, and then Orphanage Lady turns out to be the woman who left him years ago! Who could have seen that one coming, aside from the people who had watched the first act of the episode? A happy ending!
On the way out of town, they encounter Joseph and Mary, with their newborn baby Jesus (his face actually radiates light!). Gabrielle gives them her donkey, and we pan up to see the Christmas star shining in the sky. You know, the one that helped the shepherds and the Magi find Jesus. They take some liberties with Luke 2, is what I’m saying.
Best Lines – “You say you’re afraid of small spaces? Well that’s exactly how you live your whole life. In a small space, afraid to stand up for yourself or anyone else.” – Gabrielle, totally not on board with the idea that a guy might want to not be executed for toymaking
A Christmas Carol – Yeah, that’s the whole plot of the episode. Of course, since the episode is set 1800 years before the birth of Charles Dickens, Xena gets credit for coming up with the idea.
Santa Claus – Not only is there a character named Santicles (with a long “e” at the end. It does not rhyme with “testicles”.), but by the end he is clad in a red suit and fake beard, and he has to go down a chimney.
Nativity Scene – Xena and Gabrielle meet Joseph, Mary, and their newborn child.
Christmas Decorations – The orphanage is decked out with surprisingly modern-looking decorations. If Elf on the Shelf had been a thing in 1996, it would have been in this episode.
Trimming the Tree – Of course the orphans had a fully decked-out Christmas tree! Why wouldn’t they?
Christmas Carols – The orphans gather to sing Solstice carols. Man, these kids with nothing sure love celebrating the longest night of the year.
Gift Exchange – Xena gives Gabrielle a wooden lamb, just like the one she had as a child. Gabrielle never got around to picking up a present, but that’s OK because Xena acknowledges that Gabrielle is the real gift. Which is the subtext of every episode, so it’s nice that they came out and said it for Christmas.
Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – You know what? This episode is goofy as hell, the plotting is crazy sloppy, it’s cheesy, and most of the story requires everybody to be mentally deficient in some way. But as dumb as it is, I really had a lot of fun watching it. It made me genuinely laugh a couple of times, and even the stupid stuff was good-natured. I’m not going to pretend for one minute that it’s good TV, but I had a good time. That, plus the overwhelming amount of Christmas makes it a 10. Merry Christmas, everybody!