Honestly, there’s not much difference, quality-wise, between Season 1 and Season 2. The graphics are still terrible, the sets are obviously sets, but I feel like the stories get so much better, with more mature themes and a deeper friendship (and in my opinion, romance, but I’ll get to that on another day) between Xena and Gabrielle. And while I do love the very obvious dramatic turns – like “Return of Callisto” – that start to elevate this show from pure camp, it’s the episodes that are deceptively light-hearted that really stand out to me.
“Here She Comes … Miss Amphipolis” is not the most complicated in terms of storytelling – it’s a kind of mystery, where Xena has to figure out who’s sabotaging a beauty pageant hilariously called Miss Known World – but there is so much in this episode to like.
- Xena dresses up and channels her inner Princess Diana* as she surreptitiously investigates the above-mentioned sabotage, while Gabrielle adopts a weird accent and constantly belittles the men who are the sponsors of the women competing in MKW.
- Despite the fact all the women are presented as backstabby, cold, and vapid, by the end of the episode, you actually feel like they’re people and not just pretty objects. One is wanting to make sure her people get food, another is trying to escape a bad living situation, and another just wants her lover to care for her.
- The men are portrayed as not necessarily stupid, but preoccupied with proving how great they were, which honestly? Pretty true to life. It was just one big dick-swinging contest for these dipshits.
- Spoiler alert: Lord Clairon, the guy running the pageant, is the one who has been trying to kill the women so another profitable war can start. Although it’s not a motivation that’s been done before in the series, it does have that twist of displaying a similar desperation that the women had, except that he was willing to kill to resolve his country’s issues.
But ultimately, it’s Miss Artiphys who just makes “Here She Comes …” my favorite Season Two episode.
Although they don’t come out and say it – this was 1996, after all – Miss Artiphys is transgender, or at the least a drag queen. And she fucking wins the pageant. To be fair, it’s because the other forerunners dropped out as they discovered other ways to accomplish their goals, but it did not diminish Artiphys’ win in any way – she got what she wanted, too: acceptance and adoration as who she was, not who she was born as. And it goes even deeper than this. Karen Dior, the actor who played Artiphys, was an adult film star who was diagnosed with AIDS a few years prior to filming this episode, and at the time, not a lot was known about transmission vectors. So Lucy Lawless kissing an AIDS-positive person was a major moment, y’all. I could literally spend pages talking about Dior, because he legit was an amazing person: ordained minister, doctor of philosophy, AIDS activist. Seriously … an inspiration.
I just love how subversive this episode is. Xena doubts the seriousness of the sabotage on the pageant, dismissing the contestants as “underdressed, overdeveloped bimbos,” but while it may not be world-shaking, Xena does help prevent a war and help women start respecting themselves. The underrunning commentary on toxic masculinity is great, too – although they say that have other motivations, it’s war that brings the men to the pageant, and they’re constantly ready to bring it when even a slight inconvenience comes up. And the episode itself seems silly, but by presenting itself as pure goofy fluff, it surprises you with impressively deep analysis on what it can feel like to be a woman: underestimated and overlooked, when you really do have so much more to offer than appearances.
Also fun fact! Lucy Lawless was actually a beauty queen herself! She was crowned Miss New Zealand in 1989.
Runners-Up: “Remember Nothing,” “Warrior … Princess … Tramp,” “The Quest,” and “A Day in the Life”
* Not the Princess Di of British monarchy fame. We’re talking the princess that Xena impersonated back in Season One. I felt that was an important distinction.