Classic Recap: Callisto
By Alex Cranz
Season 1, Episode 22, Callisto
A young boy stands shell-shocked in the middle of a ruined village. Bad guys are raping and pillaging and burning everything. A blond woman rides past the boy and he falls to the ground and pretends to be dead. The woman dismounts and starts helping with the slaughter while doing a good crazy laugh. Why? Because this lady be Callisto. But she tells an old lady she spares that she’s Xena…because she’s CRAZY.
TITLES. Look if you don’t like batshit crazy you will not like Callisto. Soz.
At a bar Xena gives her beer to a sad refugee guy. Xena stares at him long and hard when he introduces himself before finally shaking his hand. When she says her name he attacks. Gabrielle magically appears during the attack with her staff and a serious expression. Don’t ask me why but I had to laugh.
Turns out that boy from the teaser pretending to be dead? Nope. Just dead. And this guy thinks Xena’s behind it. Clearly something is afoot. Xena and Gabrielle peace out and head off in search of answers. They run into more refugees and an as yet unnamed Joxer. Then Joxer introduces himself and thus begins the poorest love triangle ever invented. Xena and Gabrielle got no time for Joxer.
CRAZY DUDE makes an assassination attempt. It doesn’t go well for him. Xena ties him to a tree and Gabrielle leaves him with a pillow and a good helping of patronizing sympathy. The next village they come to is full of crucified people. Xena rides in to kick ass and Gabrielle manages to keep up on foot and helps.
Xena busts out the chakram and then oh shit! Callisto catches it.
They start fighting. Callisto’s war cray? Craaaa-a-aaazy. The crazy must freak Xena out because Callisto draws blood. Callisto poisoned Xena last episode so she’d have time to create a terrible reputation. It’s kind of earned, because Callisto is from Cirra. She leaves Xena in shock and rides away.
Xena interrogates a goon and finds out Callisto’s entire family was killed in Cirra. He also tells Xena all of Callisto’s plans. CRAZY DUDE now realizes Xena is good and he wants to join her and go after Callisto. Xena takes him because it’s easier than tying him up again.
Back at Camp Crazy Callisto is showing off how awesome she can be on a ladder and fighting her own guys. Lady thinks she’s Jet Li in Once Upon A Time In China or something. The goon returns and Callisto recounts the last scene verbatim. Oh Xena, you so predictable apparently. Also predictable even in his first episode? Joxer. He’s been caught by Callisto’s army. Callisto says he can join her club if he kidnaps Gabrielle. He is on this…because in this first episode he’s supposed to be evil. This all shows that Callisto is like 50 steps ahead of Xena. It’s even illustrated with a watermelon.
At camp that night Gabrielle tries to sooth CRAZY DUDE but he’s very upset because his son is dead. Seeing she will get nowhere with him she tries a heart to heart with Xena, and Xena then tells us the story of the time she BBQ’d an entire village. Callisto watched her whole family burn alive. Intense! But Gabrielle has no time for guilt and hate and she tells Xena as much. She also makes Xena promise that she’ll never go evil again because Gabrielle is killed. Like Callisto catching Xena’s chakram this is an iconic moment on the show and it’s the first time Xena has ever been so open and vulnerable with Gabrielle.
At Delphi that morning they all go hunting for Callisto, but Gabrielle runs into Joxer and breaks his crossbow, and possibly his skull. At the Oracle’s place Xena hears Callisto and manages to stop her chakram from murdering a lady. Because Callisto is CRAZY she hisses like a cat and flees. Cue chase scene! It takes them through the city, out of town and onto a New Zealand sand dune. Xena tackles Callisto off her horse and takes her prisoner. Callisto screams like a petulant child. <3 her.
They walk back to Delphi. Xena apologizes for killing Callisto’s family, but Callisto’s got NO TIME for it. Gabrielle runs up with news, CRAZY DUDE has gathered a lynch mob, but Xena won’t let Callisto be murdered. Callisto grows furious over Xena’s apparent sense of honor. This is why we love Callisto. She’s brutally honest, incapable of lying, and DAMN is she pissed.
At Delphi CRAZY DUDE wants Xena to hand over Callisto, but Xena absolutely refuses to. Callisto loves every minute of it because it means she can fuck with Xena’s head.
Outside Joxer tries to capture Gabrielle again. So she breaks his nose and tries to convince him that the warlord track is not really his cup of tea. The way he says “I like to steal” absolutely kills me.
Finally the mob gets the bright idea to burn Callisto out. She’s totally okay with burning alive and forces Xena to come in and get her. Then she locks Xena in the burning pit of doom and runs out kicking ass and taking names…and hissing…and kidnapping Gabrielle. Busy-fucking-bee.
Xena parkours her way out of the prison and learns that Gabrielle’s been kidnapped.
At Camp Crazy Gabrielle’s been hoisted up over some boiling liquid and has time to share a chat with Callisto who’s freely bobbing about on her ladder. Joxer shows up and begs Callisto to let him join her army. She is okay with that as long as he stabs Gabrielle. Even Gabrielle knows this isn’t a woman to reason with, but Joxer gives it the old college try. It doesn’t work, and he can’t kill Gabrielle so he gets hoisted up as well.
Xena rolls into Camp Crazy all by herself because Xena has massive testicles. Callisto, in good villain fashion, demands a fight to the death while Gabrielle hangs from a slowly burning rope over some pointy antlers. AWESOME. I love how Xena twirls across on a ladder with a little Spanish flair in her war cry, and then Callisto just screams across. Xena fashions a giant seesaw ladder thing to catch Gabrielle. Callisto tries to launch Xena off the ladder but Xena uses Gabrielle as a weight and launches Callisto’s ass. Now Callisto is on the burning rope, but Xena catches her before she can plummet to her death. Xena you bitch!
Callisto and her entire army go to jail. The end.
How this episode makes historians weep
Cirra was a real place, but it was a large, heavily fortified city. It’s citizens tended to rob people and in 595 BCE every last person in the city was slaughtered. This was preceded by the First Sacred War—of which Xena had no part.
Cirra was just down the road from Delphi, another real city and the home of the Oracle at Delphi, one of the more famous and important of Apollo’s oracles. There was a big hole in the ground that the oracle sat over before giving her prophecies. Now days people believe that the oracle was huffing some nasty earth gasses and that’s why she’d go crazy and start spouting prophecies, but who knows for sure.
- That final battle.
- When she runs up a wall and through a thatch roof and then lands on the ground unharmed. Parkour style people.
- And Xena’s Callisto tolerance is pretty dang inhuman.
Where it stands in the series
The first appearance of Callisto, perhaps the best villain the show ever created and still one of the most unique and interesting villains on television.
The first appearance of Joxer. Who is played by Ted Raimi, producer Sam Raimi’s brother.
Joxer takes over Gabrielle’s “bumbling sidekick” role for the most part. He’s now the one constantly trying to talk his way out of bad situations. Gabrielle does so as well, but not nearly as often. And sometimes the two join forces to be the biggest idiots on the show so don’t count “bumbling sidekick” Gabrielle out yet!
The fireside scene. Guys. That scene of Xena admitting her crime to Gabrielle? There will be call backs to that scene throughout the rest of the show. It’s a huge moment for Xena. It’s also a great bit of acting and the first time Lawless has ever really nailed vulnerable Xena.
Joxer’s nose was not harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, his crossbow was severely damaged.
Until this point the show has been a fluffy little bit of fun about a warlord seeking redemption, but Xena’s never really been portrayed as irredeemably bad until now. However putting the torch to an entire town and it’s population? That’s a war crime. That’s not something you can just apologize for and it’s not something most people can easily forgive.
Callisto is entirely justified in her desires. She watched her family BURN ALIVE and it was Xena’s fault. Why shouldn’t she be angry? Why should Xena get a free pass to continue on with her life when Callisto will never stop being a kid watching her family’s flesh melt off the bone? Why should Xena get a plucky sidekick who worships her and believes her good and forgives her her crimes when Callisto can only receive contempt for her own crimes?
There are no perfectly right answers in this episode. Nothing is eloquently split into black and white. This is the show graduating from a breezy bit of fluff to a fantastically dark show where morals are only painted in shades of grey.
So much of that hinges on Callisto. She has to be evil and crazy but also vulnerable and wise. When Xena drags her back to Delphi for punishment you have to see Callisto’s point of view and maybe even empathize with her, and Hudson Leick finds the balance in this impossible character. She makes all the mismatched aspects of Callisto organic.
Callisto cares so much, but she also can’t care at all. Her life isn’t her own anymore. It exists solely to as a tool to exact revenge on Xena.
On another show Callisto would be the hero. A heroine on the edge of sanity desperate for revenge who’s saved spiritually and emotionally by another. Heck that’s kind of what Xena: Warrior Princess is about (only its soul crushing depression rather than manic revenge).
But Gabrielle, our little plucky sidekick who can find the good in anyone, passes quietly passes judgement on Callisto. Callisto may have some very good points about Xena (the woman did get to commit a lot of atrocities) but she’s so consumed by madness that it’s hard to take her seriously.
And she’s dangerous. Not just on the battlefield or a ladder. Callisto is most dangerous tied up on a horse or chained to a bench. Her words cut just as viciously as a sword.
Joxer’s a nice counterpoint. Callisto never wanted to be a warrior but was crafted into one by the fire in Cirra. Joxer has only ever wanted to be a murderous warlord. It’s his one great desire. But when push comes to shove and a knife is in his hand and against Gabrielle’s throat he can’t do it. So maybe, Xena isn’t as much to blame for Callisto’s martial ways as suggested. Maybe Callisto was just born that furious, and Joxer was just born that meek.
Episode 23, Death Mask.
Xena sees her older brother and the guy who killed her younger brother. So long that dangling plot line!