Xena can only be described as one of the most pivotal characters in television history - whether you loved or hated the show, she became a cultural phenomenon, the first true action hero that was a fully realized person with a sense of humor, flaws, and a sense of noble purpose. The show built from a rather schlocky Hercules knock-off into a full-fledged original, and that's doing quite something.
As always in this series, shows are character-driven much more than plot-driven. So while there's an over-arching story and mythology, if a story seems to illuminate or use a character to good effect, the story is presented. Best episodes this season were "Who's Gurkhan?", the (creepy) cannibal story, "The Abyss", the excellent "Rheingold" arc (sort of a loose 3-parter), the very amusing and quite unexpectedly touching "Old Ares Had a Farm," the amazing "When Fates Collide," and the lovely, light "Many Happy Returns." These episodes contain a lot of really wonderful moments between characters, and some in surprising ways. "Old Ares" is a funny look at country life with the girls as they help a de-powered Ares hide from angry villagers - it is very entertaining. And "Many Happy Returns" is the last fun moment of the series - Xena tries to get tickets to take Gabrielle to a Sappho concert for her birthday, and mayhem ensues, of course. This episode contains the reading of a beautiful, authentic poem actually written by Sappho (or at least attributed to her), and while there's a bunch of silly stuff in the episode, the emotions are quite real here, a preview of what is about to happen in the finale.
"A Friend in Need." This one is very hard for me to even discuss. Over the course of the six seasons the show ran, these characters sort of took on a life of their own for me. I know they traveled all over the world, but having the series end in Jappa (Japan) was weird. It was like the ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in a way. You know how it was about King Arthur and Camelot, and in the end, there are police cars and modern people all milling about with the knights. Bizarre. I would have much preferred to see this end in Greece, where it ostensibly began, so that it felt a little more like home. I don't think I will be spoiling anything by saying that the death of Xena was painful to me; although I don't mind that she died, I would have liked to see Gabrielle go with her. The need for her to remain dead rang a bit hollow to me, and I really didn't get that. Still, the production values in this episode are gorgeous, and Xena is resplendent in her golden armor, although what it was shielding I'm not sure (the entire midriff and legs are bare - looks hot but not really very effective).
Overall, this season is just loaded with some great tv, and it is highly recommended. The finale, while shocking and sad, at least does provide a fitting end to the Warrior Princess. Xena and Gabrielle broke barriers in every episode, and for that alone, the show should be highly commended. How clairvoyant were those writers to say "...her courage will change the world." ? Because the truth is, it did - Xena paved the way for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for Kill Bill, and for so many other great female lead roles. At last, a strong woman who actually feels like a strong woman (and I include Gabrielle and the Amazons in this). Too often, men writing women's roles seem to equate bitchy with strength, and it's just awful to listen to these shrill, emasculating bitches. Once Xena came along, I think most writers collectively went, "Ohhhhh... I get it now." So thank God for Xena! Long may she live in syndication and on DVD!