This review contains mild spoilers.
After nine episodes (well, eight, as previous episode 'Death In Chains' should really be shown after this one) of Gabrielle being a lovely but naïve and slightly cowardly young girl, this episode is the one that sows the seeds of her becoming an able fighter in her own right.
After Gabrielle's sudden costume change in the previous episode, the aforementioned 'Death in Chains', here she is back to her familiar peasant clothes, and takes up carrying a staff (making it immediately obvious to even the more casual viewer that the episodes were designed to be shown the other way around).
The Amazons seen here are seemingly of a different tribe to those seen in the first Hercules movie 'Hercules and The Amazon Women', being formidable but at the same time fairer and more honourable. I personally like to think that there are many different Amazon tribes, all following the same beliefs.
As well as the debut of the Amazons in the series, the episode also marks the first time centaurs appear, previously seen in a couple of movies and episodes of 'Hercules: The Legendary Journeys'. Although a couple of shots look very slightly wobbly in places, the CGI of merging mens' torsos into horses' bodies is generally reasonable. Much of the time we get the impression of a half man / half horse, but it is actually just down to some cunning camerawork.
When watching the story for the first time, it is easy to suspect that hostile Amazon Ephiny (Danielle Cormack) is something to do with the real villain, but this turns out to be a red herring, and Ephiny goes on to be a recurring character, mellowing very slightly in ensuing appearances. (I always thought how it was a coincidence how she had both similar name and not dissimilar look (in my eyes) to Danielle *Mc*Cormack in British children's comedy series 'My Parents Are Aliens' ... sorry, just a passing thought there!).
The episode is well cast, and I particularly like Alison Bruce as fierce but fair leader Melosa, and would have liked to have seen her feature more in follow up episodes. And the episode just *looks* good, with many stills from the episode used of various X:WP merchandise.
Xena talks of a previous battle with the centaurs, "the Battle of Corinth" - one that she didn't win, marking one of the first appearances of Xena's previous battles in her former life as a warlord being used as a background reference for the current story.
Probably my favourite parts of the story are of Gabrielle being initiated into the Amazons and choosing her weapon of choice (being a massive Gabrielle fan probably has something to do with that!), and there are some great 'irritating' Gabrielle moments in the episode, including "We gotta come up with some hand signals or something" to Xena, and, of course, the centaur dung!
There are some great action pieces, such as Xena and Ephiny's duel in the treetops at night (although on first viewing I did feel it came slightly out of nowhere, almost thinking that I’d missed a bit of the story) and the very impressive climax of the story, where "hooves and harlots" unite, with the centaurs pulling the Amazons in chariots, to take on the real enemy of the piece (warlord Krykus, who has a weird little triangular beard. Warlords with strange tiny beards seemed to become something of a recurrence in the series).
There are also passing references, by Gabrielle (who exaggerates her role in the adventures) to "..the Morpheus story" ('Dreamworker'), "...and the Draco story" ('Sins of the Past'), "...the Titans" (from the episode of the same name) and "...Pandora" ('Cradle of Hope').
Gabrielle does not go on to carry the eagle-head staff that Ephiny gives her, instead carrying a simpler-looking one. Also, some sources indicate that her costume change to that which she would wear for the rest of the season comes about in this episode; In actuality, she wears an Amazon costume in this episode. Her costume for the rest of the season is not directly referenced to be related to the Amazons, but has resembling colours, and her necklace is a nod to it (although she only ever wears the necklace again in 'Death In Chains', the costume being without it for the remainder of it's duration). She even goes back to wearing her peasant clothes at the end of the story, with the change in regular costume seemingly falling somewhere between the two episodes.
The episode ends with a wonderfully shot silhouette of Gabrielle, Xena and Argo against a bold orange sunset, with Gabrielle talking away to herself.
This episode is a favourite with many. I've always liked it, but it was always outshone by other episodes in my view. When I came to re-watch it again recently, I came to recognise just *how good* an episode it is, and a key one in Gabrielle's development.
In the United Kingdom, this episode was scheduled to be aired by Channel 5 in its original broadcast sequence, but ultimately fell on the day of Princess Diana's funeral, 6th September 1997; It was replaced at the last minute by the next episode 'The Black Wolf', presumably due to the plot of an Amazon Princess being killed not sitting well considering the real-life Princess had just been killed, and finally aired a couple of weeks later.
This episode was actually responsible for getting a relation into the series. My Godfather had seen me watching odd bits of a couple of episodes previously, and enticed he decided to tune in himself to see what it was all about. This was the first episode that he saw, and it pulled him on the series. For several years, he and I were totally hooked on the show (until Five abruptly dropped it mid-fourth season, grrr!)
All-in-all, a very enjoyable and somewhat pivotal episodes. An all-time favourite with some, it is eclipsed slightly by some other classic episodes in my own personal view, but is still a very good, very enjoyable episode, and a fine example of the series. Re-watching the episode, I’ve reminded myself just how got it is.