The Supreme Villain (01-06)
Why a Blonde? (07-10)
Callisto vs Xena (11-14)
Dark vs Light (15-25)
Psycho Barbie (26-33)
A Monster with Integrity (34-36)
Callisto's Ambition (37-47)
A Fatal Attraction for Rocks (48-51)
Callisto Lives? (52-53)
The Supreme Villain
The story of Callisto is one of the best-liked storylines in the Xenaverse. Every single 'Callisto' episode is first-class, and Callisto is by far the most popular villain in Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP). [Note 01]
Why is this? What makes Callisto such a delightful villain? There are a number of reasons: her striking and attractive looks (unusual for a villain); her engaging frankness; and the intriguing contrast with the far more sinister and complex hero, Xena. Callisto's immortality and later, her wish to die (which, as a god, is difficult) mean the writers can give a new twist to conventional dialogue and situations.
This is not a serious attempt to psychoanalyze Callisto, other articles [Note 02] have done that, just to answer the question 'why is she so much darn fun to watch?'
Callisto's history is simple and tragic. Xena kills Callisto's family at Cirra, she dedicates her life to revenge, not caring who else she hurts, and in the end Xena kills her.
Along the way, however, things get complicated (as they have a habit of doing in the Xenaverse), with body-swapping, excursions into Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (HTLJ), and time-travelling attempts to change the events at Cirra which form the key to the future of the (XWP) world.
For an up-to-date history of Callisto which outlines some of this, see "Callisto" by Atara Stein (Whoosh! #28). For a fuller description of the complex events at Cirra, see "Time Out of Mind: Alternate Realities..." by E. A. Week (Whoosh! #24)
Why a blonde?
Why is this woman so fascinating? She seems at first sight to be rather simple and straightforward, quite unlike the complex Warrior Princess Xena. An attractive blonde sounds an unlikely candidate for a ruthless villain.
Many of Callisto's characteristics were, I believe, imposed on Xenastaff by circumstances. They originally chose to make Xena a dark character, and Lucy herself suggested the dark hair. This was of course in keeping with her original role as villain in HTLJ, but it was masterful (or just plain lucky) casting for the title role of XWP. When Xena became a hero she kept most of her 'dark' attributes, which is why she is such an interesting hero. Lucy Lawless as Xena can look sinister with conviction. We can believe her dark past, just as we can believe that her dark side is still struggling to assert itself. A good-looking blonde heroine would have been far less interesting, or credible, in such a complex role.
Does she look villainous to you?
When Xenastaff came to cast Xena's nemesis, the first female villain on XWP, they had to invent someone different. Another sinister dark character would have been too much like Xena. So they came up with the complete opposite: an extrovert, quite unlike the complex, brooding Warrior Princess. Hudson herself insisted on remaining blonde. But how to make this a convincing villain? Hudson - and Xenastaff - achieve this magnificently (and against type) by making Callisto dangerous, trigger-happy, only just under control, and ready to go over the edge at any moment.
Perhaps this was a stroke of genius, perhaps just luck that it worked so well, but we are fortunate that Xenastaff were able to do justice to the opportunity this created.
"That'll do!" - Callisto disposes of a plot device
Callisto vs Xena
The similarities - and contrasts - between Xena and Callisto are striking. The similarities are strong but quickly stated. Both Xena and Callisto suffered loss as a result of warlord attacks on their homes. Both set out to become warriors themselves and as a consequence acquired marauding armies to follow them. Both are highly skilled in fighting and the equal of each other in combat. Finally, they both wear their swords the same way.
The contrasts are equally striking. Physically it is dark Xena versus blonde Callisto. In their characters it is the complex, introverted, supremely controlled Xena, and the extroverted, single-minded, impulsive Callisto. In their quests, it is Xena, to atone for her past, and Callisto, to exact revenge for it.
A major part of both their 'looks' is the colour of their eyes, which are in striking contrast with their hair colour, and with each other. Xena's eyes are gray-blue, and can go from flinty to arctic in a breath. They're clear and sharp always, she's seeing everything that goes on, missing nothing. Callisto's eyes are deep brown, almost black when she's angry (which is much of the time). Then they look like opaque screens shutting us out from any contact with her mind.
Physically, Hudson Leick (Callisto) is smaller than Lucy Lawless (Xena). Xenastaff have compensated for this by giving Callisto a great mane of blonde hair, which makes her look imposing. They added a scar in A NECESSARY EVIL which, oddly enough, seemed to suit Callisto's looks, yet she lost it when she became a goddess.
Dark vs Light
The contrast between Xena and Callisto, and their personal conflict, has given the writers and directors great opportunities for interesting and unusual storylines, dialogue and plot twists, and visual effects.
Which one of these would you trust to babysit the kids?
Appearances are deceptive in MATERNAL INSTINCTS
In MATERNAL INSTINCTS Callisto, looking for the children with deadly intent, is transfixed by an arrow fired by Xena. Xena has never looked so blackly murderous. Callisto, backlit with the sun shining through her hair, looks almost angelic. Yet Xena's totally in the right, this time.
The similarity in Xena and Callisto's fighting skill leads to some striking visual effects in the series. In CALLISTO, Xena's chakram is caught in mid-air in her customary manner - until the camera refocuses on Xena's face, framed by the chakram, then pulls back to reveal Callisto holding it. This is Xena's first sight of her nemesis. It catches the viewer by surprise too.
The usual chakram catch? Not quite!
 In RETURN OF CALLISTO Xena turns the tables. This time Callisto is framed in the chakram. Xenastaff love double effects, even delayed ones.
This time, it is Xena's catch
The similarity in their abilities is further emphasized in INTIMATE STRANGER, where Xena (in Callisto's body) makes to throw her chakram and Callisto (as Xena) says "Uh uh. I'll just catch it and throw it back". In the fight that follows, the two copy each other's moves, in a 'anything you can do I can do too' ballet (at one point Callisto says "Oooh I like that move" and mirrors it exactly).
This episode is full of delicious little ironies and hidden meanings, as when Callisto (as Xena) tells Gabrielle "I'm Callisto!", which startles us until we realize Gabrielle is not meant to take this literally. Also, Gabrielle's "For a moment there I thought you were Callisto", which has hidden significance to us, the viewers, who know it is true. The way in which Lucy and Hudson have captured each other's style is a credit to both actors. Lucy Lawless' "Oops" as she looks at the knife after killing Theodorus is pure Callisto. She even has that 'Callisto' look in her eyes throughout the episode.
Great credit is due to Hudson Leick for the way she portrayed Xena in TEN LITTLE WARLORDS, even though she found it hard work and did not enjoy it. She captures Xena's mannerisms so well that, by a few minutes into the episode, we are thinking of her as Xena. So convincing is she, that one has to replay the episode to make certain it really is Leick speaking and not Lawless' voice dubbed in. The writers made full use of the opportunites for irony and dark comedy presented by Ares' experience with mortality and Xena (in Callisto's body) impersonating Callisto. 'You wear Callisto magnificently', Ares tells Xena.
Callisto tries a change of image
In A NECESSARY EVIL, Callisto becomes Xena's temporary and untrustworthy ally. It is noteworthy, however, that immediately after she has proposed an alliance to Velasca, and been blasted with lightning for her pains, she risks another blast to save Xena's life by pulling Velasca off Xena. Callisto really does want to save Xena for herself.
Xena (as the psychopathic Callisto) intimidates a warlord
In MATERNAL INSTINCTS the circle is complete. Xena killed Callisto's family, prompting a campaign of revenge by Callisto. Now Callisto helps Hope to kill Solan, and it is Xena's turn to vow revenge.
Callisto (just shot by Xena): Hurts, doesnít it? Losing your family - rips out your heart, your guts, your feelings. All thatís left is the pain, right? Welcome to the club.This is very clever dialogue. We think 'Hurts, doesn't it?' refers to the arrow sticking right through her, until she carries on and we realize she is talking about a deeper meaning. Xenawriters excel at these multi-level sentences. The throwaway line at the end is typical Callisto.
(As an aside, it is curious that Hope insists on killing Solan herself, rather than letting Callisto do it. Is Hope feeling vengeful for Xena's attempts to kill her in GABRIELLE'S HOPE? There is no other possible reason. Though she says she just wants to make Xena stop, she must know that killing Solan will have the opposite effect. Xena, on the other hand, though she concludes that Hope did it, seems to regard Hope thereafter as just a public menace to be eliminated. It is Callisto she really wants to kill.)
To be a truly great villain (as Callisto is) requires a certain enthusiasm for the job. If Callisto was just a psychotic, bent on revenge, she would be a sad character and rather depressing. She is certainly tragic, so why is she not depressing? How can someone who has lost almost all her feelings (as she confides to Gabrielle) muster enthusiasm?
But for the shock of losing her family, Callisto would have been a happy, extroverted, optimistic person. But now, she will not let herself have feelings in case she gets hurt again. Most notably, she refuses ever to feel sorry for herself (even though she would have good excuse), and she refuses to let anyone else feel sorry for her either. (For example, in A NECESSARY EVIL, when Gabrielle starts to feel sorry for Callisto's loss, Callisto makes a tasteless crack about killing Perdicus. Was Callisto's talk of her family just setting Gabby up for a fall? Or did she simply refuse Gabrielle's sympathy? Most likely the latter. At the end of that episode, Gabrielle asks "Do you think, deep down, Callisto feels sorry for the things she's done?", and Xena answers, indignantly, "No!". Callisto would have approved.).
Callisto mustering enthusiasm
Callisto does not (as is common with villains such as Velasca) use lack of feelings as an excuse for deliberate cruelty to the weak. She does not mind killing people, but she does not really get much enjoyment out of it, unless they are dangerous enough to make it a challenge. She persecutes Gabrielle only as a way of getting at Xena. As Hudson Leick has said, Callisto does not give a **** about Gabrielle (An Interview With Hudson Leick, G. Gaar, Whoosh! #11). The people she tries to torment -- Xena and Hercules -- are very dangerous opponents who would be quite capable of killing her. She seems to like taking risks.
Working on interpersonal relationships with Gabrielle ...
She has a positive mental attitude. She does not allow imprisonment (in Tartarus, or the Labyrinth, or caves) to break her spirit. Instead of letting her problems get her down, she does something (usually violent) about them. She is certainly optimistic about her abilities to take on anybody -- Xena, Ares, Hercules, Velasca, you name it. Having a bit of a death-wish probably helps, but she is always willing to 'have a go'.
 In SURPRISE she taunts Hercules, provoking him to fight her. In ARMAGEDDON NOW she flirts and fights with Ares and kills Strife, heedless of the ban on killing gods. In SACRIFICE she is just itching for another chance to take on Ares, and they don't come any bigger than the War God. (She gets him, too, very satisfyingly, just before Xena kills her).
... and with Ares ...
"Well, come on!"
This attitude makes her a truly delightful character (for the viewer, not necessarily for the inhabitants of Xenaland).
Tragic, she is. Depressing, never.
Much of the credit for this must go to Hudson Leick, who plays Callisto with just the right blend of amusement and barely controlled rage. The intensity she brings to her exchanges with Hope and Ares in ARMAGEDDON NOW, for example, is alarming. You really wouldn't want to annoy this person! All credit to the writers too, for giving her such excellent material to work with. Was there ever a better line than "You don't just kill me and walk away!"
Her threats are things of beauty:
... and Velasca
"You don't just kill me and walk away!"
I'm a god now, Xena. Welcome to my world. Now, get ready to leave it.
(To Xena, of Solan): Flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, blood of your blood - can't wait to see all that.
Come out, come out, wherever you are. I promise it won't hurt. Much.
A Monster With Integrity[Note 03]
Callisto is, usually, disconcertingly honest about herself. This is one of her more engaging traits. It is consistent with her loss of feelings. She genuinely does not care what other people know about her. What for someone else would be a revealing personal admission, Callisto just does not see that way.
If knowledge is power, Callisto has never heard of that saying. She quite openly admits her intentions to Xena, and her feelings to Gabrielle (only breaking off when Gabrielle starts to feel sorry for her, a no-go area).
Callisto's frankness inspires some of her best throwaway lines:
To Xena: You'd like to kill me. Wish you could.
Velasca (menacingly): You must have a death wish. Callisto: You know it's funny - I think I do.
To Xena: Not happy to see me, are you? Neither am I, really.
Callisto's human feelings have been atrophied by the loss of her family. All she has left in life is revenge against the woman who caused it. To this end she becomes a warrior to equal Xena, and a feared leader of marauding brigands, but the power she wields is not of great interest to her (unlike Xena in her warlord days). It is a means to an end, a way to take revenge on the woman who killed her family and destroyed her life. In the process, she becomes obsessed with Xena. "You made me", she tells Xena on their first meeting.
Even her pursuit of immortality and deity are just diversions, or ways to achieve her aim of punishing Xena, rather than an end in themselves. She does not seek them out. In both cases they are offered to her, the first by Hera, the second by Xena, in conjunction with an escape from her imprisonment.
Does she really want to be immortal, or a god? It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turns into a terrible liability. She finds, in MATERNAL INSTINCTS, that the power she now has to finally take revenge on Xena, by killing Solan, does not bring her relief.
You donít seem to get it, do you? Youíve won. All these years Iíve spent - living to destroy you? Thinking that if only I could give you the same pain that you gave me, Iíd be rid of it and life would go on. And then I do - and nothing changes. I donít feel better - just empty. So you let me go, Xena. You canít win this battle. And youíve already won the war.
Worse, she realizes that even killing Xena herself will not make her feel any better. In fact, she has lost her reason for living. "I'm warning you, Xena - you're nothing to me, now". Ironically, though, she is now a god, and immortal. She cannot even end her own existence.
Hope offers her a possible way out. If Callisto will kill Alcmene, then as a reward she can go back to Cirra and save her family, but this tragically goes wrong and Callisto, despairing, leaves her younger self to die in the flames: "You have to die - for both of us, now" (HTLJ: ARMAGEDDON NOW). But, in an episode full of paradox, Iolaus saves Callisto's younger self and Alcmene, destroying that timeline and with it her chances of altering history.
Left with an empty existence, the only way out for Callisto is to die, either by Hope's intervention or using the Hind's blood dagger. This motivates her manouevring and changing sides in SACRIFICE, just as Ares' desire to be on the winning side motivates his. This leads to some unconventional dialogue:
To Hope: "Glory, Hallelujah. But first, your promise. Come on, kill me".
To Xena: "How about it? I scratch your back - you stab mine"
Xena's reply "May you live forever!" has surely never been used as a curse before.
Callisto's amusement at Gabrielle's death is feigned, to push Xena into killing her. Watching the scene, there can be no doubt about this. Gabrielle just was not that important to Callisto. Her tactics work, though. Xena uses the Hind's blood dagger on her.
Callisto finds peace at last - at Xena's hands
Xena has no immediate motive to kill Callisto, but she is pushed too far at a critical moment. Her killer instincts (and she has them!), wound up to using the Hind's blood dagger on Hope and suddenly deprived of their target, take over. She is too shocked by Gabrielle's sudden death to restrain them. As Callisto dies, Xena's expression changes to one of sadness, pity, remorse even. For Gabrielle? Or for Callisto? One thing is sure, if Xena could have undone her stabbing of Callisto, she would have done so in those moments.
In a sense, however, Xena had no choice, and neither did Callisto. She had to have been killed by Xena. Being casually rubbed out by Hope, in a grudging and tardy reward for her assistance, would have been an unworthy end. As it was, the warrior who 'created' Callisto, killed her, which is the only satisfying way her story could end.
This leaves two issues which Xenastaff have not yet explored. First, Xena has killed Callisto, again. In her warlord days, she created Callisto, and now she has, finally, killed her. The entire tragic Callisto saga is down to Xena. Does this weigh heavily on Xena's conscience? Or does Xena feel absolved by Callisto's part in murdering Solan, and the fact that Callisto's death was of her own volition?
Secondly, regardless of Xena or Callisto's personal feelings about it, Xena has killed a god. The temple of Dahok shook when it happened. Ares was witness to it. Will there be repercussions? Will Ares try to use it to control Xena in the future? Or did the killing of Strife make Callisto, effectively, an outlaw? Just possibly, future episodes will tell us.
A Fatal Attraction for Rocks
This article could not conclude without a word about rocks.
Most Callistofans have noticed Callisto's distressing habit of getting buried in landslides from time to time. In fact Xena has had to exercise much ingenuity in bringing this about when required. This is probably inevitable, since Callisto, as a goddess, is virtually unstoppable by any other means.
Xenastaff are at least consistent in this, since exactly the same limitations applied to that other neophyte goddess, Velasca. Nobody has yet tried to bury Ares under rocks, so it is not possible to tell whether it works on 'real' gods.
This geophilic tendency is seen as a defect in Callisto's character, or a credibility gap in the plot. Indeed, Hudson Leick herself can only account for it by saying Callisto is 'a rather slow, retarded god' (Whoosh! Episode Guide, SACRIFICE 2). Possibly it is kinder to note that, where Xena is known to be a supremely cunning tactician, Callisto is much more impulsive and uncomplicated. It is surely no disgrace to be outfoxed by the wily Xena.
Rumor has it that Callisto will be back for one episode, possibly the fourth season ender for XWP. (This is not unusual, no-one stays permanently dead in the Xenaverse). For all Callisto fans, this must be great news. Callisto always was far too powerful a character to be dumbed down under too-frequent rockslides, but it would have been sad to lose her forever.
The word is, Callisto may encounter Xena's other arch-nemesis, Alti, in that episode. If so, from past experience of Callisto (and possibly with some assistance from Xena), they will probably end up trying to kill each other. My money's on the blonde!
Acknowledgements and References
First, many thanks to Ellie Deyneka for drawing my attention to the effects of Xena and Callisto's eye colour, I owe most of Para. 13 to her.
Most illustrations in this article are from Knerys' Xena page
and Tom's Xena page
<! From Knerys' site: ne379, mi509, mi513, 17call, is8251, sac2-297, ne221, sac2-168, ne278, sac141> <! From Tom's site: calst24, xenrc11, calrc05, cxenatw20, xenst74> <! Remainder are the author's> <! Images have been resized, cropped and otherwise tweaked>
Whoosh! has a large number of articles which deal with Callisto, some of which are listed below. See also under 'Callisto' in the Whoosh! 'Less Primitive Subject Index' for a complete list.
On the Rate-a-Xena Website on 11th Jan '99, the seven XWP 'Callisto' episodes [CALLISTO (22/122), RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), INTIMATE STRANGERS (31/207), A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214), MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), SACRIFICE (67-68/321-322)] averaged 8.33 by my calculation against an overall average of 7.28. This would outrank any of RaX's episode groupings, even 'subtext'. The lowest-rated Callisto episode, MATERNAL INSTINCTS, placed 19th out of the 78 XWP episodes screened by that date (TEN LITTLE WARLORDS with Hudson-Xena was 21st). Rate-a-Xena doesn't rate Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (HTLJ) episodes such as SURPRISE (H49/312) and ARMAGEDDON NOW (72-73/413-414), but I am certain they'd be among the top HTLJ episodes. All this really proves is that the 'Callisto' episodes are uniformly popular.
On the Rate-a-Character page, Callisto has been Number One since I first discovered the site.
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Some of the articles on Callisto:
"Callisto: Arch-Villain Extraordinaire" by Bret Rudnick (Whoosh! #4).
"Callisto: Die Furie?" by Nick Nayko (Whoosh! #11).
"Callisto Redeemable vs Velasca Unredeemable" by Sue Ratkowski (Whoosh! #28).
"A Tale of Two Villains: Callisto and Najara" by Bret Rudnick (Whoosh! #28).
"Callisto" by Atara Stein (Whoosh! #28).
Articles that mention Callisto:
"An Interview with R J Stewart" by Bret Rudnick (Whoosh! #9).
"An Interview with Hudson Leick" by Gillian Gaar (Whoosh! #11).
"An Interview with Hudson Leick" by Bret Rudnick (Whoosh! #14).
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The phrase is Callisto's own: "You created a monster with integrity, Xena. Scary, isn't it?" (CALLISTO).
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CR is an engineer living in Auckland, New Zealand, who prefers to remain pseudonymous. His interests include cars, trains (especially steam), and maps (which is why the map in THE DEBT had an irresistible attraction for him). He likes playing 'spot-the-scenery' in HTLJ and XWP, with limited success. He was a casual viewer of HTLJ and XWP until GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN and the Callisto episodes got him hooked. And, before you ask, he has only ever met one of the cast of XWP (hi Bret!), though he thinks another of the extras looks vaguely familiar.
Favorite episode: MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311)
Favorite villain: Callisto
Favorite lines: Callisto: "Here comes trouble!" A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214); Xena: "I've learnt to clean up after myself" THE DEBT II (53/307)
First episode seen: THE RECKONING (06/106)
Least liked episodes: GIANT KILLER (27/203);ONE AGAINST AN ARMY(59/313)