Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re continuing our chronological coverage of every single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess — both the episodes that I have previously highlighted AND the episodes I’ve yet to feature. Complementing my thoughts are the thoughts of those who worked on the series: mostly actors, writers, directors, and producers. I have done months of research for the acquisition of the quotes you’ll see over these next 67 weeks (as there are 134 episodes and I’ll be covering two episodes per week). They come from a variety of sources, including the original special feature-laden DVD releases, The Chakram Official Newsletters, both the Topps and Titans Official Xena Magazines, the fan kits, and other assorted print and video interviews. So in addition to sharing my thoughts, these posts will also contain information and musings from the Xenites that matter most — the ones who brought this exciting series to the small screen.
09. Season 1, Episode 9: “Death In Chains” (Aired: 11/13/95 | Filmed: 10/06 – 10/13/95)
Hades, god of the underworld, asks Xena to undertake the daunting task of freeing his sister — the embodiment of death — from the clutches of a greedy king who’s captured her.
Story by Babs Greyhosky, Adam Armus, & Nora Kay Foster | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. 876903
First, let us address the obvious. Though this episode aired a week before “Hooves And Harlots,” Gabrielle wears her Amazon-inspired outfit that she’d sport for the remainder of the first season. Clearly, this episode was produced and filmed in reverse order with the one below. The reason the air dates were switched is simple: the events of “Death In Chains” fed into a Hercules episode, “Highway To Hades,” and since that installment was to play on the 20th, “Death In Chains” had to air the week before. Simple as that. Some (exclusively Xena) fans take it upon themselves to switch the order of the episodes when they watch the series, so as not to disrupt the continuity. However, what’s most interesting to me about “Death In Chains,” is that, though produced as the tenth episode of the first season, its production number reveals that it was written as the third. And I think this becomes evident upon repeated viewings.
For one, the premise, like the two scripts that surround it (in production order) — “Chariots Of War” and “The Titans” — features a story that could easily play on Hercules, having little to do with the nuances of the Xena and Gabrielle characters. Additionally, like the two surrounding scripts, Gabrielle gets a one-episode-wonder love interest. (And like the one in “Chariots Of War,” he doesn’t make it out of the episode alive.) What makes this installment better than the two above is essentially two-fold. First, Gabrielle’s attraction to her boy-of-the-week, Talus, is more fully realized, and he remains the most likable of her early Season One beaus. Also, the romance actually ties in nicely with the story — which is the episode’s greatest asset. Of these first ten episodes, though “Death In Chains” isn’t one of my favorites, it undeniably has the most fascinating plot: Xena and Gabrielle must rescue the embodiment of death from a greedy King who’s afraid to die. Of course, if they don’t get to her in time, then everybody will live forever — with their suffering. The plot gives itself room for heavier themes and beats (like Talus’ death) and, like some of the more distinguished episodes from this point in the series’ run (“Dreamworker” and “The Reckoning”), shows originality. So though it’s not quite Xena enough for my tastes, “Death In Chains” is one of the best written early installments with many things that work — and work well.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Charles Siebert (Director): “In this [episode] … when Hades comes in, Xena draws her sword and he says, ‘Hey, relax. I’m a fan.’ Well, once you’re into that world, you can do just about anything.” (What You Didn’t Know About Xena – Exclusive Bonus on Best Buy Season One DVD Release)
Renee O’Connor, Actor (Gabrielle): “I was so grateful for [a new] brown outfit. I was thrilled because I [no longer had to wear] the really long skirt, [which] we called the “Little House On The Prairie” skirt. [It] was hard to run around in. So, to me, it was much more logical to have a [shorter] skirt [that let me] keep up with Xena. And I just love the little wraparound. It reminds me of something very rustic, farm girl looking still…” (Live Syfy Instagram Interview – April 2020)
Kieren Hutchison (Actor, Talus): “The bulk of [my scenes in this] episode was opposite Renee… [and] I remember us hitting it off straight away. She was always a pleasure to be around. I really enjoyed acting opposite of her in the intense farewell scene at the end of the episode. I was impressed at how committed she was to Gabrielle’s emotions in that moment. It helped me with where I needed to be; I just had to react to what she was giving me! … I [also] remember reading [the] part in the script [with the rats] and thinking – are they really going to do that? And sure enough, I turned up to set that day and there were buckers and buckets of rats. Kind of a nice bonding moment with Lucy…” (Interview by Gabrielle Anderson – 2000)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I thought they’d be [using] lovely little lab rats [in that scene], and I just let them dump these crates of vermin on me in the fiberglass sewer. I was supposed to dive hard to the bottom of the pipe, as soon as I felt them on me. But there was a long trail of slime at the bottom of the pile, so I really didn’t want to, I left two inches between me and the pipe, just resting on my elbows and toes, I dropped my head, and they just kept dumping rats, and they yelled, ‘Cut[!] Cut[!]’ and these rats had all nestled on my body, nestled into my cleavage and legs, it was so disgusting! Oh, God, and they stunk, they stunk, they just pooed everywhere … It was really harrowing! Anyway, you ‘dine out’ on those [stories], and you laugh a lot afterward. But it was far more disturbing than I thought it would be. I don’t know what I was thinking.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Robert Field (Editor): “There are a couple of rat takes in the blooper reel. One is where Renee is in a kind of vestibule near a curtain and a rat was running along a sill next to her at eye level. She just started busting up. Unfortunately, that blooper does not have any audio on it, but you can tell she is just losing it. The other one shows how much Lucy Lawless is willing to do just about anything that is asked of her. They literally dumped a box of rats on her back. This is one of those strange stories where things never go according to plan. The original plan was they hired the rats and rat wrangler — Gary Jones was the second unit director — and this horde of rats was supposed to come racing down this sewer or drainage pipe at Xena and Talus. The rats did not know they were supposed to do that so they just kind of wandered around. There are people in the background shaking rattles — you cannot see them — yelling and screaming and making noise but the rats really are not doing much of anything. Rob Tapert, after looking at the footage, asked that we shoot more footage of rats coming out of a hole so we would know where they were coming from. That was actually added in. But because the rats would not run from where they were supposed to come from and jump on the actors they had to literally be dumped on them. So Lucy’s in this tunnel and had a box of rats dumped on her back and she’s laughing and screaming and kind of going nuts and her last comment was, ‘They’re bloody nesting in me! That’s disgusting!’ Then they cut the camera. And that’s the piece I put into the blooper reel.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
10. Season 1, Episode 10: “Hooves And Harlots” (Aired: 11/20/95 | Filmed: 09/25 – 10/05/95)
Xena tries to prevent a war between the Amazons and the Centaurs, while Gabrielle finds herself chosen to replace an Amazon Princess who died in her arms.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Jace Alexander | Production No. 876911
I featured this episode as #20 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Alison Bruce (Actor, Melosa): “I had such a good time doing [this episode], because I’ve never gotten to do any stunt fighting or anything before. I found it really exciting. I love anything that’s physically based anyway. Doing the fighting was amazing. It was a real plus. So now when a role comes up, I have a good look and see if there are any stunt fights… The [big fight with Xena and Melosa] went out the window at one point and we were really fighting to hold it together before we started laughing…. [We lost the plot] completely! But we got it back again…” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #3 – January 2000)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This episode] was great fun because of Alison Bruce [who plays Queen Melosa]. She’s a good actress with a lot of charisma, and [she is] a nice woman… And we [finally] got wise to chariots in [this] episode, and rigged up quite a machine. The [riding] scene is [only] two minutes [in the final episode, compared to] the eight hours we spent in the slimy old water! … Sometimes they were attached to trucks, but at other times you had to have the horses crossing, to give a sense of reality.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “I realized how limiting it was for Gabrielle to be walking around in that peasant outfit all the time, just standing around in the background going, ‘Go, Xena, get em, Xena!’ We had already gotten tired of it just in what we’d seen. I thought she should be able to defend herself… but not [with] a weapon where she could kill. Theoretically you can kill anybody with anything, but I wanted her to have a weapon that was primarily defensive…. [But in regards to the writing of this episode,] this was a script that had a major change after the first draft. I’m very proud to say I was the one who came up with the idea for doing the change even though it required an incredible amount of work on my part. But the bottom line is I love to write and the final project is what I’m looking at. In the original script, an Amazon had been killed and the Amazons suspected the Centaurs, and then a Centaur was killed. The Centaurs then suspected the Amazons. That was the basic beginning. Xena knew there was another person involved but she ended up going back and forth between the Amazons and Centaurs trying to prevent a war. The script was one of those scripts where if you read it scene by scene everything was fine, but if you stepped back to look at it something was missing from the whole story. To simplify it, what it was, it was Xena bouncing back and forth. She was a ping-pong ball, she wasn’t doing anything. So it wasn’t very heroic. We sat there and tried to noodle this and figure out what to do. We have two sets of characters, two tribes, the third element, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Finally what popped into my head was, ‘What if the Centaur hasn’t been killed? What if the Amazons are going to kill him? What if they’re going to execute him thinking he killed the Amazon?’ Everybody just went, ‘Oh, wow, that’s it, that’s great.’ That ended up being the change that made the script work, having Phantes dragged in as being the killer of Terreis suddenly launched everything else. It gave the opportunity to have one of the Centaurs there in the camp with the Amazons to see their reaction and interaction with each other, and to have Xena observe that and say, ‘This doesn’t make sense, this isn’t quite here.’ That’s the Xena storyline. The Gabrielle storyline, believe it or not, even though that episode set up so much about Gabrielle being an Amazon princess and set up so many great storylines later on, I really wasn’t even thinking about that when I wrote the story. I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if she was taken in to the Amazons and Xena didn’t know she had been given this Right of Caste[?]’ All I wanted to get to was that Gabrielle had to kill Phantes. So I kind of manufactured everything else to get to that point. I figured I would worry about the repercussions later on because when she left there, what does she do, she gives the crown back. Originally I thought she’d give the Right of Caste over to Ephiny. But as we’ve seen I decided not to choose that and I’m glad that, for whatever reason, I didn’t choose that direction.” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “This is the first time that I had to dance as Gabrielle, and I couldn’t decide if I should really try to dance well or just, you know, have two left feet…. And I just thought, ‘Ah, you gotta have fun with it!’ So I tried to do the goofiest things I could find and they never asked me to dance again, what, for three or four years after that. That was funny.” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy & Renee)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “To me, the defining moment for [Gabrielle] was when she’s putting on the clothes and the Amazon comes in and says, ‘Come,’ and Gabrielle says, ‘Excuse me, you must be confusing me with a pet.’ When I wrote that, I thought, ‘Gabrielle is making a statement of who she is right there.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “Hooves And Harlots” for The Chakram Newsletter: #21.
Come back next Thursday for the next two episodes! And tune in tomorrow to read about another 1929 film!