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.
11. Season 1, Episode 11: “The Black Wolf” (Aired: 01/08/96 | Filmed: 10/30 – 11/08/95)
Xena purposely fights her way into a dungeon in order to rescue the freedom-fighting daughter of an old friend.
Written by Alan Jay Glueckman | Directed by Mario Di Leo | Production No. 876912
I have little to say about “The Black Wolf.” Unlike some of the earlier Season One episodes that I have criticized for being too Hercules-like in their design, this installment is pure Xena in both look and story. “The Black Wolf” is a visually dark episode in which Xena infiltrates a prison to rescue an old friend. Sounds like a classic, right? Unfortunately, despite a really interesting premise, the whole episode comes across lifeless. Most of this can be attributed to the sheer predictability of the proceedings. There’s little doubt that Flora is the Black Wolf, and without that suspense, the entire installment pretty much falls flat. Sure, it’s nice to see Salmoneus again, and he gets a few comedic moments with Gabrielle, but other than that, this is one of the series’ least memorable episodes. It’s not dreadfully bad, just painfully dull. Forgettable.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “It was a good-looking episode but hard to shoot… I remember being in the water [in the scene where Xerxes’ minister of security, Koulos, tries to drown Xena], being in the tank, which was warm, no complaints about that. It’s always such a good look, you know, being wet – plenty uncomfortable, but it looks great… Salmoneus was in this. [Robert Trebor] was really well behaved. I [had] thought, ‘Oh, crumb, here we go.’ But he perhaps sensed this and managed to pull his head in a bit. You know, he’s got a good heart, but he can be a naughty boy.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Robert Trebor (Actor, Xena): “The director of that episode was an older Italian gentleman, a lovely guy, but he had a very thick accent. But when he got frustrated, because of the time — the time frustrates everybody down there. I’ve directed an episode, so I know first-hand. The clock is always pointing a gun at your head. Literally. Everybody is genial ,but man, if you do not make your day, meaning finishing all the scenes that were scheduled for you to shoot, you are not gonna work! We have a delivery date and the audience want[s] to see new episodes. This is action, hard and fast. You don’t get more time. And when this guy felt pressed, he’d talk with a thicker and thicker accent, and it was really hard to understand what he wanted. So we all got together. We said, ‘We don’t want to hurt Mario, we want to help him out,’ but we had to band together and do an ESP thing to kind of psychically imagine what he wanted. So some of that comes into the acting as well.” (Whoosh! Interview – December 1997)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “Originally, [when] Alan [Jay] Glueckman… wrote [the] script, Salmoneus was not in [it]. Alan… [was a] freelancer, he wasn’t on staff. After he [turned] his second draft in, by WGA rules… he’s not supposed to work on it anymore unless we pay him. So it goes to the staff and we do the polish up. He wrote a really good script. And then Rob [Tapert] said, ‘I want to bring Rob Trebor in here to play Salmoneus.’ So I had to take the script and put Salmoneus in… and unfortunately that requires a lot of rewriting. I called Alan [apologizing]… and he was like, ‘Whatever you have to do.’ I had been warned that Rob Trebor was difficult to work with. I had been told, ‘Don’t fall in love with your dialogue. He’s going to change it up. That’s what he does… So I watched his episodes of Hercules. I got his voice in my head… and started writing with his voice in my head. When I started to see the dailies, he was spot on… almost verbatim. So I finally went down to New Zealand and we were chatting, I asked him about that. And he said, ‘You heard my voice. I didn’t have to change anything.’ He goes, ‘That was me right on the page. All I had to do was make it better.’ And to some people, that can be a horrible thing to hear. In his case, he meant, ‘I saw the levels you have written and I want to fulfill them.’… [Anyway] Alan’s script got such a re-write, only one line remained. One line! You know what that line was? ‘I have many skills.’ That was where that line came from.” (2014 Denver Convention)
12. Season 1, Episode 12: “Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts” (Aired: 01/15/96 | Filmed: 11/20 – 11/28/95)
At the behest of Helen of Troy, Xena goes to the embattled city to help end a 10-year war with the Greeks. But while trying to rein in the hostilities, she discovers a Trojan horse who’s working with the enemy.
Story by Roy Thomas & Janis Hendler | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. 876914
I featured this episode as one of the 18 honorable mentions that narrowly missed inclusion on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
T.J. Scott (Director): “You know, I think my favorite scene in [this episode] was really the Trojan Horse coming in through the door. To me, that’s where I felt there was a little bit of need to try and stick with mythology, and have a full sized Trojan horse, and have it stay there over night, and have the team drop out. I grew up with mythology, and to create that and go, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ It was a real high point. It felt like epic TV making.” (What You Didn’t Know About Xena – Exclusive Bonus on Best Buy Season One DVD Release)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[This episode], by Armus and Foster, was using Perdicus as a way of demonstrating how events can change people to degrees that make them almost unrecognizable. Perdicus was originally portrayed and regarded by Gabrielle as dumb and unmotivated (and taller). But in a time of war, that person was transformed into another person, a real human being, worthy of admiration and pity. It was another step in the growth of Gabrielle to see that kind of chance and to underline what certain events are capable of… It[‘]s called growing up. But in a time of war, you aren’t given leeway to be casual; you grow up fast.” (Xena Online Community Interview – May 2005)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Scott Garrison played [Perdicus]. We had never before had a guest performer come up from the States and so completely fit in. What a charming, genuine individual, and really talented. [This] episode is when my back started to go downhill. I had really hurt it. And doing the fight on the last day was difficult, to say the least. I just kept quiet about it, I told them, ‘My back’s not great, my back’s not great,’ but I didn’t really deal with it. And in the next couple of episodes, it really deteriorated. Because I was just overtraining. I’d be in the gym for an hour and a half, it would take me another half hour to get home, forty-five minutes to get cleaned, it was just a nightmarish existence. And I just thought I had to do it because I had never been gifted in, never practiced, the physical aspects of the job.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
T.J. Scott (Director): “There were lots of discussions about how big [the Trojan Horse] was going to be, and of course Rob Gilles would bring in these little four-inch tall models and say that this was what I was going to get and how I was going to have to shoot the whole thing with miniatures. That went on pretty much right up to the day the real thing arrived, and then it was like a big gift: here, you’ve graduated, now you can actually have a full sized one! [This] was a really fun episode. I think it was the first time that I was really allowed to be let loose and show them a style that I thought Xena could have, just go with a moving camera and keep that show moving all the time. If you go back and look at [this episode], there are a lot of shots where people are walking along the top of the castle, down staircases and into the courtyard, all in one shot. We finally had room for the actors to walk and talk a lot, and they loved that because they could do stops and starts and move around.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #8 – July 2000)
Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “We broke lots of rule in [this] one. I remember doing long tracking shots behind the big columns where half the time you couldn’t even see the actors who were saying important dialogue. We’d do a rehearsal and I’d say to [director] T.J. [Scott], ‘Hey, you’re losing these guys. We can’t even see them!’ And he said, ‘Great, love it! We don’t need to see them, we can hear what they’re saying.’ And he was absolutely right. You see the show and because it moves, it’s got the pace, the imaging, [and] the flow. And you don’t need to see their lips moving a hundred percent of the time, you know? People can disappear behind things and come back. It’s like the movie Citizen Kane. I loved where major characters in dialogue scenes are shot in complete silhouette. But you know who’s talking, you know their shapes.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Here are scans of an article that comic book author Roy Thomas, co-credited with crafting this episode’s story, wrote for the August 1996 edition of Topps’ Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
Come back next Thursday for the next two episodes! And tune in tomorrow to read about another 1929 film!