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.
15. Season 1, Episode 15: “Warrior… Princess” (Aired: 02/05/96 | Filmed: 12/08 – 12/15/95)
The Warrior Princess learns that life as a blue blood can be a royal pain in the neck when she stands in for a lookalike princess whose life has been threatened by assassins.
Written by Brenda Lilly | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. 876921
This is one of the first season’s most fun installments, and it’s largely due to the wonderful performance by Lucy Lawless, who, really for the first time on this series, demonstrates her versatility as an actress. Much of the humor comes from the contrast between the stoic Xena, whom Lawless is still playing as incredibly stiff and guarded, and the prissy Diana, who appears to be a bundle of sunshine and femininity. (Interestingly, playing Diana seems to subliminally loosen Lawless’ portrayal of Xena, as this episode marks a mini-shift in the way the character is played – and even written.)
Additionally, while early episodes attempted to strike a balance between the stories’ inherent seriousness and some much needed humor, this is the first script to really dedicate itself to the latter, ensuring that, for fans who feel the need to label the episodes by genre (and I admit that sometimes I fall into that category), this one can be called a comedy. Of course, the premise sort of sets itself up for that: Xena has a twin double! This is the sort of fare we’ve seen in Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, and Patty Duke. And while the next excursion in the “Xena plays doubles” category will be five times as funny (due in large part to the addition of a third lookalike – the incorrigible Meg), for its place in the first season, “Warrior… Princess” is extremely appreciated.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Michael Levine (Director): “Somebody pointed out very astutely… [that] Lucy wasn’t playing two roles, she was playing four roles. She was Lucy as Xena, Xena as Princess Diana, Princess Diana, and Princess Diana as Xena. That was very true and I talked to Lucy early on about that. We had to know how she was going to be in each role. We needed Diana to be as far from Xena as we could get with out it being a caricature. Lucy tried out a few voices. It took her a little bit of time to find Diana, but she found it, she got it, and it was good.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “It was quite scary going into [this episode], playing a new character [Diana] when I’d been doing Xena so long. A wonderful challenge but hair-raising, to make yourself totally vulnerable again. It scares the living daylights out of you. [But] Mike Levine directed [this episode], and it was fun, fun, fun…. [and] so exciting to shoot, because you never stop moving, you’re in every scene at least twice, you’ve got to run out and change your clothes, and run back in, you’ve got to keep an idea of who you are and what your character knows at this stage: is it your character pretending to be Xena pretending to be the princess? It’s [this] mental gymnastics that I love. By the end of the episode I am brain-dead.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
16. Season 1, Episode 16: “Mortal Beloved” (Aired: 02/12/96 | Filmed: 11/29 – 12/07/95)
A visit from the ghost of her beloved Marcus prompts Xena to travel to the Underworld — where a madman has stolen Hades’ Helmet of Invisibility.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. 876919
This is one of a few episodes of this series that seems to spark alternating opinions each time I watch. I think it’s easy to view the episode for the first time and automatically consider it a highlight of the season. The story is extraordinarily cool: Xena goes to the Underworld to reunite with Marcus and defeat a warlord who has intermingled Tartarus and the Elysian Fields by stealing Hades’ helmet of invisibility. Then, when he escapes to the living, Xena and Marcus (who has been granted a brief reprieve) must come back and stop him. It’s brilliant – a nice mix of mythology (Hades, Harpies, and Charon) and classic Xena (read: dark) storytelling.
But what also stands out in this episode is its raw emotion; everything is heightened – from the terror of Atyminius to the passion between Xena and Marcus. Initially, this grandiosity is a draw, but the more I’ve viewed the episode, the less I’ve been impressed with its out-of-character presentation of Xena. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Marcus character (the bad boy with a good heart who could have done great things had he not died a noble death), but this isn’t the Season One Xena – she’s not a lovesick fool. I’m all for the loosening of the character (see my comments on the above episode), but this is too jarring, especially since it’s a one-time thing. And ultimately, this out-of-place feeling is what keeps this episode from consistently earning my favor.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Atyminius was played by a very nice gentlemen called Paul Willis, who had this creepy manner when he was in character – sort of what you would expect of a pedophile, but in real life he was just the loveliest man. [The character of Atyminius] was like a horror from my childhood… [But] I [also] got to work with Bobby [Hosea] again [who played Marcus]. And I got to get out of that blasted corset [when Xena enters the Underworld], so that was pleasant.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Erik Thomson (Actor, Hades): “Bobby Hosea, who plays [Xena’s lover] Marcus, [later] told me he was in downtown L.A. to make a payment on his car, and the woman there said, ‘What are you doing on Xena?’ And he told her, ‘I’m going down to the Underworld.’ She got excited at this and said, ‘Oh, if you see Hades, tell him I think he’s gorgeous. Could you get a photograph with him?’… It’s nice, but very strange!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Come back next Thursday for the next two Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for another Myrna Loy film!