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.
17. Season 1, Episode 17: “The Royal Couple Of Thieves” (Aired: 02/19/96 | Filmed: 01/08 – 01/16/96)
Xena’s asked to steal back a pilfered chest containing the world’s most powerful weapon, so she enlists the help of Autolycus, the self-proclaimed King of Thieves.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by John Cameron | Production No. 876922
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:
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “When Xena first premiered, the Hercules episode preceding it was the [first] Autolycus episode, and I remember we all got together at the Universal Hilton and watched it, and I said, ‘This guy is great!’ I was really pleased when I told Rob I wanted to do a comedy episode and he said they wanted to bring Autolycus into Xena. Then it was a case of putting Xena in a farcical situation where she’s subjugated by this guy who’s really arrogant, and playing the comedy of these two personalities who are forced to work together. I remember sitting there, watching dailies, and a line would be coming up and I was thinking, ‘If the delivery isn’t there… ‘ And then he’d give the delivery! I still crack up when Autolycus is running up the stairs at the beginning and Xena pulls the rug out, he falls down and says, ‘This is not good!’” (SFX #19 – December 1996)
Bruce Campbell (Actor, Autolycus): “[This episode was] directed by my high school pal John Cameron, so that was a pleasure. The story was a little convoluted, but I just treated the episode like it was a Bob Hope ‘road’ picture.” (Dreamwatch #49 – October 1998)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “…[W]e decided to do one with Autolycus and I was lucky enough to get the script. I fought for it, to be honest. But I got it. It was an absolute hoot. It was a comedy. I like to look at the relationship between Xena and Autolycus in that episode as being very much like the Kathryn [sic] Hepburn/Spencer Tracy type of relationship. There’s that very close bond, that unspoken affection for each other, and yet that bickering. That little bit of one-upsmanship that they want to do. In [this episode], for most of it, the middle part anyway, Autolycus got the one-up. Xena was forced to stay undercover. Because she was forced to stay undercover she had to agree to his premise, which was, ‘This is my concubine.’ And Bruce is just very funny. He’s very charismatic. He’s fun to watch. He’s got very good comedic timing. That was a fun episode.” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “The redoubtable Bruce Campbell [makes his first Xena appearance in this episode]! Bruce is a great guy and just makes me laugh. He is ridiculously handsome and when he puts that costume on with the beard and everything it just makes you giggle, it’s awful. He’s always doing great Sean Connery impressions, saying, ‘Come on, Xena, sit on my lap,’ and awful things like that, and it just makes me hoot. But the minute he takes that costume off, all that kind of flirtatiousness or anything extroverted like that just vanishes. He takes that costume off, he puts on his sandals and his socks that he wears under them, and he reverts to Mr. Square. And yet when he’s in that costume he is the slickest, most charming man… [Also,] I realized on [this] episode that this series would contain elements that the audience couldn’t predict. One time light, one time dark, one time a musical, for God’s sakes!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “[This] was an interesting episode because there were some who didn’t like the fact that Xena didn’t get back enough at Autolycus. They didn’t like to see their hero put as the second fiddle, to constantly be hit upon sexually and not be able to strike back. But our intent was to do a farcical comedy.” (SFX #19 – December 1996)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “I wanted to play with the lasciviousness of Autolycus, who was able to control this woman who he knows full well he normally has no control over. Every opportunity he had, he was going to try and stick it to her, because she’s under his thumb at this moment, and there’s a certain amount of sexual tension that comes out of that. It did get to the point where there was a genuine affection between them, when he confesses to her, ‘I am paying you a compliment, you’re a diamond in the rough.’ He’s also alluding to himself because they have a lot in common.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
18. Season 1, Episode 18: “The Prodigal” (Aired: 03/04/96 | Filmed: 01/17 – 01/25/96)
Gabrielle returns to her home town, only to find it under attack by a greedy warlord, and under the protection of a faded warrior, who’s lost his self-confidence.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by John T. Kretchmer | Production No. 876915
This is far from being the first season’s most entertaining episode, but it is, like “Athens City Academy Of The Performing Bards,” a necessary and vital installment. Giving Lawless some time off to do press in America, this episode is centered around Gabrielle, who freezes during a fight, decides that perhaps a life of adventure isn’t for her, and returns home to Potadeia! This is a superb premise that had to come sooner or later. Surely, Gabrielle’s decision to travel with Xena, though an easy choice at first, would later spur some doubt. Gab is a simple farm girl, after all. So, beyond my enjoyment in watching the installment, I appreciate its existence and the story it has chosen to tell.
Of course, Gab goes home and finds an adventure there too — I mean, it is an action show. Only the adventure seems a more comedic one, involving Meleager the Mighty, a drunken former hero whom the town has hired for defense against an evil warlord. Thomerson is very engaging and believable as Meleager, and he shares good chemistry with O’Connor. There are some laughs along the way, but, by and large, each beat of the story is rather predictable. Most interesting to me is the relationship between Gabrielle and her sister Lila, who is jealous of Xena and resentful of Gabrielle for leaving. (Hey, I would be too!) There’s a realism that shades the episode and makes the story of Gabrielle’s return home more honest.
This is the first episode written by Chris Manheim, who would go on to become a producer and one of the show’s most prolific writers. She got saddled with a lighter (and mildly dull) episode, but she pulls it off well. Naturally, Gabrielle decides (again), after having helped Meleager save the village, that she wants to be out living adventures with Xena. It’s certainly routine, but again, an essential episode for the series and for the Gabrielle character.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Chris Manheim (Writer): “As I remember, the story came up in committee. At the time, I hadn’t seen either Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven, both of which I went out and rented because that’s what they were looking to do with Gabrielle, and it was simple to go from there once I understood that concept… Tim brought a lot to that part; he hit it right on the head. For me, that character was very much like the Lee Marvin character in Cat Ballou. That’s who I wrote him as, and Tim did a great job. I liked that episode; I was very pleased with it.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Tim Thomerson (Actor, Meleager): [I got the part after] the director [John T. Kretchmer] specifically asked for me. [Then] I was cleared by the producers. When I got the script, the breakdown of the script was as you saw it — Meleager the Mighty was an ex-warrior, famous, who had gone to seed and took to the grog… Yes, he’s a retired, drunken warrior guy who gets hired out once in awhile. I read it and I said, ‘Okay, this is my first shot at playing a period piece.’ I watched the show and there wasn’t any quirky language or anything — they seemed to play it pretty straight. So I asked them what they wanted, did they want comedy or what. They said, ‘Bring as much comedy to it as you can, and also pathos.’ Each episode they try to teach a lesson… John T. Kretchmer was Steven Spielberg’s assistant for years. He and I got together and I said, ‘Look, how far do you want me to take this guy as far as comedy goes?’ He said, ‘Well, let’s take it as far as [you] think it should go.’ I can hit the dramatic moments, but comedy is hard to do. It’s a rhythmic thing. Renee [O’Connor] is very astute when she works. There’s something that flows between actors that only we know when it’s there, but you can see it on screen… [This] was a heavy show, and Lucy wasn’t in it all that much. Basically Renee carried that show. She had a lot of responsibility. She’s very conscientious about her work, and I can’t say enough about her professionalism. It makes me work that much harder. When you have an actor who’s really putting it out there, then you better step up to the plate.” (Whoosh! Interview – January 1998)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Chris Manheim gave on “The Prodigal” for The Chakram Newsletter: #23.
Come back next Thursday for two more Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for another Myrna Loy film!