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.
27. Season 2, Episode 3: “The Giant Killer” (Aired: 10/14/96 | Filmed: 05/17 – 05/28/96)
Xena is caught behind a rock and a hard place when she’s pitted against her old friend Goliath in a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines.
Written by Terence Winter | Directed by Gary Jones | Production No. V0204
Once again, I must repeat that the series doesn’t function best when it looks to the Bible for narratives. That’s not to say that there aren’t good stories to be found in the Bible; on the contrary, there are excellent stories. But they don’t include Xena — the most essential ingredient to every episode of this series. So how does Xena enter the plot? Well, the script does one smart thing by giving Xena some internal conflict: she firmly supports David and the Israelites, but Goliath is an old friend for whom she still cares deeply. This conflict reads excellently on paper, but because, as the Biblical story dictates, Xena is largely out of the action, this makes for a really dull episode. (And Gab’s flirtation with David is yawn-inducing.) The original final act, in which Xena goes after Goliath’s nemesis Gareth — later reinserted into the classic “A Day In The Life” — gives more dramatic weight to Xena’s function within this episode, essentially turning the story’s focus away from David and Goliath and onto Xena and Goliath, which is exactly where the episode NEEDS to be. Simply put, this is one of the show’s most boring installments, and I wish it worked better than it does, but without an active Xena, this is an impossible feat.
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I remember the lovely big skeletons lying about [representing the remnants of a battle of giants]. It was like being in an elephants’ graveyard. I also liked doing the forced perspective [camera work]… [But] Poor old Goliath was miscast, just physically miscast. He had skinny legs… and they deepened his voice to make him more majestic, more of a threat… [In the final act] we had Xena battle a bigger giant, and he’s supposed to be a thicker and more scary one. But we cut that whole thing out because who cares, once Goliath is gone? Why should we care about the other giant even though he is bigger?” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Robert Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “… Our ‘David and Goliath’ episode… didn’t quite work… [and] the cut was so long on it that we said, ‘Let’s just chop off the entire fourth act and bank it for something else, and have this episode end with the death of Goliath, rather than them going and getting the [other] giant.’” (Starlog Magazine #245 – December 1997)
Robert Field (Editor): “[This] is one of those odd circumstances where it is an episode that has great moments but is perhaps flawed by a misconception in the story idea. I am not going to criticize it too much because I have my own personal feelings about it. Obviously, the producers felt it was a worthwhile story and it is their right to make those decisions. I am not going to get into that at all.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
28. Season 2, Episode 4: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Aired: 10/21/96 | Filmed: 04/25 – 05/07/96)
Xena is forced to take on the Bacchae — bloodthirsty minions of the wine god, Bacchus — in order to get their power-hungry leader and foil his plan to take over the world.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. V0202
Undoubtedly one of the series’ most memorable episodes, this wacky installment is the first of only a few cases in which Xena knowingly ventures into the horror genre. But unlike several later installments, which do so earnestly, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” is a campy mess of Ancient Greek vampires, neck-biting lesbians, prosthetic-clad villains, and headless pessimists. (Oh, and Joxer makes his second aired appearance.) It all makes for a pretty exciting 44 minutes. Yet, my problem with the episode comes not from its premise, which is, admittedly, pretty cool, but from the sheer fact that the style (read: the clash of horror/camp) seems to infringe on the narrative. And it’s to the point that, if we took the absurd visuals away, we’d be left with something dissatisfying. Much of this has to do with a lot of little elements that never quite work — Gab becoming a bacchae (cliche!), Orpheus’ nastiness (which becomes tiresome fast and annoying even faster), and the fact that Bacchus isn’t a fully realized villain. However, this episode is all ABOUT the style, and it’s enough to carry the episode to memorability. As it stands, this is an entertaining installment — but only if you’re not looking for something deeper.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Adam Armus (Writer): “Rob and R.J. wanted to do a Halloween episode, and we came up with the idea of using the Bacchae and a severed-headed Orpheus. Pretty sick, huh?” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #7 – June 2000)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Xena didn’t have a lot to do emotionally [in this installment, and] those episodes are not always my favorite. But there was an awful lot going on, it was very colorful. I’ve got some strong images from [this episode] like Matt Chamberlain [as Orpheus]… Poor Matt! The whole episode, because his body was blue-screened out, he always had to wear sort of a blue robe and blue pajamas. The whole week we treated him like a head! The funny thing with monsters and heads is that nobody wants to eat with them, or at least they’re not seen as people, you know. The last hours of filming, when he became whole again, I went, ‘Oh, Matt!’ I was so ashamed because I had kind of ignored him all week. The poor chap who played Bacchus [Anthony Ray Parker] left home at two in the morning, and at four in the morning he was sitting in makeup. It took six or eight hours and he wasn’t used until four that afternoon. So the poor guy had been in that claustrophobic head all that time. And [we were] working with Ted Raimi again, whom I just love… He’s just bloody funny. We adore him. [In regards to this episode’s wild story] I don’t mind making those leaps. And we don’t mind unsettling our audience a bit. You know, ‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll love us, you’ll hate us, but you’ll keep watching,’ is the name of our game. Just never bore them! The reaction to this episode was very polarized on the Internet, but [we] know [we’ll] get that because we like to push boundaries. And T.J. [Scott, director] more than most!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “T.J. Scott directed [this episode], and he’s one of our favorite directors. He has a style about him that is fast paced; his stories take you on a frenzied adventure. His work is quick, lots of energy, lots of movement, and I think that was just an expression of his style… [This] was a pretty exciting episode for me, because [this] was one of the first times that Gabrielle was able to change into another character [the bacchae], so I enjoyed it. The only drawback to the role was possibly the contacts, because I’m not used to having anything in my eyes, but it was worth it; I enjoyed playing that character.” (Starburst Magazine #228 – July 1997)
T.J. Scott (Director): “[After the first two days of shooting], I got the crew together and said, ‘Okay guys, here we go. This is going to be a lot more vampy and fun,’ and cranked up the ghetto blaster with rock music and away we went… When we started to set up the shot where Gabrielle bites Xena, Lucy said, ‘Come on, we’re not going to–,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it!’ I remember we did two takes that were on the edge of tasteful vampire sexuality, and we did a third take where Lucy really let loose. Of course, we all died laughed and said, ‘Okay, that one is never going to make it to the screen, we definitely pushed it too far!’ I always try to push the limits and make things interesting, and this episode gave us a lot of opportunities to push the Xena limits of sexuality. But I think it’s a really fun one. We knew we were going to put it into the Halloween time slot, where thematically, it really fit. If you pull it too far out of context and try to take it seriously, it’s a bit too rock video at times.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #8 – July 2000)
Robert Field (Editor): “As the material for [this episode] started coming in, it seemed evident to me that this show was basically going to be a roller coaster ride through a haunted house! And that was the stylistic decision I brought to it… The two dance sequences with Gabrielle are heavily layered with dissolves on top of dissolves – one face dissolving to another face. My aim… was to suggest visually the state of complete surrender that Gabrielle was experiencing with the Bacchae –she seemed under their spell… When T.J. [Scott, the director] called from New Zealand to ask me how it was going I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. It’s pretty weird.’ He replied, ‘Weird is good!’” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Come back next Thursday for the following two Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for an all new Film Friday!