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.
31. Season 2, Episode 7: “Intimate Stranger” (Aired: 11/11/96 | Filmed: 07/17 – 07/26 & 10/21/96)
Xena’s life takes a nightmarish turn when Callisto escapes from the Underworld by infiltrating her dreams.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Gary Jones | Production No. V0211
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): “[The basic thread of this episode is that] Xena is feeling a lot of guilt about what happened to Callisto, and she’s having nightmares about it. Callisto is in her dreams, and so is Ares, telling her that she murdered Callisto. The whole point of it is they’re trying to get her to say, ‘I’m a murderer,’ and the moment she says it, Callisto is able to enter her mind and they switch bodies. Originally, Xena got back into her own body; however, at the end, she now stays in Callisto’s body, and the next episode has Hudson as Xena trying to recover her body. That was a solution we came up with after Lucy wasn’t available for filming.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “The original ending* was, it’s Callisto in [Xena’s] body, she’s talking to her mom and she’s going, ‘No, no, no, no!’ and then we switch over somehow. I start walking backwards. I fall into a rock as Callisto and all these hands come out of the rock. All these dead people are walking toward me that I’ve murdered, and all these hands pop out of the rock and start grabbing at my flesh. It was really cool. Very scary. Grabbing everywhere. It was like all these gnarled hands. Then it all explodes. The big finale! How could they bring me back from that? I had no idea how they could bring me back from exploding!” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[The producers] quickly reedited the whole ending [of this episode] so that [Callisto and Xena] do not get [their] own bodies back [as originally written], so that Hudson [could] play Xena in the next episode. Everyone was scrambling to rewrite, reedit, re-rationalize everything… [but] no, I did not reshoot the last scene [myself], because I was flat on my back in the Burbank Hospital [after the fall from the horse]. It was so incredibly hard to play someone else’s character. I knew Hudson could play Xena as well as anyone possibly could given the time frame. And it took me five days of agony to find out how to make the connection between me and Hudson and [then figure out how to play] Callisto… The director [Gary Jones] was pushing for physical gimmicks [to signal Callisto’s character], but that’s not the way to get the essence of a character. That’s just masking… Hudson moves in sort of a spidery or feline way and so I [could] do that, which looks ridiculous on my physique but it’s all I had to hang on to. And certain stupid things like mimicry of her voice, which I didn’t do very well. And then only on the last two days did I begin to understand where the heart of Callisto was, and how to [find a connection with Hudson]. Then I realized the very thing: Hudson would tell me about her childhood, her adolescence, and on the face of it, it seems diametrically opposed to my own, but when I think about it, she was everything that I [might have been]. Her life was everything that I would simply not allow myself to be at the same age, which is not to say [those qualities] were not there. My conditioning just squelched it out of me.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “It’s much more fun playing the bad guy, [but] watching Lucy as Callisto was absolutely delicious. She’d arch her back, the way I’d arch my back, and I’d tell her how to spread my fingers when I talk. We’d play with our voices… I’d say the line, then I’d ask her how she’d say it. Lucy was very helpful and so was Renee, when Lucy wasn’t around… Or when I’d throw something and I’d have a snarl on my face, Lucy would say, ‘Don’t do that.’ I really had to contain myself.” (Topps: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #2 – April 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Hudson’s super professional. We never got on. Don’t know. Don’t know why.” (Archive of American Television Interview – 2013)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Hudson was wonderful in [this role]… She just brought a quality [to Callisto] that definitely had me on edge. Bravo to her. Good job.” (Live Syfy Instagram Interview – April 2020)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “Gabrielle writing a psalm for her slain Perdicus at the end of [this episode] was genuinely touching. ‘I sing the song of Perdicus; the boy I knew, the man I loved’… Was it meant to be a special honor to have the bard Gabrielle immortalize him in such a way? It’s moving that both women were written to express themselves at times of loss in their own ways – Xena feels inspired enough to sing her dirge only for the respected fallen, and Gabrielle writes poetry. One is more visceral, the other more thought out observant, mirroring the characters. There was no way that Perdicus could NOT have affected Gabrielle in such a way. Remember, he was her betrothed and, eventually, someone she wanted to marry. It would have been shallow for her to have NOT regarded him in a higher status. But more importantly, it showed that she had come to terms with his death, she had immortalized him in her poem, where he would never die. In Gabrielle’s mind, people in her stories and poems never die, they live on in memory and tribute.” (Xena Online Community Interview – May 2005)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “Intimate Stranger” for The Chakram Newsletter: #5.
*Note that portions of the original ending can be seen in The Official XENA Fan Kit #8.
32. Season 2, Episode 8: “Ten Little Warlords” (Aired: 11/18/96 | Filmed: 10/22 – 10/30/96)
While still trapped in the body of her mortal enemy, Callisto, Xena is forced to enter a competition where warlords vie to become the new god of war.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V0215
I’ve never really formed a solid opinion about this episode, and I think much of this has to do with the extra layer of meaning that’s added to the script because of Hudson Leick’s portrayal as Xena. On the one hand, we have a straightforward adventure tale where Xena must work with Ares to restore his godhood, all the while revisiting their chemistry (with the added comic distractions of Gabrielle and Joxer, who are both going crazy with incontrollable rage). On the other hand, as a result of the accident, we have a tale about promises, deception, and the differences between appearances and reality. Essentially, the inclusion of Leick, who actually plays a pretty darn convincing Xena, makes the episode more dynamic than it would be without her. However, I don’t think the two story levels mesh as well as they should, resulting in a sort of storytelling unevenness. Now, I’m not holding this against anyone; the crew was BRILLIANT to salvage this script following Lawless’ accident, and for all things considered, this is an entertaining and highly re-watchable episode. Classic? Certainly not. Solid? Very much so.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Paul Robert Coyle (Writer): “One of my earliest pitches involved an Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians scenario, and that was combined with some other elements, such as Ares losing his sword and becoming mortal, and it turned out to be a very successful episode… As I recall, there was a brief hiatus, and [this episode] was scheduled to be the first show to shoot when they returned. And it was during this hiatus that Lucy got hurt, so they called me in and it was like an emergency ward over there. They were having emergency meetings in every room – Adam [Armus] and [Nora] Kay [Foster] were doing a show in one room with Steve Sears, while Rob and Liz Friedman were with somebody else in another room. I went in with R.J., who said, ‘Here’s what we want to do with [this episode]. We’ve already shot the previous episode… which is a body swap episode. We’re going to alter the ending so that Xena did not get into her regular body and carry that storyline over to your show.’ So I was given the mandate to rewrite my show with Hudson Leick [as Xena]. Over 90 percent of that story remained the same in the script; I just had to remember that the characters were seeing Hudson and reacting to her as if she was Callisto, [but that she as actually Xena].” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #10 – September 2000)
Charles Siebert (Director/Actor, Sisyphus): “Lucy’s accident actually happened while I was prepping to direct a show down here. The immediate effect of it was that we were delayed by several days while we tried to figure out what to do. First of all they told me that I would be going home, that we would not be doing the shows at all, and that they would be shutting [production] down. Then within a very brief time we decided, no, let’s wait and see how serious the damage was and then decide what to do about that. Then they decided that what they would be doing is rewriting episodes so I would have to hang around for a few days. I hung around a few days and what happened was we put Xena in Callisto’s body in [this episode]. So that had a direct effect on what I was going to be doing because then I would be working with Hudson Leick instead of Lucy. Which was a great pleasure, working with Hudson that is, and it actually was quite an interesting episode. I think it turned out pretty well… As far as directing both Hudson and Lucy as Xena, the challenge was to keep watching Hudson and making sure she was acting as Xena, not as Callisto. I think that was a challenge for her. I think she found it difficult and I think she found it in some ways constraining. She could not necessarily rely on her instincts on how she would perform in a particular situation in the moment. The challenge was in continuing to help Hudson to pull that out of herself and to meet the challenge… As far as directing myself… I find by now acting in something I am directing [is] a terrific intrusion, and a terrific distraction. Directing is so much more absorbing and involving that the acting is just a pain in the neck when all of a sudden you have to run to make-up to get touched up instead of staying on the set and working out a particular shot. It is not something I like so much any more. I used to find it easier but the more I direct and the better I get as a director the less interested I am in the acting.” (Whoosh! Interview – October 1997)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “[Playing Xena is] something I just do not want to remember. I just showed up and tried to imitate something. I kept my voice at a lower octave, staying in more of a monotone, because I imagine Lucy as like John Wayne, you know? And Renee [O’Connor] would help me. I’d say, ‘What would she do, what would she do right now?’ Because I had no clue what to do! And she’d put her arm on me and she’d show me. But I felt there was not a lot of spirit in my performance, and I kept thinking, ‘No one’s going to like it. They’re all going to say, “Well, she’s no Lucy Lawless.”’ And I’m not.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “[This episode] was cool because I think that this was the first time we got to see the embryonic stages of the Ares we see now [in early Season Six]. With him losing his powers, we get a glimpse of the humanity – that’s nonsense, isn’t it? – of the gods. But he’s without his powers. [This] was the first time we’d ever seen anything different about Ares, and I think that was where the [later season] Ares was born. Every now and then you’ll see that he’s increasingly aware of the consequences of his own actions, and that there is a cost. This is something which wasn’t there before, simply because he was more of a straightforward villain.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #11 – October 2000)
Come back next Thursday for the following two Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for an all new Film Friday!