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.
37. Season 2, Episode 13: “The Quest” (Aired: 02/03/97 | Filmed: 11/14 – 11/25/96)
Xena’s spirit puts into action a plan that may allow her to return to the land of the living and reclaim her body. And Gabrielle is faced with a big decision after meeting up with her old friends—the Amazons.
Story by Chris Manheim, Steven L. Sears, & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. V0221
I featured this episode as #21 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “This episode was a cover-up for my accident, of course. I mean, I was stuck in other people’s bodies for weeks! I didn’t have anything to do with any of those episodes until afterward, and I went into the ADR [automated dialogue replacement] booth and voiced those scenes [well after the filming. My scenes at the end of the episode were shot on] my first days back… [although] we could have just done the Bobby Ewing thing [from the series Dallas], you know: had me wake up [later] in the show in the middle of a bad dream!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Bruce Campbell (Actor, Autolycus): “This episode followed Lucy Lawless’ accident with Jay Leno. She couldn’t do all her usual stunts (or even walk, really), so I flew down to help her out. The schtick was that her spirit was in my body, so I really had to get in touch with my feminine side.” (Dreamwatch Magazine #49 – October 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Lucy had only just come back from her accident and she couldn’t do a whole lot… we didn’t actually smooch, but we had the shot and we came in very close together. We were definitely there. We were in front of a blue screen. They wanted to make it heaven-like. That’s why there probably wasn’t any shadow. But we were definitely together.” (The Austin Chronicle – February 1998)
Michael Levine (Director): “Funny how [this has] become a very favorite episode to many because, in reality, it never existed. It was purely written in response to Lucy’s accident… they threw a draft of the script together. I knew from the very beginning it was going to be long, but writers and producers are reluctant to cut because if it isn’t long, what do we put in? I said, ‘This is a somber episode. Xena’s dead.’ Renee, God bless her, she did great. She carried this episode. At one point she said, ‘Do we have any more crying scenes? I’m all cried out.’ I said, ‘No, you’re done with the crying scenes.’ When you shoot scenes like that you can’t go too quickly. You have to take your time, play to the emotion, and that’s what happened. We played the emotion. So it became long, and long, and several scenes were cut out. Here’s one — Autolycus was in the village and going to a particular hut that was guarded. What you didn’t see was a scene where he points to a different hut and says ‘I’ll try to get in that hut.’ He goes in and it’s a steambath scene with naked Amazons. He comes in, wearing his drag outfit, and he goes, ‘Well, what do we have here?’ Xena takes over his body, jerks his neck and pulls him out. We cut to the outside where he’s doing these body jerks and saying, ‘I’m coming, I’m coming!’ That was all cut. But [this episode] was a response to Lucy’s accident. It was strange shooting a Xena without much Lucy in it… The first thing we shot with Lucy, was her talking to Autolycus in the barrel. Lucy was still very tender, but she was in great spirits, very happy to be back on the set. But you could tell her stamina clearly wasn’t there. Then we did the kiss scene… I kept thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’ How can I shoot this where they lean in and you think they’re kissing but they’re not. I decided to do it with a head transition. It’s actually one of the few scenes that was changed on me in the producer’s cut. If I could, for reruns, I’d put it back the way I had it. Because I thought the way I cut it was better. Actually, it may have been cut because of length. That scene was cut down. There’s more dialogue to that scene than was shown. I think I sent that to some people… It was hard to think about how to do that transition and make it look decent. So we had them lean in, pushing in, coming around on the other side, and end up with Autolycus and Gabrielle. There’s also a thing that never got shot because it was taken out in the rewrite stage. It was in, it was out, it was in, it was out, this went on up until almost the last day. What it was, instead of Gabrielle taking the ambrosia and placing it in Xena’s mouth with her hand, the original script had Gabrielle put the ambrosia on her lips and kiss Xena. Lucy and Renee were all for it. They said, ‘Sure, no problem,’… I would have shot it that way, and I would have also shot it the way it was shown in case someone from the ‘tower’ said, ‘You know, we’re really going too far here.’… [But] Renee was great. I pretty much shot the show I wanted to shoot. I had to let Renee play those scenes of anguish. I didn’t want it to get too maudlin. Danielle [Cormack] was wonderful as Ephiny. It all seemed to work. It was great to have Lucy back. That whole ambrosia hall thing — it wasn’t a nightmare. We had to break up the set into two different parts, an upper portion and a lower portion. We had Melinda [Clark] and Renee on wires, we had stunt people on wires, we had ambrosia coming down, and there was a lot of stuff going on. And all during that there’s Autolycus, Bruce, cracking us up doing impressions. [But] we were just long. Something had to go and you pick the stuff that least advances the story. Because it was funny and it was with Bruce, I wanted the steambath scene in, but we knew when we were shooting it that it wasn’t going to get into the show. Everyone on the set knew it. We had time to shoot it, we did shoot it, but we knew it wasn’t going to make the final cut. That’s just the way it was…” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “Technically, Gabrielle was Queen after [‘Hooves And Harlots’], however, an Amazon Tribe can’t have a Queen who roams the world and only occasionally returns to the Tribe. So, (and this is where it gets confusing) she passed her rite of office to Melosa so that Melosa, in effect, became her Regent. However, when Gabrielle would return to the Tribe, Melosa would defer her authority to Gab, since Gab was, in fact, the true Queen. So the simple way to look at it is that Gab was the Queen when she was with the tribe. Melosa had the Queen’s powers during her absence. It was the only way, under the Amazon law of that Tribe, for Gab to return power to Melosa. After Melosa was killed, there was no one with the Queen’s powers except, of course, Gab. That was the power vacuum that Velasca tried to exploit. Adding to this, Gabrielle still didn’t consider herself a true Queen and was uncomfortable referring to herself as such. But the tribe did. Now to the question of who Velasca challenged back when Tereis was named heir, it was Melosa. Melosa defeated her. You ask how she could have defeated her one time and not the other. Two answers, actually. I would point to professional boxing to show that this happens quite a bit. But, more to the story, I can’t remember if this ended up in the final edit or not, but Ephiny suspected that Velasca had somehow cheated. In my original outline, as I remember, I had that the challenge had happened and happened with only Velasca’s followers present. That the absence of the total tribe was due to some emergency that had happened and they had to respond to. Ephiny was with that group and wasn’t present. The Tribe law had stated that all challenges had to be witnessed by the entire tribe except when there was a present danger that required a portion of the tribe to be absent for defense. Ephiny stated that they went out to respond to a reported danger (I can’t remember what it was) but found nothing. When they [returned], Melosa was dead. Ephiny suspected the emergency was false and created only to separate her and her warriors from the challenge. So it was all technically legal, but filled with questions. Anyway, you may wonder why all that wasn’t in the episode. Well, take a look at how much I had to write to explain it. Couldn’t do it in our time frame, so it got truncated.” (NETFORUM – March 2001)
Melinda Clarke (Actor, Velasca): “I went down to New Zealand with my fiancée (who is now my husband) for a month to do both episodes, and had a fantastic time. Xena has got to be the most organized and well run set I’ve ever been on. They are incredibly efficient, especially with all the action stuff they do… For the most part, everything I needed for the character was in the text. I read the script and saw that she was arrogant, an egomaniac, selfish, and, in her opinion, above everyone else. So I had in mind images of women from the 1940s, like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, or Marlene Dietrich, who were larger than life on camera… I’m not saying that you overact, because you have to believe in what you’re seeing, but at the same time you have to let go, to be this character who’s larger than life, and it’s a lot of fun getting a chance to play that… I remember that Renee [O’Connor] was very strong, and when I had to do a fight with her it was so hard to keep up. I also remember the look on my face when I saw the outfit I had to wear!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #20 – July 2001)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “When we came to [this episode], we had Lucy for a couple of shots, but we also had her voice, so the idea of doing an All of Me type episode sprang up. We all worked out the story and did versions of different acts, and I got the brunt of it thrown onto me, which was fine, because I loved doing the episode. When we finished it, we realized that we made the stakes so big with the ambrosia and introducing this new villain, Velasca, that Melinda Clarke played wonderfully, we thought it would be great to do another episode where Callisto and Xena combined forces to fight Velasca. By then, Lucy could do some movement, and we could cover her with a stunt double.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
38. Season 2, Episode 14: “A Necessary Evil” (Aired: 02/10/97 | Filmed: 11/26 – 12/05/96)
In order to stop the evil, and now immortal, Velasca from hunting down Gabrielle, Xena must unleash an even more depraved immortal to vanquish her—Callisto.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0219
I featured this episode as #26 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Paul Robert Coyle (Writer): “[This] was the first full episode Lucy shot after the accident. They had her injured in the teaser because they weren’t sure if she’d be limping during the episode or how she’d feel. You can’t look at that episode and tell she was recovering from an injury, though. That episode got me a lot of praise over here but I can’t really take the credit for it. Mark Beesely superbly shot it, a first time New Zealand director.” (Whoosh! Interview – March 1999)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[Melinda Clarke, who played Velasca] was nice – I didn’t even remember that she was one of the [prospective] Xenas [two years earlier]. But, you know, I’m sure she’s happy with the way life’s worked out. She also was getting married at the time.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Melinda Clarke (Actor, Velasca): “I had to wear white contact lenses [after becoming a goddess] and I normally don’t wear contacts at all. They wanted me to do some kind of spinning thing so that they could get me turning around. Of course, I could barely see because of those contact lenses, plus they blinded me with sand from the wind machine! So I’m doing this Wonder Woman-style spin with sand in my eyes, and it didn’t come off very goddess-like. Plus I also lost my voice from shouting so much.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #20 – July 2001)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “I really love[d] torturing Gabrielle… I was reading the part where we were sitting around and she’s like, ‘What were you thinking when Xena was saying all this…’ I laughed out loud when I read that part. I thought that was so funny how Callisto [turned the tables] on Gabrielle. She was so serious and then [Callisto’s] just so sick! I love her! You know, ‘cause Gabrielle’s like this serious really earthy [character] trying to be kind and good and loving and Callisto’s like, ‘Yeah? How about some of this?’” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Robert Field (Editor): “My favorite scene is the campfire scene between Callisto and Gabrielle. It is one of those strange things where pacing makes a scene more effective. The normal rule of thumb in dialogue cutting, at least my personal rule of thumb, is that you cut dialogue so there are natural pauses between sentences. For most of the exchange between Gabrielle and Callisto in the campfire scene… we believe that Gabrielle, as the scene develops, is getting inside Callisto, that she is finding that shred of humanity that seems to be missing. All the shots are played out with very long, long, long beats between the dialogue lines. Not only is the character getting time to absorb what is said and really think about it before they answer back, the audience has the chance to do so as well. In fact I even had a chance to discuss this with Hudson Leick and she said, ‘Oh, yes, that made the scene work better. It is like the ticking of a clock.’ It just adds to that moment, because if anyone wants to go back and look at that scene again you will notice there is a long time between dialogue lines. But somehow that magnifies the impact of the speech. At least, that is how I felt about it. That is why I put it together that way.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Here are scans of an interview that executive producer R.J. Stewart gave on “A Necessary Evil” for The Chakram Newsletter: #5.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Clark Gable Pre-Code!