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.
49. Season 3, Episode 3: “The Dirty Half Dozen” (Aired: 10/13/97 Filmed: 08/07 – 08/15/97)
Xena rounds up a gang of cutthroats to battle the warlord Agathon, a protege of Ares who possesses weapons made of indestructible metal.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0411
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): “This was kind of an atypical episode – it really was. The thought came up, ‘Why don’t we introduce some other characters, play with them a little bit, see if any of them are really strong, and possibly bring them back for a later episode where they might pair off with Gabrielle and give Lucy a little bit of a break. I wanted to introduce four other characters, see which ones really came off personality wise, which ones we kept by the end of the episode, and whether there was some potential for them… The characters of Glaphyra and Darnell – it was deliberate to play the male/female dynamic. I played to extremes. I played the macho, dominating man who looked at women as being vessels for their children, and I played the woman ‘why do we need men around, they’re nothing but trouble, they can’t be relied on, etc. etc.’… To actually have the two characters go at each other but have this attraction for each other, what I tried to portray was that a lot of this anger comes from desire – comes from unfulfilled expectations. They were both damaged goods when they came together. Through their assault on each other, they found that they liked it. They liked the challenge of each other, and through the course of the episode, you found out that the two characters could actually trust each other and rely on each other. And when they left the episode, I actually wanted those characters to come back. Those were the two characters I picked… But I did like the fact that they were reluctantly admitting to themselves that they had found their soulmates. They would probably never, never stop challenging each other, but they were going to stay together. They were kind of favorite characters of mine that sort of disappeared in the midst… [But] we would rather wait and let the situation came up to where we had to take Lucy out of an episode, as opposed to planning for it. Because, if we’re planning for it already, then we’re giving ourselves an easy out, and we might go to it too quickly. But, the core of [the series] is not Gabrielle with characters we brought in for a week, it’s not Xena with characters we brought in for a week, it’s their relationship. We may weigh one heavier than the other one, but still, it’s their relationship. The other thing to prove in [this episode was] to show a little bit of a question about their relationship – with something that Gabrielle asks Xena. [Xena] found these people when they were normal, and turned them into a gladiator, and to a thief, and Gabrielle asks, ‘What would I have been if you found me back when you were evil?’ And that is a good question; it basically goes to the core of are people innately good or innately bad, or are they good who can be misled, or whatever. Xena was a person who was misled by herself, but could Gabrielle have fallen to that same fate? But by the end of the episode, what I hoped to answer, at least Xena answered it for Gabrielle, was that, ‘No. No, Gabrielle, you may be testing the waters here and there, but you’re a pure person. That’s not going to change and I couldn’t have affected that. The real question is: could you have affected me?’” (“The Dirty Half Dozen” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “[This episode] was fun. It was my first show down there, so I had a huge learning curve. I had to learn how things worked down there. That was particularly tough, and we shot in winter. That was a six-day [sic] shoot, a little shorter than normal episodes at that time. I think four of the days were outside, and that was tough.” (Whoosh! Interview – May 1999)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “The Dirty Half Dozen” for The Chakram Newsletter: #28.
50. Season 3, Episode 4: “The Deliverer” (Aired: 10/20/97 | Filmed: 05/27 – 06/05/97)
Xena, Gabrielle and the first priest of a monotheistic cult head for Britannia to battle their common enemy Caesar — who promptly captures Gabrielle.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0403
I featured this episode as #17 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “We developed Dahak to introduce two things: a new, evil element to the series, but also one that is readily identifiable to anyone who watches the show. Because it’s a very simplistic and easy-to-understand [concept]; it’s evil. The pantheon of Greek gods we write stories about are not, really. Ares isn’t evil. He and the others simply have their focus. It’s up to us to determine whether their focus is correct or not, whether it’s good or evil. Ares actually does believe he can bring peace to the world. Sure, you’ve got to break a lot of eggs, you’ve gotta kill people. But bringing peace to the world in his mind means, ‘I am the absolute ruler of Heaven and Earth, and therefore there’s nothing to fight about.’ Well, to a lot of people that’s a dictatorship, which could translate as evil. But with Dahak, there’s no distinction of that at all; he is definitely an entity of evil with a capital ‘E’… period.” (Topps: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #4 – September 1998)
Oley Sassone (Director): “[This episode] was about deflecting what Gabrielle – what her M.O. was all about, which was always about… controlling Xena’s temper and keeping her from being ‘The Warrior Princess’ at all times. [In] this particular episode, Khrafstar, who was this very Christ-like kind of charlatan, especially [in] that opening scene where the first time you meet the character, his arms are stretched out over a shaft… Khrafstar [used] his charm on Gabrielle, [which] enabled him to draw Gabrielle into the dark side… Gabrielle losing her blood innocence by killing Meridian was a very important aspect, and I thought that particular moment in the story and in the through-line of Gabrielle’s character really needed some impact.” (“The Deliverer” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Catherine Boniface (Actor, Meridian): “This episode deals essentially with the forces of good and evil and when I looked at the character of Meridian, I felt that these aspects were the key to her character. That Gab is a ‘representative,’ if you like, of good; and Khrafstar and Meridian represent evil, is too simplified a way of looking at it. There are aspects of good and evil in all of us – Xena grapples with it all the time. Gabrielle is good that, in this episode, has been opened up to that miniscule part of herself (that is in all of us) which is evil. Encouraged by Khrafstar, she’s surrounded, consumed by it, and because of her goodness, unable to defend herself against it. Meridian, on the other hand, has aspects of good in her that leads to evil. My biggest fear was that by playing Meridian totally evil meant a one-dimensional character. By having Meridian believe what she is doing is for the very best; for the good of her people, the betterment of her faith, believe deeply that what she is doing is right and good, adds a layer to her character that makes the whole murder scene with Gab that much more tragic – and we cannot forget that what Gabrielle does is murder. To believe that your murder means the preservation and strengthening of your religion, indicates more than just base evil, it points to Meridian’s misdirected commitment to a value system she feels to be right and good but which, in reality, is destructive. All we have to do is look at cult members all over the world to know that this happens. I talked about this scene with both the casting agents and the director Olly [Oley Sassone] to a certain extent, but generally I was left to make my own decisions with regards to the character and her motivation. As long as it supported Gabrielle’s action rather than working against it, it would work. Olly was a great director, warm and supportive and willing to give the actor space when needed – a hard thing to do when you consider the time constraints that come with filming a series.” (Whoosh! Interview – September 1998)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[A]ll the propaganda given to [Gabrielle] was exactly what you would have heard from any group of Christians… I think, for 99% of the audience, I led them down one path, then suddenly, I did a complete right turn on them, and threw them off and made them realize, ‘You know what? He gave us every clue on the entire way to show us we were wrong, and we just didn’t get it. We let our own prejudice take us where we wanted to go. And that deals specifically with the cult… [But] at the end of [this] episode, Gabrielle had killed somebody, [and] whether you can justify it or rationalize it by self-defense, it does not matter. In her mind, she killed somebody, and everything changed…” (“The Deliverer” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The whole idea [of this episode] was that Gabrielle was set up to kill to bring Dahak into the world by losing her Blood Innocence. She was the angelic person who could finally bring the devil into the world. Because I was such a virtuous person, when it came to shedding someone else’s blood, to do it allowed him to be born… I was trying to keep [the motives of the killing] undecided and as ambiguous as possible whether it was defensive or strategic with Gabrielle killing [Meridian]. So that she questions whether she has the evil within her… I don’t like to let Gabrielle scream. I always hate seeing damsels in distress and from the very beginning [of the series], I [decided that] Gabrielle will not be like that. She’s gonna stand up and try to be as courageous as possible in every aspect. And I didn’t want her to ever scream. But this time I thought [I’d] go along with the script. Usually the director will say, “Okay, you’re going to scream here,’ and I’d always make it Gabrielle-light. But this time, definitely, there was something that was so horrific to her it just came out of the moment. It was much bigger than I thought it would be.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #2)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “In [this episode] there was [also the] very touchy issue of Gabrielle being impregnated by Dahak. And that we talked a lot about, because it potentially then becomes about [the] representation of a character being raped.” (“The Deliverer” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I remember we wanted to create something seductive, and that’s where I went, that [Gabrielle] was again, lured into the flames. [But] I didn’t think it was a rape at the time.” (“The Deliverer” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L Sears (Writer/Producer): “[I]n doing [this episode] there were a few things that had to be accepted. One, this was going to launch us into an extremely dark area. One of the things about the rift is that the rift is best viewed all in one evening. Because it aired over several nights and sometimes the studio interrupted it with comedy episodes, the rift didn’t have the continuity that you needed. We wrote it and produced it with the continuity. But because it was broken up there was just no way to do it. Until the last few minutes of [this episode] it just looks like a regular Xena episode. It’s really the last few minutes that launch you into what’s happening with the rift. As most of us know [the installment] had a lot of pressure on it because a gossip columnist came out and used a word [that] I don’t like to use in regard to this, for a very important reason. She referred to it as a rape… [and] I got a lot of nasty mail. I got a lot of hate mail. Very, very angry mail… Being supported on a pillar of fire while some mystical god impregnates a seed of a demon child inside of you is not rape. Talk to a rape victim and find out what real rape is. To me, it’s disgusting to try to apply their torment to that act on television. That was a fictional fantasy. Sorry to be graphic, but having a man on top of you, forcing himself on you while you’re screaming and perhaps even beating you to keep you quiet, that’s rape. I refuse to use that word because it diminishes what the reality of the word is. If you want to say, ‘Gabrielle was violated,’ then hey, go for it. Use that word. She was definitely violated. But I won’t use the word rape because of what it conjures up and what it diminishes. But we had to deal with that. As soon as I saw that word in print, I was angry. And if the episode had aired without that, there probably would have been a ripple effect, but people would not have been fired up as much. At the end of the episode, you would not have known she was pregnant. There was nothing there to really indicate that. Anyway, end of rant. We had to deal with that before and after it aired. The other thing I did was I tried to put the audience in the place of what Xena was doing. To a certain extent I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I also got some slams about that. What I tried to show was that Xena was so obsessed with Caesar that she was ignoring what was going on with Gabrielle. Gabrielle was being played. Gabrielle was being given everything Gabrielle wanted to believe to set her up. Xena should have seen that, but she was obsessed, she was so much after Caesar she ignored what was going on with Gabrielle. Now the question has come up that we just basically changed stories midway through. We got to a certain point and what happened with Caesar? ‘Xena just walked away! What happened to the battle?’ My answer to this was that the story was never about Caesar, it was always about Gabrielle. But those who asked, ‘What happened to Caesar?’ were just as obsessed with him as Xena was. But the moment Xena realized Gabrielle was in grave danger she dropped Caesar and left. She didn’t care what happened to Caesar at that point. Boadicea had her army in place and everything was ready to go. But she left, and for me, that was the story.” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1998)
Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Actor, Boadicea): “It was a relatively small role, but a good one. The key to Boadicea? Huge mistrust…that’s there in the story, and that’s the feeling you want to convey. It’s wonderful to have a character that’s written that way, carrying a whole lot of baggage from the past… You can’t do a large amount of research for that feeling. The feeling is the feeling; it’s what I try to harness as an actress. To a certain extent, research means nothing when you’re in the moment and ‘doing it’. What the real Boadicea actually did and didn’t do it irrelevant. It would be an incredible tangle to play the real character, who was very different in so many ways. You have to be able to supply the goods on screen and please the director. Besides, less talk and more do…” (Topps: The Official XENA Magazine, Yearbook – 1998)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “If anybody does any reading on Boadicea, she’s a national hero in England, you’ll find that a lot of the references that were in [the episode] are exactly the same as the Boadicea that was in history… [Given] the idea that Boadicea, being a strong woman and being a warrior woman in her own right, obviously there has to be a past history between her and Xena…” (“The Deliverer” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Maggie Hickerson (Script Coordinator): “I remember reading one of the final drafts [of this episode] where they had put in a scene in which Gabrielle was kidnapped by Caesar and somebody spying on Caesar’s camp noticed Gabrielle’s staff and realized she was there. I said ‘Wait a minute, we haven’t established throughout the story that she has her staff with her. Right at the beginning of the story, they left Xena’s horse behind and boarded the boat for England. We never established that Gabrielle had her staff.’… The script had already gone to New Zealand when I spotted that, so we did some amendment pages to establish that Gabrielle had it with her when she got on the boat so that she would have it with her in every scene. New Zealand got the changes, but the director never shot her with the staff, so when it got to that scene in the camp she had it with her, but we had never seen her with it earlier. Even though I’d caught it, it was never obvious to New Zealand why the correction was there, so the scene never got shot in such a way as to establish it. It wasn’t a major plot point that would destroy the story, but the eagle-eyed fans who watch the show religiously spotted it, and there was a lot of interaction on the Internet about it.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #12 – November 2000)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “The Deliverer” for The Chakram Newsletter: #2.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Miriam Hopkins Pre-Code!