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.
51. Season 3, Episode 5: “Gabrielle’s Hope” (Aired: 10/27/97 | Filmed: 06/06 – 06/17/97)
Gabrielle must make a difficult decision regarding her allegiance to Xena after she gives birth to the daughter of Dahak, the Evil One.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Charles Siebert & Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0404
I featured this episode as #27 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[T]he director got sick after one day and had to be replaced by somebody who had had no preparation, Andrew Merrifield, who did a great job, but it was very stressful to everybody. [This] was a really difficult episode.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #2)
Andrew Merrifield (Director): “I was second-unit directing [at the time] and I was actually concentrating on something that wasn’t this episode, and I came home to find that there [were] many, many messages from producers saying, would I please show up and direct the main unit the next day? In the morning, I woke up and went to the set [which I’d never been to]. I think one of the first scenes was Gabrielle giving birth, and it was terribly performance intensive. It’s terribly stressful filming. It’s day one of a new episode, and it’s always high energy and [there’s] lots going on – millions of questions, and you’re right on the edge of your seat all day. I had to, more than you normally would ever have to, I had to trust the actors to do their thing, and I just spent the next few days just chasing the actors really, trying to film them and keep up with their performances, which, of course, had been discussed at great length by the producers and the writers with the director about how they wanted to represent this new angle on Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship. If you read a script, it’s very easy to interpret it performance wise in many different ways. I think I went into that shoot not really having a handle on the intensity of the relationship breakup, and it was probably something that was discussed in pre-production, which I wasn’t privy to because, of course, I was out shooting the second unit for a previous episode. So I guess I wasn’t aware [of this episode’s importance] but as [that first] day progressed, and as more phone calls from writers and producers came through to me, I actually started to get an angle on what they’re after. Of course, Lucy and Renee had been well-versed in what everyone was looking for in the [upcoming] episodes, and their relationship breaking down – the intensity of it all was… something… it was extraordinary to watch it…. [And] I think [the episode] comes up all right, actually. It’s a pretty good episode.” (“Gabrielle’s Hope” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[The food in the tavern scene] was pretty disgusting actually. They did have chicken livers there that were cooked. But they fried some tofu for me and put it in this soy sauce so that it looked dark. But then I had to dip it in a heavy cheese sauce and eat a cherry and beef jerky and the combination of the three was challenging to try not to toss my cookies after a couple of takes. They always make you do those scenes about five or six times… [For the birth scene] I asked my mom to send me some videos on women giving birth and she sent me The Miracle Of Life. It showed three different women delivering. One was a caesarian, the second had an epidural and the last was a natural birth. From all three you saw what these women were going through and how they dealt with the pain. I talked to women who have given birth. A lot of my friends have had their first child within the last two years. I started to get clucky for the first time in my life… It’s a New Zealand term – clucky like a hen. It means that you’re wanting to cuddle babies and have one of your own. It was the first time that’s ever happened to me. But as soon as I filmed the actual birth scene, just going through the pretense of it was so exhausting that I came home saying never, ever will I have a child. [And then] we had to reshoot it three weeks later. It just wasn’t quite scary enough (for the birth of the Dark One). We reshot it with all the animals the second time around and that was an experience unto itself having goats and sheep around you and you’re screaming for murder. We shot in a different studio completely and panned from the animals’ reactions to Gabrielle’s screams while giving birth. They wanted more of a horrific experience from me… [But] now that I’ve seen the show, I’ve sort of laughed and said, ‘Oh, that was fun.’ It was pretty exhausting. When they film, we shoot for about 30 seconds or a minute and then they cut and you have maybe a 30-second break before you do another take. So it almost felt like contractions – you have to scream and then breathe… The best mom [on set] was Lucy. She was funny, [because] after about two hours of doing this, it was sort of frustrating. There were so many people trying to give me direction and telling me to try this and do that and by the time Lucy came around to offering me suggestions, I was at the point where, I wanted ‘No more!’ It was the classic ‘woman giving birth [and] blaming the husband’ type of situation – ‘This is your fault!’ She was the [only] one I could be frustrated with and she knew exactly what I was talking about… We had three different pairs [of twin babies]. The baby they used on the day we filmed the birth was about two weeks old and she was premature. Then we had a couple of ten-month-old twins for the scenes where the baby grows up. Boy, they were hard. I think children are used to having activity and noise around them, but whenever they would come on set, everyone would become completely still and quiet and the children thought something was wrong and they started to cry, which actually worked against what we wanted. So everyone became more quiet and they would cry harder. It was a definite challenge trying to get a scene where they looked like an angel of Gabrielle and not the devil.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #2)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “When Xena tells Gabrielle to kill her child, it is a torturous point—for Xena. One woman telling another woman to kill her child is clearly a terrible demand. [But that] heroism [was] a part of Xena. She knew she was hurting Gabrielle, she knew [that] what she was asking Gabrielle to do was almost impossible. But she knew it had to be done – that ultimately Gabrielle would not be happy with the consequences of not killing that child, as we learn in the season was very true. Let’s face it: that child was evil and had Gabrielle destroyed that child when she was supposed to, the great pain and agony [that] those two characters went through that season would not have happened. Of course, as dramatists, we’re going to make sure it happens.” (“Gabrielle’s Hope” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “When we started on season Three, myself, and R.J. [Sewart], and Steve [Sears], and Chris Manheim, and Liz Friedman, all sat in a big room and went through a bunch of ideas as to what we wanted to do in Season Three. And one of the things that R.J. and myself, whether for better or worse, were [doing was] sitting in the office giggling that we wanted to do a Halloween episode, and we said, ‘Let’s do Rosemary’s Baby with Gabrielle.” And we giggled and laughed ourselves blue in the face about how funny that was going to be. But it helped set a tone for [the season]… once Gabrielle is going to have a devil child, you just couldn’t play comedy in the same fashion in those episodes.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Three DVD Set)
Here is a scan of an interview that writer R.J. Stewart gave on “Gabrielle’s Hope” for The Chakram Newsletter: #2.
52. Season 3, Episode 6: “The Debt (I)” (Aired: 11/03/97 | Filmed: 07/16 – 07/25/97)
As Xena and Gabrielle travel toward the Eastern kingdom of Chin, Xena recalls a kidnapping episode from her dark past involving two rival Chin clans.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0406
I featured this two-part episode as numbers 5 & 6 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts on this episode (and the next) here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Eric Gruendemann (Producer): [These two shows] are perhaps my two favorite episodes of all time of Xena… Probably the ones I’m most proud of as well. We said, ‘The only way we can do this right is if we did it in epic scope.’ And I think we did some of our most lyrical work in it, and some of our greatest production design and costume design and stunts. It all just came together on [these] shows.” (“The Debt (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Robert Gillies (Production Designer): “[These episodes] had a look to [them]… The [scene with] the cage… was modeled from the scene in Deer Hunter where the North Vietnamese have captured the GIs in a sort of flooded cage arrangement that was incredibly… spine chilling really.” (“The Debt (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
John Cavill (Director of Photography): The biggest challenge with [this two-parter] was probably that we were undertaking essentially a short feature film inside the framework of the TV show. It was a great story and fantastically art directed, well-directed, well played.” (“The Debt (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “[This two-parter] was the feature I never made. I had hoped Universal would have done a Xena feature or a Herc/Xena picture. I know how to do that. That was our version of a Xena feature. It came from a couple of places. I wanted to see Xena go to China and reveal a bit about her past. And I wanted to explore the Gabrielle character and what lengths would she go to in order to stop Xena being an assassin. I give the production team down here a great deal of credit for that too. It was the first ‘being away’ shoot we did and on a TV budget that was tough to do. All across the board, each department did a great job, the director of photography, editing, costuming, Rob Gillies and his set design. Jacqueline Kim was great. We looked at a bunch of people and didn’t like any of them and she didn’t want to do television. R.J. and I were shown a piece of film she did and he said, ‘That’s her!’ I thought Oley Sassone [director] did a great job too. I told him we were going to do a visual extravaganza with people flying in the air. We did some early tests that failed miserably. But he did a really good job of capturing the relationship between Lao Ma and Xena. He brought that to life. It was one of those times when everything lines up and works.” (Whoosh! Interview – January 2001)
Jacqueline Kim (Actor, Lao Ma): “Sometimes when you play an Asian-American role it can be written in a way that’s full of assumptions. Particularly with Lao Ma, everyone assumes that this woman is always wise and just willing to suffer. That image is just an old one for me. It’s not one I really relate to, so I try to spice it up. I wanted her to have some passion. I also wouldn’t do an oriental accent. I thought that was absolutely wrong for the part, but I think they expected me to. We got to the table reading and one of the actors said, ‘Why isn’t she doing an accent?’ And the director said, ‘She just got off the plane. She’s just reading though it. I said, ‘Okay, we need to talk about this.’” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #10 – September 2000)
Oley Sassone (Director): “I gotta say, [this] was probably one of the most complex scripts that I’d ever gotten on any television show. It was great, and I was astounded, frankly, that they allowed us to do what we did on that scale… [These episodes] in particular, lent [themselves], because of the scope and magnitude of the sets they were building, the locations… really allowed us – allowed me – to open this thing up and make it big…The scene where Borias and Xena are on horseback making love, I think was a collaboration. I definitely wanted her to be thrown off by Borias. You know, the cruelty to which Xena’s character was being treated for her arc and her understanding [of] compassion from Lao Ma later in the story, it really… makes sense… In the hot tub scene between Lao Ma and Xena, [it] was really… part of Xena’s lesson to find [and] believe in humanity, to believe in compassion, to believe in love. And I think that’s really what the scene was all about… Obviously, the kiss was very sensual – underwater between two women. But once again, for all practical purposes, Lao Ma had to pump air into Xena’s lungs or she would have drowned.” (“The Debt (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Jacqueline Kim (Actor, Lao Ma): “The famous ‘kissing scene’ [was] actually supposed to be me just giving her a breath, but people interpret that as they like. We had only ten minutes left in the full day. Everyone was stressing out because we were going into overtime. Lucy had been in this disgusting water all day — the water was full of chemicals for a fog effect. She was such a sport. She hadn’t complained. I had stayed dry all day, of course, because we hadn’t shot the scene yet. I’m not pointing any fingers at anyone, and I’m not saying anyone was whining or complaining — they were just worried about whether we could do it in such short time, but I remember all these men standing around and saying things like, ‘We don’t have time; it’s too important, it’s too hard, there’s no way.’ They didn’t think we’d be able to find each other under water. Lucy looked at me and I looked at her. We were both very businesslike about it. She said, ‘Go under water with your eyes closed. I’ll find your mouth, I’ll keep my eyes open. Let’s try it.’ Everyone was very quiet. And we did it! We just did it! We did it very quickly, we did two takes of it. I remember thinking that often when you work with people on movies they can have a very precious attitude about themselves. If the director stresses out everyone stresses out. But we were just like two tomboy-ish girls diving underwater. I remember that. I remember it was just fun. Lucy definitely sets the work ethic. She’s a hard worker. She’s fun — she and I goofed around a lot. But when the moment came, we worked very hard. The directors are always changing, and the tone on the set is up to the lead person. And she sets a fun, hard-working tone.” (Whoosh! Interview – February 1998)
Marton Csokas (Actor, Borias): “R.J. Stewart wrote the script for my first appearance [in this episode], and [it] was to take place in Mongolia or thereabouts. I was trying to do a combination Russian/Chinese kind of accent, which didn’t quite work out. He was at a wardrobe fitting and mentioned that the character was based on Attila the Hun, and should be sort of Hungarian. Well, that’s no problem for me to do a Hungarian accent, but it turned out a little more generic than that. I liked the character… And then when we started shooting, we were on location with the horses, it was beautiful. I loved it.” (Whoosh! Interview – June 1999)
R. J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): My favorite episode(s)… I loved the themes. I love the way it was executed. I love the direction. It was just so exciting – every bit of it. … Marton [Csokas] did a wonderful job with Borias… I was down in New Zealand and he was getting fitted for his costume and he was asking me, ‘Who is Borias? Where does he come from?’ And I suggested that he was a Hun, ‘cause Rob [Tapert] and I had talked about that. And Marton said, ‘Well, you know, I’m of Hungarian descent.’ And I said, ‘Well, why don’t you try a Hungarian accent?’”… The end of Part I has to be incredibly dramatic and dynamic, and Rob had this visual – as Rob [often] has these brilliant visuals – of Xena going to kill Ming T’ien, and Gabrielle betraying Xena to the guards to keep her from killing Ming T’ien. It was such a spectacularly good idea… as soon as Rob pitched it to me, I knew that’s what’s going to be the structure of this… The reason Gabrielle [betrayed Xena], and I think it was very much in the character of Gabrielle, is she knew Xena was on a mission to go back and embrace that dark side and do something that Gabrielle couldn’t live with. “(“The Debt (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Gabrielle thinks she’s going to save Xena from being a murderer, when if you look at her history… Gabrielle’s still trying to change her! ‘Don’t kill this one person, ‘cause you’ll never go back!’” (“The Debt (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “This episode, R.J. and I came up with the story and he wrote, and I had always intended to direct this, and then circumstances dictated that I had to pass it off. It was one of the many episodes that I passed of to Oley, ‘cause I always thought he did a great job… [As for the] whole row of heads, originally we were told you couldn’t do it. Then there was concern, certainly amongst other people of the staff at the time, that … Xena putting the head of this innocent man would make her unredeemable and too evil. ‘Cause I don’t think the audience ever got that he was the guy begging… We [also] had a great deal of debates as to what it meant for Xena to steal a little boy, ‘cause there was once a line, ‘I never hurt women or children,’ back in Hercules. And we always had to be careful treading that, and finally we stopped worrying about it. … [The bath] sequence haunted me for a week and got me in a big fight with the art department, because, even though Lucy never complained, that water tank that [she hid] in was never properly sealed, and they used creosol, which is carcinogenic. And my wife’s hair… and lungs, and… breath, reeked of it for a week afterwards. And after this we changed how we did water scenes.” (“The Debt (I)” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Check back next week to read more about this legendary two-parter!
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for a new Film Friday series!