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.
55. Season 3, Episode 9: “Warrior… Priestess… Tramp” (Aired: 01/12/98 | Filmed: 05/15 – 05/26/97)
An evil religious leader plots to destroy a rival sect led by a virgin priestess, who looks exactly like Xena, with the aid of another Xena look-alike.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Robert Ginty | Production No. V0402
The double entendres is this episode are so overt, they’re really single entendres. One of the bawdiest episodes of the entire six-year run, this comedy — another excursion in the doppelgänger series — is so low brow that it might as well be a mustache. Lucy Lawless’ favorite character, Meg, the barmaid, returns, and instead of the prissy Princess Diana, we are introduced to another lookalike, the overly-pios, and linguistically challenged Leah, High Priestess of the Temple of Hestia. The first episode shot for the new season (lookalike episodes were usually scheduled first, so that the company could have plenty of Pre-Production time), everyone’s energy is off the charts, especially Lawless, who really seems to enjoy the triple workload. And we must give credit where credit is due — she’s excellent at defining and portraying these three different characters. Not surprisingly, this is her episode and she shines.
But no matter how much fun the cast is having, or how many cheap laughs the writers manage to wring out of the delightful lewdness, one can’t help shake the impression that this is a really thin episode storywise. A lot of this has to do with the villain who, though not played for laughs (like the warlord in Season Six’s “Many Happy Returns”), simply can’t be taken seriously. The threat of danger isn’t great enough, and as a result, the over-the-top comedy (foreshadowing some of the ridiculous, but glorious, comedic episodes to come) seems gratuitous and an attempt by the cast/crew to hide the episode’s structural and narrative shortcomings. In short, it’s a cheap episode: good for a few laughs — and they’re big laughs, mind you — and some easy fun. However, if you’re looking for the best doppelgänger episode, stick with last season’s “Warrior… Princess… Tramp,” which in addition to being fun and comedic, is also classic Xena: campy, but not complete fluff.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I love that tramp role – Meg is just an out of control type of girl! This year we’ve added a priestess who can’t say her r’s properly, so she’s a ‘pwiestess’! Those ones are always good fun to shoot – I love comedies. I’m constantly challenged.” (Cult Times #28 – January 1998)
Adam Armus (Writer): “Someone, and it wasn’t us, came up with the idea that [it would be really fun to do] a Priestess. And at the time, Dana Carvey was doing his Church Lady on Saturday Night Live, and so we all said, ‘Let’s do like a Church Lady character, someone who’s holier than thou, but sort of had, you know, her own foibles.’ And I just remember Rob telling us that we could go as [bawdy as we wanted]… go real blue if we wanted to. We took that to heart, and you know, the first draft of the script—I mean, bawdy as all can be. And we brought that back a little bit, but you know I think the final result was still a pretty bawdy romp… There’s a Hestian Virgin confessing to her impure thoughts… to Xena, while Xena’s fighting some guy… and we wrote the whole thing out… As it turned out, they turned the fight sound up, and then had the confession down, so a lot of that stuff didn’t get in the final cut. And that’s okay, it turned out fine.” (“Warrior… Priestess… Tramp” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “Xena’s in a confessional listening to another nun who’s confessing and it was this whole scene about what she’s done with vegetables, and I’m not talking about a salad… I just thought it was the funniest thing ever and you can’t have enough squash or cucumber jokes, is my feeling… Nothing like a good masturbation joke.” (“Warrior… Priestess… Tramp” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “There’s a scene in [this episode] where I have all this information to give Gabrielle, and Lucy was playing the priestess and had to stand there, but she was doing these Indian salutations to the Sun, waving her arms and bowing and mumbling behind us, and she stole the whole scene. Nobody is looking at me, they’re all looking at Lucy who’s not even in focus, which is quite a feat.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Nora Kay Foster (Writer): “I think everybody felt sorry for Joxer because they knew that love was going to be unrequited, and so he was allowed to go and have his dalliances [with Meg in the brothel], because, after all, he was never going to get his true love.” (“Warrior… Priestess… Tramp” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
56. Season 3, Episode 10: “The Quill Is Mightier…” (Aired: 01/19/98 | Filmed: 10/28 – 11/04/97)
A jealous Aphrodite casts a hex on Gabrielle’s scroll, which causes everything she writes to come true. Of course, what Gabrielle writes isn’t always precisely what she means.
Written by Hilary J. Bader | Directed by Andrew Merrifield | Production No. V0408
I featured this episode as #52 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[This] is one of my favorite all-time episodes. That’s one that I can still watch and laugh out loud remembering the days we were filming. I remember laughing every day. I was completely amazed by the three naked Gabrielle’s running around the set that were supposed to look like me. Ted and I just had the most fun in the tavern scene when the beer is coming from the ceiling, because the stunt team went berserk for some reason… stunt people went into this brawl, this mad event, and Ted and I couldn’t keep straight faces. We had to start watching these brawling men and women and then turn toward the camera to say our lines, and it was all we could do to get the words out without shaking. Also, I remember being mortified by having to get up on the stage in my little knickers and bra and having to dance as a sexy Gabrielle for Joxer’s morbid dream. So, I remember real specifics about how I felt.” (Starlog Magazine – November 1999)
Alison Wall (Actor, Minya): “It was nice to play the same character again. It was much easier the second time. Kevin and Renee are both lovely to work with. I’ve done lots of improv work with Kevin and he quickly picks up on what you’re doing. I actually did my own stunts, accidentally, on that show. I haven’t seen either episode, so I don’t know if they kept this in, but at one point I had to rush in and bob down between Gabrielle and Joxer and say something like, ‘Here come the barbarians.’ I rushed in and slipped and fell right down. I got up right away and carried on with the line thinking at any time someone will call, ‘Cut!’ but they didn’t. It became part of the scene. I like the idea of the gods losing their powers. Poor old Aphrodite, who is so ethereal and beautiful, confronted with the reality of personal hygiene.” (Whoosh! Interview – January 2000)
Alexandra Tydings (Actor, Aphrodite): “[This episode] was so goofy. It was such a funny, such a screwball comedy… How fun to play a goddess who’s losing it, you know? It was great, and fun to like get dirty and not have to look perfect all the time…. You know, Aphrodite, when I [first] read that script, she wasn’t quite so stinky as she ended up in the final version. I remember the director just sort of like, kind of quietly avoiding me and telling the other actors like, ‘Hold your noses when you’re around Alex,’ and stuff like that.” (“The Quill Is Mightier…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[This episode] was interesting to film because not only were there a few lookalikes of Gabrielle, but everybody was naked. Somehow we were all talked into wearing pasties and white biker shorts. So you had all these little girls running around with bathrobes on and then having to disrobe all at once, and it was a horror having us all there boogying away. But I trusted Rob [Tapert] and that he would camouflage us all, which he did, thank God…. That was my first experience having to shed some modesty in front of the crew. I was up on a stage dancing very little and I just remember the man who was in charge of the grip department just going, ‘What has happened? What has happened to Gabrielle?’ But, no, that was fun. And then that was it from then on out.” (“The Quill Is Mightier…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Andrew Merrifield (Director): “I think part of Renee’s anxiety about her nude scenes was that we did a wide shot one day and in that shot I made the doubles run off the little parapet they were standing on and run past the camera and I knew that I would only use the bit where they start to leave. I would never use them running past the camera. And of course, I think Renee may have seen this take and may have been concerned [that] she would have to then replicate the very same moves… The trouper that she is, I don’t think she complained much, and most of what we did with Renee in that situation was computer generated—we tripled her up, we’d shot her against blue screen, and just laid different versions of herself on top of herself. It was fantastic, [but at first] I said, ‘Do we need the three naked Gabrielles? It’s going to be so time consuming to shoot such a thing. Is one Gabrielle—is that enough?’ And they said, ‘Andrew, you don’t understand comedy. Three nude Gabrielles is three times as funny.’” (“The Quill Is Mightier…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I think my mouth dropped [when I first read about the three naked Gabrielles]. Everything Rob [Tapert] throws at me I tend to crack up laughing because it’s probably the furthest thing from my mind. He’s so funny. He’d warned me that he was going to try to make Gabrielle sexier and that’s all he said. Little did I know that I’d be on the set with three naked dancing Gabrielles following me around… Yeah, three body doubles. It got pretty hilarious because there was a body double, the three ‘naked’ Gabrielles and me. It was the most bizarre episode, but it was so funny…” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “They got body doubles to look… they found people who had [Renee’s] exact measurements. And these girls had very little clothes on, if at all, and they were quite attractive, so I don’t think Renee had anything to be embarrassed about because obviously it’s sort of like saying, ‘That’s what I look like without my clothes on and I don’t have to take my clothes off.’ I didn’t necessarily mind [having them there]… Also, [the scabbard trade] got a lot of response from fans. And, you know what, it’s a very touching scene, I’ve got to say. It’s a pivotal moment in the show because Joxer wants to be the greatest warrior in the world, but he’s giving that up to be with her.” (“The Quill Is Mightier…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “[In the script] there was some sort of conventional ending – are [Ares and Gabrielle] going to move in for a kiss, are they not? Ah, man! So we did this thing on the end where she looks down, and he flicks her on the nose. We said, ‘this moving in for the kiss thing doesn’t seem to play; why not make it fun, like siblings teasing each other?’ Gabrielle and Ares aren’t as connected by that as they are connected by their love for Xena.” (Spectrum Magazine – June 2001)
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Garbo film!