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.
61. Season 3, Episode 15: “King Con” (Aired: 02/23/98 | Filmed: 12/02 – 12/10/97)
Xena and Gabrielle join forces with two con men to prevent Joxer’s death at the hands of a vengeful gaming-club owner.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Janet Greek | Production No. V0401
Though many fans would seem to prefer Xena and Gabrielle to romantically stick to one gender (whether it be males or females), I appreciate that the series allowed the two heroines to develop emotional relationships in which sexual preference seemed moot. So I’m not bothered when Xena has a male love interest in an episode; I am bothered, however, when the romance springs up quickly and without motivation. That’s partly the case here, although I must admit that Xena and Rafe share about ten times the chemistry of Xena and Ulyssees (the worst of Xena’s one-episode loves). The pair does make some sense together, and while four acts is not enough to convince me that I ever want to see Rafe again, inside the episode itself, the back-and-forth between them works… and works well. Meanwhile, the idea of paying homage to The Sting is an interesting one, and the series does a fairly good job of keeping that element of the story engrossing, even if it’s never really surprising. Thus my principal complaint with the episode is still that it’s not as exciting or dramatic as the rest of the season (note that it’s one of two scripts written before the Rift, but shot and aired after), however I cannot claim (like I did with “Forgiven” last week) that the stakes aren’t high enough. The episode wisely puts Joxer’s life on the line, bringing in the personal element upon which the conflict can rest. So, though this isn’t an episode I watch very often, it is a part of the miraculous third season (in which there isn’t a single dud), and it works better than many fans may think.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “[This is] a fairly light-hearted show, although certainly not from Joxer’s point-of-view, because he gets pretty beat up. I remember seeing the dailies and thinking, ‘Wow, I didn’t know they were going to get that violent!’ I can tell you the movie I patterned it on, but it’s obvious by watching it [The Sting]… I also looked at Paper Moon, The Flim Flam Man and House of Games. I went out and rented every con movie I could think of, so I lived and breathed cons during that period. The story called for them to run cons on people. I had never written anything like that, so that was a challenge. My tendency is to add so many twists that it really gets too convoluted, and that’s what I had to pare back. I always tell people I tend to go a twist too far, so it was a good exercise in leaving the one that needed to be there and not cluttering it up.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I didn’t like [this episode], it didn’t work for me. I don’t like the romantic Xena stories, they don’t work for me. A story set against gambling and doing a sting just wasn’t a good idea.” (Femme Fatales Magazine – October 1999)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “[What] was hard was coming up with that first con on Joxer… [And] it surprised me when I looked at dailies as to how graphic they got [with his beating]. But at the same time you really had to sell the idea that Xena just wouldn’t say, ‘To hell with this town, I don’t care whether they gamble or not,’ and just walk away. That was the rationale used in the severity of this beating. He had to be so hurt that she had to steel herself to square things about it. It was pretty graphic, wasn’t it? But it served its purpose.” (Whoosh! Interview – February 1999)
Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “Janet Greek came down and directed [this episode] and it was fantastic to have a woman director because they were quite rare on Xena. I think probably there was only two or three a season – if that. Janet was fabulous, I mean I don’t treat directors as if they’re male or female, they’re all individual people and they all have strengths and weaknesses and different ideas. For the record, Janet, I found to be very visually perceptive. She had a wonderful eye and wanted to do extraordinary things with the camera. If you look at the opening shot of [this] episode, it’s a big crane shot, which starts in the casino on the top shot of the roulette wheel and then goes right through the length of the casino, which was a lighting nightmare for me, really. You know, I hate to say no to a director. I always try to find a way to do it, so I just said, ‘Yeah. That’d be great. Yeah. Wonderful. Yeah.’ And then scratch my head and go, ‘How the hell are we going to do it?’ So yeah she always wanted to move the camera in interesting ways. She didn’t just stick to the formula of you know wide shot and single, single, she wanted to make nice complex shots, which is fantastic.” (“King Con” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
62. Season 3, Episode 16: “When In Rome…” (Aired: 03/02/98 | Filmed: 01/08 – 01/16/98)
Efforts to engage in a prisoner exchange involving a Gaul warrior and a member of the Roman hierarchy are hindered by an uncooperative Caesar.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by John Laing | Production No. V0416
I featured this episode as #12 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Throughout the course of the series so far… Gabrielle had been the sympathetic character, and finally she’d come to this point where she was going to be the judge, jury, executioner for [Crassus’] death. And again it seemed so strange for me to believe that this character could just decide that somebody would be executed in such a cold manner and that she would be responsible for that. But again, you know, as I’ve said before, I’m pleased that I wasn’t the one writing it, because it just pushed Gabrielle further towards being more like Xena, the warrior… I don’t think Gabrielle was very remorseful, which was interesting. We never really had a scene where she’s mourning his death or her decision to [have him killed].” (“When In Rome…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “There are two lines of plot in this particular episode. One is getting Vercinix free. That’s the straight-line plot. But what is the heart of the story? The heart of the story is what’s going on with Gabrielle… Without telling that part of the story, the rest of this is just dancing around, jumping, fighting each other. Without that heart, would we really care? But that’s the whole reason for writing this script… [Gabrielle] started this episode by saying, ‘I cannot be a party to some man’s death when it’s unnecessary,’ or actually, just ‘some man’s death.’ [At the end] she is an active participant in his death. [It’s] an important change for the character. A huge change… [The final scene of this episode] is where Gabrielle came of age, in my mind. This is where she realized not just that she has an opinion, she already voiced that, but that she has a responsibility. That her actions have repercussions and that she has to make choices in the world. And she’s got to let go of her preconceived notions of her idealism of the world. When she went on with Xena three years ago, she’s been hoping to see this wonderful world. And the world’s been attacking her ever since, cause it’s a harsh world. And she’s tried to hold on to whatever she could. But to survive in this world, you have to understand the reality of it. You have to make choices, and it was something that she’d been holding out on. She knew a long time ago this was going to happen, not this particular incident, but this kind of a moral choice would happen. But she tried to hold on to her naiveté actively. So [the] discussion between Xena and Gabrielle… this is truly Xena regretful [because], let’s face it, she used Gabrielle throughout this entire [episode] and she feels bad. But… the dropping of that ring, that’s her letting go. That’s Gabrielle letting go of her preconceptions of the world and her place in it. And letting go of the naiveté. In dropping that ring, she said, ‘I understand what I have to do and I understand the responsibilities, and even with this in my conscience I still want to follow you.’” (“When In Rome…” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I still think that the whole struggle with Gabrielle is that she’s trying to be the good person who will not kill. Traveling with a warrior has changed her perception of the world and that’s going to be her constant struggle. Do some people deserve to die and deserve to be punished for their sins? She’s starting to believe in capital punishment a little bit here… The role of Xena is the reluctant hero who is fighting for good against her instincts where Gabrielle’s the opposite. She’s a person who wants to fight for good, yet she is realizing there are certain people that shouldn’t be fought for. I think [this] episode… where Gabrielle allows Crassus to die is the turning point in her character… It was a big turning point for Gabrielle and I was quite surprised they were going to do it. I never really know what they have in mind for her. But it’s good. As Gabrielle gets older, she can’t be naïve anymore. And she had just been burned by Ming T’ien. I remember wanting the audience to question whether or not we were going to go through the same situation as in ‘The Debt.’ Whether Gabrielle would betray her best friend again for the sake of someone else. I wanted to go through that struggle until the very end when she realizes Crassus has lied to her and that he basically deserves to die. It was a great experience for Gabrielle. I really believe it made her a stronger person.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
John Laing (Director): “It was… very complicated… to shoot [the entire Colosseum scene]. It took us a full day to shoot—well days, to shoot all that stuff.” (“When In Rome…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “ [Xena] never intended to kill [Caesar]… One of the things, and I guess the audience has figured this out by now, I like to fool people. I like to make them think one thing is happening and then just completely throw them a curve ball. But not just a curve ball that comes out of left field, a curve ball that makes sense. It’s just the way it’s presented, you don’t see it immediately…. The premise I had with Xena was that Xena’s not stupid. She knows her obsession with Caesar cost her dearly back in ‘The Deliverer.’ This time she’s smarter. The difference is, Caesar doesn’t know that. He still thinks he can manipulate her. In this particular case, the audience was once again taking Caesar’s role. They were sitting there thinking, ‘Well, she can do it again. We’ve seen it before.’ But that’s not what was going on. She used his assumption of her to her benefit. He assumed, by what he saw, he couldn’t figure out what her plan was, so he figured, ‘The Xena I know, what is she here for? Well, she’s here to kill me.’ And in the past, that would be very true. So, he made that assumption, and because of that assumption, he was waiting for her, which is exactly what she knew he would do… There’s [also] a lot of debate about [whether Gabrielle purposely let Crassus see the glint of his ring]. I can tell you that it can be read any way you want. She did not do it deliberately, I know that. What was going on with Gabrielle at that moment was what was going on internally with her. In one draft, I had really played up what Crassus had done in the past. So when he’s out there and looking out at the crowd, in one draft, I had him see the glint of metal and he focuses in on Gabrielle. The ring is on Gabrielle’s thumb. She looks right at him and she points her thumb down. Now you can imagine the message that would send… So after much discussion on that thing and what it implied, I pulled back on that and I just had her in the crowd. But I had her in the crowd for a very important reason. She could have let Crassus go. She could have given Crassus the ring, and they still might have gotten away. But Gabrielle had to make a choice of justice. ‘Do I become a judge here?’ At first she said no, that’s why she fought against Xena. She couldn’t judge someone to be executed. That’s why she was saying to Crassus, ‘Don’t worry, you’re not going to be killed. I won’t let you die.’ When she found out he was in fact the person she had heard about and that he had lied, and more than likely he was going to continue doing this, she had a choice to either give him the ring and actively be a participant in his living, or not do anything and leave it up to Caesar. She left it up to Caesar. Was he going to say, ‘Let him die,’ to save face, or was he going to save his ally and lose face? She threw it up to the Fates. Now she could have easily left the Colosseum, but because she knew she might have condemned a man to death she forced herself to witness it. We don’t have public executions in this country, for a number of reasons, and I’m not saying that we should, but I will tell you one thing, if people actually watch an execution they’ll think twice about condemning someone. So when she goes out there she realizes the responsibility of her actions. And she’s going to be there when it happens… as an episode standing on its own, this [actually] could have happened, because Crassus was killed, and although we did a super of Syria, the Parthians were the ones who killed him. It was Greater Syria. Anyway, that’s where he was supposedly killed. Well, what if he wasn’t? What if people thought he died there but no one knew about this thing going on. Theoretically it could work. Vercinix was my version of… I can never pronounce his name… Vercingetorix, there you go… Everybody else can say that but me. Vercinix was my version of that. Now obviously he wasn’t kept for five years in the episode, but he served the same purpose. My original idea on this episode was actually based on the incident where [Ross] Perot hired those people to go into Iran to rescue his men. I thought it was a great idea for Xena to do a rescue mission in the heart of Rome. But there was a lot in there historically where you could say, ‘Oh, yeah, that could have happened.’” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1998)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “When In Rome…” for The Chakram Newsletter: #3.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!