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.
67. Season 3, Episode 21: “Sacrifice (I)” (Aired: 05/04/98 | Filmed: 03/02 – 03/11/98)
Xena saves Gabrielle’s friend Seraphin from being sacrificed, then learns that she’s willing to die — so that Gabrielle’s evil daughter Hope can be reborn.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by David Warry-Smith | Production No. V0420
I featured this episode as #32 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[This two-parter] was something that Paul [Robert] Coyle and I tackled. Paul [was] a writer and producer on Hercules and a freelance writer for us. So we kind of went back and forth over the stories. I would look at his, he would look at mine, and we’d give input to each other. And then we sat down and wrote the scripts. [In these episodes] we wanted to solidify the relationship between Gabrielle and Xena at that point. We wanted to show that they had a great[er] purpose. We wanted to show that they were keystones in fate–in the history of humanity–and we wanted to set up what could be the battle for the dominion of the earth… And we wanted to do it in about 90 minutes. So there were a lot of layers to put in with this. One of the things that I think we all jumped onto immediately was the idea of Callisto’s involvement with [Hope]…” (“Sacrifice (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “There’s only so many times you can try and kill the hero being a god and [have] rocks fall on your head. Really, where else can you go? You’re just a dumb god that has to go through life being stopped by rocks… [W]hen we were doing the rocks, they actually went, ‘Okay, rocks are going to fall on your head and I want you to look like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ I mean, you’d think that the god would look up and go, ‘Rocks are going to be falling. I have a finger that can shoot fire.’ I mean, she could flick Xena away. Can she not flick rocks? It doesn’t work with the finger I guess… not rocks. Just humans. I don’t know, it was odd. They had to stop her some way.” (“Sacrifice (I)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[In regard to Ares flipping sides,] Ares’s one concern is Ares. Dahak was capable of destroying him, so of course he was going to join in, just to prolong his existence. Ares was pragmatic. Given enough time, he was convinced he could find the flaw in Dahak that would allow him to regain power. He wasn’t foolish enough to challenge Dahak when the odds were so stacked against him. Even trying to convince Xena of the truth wasn’t working, a situation he contributed to. So he went to plan B: Surrender until a better moment. And once he had thrown in his lot with Dahak, it was in his interest to make sure Hope survived. After all, there was always the old Ares charm that told him he might have a chance at controlling Hope as well. Considering his past, why wouldn’t he believe it?” (Xena Online Community Interview – May 2005)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “Sacrifice (I)” for The Chakram Newsletter: #4.
68. Season 3, Episode 22: “Sacrifice (II)” (Aired: 05/11/98 | Filmed: 03/12 – 03/20/98)
Gabrielle’s evil daughter Hope takes the form of her mother and joins forces with Ares to create a race of superbeings; Xena is forced to team up with Callisto.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0419
I featured this episode as #31 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Paul Robert Coyle (Writer): “[This episode] came about after I’d already been on staff at Hercules for a year. I was busy over here, [and] although the two are sister shows, there are separate writing staffs. No one moves back and forth freely between the two. I had been doing Hercules all of last season, Rob had been doing that Dahak arc, which threaded in and out of both shows. I had been heavily involved in that because I did “Armageddon Now.” When it came time for Xena to do the two-part season finale, picking up where Callisto was imprisoned in the vortex where they left her at the end of “Armageddon,” they brought me in to help out and ultimately asked me to write it if I could break free from Herc for awhile to do it… They knew where they were headed to end the season. They knew they wanted to do this business that Callisto somehow died and Gabrielle appeared to die. They knew what the finale was going to be. They had the Seraphin character and so forth. Originally, I was supposed to write Part One and Steve would write Part Two. That’s as it should be, because he’s a full-time guy and I’m just a freelancer on Xena. We started our meetings and we worked out on the board what the beats of both story parts would be. This went on for weeks, as they often do. Something happened, and it’s hard to explain if you’re not there. The story elements ended up switching. Somebody realized there were problems with both halves of the story. Some things got switched, and they ended up dropping some things, and Steve wrote a prequel to my half of the story. To my astonishment, I wound up with Part Two. They said, ‘Are you comfortable with that?’ I said, ‘I’m elated, but I feel bad about it, I don’t want to usurp Steve.’ But he was very generous about it and said he was fine with it. That’s how I wound up writing the big season finale of Xena. Many of the elements were in place and I brought some others to it. I was extremely happy and honored, and it turned out to be a great episode… I can ‘fess up now to the fact that the death of Gabrielle was always kind of a ‘stunt’ in a sense. Word had already leaked about the death of Callisto. People already knew about that, so that was not much of a surprise… We used the death of Callisto to disguise that we had another trick up our sleeve. I even went so far as to write a phony last scene. I said, ‘If the scripts are leaking, why don’t I write a phony last page? Secretly you can channel the real last page to New Zealand.’ And that’s what I did. The phony ending had Gabrielle’s hand come up out of the pit, she climbs out, and it’s a happy ending. But that’s not the way they aired it, obviously. I said, ‘Do I have to figure out a way to save Gabrielle next season?’ They said, ‘No, we’ll figure that out later.’ I don’t think they ever really did! I think you’ll hear them admit they haven’t really plugged that hole yet… I went so far in my original draft as to have the Fates cut Gabrielle’s lifeline. Because when the scissors move from Xena’s lifeline I had them go to Gabrielle’s. But R.J. said, ‘If we do that, how will we ever get out of that one?’ I said, ‘I don’t know R.J., but if you want to bring me back I’ll figure it out.’ They didn’t go that far because they never could have gotten out of it. [This episode] is definitely one of the high points in my career. I look at that and say, ‘It can’t get any better.’ I hit the ground running with elements that the entire season was leading up to. You can’t ask for much more than that.” (Whoosh Interview – March 1999)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle/Hope): “As we went further into the character of Hope, I found it extremely frustrating because I was so limited in having to play a character that was trying to be Gabrielle… it was sort of convoluted and I just wanted to have her wear a different outfit [or] wear a different headband and really play with that sort of icy cold person. But the best parts were playing Hope and having little snide looks when Xena wasn’t looking or something. Trying to find ways to show the audience that this was Hope, not Gabrielle. Every science fiction show has their evil doubles, you know, [so] this [was] my turn to play. Hope was so incredibly manipulative and she’s always scheming and trying to find a way to destroy Xena, and yet gain the love of her mother Gabrielle. And so she hated both of them because they basically created her—her existence.” (“Sacrifice (II)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “We just thought, ‘Well, what happens if we’re faced with the end of the world and the face is someone that we like?’ Which, of course was supposed to be the surprise ending… of the first part, which was that Hope looks identical to Gabrielle. Putting Xena in the position of saying, you know, ‘The worst enemy of humanity is the face of my best friend.’… The question is at the end: who won? Was Xena manipulated or did she actually get one up on Callisto? The way Hudson played Callisto’s reaction, there’s a bit of a smile… [T]here are two ways to look at this, and both of them are absolutely valid. One is that Callisto manipulated Xena and got her to stab her, and the smile on her face is, ‘Aha, I win.’ The other side is just the opposite—she didn’t expect Xena to kill her. She really wanted to live, but there was a smile of like, ‘Oh, my gosh, Xena, I love you. You are so darn smart.’ And… that’s great. It gives the audience the option to discuss this. Even though it wasn’t intentionally meant to be played that way, the way Hudson played it, it gave it that ambiguity, which I really liked. In my personal opinion, Xena got one up on [Callisto].” (“Sacrifice (II)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Everyone was surprised when Gabrielle threw herself in the pit. Callisto was delighted by that knowing that Xena would suffer… It’s not written in stone, but I think she was actually surprised. I don’t think she really expected Xena to [stab her]…” (“Sacrifice (II)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “I found that scene to be very difficult to do—the laughing part right after Gabrielle had killed her daughter and killed herself. It was hard to go to a laughing phase and to bring those lines up because it didn’t feel organic. But she needed Xena while she had the dagger and she was in her fury and in her sadness. This was Callisto’s last chance – perfect opportunity to finally die. So she had to take it and run with it… When Xena killed her with the Hinds Blood [Dagger], that’s exactly what Callisto wanted. That’s what she was hoping for the whole time. That movement where I touch her face and slide down her body I think was the perfect ending and the perfect thank you. Even though I don’t think Xena did it on purpose, I think it was compassionate.” (“Sacrifice (II)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Paul Robert Coyle (Writer): “No, Xena would never be tricked—certainly not by Callisto… Callisto’s through-line is that she wants to be offed. When all this is accomplished, she’ll get the dagger, and either she’ll do herself or either Xena will turn the dagger on her. And for almost two hours this has been built up. So I said, ‘You know, that’s so straight-line if Xena simply just turns around and offs her now, there’s no twist.’ So I said, ‘Maybe ironically this should be the point where she decides… life is worth living again after all.’ That’s when Xena does it.” (“Sacrifice (I & II)” Retrospective – Season Three DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “It’s time to put [all the stabbing Callisto questions] to bed. [Xena was thinking that] this is never gonna happen again! I remember that moment. I have given in every time—with the exception of the time I let her sink down in the quicksand – and we had formed a love/hate relationship, you know? But it had to end. I think Xena knew this unhealthy thing had to end and do it now. If I don’t do it now, it’s never gonna happen. It’s like killing your sister, I think.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “[Regarding the excised campfire scene between Xena and Callisto, it] was a great scene but they cut [it] up… but it was a good moment between us. I think there was like, if I recall, there was some kind of peace made within that talk, or explanation for Callisto wanting to die and forgiving Xena.” (“Sacrifice (II)” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set) [See that here.]*
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “In [this] episode, I have a very small part. It was kind of nice, actually. I remember I was feeling pretty worn down and was getting sick, and I remember thinking for the first time, ‘Oh, good I don’t have much to do here.’ Not because I’m a lazy guy… but I remember getting sick and thinking I was glad that I didn’t have much to do. You know I remember going on the set, I hadn’t worked for four days, I got on the set, and do the scene. ‘Xena, here!’ I throw the knife, and ‘Cut! Okay, that’s a wrap on Ted Raimi. Thank you, very much.’ Okay, that’s it and then I went home. It was the easiest TV filming I’ve ever had in my life.” (“Sacrifice (II)” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “If we had more time and money and everything like that, it would have been nice to do a little bit more [with Gabrielle and Hope]… where a character will actually walk around behind another one. But you need a motion-control camera for that and a lot more preparation than we had, so I ended up just having to do just the typical thing you… saw back on Gilligan’s Island where it’s just, we got a photo match double of Renee to shoot over one way and then we changed their wardrobe, shoot the over way and then I just did that 50/50 blue screen, which, you know, is a little kind of cheeseball, but you know it kinda tells the story. I wanted Renee in that 50/50 shot to reach up and touch herself, but it just got to be way too much of a challenge. And we’re shooting in the rain… so it ended up just being the two facing each other…. But Renee loved playing Hope. She did, you know. Anytime she could be a little evil, she really enjoyed that…. She always got a little gleam in her eye when she put that hood on, she kind of became [Hope]… She did a lot… just in the eyes… She played just a lot of stuff in Hope’s eyes. Less is more with that… When we shot [Gabrielle’s sacrifice] we shot it high speed, but through our playback monitors, we don’t see high speed. So, you know, basically our shot, they came in, twist, and they were gone. And it was kind of like, ‘Wow, I kind of hope it was there.’ So we ran it a couple of times, and then of course watching dailies that night, I saw Renee just gave this fantastic look. And I remember talking with her—we talked about the look she would give and just we came up with, it’s a look of goodbye, is what it is. A ‘goodbye and I’m sorry’ sort of thing… [As a joke] I shot this gag… when Ares is confronting Callisto in one of his temples with Hope and Hope ends up kind of laying some heavy kissing on Ares there at the end, and I told Ren on one take cause we were just a little ahead and had a little time, I said, ‘You know, as you’re kissing, just drop out of frame… like you’re undoing the pants and stuff.’ And Ren just got all excited, she was giggling… And Kev[in Smith], just had this priceless look on his face, and then just went right into it as only Kev can do with that Ares smile and the nod. Didn’t even phase him a bit… Kevin really was one of the most genuinely, friendly, professional, witty people I’ve ever met.” (“Sacrifice (I & II)” Retrospective – Season Three DVD Set)
Here is a scan of an interview that writer Paul Robert Coyle gave on “Sacrifice (II)” for The Chakram Newsletter: #4.
Here are scans of an interview that writer/producer R.J. Stewart gave on both “Sacrifice (I)” and “Sacrifice (II)” for The Chakram Newsletter: #4.
*For more deleted scenes from “Sacrifice (II),” check out the Season Three DVD Release.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!