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.
71. Season 4, Episode 3: “A Family Affair” (Aired: 10/12/98 | Filmed: 05/20 – 05/29/98)
Heeding her vision, Xena travels to Gabrielle’s home town, where she’s reunited with her presumed-dead friend. Or is she?
Story by Liz Friedman & Chris Manheim | Teleplay by Chris Manheim | Directed By Doug Lefler | Production No. V0605
I featured this episode as #33 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “[This episode] came from two central images. One was that initially I just had this thought of Xena walking in and seeing Gabrielle, after she’d been missing all this time, surrounded by her family and realizing it wasn’t Gabrielle – it was Hope. And she’s sitting there with Gabrielle’s family who are going to fight tooth and nail to protect… the homicidal maniac that’s sitting in the middle of them… And then paired up with the fact that when we put Hope and Ares together at the end of the previous season and came up with this notion of the Destroyer, that of course [with] Hope’s child [we] would sort of take all the monstrousness that was inside Hope, but in this sweet package, and make it all external and have a really big, prickly, kickass monster… [The episode is] within the cloak of a horror [film], but this is just a family melodrama. I mean this is a, you know, ‘you killed my baby and you tried to kill me, and now I’m surrounded by this family.’ And without that emotional underpinning, it doesn’t matter how good your fights are or, you know, how cool your monster is…” (“A Family Affair” – Roundtable Discussion – Fan Kit #12)
Doug Lefler (Director): “Of all the Xena episodes I’ve done, [this is] the one I enjoyed the most. I was shocked when they sent me the script, because I hadn’t been paying attention to the series for years and I was surprised by the machinations of the plot. Gabrielle had a daughter who had grown up and looked exactly like her, who had a son who was a monster. I called Liz Friedman and said, ‘What have you done with these characters?’ But I found that when I read the script, I got caught up in the story. It had an emotional core to it, and when I look at [this] episode now, I still find myself getting caught up in the story, as complex as it is. I think it helped a lot that you could get into the character of that porcupine monster. He just wants to be loved, but he’s covered with these quills so he can’t hug his own mother without inflicting serious harm. From a practical standpoint, one of the things I’ve learned over the years about shooting rubber monsters is to suggest what’s there rather than show it. KNB did the creature suit and I thought they did a very good job with it, and so did the guy who was in the suit, of miming the action.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #13 – December 2000)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “I thought the director did a nice job [with this episode]. I liked the scene with Hope and her Monster Child. I thought of The Manchurian Candidate. I remembered Angela [Lansbury]’s role as someone who loved her child but had an agenda. I looked at that before I went out and wrote that scene. She was a loving but calculated mother. [But] I felt like we needed one more setup to get the whole Silence of the Lambs thing right. I thought people might be confused without one more shot, I forget where it is exactly. Did you find it confusing when the real Gabrielle shows up and Hope is in the forest as well, and Joxer is following Hope while Xena follows the real Gabrielle?… It was Liz’s idea to ‘homage’ that sequence from Silence of the Lambs. That’s what we were attempting to do.” (Whoosh! Interview – February 1999)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “Chris was fantastic because I had come with this general notion of a story, but… it was the first time I ever wrote anything — outside of high school — and so she was great about letting me take a stab at stuff and then really helping me get through the hard part. Because after the initial flurry of inspiration, then it’s all pretty much misery from there on in. And then we worked on the story together, and then also when it came to [the] script, she was also generous enough to let me take a first crack at a few scenes and that was—those were the first scenes I ever wrote.” (“A Family Affair” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle/Hope): “[Playing Hope in this episode] was almost like being outside the body – more like watching Xena and really trying to figure out how to trick Xena. As opposed to Gabrielle where you’re, you know, hanging out with Lucy and you’re just playing or just responding. But this was actually trying to watch Xena and figure her out, so this was sort of how I played it. It was more of a watchfulness and a detachment. And just kind of cutting off the love. There’s no love. And trying to look at it like, this is someone who’s trying to kill her and her child. And so, really looking at it like, ‘[Xena is] a threat, and I have to destroy this woman.’… But yet layering it as Gabrielle…” (“A Family Affair” – Roundtable Discussion – Fan Kit #12)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “I don’t think Hope loved the Destroyer. I think she loved what the Destroyer was going to do. But I think it was beyond Hope to love anything. If she loved anybody it was her mother, until she realized her mother wasn’t returning the love. I just think it was beyond her to love at that point… [All] he wanted [was] exactly what Hope wanted from Gabrielle: a mother’s love.” (“A Family Affair” – Roundtable Discussion – Fan Kit #12)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle/Hope): “[The Destroyer] reminded me of E.T. Doug Lefler, the director, wanted the audience to sympathize with the creature. This little object of no one’s affection. Even Hope. Hope used her own child to get what she wanted… I don’t think she’s capable of love… [But] I thought this [episode] was one of Gabrielle’s rawest times. She’d literally come back from Hell. I just decided not to hold back [in my scene with Xena] and see what happened. I figured if there was ever going to be a moment for that kind of emotion, this was it.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #6)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[The Xena/Gabrielle reunion] actually looks so nice to me now, but I remember it coming up as kind of a surprise, because it was so small in the script. It was just like, ‘And there’s Gabrielle.’ And though it looks like such a big moment in the story, it was so small in the script and kind of snuck up on you. And I remember the big topic of discussion like five minutes before we [shot the scene] was like, ‘Shall we use the new hairclip?’ Cause I remember they were experimenting with new hairclips for me. And it’s such a big moment, but all I can remember is the discussion about the hairclip.” (The 2003 Pasadena Xena Convention)
Doug Lefler (Director): “I remember Renee and I, when we were discussing how she was going to play Gabrielle when she reappeared in the episode, and I remember the word ‘raw’ came up. She wanted to play it very raw and that was sort of word that just clicked with her for [this] particular episode. Lucy wanted to really push her performance to the edge. I think she wanted to feel like losing Gabrielle—feeling responsible for the loss of Gabrielle had driven her a little bit to the edge of insanity. And that kind of persisted until Gabrielle came back into the story.” (“A Family Affair” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “In [this episode], we, of course, had to get Gabrielle back to the show and that’s why we did it, actually. We had to wrap up also… the whole Dahak, Hope, Destroyer kind of storyline as well. So [this episode] was the way we chose to do it. It was difficult, I must say… One of the most difficult challenges we had was trying to figure out how to get Gabrielle out of that lava and back on Earth. I’m not sure it was totally successful. I watched the episode recently and I thought we kind of split the difference. When Hope was explaining how she’d gotten out as Gabrielle to Xena, the story made sense. And I wish we had stuck to that straight through for both characters…” (“A Family Affair” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “Gabrielle getting out of the lava pit was a source of considerable discussion, misery, insult hurling, ridicule, because, you know, at the end of the [previous] season, we thought, ‘Wow, this’ll be really dramatic. We’re going to throw her and Hope into the lava pit.’ Well, none of us ever thought about how we were going to get her out and what the explanation [would be] about how you dump somebody into a lava pit and have them be able to survive that.” (“A Family Affair” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle/Hope): “I was completely frustrated trying to believably sell the fact that Gabrielle lived through a lava pit… I had to suspend my disbelief and take a leap of faith that Gabrielle did survive. It’s always quite amusing to play Hope, a Gabrielle wannabe. She wishes she had the heart and soul of Gabrielle, but she doesn’t. She so wants to be like her mother, but she can’t because she’s a different creature underneath all that golden hair. I always thought Hope was a bit of a robot, because she has no soul. There’s only one scene in [this] episode when I have to go back and forth between the two characters. I’ve only had two scenes when I had to do that. The first scene was easier because Hope was dressed in a different costume and I just locked onto the character. I also understood the dialogue more than I did the second time around [in this episode], where Hope wasn’t threatening Gabrielle but wasn’t yearning for her love, either. It was Hope being vindictive. That scene was very difficult for me; for some reason [it] just did not quite click.” (Starlog Magazine – November 1999)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “When we were building this story, one of the big issues was, ‘Okay, we have essentially two reunion scenes. And the first one has to be convincing. But then the second one has to give you something different…’ And two versions of what happened in that L.P. [lava pit]…. What I sort of take it is, and it plays really well for me, that what happened to her is so horrible she really can’t talk about it… As a writer, you just, you know good actors can save you from anything. There’s nothing that we could write—I mean, what could we write that would be an interesting explanation of what it’s like to be crushed in a lava pit? But [you just have to go], ‘Okay, Renee, handle it.’” (“A Family Affair” – Roundtable Discussion – Fan Kit #12)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “I think Gabrielle appears lost at the end of the episode because she genuinely is. I mean, I think there’s little doubt in her mind that she’s successfully killed her daughter and her grandson, such as he was, but that leaves her where emotionally? I mean, she really, I don’t believe Gabrielle understands what her life is about. She’s certainly, not at this point, a warrior like Xena. She’s someone that comes from the heart, and I think she’s having a problem reconciling the two and finding her way in the world.” (“A Family Affair” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “I think that Gabrielle, having had a very close brush with death when she went into the pit and she said she was in a hospice for a while, so obviously she’s had a long time to recover and to consider things, [has started to realize] that she doesn’t know exactly what she wants… She knows that she cares about Xena and she believes in the work they do, but I think she knows that it’s much more inherently Xena’s path that she’s found herself on than her own. And I think that she’s started to realize that she needs to answer that for herself – that you can’t just take, even though you can find somebody else’s path comfortable for a while, over time eventually you have to find your own.” (“A Family Affair” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that producer/writer Liz Friedman gave on “A Family Affair” for The Chakram Newsletter: #6.
72. Season 4, Episode 4: “In Sickness And In Hell” (Aired: 10/19/98 | Filmed: 08/07 – 08/17/98)
Xena (who has lice) and Gabrielle (who has a fungus and a variety of other ailments) take on marauding Scythians who have captured Argo.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0612
The first comedic episode of the season, “In Sickness And In Hell” takes two fairly good ideas (that probably couldn’t sustain whole episodes on their own) and pairs them together to create a light-hearted — and ITCHY — installment. The first story, one that was reportedly batted around quite a bit in the writer’s room, concerns Argo and her loyalty to Xena. This is the emotional heart of the script, and the principal reason for the episode’s existence. The second story, most likely a reaction to the incredibly heavy installments that both preceded and proceeded this episode, finds Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer contending with a host of physical ailments: lice, fungus, and diarrhea. This amusing complication, unaddressed prior on the series, sort of takes precedence over the plot driving the entire episode. So while the trio’s mission is getting Argo back from the Scythians and helping Joxer defend the village, much of the story beats are crafted around the bathroom humor that naturally arises from their unfortunate afflictions.
Thus, one’s enjoyment of the episode is really predicated not on a fondness for the Argo A-story (which might as well be the B-story) but on an appreciation for the sort of low-brow comedy that runs rampant through the episode. Personally, while I find much of the episode screamingly funny (and not terribly disgusting), I do not think the storytelling is of the caliber of some of the earlier comedies that contain humor as a part of the emotional core, not as an added attraction — such is the case here. Additionally, while I appreciate the placement of a comedy after a string of perhaps overly melodramatic episodes, it doesn’t make complete sense that the characters would yet be in a place of such trivial silliness. And while this dichotomy in episodic tone first became apparent last season when a string of lighter episodes were placed in the middle of the overarching Rift storyline, the show has become even more serialized and the comedy in this installment has become more exaggeratedly crass. Thus, the episode feels out of place. But, there’s no other installment like it. And if this kind of comedy is your thing, here is an episode that you won’t want to miss. The actors are having a lot of fun, and it shines through into the final product.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “This episode makes me itch. I mean, it makes me itch just thinking about it. Makes me want to scratch my head… [and] this is a busy episode. There’s a lot of set-ups… [As for Argo] sometimes it’s Tilly [our main horse] and sometimes it’s not.” (“In Sickness And In Hell” Commentary – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Oh my gosh. I was laughing so hard in [the drooling] scene. My body was just shaking [because] I knew I couldn’t laugh and it was just so funny. I couldn’t believe the guy under the bed was keeping a straight face. He was literally underneath me enduring my drool! He was quite the hero that day… [For the bunny scene] it was a stuffed rabbit that was a bit horrific to look at to begin with and it had these sharp teeth. So during the rehearsal, I ended up with some real bite wounds from the bunny… That was the running joke that day. The fight scene was so frenetic the teeth ended up cutting me!” (The Chakram Newsletter: #6)
Josh Becker (Director): “You pretty much got [all of] what I put in, and I couldn’t believe it, because I put fart noises in there for Ted making all that bad food for the Sythians. We completely improvised that, where he’s going down the line, saying, ‘A little bit more for you. I used to be the chef for the king; his renowned flatulence has nothing to do with me!'” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #17 – April 2001)
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!