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.
75. Season 4, Episode 7: “Locked Up And Tied Down” (Aired: 11/09/98 | Filmed: 08/18 – 08/27/98)
Xena is sentenced to life in prison for a crime she committed in her dark past.
Story by Robert Tapert & Josh Becker | Teleplay by Hilary J. Bader | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0614
This is one of those solid episodes that (like “Blind Faith” and “Forgiven”) just slipped through the cracks of making it on my list of the best episodes — and the honorable mentions. With “Locked Up And Tied Down,” my reasons are much clearer. While the episode is visually stunning and built upon an incredibly strong and engaging premise that makes good use of its characters, its drama, and its ability to connect firmly to the series’ theme (Xena’s quest for redemption), there are a few things that have always held the episode back for me. The first, as many may have guessed, is that because the episode ran so long, there are a few story points that sort of get lost in the alacrity of the plot. The biggest is the relationship between Gabrielle and Thelassa, which doesn’t get to develop organically in this 43-minute episode. While there’s certainly not enough here for a two-parter (nor would I want there to be), the episode isn’t completely coherent. And while I don’t really hold it against the creatives involved, it certainly is a drawback when examining this episode as a standalone narrative.
Secondly, the case that brings Xena to jail (Xena feeding a teenage girl to a bunch of flesh eating crabs) is simultaneously so horrific and campy that we don’t know whether or not to take it seriously. If we choose to do so, then this confirms that Xena DID indeed kill women and children, which helps to make sense of why she would agree to be punished for this crime. This brings me to my third and biggest nitpick. This story, which, again, I love because its decidedly related to Xena’s quest for atonement, is something that we should have seen earlier in the series. It feels odd to have it come up here in Season Four. Xena would have been tried for crimes years ago. Logically, it’s a leap for me to understand why this would come up here and now. And though I think (given the context of the surrounding episodes) you can claim that Xena goes to prison (in part) to spare Gabrielle from meeting the fate shown in Alti’s vision, it’s still difficult to comprehend why Xena would willingly go to jail now. Wouldn’t she rather be out helping people instead of sitting in a cell? Because the girl’s fate was so nasty, one can understand Xena feeling the need to be punished. But, now — in Season Four? It’s never made complete sense to me, and I think this is an early Season One story. So while there’s a lot here that I love, I think there are some major flaws. (They bother me, but they might not bother you!)
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I did [the story] with Josh [Becker]. I wanted to look at Xena being tried for her crimes. Of course, we couldn’t have her stay in prison. I liked that story, and it was hard physically on Lucy. Rick [Jacobson] directed that and he’s hard on the actors. He gets a lot out of them though. I had to ask Lucy about the rats and she thought that was pretty funny, biting one and throwing it up to get the chakram… And [this] was also probably the last time we used Gabrielle as a ‘healer.’ I don’t know why, but the stories just evolved differently after that.” (Whoosh! Interview – January 2001)
Josh Becker (Director/Writer): “I came to write [this episode]… when Rob Tapert called me up and said, ‘I have a great teaser and don’t know where to go with it. Xena and Gaby are ambushed by bad guys whom they easily beat up and Xena asks why they attacked them and the bad guy says, “You killed our priestess,” and they say her name and Xena says, “Oh yeah, her, I did kill her. I’m guilty. Take me to prison.” They put her [in] chains and take her away. End on Gaby with her mouth open. But I don’t know where to go with it because if Xena turns herself in then she won’t want to escape.’ I replied immediately, ‘Xena gets to prison and the priestess she was supposed to have killed is there and alive,’ and Rob added, ‘And she’s the warden,’ and we were off and running…” (Josh Becker Online – Q. & A.)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Late one night as I was flipping through the channels, I came across Papillion and watched that and went, ‘Wow. How do we take the essence of Devil’s Island and put Xena in that situation?’ The one thing that always works on Xena is to put Xena herself in physical hardship cause the audience always roots for her then… It was not going to work unless Xena went to prison and so we wrote [that] Xena went to prison. You know, one of the things about Mean Xena that we never really reconciled [was] that she was a bad person who’s trying to do right but her past kept interfering, and through the first season we did that in the first like ten episodes all the time. This person from her past and that [person] and then we kind of dropped that runner and then picked it up periodically. And this was another case of being able to pick up Xena’s past…. So this was a chance for her to make amends for the things she did that [were] wrong cause there was no question that she had done a bad thing. She had fed this poor women to the crabs and left her to die there basically… One of the things that was hard with [this episode] was Xena had to willingly go to prison… but she still had to maintain herself as Xena the fighter. So once she got into prison, all of her acts were acts of defiance against the injustice within that penal system. So she was still Xena battling all the things she stood for, but now battling for that in the enclosed world within a prison. And therefore the person who was executed that wasn’t given a burial, she took it upon herself in the pouring rain and mud and thunder and lightning to bury this poor lost soul… And we incorporated her grabbing a rat with her teeth and flinging it away… and that was something we hadn’t done before nor had we seen done before. And it was… a good moment to make the audience go, ‘Ewww!’ So, yes, we wrote rats and she moaned for a minute and then went, ‘Oh, that’ll be cool.’…One of the [other] things we had to do as storytellers was find a connection for the Gabrielle character in the story so that the camp commandant lived in incredible pain and… Gabrielle wanted to be a healer – that was really a little arc that she ran in the fourth season was she really wished that she could be a healer – [so] that was a perfect connection… to give her somebody to connect to, to further push forward her storyline [and] what she hoped to accomplish… So it was always something that we had scripted and I think to more or less it worked within the story and I think both women played it very well.” (“Locked Up And Tied Down” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “The weather really crushed me on [this episode]. At one point we were a day-and-a-half behind. There was this horizontal rain sometimes. You’d never know it to see the show. It’s kind of gloomy and the puddles you see on the ground were actually there. We didn’t put them in. It’s funny because in pre-production we had planned to have all these puddles to give it that dank, dark, gloomy feel. Nature did all the work for us in that respect. We made it up in the long run. It was a pretty fun episode. Rob really had a fun time with it. It was an idea he had, originally from a Steve McQueen film. Again, there were a bunch of little things that got cut. There was a nice scene where Gabrielle goes searching for Xena, and she goes into the cellblock where the women are, and she has a run-in with Ersina. Then she meets up with Clysemene, the redhead that Xena took under her wing. Actually, Clysemene’s character really suffered a lot, getting cut. Now she’s almost an extra with only a line or two, but in my cut she’s an integral character that Xena takes under her wing and protects her from Ersina. We cut some things about how the prison is run and how it’s impossible to escape. There’s a nice little scene with Gabrielle and Xena where they fill each other in after Gabrielle finds her, that got lost. There were several scenes between Gab and Thalassa that were cut. These scenes show Gab earning Thalassa’s respect and eventually her trust. I think this is another moment, which was kind of lost in the show. Thalassa just suddenly becomes Gab’s friend too fast in the episode now. For the most part you see everything accounted for, but a much stripped-down version. The beats are lost in a lot of dialogue. You miss additional camera angles and cut-aways. These few seconds here and there add up to the minutes that have to be cut. The lingering moments are gone, but that’s the stuff I really like because that’s where the characters come to life. You learn so much about the characters without anything being said.” (Whoosh! Interview – May 1999)*
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “We were filming during winter in New Zealand. It was raining, and I remember the women playing the prison extras were wearing these sandals and flimsy outfits. And these poor women were just shaking, they were so cold. We had one woman leave because she was getting hypothermia. It was freezing, and Lucy was out there rolling around in the mud in as little as everyone else. I felt very sorry for them at that moment because I actually had to wear a different costume, so I was probably warmer than I usually am during the winter months. [This] was a brutal episode, because the elements of nature were against us. I enjoyed playing against Katrina Browne [as Thelassa]. I found her refreshing to work off of – not as if Lucy’s chopped liver or anything, [but] it’s always nice to have a guest actress come on board. They add a new element to the show.” (Starlog Magazine – November 1999)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “Xena kind of just giving up? You know, Xena obviously had a pretty dark past and she did a lot of bad things. And I think the event with Thalassa might have just been, in her mind, maybe one of the worst things. Even she was going, ‘Man, that was pretty hardcore.’ So I think when all of a sudden you know she gets this parchment and she hears the name Thalassa and that throws her into the flashback… I think… she… maybe felt like she does have to answer for this… I think Xena meant for Thalassa to die with the crabs. I think that was… part of the thing that haunts her is because it was so brutal and it obviously wasn’t a quick death, that I think she certainly planned on Thalassa’s death and… when all of a sudden this comes back at her, [that’s] why she kind of resigns herself so quickly to it… And [for the flashback scene] they just built this set. It was about knee deep and… we had to pump it full of I believe it was salt water because we got these crabs from the ocean. We had some like 60 crabs and somebody had gone out and got these things before. So we had them all in these igloos—these little cooler things—and you know of course we have to get Katrina [Browne, Thalassa] halfway down in the water. And because of the crabs and stuff, it has to be at a certain temperature, and it wasn’t warm. We wanted these [shots] of her sitting there thrashing and all these crabs kind of skirting all over her body, and [we] just plop them down and they just sit there. And I remember sitting there looking at the monitor going, ‘You know, every single one of these [shots] can be faked.’ Live crabs – we [had] to tie strings onto [them] and pull them around. The magic of editing managed to make that scene look somewhat respectable and not too laughable. [And] I always like the idea of Xena kind of giving in cause that’s something you don’t see her do to often. Being thrown into this prison where you know she’s just kind of resigned to it. I remember reading and when I shot it being really intrigued of her standing there and watching the first female prisoner being brought out and sent to her execution. The normal Xena as we know wouldn’t just stand there and let that happen and I remember kind of thinking, ‘Wow. That’s kind of cool that she’s… just letting it happen.’ Which really kind of showed her state of mind… Lucy didn’t complain at the read through about the rain in the building of the grave [scene] because there was no rain in the script. I added that in. I remember thinking, ‘Man, that scene’s going to be really neat in the rain.’ Just the whole emotional side of it… and visually it’d be spectacular. So, yeah, I added it. I just added that in. And I don’t think she kind of saw it until shorty before we were going to shoot it, and she saw. You know, [she] looked up and said, ‘What’s that?’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, well…’ The rats… you know, it was ‘Bring in the rats!’ We just were corralling and pushing them and we’d pick them up and just kind of throw them on her… I can’t remember if it was in the script or if it was her idea about you know Xena biting the rats. I think that might have been [Lucy’s] idea because that’s the sort of humor she has… I added in that handing of the chakram over [in the first scene] because I wanted to bookend it with handing it back to her at the end. It’s a little visual thing of her surrendering herself and then Gabrielle kind of presenting it back to her like, you know, ‘You’re back.’” (“Locked Up And Tied Down” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
John Cavill (Director of Photography): “[Rats] are actually… not ferocious animals at all. They’re not going to jump in there and attack a human being. That’s the last thing they want; they want to get away from the human beings. So I think you can actually see in some of the shots, rats being sort of lobbed onto Xena as if they’re attacking her. It was pretty hard and it was very hard on Lucy. I don’t think anyone’s comfortable with rats and she was definitely in there with, I don’t know how many we had, maybe 50 or 100 rats.” (“Locked Up And Tied Down” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I was hogtied in the cold mud on the concrete floor… All these rats were coming down chutes at me. And of course they’re you know trying to hide up your skirt and down your breast plate. And, oh my God. ‘Please… give me a tetanus shot. Please.’” (The 2001 Pasadena Xena Convention)
*You can find these and other deleted scenes from “Locked Up And Tied Down” on the Season Four DVD set.
76. Season 4, Episode 8: “Crusader” (Aired: 11/16/98 | Filmed: 07/27 – 08/06/98)
Xena and Gabrielle are attacked and then befriended by a radiant young woman who preaches about the light, but their budding friendship ends when she later competes with Xena for Gabrielle’s heart and soul.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Paul Lynch | Production No. V0613
I featured this episode as #16 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “[This] was an interesting episode and I think what stands out to me most is what fantastic casting it was. Kathryn Morris who played Najara I thought was just absolutely perfect for the role and she was a do-gooder and she was obsequious and she was just, yeah, just perfect for it. And you got quite squirmy as you saw Gabrielle getting more and more drawn to that character. [This was] one of R.J. Stewart’s stories and he had a wonderful knack for setting up characters counter to Xena and [this] is a perfect example of it.” (“Crusader” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “We all generally felt the need for a new villain, so I went off one weekend and played with the idea of who [Xena and Gabrielle] could come across. What if [they were] from another culture… a hero with a totally different set of values… they both think of themselves as heroic but [have] different ways of determining what heroic and good/evil is. It became apparent to me that I was talking about a zealot… then I thought of Joan of Arc and then I knew who the character was. The story played out pretty organically then… of course [Gabrielle] would be attracted to this character and [Xena] would like the idea of [Gabrielle] being with someone who has sort of a pure way of looking at this adventure. It’s not of course until later on that she realizes the zealotry is out of control and not in check. And, it took me a while to specifically think about who that villain could be… Joan of Arc as a villain turned out to be a pretty cool idea.” (RealHollywood Chat – December 1998)
Kathryn Morris (Actor, Najara): “They wanted a Joan of Arc kind of character. They said, we want a very tiny, delicate-looking kind of woman that’s just a little tweaked out, a little angry… I think that’s why they wanted me to be very unassuming and seeming very gentle and small… I was scared about the fighting, because I am not a large person. [Lucy’s] taller than me and she’s been doing it so long and she’s an expert. I just decided that we’ve all seen somebody like the kid in school that everybody pushes around… The small kid, if you get him too mad, he goes ballistic. I decided it was more of [Najara’s] internal rage that would compensate. Plus, she’s so religiously and fanatically got her agenda, that is what fuels the craziness… I think she means well but she’s human. Anybody that tries to be too perfect… is going to crack. Najara thinks, ‘I have all this love to give, I will heal you… as long as you go along with my agenda.’… [Renee and I] wanted to make sure [the relationship] was about the truth of what she’s looking for and what I’m looking for in her. I’m trying to do this agenda on her… but there’s something about her. I think [Najara] almost wants to take away her innocence and manipulate it for good or evil… [Gabrielle] is a disciple but an extra interesting possible disciple because she had such a hunger to know what’s the right thing to do.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #2 – December 1999)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I believe Gabrielle definitely thought Najara was a fighter for good and was disappointed to find she had her own rules and deemed who was fit to live and who wasn’t. That’s not a right we have as human beings. But I don’t know that Gabrielle thinks Najara’s evil. Maybe just misguided. I think she really fell for Najara in a sense that she found someone who could possibly be her mentor. To fill a role that Xena can’t for her. A spiritual role… That’s what Gabrielle is experiencing this season. Maybe Xena isn’t the ideal companion for her because she can’t satisfy the yearning Gabrielle has for spiritual enlightenment. As the characters keep learning their life lessons, they’ll always question whether or not they should travel together. I don’t think that’s something that can ever be resolved. You love someone, you want to be with them. However, at the same time, maybe they’re not ideally suited to you. But – they’re both two stubborn women!” (The Chakram Newsletter: #6)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “Najara is definitely based on Joan of Arc and… I think all of us were intrigued by the idea that if Joan of Arc were alive today, she’d be put in a mental hospital. You know, you say you hear voices and you’re getting a dosage of lithium and being sent off to shuffle the hallways. But at the time historically, she was a great military leader, and the question is: was Joan of Arc crazy or not? Is Najara crazy or not? But I think part of what’s interesting about the character is that you don’t exactly know whether she’s crazy or not. And then the question is, if she’s crazy, is that a problem? Or is it only a problem because of the actions that she’s directed to do? You know, I mean, you could say Xena was crazy when she was killing millions of people. You could also say Xena’s a little crazy now. I mean, someone who rides around, who’s obsessed with helping other people. Sure, it’s noble, but… ‘Geez, get a job, settle down, build a house, have a mortage.’ I mean, you know, there are other things… I think Gabrielle was vulnerable to Najara’s logic because [they’re] meeting her just at the time that [Gabrielle’s] beginning to question whether or not Xena’s way is her way. Just as she’s beginning to question what she’s doing with her life, somebody steps in and offers her an alternative and… Gabrielle is I think a more spiritual character, at least, she’s more open about her spirituality than Xena is, and here she meets somebody who seems to have integrated the spirituality [with] a commitment to action and justice. And that’s exactly what Gabrielle’s looking for…I think that Najara certainly has a point that Xena is bad for Gabrielle. I mean, I think that certainly in traveling with Xena, Gabrielle has been in harm’s way, you know, in [an] endless number of situations and if she weren’t with her, that wouldn’t have happened. And… Xena knows from her vision that she and Gabrielle are headed to a really bad place. If she could walk away and leave Gabrielle, than conceivably that would never happen. Now, you know, one of the questions that [was] huge in Greek literature and plays since then, is, you know, what is fate and is fate ever avoidable? Is it character? Is it truly destiny? You know, could Xena ever really leave Gabrielle? I don’t think so. Would Gabrielle ever let herself be left? Probably not. So, while Xena spends a lot of the season trying to find ways to avoid the vision that she’s seen, you know, the question lingers: is it ever really avoidable?” (“Crusader” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “When I first pitched [this] episode… to Rob, he said that he had wanted to do a Joan of Arc thing his entire life. So he totally got it immediately and we went from there and Kathryn Morris did a terrific job with it… The reason that Najara could have an effect on Gabrielle, the reason that [Gabrielle] had an ear for Najara’s… preaching was because [this] whole season’s about her questioning her role. With Xena, yes they had done some wonderful good and certainly she knows that, but you know, she always questions Xena’s commitment to good… in the sense of… she was always afraid of that demon inside of Xena that might pop up… The big difference between Najara’s worldview and Xena’s worldview is Xena’s trying to minimize the pain people go through. So when she sees vulnerable or weak people in danger, she comes to their aid because they can’t protect themselves and by doing that, she allows them to live without pain… without suffering. It’s kind of a simple code. It’s really all about, once again, correcting her past where she did inflict so much pain – where she did inflict so much suffering. Najara has a much more idealistic and I’m using the [word]… in the philosophic sense, you know, that there’s an ideal that she’s trying to fulfill. So… some of the evil people who she is going to kill in three days if they don’t accept the light, you know, I think it’s real questionable how evil they are. They might at times be ready to inflict violence, but Xena would jump in and drive them away, and they would run off and they’d be a little more afraid next time they did it. See Xena’s not interested in converting anybody to her worldview. She’s just trying to reduce the level of suffering in the world, whereas Najara – yeah, she does have an ideal… she would like a perfect world where no one suffers – but she’s willing to inflict all kinds of suffering to accomplish that… I think Xena is much more tolerant… Najara—she’s just really tough… The thing about doing a superhero [show] is… when do you put them in vulnerable situations? You don’t do it every week, by any means. But [you] do it with a really really tough opponent. The more challenges you present the character, the more heroic the character is. [Najara beating up Xena] is one of my favorite scenes in the series. And afterwards she takes out the tooth. I [gave] the idea just to Rob, and then I went off to write the story and I think the first scene I had in my mind was Lucy with the tooth, you know, because I just knew that she would pull it off…There are [episodes] that I love and the audience loves and then there’s the ones that I’m not sure of but the audience loves, and there’s ones that I love that the audience doesn’t love. I think [this episode] falls into that [last category] because I’ve never heard a lot of great feedback from it, but I really like [this] episode. I really liked the way it played out and what it said about our characters.” (“Crusader” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Kathryn Morris (Actor, Najara): “I thought [my character] was very well developed. Najara was very motivated in her purpose for being a warrior, as Xena is motivated in hers. Najara was a very vulnerable villain. It made [us] have a lot more compassion for why she’s so crazy. It’s really irrititating to me to see a villain that’s a caricature of a person. I feel that if a character is evil they’re motivated by something much deeper, like a hurt or injustice they feel needs to be corrected. I thought that was really fascinating. Najara believes she has good intentions. Not everyone agrees with her and she just doesn’t like that.” (Whoosh! Interview – December 1998)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “Najara is a villain no matter how she justifies her action. Perhaps she’s a tragic villain in that she comes so close to being good and then steps over the line. There’s a certain sympathy I felt for her character in writing her. But in the end, she’s an intolerant fanatic and must be stopped by our hero.” (Xena Online Community Interview – March 2008)
Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “There’s a shot from [this] episode which I really like. It’s sort of a turning point for Gabrielle where Najara comes in and saves her by catching an arrow, which is kind of normally Xena’s domain – what Xena would do. And it’s like, ‘Oh, someone else has stepped into Xena’s role.’ We’ve done a lot of shots like that in the past, but this time it worked particularly well. And it was kind of the arrow’s point-of-view tracking in towards Gabrielle. And I think from memory that way we used to do those was… the art department would make up a false arrow that was probably five times larger than real life’s… and that was put in front of steadycam fixed. And then steadycam was run at a slow camera speed so it raced in towards [whomever] you were going for. And I think sometimes we did the shots backwards so that you could start with the arrow right up against them and come backwards really fast. And of course when you run it back the correct way, you’ve got this impression… of the arrow going… whoosh – straight in towards the person. And then with some clever slight-of-hand, I think the actor’s already holding the arrow in their hand and they just reach up and [pretend to] grab [it]. With clever cutting, it looks to the eye as if the arrow’s been plucked out of the air.” (“Crusader” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer R.J. Stewart gave on “Crusader” for The Chakram Newsletter: #6.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!