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.
83. Season 4, Episode 15: “Between The Lines” (Aired: 02/15/99 | Filmed: 11/23 – 12/02/98)
The power of Mehndi sends the souls of Xena and Gabrielle into the future to protect their good karmas from a reincarnated Alti.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0616
Perhaps the episode most conspicuously absent from any of my lists (aside from the Norse trilogy, on which I took a whole separate post to explain my thoughts), “Between The Lines” is an excellently made Xena episode. It’s got plenty of heavy action, which is always a plus in an action series, intense drama driven by the characters, including the returning Alti, who’s more deliciously evil than ever, and gorgeous cinematography, containing what may be the best special effects that this series ever produced. It’s wonderfully crafted: a highlight of the fourth season. Additionally, it’s an important installment in the year’s overall arc — reintroducing the crucifixion premonition and elevating the stakes by giving Gabrielle that much teased haircut. My distaste for it lies within the premise itself. The idea of Xena and Gabrielle needing to protect their karmas from Alti by traveling into the future is a fascinating story, which makes good use of Indian motifs and allows for a deeper exploration of the introspective journeys upon which both characters (although mostly Gabrielle) are currently undertaking. But wrapped up in this story is the clichéd concept of “soulmates” and the idea that Xena and Gabrielle are meant to be together — no matter the time, space, or circumstances.
As I’ve written about before (including in the aforementioned post on the Norse trilogy), by reinforcing that Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship is one that will always exist and was always meant to exist, the series wrests control of its arcs away from the characters and onto a higher being. Essentially, it eliminates all suspense and any hopes of conflict predicated on the differences between Xena and Gabrielle as individuals. (Now, to clarify: this has nothing to do with the characters’ sexuality — they can be lovers without being soulmates.) Now, while I think this episode marks a development that would eventually hinder the series in a terrible way, I also believe that the producers specifically wanted to reinforce the idea of Xena and Gabrielle’s paths running (like the Mehndi) side-by-side to help explain why Xena and Gabrielle would be adamant about staying with one another during the latter’s attempt at pacifism, which begins in the following episode and would last the remainder of the season. (Thus one could argue about the necessity of this episode in the series’ maturation. I wouldn’t dispute it.) So this episode probably did exactly what it was supposed to do — and in an incredibly powerful way. But it’s a heavy-handed episode that forever removes the drama and tension from Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Steven L. Sears (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Like so many of that stories that we’ve done, many, many different elements came together to create [this] script. Mehndi was one of them. And it’s something that I was aware of. I’d done a little bit of reading on it – not a lot. I believe Rob was the one who came to me, however, and said, ‘Wow. This is fascinating. This is really great. What can you do with this?’ I had already wanted to grab ahold of the reincarnation idea. And there were a few elements that feuled this. One I’m going to have to reference is a song by Paul Williams, which was in the Muppet movie. And there was a line in this one song that I felt, and I’d always felt this way, described [Xena and Gabrielle] perfectly. The line was, ‘There’s not a word yet for old friends who have just met.’ And I thought, ‘You know something? They are old friends. They just met – but they’re old friends.’ So in my mind, throughout history and throughout destiny, these two characters’ souls have existed and have met, parted ways, met, intertwined, parted ways, and that fit in perfectly with the reincarnation theory. But what was important for these two characters is that those two souls have, throughout history, intertwined… This [cycle] has happened continuously. And everytime it happens in their lifetimes, they recognize each other. Not [by name]… [more like] they say, ‘I know you. I know you and I have to be with you. I don’t know why, but I do.’ Now, bringing the Mehndi in. Mehndi was perfect symbolism [for] this [episode], because when you think about it, Mehndi, if you’ve done it and if you’ve read up on what Mehndi means, it’s not just drawing. Mendhi has an entire meaning behind it; there’s a whole philosophy and spirituality based on Mehndi. The simplest part of it is that Mehndi has a lot of lines that run parallel to each other. And then they will intersect, they will form beautiful designs. Then they will part again and run parallel. Well that’s lives – Xena and Gabrielle. Those are the lives – those are the threads of their life. They run parallel to each other, they intersect, form beautiful designs, then they might part, but they still run parallel to each other. And what really counts is what’s between those lines. There’s the title…” (“Between The Lines” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
John Cavill (Director of Photography): “[This episode] had the… past/future [and] present/future [jumps]. So we sort of had to come up with a treatment there that, whilst it was subtle, was just a cue to the viewer to know that they’d moved to a different time [period]. So we came up with sort of a plan for a post-production grade where we actually added filtration in post-production, which was quite subtle and we tended to go for a crunchier, what I would almost describe as a bleach bypass, look, so that it was more monochromatic and separated from the rest of the show. [This] was also true of the setting though. You find with the future elements of [this episode], all of the set dressing is more monochromatic… [and] bleaker. So the viewers got that trigger everytime you go there and they don’t have to sort of wonder where they are in the story.” (“Between The Lines” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Claire Stansfield (Actor, Alti): “In [this episode] I am so unbelievably evil, it’s just beyond evil… Rick [Jacobson, director] would come back from the monitor and say, ‘If I’m laughing, Claire, it’s good.’ He thought I was just so evil and the more he’d laugh the more evil he thought I was, so we had a good time with that. If you’re gonna do it, do it all the way… What I liked best about Rick was how close he was to the action. Most directors sit a block away in a little tent looking at a little monitor, surrounded by assistants and script supervisors. Rick was not like that. He stood right next to the camera, jumping up and down like a little kid sometimes, excited and in the trenches with us. I really liked that. As I’d work he’d be miming right along next to me. That’s better than having to look far away to wait for someone to give you a ‘thumbs up’ sign to show you’re on the right track. For me it was especially helpful in my latest appearance because I had to do a lot of sword fighting. When there are twenty people running at you, no matter how well it’s choreographed, it’s hard to keep your cool. These stunt guys are fantastic and they’re really into it. When they ran at me on my first take I just lost it. I said to Rick, ‘I didn’t know they’d be screaming!’ He said, ‘Yeah, and you should be too!’” (Whoosh! Interview – January 1999)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “Gabrielle got a haircut in this episode… I don’t know exactly whose idea it was. Rob said that Renee… kind of wanted to change the character to show the maturity of it. And somehow the idea of cutting the hair was arrived at. And Rob was in New Zealand at the time, so he emailed me a picture of Renee with a short wig on. And… it did have the effect. It matured the character. Once that hair was cut, this was an adult. So… we decided to go ahead with it. I think at that point we were trying to think, ‘Where can we actually introduce this and cut her hair?’” (“Between The Lines” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I got so tired of Renee whining that she wanted to do something with her hair… [so when] the opportunity presented itself for Xena to save Gabrielle by throwing her chakram and giving her a buzz cut… at first I thought we made a terrible error. But we actually knew before we started the entire season that we were going to do that cause we shot this little flashforward at the beginning for the first [two] episodes. And we put a bad wig on Renee that was short. But we had already committed by that time that we were going to, in the course of that season, chop her hair off. And it was a way of making her, since she was on this journey to go from a young girl to an adult. We thought that [this] was an outward symbol of it.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “That horrible, horrible wig [at the end and in the flashforwards]. Every time I see it, I cringe…. But I loved the haircut though. It was fun for me to shed… the girly image… To me the whole hair thing became a bit of a prop, you know, and it sometimes became about hair acting, and trying for continuity, you had to be aware of things that [I] didn’t want to have to worry about. So I was very pleased when they took off the locks.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “The violence, I have to say, a lot of that [came] from Rob because he loves blood and he loves the violence. Cause there’s a lot of things, especially in [this episode] in particular, that I remember going, ‘Man, this is a little—this is a little hardcore for television.’ I mean, you know, we’ve got Gabrielle being crucified with big bloody holes in her hand, and Lucy getting her throat slit by her chakram. I mean, Rob wanted blood gushing out of Lucy’s throat. And I remember thinking, ‘How are we going to show this on network television?’ So we kind of came to a little compromise on that. But… the violence, you know, that’s me appeasing Rob. That was my number one goal. You know, make sure he was happy. And then with the putting on of the Mehndi paint, that was really tough, because a lot of those, well all of the paintings were actually appliances – these foam latex appliances. So it took like an hour, hour and a half or something for Lucy and Renee, because it was this kind of raised stuff and we couldn’t actually do the stuff because of the drying time, and then of course, it would actually stain her skin. So all of that stuff was appliances that were individually cut out and applied on. [But] it was a wonderful effect and a great job by the makeup artist… but man, it was time consuming… And then again [that scene] was probably one of those things that had a simple slugline, but it’s like, ‘Here’s another great moment to see the two of them doing this and exploring this and tracing the lines. And just trying to give some real significance to the Mendhi. Because it came in so prominent[ly] at the end with the powers and stuff… A lot of [the Mehndi look] was Rob’s brain child. He had a very specific vision for [that] in mind. And having it up above and coming down and stuff… and then I kind of threw my hat into the ring on the little kind of fairy lights that kind of come out and swoop around. And I like the idea of you know this force hitting them. And then exploding outward… into all these little particles and stuff… But most of that was just from Rob’s vision.” (“Between The Lines” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “The solution for defeating Alti was not to defeat her in that time and place where she had the power that she had in the future. What I’m saying is, in the future, she was able to hide behind the persona that her soul was in. And also that, Xena and Gabrielle were weakened because they were just then aware of who they were. Bringing her back into the present unleashed a lot of Alti’s power, however it also restored who Xena and Gabrielle were. As a subtext to it in my own mind, they weren’t just fighting Alti in a different time… They were actually pulling her karma back and of course that in combination with the powers that Naima could give them, allowed them to defeat her. And [with] incredibly stunning visual effects that I have to say even I didn’t expect to see on the screen. But, wow, that was pretty incredible.” (“Between The Lines” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Claire Stansfield (Actor, Alti): “[Sword fighting] was something I’d never done and always wanted to do, and I was petrified of it, and then I did it and I really got into it… Ten guys are coming at you screaming, and you’ve got this choreographed sequence and you’ve got to do it full force. The director [Rick Jacobson] kept saying, ‘Claire, Alti loves this stuff… So forget being afraid, and trying to remember your choreography, and forget this 200 pound Maori guy screaming, running at you.’ All that is just out the window. You’ve got to just be Alti and go for it… [Like] when I make Renee see her death… Renee goes for it, she’s just sobbing and crying. And I really have to play that I love that. I don’t play the evil, I’m not playing that I’m enjoying somebody’s pain. If I actually thought, ‘This person’s feeling pain,’ I might start to cry…. I’m just feeling the pure joy that she gets in every moment of power… the feelings that you get when you’re really happy or excited about something and… you just want to throw your head back and laugh… And that makes it even more evil that she’s just loving it so much.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #1 – November 1999)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “I’m pretty happy with [this episode]. [It] was probably the hardest episode for me to do because there was so much going on. One of our biggest concerns in pre-production was that we wanted to make sure it was clear to the audience what was happening. We have the time travel thing, people in different bodies, and so forth. Xena and Gabrielle see each other for who they are, but no one else does. That was something that was a bit of a challenge… It worked in the long run, but it sure was trouble getting there. Every night I went home more exhausted than usual, mentally and physically… Claire [Stansfield] is like a top, you just wind her up and let her go. She comes up with these wonderful little moments and nuances. I got a real kick out of her. I would stand there and laugh at her because she was so evil. She said, ‘Hey, you’re laughing at me!’ I said, ‘If I’m laughing, it’s good.’ She’s so expressive and in real life she’s such a nice person. To see her change into that evil character, then take on that voice, I get a real kick out it… That was part of the thrill for me, seeing her just become pure evil. I’ll sit behind the monitors during rehearsal to see if all the angles are right and to see if I want to change anything. But once I know how it will look and I know Cameron’s behind the camera so I have no worries there, I can focus on the actors on their performances and be right there with the actors. I find it odd that more people don’t do that… I just like all the performances I saw [in this episode]. I don’t think Renee and Lucy get the credit they deserve. They are incredible talents.” (Whoosh! Interview – May 1999)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “Between The Lines” for The Chakram Newsletter: #7.
*You can check out deleted and extended scenes from “Between The Lines” on the Season Four DVD set.
84. Season 4, Episode 16: “The Way” (Aired: 02/22/99 | Filmed: 12/03 – 12/15/98)
Still in India, Xena seeks the help of the god Krishna to rescue Gabrielle and Eli from the clutches of the King of the Demons.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0617
I featured this episode as #40 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “In [this] episode… we… offended different Hindu organizations pertaining to their God Krishna, because we actually personified him as a man, and that was never our intention. Most of the time we don’t realize how far we are pushing things and what the end result might be. We just try to tell a good story hoping that everyone will remember that we’re a television show, just trying to entertain. But sometimes, obviously, people take things the wrong way.” (Upbeat Magazine – February 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[In this episode] we used a character called Hanuman, which is a very famous and important… Hindu god. And some guy got wind of it and started a massive campaign to clog Universal’s fax machines – they didn’t have inboxes at the time. Email – the internet was really in its infancy. And Universal was so upset that they were going to get rid of this [episode] – just scrap [this episode] which [was] really good and very respectful to the Hanuman character and all the [Hindu] stuff. Anyway, this guy started a very effective campaign. Turns out he had a brain tumor. He’s a white guy from New Zealand, living at the bottom of New Zealand just being a pain in the a**. Finding something to get upset about, but brain tumors will do that to some people, so… He had like whipped up the entire Hindu population in America, tried to get them to take us off the air. And in the end, they reviewed the [episode] and said, ‘No, this is great. Here’s Krishna and here’s Hanuman.’ I mean, they use them in Bollywood all the time. So this is guy was just bonkers and was holding Universal to ransom. But fortunately common sense prevailed.” (Archive of American Television Interview – 2013)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): [This was] one of my favorite episodes ever… directed by John Fawcett, who’s an incredibly talented director… The people who objected to [this] episode were people who were European believers in Krishna and no other deity was allowed to exist in their world. So the fact that we had taken various aspects of Indian mythology and kind of crashed them all together and had Hanuman and Krishna and these other entities all appearing at the same time, [they felt] was an insult to Krishna. But they were able to turn this into kind of ‘Americans running all over Indian mythology.’ So… eventually the Indian ambassador to United States called the head of Universal and said, ‘You guys gotta do something.’ And there were big protests… and up at City Walk at Universal they were going to have a famous Indian rock group playing for like 15,000 people up there and they were very concerned that it was going to be an incendiary point and so they pulled the episode. And then we kind of worked with people, and ultimately to get the episode back on the air, we had to put a little disclaimer at the end with Lucy and Renee saying… that, you know, ‘This is a great religion…’ An we had to take out Xena headbutting Hanuman. So that was really the sum total it came down to.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “We, through the entire run of Xena, had been smart enough to pretty much stay away from living religions [save David and Goliath]… and indeed the one time we did indeed approach a living religion, we got a little burnt. But… I have talked to many Hindus from India who really liked the episode. So [it was only] a relatively small group of American Hindus, people from a Western culture who had converted to Hinduism, who were offended by it. [And] it’s very unfortunate. I don’t think you can make light of it, but I thought we dealt with it in a very respectful way. In the whole series, Krishna is the only god [Xena] prays to. I [gave] her some dialogue taken from Hindu scriptutes, but… in a very reverant way… So it was very disappointing… that people took it the wrong way, but I’m glad now that people are seeing the episode and not being upset by it… For all the controversy about the Hindu aspect of it, one of the things we thought would be the most controversial is when Xena has… multiple arms cut off. I do remember some notes from the studio but I know Rob was commited to it and there were little changes done. And of course by the time it aired, there was [another] whole… controversy… But I think [this] is the one in Canada they actually had a problem with how severe [the arm removals] looked. I’m pretty sure… that there was a reaction in Canada to how severe we went with lopping the arms off.” (“The Way” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
John Cavill (Director of Photography): “The fight scene with Indrijit and Xena was incredibly difficult. It was a complex fight scene by any Xena standards and then that was compounded by the fact that she lost her arms at one stage, [and] that he had six arms. It was a very difficult and time consuming process. The prosthetic for Indrijit were not easily maneuvered. And it was difficult for him to move with any kind of mobility and look like he was dangerous. We had to do… two arm removals for Xena, which were approached in a pretty standard way where once again we’d treat as a background plated element… the CGI artist [would] basically remove her arms and then have backgrounds that they could deal with. And the arm removal[s] were just treated with blue stockings on the arms.” (“The Way” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “There’s no question that at [the end of the episode], Gabrielle has reached the point where violence is not the answer for her. She’s just seen too much of it and she can’t bear to be a part of that cycle of pain and she wants to break it. You have to take a stand. In your own little world, you have to take a stand. And if she perpetuates violence then she’s adding to the violence in the world. And if she stops it, if she breaks that cycle, [then] she helps to stop violence in the world. So it’s a very personal decision… [but] actually for a pacificst, it really is the only authentic point-of-view. [However] it’s not only too tough a life for her, it’s one that’s going to take her away from Xena. And so she [later] chooses… the Way of the Warrior, which is another choice.” (“The Way” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I always enjoyed [playing] the evolution and transformation of Gabrielle. So when Rob started talking about Gabrielle going into this new state of nonviolence, I thought it was a fantastic idea, because again it just showed… that she’s trying to find her way and who she is as a person, especially in the light of living with a warrior. I thought that was great.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Season Four was Gabrielle’s exploration of what her role in the universe is. Her quest for the answers to life and the meaning of life really kind of propelled our journey through the entire fourth season, and culminating in [“The Ides Of March”]. So it was a very deliberate exploration of… where does Xena fit in [with regard to Gabrielle’s search]… and Xena kind of got a little bit of her own question in [this episode]… but she’s Xena and she [only needs] like one episode to think about that.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!