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.
93. Season 5, Episode 3: “Succession” (Aired: 10/11/99 | Filmed: 04/29 – 05/07/99)
Ares merges Xena and Gabrielle into the same body and force them to fight Mavican, Ares’ new potential right hand.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0902
I featured this episode as #58 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “[Ares] can play people, which is nice. And this is part of his ongoing frustration. Warlords, the most powerful men on Earth, he can play, but he just can’t get this thing [with Xena] figured. What it is, and he discovers it [around] Season Three or something like that, is that ‘irritating blonde.’ It’s like, you’re never really trying to win over one person here, because Gabrielle is like Xena’s Jiminy Cricket. And just when he thinks he’s making some kind of inroad, she is the tap on the shoulder. That’s the wonderful thing about the Xena/Gabrielle relationship. Together they make this one, incredible person… I think that’s part of his frustration, you know. He’s trying to get Gabrielle out of the picture, because he figures once she’s gone, then Xena will fall… That’s the basis of his approach – he’s always coming up with something, with some temptation.” (Spectrum Magazine – June 2001)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “In my mind, yes, Ares was definitely after Gabrielle at this point. The bait and switch, tease and temptation with Xena had gone on long enough. Not only did he realize he wasn’t going to get Xena and that Gabrielle was a logical successor, he was angry and wanted Xena to be tortured by what he was going to do. But his intent was, in fact, to get Gabrielle to his side. And, yes, I think that an Ares/Gabrielle thread could have worked. Obviously that’s not the course of events that happened, but it could have led to some interesting stories.” (Xena Online Community Interview – May 2005)
94. Season 5, Episode 4: “Animal Attraction” (Aired: 10/18/99 | Filmed: 05/25 – 06/02/99)
Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, and Amarice travel to the town of Spamona where Xena is shocked to learn that she is pregnant.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0905
Like Manheim’s previous episode, “Chakram,” this installment is a busy one! In addition to the conflict-of-the-week involving a High Noon showdown between the female sheriff (Xena’s old friend) and her outlawed ex-husband, Gabrielle gets a horse, Joxer gets a response to his declaration of love, Amarice gets a romance (plus character development) and Xena gets some news that changes her life: she’s pregnant! Miraculously, every single story works, and even more miraculously, every story is thematically joined under the same umbrella: attraction. Alison Bruce’s character fights her attraction to her ex, Gabrielle tries to attract a horse, Joxer continues to be attracted to Gabrielle, who isn’t attracted to him, Amarice is attracted to Armand, whom we met in last season’s underrated “The Convert,” and Xena wonders who in the heck she attracted that got her pregnant. It’s quite effective and the light-heartedness is refreshing. However my biggest complaint is with the reveal of Xena’s pregnancy. It had become a little too obvious to the audience that both actress and character were expecting, so it doesn’t quite make sense for Xena to be so surprised by the news. Additionally, Xena’s automatic assumption that the pregnancy is normal and healthy is out-of-character, especially since she’s been a “love free zone.” And ultimately, it’s a cop out not to address these concerns in a heavier episode. (If the intention was to raise these questions more directly in a follow-up installment, it never quite materialized.) So, I’m not completely on board with the way the writers introduced Xena’s pregnancy, but the episode itself is fun and well-done.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Rick Jacobson (Director): “Every episode of Xena has certain elements of comedy in it. [This one] just had a little bit more than the normal. It was a nice change of pace for everybody. We basically just did a Western… There was some talk early on about how far we [were] going to go with this Western and we just decided, ‘Well, let’s go.’ The sound of the stirrups… it’s flat out Western. Wardrobe was doing the chaps. Rob Gillies and his wonderful art department staff were doing the saloon doors and the big kind of archway that for whatever reason, every Western town has, with the little bullhorns that we craned up through… ‘Let’s do it.’ We did… Alison Bruce was a great pleasure to work with. It was my first and only time working with her, unfortunately. We had several discussions just about the character she played and we just talked a little bit about the character’s background… And she and Lucy got along really well too, which helped that whole friendship that they already had… Thankfully Jennifer Sky and Mfundo [Morrison, Armand] got along wonderfully [as well], which was certainly a load off my mind… I think it was Mfundo’s first kissing scene so I remember him… being a little bit nervous… there was some genuine nerves when he was standing there with the flowers and candy and stuff. So I think that worked; it played right into the scene… Xena’s reaction to being pregnant… was one of the elements of the script that kind of intrigued me. It’s not like… we didn’t see it coming. I don’t know what fan was surprised by it. But if they were, I tried to play that scene as the big [reveal]… we did the big kind of Vertigo zoom on the moment where she realized that she was pregnant… I liked the way Lucy played it in the sense of, ‘How could this be possible?’ because as she said, she’s [been] a ‘love-free zone for a very long time.’ I know ‘up the duff’ wasn’t in the script… I think there was a lot of that that she just went off on and it was just great… It was just a nice relief getting this script, I think, for everybody ‘cause it was a big change of pace…” (“Animal Attraction” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Jennifer Sky (Actor, Amarice): “Up until [this one], I’d done all these really heavy episodes, with all this trauma like when Xena and Gabrielle were dead. [This] was the first episode that was light and comedic. I had seen R.J. [Stewart, writer and producer] before I shot it, and he’d said, ‘You know, Jennifer, you’re a really charming and funny person; you should put some more of that into Amarice.’ So I did. I heard through the grapevine that the producers saw [this episode] and said, ‘Well, maybe we could see her as Cleopatra. She was great in this, so let’s see what else she can do.’.. I loved doing [this one], too, because I liked working with Ted Raimi. I think he`s a really amazing actor and I think I actually learned a lot from him as a comedian. Sometimes he would be doing a fight scene or something, and I`d really be paying attention. I`d sit behind the video monitor during his scene and watch, and I`d just laugh and laugh because he was so funny. So [this] was really my favorite Xena episode to work on because it was a comedy.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #15 – February 2001)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “[This] was supposed to be our High Noon episode… All through the piece I would cut back to the sun dial, the way in High Noon they cut to the clock on the wall and it ticking closer and closer to noon. Well, we were cutting to the sun dial to do the same effect… I think it’s such a heavy issue to bring forward – Xena’s pregnancy – that to do it in a drama just seems like overkill. If you play it light, then the questions that will surface and that did surface about who the father is, is the child good or evil? – all of those questions can kind of be fielded and played out longer through a next more serious episode. A drama might have to answer too many questions too fast. A comedy lets it live… I think if the fans wondered whether Gabrielle was going to be pro or con this pregnancy and if she wouldn’t wonder if Xena was going to have the same child she did, I think it’s really true. It was going through Gabrielle’s mind too. As I writer, I certainly felt that would be something that she would question. And I think if you watch the episode, [Renee] plays that too. Because when Xena announces the pregnancy, Gabrielle isn’t all over her like a puppy dog jumping up and down and saying ‘hooray.’ There’s all this play of emotion goes on before the friend in her steps forward, hugs her, and says congratulations… I really do think it’s all there in the playing of it. I think Renee did a lovely job with no words.” (“Animal Attraction” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I don’t believe Hope played into Gabrielle’s feelings [to Xena’s pregnancy] at all. That’s been put to bed. It’s just – can you imagine your best friend telling you they’re pregnant?… She just can’t understand how or when. I thought that was well written. All those questions spilled out at the same time.” ” (The Chakram Newsletter: #10)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I thought there might be a string of red herrings [about the father], but that didn’t really occur. Nor did Xena question [the paternity] very much. She knew it was not a bad thing and had to reassure Gabrielle. We felt we needed to explain to the audience who has been with us for a long time, that Xena didn’t feel there was a demon involved. They needed to know she felt this was a good and holy thing. I use the word ‘holy’ loosely… Gabrielle’s trying to needle Xena about it and Xena’s just, ‘Talk to the hand, talk to the hand.’” (The Chakram Newsletter: #9)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The entire cast and crew needed a bit of a mental break, so we decided to have an episode that’s all about gossiping and relationships… There’s a bit of satire in [the Joxer/Gabrielle subplot with] trying to present yourself in a certain way, so that the object of your affection finds you attractive. In doing that, you end up making yourself look like an idiot, and that seems to be what’s happening to Joxer in this episode. Even though it deals with the very serious issue of being rejected by the one you love, it’s done with the comedic edge between Ted and I, and our characters.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #2 – December 2000)
Donald Duncan (Director Of Photography): “[This] was like an ode to Sergio Leone. It was a spaghetti western spoof basically in Xena land and I loved when we got the chance to do things like that. And Rick [Jacobson, director] had a lot of stylized shots to sell that… What really struck me watching the episode was Jo LoDuca’s fantastic music. I was listening carefully and there was stuff coming up that I’d never heard in Xena before, like banjos and harmonicas. It’s a real standout episode in that respect. It’s kind of a million miles away from normal Xena land… but I loved it. I thought we did a wonderful job… The whole opening… is set with snow on the ground. And it was shot in early winter in Auckland, but of course, it never snows in Auckland… and so there was a huge fake snow job that the special effects department did. And they did a great job, but it’s one of those things where the shot keeps growing and growing and growing and getting bigger and because we were on a steady-cam and doing a talking and walking shot on a wide lens, a lot of background was revealed. So I think the guys went through about three times as much snow as they though they were going to have to use. But I think it works pretty well. And one of the things that helps that scene… it was actually physically cold, so you got steamy breath from the actors in the backlight. So that kind of sells it because there’s nothing worse than trying to do a fake snow scene in the middle of summer. Sometimes it just doesn’t work… We did the old Spielberg track and zoom out trick to register shock on Xena’s face [in the pregnancy reveal]. And it’s quite tricky to set up those shots. If you don’t get the timing just right, they don’t work. But Cameron [McLean], the camera operator, really did a great job on that and we got the rhythm of it, and so the effect is basically the background wraps and expands although the person stays the same size in frame. The perspective changes from… a long shot to a close wide shot. It’s quite a natty effect if it’s used very occasionally and sparingly and in the right moment.” (“Animal Attraction” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Alison Bruce (Actor, Talia): “[I had] a really big fight, and much longer than you’d ever normally get to do. The fight took most of one full day to shoot. When you’re learning those kinds of fights, there’s usually a sequence that your body wants to follow, and it contradicted that. So it was quite a complex fight to learn. It involved using the lids of bins for shields! Plus there were a lot of tumbles… I had a leather cowgirl suit and leather pants with fringes on them. It was the only time I got to wear boots with any kind of heel on them. I also had a really tight-fitting two-tone leather top with sleeves and a big belt with a dagger. I was probably more covered up than you normally would be on Xena!… [But] the pants kept splitting because they weren’t made for fighting or getting on a horse. I was wearing a g-string so that it wouldn’t affect the line of the pants, so I had to move from the g-string to boys’ shorts for modesty!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #23 – October 2001)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Chris Manheim gave on “Animal Attraction” for The Chakram Newsletter: #11.
Here is an on-the-set report of the production of “Animal Attraction” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #1.
*You can check out extended and deleted scenes from “Animal Attraction” on the Season Five DVD Set!
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!