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.
113. Season 6, Episode 1: “Coming Home” (Aired: 10/02/00 | Filmed: 08/14 – 08/22/00)
Fed up with being mortal, Ares calls upon Xena to help him restore his godhood, unaware that the Furies are conspiring against him.
Written by Melissa Good | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V1411
This episode provides a nice transition from the end of the fifth season to the stories that the series tells in Season Six. Also, we meet Varia, the most interesting Amazon introduced since Season Two’s Velasca, a feistier Amarice — just as arrogant, but more dangerous. She’ll play an important role in several future episodes, and she’s given a nice introduction here, one that helps to reckon Eve’s past as Livia with her present/future as a follower of Eli. Meanwhile, “Coming Home” also officially offs the Furies, whose death in “Motherhood” didn’t make the final broadcast cut due to time limitations. Where the episode doesn’t work, in my personal opinion, is the interactions between Xena and Ares, as all of their dialogue (and behavior — whether Furies driven or not) seems one large contrivance, particularly as the episode goes along. Suffice it to say, the script and storytelling lack the finesse of early season efforts, and ultimately, although the premise itself is intriguing, the multiple threads don’t quite come together as best as they should in the end. So, though it’s an important and perhaps necessary episode, it is no more than middling.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “As we launched the final season of Xena, we actually went and shot the first eight episodes and never felt that we had come back – rightly or wrongly – and addressed what [happened at the end of Season Five]… So we hired a poor first time writer, Melissa Good, and gave her [this] insanely difficult [script]… Somewhere along the way we were casting for a part, and [Tsianina Joelson] came in to read for it, and she was so physically strong [that] we thought we could craft a role for her to utilize her strength and her character and her physical ability. So we kind of came up with this tough Amazon who we knew we were going to sprinkle in the final season, like we had tried to do with other Amazons… I love the fight between Xena and Ares [in this episode], The Quiet Man fisticuffs into the ice, although they could never get the ice quite right… When we did “Motherhood,” there was a whole scene between Ares and Xena that got cut out. And then we pretty much put that dialogue at the very end of [this episode] sitting on top of the sawed top forest.” (“Coming Home” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Melissa Good (Writer): “[This episode] was an idea between Rob Tapert and I, and the original story is pretty much what’s ended up being filmed. It’s hilarious, because it went through at least three revisions back home, then another three revisions here in Auckland, and then it went back to the original! That actually makes me feel good, because a lot of people had their fingers in it, and the fact is that they eventually came back to what I originally put in the script… [which] was a combination of a lot of things. It had to combine certain elements that were required for other things that the characters were doing. Plus, at the last minue, they threw in a couple of new characters. Basically, we were trying to hook together a bunch of different things. It was a tougher script to get to the point where it was locked and sent. And some of the characters in [this episode] were not my characters… I left Ares completely alone and the Eve stuff to another writer because she was his character. So… because it was a collaborative effort pulling the show together, I never considered it my story… Rob gave me some notes and had me rewriting two of the scenes. But I don’t take any of that personally because so many people have had so much input into [this] particular script.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #14 – January 2001)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Missy [Good] did as good a job as I would expect any junior or new staff writer to do, but that was a struggle because the first two acts were left intact and the last two acts needed more work. There were some holes in the story. We noticed Xena didn’t talk to her daughter after she was arrested by the Amazons, things like that. Then we putzed around with it some more down here. But I’ll tell you why I like working with Missy Good: she loves Xena and Gabrielle. That’s invaluable to me.” (Whoosh! Interview – January 2001)
Adrienne Wilkinson (Actor, Eve/Livia): “The episode itself is beautiful… [But] the relationship between Eve and Xena was certainly strained at the point of [this one]. Eve was still figuring out who she was… at the same time, they were still figuring each other out [too]… There’s this scene where, if you look closely, [Varia and I] essentially start physically debating and bragging about who’s done the worst things… and if you watch this scene, both of us, our eyes are just glassy from the tears of laughing so hard. We finally got through it, but oh, did we get the giggles.” (“Coming Home” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I’d play [my scenes with Eve] differently now… I’d play it … a lot more… naturalistically, where you’re not sure that you really even like this person, cause you wouldn’t relate to a fully grown adult. And… she’s half Callisto, so you’d always be looking for what parts of her are you and what parts are somebody else. I would allow it to creep me out while trying to make inroads, while trying to care and do the right mother thing. But my instincts would be [different]… I’d be smarter. Isn’t that always the way?… [But] I loved that [Ares/Xena] fight. It reminded me of, as a child, seeing Clint Eastwood have a bare-knuckled fight in I have no idea what movie, but, I think it’s kind of cool for a woman to go one-on-one. [For the ice shots,] I think they gave me nose plugs, which didn’t work very well, and I was upside down in a vat… with a sheet of… plastic that had been crafted to look like ice. And I remember just [making noises]. I always thought [the final Ares and Xena scene] was kind of weird, because after this fight and this big old trick they’d played on him, and [her] nearly dying, it was all a little bit [too] cozy, in a way.” (“Coming Home” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “One episode that I thought was legitimate to be serious and funny at the same time was [this one] where it’s the second time I had dealings with the Furies. The first time was in “The Furies”. It drove her mad, and I had a lot of fun with that, doing all the crazy schtick, but at the same time had this thing underneath, “I’m going to kill my mother.” And this [episode] was kind of the same. Any craziness you do, you’re in a lose-lose situation. There’s TV craziness, which is like, ‘Let’s drive her mad.’ That’s general crazy. There’s also what we call insanity – there are so many clinical variations. When you get forty-two minutes of screen time, you don’t have time to explore the nuances of, ‘Is he schizophrenic? Does he have a bipolar disorder?’ You know what I mean? And so you get TV crazy, which is doing, say, irrational things. Another one of those moments, one of the most comforting things is when the veil of ignorance is taken off, and the blinding white light of knowledge hits you. That is serious work. They let you do something horrible, then they show you what you’ve done to drive you mad. I like that moment where [Ares] believes he’s killed Xena, and bang, they appear to him… And that was kind of fun to do because you got to have a foot in both camps.” (Spectrum Magazine – June 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[In the ice scene], I was lying under a piece of plastic ice with swimmer’s gum stuffed up my nose to stop the water from rushing into my lungs… We filmed it in a terrible hurry at the end of the day. I remember that. One of the lighting guys had to leave because his wife had just gone into labor. Yeah, that was the day James left early.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #14)
114. Season 6, Episode 2: “The Haunting Of Amphipolis” (Aired: 10/09/00 | Filmed: 05/31 – 06/09/00)
Xena is forced to battle Mephistopheles when she returns to Amphipolis with Gabrielle and Eve to find her home haunted by evil.
Story by Edithe Swensen and Joel Metzger | Teleplay by Joel Metzger | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V1401
Although “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Gabrielle’s Hope” were designed and have elements that riff on the horror genre, it’s a bit of a shock that it took until Season Six for a series produced by Raimi and Tapert to deliver an honest-to-goodness fright fest. The episode is filled with all the familiar tropes, but connects them to Xena by giving us one final chance to see Cyrene (as a ghost) and establishing a two-episode arc in which Xena defeats the ruler of Hell, Mephistopheles, and therefore must take his place. Like the above, it’s a cool story, and it ends up being fairly well executed. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue is beyond trite, and Eve is never more annoying than she is here (and in the proceeding installment), hampering what is otherwise a decent script. My lack of love for the episode, however, stems from the fact that I wasn’t fond of the series’ dabbling in Christianity and the concepts of Heaven and Hell. So even though there are some fine moments (like the vision Xena has of Cyrene slapping her after Lyceus’ death), the premise of the installment leaves me cold. If of these kind of stories you are fond, then perhaps you’ll enjoy this episode.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Joel Metzger (Writer): “There was another writer they were considering whom they gave a freelance assignment to, but they didn’t like how it turned out so I was asked to rewrite it. I didn’t know they were looking for staff at the time, but after I’d turned in my first draft of [this episode], they made me an offer. I thought I was just working on a freelance script, so it was quite a surprise… They told me the biggest problem [with the original draft] was that the writer didn’t capture the Xena voices at all. The dialogue is the most difficult thing to do, because you can’t have an obvious anachronism, and yet you can’t have stilted Ben Hur-style dialogue either. It has to be natural and sound modern to the ear, so that was the hardest thing for me. Originally they wanted to do a story about Xena’s childhood home being haunted, so it was going to be a full-on scary horror adventure. Keep in mind that Rob Tapert produced Evil Dead, so he loves that kind of stuff. They also wanted to use Mephistopheles as the story’s villain. They threw out a lot of the structure of the original plot, in which a man was killed and he had a daughter. So I basically tried to bring it closer to home by having Xena’s mother trapped in limbo down in the underworld, and that way Xena had a personal stake in it. That kept everything very close to home, and then we just went through it and tried to think up those horror set pieces… If a story is in trouble, even if you barely bring it up to mediocrity, you look okay. If you can save it, then you didn’t just do a good job, you saved the day. I think everybody was happy with it in the end, but we took the haunted house story and essentially started from scratch. They wanted to do that typical horror scene of being afraid (like in the shower scene in Psycho), so they kept that, but not much else remained from the original.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #22 – September 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “There are two scenes that began in exactly the same way: Gabrielle’s being hounded by someone verbally and the dialogue is repeated. I thought, ‘I kind of like that. It’s a little bit surreal.’ I gave her an example of a way that I would have Xena play it and she said, ‘Yeah, but my character can’t do that.’ She knows Gabrielle’s unique perspective… [but she’s] the one who had to eat the maggots. She had to be covered in slime made of KY jelly, pureed asparagus and marbled through with vegemite! It was the color of the most pernicious snot you can possibly imagine. She was covered in this filthy-smelling stuff. Adrienne [Wilkinson, Eve] and I were just about retching. And Renee was inured to it. She was prepared for it mentally and didn’t complain. Pureed asparagus is the most awful thing in the world. We had to pull her out of this hole – the bog of Eternal Stench. I thought to myself, ‘I am never complaining about anything again.’ Renee was amazing. Totally amazing.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #12)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “We filmed [the slime scene] in a little tank with a couple of stuntmen dressed as ghouls. And there were some featured extras that had spent hours in the KNB prosthetic department before being thrown into the water. I guess you could just call it another one of our hot tub scenes… It’s not scary at all, but you do try to make the shots work as quickly as possible. We were having problems because the camera was actually on the outside of the tank shooting through a pane of glass. It was looking into this murky water and the cameraman could barely see me. They kept asking me to come closer to the glass, but it was a challenge to do that without pressing yourself up against it… I think [the episode] came together well, though. There were so many shock gags… [For the arm merging bit], we used some panty hose and tied it around our knees. They also had some stretchy fabric that looked like panty hose as well, but it was more opaque and they put our arms in that… for a few hours over a couple of days. It was quite funny because there’s an obvious height difference between Lucy and I. I had trouble trying to keep up with the stride of her long legs when we were walking… I thought I’d better pick it up a bit unless I wanted her to carry me… [But] as soon as we finished a take, we were able to slip out of the little pieces of hose. It was actually fun. Quite hilarious really. I enjoyed it… I had no idea what we were going to be doing in [the demon] section though. We just played around with different things. Garth Maxwell, the director, said I should roll my head more and that released all these weird noises, grunts and animal sounds out of me.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #14)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[Renee and I] had a stocking net over our arms [in the conjoined scene] and the rest was CGI. To me, that was quite easy to do because I’ve had to watch Evil Dead a hundred times.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #14)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “An odd thing happened with [this episode]. It got paired up with the wrong director and we couldn’t switch directors. And the guy who ended up directing it [Garth Maxwell] was more of a relationship [director]. As a horror meister, and certainly with a long past of doing horror, it just missed the mark. And [being] television, there was no way to go back and strengthen the horror elements. But we did toss Renee back in that stinky underwater pond to get some extra footage though to try and fix that one little part up.” (10th Anniversary Convention – Tapert & Manheim Q.&A.)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “These guys were under water and everybody was sick at the time so they were sneezing and coughing in their masks. They [would] take the mask off and you know, rinse it out in the water. [So] I’m sitting in this bath tub with them, going, ‘Oh, no!’” (Coffee Talk #1 With Lucy and Renee)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “The Haunting Of Amphipolis” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #13.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!