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.
131. Season 6, Episode 19: “Many Happy Returns” (Aired: 05/14/01 | Filmed: 02/26 – 03/07/01)
While on their way to deliver Hermes’ helmet to Thebes, Xena and Gabrielle save a young virgin from being sacrificed by a group of religious zealots.
Written by Liz Friedman & Vanessa Place | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V1426
I featured this episode as #19 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Liz Friedman (Writer): “R.J. [Stewart] and Rob [Tapert] came up with the notion of the ongoing practical jokes, which then just let us loose like kids in a candy store. I do love that gag of [Gabrielle] with the telescope and her bringing it down and she’s got that circle around her eye. My only regret is in Xena’s time they didn’t have phones because it eliminates the whole area of crank calling… But, you know, the hand in a thing of water, the eel in the bed, the fish guts on the head – those are all classics… We knew that we wanted to do something comedic and we thought to do something fun and antic and farcical with Xena and Gabrielle, Aphrodite is always fun. Just to do something that was free standing and a lot of fun, and show how Xena and Gabrielle are still each other’s best friends – in all of the good and bad forms of that. That they still completely mess each other up, because Gabrielle has to believe that she can out-joke Xena, so she has to switch the bags back because she can’t stand having these practical jokes played on her. And Xena is going to the ends of the earth to do something nice for Gabrielle on her birthday, but still can’t get it right, because being a warrior is a busy thing and there’s a lot of scheduling. There was a plan to do a Xena disco Sappho musical [written by Melissa Good], which I wasn’t involved enough in the production at that point to know what the problem was with that, but basically it was seeming like it wasn’t going to work and they needed something else in a hurry… I think actually in the first draft, Xena was not involved in [the wedding planner] scene, and then Rob and R.J. wisely pointed out that really you wanted her in it, and it just seemed like more natural to have her go against the more expected thing of being the mother of the bride. Xena is perhaps a more convincing man in drag than woman, and then the fact that Lucy loved it, that’s just added gravy… Xena really did miss the Sappho reading in my mind. Xena wanted Gabrielle to [see it], that was her idea of the [perfect] birthday present. And I suppose a rare moment that Xena made a mistake. But Xena being Xena always has a strong backup plan. The poem that Xena reads to Gabrielle at the end was actually selected by Vanessa Place, my writing partner, from a particular translation of Sappho that is regarded as being the most genuine… but we wanted to use something real because who am I to say that I can write a better love poem that Sappho? I don’t think so… Going into the episode, we knew that we wanted to have it be something light and fun because I knew where Rob was going with the end of the show was not going to be a cheery feel good laugh fest, so I think the notion was to have something that would be a contrast to where the ending was going, so people would be reminded of the fun of the friendship and not just the intensity through hard times.” (“Many Happy Returns” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[The final scene] was the last comedic scene that we did… together on a normal Xena episode before the [end]. It’s actually quite sad. I remember being quite touched by it all. [It was] so beautiful looking out over New Zealand… And I think I remember telling the crew I was pregnant then as well. Lucy’s going, ‘Renee has a secret! Go on, tell them! Tell them!’” (Coffee Talk #1 With Lucy and Renee)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “This episode was the calm before the storm of the end. And we were very cognizant of the fact that this would be the last time we would have a real Gabrielle/Xena feel good moment at the end. It was really charming; it was very light. And we knew when we were filming it, it would be our last real scene together… The beard [I wore as the bride’s father] was so convincing that I would walk up to the crew and was like paling around, and I remember… our best boy going, ‘Who are you? Who are you?’ And he was really mad, cause he knew he knew me from somewhere, and I was just like this extra who was being way too familiar with him and it certainly bred contempt.” (“Many Happy Returns” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “This was our last episode with Alex [Tydings, Aphrodite], and you always had the feeling when one of our family member actors came in for their last episode, there was that sense of letting go as they left, and ‘Who was the next one we have to say goodbye to?’… And then I remember with that Belle character – that whole day was such a bad experience for me. I was pregnant and that was one of those days, on that set, in particular, it was really hot, and I just went into cotton head… I remember the wardrobe girls would sit next to [Lucy] and then they’d look at [her] and do a double take, and they’d be horrified… Lucy with this beard trying to cuddle up to the girls… [But the final scene] was nice. It was a beautiful moment, cause the poem was really sweet, talking about love and friendship… and [it was] exactly us.” (“Many Happy Returns” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Liz Friedman (Writer): “[This script] had a shockingly fast turnaround. Nonetheless, I think the script came out well. The episode was based on several notions. Rob [Tapert] had the idea of a girl who was so devout that she wanted to be sacrificed. At first, we were thinking of it as a serious, dramatic story, and then it became more of a road story. And everyone involved, including us, was interested in doing a comedy. I really enjoyed doing the running joke of Xena and Gabrielle playing practical jokes on each other. Also, there’s a scene revealing a particular neurosis of Gabby’s which makes me chuckle!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #21 – August 2001)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Many Happy Returns” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #22.
132. Season 6, Episode 20: “Soul Possession” (Aired: 06/04/01 | Filmed: 02/08 – 02/16/01)
The discovery of an ancient scroll that indicates Xena married Ares leads to a highly charged press briefing attended by the modern-day reincarnations of Xena, Ares, Gabrielle and Joxer.
Written by Melissa Blake | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V1423
I featured this episode as one of the eight worst episodes of the entire series. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “[This] was one of those episodes that had nothing funny in it whatsoever, and Josh came in and fought to make it funnier. He and I sat down and tried to figure out what to do. At the beginning of the episode I’m grieving [for Gabrielle, who had just fallen into the abyss with Hope] and start getting a little drink. We thought, ‘Hey, let’s make him drunk throughout the whole episode!’” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #24 – November 2001)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “There were a few episodes we did in the final season that, man, I wish I had back… I went back with [this] episode to answer the questions of what happened at the end of the third season. And [I] should have just forgot that problem. Although, it was a last chance to work with Kevin Smith, and now with hindsight, it was great to have that episode.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Six DVD Set)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “Xena stands still, Ares walks around her, they kiss and then he says, ‘Call me.’ As we walked back to he trailers, Luce said, ‘That’s the last scene like that we’ll ever do, isn’t it?’ And I thought, ‘This is the last time I’ll ever wear my Ares costume.’ That was when it really got to me. Yeah, those boots were a drag to put on, but I looked at that costume hanging there and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve spent six years in that. And I’ll never again…’ It was weird. It was so emotionally resonant for me.” (Starlog Magazine – August 2002)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena/Meg): “‘Who’s my little Bubba? My little Bubba. Who’s my little Bubba. Puh-chu-ke-chu-ke-chu.’ That was a song I made up, [I] used to sing it to Julius when he was really little. And then we did it, jumping out of the cake.” (Coffee Talk #1 With Lucy and Renee)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Melissa Blake gave on “Soul Possession” for The Chakram Newsletter: #24.
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Soul Possession” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #22.
*Click here to download an interview with Melissa Blake on “Soul Possession” from the Season Six DVD set!
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!