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.
57. Season 3, Episode 11: “Maternal Instincts” (Aired: 01/26/98 | Filmed: 06/18 – 06/27/97)
Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship is strained after Callisto manipulates Gabrielle’s daughter into killing Xena’s son.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0405
I featured this episode as #13 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “I found [this episode] difficult to do. I think the episode is phenomenal. It’s really good. It’s not my episode, I’m like a sidebar. But that’s not why I found it difficult. I have to bow down a little bit, and that was hard to do as Callisto. It’s not something you can change with a word change. I did bring it up, though. Callisto is a god, and she doesn’t really have much reverence for anything. She doesn’t care, and she’s not afraid to die. It was hard for me to find that connection and make it believable. But the episode as a whole is spectacular.” (Whoosh! Interview – November 1997)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “I was a little nervous about writing Callisto because I had never written her before. But she came pretty easily. She’s such a strong character. R.J. [Stewart] created this incredibly strong character and I really understood her point of view on things. I wanted you to be able to believe that Gabrielle would want to have feelings for this evil Hope character and that she could be fooled by her. Even when Gabrielle knows she’s evil, she could be swayed. It’s that back and forth, back and forth. That was interesting. It was also a hard episode to write. You’re killing kids. I noticed they played it again at Christmas and I thought, ‘Well isn’t that a treat.’… I couldn’t believe it! I thought they were going to run “A Solstice Carol” again. Killing kids made me a little nervous to say the least. I made a strong effort not to show anything on camera in terms of the kids’ death. That I think would have been beyond the pale, and there was no need. All you needed to know was the emotional reaction because of the deaths. You didn’t need to see them die. [This] was a really tough show to write. But it was a very satisfying show. I thought everyone delivered.” (Whoosh! Interview – February 1999)
Eric Gruendemann (Producer): “Gabrielle poisoning Hope… yeah, we actually struggled with that one. I’d say that was probably, of the [entire series]… the hardest decision, not only because it was somebody poisoning their child, but it was because it was Gabrielle poisoning her child.” (“Maternal Instincts” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “In [this episode] with Gabrielle having to kill her own daughter, that to me, that’s great mythic storytelling. And if you look at Greek and Roman mythology it’s just filled with that stuff… Confronting characters with a series of untenable choices makes for great drama.” (“Maternal Instincts” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “A mother who gives up custody of their child I think is never the same, then to have somebody [like both Solan and Hope] re-enter you life, and [to] lose them all over again is just a horrid horrifying double whammy.” (“Maternal Instincts” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “Gabrielle’s daughter killing Xena’s son… that’s a toughie. How do you get back from that? Whether it was going to work, or whether it didn’t work, that’s kind of a role of the dice. Having these murders take place with family members — that is not something that’s easily forgivable. But, then again, think about it: it is the ultimate challenge to their particular relationship.” (“Maternal Instincts” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “My whole approach to Gabrielle needing to kill Hope is that she finally learned that this was an evil entity. This really wasn’t someone that was anything like the idealistic Gabrielle… It was Gabrielle’s fault that Hope had killed Solan, so I think she took that onboard and that became her burden. And obviously there’s remorse there, but I think it was a pragmatic approach to ridding the world of an evil that Gabrielle had brought to life. So I just think it was something that had to be done. I think what was more important to her was the fact that… her friend had suffered so tragically because of Gabrielle’s mistake.” (“Maternal Instincts” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “Since the baby grew in Gabrielle so quickly, it was easy to say, ‘In a few months, she looks 11.’ Of course you have to hope the audience is remembering the child’s conception and who she really is. That’s the one thing that worried me a little bit. Since we were separating the episodes so far apart, would people remember who Hope was? We brought people up to speed with the coming attractions, and I don’t recall hearing any confusion with people picking up on the storyline. Every episode has its own challenge, whether you rise to it or not, but [this one] has to be my personal favorite, just because it’s so thick with stuff going on. There are so many levels they’re playing on, and I like anything that rich with emotional dynamics a lot.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “The girl who played Hope in [this episode] I found was excellent. She was wonderful. She did a really good job. She was a lovely bad guy – for a kid.” (“Maternal Instincts” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The way I looked at [the poison] scene, [Gabrielle] was obviously dealing with the loss of her child and having to do this terrible thing to Hope. But then, beyond that, when it came time to drink the poison, I decided to play that Gabrielle was too afraid to take her own life… I thought that’s the most human thing she could feel. Even though they weren’t shooting Lucy, she was there when we were filming this. I remember looking at her and seeing the sheer disappointment and disgust Xena had for Gabrielle. It really hit me and I thought, ‘Oh God, what a situation I’ve gotten myself into.’ I looked over and Xena is standing there watching Gabrielle. So I just assume that Gabrielle knows that Xena saw what she’s done… But I think Gabrielle has brought all this upon herself by not killing this evil child to begin with, right? It was her lack of judgment. Gabrielle basically was at fault. And not to at least be courageous enough to stand up for her wrongs – she is less heroic. Do you know what I mean? She wasn’t courageous enough to do it. It was my perception that Xena thought Gabrielle should be stronger.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Chris Manheim gave on “Maternal Instincts” for The Chakram Newsletter: #3.
58. Season 3, Episode 12: “The Bitter Suite” (Aired: 02/02/98 | Filmed: 11/05 – 11/19/97)
Xena and Gabrielle’s bitter conflict reaches its climax when both are transported to the dream world of Illusia to settle their mutual differences.
Written by Steven L. Sears and Chris Manheim | Lyrics by Joseph LoDuca, Pamela Phillips Oland, and Dennis Spiegel | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0409
I featured this episode as #2 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Eric Gruendemann (Producer): “We had already done intense drama, broad comedy, and everything in between… [This] was a way for us to stretch the boundries of our television show… I thought the idea of making a musical, which I think is probably the hardest genre in features or in television to do, because it takes so much prep time and so much time to shoot correctly, was a major challenge for us… When you do 22 episodes a year, you want to do things that are different, and myself, the cast, the crew really got into it. ‘Cause I think we shot it right after [“The Debt” two-parter] or not long after… so, we had had this epic location thing and here we were doing something that’s almost entirely on a soundstage that’s goofy costumes, completely different kinds of sets… Production budgets aside and studios calling and saying, ‘Are you out of your mind? It’s going to cost what?’, [this episode] was a great maturation for the show.” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Such kooky brains went into making this… I was thrilled when I heard that we were going to do a musical. I didn’t know how they were going to make it work, though. I mean this is a little more operatic than your average musical… just genius… the whole thing… I just think this is such genius.” (“The Bitter Suite” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “During fight scenes we used to joke around, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we were singing: `I’m going to killllll yooooou!’ as someone gets sliced?’ Last August, our executive producer, Rob Tapert, started talking about actually doing a musical, then making it an opera. He’s a huge fan of opera and Lucy is an opera singer. Well, it’s turned out to be sort of this rock and roll opera. It’s set in a fantasy land called Illusia. Gabrielle and Xena go there because they’re so full of hate for each other after everything they’ve been through. It’s quite fascinating. I’m not singing… [But] Gabrielle does sing. They’ve hired a woman… [and] I’m lip-synching! I feel like, y’know, I’m watching MTV video awards, singing along like… the Spice Girls! I was really intimidated by it to begin with. I thought, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to sing in front of the crew!’ croaking away. But it’s been so much fun… There’s no real opera singing. It’s mostly songs that you might hear in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. It sounds crazy cheesy. We’re making fun of ourselves but then all of a sudden there’s this element where you might relate to what the characters are going through and it might affect you in some way. It’s more of a rock opera.” (The Austin Chronicle – February 1998)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “Yes, music soothes the savage breast and nearly breaks down any production machine… While absolutely fantastic – it looks great, it sounds great, it’s amazing – it nearly killed all of us… It just was so hard and there was so much pre-production work that had to be done… You know, people come up to me all the time actually and will say, ‘That musical episode was incredible.’ And I almost — for me — I still only see the pain.” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Bernadette Joyce (Producer): “It was probably the most difficult, most challenging show I’ve ever worked on… This was the sort of show where we did a sound mix three times and we were just trying to tweak it and make it perfect each time… Joe LoDuca did a fabulous job on the music. We hired a wonderful lady, Susan Wood, she did the re-voice of Renee, and I think she did a good job. I think most people thought it was Renee. We had Rob, and Lucy, and Renee in a phone patch listening to her from a motor home down on location in the hills in New Zealand somewhere. Then once Joe tweaked the music, things were a little out of sync and we had to do a lot of different mixing and re-recording to get everything to work. It was logistically very challenging… It was a very satisfying show when it was all done. I’m very proud of [this] one. But it was a backbreaker; it was a hard one to do, I think on everybody’s part.” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “[This] was definitely the most interesting… It was the most creative and biggest chance… The message of [this] show was spiritual. I mean, it was beautiful… God bless Rob. He really took chances with this show. He really did – more than most people would take. And it worked out to his benefit. I mean, it made it so juicy… [and] in the comic book [sensibility] of this TV show, you’re getting a beautiful story about human beings and our problems and challenges and how to work through them. It really moved me, actually.” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “I have to credit Rob with wanting to do a musical Xena. Because I come from theater and musical comedy, my first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, he wants to do a musical comedy to resolve this intensely emotional upset between the two women?’ When I found he wasn’t thinking musical comedy at all, then it began to make sense and I could wrap my mind around the concept. At the end of [the previous episode] you wonder how they’re ever going to get back together, so we knew we had to have an episode that brought them back together. Falling short of intensive therapy, we thought maybe a musical, because it was such a strange way to go and that would actually work for us in getting them together from these polar opposite places… The teaser was mine, and the first and second acts, so Steve [Sears] had the really difficult part because both of his acts were pure music. At least the first act–although it was certainly a violent act–was dialogue and stuff like that, and we didn’t launch into music until the second act.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “It was Rob’s vision from day one. He was insistent on doing it… I put my great staff Steve Sears and Chris Manheim on it; I knew I couldn’t write it – I had not a clue of what they were talking about… [and still] at the very last moment, none of us in the writing department thought it was working. Steve Sears even talked about taking his name off of it… I remember Steve actually saw I think the air copy before I did and he came bounding in very happy and relieved that it turned out so well. It started to come together… You talk to people who never followed Xena, but who happened to see [this] episode, and they just talk about what remarkable television that was. And it really was…” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “It was an incredible adventure just doing [this] episode… This was another one of Rob’s creations. We were all in a meeting and Rob said, ‘I wanna do a musical… And we all went, ‘Oh, great idea. Oh, fantastic’…The meeting broke and I think all three of us went to our phones to try to call a mental hospital to get him committed… It was intended to begin the healing process of bringing them back together… But to do that, we had to jumpstart a lot of things, and music allowed us to do that… We also relied a lot on symbolism. The tarot imagery came right from Rob Tapert. He walked in with a book on Tarot imagery and he said, ‘I want to do this visually, costume-wise, interpretationally, this is what I want to do… Now when Chris and I actually sat down and wrote the script, we wrote it as a regular script. But we would get to the point where we would have an actual song, and instead of writing the song, we would write a block of paragraph in capital letters saying what the song needs to accomplish. Then that was sent off to Joe LoDuca and the lyricist… The “Peace/War” [number], we knew exactly what that song had to be, but that was a hard one to get across cause it was hard to say, ‘No, we want that big spectacle of back/forth: peace, war, peace, war. What they’re saying here is concluded over here but has a darker meaning because they said it and back and forth and back and forth. And we were worried that it wasn’t going to be done correctly… I look back on it with a lot of pride because we did it, but just like Robert Tapert says, ‘I love to say that in the past tense. We DID it.’” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Joseph LoDuca (Composer): “[This episode] was pretty challenging, but it was very invigorating. Those of us who work on the show have come to know the characters. The writers have matured the characters and the performances of the actors just get better and better. These are people we knew very, very well. It wasn’t as though you had to invent these characters. They already had funny costumes, so having them sing was the next logical step. The places for some of the songs did not change. A song like “War and Peace” was in there from the beginning. We knew we were going to have the Sharks and the Jets. That was a given. The torment song was one we really didn’t understand until the end. The Xena/Gabby duet, the fact that it was going to be broken up into two parts, came as an outgrowth from the development of the story. The song about forgiveness was pretty much always in there… [This] was the first time I had ever worked that deeply in collaboration with lyricists. It was only out of the confidence of working with them that when it came to write the final song, Rob and I had so many discussions about what the song had to be, what it had to say, what it had to accomplish. We had to say Solan’s name for those who didn’t tune in every week. There was a lot to cover. We talked in great length about what the theme of the episode was. It was logical, it was something I had to write because there had been so many discussions with Rob about what the songs and the episode was about… The songs were recorded before, but they were done to synth tracks. I wrote the songs in about nine or ten days. It took a day to write a song and a day to produce a demo. There were seven songs, and various short pieces, which included things like “Joxer the Mighty”… They were produced with synth tracks and demo singers, who were replaced as quickly as possible with Kevin, Lucy, and so forth. Once we had the first rough edit of the film, I rushed through to get the songs recorded by early December. I orchestrated the demos more fully. We produced those, mixed those off, continued to refine the vocal performances. There were so many odds and ends — Warrior #6, Villager #3. We like this guy, no we don’t like that guy. We had Georgie Jessel on the vocal demo and the actor they chose looked like Don Knotts, so things had to be replaced. Warriors in the demo were pretty buffoony. That had to be changed… The craziness came in when you do the final recordings because the orchestra will play the tempo slightly differently than the synthesizer. So two days before Christmas I have to thank Rob Field for making all those minute adjustments. Nic had to slide vocals. Those guys went above and beyond the call of duty to get everything to work. Ninety percent of the time what I do is post-score. The editing is done and the timing is set. The picture won’t change… I might not see a special effect. I might just see a big card that says, ‘Xena gets picked up by a big bird,’ and make the music not having seen it, but that’s okay. Early or in mid-January we recorded the rest of the orchestra score. Then we fit in those last cues and pieces of the puzzle right up to the last minute. My involvement started heavily in November and went right to the week before the episode aired. We worked in and around the production schedule. Our post-production supervisor Bernie Joyce was very accommodating in terms of getting me some breathing space so I could work on the musical in a more focused way in concentrated intervals of time and still get some time off for Christmas, which doesn’t always happen… The vocal resemblance between Hudson and Michelle Nicastro is striking. Their vocal qualities are very similar. Hudson was in the studio when Michelle recorded her part, which was really great because Hudson got to explain to her a little about her character so she left with an interpretation she was happy with. Hudson was a real pro. She was really well prepared. Susan Wood is a dynamite singer and Renee emoted beautifully for it. It worked out really, really well. Lucy is amazing… And she did the singing and dancing — she’s the ultimate trooper, she’s just so talented. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know her a bit. To get to work with her was just another treat because she’s great. She’ll go to any lengths to get it, to do it until she’s happy with it, which is what you’d always hope: for someone to have that kind of resolve. And the results are heard in “The Love of Your Love”.” (Whoosh! Interview – April 1998)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “[I]n [this episode]… they said, ‘Why don’t you actually sing it rather than us get someone to sing it for you over in L.A.?’ And that was kind of nice. I got to interact with Joe LoDuca for the first time. Top bloke; very very nice man. It was kind of weird. I went into this recording studio in Auckland, and he is in Detroit, I guess. We’re recording this thing over the phone. It was a great experience. I really dug that. And it wasn’t much of a stretch because I’ve always said there’s something grand and operatic about Xena anyway. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary that we would break into song… [however] they gave us a bit more time [on this one]. And we had a huge rehearsal period, too. The huge crowd scenes, the choreography involved – it was frightening. Just trying to get me not to crash into Lucy’s feet! That took weeks! No, no, logistically, it’s a huge thing to have to do. And also too, obviously you can tell by looking at it there’s a fair bit of post-production CGI work to be done as well. They are bigger undertakings, so they are labors of love.” (Spectrum Magazine – June 2001)
Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “I’ll always remember the New York choreographer Jeff Calhoun who came down to do [this] episode. He said… something like, ‘You’ve had a couple of weeks to work out the lighting plot for this episode, have you? You know, cause there’s so many different areas.’ And I said, ‘Well, not really, no. Just the usual: we had three hours the other night, and then we’re doing the lighting plans now.’… Rob was actually going to direct it, right up until about ten days out, and I think he had such a huge workload on, he realized he’d probably bitten off a little more than he could chew, so Oley Sassone came down to direct it…” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Oley Sassone (Director): “The guy that came to do the choreography was the director-choreographer of Greaseon Broadway, Jeff Calhoun. We had a real bona fide Broadway choreographer-director in New Zealand doing all the choreography for the show. Really cool! I mean, this guy was a brilliant guy… I worked with him on how to shoot it, cover it, and essentially to just make it all work… We talked on the best way to cover the dance sequences and make it cut. Yeah, it was a great collaboration, really, with a lot of talented people… The best sequence… in the show… was the “Peace/War” sequence, and the song was so great… It’s a moment in time where [Xena] kills her best friend and realizes– the message, of course, in the fog of war… you end up hurting a lot of people… It was really well thought out. Rob Tapert and those guys were really brilliant people. I just loved working with them.” (FILMVOLTAGE Interview – 2015)
Robert Gillies (Production Designer): “We were always up against it with time, money… We looked at the Tarot pack and tried to take… some of the intention and the feeling of Tarot and then convert it into a sort of a three-dimensional world – sometimes with success and other times with not so much success…” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “[Rob Tapert] wanted to do [this episode] in tarot, that was his vision of it all along. Steve [Sears] and I bought books on the tarot and we delved into it. It’s confusing for people to follow. Musicals are difficult to follow. You rely so much on the lyrics to tell you what is normally said in dialogue. I think our lyricists did a great job, but I also think at times it’s a confusing episode to follow… Having just seen it recently, I thought it was pretty intense. I understand it from an emotional point of view, but it’s hard to watch. I don’t like making TV that people find difficult to watch. I don’t mind them getting churned up emotionally, but when you’re cringing, I don’t know that that’s a good thing… In my mind, the rift arc is settled, but I don’t know if others feel that the episode satisfactorily delivered that… and there’s so much to resolve and a matter of balance. Is her lie equal to what Gabrielle did, and so forth? I’m not sure we ended up with a balanced episode. It was very difficult, a tough assignment.” (Whoosh! Interview – February 1999)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “In [this] one, we failed to set up at the beginning how bad Xena felt, and I didn’t feel she needed to kill Gabrielle. I didn’t emotionally believe it. Once we got into the musical, I followed the singing and dancing and all that but the initial set-up always bugged me. So I’m putting a recap of the previous episode for when it eventually plays on USA. There are all those elements that, in any given episode, you want to change.” (Femme Fatales Magazine – October 1999)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “I thought the Gab-Drag went on too long, to be honest with you. We had a lot of discussion about that. Here was the point to it, and maybe we tried too hard to make this point at the beginning — for Gabrielle and Xena to reach a point where they could start to redeem each other, they had to reach the absolute darkest part. This gets into psychology and gets very hard to explain. If there was any question as to whether they hated each other, that question would have rippled through the rest of their relationship. In other words, we wanted to clear the grounds completely. We wanted to start right from the bottom, scrape every bit of love away from them and rebuild, as opposed to scrape most of it away and leave a little bit of expectation somewhere. The healing couldn’t be true if it had to rebuild around that. So obviously the way to get to that is where they both want to kill each other. That’s what we had to do, that’s where we had to get them. That Xena would attack Gabrielle and try to kill her obviously shows her hatred. But the moment Gabrielle says “I hate you!” and charges at Xena, Gabrielle’s slate is wiped clean. She is completely down to a base level. In doing the episode later on, yeah, I think the Gab-Drag did go on a little long. In fact I think most people here feel that. But at the time, we put it together so we could make that point. We didn’t realize people would get the point three quarters of the way through it. You have two characters starting it off whose worlds have been so destroyed that they’re questioning everything. And they realize the only thing they have left in all their questioning is hatred. Now they’re directing it toward each other. Xena is crying for her son. Ares wasn’t there to manipulate her, Ares was just there to talk to her. He was her therapist in that scene and she realized where her hatred lay. Gabrielle, in the sweat hut, having visions of Callisto, was the same thing. She was focusing in. You’ll notice in the sweat hut she’s focusing in on herself. She begins to blame herself. But that changes before they go into Illusia. She focuses it back on Xena. So that was the whole point of the Gab-Drag, to demonstrate, very brutally, obviously, the fact that these two people would kill each other. We had to wipe the slate clean… [But] we had to decide what our format was going to be very early on. Chris and I, along with Rob, R.J., Liz, and everyone else, sat down and tried to chart through the progression of their healing, realizing, as everyone should realize this, by the end of the episode they are not healed. But they’re to a point where they want to help each other heal. Which is the most important thing. That’s an altruistic thing, that shows caring. So we wanted to get them to that point, to the forgiveness point. When we charted through it, we originally came up with — I think five points — of psychology that they had to deal with. The first one was ‘wipe the slate clean,’ which was the Gab-Drag. The second one was ‘fulfillment,’ which is fulfillment of your hatred. Since the series is called Xena it was Xena’s hatred, she kills Gabrielle. That was the fulfillment of the hatred. That’s why Callisto had the line, ’Did that work? Did that help to kill your little friend?’ Because Xena is sitting there thinking, ‘No.’… Then we had to have ‘cooperation,’ which in this case wasn’t as highlighted because of how little time we have to tell a story, to accommodate a song. But cooperation was basically then working together to get to the next step. Not that they loved each other, it was expediency. I believe in one version of the script there was a door that they approached and the door was very wide. I’m paraphrasing what we had in there because we had so many different images. But it was like one side had a handprint and the other side had a handprint and they were different sizes. What you realize is that to open the door, you had to both put your hands in there at the same time, symbolic of cooperation. Then we had another thing that happened during it, a wall of fire which prevented Gabrielle from doing what she had to do and Xena had to do something to help Gabrielle but the rationalization was she just wanted to get through. Anyway, there was a whole complex thing there. As it was, it went away. It was too time-consuming to shoot it… [But] my favorite scene from the psychological points was the echo chamber. This was something that I came up with very early and kept it in every draft because it’s an extremely important thing. The idea is very simple. If you’re angry with someone, anyone who’s been in a relationship and had an argument with somebody, at a certain point, you aren’t hearing what they’re saying. You’re only taking the words they’re saying so they can make you angrier. So you can turn the words back on them. You’re in a total defense/attack mode. You’re not trying to understand. So you can’t hear each other. All you have is the argument. You don’t say what you really, really feel. You just say enough to attack. We tried to symbolize that in the Hall of Echoes. The moment you start rehashing and blaming, the echoes become impossible, you can’t hear. But the moment Xena says to Gabrielle, ‘Tell me what you’re feeling right now,’ and Gabrielle says, ‘I hurt [inside].’ That is the totally honest moment. And there’s no echo. So these are all psychological points we were trying to achieve so that they could get to the point where they could forgive each other, and more importantly, where Xena could forgive herself.” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The Gabdrag?!… We had filmed the end first – the cliff scene. So we did postdrag before I saw what they were going to do with the character. If I’d only known they were going to drag Gabrielle though fire and mud and grass, we probably would have changed the makeup a bit more. It was so horrific, it was hilarious, you know what I mean? I went through a fire! It was bizarre. I think it was second unit having a good old time. I think there are times you wonder if Gabrielle could have survived it at all. I would have been dead! That’s why I probably would have played it a lot differently. I couldn’t have stood up, much less have woken easily. It was horrific to the point of being hilarious because it was so far-fetched. It was such an amazing episode, but I wondered after seeing the completed episode, if anyone had turned on the show for the first time, would they have even cared about the characters because we relied a lot on the back story… [But] I was so moved by the song that Lucy was singing [at the end] – everyone on the set was choking up. I was there when she shot the song. We were together throughout most of the musical as long as we were in the same scene together. The only time we weren’t was for the close-ups during the ‘I’m Hurting’ song. It was a pickup shot and Lucy and I did them on separate days… We were together for the wide master shot of that scene, so we had a feeling of what was going to happen. And it’s such a beautiful song, it was quite easy to be moved by it. But, when we did the close-ups, there’s so much history in the relationship that we didn’t need to be together. It was more about the profound love Xena and Gabrielle have for each other as opposed to needing to see or work off the other person’s performance.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “I had done plenty of musical theatre, [but this episode] felt like an extended Broadway show. My loathing of the dance has been well-documented. [But] it was incredibly fun to do, even though I had to wear a dress. Oh, I know, they told me it was some kind of regal Greek attire, but no, no – a dress is a dress, my friend. Oh, sure, it was a lovely dress. That’s not in dispute.” (Starlog Magazine – August 2002)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “In [the “Melt Into Me” scene], Rob [Tapert] desperately wanted a new outfit [for me] but he forgot to have a specific discussion and at the last moment, like the day before, he said to Ngila [Dickson], ‘We’ve got this outfit coming that I need for tomorrow,’ and I think Ngila actually burst into tears… because she had been working so hard. And then at the eleventh hour, they developed [the red dress] and truly they were sewing it just as they were like loading the camera, they were still stitching it on me. But what a beautiful [end result].” (“The Bitter Suite” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I remember [Lucy] had just finished Grease… [she] came back and [this] was one of our first episodes together. And [she] was just amazing… [her] energy of doing everything live and being right there and present…. [She would] repeat lines to me to help me get a scene that I wasn’t getting.” (Coffee Talk #1 With Lucy and Renee)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[The teaser mountaintop] scene was so hard to film… We were on a blue screen and we didn’t know what they wanted… what the hell they were talking about. And this stuff smelled like cabbage – it was some kind of fake snow and it was like a type of detergent… it smelled really bad… and the floor was all slippery… I didn’t understand… we reshot [the scene] and I never got to the bottom of why we were doing this and if I got it right the second time…” (“The Bitter Suite” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I had such a difficult time doing [the Hall of Echoes] scene, I remember, [and] I don’t remember why, but there’s something that wasn’t quite right giving me such hard time. And I remember, [Lucy] had just come back from Grease and it was just really good. It was right after the hiatus and it was really good working with [her] again… and whatever [she] did, it really helped me. [She said, ‘You killed my daughter,’ instead of ‘you killed my son.’] It was perfect. I was supposed to be upset… [to get to that final place of] ‘I hurt inside.’” (“The Bitter Suite” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “Solan created Illusia [out of] his love for Xena. [From] his recognition that the love between her and Gabby needed one more chance. He gave them that.” (AOL Chat – February 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I just thought [this episode] was an incredible piece of writing and producing…” (“The Bitter Suite” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that executive producer Rob Tapert gave on “The Bitter Suite” for The Chakram Newsletter: #3.
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “The Bitter Suite” for The Chakram Newsletter: #3.
Here is a scan of an interview that writer Chris Manheim gave on “The Bitter Suite” for The Chakram Newsletter: #3.
Here are scans of an article on the making of “The Bitter Suite” from Topps: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #3.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Garbo film!