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.
13. Season 1, Episode 13: “Athens City Academy Of The Performing Bards” (Aired: 01/22/96 | Filmed: 10/24 – 10/27/95)
Gabrielle cons her way into a prestigious storytelling competition and ends up helping a fellow bard who is under pressure from his father to win.
Written by R.J. Stewart & Steven L. Sears | Directed by Jace Alexander | Production No. 876916
Let’s face it, this episode is boring. There’s little Xena, little conflict, and little action. Out of the entire first season, I probably watch this installment least. However, there are things that I respect and appreciate about this episode. Most specifically, I like that Gabrielle, who even in these first 13 episodes has already established herself as a storyteller, gets the opportunity to “follow her dreams” and study at a prestigious barding school. It’s dramatically satisfying (not to mention necessary for her continued existence in the series) that Gabrielle, after getting what she thinks she wants, decides she’d rather be out living the stories than talking about them. It’s a nice moment, and good for the character’s development. Also, as clip shows go, the idea of using Gabrielle’s barding — a wonderful and foreign (to us today) Ancient Greek form of oral storytelling — is clever, and it’s amusing to have the Xena clips interspersed with shots of old films. Meanwhile, the supporting cast in this installment is functional, but bland, and though there’s minimal Xena (as Lucy was in desperate need of a break), O’Connor is more than capable of handling the episode herself — granting further exploration of Gabrielle’s evolving characterization. So though the episode, by its very design, isn’t extraordinary, it’s vital and surprisingly well-placed in the series’ overall arc.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “R.J. and I were sitting in the House of Blues, trying to figure out what kind of a clip show to do, and I said we had a natural in the sense that Gabrielle is a bard and likes to tell stories. R.J. snapped his fingers and said, ‘What if she wants to go to the Academy and tell these stories?’ We then decided that it would be a competition, so we would hear stories from other people, and we didn’t want them to show Xena clips, because that would make them the equal of Gabrielle. With Stallonus, every time he talked, it was a fight scene from some cheesy Hercules movie. We then had to figure out our other characters, so we just went on until we figured what clips would fit each particular character, and then we said, ‘What story is Orion going to tell?’ because he has to tell the story that wins the competition, and I believe it was Rob who said, ‘Spartacus!’ It was the perfect piece for Orion, and we acknowledged Kirk Douglas’ award-winning role. I think it’s one of the most creative clip shows ever done.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[By this point in the series] I already had a couple of love interests, and then [this] particular role – [Orion] – came up… so there was a choice on how to play it, whether it should be another quest for an experience in life romantically that Gabrielle would have, or someone who would just be a friend. I thought it would be a great way to show that men and women could have relationships, be friendly and compete with each other on an equal basis, so that created another aspect to Gabrielle.” (Starlog Magazine #236 – April 1997)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This] was Renee’s story, and I thought she did a great job. I really enjoyed the show. I thought the young guys were funny. And for a clip show, it was very entertaining.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[Dean O’Gorman, Orion] is such a sweet man. And I was just so young [at the time] and he was easy to work with. You know, he would just kind of react, just very real, organic. And I didn’t realize [then] that I was so over the top!… Anyway, [this] was a fun episode, for sure.” (Live Syfy Instagram Interview – April 2020)
14. Season 1, Episode 14: “A Fistful Of Dinars” (Aired: 01/29/96 | Filmed: 11/09 – 11/17/95)
Xena is drawn into a treacherous treasure hunt that forces her to team up with a desperate assassin and a ruthless warlord — who happens to be her former fiance.
Written by Steven L. Sears & R.J. Stewart | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. 876918
I featured this episode as #50 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “We were talking about Westerns and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [while writing this episode]. [We] put Xena in a position of using two people; one she wanted to avoid completely, and another person who was totally evil. She had to use them to get to her greater goal and at the same time not let them know it. You throw into the mix an assassin who kills anything that displeases him, and her ex-fiance, somebody who’s so seductive and manipulative, who could say to Gabrielle, ‘I talked Xena into marrying me.’ What’s interesting is that after that episode aired, one of the big questions was: Was he really trying to manipulate again, or had he truly changed? We wanted him to say something where the audience would sit back and say, ‘You know, he’s a nice guy,’ and in the very next scene, Xena says, ‘Did he say that to you? That’s exactly what he does,’ so the audience would constantly be off-balance.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This] was a good, fun one to shoot. Josh Becker [the director] has got a really good eye for the overall story, and knows how to see the world from each character’s perspective. And Jeremy [Roberts, as Thersites] was a pleasure to work with. And the young boy who runs away and gets killed at the beginning of the episode was so intense. And [how] we found out it was because to prepare himself for the role he had not eaten or slept for three days, so he could get into character for this brief role.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Josh Becker (Writer/Director): “[One of my] big early [contributions to the series] was that I asked Lucy why she kept grimacing in the first [few] episodes, and I urged her to knock it off. I kept saying to her, ‘You’ve got a beautiful smile, show it.’ ‘But I want to look tough,’ Lucy would say. ‘Xena’s the toughest babe on the block, she can afford to smile,’ [I said]. So Lucy began to smile more… The co-star on [my] first episode was Jeremy Roberts… Lucy and Renee … completely enjoyed Jeremy’s performance and graciously let him steal his scenes. It was an extremely fun, enjoyable shoot, and I brought it in on time and on budget with no overtime. Everyone was pleased. One bit of funny stuff from [this] episode made it into all of the Xena gag reels from there on out. At the very end of the episode, Xena and Gabrielle are standing at the edge of a volcano and Xena is holding the Ambrosia, a prop made of hard plastic about the size of a basketball. The two cameras were both way the hell down inside the volcano’s crater. Lucy was supposed to throw the Ambrosia in the crater as far as she could, past the lower camera. So, Lucy and Renee step up, exchange a pair of dialog[ue], Lucy turns and heaves the Ambrosia into the crater, and in the world’s luckiest shot, like making a full-court basket, the Ambrosia hit the cameraman right in the head. He was ultimately uninjured, but nobody knew that for a second. And meanwhile, the second camera was still running on a closer shot of Lucy and Renee, who were supposed to finish the scene and exit, except that Lucy thought that she might possibly have just killed one of the cameramen, and the look of concern and horror on her face was, while still delivering her lines, priceless.” (Rushes by Josh Becker)
Robert Field (Editor): “At one point during the director’s cut, [director] Josh [Becker] turned to me and said, ‘You cut my pan out… why did you cut my pan out?’ What had happened was, there is a scene where Xena and Petracles are trying to get to the ambrosia cave before Thersites does. The two of them come through this beaded curtain and stop. The camera then pans across this large room ending on a door that Thersites comes through holding Gabrielle at knifepoint. In the interest of time and pacing, I edited out the pan so that we cut from Xena and Petracles coming through the curtain directly to Thersites and Gab coming in the door. When I explained my reasoning to Mr. Becker, he looked at me and said, ‘You just don’t like good cinema, do you?’ I have never stopped laughing about that one, and [director] Rick Jacobson loves to tease me about it, even today. Whenever I do something he disagrees with he asks me that infamous question!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #11 – October 2000)
Come back next Thursday for the next two Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for an all new Film Friday!