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.
123. Season 6, Episode 11: “Dangerous Prey” (Aired: 01/22/01 | Filmed: 08/30 – 09/08; 11/23/00)
Xena becomes the ultimate prey for the deranged Prince Morloch, who has been hunting and killing Amazons in his twisted quest for an adversay who can match his skills.
Written by Joel Metzger | Directed by Renee O’Connor | Production No. V1413
Renee O’Connor’s second directorial effort comes across much better than her first, largely because she’s actually given the chance to oversee a full-sized action packed typical Xena adventure. Directorially, the episode is remarkable. Why? Because it fits perfectly into the show’s visual style; that is, it’s not conspicuous. Furthermore, there are a lot of outstanding action sequences, including an exhilarating fight with a delightfully skillful opponent, Prince Morloch, who gets his jollies in hunting humans. However, there’s a lot of Varia, whose punky spunk has never personally amused me; yes, the character is intentionally and knowingly obnoxious. But, just like Tara, when an episode is built around a character such as this, it’s difficult for it to be anyone’s favorite. (It must be said, however, that Joelson is much more likable than Appleby because of both the strength of her persona and the honesty of her performance.) And because this episode does without Gabrielle, it’s far from ever becoming a Xena classic.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Joel Metzger (Writer): “I think I had the most fun writing [this] episode because it just wrote itself. It started off as something very different, and then someone in the office mentioned the short story from the 1950s or 1960s, The Most Dangerous Game. It’s basically about a guy who is obsessed with hunting and ends up hunting humans… Once you have a villain who’s easy to get a handle on – in this case that he’s motivated because he’s a hunter – you don’t need to know that much else about him. He hunts, so he’s a one-note guy. You know why he does what he does, and he’s driven to hunt Xena because she’s the greatest challenge he’s ever had. Once you have a motivated villain, every scene writes itself because you’ve got motivation. The difficult part was that he wants the ultimate challenge of hunting Xena, but you have to keep that game of cat and mouse going. Once you put them in the same room and they fight, that’s obviously going to be the end of the show. So how do you keep them playing that cat and mouse game all the time without them coming face to face with swords? If he wants to fight her so badly, why doesn’t he just fight her? So having this giant chess game, and coming up with the reasons why they can’t get face to face; that was difficult. The original idea was that Varia, the Amazon hothead girl, goes on a mission with Xena. We think it’s to rescue the new Queen of the Amazons, but the whole time Xena is training her, so she’s learning lessons along the way on how to fight. By the time we got to the end, it turns out that the girl we’re rescuing isn’t the queen; Varia is the queen. That became the B story, with Xena teaching Varia how to control her anger and how to be a queen, and when we get the end she gives her the necklace and says, ‘You’re the new queen; you’re going to lead your tribe.’ So that was cool because we got to do both stories… We got rid of Gabrielle in the teaser and she’s not until the episode proper until the end. Everyone wanted Renee to be able to concentrate on her work behind the camera and not have to be in front of it. So [this is] really the Xena and Varia show.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #22 – September 2001)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “When we did [this episode], we thought, ‘Who would be the best director? Renee!’ I can’t remember how it was decided except [she wasn’t] in that much of it.” (“Dangerous Prey” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Director/Actor, Gabrielle): “I asked [Rob Tapert] if I could direct again and it was the last season. We both realized that acting [while] directing wasn’t my strong suit, so [they were] trying to find a way to put me in an episode that was quite Gabrielle lite. And it came right after a hiatus, so I had the ability to do the pre-production before. And then [they] had the Varia character and I guess [we] wanted to show the relationship between Xena and Varia as the mentor/student. And have the hothead who was trying to learn a lesson and be humbled by the experience of being with Xena… It worked out very well that I was only in the bookend of the episode, the very beginning and the very end.” (“Dangerous Prey” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[Renee] nailed it this time. I think it was the second day that she took charge and realized, ‘I’m not one of the gang now. Everyone is supposed to slave to my rhythm.’ (If you understand what I mean.) Sometimes I would make a suggestion, something I felt strongly about. Renee would say, ‘Yes, let’s go that way,’ or ‘No, I just don’t want that,’ and I would say, ‘Fair enough.’ I want a director to let me have my say, but my responsibility is to them – they have the last word. I never fight the director and Renee was very strong. Given the time allowed and the compromises that are part of the job, I think she made the episode she wanted.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #13)
Robert Field (Editor): “I do have an amusing anecdote I’d like to share about working with Renee O’Connor, who, by her nature is a fairly shy woman and kind of quiet. So I was a little surprised when she came into the cutting room this one day and we were working on a sequence that’s near the opening of the show where the Amazon Queen has gotten trapped by this little bear claw that her hand has stuck in. And in order to free herself from the trap, she has to rip her hand out of this little manacle. And as we’re looking at the scene, and Renee was there working with me after she’d looked at the editor’s cut, she looked at me and she says, ‘Do you have any flesh ripping sounds?’ I said, ‘Flesh ripping sounds?’ She goes, ‘Yeah.’ So I yelled out to my assistant, Michelle. I said, ‘Hey, do we have any flesh ripping sounds?’ She goes, ‘I think we’ve got some on a Herc tape!’ So off she ran, she comes back in, and we started running these gruesome, horrible flesh tearing sounds, each one more horrific than the one that preceded it. We finally got to one that was really, really gruesome and Renee goes, ‘Oh, gosh, yeah!’ I said, ‘What?’ She goes, ‘That’s the one I want.’ And suddenly my image of Renee got shattered forever.” (“Dangerous Prey” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Joel Metzger (Writer): “[This episode] started as a slightly different story than what you see. Rob [Tapert] was on vacation and we kind of got ahead of ourselves plotting out his other story that was going to be kind of a Karate Kid story where Xena takes this young Amazon warrior and takes her on this journey to save the Amazon Queen, and along the way, enlightens her with different points of Amazon wisdom. So it was kind of like the whole wax on, wax off thing where young Varia learned a lesson without realizing she had learned it. And Rob came back and didn’t like it at all, so we had to throw that out and I had two days to come up with something else. We decided that we would essentially rip off The Most Dangerous Game, a short story I think everyone had to read in high school. I know I did. And it became a story about a guy who hunts human being for sport… Whose idea was to catapult Varia into space? Well, that would be Rob Tapert, of course. That came about by Xena and Varia are in the woods and we needed to find a way to flush them out, and I was having a hard time thinking how we flush them out of the woods. And Rob Tapert says, ‘Well, we’ll just start a forest fire. We’ll set the woods on fire.’ I thought, ‘Can you do that?’ And apparently you can set parts of New Zealand on fire if you want to. So wet set a forest fire to flush them out. And then the question was, ‘How do we get them out of the forest fire?’ And Rob had some catapults laying around that he wasn’t using and he said it would be great to catapult her over the flames… that was all Rob Tapert. It was all his crazy imagination. And it all came out at once. He just thought of it over the phone and told me to write it. It turned out great.” (“Dangerous Prey” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Director/Actor, Gabrielle): “[One day, the actor playing Morloch] wanted to leave for some reason. He didn’t want to wait. Because his next scene was going to be the end of the day and he didn’t want to wait all day. And so they’re doing Lucy’s stuff, but Lucy’s been working since 6 AM, and had been working all week, and weeks in and out before that. And I was directing. And it’s just interesting. I’m aware of it anyway but to be on the other side… and to appease his ego was really interesting… a guest star… Looking back I was a little too soft on him. But I was worried he was going to leave the set. You know, things that you worry about. I was truly worried he wasn’t going to perform… There’s a little bit of fear that I still have to work with him—that was Friday, I think, I had to work with him Saturday and I was worried what if I, you know, what if he just shuts down? He did shut down on me on Saturday anyway… [He was on his] worst behavior on Saturday if you can believe it… He was, like, [calling me] names and all sorts of stuff.” (Coffee Talk #5 With Lucy and Renee)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Renee says to him, ‘Look, you know, I know how hard this is.’ He goes, ‘You just don’t understand. You do not understand.’ She goes, ‘Yes I do.’ And he goes, ‘Look, you don’t know. You truly don’t know how hard it is to learn this thing and do it, and then hurt yourself and still have to go back,’ and then she goes, ‘I do understand.’ He goes, ‘You can’t.’ And she goes, ‘Look. Yeah. I do.’…She was being pretty nicey-nice with him… He wouldn’t get out of the car or something at some point…. They were saying… ‘[Lucy’s] on set. She’s doing it.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, she’ll understand.’ No, she did not understand. So I went up to the car and said, ‘You get your f**king a** down there on set and you do your work!’” (Coffee Talk #5 With Lucy and Renee)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Joel Metzger gave on “Dangerous Prey” for The Chakram Newsletter: #16.
Here are scans of an interview that director Renee O’Connor gave on “Dangerous Prey” for The Chakram Newsletter: #15.
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Dangerous Prey” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #16.
*Check out deleted/extended scenes from “Dangerous Prey” on the Season Six DVD Set!
124. Season 6, Episode 12: “The God You Know” (Aired: 01/29/01 | Filmed: 11/13 – 11/22/00)
The Archangel Michael summons Xena to kill the now immortal Roman emperor Caligula, who has been murdering innocents in his quest for absolute power.
Written by Emily Skopov | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V1415
When I think of the sixth season, I think of episodes like this one — an over-produced, self-indulgent feast of meaningless violence and gratuitous sex. Everyone seems so committed and delighted to present an overwrought psychological exploration of a well known historical figure, but the treatment of the regular characters is disgusting and illogical. The biggest flaw is the lack of a concrete explanation for how Caligula is able to suck away Aphrodite’s powers. It’s another one of the series’ “make it up as you go along” rules that really detracts from the narrative because it doesn’t make sense. However, I’m most bothered by Xena’s character and the way the episode uses her fight with Michael as a plot device to strip away her God-killing powers. While it’s not difficult to imagine Michael as self-serving, the sudden turning of Eli (represented as a light) into Xena’s enemy is really, for lack of a better word, skeevy. Especially since, it forces Xena into a really “dirty” (her words, not mine) manipulation of Caligula that makes her come across unflatteringly. (Not to mention stupid, since she ended up doing Michael’s bidding anyway.) With all that said, the premise itself is fascinating, and in addition to being beautifully photographed (with a marvelous chariot sequence), I appreciate the more complex shading of Xena’s character, even if it’s less logical and more manipulated than some of her past morally ambiguous choices (letting Callisto die in the quick sand, killing Ming T’ien after she’d already made him small, covering up Gabrielle’s accidental murder of a desert boy, etc.). It’s just a really nasty episode, and while I think that’s the intention, “The God You Know” is a difficult one for me to love.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Emily Skopov (Writer): “Rob [Tapert] wanted to do an episode with Caligula and that’s pretty much all he gave me. I did a lot of research, but I knew I was entering dangerous territory anyway because he was such a crazy figure, and I had to decide how much of the sex and violence that characterized him we could really play out in an effective way. It’s not a 10pm show; you’ve got kids watching. So in that sense, I had some input… [Also] because we were nearing the end of the season, you’re seeing the last of some of the people you’ve come to know and love, and you want to pay them service. As interesting as Caligula is, you don’t want to do a disservice to the favorites, so it couldn’t be a big Caligula showcase where you really get to develop him and get to know him. We were also dealing with arcs for Ares and how to deal with his loss of immortality, and it was the same thing for Aphrodite. So it became more of an ensemble piece.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #19 – June 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This] was such a momentous and rewarding episode. I don’t ever remember feeling so creatively satisfied. Usually, you have to shoot a show like Xena in a very workmanlike frame of mind – ‘Okay, we’ve gotta shoot this fight, get these angles.’ It’s about banging off the shot list. Get one done – what’s next? Get that one done – what’s next? But we had such moments of pure inspiration this time where one person would have a spark of an idea and then the other person would spark off that idea. And we all understood each other without having to labor. We were completely in sync and I hope it’s borne out by the footage cause we had an amazing time making it… We don’t explore the sexual scenarios that go along with the Caligula myth. I think he might not have engaged in very much more than a lot of Roman nobility did in those days. But he’s just been tarred with a blacker brush than some of his contemporaries. And yet he was a very interesting character and there are aspects of him that we really wanted to explore within the parameters of our show. And we got such a fabulous actor to play him. Along with Garth [Maxwell, director], Alexis [Arquette] was able to imbue Caligula with a measure of humanity and, therefore, honor, even in his perversity… The discovery that Xena makes is that although everyone thinks he’s evil, she knows he was sick. And that is a new concept in Xena’s world. They hadn’t developed psychology then, but she pinpoints it. This is not evil as she’s ever met it. This is about human frailty and she comes to relate to him in some way… I’ve always found Xena challenging in some way, but it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that spark of, I don’t want to say it, divine intervention. When something magic happens. It’s there all the time with Renee, [but] in a different form. We’ve really worked to understand one another and we’ve earned our relationship. This was a meeting of like minds who don’t need any explaining and just sparked off each other. It was different. What Renee and I have got, we’ve worked hard to build. This was a gift out of the blue… I’ve worked with [Garth] a lot. But when Alexis got there, it was like he was the missing part of a circuit – the three of us were completely on the same wavelength.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #14)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Garth [Maxwell] is a wonderful director. He has incredible images he gives you and hopefully you can take them and run in different directions. Some of them are bizarre, but wonderful to use as an actor. I love working with him… He told Alexis Arquette (playing Caligula…) to think of himself sucking like an insect when being lecherous. It’s fun to have a director who throws stuff at you that’s out of your comfort zone. Something you would never dream of doing yourself. It creates a whole new environment.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #14)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I had [a standout moment]… with Caligula. We ad-libbed a line at the end of the scene in which Xena tells him that she understands him… and she truly does. It was a revelation for Xena in terms of her growing understanding of this person. It was also the first time in a long while that I had experienced a character development for her. I mean, Xena learns things – she learns information – all the time, and she says things like, ‘Oh, that’s what that means…’ But this was the first time in a long while that my character learned something about herself, and it kind of happened on screen. It was a little bit of synergy and it was wonderful working with the director [Garth Maxwell], who totally got it, and, in fact, helped plant the idea in my mind. And working off Alexis [Arquette] was a beautiful thing. The last time I remember experiencing something that felt that good was with Renee in the campfire scene, which I think was in [Season One’s] ‘Callisto,’… [when Xena] realized the enormity of her crime[s].” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #18 – May 2001)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I’ve never been so sore in my life [than after the rope dance]. I have no upper body strength… We had to rehearse quite extensively. I think it was a couple weekends. Actually, my stunt double… and I worked hand-in-hand a couple Saturdays and she made it look so easy with these flips, holding on to a rope, on top of shields that are off the ground. So we practiced and practiced… We [actually] danced across shields while they were holding them up. But whenever we had to do these little flippy bits, that was on a stage.” (The 2001 Pasadena Xena Convention)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I actually wore [Saba’s outfit] bowling. I asked, ‘Can I take that outfit just so I can wear it at some event?’ And so I went out bowling. It was Adam Sandler’s birthday. And somebody said, ‘Come with me to Adam’s birthday party,’… And so there I am in this little black net-y, g-stringy thingy bowling my little heart out… I looked cool with those little bowling shoes too, I’ve got to say.” (The 2001 Pasadena Xena Convention)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “The God You Know” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #18.
*Click here to download scans of TWO different production scripts of “The God You Know,” uploaded courtesy of LadyKate63 and shared with the marvelous Xena Online Community! The first, dated 10/27/00, is the shooting draft, and features a story radically different from what was seen in the final episode. The second, dated 11/08/00, is the blue revision, the second in a series of rewrites, and is more along the lines of the aired version (but not completely). Check them both out, and special thanks again to LadyKate63!
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!