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.
79. Season 4, Episode 11: “Daughter Of Pomira” (Aired: 01/18/99 | Filmed: 04/29 – 05/07/98)
Xena must come to grips with a past defeat when she ventures into the lair of the Horde to retrieve the daughter of one of her fighters from the old days.
Written by Linda McGibney | Directed by Patrick Norris | Production No. V0604
This capable episode is probably one of the series’ most overlooked. Clearly an homage to The Searchers, this sequel to “The Price” was the second installment produced for the season. But because the story was not directly linked to any of the season long arcs, the episode was buried until midseason (much like the previous week’s embarrassing “The Key To The Kingdom”). It’s not a flashy outing by any means, and, truthfully, the pacing is slow. And while I can’t even pretend that this episode could ever be considered one of my favorites, it must be said that this, in many ways, is a classic Xena story. Not only does it feature elements from one of the series’ most powerful episodes (the aforementioned “The Price”), the premise is explicitly connected to Xena’s dark past. (That’s always a strong point.)
What keeps this episode from being excellent, I believe, is two-fold. One, a lot of the conflict is internal. And in an action show, we need action — specifically, Xena in action. And while there’s a classic fight at the end of the fourth act, it takes us a while to get there. Don’t get me wrong — I think the conflict is brilliantly set-up and played (I even think the teen actress is superb), but the script doesn’t give Xena a lot to do beyond rescuing the girl. Secondly, this episode could be set any time after “The Price,” and because the story fails to acknowledge the heavy serialization involved in all the dramas at this point in the series’ trajectory, the end result doesn’t pack the necessary punch. So, in my estimation, this is a middling episode — capable, but forgettable.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Beth Allen (Actor, Pilee/Vanessa): “I did [this show] when I was a kid and I was incredibly nervous on my first day. Lucy Lawless took me aside and said, ‘You just gotta go for it – all these crew members watch me doing ridiculous stuff every day. Never be embarrassed about your performance.’ Not long after that chat, I was hit in the face with a fake axe by a stuntperson and needed stitches.” (The New Zealand Weekend Herald – October 2013)
Francia Smeets: (Makeup/Hair Supervisor): “A lot of [the Horde makeup] is taken from a great variety of tribal peoples. The first time we did the Horde, not [this episode], but “The Price,” we took a lot from New Guinean tribes. If you remember, that makeup was very colorful – bright, primal colors on their faces. [In this episode], we went for a much more primitive look. More roughly done with just finger-painting as they would have done it themselves. We tried to simplify it too. We found that the first time round if you did too many patterns, it was confusing. So the second time, we gave all the people who were doing the painting a general guide and said do them all fairly similar. It gave a much more uniform look and was much easier to look at.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #6)
80. Season 4, Episode 12: “If The Shoe Fits…” (Aired: 01/25/99 | Filmed: 11/03 – 11/11/98)
Gabrielle, Xena, Joxer and Aphrodite use storytelling to help a runaway princess realize the importance of home.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0619
I featured this episode as one of the 18 honorable mentions that narrowly missed inclusion on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “Josh Becker directed [this] one. [It] was very funny and Josh added in… what is now a classic Xena scene where Joxer breakdances, you know. And we had a breakdancing stunt double, you know, flipping on his head and stuff. So it was very funny. It turned out very good and it was a great Cinderella updated story, you know, and a lot of fun.” (Campbell & Raimi Interview – Season Four DVD Set)
Josh Becker (Director): “Going into this episode I was very concerned about the little girl’s part. If we couldn’t find someone good (down in New Zealand) the whole episode would be in trouble. Di Rowan, the NZ casting director, who always does a good job, found Olivia Tennant, the little girl that played the part. I think I looked [at] about 8 or 10 little girl’s auditions. Several of these little girls were really beautiful, but Olivia was the only one that knew what she was saying. Olivia is a terrific little actress, always knew her lines, listened to what I said and remembered my directions, never became bored with the process (which is amazing) and was simply a joy to have around. Also, Lucy really took Olivia under her wing and was goofing and talking with her all the time. As for last minute rewrites, well, generally they’re not very good. The script was in such bad shape that this shoot got pushed back a day, which has never occurred before or since. We had gone through three white drafts, a pink, a blue, a green and two yellows. On the Sunday before we began to shoot, Rob Tapert came by my place and the two of us sat there for about 6 hours picking the best page from each draft–none of which connected to each other–and I was given carte blanche to make everything fit together. I then stayed up until midnight or 1:00 A.M. each night trying to get it all to connect by the time I was picked up the next morning at 5:45 A.M. This was by far the most difficult Xena I’ve ever done… A few examples of elements I put into the story that were not in the script (any of them): the Baroque dance number, the waltz, the disco number (represented by one line in the script, ‘Joxer does a bold dance step’), the song ‘I’m in Heaven’ (which was supposed to be yet another verse of ‘Joxer the Mighty,’ a gag that has been driven into the dirt), as well as Gabrielle’s problem, which is usefulness. I also completely rewrote the bathroom scene between the queen and the princess, which made no sense at all. I also changed the messenger scene in Aphrodite’s version of the story, where Joxer delivers the message from the king. Originally, he was supposed to do a Keanu Reeves, valley guy-sort-of-thing, to which Ted completely objected. I suggested that he approach the scene as though he were in Frank Sinatra’s rat pack, calling them ‘koo-koo, crazy chicks,’ and Ted took it from there. I love his moment of first seeing Gabrielle as Tyrella and saying, ‘Oooh, that chick is square.’… Regarding ‘I’m in Heaven’… as well as the disco number, the waltz before it and the Baroque dance before that, it was rather apparent from early on that the script was timing out significantly short. I made one of my bold, reassuring statements to everyone, ‘I’m going to make a big deal out of Joxer’s telling of the story and I’ll make up all the time, I just need the assistance of a choreographer,’ whom they were kind enough get for me. I called Joe LoDuca and told him what I was up to and he sent me a perfect piece of Baroque music he’d written for something else. For the other dances I made my own temp tape for playback on the set which had ‘The Blue Danube’ for the Waltz with a hard cut going into Donna Summer’s ‘MacArthur Park’ for the disco, which is indicated in the script thusly: ‘Tyro suddenly breaks into an UNUSUALLY BOLD dance number.’ After this the script indicates that Tyro breaks into song, which is written like this: ‘Tyro the Mighty , From a dysfunctional family, They work me hard and call me names, Yet I’m the one who got the fame . . .’ I felt that the ‘Joxer the Mighty’ song had, at this point, been driven into the dirt and so I decided to go in a completely different direction… it is of the Sigmund Romberg-operetta parody. I wrote the lyrics on the set, called Joe and sang it for him. This was followed by a long, trans-Pacific pause that was finally broken by Joe quietly saying, ‘Huh.’ Three days later on the set I was handed a cassette tape that was the fully orchestrated version of the song with actual operatic vocalists. Ted Raimi, who sings very well, replaced the male vocal with his own.” (Josh Becker Online – Q. & A.)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I liked [this episode] because it was everyone’s interpretation of the Cinderella story… and I especially liked playing the black-toothed goofy stepsister that looks like some troll… Ted was always blossoming… when he worked with Josh, cause they have such a great friendship and sense of history that Josh would just let Ted pretty much do anything he wanted and really play different levels of his charisma. You know, like when he was the dancer – he was actually quite sexy as the prince… It’s funny ‘cause I remember having to rehearse the dance scene with Ted, and Ted is actually a very, very good dancer, and I think he’d taken ballroom dancing before, so he was trying to show me how to do the waltz. And I think I kept stepping on his feet. But he just kept guiding me and leading me around and I had a good time. I didn’t have to do anything… It was always good… to see everyone having fun… [And] I liked having the bean sack as a top… A lot of [wardrobe] changes in [this episode].” (“If The Shoe Fits…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Josh Becker’s always good for going off on loony tangents. We ad-libbed [in the] scene where I’m playing an ugly sister and… I sort of tromp down the stairs and sit down and say, ‘I’m as dry as a lizard,’ which is kind of a horrible expression from my childhood years. And Josh would take any idea – any that made him laugh… [But] sometimes we would give ourselves too much leeway. I mean, Renee would always have a good overview of what the episode kind of needed, but Josh and Ted and I would just get out of control, going so far off on a tangent that it was just a waste of film… [Alex Tydings, Aphrodite] likes being ugly… ‘Dumb me down, make me uglier, make me more extreme.’ She’s hampered by being incredible beautiful… Alex is always good to work with. She’s a doll. Such a good sport… [But] you know what was very special about this episode is that Gabrielle’s costume kept shrinking… a snip here, a snip there.” (“If The Shoe Fits…” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Josh Becker (Director): “I dreaded [working with the juvenile] up to the time when I cast her and we started to shoot with her, but she was just great and she made it no problem. I said to her mother, ‘I feel like I’m dealing with Meryl Streep at seven.’ She was so talented and knew exactly what all the words meant and where she was. If a line got dropped in the middle, she could go back a line and pick it up. She was great.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #7 – June 2000)
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!