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.
63. Season 3, Episode 17: “Forget Me Not” (Aired: 03/09/98 | Filmed: 01/19 – 01/23/98)
Haunted by images of the past, Gabrielle goes to the Temple of Mnemosyne to forget her painful memories.
Written by Hilary J. Bader | Directed by Charlie Haskell | Production No. V0417
I featured this episode as #29 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I think what was interesting about [this] episode, suddenly we decided to take the approach that Gabrielle was extremely jealous of Xena’s relationship with Lao Ma…. And so suddenly the Rift that had developed between the two started because of a very petty feeling that Gabrielle had. So that was our introduction to [the concept of] this episode… [But] I think more than anything [the writers] were playing with whether or not Gabrielle could go back to being the innocent person who she was before she met Xena, or does she choose to be her soulmate and travel through even more obstacles to become a warrior… which is what she became, I guess, by the end of the show.” (“Forget Me Not” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[Gabrielle] went [to China] because she was jealous. Because she was upset that there might be another person in Xena’s life that meant more than Gabrielle did… Our characters are human. Gabrielle had a little bit of arrogance here. She had become convinced that she was the most important person in Xena’s life. The more Xena kept telling in our previous two seasons how important she was to her, after a little while, Gabrielle started to believe the publicity. And her nose became a little out of joint to find out somebody else might be more important, and not only that, somebody might be so important that Xena was willing to kill.” (“Forget Me Not” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I had no idea [that Gabrielle’s reason for heading to China would be jealousy. They] didn’t share that with me. It’s funny because I’ve always thought Gabrielle tries to look for the best in people and act on behalf of others and not selfishly. So when this came around, it was a big blow to me looking at Gabrielle in a whole new light. I realized that the writers are going to create situations where Gabrielle will make a lot of mistakes, but hopefully she’ll grow from them and be a better person and a better friend… Lucy told me [to stop protecting my character] about [this episode] in particular. I really had a hard time with it because I thought it was the ultimate betrayal. There was no dignity in the fact that Gabrielle betrayed Xena for selfish reasons because she was jealous… I had no trouble with what Gabrielle did in ‘The Debt,’ because I thought she was justified. She was trying to save Xena’s soul and also trying to save Ming T’ien from execution. I believed wholeheartedly in what she was doing… [Lucy] said some of the best experiences she’d had on the show are the times she let her character go and didn’t try to protect her. So I kept that in mind. It was quite a stretch for me as Gabrielle. And I still don’t know if I believe completely in my performance. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen traces of myself more so than Gabrielle… [This is] probably the hardest episode to date that I’ve had to do. It was the most emotionally charged and physically demanding because Lucy wasn’t there to balance the workload. It was a great experience, though. Everything that has happened after that where we’re in situations that are a bit uncomfortable, I just remember doing [this episode]… The river of fire was freezing water with dry ice and pipes of flames. And the river of ice was actually a sauna… Thank God I had just seen Titanic… They do [use real fire], yeah. But they’re very careful about my safety and they make sure you’re comfortable. There are times when you can feel the heat on your skin, which helped me in that scene where I was screaming. It’s quite easy to imagine your skin shriveling under it.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “Most clip shows, as you know, are dull. Of course, their purpose is to save money and time, cause, as you make a 22 episode season, you inevitably run out of time, so you need one episode that’s going to take half as long to make. And those are clip shows where they throw a lot of clips in from other episodes, and ours was [this one] that season. They’re often… not very clever. This one was very good. I thought it was a very good way of getting around that problem. I thought Renee did a great job… Gabrielle loses her memory and it’s up to Joxer to give it back to her and it was done very—in a very clever way by Ms. [Hilary J.] Bader, who wrote it… It was up to me to get her to remember who she was, and of course Joxer sees that as a golden opportunity to lie to her, cause he can’t resist not doing anything to get her to like him…” (“Forget Me Not” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Hilary J. Bader gave on “Forget Me Not” for The Chakram Newsletter: #4.
64. Season 3, Episode 18: “Fins, Femmes, And Gems” (Aired: 04/13/98 | Filmed: 01/26 – 02/04/98)
Aphrodite steals the “mystic diamond” that keeps the North Star lit and casts obsession spells on Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer to keep them from retrieving it.
Story by Rob Tapert and Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0418
I featured this episode as #46 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY
Nora Kay Foster (Writer): “We got brought into this script with the idea that Rob [Tapert] wanted to do something about fishing. And that they also wanted to do something, if you can even imagine, about a diamond…” (“Fins, Femmes, And Gems” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “[This] was one of the times the studio did come down on us and said, ‘You can’t do that!’ I think this time it did end up better for the change. Two or three days before shooting the studio got around to reading the script and originally, Gabrielle was looking at something on the wall: people in various sexual positions. She says, ‘Can people really do that?’ That’s when there was going to be the spell put on Gabrielle, where she just kept imagining sex and sexual positions and it was much raunchier, for lack of any other word. The studio told us we couldn’t do that. So over a weekend R.J. and Steve changed it to Gabrielle looking in a mirror and becoming obsessed with herself. Renee does a great job of playing the minx. The other aspect from the studio was they said ‘You’ve got to figure out a way to use a diamond in the episode.’ DeBeers had bought a bunch of advertising and the studio promised them we’d do something with a stone. I asked would it work if Gabrielle got Xena a wedding ring? They said ‘No! You can’t do that!’ I don’t think DeBeers was ever happy with how a stone got used in that episode. I wanted to do that episode pretty much all outdoors and have Xena go back to her childhood. It all came together. I liked that comedy, personally. Josh Becker came up with that ad-lib song Renee did, ‘This is a story ’bout Gabrielle.’ That was total Josh, as was the ‘Joxer the Mighty’ song.” (Whoosh! Interview – January 2001)
Josh Becker (Director): “In regard to ‘The Song of Gabrielle’ in [this episode] it says in the script: I sing the song of Gabrielle! A diamond like none before! The Bard without peer! A sight beyond compare! A temptress of renown. A woman with no—Then Xena covers her mouth because she’s scaring the fish away. At the read-through, the night before we started shooting, Renee said, ‘Well, it doesn’t rhyme, it hasn’t got a melody, and I can’t sing.’ I smiled reassuringly and said, ‘No worries, when the day comes I will have a song for you that you can sing. Renee smiled and left seeming reassured that all would be well. On the day of the shoot, and of course that scene was very first up at 7:00AM, I set my alarm for 4:00, got up, drank a cup of coffee, and wrote the present Beverly Hillbillies version of the song. I sang it to Renee, she laughed, and all was well.” (Josh Becker Online – Q. & A.)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[This] was summer, at Bethels Beach at the lake… This [was] someone’s private property but they have this lake that’s accessible to everyone so anyone could come up and prop up their picnic and watch us film… And then everyone took a swim at lunch time. I think we had a picnic afterwards… It was so funny playing Gabrielle as being vain and this, this delicate little creature ‘cause it was the antithesis of who she [tries to be]. It was fun playing that sort of damsel in distress because I made a point not to—to play Gabrielle like that.” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy and Renee)
Josh Becker (Director): “This episode contains some of the best comedy I have so far done in my career. Ted [Raimi] plays a character named Attis, who is a monkey man, so he and I got together and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey to pick up good monkey moves. There’s also a flashback in that episode that I’m rather proud of cinematically. Xena is remembering coming to the same place to fish in her youth and we see her younger incarnation and her little brother run past behind her, thus getting into a flashback without a cut, simply a change of focus. It them comes back to the present by morphing young Xena into present day Xena, and it worked quite well, if I do say so myself. [This] was the most controversial episode of the whole series, in that it was originally going to be the ‘coming out’ episode, when we’d finally find out that Xena and Gabrielle were gay. I didn’t think this was a good idea and I said so, but Rob, as usual, paid me no heed. He also said that I had to shoot a love scene between Xena and Gabrielle in shadows, exactly like a DeBeers Diamond commercial. I received a tape of every version of these DeBeers shadow commercials. The point of this was so that Rob would get a free diamond ring for Lucy, whom he was about to marry. There was also a scene in the script where Xena and Gabrielle were to be rolling around in the surf kissing, just like From Here To Eternity. There was another scene where Xena bends down for something and Gab[rielle] looks up Xena’s skirt and checks her out. This particular scene absolutely infuriated the New Zealand co-producer Chloe Smith. Chloe, who was very good at her job, and was feared by many on the crew, simply couldn’t have been nicer to me, even when I was the [second] unit director. Anyway, Chloe stood up at the Head of Department Meeting and strenuously objected to the looking up the skirt scene, stating, ‘Women don’t do that!’ I was 100% with her. I asked both Lucy and Renee, ‘You guys are really going to roll around in the surf French kissing?’ They both shrugged and dismissed it, meaning, whatever the script says, that’s what we’re doing, which was no doubt a much healthier approach to the situation than mine, since I was starting to panic—this episode was going to be a disaster, and it would probably get blamed on me. Finally, just a few days before shooting started, a top executive at Universal TV read the script and called Rob saying he didn’t think Xena and Gab[rielle] ought to be gay, either, nor should there be a DeBeers commercial within the show. Apparently, Rob said, ‘But the coming out episode of Ellen was huge.’ The executive replied, ‘But this isn’t Ellen. This is Xena, and she’s not coming out of anywhere.’ We then received an entirely rewritten script the morning we began shooting. Since there was no time for the actors to learn their lines, the dialog[ue] was fed to them by the script supervisor line by line. Ted and I improvised entire scenes, like him talking to all of the animals in the jungle or him giving commands to the fish, ‘Fish-brother. Go. Bring tribute.’ I think the scene where Attis envisions Gabrielle as his dream ape girl is extremely funny. Aside from the fact that we didn’t get the script pages until right before we shot, the weather was gorgeous, we were out at the beach, there were a ton of laughs, and it was a very fun episode to shoot.” (Rushes by Josh Becker)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “”It was never intended as a ‘coming out’ episode. Here’s what the major change was and why it ended up the way it did… When Aphrodite cast her spell (in the original concept), Gabrielle was looking at Xena. Therefore, she was obsessed with Xena. Every time Xena turned or moved, Gabrielle saw it in erotic tones (soft filter, slo-mo, etc.). Everything Xena said became innuendo to Gabrielle. And Gabrielle couldn’t understand why she was feeling this way. Sounds cool, right? We thought so too. Unfortunately, two things hit us in the face. First of all (although it wasn’t the first chronologically) the studio asked us to tone it down. Yes, they felt it was too blatant. Not to excuse their thinking, but they were right. We really went for the erotic jugular in this one. We felt it was a perfect way to explore that side and still have a safety net of the Aphrodite spell. The other problem, though, had to do exactly with that ‘safety net.’ Think about it. Gabrielle can only feel this way toward Xena when forced to by a spell? And what is her reaction when it happens? Confusion, distress? What would that have told you about their relationship? Quite simply, there was no way to end it ambiguously. So all things considered, we went back to the drawing board. I think it was Liz [Friedman[, maybe R.J. [Stewart], who came up with the Narcissus idea. That Gab would be obsessed with herself. And having read both stories, I can tell you that that one was a lot funnier.” (NetForum – August 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[One day] Ted, Renee, and I were filming [this episode]… it was a Thursday. We’d been working out in the sun all day—had a bit of a barbecue and then I went to a friend’s place for a party. I went to bed at midnight, but couldn’t get to sleep. I woke up about five and could not get through the next day! There are some really great bloopers when [I] just cannot get [the] lines right. I went to the back of the set and fell asleep and they didn’t bother [to] wake me for my ‘off’ lines. No more parties on weekdays! … I’ll never do that again!” (The Chakram Newsletter: #3)
Josh Becker (Director): Lucy threw a party after shooting one night at the beach location… down in New Zealand, they call [this party] a “sausi sizzle,” and managed to get somewhat plastered (I don’t know this for a fact since I didn’t go). The next morning we began shooting the interior of Aphrodite’s temple, where [Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer] rush in and Xena tells the plot. Lucy, who is a complete joy to work with and an incredibly good actor, could not get the words out of her mouth to save her life. This rarely if ever happens to Lucy or Renee, which is what made it particularly funny to me.” (Josh Becker Online – Q. & A.)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[This] was one of those episodes that I was most proud of. I thought that all of our scenes were spot on. The timing was great… working with Ted and with [Lucy]… [This] was one of the best episodes, definitely. Everybody was so happy. It was summer in New Zealand. The crew were having picnics after we wrapped… having swims in the lake at lunch time. Everybody was just having the best time.” (“Fins, Femmes, And Gems” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writers Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster gave on “Fins, Femmes, And Gems” for The Chakram Newsletter: #4.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!