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.
43. Season 2, Episode 19: “Ulysses” (Aired: 04/21/97 | Filmed: 01/20 – 01/29/97)
Xena and Gabrielle encounter pirates, the sea god Poseidon and the alluring Sirens when they help Ulysses sail home to Ithaca to re-claim his kingdom.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. V0213
It’s The Odyssey: Xena Style when the dynamic duo helps Ulysses return home to Ithaca in this almost unanimously disliked episode. The principle reason for most fans’ discontent: Xena is given a male love interest. Okay, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I really don’t care one way or another when the show gives Xena love interests of either gender — the fact that the series never really committed to defining the character’s sexuality makes her all the more fascinating, and, frankly, a much richer subject to watch. But for the fans who enjoy this series for the “subtext,” this episode is one big annoyance. However, my problem with the installment is simply that the attraction between Xena and Ulysses isn’t believable, and this is mostly because there’s not enough time to develop the relationship AND service the story at hand. I mean, we saw the Trojan War end in the middle of last season, and it took Odysseus (or Ulysses) over a decade to return home (according to Homer). Trying to cram almost the entirety of his adventure into 44 minutes just doesn’t do anyone justice. But, because this is probably one of the most widely read (and told) Greek myths, there is an inherent coolness about the series finding a way to incorporate our heroines into the narrative. Unfortunately, there’s really no good way to do this without sacrificing the integrity of the Ulysses character, and when he comes off looking weak (as is the case here), the entire episode looks weak. And that’s another major flaw of the episode.
However, this is the first of the seafaring episodes and it does house some absolutely gorgeous visuals. I think this is because so much of the episode is shot in exteriors, giving the installment a very mythical and Grecian feel: a trademark that the series gradually seemed to lose over the course of its six years (when it expanded to different locales — a benefit and detriment, in my opinion). Furthermore, it’s a solid adventure episode that should appeal to fans of mythology, because although Homer’s The Odyssey is not done with justice, it’s great to see the first appearance of Poseidon (largely because of questions aroused as a result of a shot in the opening credits). Interestingly, this does feel like a classic Xena episode because of its look and tone, but it’s actually probably the most flawed of all the post-“Destiny” installments because it doesn’t work as well as it should. (Note that this episode was written BEFORE the accident.) That said, there are always little things to like about every episode. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many as the premise seems to promise.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “The actor who played Ulysses was somewhat miscast. I just did the best I could to make it believable that Xena could fall in love head over heels with Ulysses, without letting down my character.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “I agree that Xena fell in love too quickly [in this episode]. Perhaps, she was just ready for a passionate fling and talked herself into it.” (Xena Online Community Interview – March 2008)
Michael Levine (Director): “I got the script… seven months in advance. When you get booked for Xena, they try to do it very far in advance. They might target certain episodes for certain directors, depending on who’s doing what. I was finishing “Altared States” and R.J. said, ‘Here, read this.’ I said, ‘This is great [being able to get the script so far ahead of time].’ I said, ‘Are we going to build a boat?’ He said. ‘Yep.’ This was three months before we were to shoot. Then Lucy got hurt and [this episode] was taken away from me. “The Quest” came in instead. It didn’t look like I was going to shoot “Ulysses.”[Then] some other things happened, but ultimately it worked out… The boat was affectionately called “Rob’s Folly”. We never really said if it was Rob Tapert or Rob Gillies. They worked on it for many months. [This episode] was the guinea pig. We went out the first day of shooting on the boat. There were a lot of things that could go wrong but most things didn’t. But there were difficulties. When you shoot on a boat and look out to the side you see Auckland city in the background. It takes two hours to get to an area where you can start shooting without seeing the city. You can’t have sailboats drifting into shot either. There was a bit of coordination involved and waiting for boat traffic to leave. I credit my 1st A.D., Paul Grinder, in holding it all together out there on the high seas. We had another boat to bring us supplies and lunch and shuttle people back and forth. The first two days we actually rode out with the boat to where we had to be. I designed things so I could shoot on the way out and on the way in, but there’s only so much of that. The entire fight scene, with Xena and Ulysses, looking up at them at the stern, was shot going out. You couldn’t tell the boat was moving. Any shots where we looked out to the sides we waited until the boat was anchored… The boat was very stable. It was a barge. The sails did work, but really didn’t propel the boat. We had a motor and were always running it when we went someplace. At one point the motor broke. Once a rope got caught around the anchor. We didn’t go anywhere for awhile. But it was three days of an interesting shoot. The grips built this railing that attached to the side of the boat. You could put a platform on it and then a dolly so you can do moving shots. It was really cool! I said, ‘I can dolly?’ [referring to being able to move the camera]. They said, ‘Yeah, you can dolly.’ We had steady-cams, like we always do. It was an interesting challenge. The cabin scenes weren’t on the boat, that was on a stage. My son, Jason, was in that episode. He’s the guy where, at the end of the fight, Gabrielle has thrown her last guy overboard, she whirls around, and a guy comes up with a club. He doesn’t do anything, though, he just jumps overboard… [This episode] was, probably, more than any other episode an outside show. I was outside five days, maybe even six. It was more epic. Again, we were long and lost a scene. You remember when Ulysses’ buddy was surprised to see him and then had to go off and do something? You never saw the guy again. The missing scene explained where he went and what he did. There were actually two scenes, one was shot and the other was removed from the production schedule. The shot cut from the show was after Xena and Ulysses they leave to check out the old entryway by the moat. Ulysses talks to his friend about how he feels about Xena and that this may not be such a warm homecoming for him and his wife. Xena wants Ulysses’ friend to get a message to Penelope [Ulysses’ wife]. She has a plan! Originally in the script but never shot was the scene where his friend delivers this message to Penelope without revealing that Ulysses has returned to Ithaca. It was a hard episode to do because of the boat. Great fight on the boat, probably one of the best fight sequences. When they first did the fight, Peter Bell rehearsed the stunts with everyone. In other fight scenes we separate Renee and Lucy but I actually put everyone together as much as possible. There’s one fight where I put everyone behind each other, so in the master you see them all at once. I actually thought some of the people got hurt, but they didn’t. I should know better, I know they’re well padded, but they fooled me.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
44. Season 2, Episode 20: “The Price” (Aired: 04/28/97 | Filmed: 02/10 – 02/19/97)
Xena reverts to her old ways to whip a dispirited Athenian army into shape to take on a horrific foe known as the Horde. But her ruthlessness appalls Gabrielle.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Oley Sassone | Production No. V0217
I featured this episode as #9 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This episode] was great fun. We had a new director, Oley Sassone, who was really good. I had a wee tantrum with the writers, which I was only partly right about. Because there was a paragraph where Xena says, ‘Listen to the Horde out there screaming, they are so evil, they are so stupid.’ And that was one of two moments where I [strongly objected]. I said, ‘I’m not saying that, because that makes my character complicit in the stupidity.’ And Xena’s allowed to be wrong and she’s allowed to be afraid, but she’s not allowed to be stupid. And that just makes her part of the evil instead of simply wrong. But I liked the fact that Xena, and I think the audience also liked the fact that Xena is still dangerous. It just woke them up to the fact that this is not the girl in the white hat. And also I played it like she was right. You know, it surprises me that people have had such a negative reaction because there is a particular scene where I ad-libbed just one word, but it made all the difference, I thought, to my character. It showed where my character was coming from. It was, ‘This is war, Gabrielle, what did you expect?’ And I ad-libbed, ‘Glamour?!’ Because Xena had the view, when you go to war, this is what it’s really like. And you bleeding-heart liberals! You know, you tree-huggers, if you went to Bosnia, what did you think it would be like? I wanted people to discover their own hypocrisy [about war].” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “I wanted to take that a step further. I wanted The Horde to be totally unknown to us so we could allow our hatred to go anywhere we wanted. I got voted down on this, I’ll admit, I had Xena referring to the Horde as animals. Interestingly enough, in Robert Weisbrot’s book there’s a commentary from Lucy about her having a problem with that. She and I never spoke directly about it, and she quotes a line that was never in the script, but it illustrates how people interpreted the attitude of Xena in it. So I took the animal reference out because some were afraid it would make Xena look too racist. However, I will admit up front that is exactly what I wanted… the unknown makes us ignorant and afraid. And that’s what I wanted to show in [this episode].” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1999)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This episode] was too [stupid]. Made X[ena] out to be a moron. Sorry, hated [this] one.” (Lucy Lawless, Twitter – June 2012)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “The Price” for The Chakram Newsletter: #20.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Miriam Hopkins Pre-Code!