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.
19. Season 1, Episode 19: “Altared States” (Aired: 04/22/96 | Filmed: 03/04 – 03/12/96)
Xena and Gabrielle agree to hide a 12-year-old boy who has run away from home after learning from his mother he was to be sacrificed in the name of a new “Supreme Deity.”
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. 876926
This episode seems to be pretty popular among the fandom, and much of this can be attributed to the perceived loosening of the Xena character. Or, more specifically, the growing familiarity between Xena and Gabrielle. Or, to put it even more bluntly, the fact that this is the first episode to knowingly and purposely inject subtext into the script. Of course, it’s all handled rather lightly here, with a sense of fun that the series would later find difficult to recapture (after Season Three, at least). But subtext aside, the story isn’t one of the best — as was often the case when the series looked to the Bible for inspiration. The simple fact: the premise has nothing to do with Xena’s character, thus, it’s not as interesting to watch. Meanwhile, the darkness of the plot seems at odds with the levity provided by both the subtext and Renee O’Connor’s iconically riotous portrayal of Gabrielle high on nutbread, so the whole episode comes off feeling a little mismatched. Not one of my favorites, but there still is much to enjoy!
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Michael Levine (Director): “[In this episode] the whole thing about sacrificing your son is a total Biblical reference. So I approached that episode in a much grander scheme. I had wide distance; I had very wide shots of very small people. I’m trying to get that epic.” (What You Didn’t Know About Xena – Exclusive Bonus on Best Buy Season One DVD Release)
Chris Manheim (Writer): “I was nervous [writing this episode], because they wanted to see whether I could handle [writing for the Xena character] or not. Xena is definitely a much more abrupt, brusque person than I am, so I was a little concerned I wouldn’t be able to hit her right. I guess because Xena is such a strong character, you can lock onto her. If she had some wishy-washy tendencies, it might be harder to write her. Once you clue in to her though, you do get your focus narrowed onto her character, so it wasn’t as impossible as I thought it would be.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I have to admit [this] was one of those stories that I [didn’t] enjoy filming that much because Xena is not emotionally invested in the story, it just goes from point A to point B… On the Internet they’ve written a lot about my walk at the end. How all of a sudden they’re allowed to see a new side to Xena, and she was lightening up at the end… In fact, it was my first day back on set after I had hurt my back and I was having trouble walking, so if you watch it again you’ll see I’m sort of walking away and I kept bumping into Renee. It was really funny. I kept forgetting my lines and we were running out of time, the sun was going down, and the only thing to do in that situation was to totally relax and let the words kind of flow out of you, and it just seemed to make things worse. But, yeah, I was just goofing around. It was a bit more Lucy, that’s right, it wasn’t a conscious effort to give new insight into Xena!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Michael Levine (Director): “One of my favorite scenes is when Renee is playing drunk ‘cause she played it so well. Renee’s funny because if she had to be in a certain mode, if she had to be other than just Gabrielle, she would gear up for it by kind of lapsing into that even when the camera wasn’t rolling. So I remember I was walking around the set, they were lighting the set and said, ‘Hey Renee, how are you doing.” ‘I’m fine,’ [she said]. And she was playing the role. I said, ‘Okay, got you. I’m there.’ You know, and she was totally getting into it. There was a fun scene because it’s the first time where Lucy is playing the straight man, and Renee gets to play the comic; and she played it great. And she was game for anything I wanted to do. We did this scene where she was crying ‘cause she can’t find the boy; she’d forgotten where the boy was. She goes out of frame, and I said, ‘Instead of popping up behind her, crawl in front. The audience won’t care how you got there, pop up in front of her.’ And Lucy’s doing this look like, ‘How did you get here?’ It was a tremendous amount of fun to shoot.” (What You Didn’t Know About Xena – Exclusive Bonus on Best Buy Season One DVD Release)
Karl Urban (Actor, Caesar/Cupid/Mael): “This [episode] was my first experience with Xena, and it was a good little eye-opener into that world for me. My most vivid memory of [this] episode is of rehearsing my first scene with Lucy. I’d talked to Lucy beforehand, but I’d never seen her fully made up as Xena. So when we started the rehearsal, I came charging on the set with a knife to Gabrielle’s throat, and I was just blown away to be faced by Lucy and that piercing Clint Eastwood gaze that she does. I was playing the villain, but my immediate instinct was to run away as fast as I could!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #6 – May 2000)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “It was really only in [this episode] that we visually pushed the boundaries and planted the seed that Gabrielle was hot for Xena. We also added, for those who might read something into it, the opening fishing sequence. [Producer] Liz Friedman could not believe that we would have these erotic insinuations in the teaser. I also pushed Chris [Manheim] to write a very specific opening with fishing and innuendo.” (AUSXIP – 2007 Interview)
Michael Levine (Director): “Yes, [the opening bath scene is] a classic subtext moment. They see the little boy run. Lucy gets out of the water. The guy is supposed to look at her in awe. The script says, ‘She fights.’ It didn’t say anything about putting on clothes, it just said, ‘She fights.’ I called up Rob Tapert and I said, ‘I need you in New Zealand when I do this shot, because I’m not good enough of a director to shoot this scene.’ In television, where you can’t show nudity, how do you show someone doing a fight in the nude? In reality, the only things you can show are legs and a back. He says, ‘Well, that would be a problem, sir.’ So I said we’ve got to have her put on a tunic. And we did. It was shot at a place called Hanua Falls, a beautiful waterfall. We were only there for one day. It was freezing in the water. Lucy and Renee weren’t wearing real wetsuits, they were wearing makeshift flesh-colored suits. Lucy and Renee were freezing. When she wasn’t doing a take, Lucy’s teeth would chatter but she didn’t do that the second the camera was on her. At least she didn’t have to go under the water, Renee went under the water. That scene, I’m sure, is numbered amongst the memorable scenes because the characters were naked. The one shot I wanted to get we couldn’t get, because of the nature of the waterfall and I couldn’t put a camera back there, was a back shot of her walking out of the water… Here’s a little sidebar. We got back from New Zealand and we needed to loop the kid who played Icus for various reasons, mainly sound problems. I don’t remember the particulars as to why we didn’t do it in New Zealand. But the post-production people said we’d loop it here. They wanted to know if I knew anyone who could do it. I said ‘Sure,’ and brought in my son, Jason, who was the right age and who had done looping for me in another situation before just like this. He spent the whole day doing that kid’s voice. As a father, you look at the final mix when the show airs and you realize that’s your son’s voice coming out of this totally different body. He didn’t get a credit, though.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Robert Field (Editor): “Most of Xena’s episodes end up being long on the first cut and the director’s cut. [This] was one of those exceptions where the show actually ended up being short. Much of what Michael Levine, the director of that show, did was intentionally done. He shot many very wide vistas to convey, as I interpret it, the scope of what was essentially a ‘God interpretive’ story. He wanted to show majesty, and you show that with size and scale… Some of that came out of the production itself, and in order to fill up some of the empty space in the show, we actually created some scenery or beauty montages that were originally intended to fill time, and then somehow because of their own ironic construction and placement became part of that monolithic representation.“ (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Here is an on-the-scene account of the editing of “Altared States” from Weisbrot’s The Official Guide To The Xenaverse.
20. Season 1, Episode 20: “Ties That Bind” (Aired: 04/29/96 | Filmed: 02/21 – 03/01/96)
Xena saves a mysterious warrior who later professes to be her estranged father. But the reunion is anything but happy, as a suspicious Xena tries to find out if the man’s claims are true.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. 876923
I featured this episode as #53 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I thought [this episode] was really uneven, because I was out of commission for much of it. Some parts were really good and some parts were just… And I thought, poor Charlie Siebert, he’s such a wonderful director and every time he directs, something happens to me….” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Charles Siebert (Director): “[In this episode] I had a scene with Tommy Atkins, Xena’s father, on a horse. He’s a wonderful actor and very, very uncomfortable on horses. I said to the chief grip Dennis, a wonderful guy, ‘Can you rig me up something that we can put him on so we can move him across there?’ He gave it two minutes thought, grabbed a couple of pipes, slapped something together… in almost no time at all, and put him on the back of an ATV all terrain vehicle. I shot him tight there and moved him across the scenery, and it was absolutely convincing.” (What You Didn’t Know About Xena – Exclusive Bonus on Best Buy Season One DVD Release)
Come back next Thursday for the next two Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for another Myrna Loy film!