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.
121. Season 6, Episode 9: “Return Of The Valkyrie” (Aired: 11/27/00 | Filmed: 08/02 – 08/11/00)
Xena battles to regain her memory and reverse the curse of the Rheingold ring.
Written by Emily Skopov | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V1410
Although not among my lists of either the best or the worst episodes, I dedicated a whole post to the Norse trilogy, which includes this installment and the preceding two. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Emily Skopov (Writer): “There were certainly a lot of elements to tie together, so more than anything else the challenge was how to give everybody their due. You don’t want to just write off a character that you’ve spent some time with, and you not only want to wrap up the story, but also make sure you don’t have to play out the emotions. At the end, Xena has to rescue Gabrielle, so some of our questions were: when does she rescue Gabrielle? Do we want to see them together as Valkyries, or does she rescue Gabrielle at the end? Some of that was a question of timing – how do we want to play it out [and] when does she get her memory back? So more than anything else, the challenge was in dealing with Xena’s character. We’d discussed everything as a group, and every now and then Joel [Metzger] and I had to ask each other, ‘What did you put in your episode?’ because we were writing them simultaneously. We’d already discussed the major story points, so you’re writing with them in the back of your mind from the beginning. So really the biggest challenge was how to keep Xena proactive when she doesn’t know who she is. How do you not make her look passive and weak? It was a case of figuring out how and when the transformations should come about in the most emotionally effective and dramatic way. There’s no question that it was a very challenging episode from that point of view. [But] I will not lie. It was a very difficult tightrope to tread. There’s no question. We had a lot of discussions about the episode and how to play it, and we had to keep trying one thing and then another, because it was very hard for all of us to be 100 percent satisfied with the script for those very reasons. It was very atypical in that sense, so yes, that presented a lot of difficulties.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #19 – June 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I questioned how this [kiss] was going to work. How do you do this right and serve the storyline? The way we’ve always worked in the show is that people can see whatever they want to see. I wanted to leave that open for people to feel good about it no matter which perspective they’re coming from. So it’s the Kiss of Life and it’s the thing that wakens Gabrielle.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #13)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “The kiss was ideal for Xena: Warrior Princess the series because first of all, it was mythically correct, but also it fit our characters and our characters’ needs and desires so perfectly. So it was a great summation of that trilogy. It was the perfect way to end it. That was the great out of it – that story presented that to us.” (“The Rheingold” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[Shooting the beach scenes made for] one of the most miserable days of my life… They write all our beach scenes in winter… It was a wonderful outfit, but there’s a corset underneath – [or] about three corsets… Those Valkyrie episodes were tough.” (Coffee Talk #1 With Lucy and Renee)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Emily Skopov gave on “Return Of The Valkyrie” for The Chakram Newsletter: #19.
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Return Of The Valkyrie” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #16.
Check out last week’s post to read more about this legendary trilogy!
122. Season 6, Episode 10: “Old Ares Had A Farm” (Aired: 01/15/01 | Filmed: 09/15 – 09/22/00)
To protect the mortal Ares from a gang of revenge-seeking warlords, Xena brings him to her childhood home and disguises him as a farmer.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Charles Siebert | Production No. V1414
I featured this episode as #47 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I’m very sneakily proud of [this episode], where, basically, I’m an extra. And it was lovely cause I didn’t try to hold the frame or get any attention. I just sat in the background and was absolutely naturalistic… And it was quite interesting to watch Xena just being quiet.” (Archive of American Television Interview – 2013)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Over six seasons of Xena, I had always wanted to do Xena and Gabrielle kind of doing nothing for an episode and I pitched the one sentence idea to R.J. [Stewart], who instantly got it, which was Xena and Gabrielle go back to Xena’s farmhouse that she grew up on to hide Ares from warlords. I don’t even think there was that much of a pitch, but R.J. hit a homerun with the script. It was one of those few scripts that [came] in and [we] needed to do very little. We twiddled around with the fourth act resolution as to how they shook the warlord, misdirected him… [And] Kevin Smith really was a great comedic actor. He never really got a chance to express that and being such a big, good looking physical guy, he was never afraid to be totally self-deprecating and [this episode] really was his finest work for us. For six years, Xena and Gabrielle went to bed fully clothed, wearing their boots, and it always seemed odd to me. So thus when you have Ares, played by Kevin Smith, and you’re going to bed and they’re not wearing their normal garb, then you might as well put them in something sexy! That scene was all about sexual tension… and what was really interesting, at least from a Xena point-of-view was to get Xena being girly, trying to recreate her childhood, which she really couldn’t. And it was such a minor little runner in that story, it really didn’t matter, but that was the rationale [why] they got dressed up as farm girls. And, yeah, for the sake of comedy, you’ll bend the story a long ways. Lucy, Kevin, and Renee had great working relationships and were put in so many compromising positions together that Gabrielle having to swing her arm around and smack Kevin in the crotch would have been no problem. As actors, they had found themselves in so many compromising positions previous to that and so many unintentional sexual situations as human beings doing their actor thing, that that meant nothing. The truth is that none of them could stop laughing. There’s endless outtakes of them just laughing hysterically at that scene. When Xena saw Gabrielle’s hand on Ares’ crotch, I think that Xena was slightly outraged at the whole situation. I don’t know if she wanted in on that action, I don’t know if she was mad at Gabrielle for two-timing, but I think the situation, whatever she thought, she was uncomfortable with and wanted to complain. [Anyway], you can’t build a series out of [episodes like this], but once you have a solid series, [these] kind of episodes are great. [This] was one Charlie Siebert directed, and I thought he did a great job. I actually think that was perhaps Kevin Smith’s finest performance he’d ever given.” (“Old Ares Had A Farm” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I was trying to be discreet and I kept trying to flop on his chest and his face. And they said, ‘Look, Renee, the joke isn’t going to work unless you hit him.’ So I hit him and I couldn’t keep a straight face for the rest of the scene… you can see my body shaking, I think.” (The 2001 Pasadena Xena Convention).
Jane Holland (Costume Designer): “I can’t remember how we ended up… with these two girls in their little teenie weenie peasant frocks. But that’s what we ended up with and they were very cute. I seem to remember that Kevin Smith didn’t wear very much at all throughout all the episode, and we made his leather pants so that they were particularly well fitting and Xena and Gabrielle got about in these little wispy bits of floral nothing really. It was a different style, but it was quite a fun episode too.” (“Old Ares Had A Farm” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “There’s a line in [this episode] where [Ares is] talking to Gabrielle, and we go, ‘What do we even have in common?’ And we both look at Xena and go, ‘Yeah, yeah; besides that.’ It’s a wonderful bit of symmetry. They both love the same person, and she’s the cornerstone to some extent to both of their worlds. It’s so natural, the nature of their relationship, whatever it is. We play it as antagonistic. We play it like a scrapping brother and sister sometimes; we’re always shooting each other dirty looks, having some snipe. I can’t tell you the relish in [this episode] when she’s out there vamping it up with the marauding warrior. I call her a harlot. Oh, the joy we got out of that! Who gets to call Renee O’Connor a harlot? No one! It was so much fun.” (Spectrum Magazine – June 2001)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Old Ares Had A Farm” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #17.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!