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.
23. Season 1, Episode 23: “Death Mask” (Aired: 06/03/96 | Filmed: 01/26 – 02/05/96)
After being reunited with her estranged older brother, Toris, Xena decides to join him in his plans to kill the raider who destroyed their village years before.
Written by Peter Allan Fields | Directed by Stewart Main | Production No. 876917
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:
Lucy Lawless (Actress, Xena): “That chap who plays my brother, Joseph Kell, could take his tongue and shove it up the back of his nose through his throat and tickle his sinuses with his tongue. An extraordinary trick, and that’s all I can say [about this episode]!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Liz Friedman (Producer/Writer): “The worst episode? I have to say [this one] leaps [to mind]… That was a bad one!” (“The Furies” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
24. Season 1, Episode 24: “Is There A Doctor In The House?” (Aired: 07/29/96 | Filmed: 03/13 – 03/19/96)
Caught in the middle of a fierce war, Xena and Gabrielle aid the wounded inhabitants of a healing temple, then try to mediate talks between the warring factions.
Written by Patricia Manney | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. 876925
I featured this episode as #11 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This] was the singularly most rewarding episode [of the entire first season… This was a five-day episode [compared with the usual eight-day shoot], but it was amazingly intense, and so I had to be on every step of the way. God, I loved that! I loved to be under pressure… In the scene where Xena loses her friend, you really see raw Xena. You see how great her need is. And then [as an actor] you’ve still got to keep a lid on it, or the audience is going to disengage at some point if you go into self-indulgence. Renee was just my savior in [this] episode because there came a time when we did the death scene and they asked if we could go for one more take and I said, ‘Oh, I can’t do it,’ and I just about went mad, and Renee said, ‘Yes you can, Yes-You-Can,’ and I said, ‘Oh, [okay, okay], Renee, you’re the boss.’ And I did it and it was a fantastic take. So she was able to shore me up.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
T.J. Scott (Director): [This was] a full episode, and it was two days less shooting time than an episode had ever been done in, so I took it as a challenge. Patricia Manney wrote a really good script, and understood that we had to do it in five days, so she set it in a way that I could do it, keeping it essentially within one location. I made a big speech where I got everybody together at the beginning of the episode and said, ‘Guys, this is it. It’s a challenge for us, but I think we should take it and run with it. I’m not going to shoot this any differently than any other episode. We’re going to keep things moving, moving, moving, but it’s a big challenge. And they jumped into it. I’ve never seen a crew move so fast; I think they saw it as a challenge to themselves as well… When we were shooting [the episode], my feeling was that we do nothing gratuitous, but show what Xena is doing with the same amount of blood and gore and factuality as an ER episode. Of course, our advertisers had a bit of a problem with things like the tracheotomy, where we showed the amount of blood that would be in a tracheotomy. There’s a scene where a guy gets a gangrenous leg cut off, but it was all in the sound design. To tell you the truth, the episode’s sound design was what made people squeamish, not what we shot. But we had to trim out about 30 seconds of material in the end. Rob fought hard to keep it the way it was, because we thought it was very close to reality, and we ended up losing. But I think the episode still hangs together.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #8 – July 2000)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I remember [for Gabrielle’s death scene, they used] the third take. T.J. always said, ‘Lucy’s a third-take-girl.’ …And as the takes go on you get more—kind of desperate in a way, because… you don’t know if you could do it again, you don’t know exactly what they want, why are they going again… You sort of surrender… and this terrified me… [but it is] really exhilarating and to—when you read the script and you go, ‘Whoa! This is gonna be a biggie to pull off properly.’” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy & Renee)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I remember [Lucy] wondering if Xena should cry… We were talking about it. We must’ve been talking about it some time before the scene and [Lucy was] wondering because [Xena’s] so stoic and she’s seen such… horrible events in her life… Would she be that connected to one little girl? Would she be that heartfelt about the death of one girl as opposed to all these other people that… passed through her life…” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy & Renee)
T.J. Scott (Director): “My favorite scene in [this episode] is inventing CPR and Xena waking up Gabrielle and saving her. Having that moment that you realize that this rag-tag little girl that Xena had picked up along the way, who was a bard, who was a bit of an annoyance, she was falling in love with. And the tears of, ‘I’m about to lose someone that I love,’… [This episode] was [also] really interesting in terms of gore and guts and what we could do. We were doing a story that dealt with tracheotomies, with cauterizing amputated legs, [and] there was a lot of blood that went in there. It was difficult to know, in our time period, what we could put on the air. I did a cut of that show that the censors would not pass. And Rob Tapert, and Lucy Lawless, and Eric Gruendemann fought the network, fought the censors, fought everyone, and we held that show for three months. It didn’t air when it was supposed to, and Rob Tapert said, ‘I love this so much the way it is… right now, that I don’t want to trim it.’ And there were sequences in there were the censors said, ‘You are showing on camera a leg being cut off.’ Rob said, ‘No we’re not. It’s all in the cutting, it’s in your mind. You’re hearing it.’ And they had to go back frame-by-frame and see that we had created a sequence where in their mind they thought a leg was being chopped off on camera, but it wasn’t. In the end I think 60 seconds of my original cut got taken out and had passed. That’s how it aired…” (What You Didn’t Know About Xena – Exclusive Bonus on Best Buy Season One DVD Release)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Patricia Manney gave on “Is There A Doctor In The House?” for The Chakram Newsletter: #24.
Come back next Thursday for the next two Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for another Myrna Loy film!