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.
59. Season 3, Episode 13: “One Against An Army” (Aired: 02/09/98 | Filmed: 11/20 – 12/01/97)
Xena’s solo efforts to stop an approaching Persian army leave a poisoned Gabrielle to fend for herself after the duo are double-crossed by a Persian spy.
Written by Gene O’Neill and Noreen Tobin | Directed by Paul Lynch | Production No. V0413
I featured this episode as #7 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Oh, my god, that [fight scene] was a killer – that was a killer… it was [the longest fight I’ve ever done] and it went over two days. It was 50 stunties, a crew of 50, and me and Renee in the hottest studio I think I’ve ever worked in. Really small and extremely hot and dirty and everybody trying to keep cool in every possible way… And another thing that happened is Renee’s ankle was just about broken! You know when the guy jumps down through the roof and lands in front of her during the nightmare sequence? He landed on her foot. It was under a blanket and her ankle went ‘crunch.’ The poor girl was hobbling around and in the next episode we filmed, we had to write it into the script… and I had a bad knee from the episode before when I’d dismounted a horse. It was just a silly thing that ordinarily wouldn’t have hurt me, but because I had the BIG accident [last season], I just stiffened up totally and pulled a ligament. So here’s Renee and I both in misery having to do the episode…” (The Chakram Newsletter: #3)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I believe, with [this] episode in particular, that Gabrielle had come full circle of knowing they were both going to die. And, at that point, tears weren’t necessary because they were going to see each other in another world. Gabrielle had come to terms knowing she was going to die and Xena had accepted that that was her fate as well. There was no point in being sad. It’s more poignant than tearful… [Meanwhile] Lucy and I were both invalids on set. Lucy was suffering from a twisted knee and I had a sprained ankle. It was quite bizarre actually. It happened when the soldier came down through the roof to slice Xena’s throat. It’s a terrible image to begin with and my foot was a little bit out of position. The stunt man jumped down off a box and… He’s quite the big man and we were still shooting so I had to shut up and not say anything. I didn’t tell anyone until later and then we just bound the ankle. What was bizarre was that a couple days later, this same stunt man was doing the exact same stunt and he broke his leg in two places. Everyone was giving me a hard time saying I jinxed him… [And by the way] I made that [Xena doll]… Our stunt coordinator, Peter Bell, whenever he’s explaining a fight to Lucy, he has two little action figures he uses to rotate around each other. It just cracks me up because he’s such a staunch man to be using these little dolls. It’s hilarious. So I made the doll in tribute to him and was playing with it. It was an inside joke… I made it while I was hanging around on set one day. Stuff from the wardrobe department, and a couple toothpicks from makeup. It was Lucy’s stash, I think. And I used horsehair for her black wig.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “We filmed all [the roof fight] stuff first, [and] I remember thinking, ‘Oh, thank God, that’s over,’ and then I realized that there was like two-thirds of the fight left to go… [But] it was really, really great stunt coordination… This was a good fight, I was really proud of this one… Probably my best fight [of the series]… We were under more pressure with [Peter Bell] because he would just write bigger and bigger fights, and you had to be good to get it done… [As usual, we learned this fight in pieces] and because we didn’t have time, I was better…I seem to be much more focused when it’s an impossible situation and therefore that kicks it up a little.” (“One Against An Army” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “This was the first episode that came [and] aired after ‘The Bitter Suite’ because [I] remember they were trying to bring the characters back together and show the friendship… bit of comedy, bit of tragedy… It was nice especially after the musical and the whole Rift to come back to the love and friendship… You know why they brought [the China] apology in? Because I think even after the musical, they didn’t feel that Gabrielle had really come clean and asked for forgiveness and taken some of the blame. I think it was just one more chance again to clear the air… go back to the friendship, go back to the love, [and] move on.” (“One Against An Army” Commentary – Season Three DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writers Gene O’Neill and Noreen Tobin gave on “One Against An Army” for The Chakram Newsletter: #3.
60. Season 3, Episode 14: “Forgiven” (Aired: 02/16/98 | Filmed: 12/11 – 12/18/97)
A brash teen tries to convince Xena that she would make a better partner than Gabrielle by leading the duo to the stolen Urn of Apollo.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0415
While the character of Tara has always been more obnoxious to me than amusing, I must say that Shiri Appleby is perfect in the part — eliciting all the required emotions and reactions that make the episode work as well as it does. And that must be emphasized: the episode works. Particularly, there are some nice light moments (like the over-the-top catfights and the campfire game of charades) and fine parallels between Tara and young Xena, which help the story when it lacks logic. Also, the episode’s thematic construct — forgiveness — is incredibly ripe for the series, especially at this point, and the whole idea of Xena rescuing an object which helps people find forgiveness within themselves is powerful. Furthermore, the final image of Xena walking away from the temple, knowing that she never can and never wants to be forgiven, is incredibly haunting. If only the rest of the episode was so strong. In addition to the purposefully annoying guest star, the story itself lacks suspense and the dramatic stakes aren’t high enough: a bunch of hoodlums stole an urn. So what? There’s no doubt that Xena will save the day. And without the threat of real conflict, the episode doesn’t rise as high as most others this season. But, as usual, there’s still lots to enjoy, and with forgiveness at the crux of the episode, it is classic Xena.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “The idea for [this] episode… came from two areas. First of all, we had made a pilot called Amazon High with an actress named Selma Blair, who we recognized in the pilot was very talented and very interesting. And… [producer] Liz Friedman was talking to Selma and said, ‘Would you like to come back and do [a Xena]?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ So I said, ‘Oh, let’s come up with a cool part for Selma Blair for the series.’ Now when we wrote the script [for] Selma Blair, her career was evolving and she was no longer available, but we got a terrific actress in Shiri Appleby and I think it worked terrific and I think she did a great job with it. But that was the impetus of [this] episode… We were always were looking for another young character we could bring in. From day one, Ephiny was one that we brought in earlier. A young, strong female character… I really felt one of the characters that was very universal who I wanted to explore was the rebellious teenager, the angry young teenager, that Xena could see as a version of herself when she was younger. The other thing was the question of Xena’s guilt and her ability or inability to forgive herself for what she did in the past… I always felt from day one that Xena shouldn’t forgive herself… With the things she did in the past, for her to just forgive them, is not the heroic thing to do. The heroic thing to do is to continue to carry the sense of guilt and the need to rectify what she did in the past. And that was her driving thing. So forgiving herself is not something she was interested in… [And so] the last scene… was in many ways the first thing I came up with… which was there, is a chalice that can give forgiveness and Gabrielle wanted forgiveness for so much that had gone on in the third season. She needed to be cleansed, she needed the ceremony of forgiveness. Xena didn’t want it. So that scene…. when Xena’s standing at the back of the temple and she turns and walks out, I had seen The Searchers not too long before and at the end, if you remember, John Wayne is standing outside and they closed the door. In some ways, he saved the day, brought Natalie Wood home, but he can’t be accepted into the home because he has too much anger and there’s just too much fury in him, so he can’t be in that domestic situation. So if you’re going to steal from somebody, John Ford is the best there is. So the idea is she’s waking away. She knows this temple, this place of forgiveness, is not for her. She still has to redeem herself. She has much more to do.” (“Forgiven” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I was really worried about [this episode]. I was trying to control Gabrielle again. Worried about letting her go, that she wasn’t dignified and being a bitch… I thought that Gabrielle’s always the one that does look for forgiveness in people and tries to find a way to do that and this was one episode where Gabrielle couldn’t find forgiveness in herself anywhere!… [And she’s just] a young girl! I found it really hard to believe that Gabrielle wouldn’t forgive and forget this one little girl who was just mislead. So I called R.J. and told him I didn’t know what to do. We talked about it and he changed some things and made Gabrielle more sympathetic, which worked. And then he said, ‘You know, Renee, this girl has bitten off Gabrielle’s ear! Surely there’s a place in Gabrielle where her pride is hurt.’ He said that’s a very human emotion and he was right! I’ve just never thought of Gabrielle like that. It was really great for me to do it because it was very human… Xena was allowing this little girl to become her new sidekick after she had already beaten Gabrielle up. That’s what the jealousy stemmed from. When I finally stopped protecting Gabrielle, it was great to play. It’s so hard for me sometimes because most of the things that happen are so fantastic that they don’t happen in my own life. Something like jealousy, which is a natural, human emotion, I relate to much easier. It was really interesting that when I started looking for it in my own life and found it, it was so easy to play the character because then I completely understood what she was going through. Whereas, at other times, I really have to search to understand. For instance, how do you play someone having a demon child?… [Also] I thought [it] was so clever of R.J. [to have Gabrielle invent charades]. It was fun. You feel like a complete idiot doing it so you just have to let it go. I was trying my hardest to come up with something different each time to make Lucy and Shiri [Appleby, Tara] laugh. So I kept getting more and more bizarre and over the top.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #4)
Shiri Appleby (Actor, Tara): “I was 18, and Lucy Lawless was incredible. She kind of took me under her wing. I was kind of nervous because I was in a new country, plus I was playing this wild, feisty character… [But Tara] was fantastic. It was an incredible experience.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #19– June 2001)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “You know, it’s funny… when the scene with Tara came around and she was going to kill Gabrielle, I remember asking Rob [Tapert], I said, ‘Rob, I don’t understand how Gabrielle can beat up ten guys with her staff and suddenly this 13-year-old girl can come and just kick her ass, you know, help me. I don’t understand. And so then they said, ‘You know you’re right, Renee, we should look at this in another way.’ And so basically it became that Gabrielle was trying to evade a fight and that that basically led her to have a nice little bruise and scratch… and it became a comedic beat. It was great.” (“Forgiven” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Three DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer R.J. Stewart gave on “Forgiven” for The Chakram Newsletter: #3.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Garbo film!