Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re concluding our chronological coverage of every single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess — both the episodes that I had previously highlighted AND the episodes I’d yet to feature. Complementing my thoughts were 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 saw over these past 67 weeks (as there are 134 episodes and I covered two episodes per week). They came 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 contained information and musings from the Xenites that matter most — the ones who brought this exciting series to the small screen.
133. Season 6, Episode 21: “A Friend In Need (I)” (Aired: 06/11/01 | Filmed: 03/08 – 04/18/01)
Summoned by a long-lost spiritual soulmate, Xena heads for Japan with Gabrielle on a daunting mission to save the city of Higuchi from destruction and make amends for her past.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V1424
I featured this episode as #45 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Now, one of the reasons we decided to take Xena to Japan for the series finale was both R.J. Stewart and myself are huge fans of Hong Kong pictures and, this was somewhat our tribute to Chinese Ghost Story, which in itself was a tribute to Evil Dead 2… so I felt it came full circle and we’d always talked about going to Japan and then it just seemed like the right thing to do for this finale… I vacillate back and forth whether it was a good idea to put [Yodoshi] in makeup because it was so distancing for the audience, it turned him into a bit of a caricature and I’ll never get a chance to play it straight, but I think it would have been stronger in the long run had I not gone with the very heavy, almost theatrical makeup with that character, but in the rush to get to production you go, ‘Oh, that looks great,’ and it did look great … Yeah, it was running with the kabuki mask idea… R.J. Stewart, one of the other executive producers, was a great fan and scholar of Japanese history and culture and the sword is really something that he felt very strongly that should drive the story forward because it was such an important aspect of Samurai culture so this sword plays an incredibly important role in the first part of this finale as a motivator and instrument. The holy grail. It really is the holy grail of the episode.” (“A Friend In Need” Commentary – Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I found bad Xena much easier to play during these two episodes than regular Xena. Don’t know why, maybe because of what I knew was coming… I had trouble making sense of all the things I had to say and all the deception of Gabrielle… [it] was a little jarring for me… I think I went mad through this episode. (“A Friend In Need” Commentary – Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I was playing it straight. Isn’t that funny? I just thought that, well [Xena] must have kept [Akemi] from me because… it was someone that [she] maybe loved more than Gabrielle or as much as…. [But] because Xena’s loss was so tremendous, it had to be about Xena. Xena had to be hurting and it couldn’t be about how Gabrielle was [jealous]… so it had to be about how my friend here is in mourning and in pain because of the loss of her friend that was so cherished… That’s how I played it: non-jealousy.” (“A Friend In Need” Commentary – Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “A Friend In Need (I)” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #21.
134. Season 6, Episode 22: “A Friend In Need (II)” (Aired: 06/18/01 | Filmed: 03/08 – 04/18/01)
Xena and Gabrielle face the greatest threat they’ve ever known when they go up against the evil Yodoshi and an army of 20,000 elite Samurai warriors.
Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V1425
Part I made my list and Part II didn’t because the first installment has a tighter script. The problem with this installment from a storytelling point-of-view is that there are so many logistical elements of the culture that are only half-explained. (And even in the Director’s Cut, which aired less than three months after the finale and has been released on DVD several times, some things are never clear.) The biggest rule, of course, is that Xena needs to stay dead to redeem the souls of the people she killed 35 years before. In the Director’s Cut, Xena learns this information as Gabrielle’s heading to the mountain; in the official aired version, we never see Xena find this out, leaving the audience to wonder whether or not she knew all along. Either way, it’s the sort of bogus rule that insults fans because it seems like a slapdash ploy to keep Xena dead and imbue the series with some finality.
While many fans hate the ending because it cruelly separates Xena and Gabrielle, my personal problem with Xena’s death is that these Japanese rules fly directly in the face of what the series and Xena had been telling us about the nobility of doing good to counteract the evil in her past, and what a waste death and/or imprisonment would have been. Sure, 40k people dead is a high count, but what about the thousands more she could have saved had she continued on fighting? It’s noble of Xena and perhaps makes sense that she would want to stay dead, but it doesn’t fit for the series, and that, in my mind, is flawed storytelling. As for what’s good about this episode, I maintain that, like Part I, there are some nice visuals, and Gabrielle’s growth as a warrior is satisfying. But for fans of the series, although Xena the character may be satisfied with her ending, the series itself concludes on a weaker note.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “At the time, we thought [this] was a really strong choice. But I think it really hurt the fans. I wish we hadn’t done it, actually… I laughed when I heard [Xena] got her head cut off. It was such a strong choice — I’m perverse like that… [But now] it’s all like telling a bad placed joke, or laughing at some other group’s expense. You’re like, ‘Come on, it’s funny!’ But then it’s like, ‘But it really hurts people.’ And finally the penny drops and you go, ‘Oh. That’s why it’s not funny, because somebody is in pain.’” (TheTorchOnline Interview – August 2009)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Everyone outdid themselves with the hair and makeup and costumes, didn’t they? And the set designs – really well done… I had a great time doing [the final] fight, just because there was so many different levels to it. On the ground and then going up on the rocks… I remember [Rob Tapert] wanted me to have a different [chakram] throwing style than Xena.” (“A Friend In Need (II)” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “This episode, from a script point-of-view, got hurt cause we screwed around with that musical [“Last Chance”] and threw it out… [it] ate so much thought process… [But] I felt lucky as a director to get to shoot [those final] moments… And I loved [that] piece of music, for some reason.” (“A Friend In Need (II)” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I feel like I would do so much differently now… I hate my performance in this, actually. It’s overwrought… [But] I love that [final scene]… ‘I don’t care.’ I love that – that’s so human, eh?” (“A Friend In Need (II)” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “The reason we [killed Xena] is when this series began, it was unique. Xena was introduced on Hercules as a villain with a very high body count behind her, and the first thing I pitched to Rob was the burying of the weapons. But [a heroine who doesn’t fight] is not a series. [Xena] finds her mission, which is to redeem herself. We’ve always withheld that [ability to] forgive herself for what she’s done. She’s had to pay a great price – she was a war criminal, as painted on Hercules. So flash forward to six years later. We wanted to do a Japanese ghost story, and if we do, hell, Xena is gonna be the ghost! We thought, ‘How are we gonna bring her back to life again for the 78th time? Wait a minute – ultimate redemption may be here if she’s not brough back to life!’” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #23 – October 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[Rob] tossed and turned for a long time about his choice of ending. He could have changed his mind at any time. But, in the end, it was the strongest choice and we all supported him in that… Gosh, she’s not a superhero after all. She was human. And they could always bring her back, but I’ll be too old by then and they’ll recast… [But] she doesn’t feel dead. She will never die… [I remember] that Rob got mad at us for [the kiss] because we were clowning around. I thought he was kidding about an actual kiss. I thought you were supposed to see the drop make its way from Renee’s lips to mine. I thought it was important that it was seen. But, in fact, I was just wrong. Everyone got the message from the kiss. My joke was that Renee was going to spit in my mouth.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #17)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “As the series was ending, they approached us about doing four telemovies, and I kind of thought that we were, and I certainly… [thought these two episodes weren’t] the way the Xenaverse was going to end forever. That said, we had gotten ourselves into a terrible predicament of Xena being reedemd… [But] I actually squirmed as we were working on the story forever and a day, but R.J. [Stewart] really kept my nose to the grindstone, saying ‘No, Rob, no.’ And for a character that was about redemption, it seemed like the right thing to redeem her at the end somehow.” (2005 Burbank Convention)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Talking with a friend of mine, I finally understood what that [disatifaction must] be about. For her, it was that so many people in this world have never been in love, or they were in love and lost the other person. They want to believe in the soul-mate concept. Our show kept talking about `the soul mate, the soul mate’ for all those seasons. And I personally don’t really believe in the soul-mate idea, but it never really occurred to me that other people could so need to hold onto that, that that’s what they loved about the show. At the end, what we did was take Gabrielle’s soul mate away from her. Gabrielle and Xena were split up. And I think that had a dreadful resonance for very many of our fans. For that I’m really sorry.” (Entertainment News Daily – October 2001)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The very last shot, for me, on Xena, was a close up. And because the rain machine would make too much noise and it was too far away, they decided to take a fire hose and hold it right over my head, right above the camera. So instead of having the time for the water to warm up a bit in the air, it just poured down me… And that was cold. And I just thought, ‘Okay. Yeah, that’s right. Now I remember. Now I remember what it’s like to be cold.’” (Coffee Talk #1 With Lucy and Renee)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I do regret that we cut Xena’s head off, cause for all the people who loved the relationship and loved the characters, it meant the two were never going to live happily ever after. It meant that Gabrielle was going to roam the earth with this little bloddy urn of ashes. And it took away everything that we had set up. [But] we just thought that it was a strong storyline… but it really pained our audience, the hardcore nutballs who are so loyal. It was a terrible thing to do to them… We were doing 80 hour weeks and I was so strung out by the end… [But] I would love to give the fans back what we took away.” (Archive of American Television Interview – 2013)
Here are scans of an interview that writer/producer R.J. Stewart gave on both parts of “A Friend In Need” for The Chakram Newsletter: #16.
Here are scans of an interview that executive producer/writer/director Rob Tapert (with Lucy Lawless) gave on both parts of “A Friend In Need” for The Chakram Newsletter: #17.
Here are scans of an interview that actor Renee O’Connor gave on both parts of “A Friend In Need” for The Chakram Newsletter: #17.
*Click here to see a behind-the-scenes account on the making of both parts of “A Friend In Need” that was produced by the Official XENA Fan Club and released on the Series Finale Director’s Cut DVD.
*Click here to see interviews and B-roll footage from both parts of “A Friend In Need” from a segment that was produced by the Official XENA Fan Club and released on the Season Six DVD set.
Come back next Thursday for the start of a whole new series of Xena posts! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!