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.
73. Season 4, Episode 5: “A Good Day” (Aired: 10/26/98 | Filmed: 05/08 – 05/19/98)
Xena orchestrates a plan for a quick battle between Caesar’s and Pompey’s forces in order to save Greece from being trapped in the middle of Rome’s civil war.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0606
I featured this episode as #51 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “One of the things that I really liked about the fourth season was that we had a chance to play [more] with the Caesar thread… When we get into [this episode], we’re continuing now the triumvirate. Anybody who’s studied Caesar and was watching Xena at the same time, probable realized it was an exterior thread that we were following. At this point, when we pick up the Caesar story, this is when Pompey and Caesar are in open war against each other. This is the Civil War of Rome…” (“A Good Day” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Eric Gruendemann (Producer): “I remember [director] Rick Jacobson calling me after he read the script for [this episode] and saying… ‘Have you read this beat sheet?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Well how are we going to do this?’ And I said, ‘We’re just going to recycle people over and over again.’ He said, ‘It’s like Ben Hur!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, and it’s going to be your responsibility to give it to us… in eight days.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “I remember just reading this script [and] going – you know, you read it and you close it and you go, ‘How is this going to be shot in seven days?’ But once you get past that part of it, you know, it was dealing with obviously the scale of the battle [and] what Xena’s trying to do, cause she’s got quite a crafty little plot here. [For the village fire scene], I think in the script it was like one line: ‘The villagers burn the village to the ground.’ But I had built in and a lot of it got cut – the thing I read into that [was] Xena just gave these people an order to you know burn their village. And how does she deal with that? And nothing was really in the script about that. So I thought it would be just a nice image of her standing in front of this wall of fire, just looking around. And I had all these other shots of the villagers, you know, throwing their stuff on the fire, holding each other, crying, because all of their belongings are going up in flames, and Xena’s just standing there. You know, and it was kind of a nice… neat moment. It was like… her in her mind going, ‘This plan better work cause otherwise… sorry, guys.’” (“A Good Day” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “One of the interesting dialogues between Xena and Gabrielle is where in the middle of this when Xena has actually set up her trap, everything is in place, and Gabrielle is doubting whether they should do this. That particular scene where they go out and look at the campfires at night… was a longer version in the script.* And Xena says, ‘Look you are my conscience here. I can’t be everywhere on the battlefield. But you know me. You know Caesar. You are the best one to make a decision here because I can’t trust what Caesar’s going to do. He is unpredictable and he does have a plan that I’m not aware of. So I trust you.’ And Gabrielle says, ‘You know, I will make the best decision I can. But I will not lead men to their deaths. I cannot do that.’… There’s a subtext of this that Xena was saying that, ‘Your mortal soul, your moral soul, is much more important to you.’ She recognizes that. ‘You know, Gabrielle, you are the person that has to live with this.’ Remember how “When In Rome…” ended: Gabrielle had to make a moral choice and that choice led to one man dying. Now she’s asked to do it again for many men. So Xena can’t ask her to do that again, so she’s leaving it up to her. ‘You’ve got to discover what the greater good is. Or really in this case, the lesser evil. Because nothing about this is going to be good.’… It was an interesting thing with the character of Temecula. I borrow names from various sources and Temecula is a town in California – that’s where I got that from. Temecula represented a little bit of what Gabrielle was. And I was trying to do kind of a double layering of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. Xena was to Gabrielle back in the first season what Gabrielle was to Temecula. Temecula was this young kid who was caught up in this conflict, and here was this girl, Gabrielle, who seemed to know so much and seemed to be so savvy about war. Well it’s kind of a mirror, it’s not identical, but it’s a little bit of a mirror of what was going on with Gabrielle when Xena came onto the scene. So I was trying to play the fact that now Gabrielle is the one with the wisdom. She’s the one who can turn to a younger person, a naïve person, and say, ‘No. Wisdom before weapons. This is not something you want to do. I know that you think that you have to kill somebody, but everything changes when that happens.’ Back when Xena told Gabrielle that [in “Dreamworker”] it didn’t mean anything. Now it means something, because Gabrielle has had the experiences that she’s had. She’s seen people die. And she knows when that happens, and when you are responsible for it, everything changes.” (“A Good Day” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “There’s a nice moment when Gabrielle kind of comes to the point of realizing, ‘Okay, Xena’s gone. She’s off with Caesar and Pompey. And she left me in charge to lead this army.’ And you know, she knows there’s going to be a lot of death involved. And Gabrielle doesn’t deal too well with killing people… Once Xena kind of realizes that her plan is kind of backfiring and she knows the situation that she put Gabrielle in – and Phlanagus and all of the other soldiers – she just wades into this battle. And there’s that whole desperation of [Gabrielle’s] now stuck in this situation that she can’t get out of and [Xena]s running around trying to find her. You know, it was just a nice little moment of intercutting between the two. You know, Gabrielle just stands there at one point and just looks around and just witnesses the whole horrors of war. Everything going on around her is everything that she despises. And Xena [has this] desperate attempt to get to her and save her because it is her plan that put them in this situation… My take on Gabrielle and her decision to save Phlanagus [is that] it was just a nice moment of – and I shot it in slow motion – her picking up the javelin and looking and Ren gave a nice look of, ‘Okay, this is going to be it’ sort of thing. And it’s a great moment, so hopefully people are watching it going, ‘Oh, geez. She’s actually going to kill someone.’ And I think it’s just one of those things where her mind was made up she was going to do it, but her heart wasn’t. And that’s why I… made a pretty deliberate – I mean, it was no like near miss. It was a horrible shot. It was fifteen feet off to the left.” (“A Good Day” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “There’s been a lot of discussion about whether Gabrielle actually missed with that javelin or whether she deliberately missed. You have to stop and think about it for a second: if she deliberately missed, why would she have thrown it in the first place? I mean, she wasn’t throwing it to threaten the guy [or to]… say, ‘Aha! I can throw a javelin.’ She was throwing it to try to kill him – to stop him from killing Phlanagus. Earlier in the script… there was a point when Gabrielle actually uses her staff to knock down a javelin. I’d written that into the script. That shows that she’s good with this. So when she picked up that javelin, there should have been no doubt in anybody’s mind that she could have nailed this guy. So what happened? Why did she miss? If you talk to a lot of law enforcement professionals, people who have to carry weapons, or really, the people who have to use those weapons, the first time they actually have a human being in their sights and they have to fire that weapon, there is an instinctive tendency to pull away. It’s just the way we are. It’s human nature. So when she brought that javelin up, and it was a case of her pre-meditated, saying, ‘I’m going to throw this into the heart of another human being’, I don’t care what he’s doing – it’s another human being, she involuntarily jerked. And she pulled her aim and she missed. And because of that, a completely human part of her nature, Phlanagus was killed…” (“A Good Day” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The way the [battle scene] was scripted and the way I played it was that Gabrielle missed. When I saw the episode, it looked as if she’d missed on purpose. Originally the core intention and what was filmed* was that Gabrielle said to Xena, ‘If only you had taught me to use a javelin.’ If she knew how to be a warrior, she could have protected this person’s life. And that’s why she’s beating herself up. I thought that would be such an interesting turning point for Gabrielle. To make the conscious decision to kill. This was one of those times that you realize, as an actor, you only have so much input and then it can change in the editing. It came off completely different. It seemed as if she pulled at the last minute. It’s fascinating to me how taking out one line can change everything.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #6)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[Gabrielle] didn’t miss on purpose. She didn’t miss because she couldn’t hit it. What it was, as it didn’t come across very well as shot, was that she had every intent of hitting him. But at the last second, she pulled. An involuntary reaction. It is actually a common occurrence with people who are put in a position of shooting someone in an emergency.” (AOL Chat – February 1999)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “[For the funeral scene] we spun the cameras on and I think it was just them kind of feeding off each other. You’d have to ask Renee whether she went into that scene planning to cry or not, or if it just wasn’t simply… the dialogue pulling that out of them, and Renee going over what we had already shot and images of the battlefield. It took everyone by surprise. One thing I remember really good about that was John Cavill, the D.P. [Director of Photography] who shot it. [When] I called cut, I looked over and J.C.’s coming up from the eyepiece wiping a little tear. I said, ‘J.C., you getting a little misty over there?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah. That was—that was pretty good.’ So that’s always a good little barometer when someone like that, who sees this stuff on a daily basis, gets a little emotional, it’s going to work.” (“A Good Day” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “A Good Day” for The Chakram Newsletter: #6.
*You can find this and other deleted scenes from “A Good Day” on the Season Four DVD set.
74. Season 4, Episode 6: “A Tale Of Two Muses” (Aired: 11/02/98 | Filmed: 06/08 – 06/15/98)
Gabrielle’s friend Tara is arrested for dancing in a town run by a puritanical magistrate.
Written by Gillian Horvath | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V0603
I don’t care for this episode. A loving homage to Footloose, the script isn’t funny enough to be considered an outright comedy and it isn’t heavy enough to be a worthwhile drama. In this regard, it feels more along the lines of a medicare first season installment of the series — except for the gratuitous bits of zaniness (Gabrielle’s boots, Xena’s toilet, and the entire notion of Autolycus as a Baptist-like preacher) that are included in an attempt to make this episode memorable, which it isn’t, save a unique and joyful dance sequence that closes the show. Several fans (mostly around the time it aired) considered “A Tale Of Two Muses” to be a musical. It is not. It is a light episode that incorporates dancing into its storyline. So instead of a big fourth act fight, there’s the big aforementioned fourth act dance. Meanwhile, the inclusion of Tara is rather insignificant, and the inclusion of Autolycus is simply one large joke. While I don’t think every single episode of this series needs to be outrageously locked into a genre, I think it’s important that the storytelling is engaging and (for the most part) unpredictable. This episode is neither. It is a textbook example of a mediocre Xena, a rut in which the series found itself during several early fourth season episodes. (Look at the Production Numbers. This episode was written in between “The Key To The Kingdom” and “Daughter Of Pomira” — two other episodes that never fully got off the ground.)
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Gillian Horvath (Writer): “I think of [this episode] as more of a dance piece than a musical, per se. I mean, it’s certainly not like “The Bitter Suite” in the sense of a musical, [but] it comes off a little more like a Broadway musical. I had [first] pitched some other stories [to the writing staff] and they came back to me and said, ‘We like your writing and we have this other story that we have on the schedule and we’d like you to do this one for us.’ So they handed me the idea that it was basically Footloose. I mean, there’s no secret about that… I’ll admit the truth, which is that I did not care for the character of Tara. I had seen the other episode she was in and not fallen in love with [her]…nothing against the actress. Just the character, well, by design, she’s quite annoying. As a viewer, I had actually always been drawn to the serious side of Xena… But I did feel that in the course of the episode, we did get another layer of [Tara], which I’m quite pleased with. She wasn’t originally, and she isn’t by the end of this episode [either], just the cliché of an annoying teen. She has reasons. She played a nice subtext, [which] was that what she really wanted was to be liked, and her way of approaching it was the pigtail pulling. And I think that played nicely. Actually one of my favorite things about doing this show was the chance to research into mythology and create a mythology for the town without dancing. I learned about the Muses and Terpsichore was one of the main goddesses that I worked into my backstory for why this town was not dancing…[And] Autolycus was in it, which was great for me. As a freelance writer, you didn’t have the freedom to say, ‘I need this recurring character and that recurring character.’ You had to work with the availability, so I just got lucky in [this] case… I love the incorporation of sword fighting and dancing and the comparison of the two…. I had started to study [swordplay], which was great for writing the scenes when Xena is teaching the people in town to swordfight or dance, depending on how you look at it, because I could use what I learned in my own classes and put it into the episode. I can’t claim credit for… the choreography in [this episode] really. A lot of what happened in [this episode] happened on the set. We built the framework of the storyline and the character arcs in the script, but in terms of the dance sequences, that was something that they choreograph when they have the location and the actors and see what they can pull off.” (“A Tale Of Two Muses” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Michael Hurst (Actor/Director): “Because [this episode] was all set in the desert… we had discussions about using Bethels beach and all of that and I think, I don’t know if I came to [Rob Tapert] with the idea or someone [else, but] I said, ‘Look, can we do this in the studio?’ The idea of letting the sand rise up and drop off, and lighting it so you got that hyper-real quality that’s… almost too real to be real… [And] it was a difficult shoot in some ways because it was hot. I mean, those lights – it was hot. And we spent the entire episode in that studio. I think it looked really cool, although I know Eric [Gruendemann], at the end, he thought it looked too manufactured… [but] it had a ‘50s musical quality to it anyway… [and] Bruce Campbell was great as that insane preacher kind of guy… And the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle in [this episode] was a little like “A Day In The Life.” I remember some other things we did. We tried to do the ‘taking a leak’ gag again. There’s a whole lot of gags in there that were, you know, similar…” (“A Tale Of Two Muses” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “It was certainly Footloose [but] done in Ancient times. We wanted to do another story with Tara, Shiri Appleby… It had a bunch of [other] ingredients like Bruce Campbell… [And] we tried to incorporate into [this] episode also a little bit of “A Day In The Life” that Gabrielle needed a new pair of boots… But it was to make [another] one of those mundane things: what happens when your horse throws a shoe or something? [And Gabrielle] ended up with some totally crazy, crazy boots… And if you watch Lucy [in the final scene] she never did pick up the dance moves. Renee picked them up real good, but Lucy just kind of walked through it and let her character [cover the choice]… I remember my wife coming home from the big dance thing and being twirled on Bruce Campbell’s shoulders endlessly had left her on the edge of vomiting for a portion of the day. One of my favorite things with [this] episode [though] was the end of the episode with Xena and Gabrielle kind of giving each other a hug at the end. It’s always something that got me.” (“A Tale Of Two Muses” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I was really sick during [this episode]… [But] that set was so beautiful. Rob [Tapert] and I had been to the Orient exhibition at the art gallery and that’s what [he] wanted… that beautiful sort of hazy desert-y soft stuff… [In some of that dance, I was] winging it, as ever… I’m just not amused by [the dancing] at all. I mean, I laugh, but not in a good way…. [The dance] goes on a little long for my taste. I saw it just the other day… [But] it had Bruce [Campbell] doing that Southern stuff… which was cool, and that nice man who played the father – he had such a good quality. And his son was good too. Very warm… And Shiri [Appleby]… she’s a sweetheart. We like her…” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy and Renee – Deleted Scenes)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I love [this one]… so funny… You always wonder how these [episodes] are going to come off, you know? Xena and Gabrielle dancing…. I don’t think this episode was very popular…” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy and Renee – Deleted Scenes)
Michael Hurst (Actor/Director): “[This] was an odd piece, but, again, I made a decision not to shoot any of it outside… Well, I just wanted to…it was like a kind of a musical. It wasn’t a musical, but it was like one, and I wanted to get that feeling, which is why I had them just paint this huge backdrop… I call it ‘super-real,’ like so real it’s not real. And then we shot all those things of them walking across the desert, you know, we had trays of lighted methylated spirits in front of the camera to get the haze, and we could only shoot in one direction, so the actors come in and go ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ and then we turn them around and put the other actor in there and move the camera an inch and shoot again and stuff like that. But again, I think it fulfills what it’s meant to fulfill, but it’s an odd little episode, very strange.” (Whoosh! Interview – September 1999)
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!