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.
41. Season 2, Episode 17: “The Execution” (Aired: 04/07/97 | Filmed: 01/30 – 02/07/97)
Gabrielle is torn between her beleaguered hero Meleager, who’s accused of a murder she’s certain he didn’t commit, and Xena, who’s not so sure.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0218
The most interesting thing about this episode is that Xena and Gabrielle are put into conflict, approximately ten episodes before the infamous Rift that permanently changed their friendship. In “The Execution,” Xena and Gabrielle are at odds over the potential innocence of Meleager the Mighty (from last season’s “The Prodigal”) who has been accused of murder. Admittedly, though I like Tim Thomerson, I never really cared much for the Meleager character, so this is not an easy episode for me to personally invest my interest. That said, I think the story is really smart — at least, the kernel of it. Writer Paul Robert Coyle explains his initial ideas below, but the concept is fascinating: a warrior is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, but Xena did.
The decision to include Meleager puts our two heroines in conflict (this episode’s major draw, for me), thus necessitating a delay in the reveal of Xena’s guilt. That’s all well and good. What doesn’t work so much for me is the two-dimensional representation of the villainous Judge Arbus. After so many complex and interesting villains in the second season (the series’ Golden Age), his design is cheap and sort of ruins the whole episode. (Did he have to devolve into corruption? Couldn’t he have been our antagonist simply by sticking to his principles of justice?) Otherwise, this is a solid episode.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Paul Robert Coyle (Writer): “That story I pitched [was] Xena coming into town to find a famous warlord about to be executed. He calls her into his cell to talk to her. He says, ‘You and I both know I committed hundreds of murders, just as you did, they never caught me for those but the irony is the one they caught and tried me for and convicted me on I didn’t do, and guess what, Xena, you did!’ She realizes this is true and helps bust him out so he can redeem himself with one last deed. It was something to do with his daughter, before he comes back and accepts his fate. They liked elements of that. They called me back to say they were going to do the story but changed some elements here and there. The warlord would be Meleager, whom they used before. They wouldn’t reveal Xena committed the murder until mid-way through. That worked out really well and I was happy with that too. I have nothing bad to say about any of my [episodes], they’re all my favorites.” (Whoosh! Interview – March 1999)
Tim Thomerson (Actor, Meleager): “There was a moment between Renee and I, actor stuff, that I know she knows that we really hit in the father/daughter relationship. I have a son. I don’t have a daughter, but I have a child, so I know how that works. We really nailed the emotion of it. That came throughout in [this episode] and especially in a scene where we were in the jail. We did a little slapstick routine and we were both right there in the moment. Those stood out for me. I also had a moment with Lucy. We were in a cave where I say to Xena, ‘Look, talk to Gabrielle ’cause I really screwed up and I lied to her.’ She can do something with a look, feeding me. So those two moments were enriching for me as an actor. In acting, there’s sometimes an unspoken thing that takes place between actors that only they know when it’s going on. The audience will see you’ve done your job. It’s a kind of euphoric feeling where I’m not Tim, she’s not Renee, I’m Meleager and she’s Gabrielle.” (Whoosh! Interview – October 1997)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I’ve talked to Rob [Tapert] about [this episode] and we decided that they made a mistake in having Tim Thomerson play a cleaned-up drunk, because a character that’s drunk is funny. A reformed drunk is not. But Tim was great fun to work with.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Paul Robert Coyle gave on “The Execution” for The Chakram Newsletter: #27.
42. Season 2, Episode 18: “Blind Faith” (Aired: 04/14/97 | Filmed: 02/20 – 02/28/97)
A warrior wants to make his name by killing Xena. He fails, of course, but he succeeds in putting the warrior princess in a blind rage when he kidnaps Gabrielle and sells her to agents of a king.
Written by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster | Directed by Josh Becker | Production No. V0214
This is a classic Xena episode with all of the necessary ingredients: action, slapstick, adventure, heart, and danger. Yet, with so many stellar installments (even from this season alone) that take more risks and elevate themselves through creativity or uniqueness, this episode sort of gets pushed in the background. Truthfully, it’s a very good show. Gabrielle is kidnapped by a wannabe warrior who sells her to a kingdom that’s looking for a new Queen. Surprise: the king is already dead, and Gab will be too if Xena doesn’t save her in time. Unfortunately, things are complicated because the wannabe warrior accidentally blinded Xena (with clothing dye) during battle, and she must use him to help lead her to Gabrielle.
Palaemon is an interesting villain; seemingly a major threat at first, he gradually loses his danger, just as the King’s Advisor gains his. Like I said, this is a solid adventure episode, with a shockingly generous amount of comedy — mostly from Gabrielle and the swishy attendant who hopes to mold her into queenly material (a la Pygmalion). If there’s a flaw with this installment, it may be its predictability; we know Xena will regain her sight and rescue Gabrielle before the wedding/cremation. And while we’re glad that Palaemon has come to his senses, it’s a little disappointing not to get that final fight between the two. Oh, well: great story, fun execution, enjoyable episode. Not exceptional, but still classic through and through.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Josh Becker (Director): “Like [“A Fistful Of Dinars,” this] is a very straightforward Xena episode. I like it. It’s a good, solid, no-bullshit Xena episode. I think the stuff between Renee and Sydney [Jackson], where he’s trying to make her into a princess, all that Pygmalion stuff, is pretty funny.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #7 – June 2000)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “In [this] episode, [Renee] played a kidnapped princess, and the kidnapper’s wife before her had looked the same. So they had all these faux paintings of her – medieval iconic paintings – and I’ve got one in my house. It’s such a cruddy prop – cruddy, do you say that word? – but I keep it because she’s my buddy!” (The Advocate – March 1999)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “To make [the] coffin, they had to do this prosthetic piece where they put straws out your nostrils. And then they put these layers and layers over your entire face so everything is enclosed except for the one breathing device that they supplied. But it was such this weird sense of [claustrophobia]. You have to stay kind of calm, because the whole thing takes [a while].” (The 2003 Pasadena Xena Convention)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I spent a week trying ways to set my eye focus at, say, twenty meters [to appear blind]. Jeremy Callaghan [as Palaemon] was a really neat guy. And fascinating, with all of those interesting stories from his past, though he looks so young. He grew up in New Guinea and told about having school for just two hours in the morning—and all they owned was one exercise book, one pencil, and a hunting knife. And then the kids would go out in gangs for “bushcraft” the rest of the day, and kill pigs and so forth. And then, because he was very good at tennis, he went away to a tennis camp in Japan for a year when he was fifteen, and experienced Japanese regimentation and what we would consider brutality. Most, most interesting! And such a funny guy. [As an actor] he’ll just get better and better, because he’s very intelligent and he has a lot of history to feed on. And he’s just a super guy.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I am in the coffin [during the climactic scene], and there’s all this smoke [in] there. And they closed the lid and they had to change the lights, rework some of the scene, and in the meantime I am in this coffin you know [coughing], just can’t breath in here, and they go ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah, Reneé!'” (The Singapore Press – October 1997)
Josh Becker (Director): “This time I had a different DP [Director of Photography], John Cavill. John had a flat-top brush-cut, was very energetic and upbeat, as well as being extremely talented, but at first he didn’t listen to a word I said. Early into the first day of shooting, I asked John for the camera to be on the dolly, with dolly track going from the window to the door, on a 35mm lens set a bit below eye-level, then I went outside and had a cigarette. I came back a few minutes later to find that the camera and John were now positioned on the camera crane, and no dolly track had been set up. I asked John and Simon Ambridge, the incredibly sweet 1st AD [Assistant Director], to please step outside. I asked John, ‘How, when I ask for the camera to be on a dolly, did it end up on a crane?’ John said, ‘I thought it would be a better shot.’ [I responded,] ‘Who asked you?’ John was clearly taken aback and said, ‘I thought this was a collaboration.’ I smiled and shook my head. ‘You’re mistaken. You work for me. When I say the camera is on a dolly, it’s on a dolly. Got it?’ John overdramatically threw his hands in the air and declared, ‘Fine!’ And for the rest of the shoot he was in fact fine, and we got along just fine, too. I think John’s lighting is exceptionally good. When we were done I asked him, ‘How was the collaboration?’ John shrugged and smiled, ‘I can handle it.’ (Rushes by Josh Becker)
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Film Friday!