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.
119. Season 6, Episode 7: “The Rheingold” (Aired: 11/13/00 | Filmed: 07/10 – 07/18; 07/31 – 08/01/00)
Xena embarks on a deadly mission involving her dark past when the Norse warrior Beowulf approaches her for help.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V1408
Although not among my lists of either the best or the worst episodes, I dedicated a whole post to the Norse trilogy, which includes this installment and the proceeding two. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “The Norse trilogy was something I wanted to do from day one, I’m pretty sure Rob [Tapert did] too. It was the idea of doing all those Norse things in one great story… Both Rob and I always felt [we’d be foolish] if we didn’t do an episode where Xena’s a Valkyrie… that was just a visual thing we wanted to do.” (“The Rheingold” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “When we decided to do these three Norse episodes, we took… Wagner’s The Ring, which was the basis, and took elements of that, that there’s this ring, and then we combined that with Beowulf to create a Xena episode [in which] Xena is responsible for stealing the ring, which in turn created Grindl. And then Xena comes back and rectifies that situation at the end of three episodes… When we were working on the story, we knew that we needed somebody for Gabrielle to talk to on her quest. So the character of Brunnhilda [was added] as somebody who pretends to be one thing and turns out to be another, but ultimately makes the supreme sacrifice for [her] love for another person. [Meanwhile] we had Xena, who had the ability to kill Gods, and now we were going to introduce her to the Norse gods and get to play around with them, and it was also a way to do Evil Xena yet again… I thought it was a very interesting story [and] script, and I thought it was realized very well. Sometimes one or two or three of those things don’t work and it crashes and burns, but in this case, it kind of worked.” (“The Rheingold” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “The Rheingold” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #15.
120. Season 6, Episode 8: “The Ring” (Aired: 11/20/00 | Filmed: 07/19 – 07/28/00)
Xena must battle a monster of her own making to recover the destructive Rheingold ring she forged in her days as an evil warrior.
Written by Joel Metzger | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V1409
Although not among my lists of either the best or the worst episodes, I dedicated a whole post to the Norse trilogy, which includes this installment and the surrounding two. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Joel Metzger (Writer): “The first thing I did was ‘The Haunting Of Amphipolis’ as a freelance. Then my first day [on staff], they sat me down and said, ‘The next thing you’re going to do is the middle part of this Norse Ring trilogy based on the Wagner operas.’ And they actually had a classic comics version of the whole thing. It was actually a comic book that went through the whole Wagner legend, which is four operas long. It’s absolutely huge, and took him 26 years to write. They sat me down and they knew pretty much where the episode was going to begin and end, the big events that [were] going to happen in each one, the bones of the whole structure. And then we started fleshing it out, and then, of course, we folded the Beowulf legend into it as well. So there was a lot to mix into it. [Also] we were all writing at the same time. R.J. [Stewart] was writing ‘The Rheingold’ and Emily Skopov was writing ‘Return Of The Valkyrie.’ And mine was sort of the bridge between the two. Mine was in the middle. And what was great about that was that I actually started writing mine first before they did. It all happened pretty simultaneously, but I went to script before [and] I was actually a little ahead of them time wise. They were busy doing other things. So what was unique about that is that I could write things in my script and when we realized they might be a little confusing to the audience, R.J. was able to set it up in his script. So, for example, in my script, Brunnhilda turns into this eternal flame and we all realized that’s a pretty unique thing to pull on the audience last minute – ‘Oh, they can turn into an eternal flame?’ So R.J. wrote a small bit in his script setting that up, that Valkyries have the abilities to do this. It was a really unique opportunity to do this set up and pay off and actually work backwards. In this episode, Brunnhilda and Beowulf fell in love with Gabrielle simultaneously, so they were both pursuing her. And what was strange was there was really no mention or concern given about gender at all. I think by this time with the whole Xena/Gabrielle thing, a woman falling in love with another woman was no big deal. It wasn’t even a part of the discussion. [These were] two warriors who were falling in love with Gabrielle. They each fell in love for their own separate reasons. I think Beowulf was sort of a love at first sight, as soon as he saw her, he just saw the goodness and the heart and the valor, the purity that she had. And he knew he wanted that. So his arc was, not one note, but right from the get-go, he was in love with her. Brunnhilda had a much longer arc. She was sent to betray Gabrielle and Xena and was supposed to kill them. But eventually she fell in love with Gabrielle, actually romantically at first. And towards the end her character had this great arc where she realized that the truth and the purity and the valor that’s in Gabrielle changes her into putting up this big self-sacrifice. So it was a great little arc. The motivation I was given for Xena for this story was that Xena had set this fire 35 years ago by creating this monster and now she has to stomp it out. The monster she’s created is killing people. So as far as the mandate I was given was Xena should kill this monster because it’s slaughtering villages on the hillside etcetera. So she sets out to kill it. And I think there was talk in the room, ‘Well are we going to do one of the Xena kills the enemy story or Xena enlightens the enemy story?’ And I think it came down to obviously curing or healing he monster and that happened in [Emily’s] script, after mine. But since it wasn’t going to happen in mine, I didn’t have to deal with it at all. The motivation I was given was [Xena had to] kill the monster she created. [As for the ring making Xena lose her memory], we went round and round about the rules of the ring, what it would do for you, what it wouldn’t do for you. It got pretty complex. The characters ended up explaining to the audience a lot what the rules of the ring would do for you. ‘Chapter Three, subparagraph A, rules of the ring, this would happen…’ But, one of the things [was] if you had not forsaken love, the ring will take away that which you value most. And we decided for Xena it would be her memory of Gabrielle and the woman Gabrielle helped her become. So that’s why she gets amnesia. It’s not just playing garden variety amnesia, it’s the fact that everything Gabrielle has made her over the years is gone, so she’s essentially a clean slate. [It] was tough. That was the final scene in my episode and I was really at a loss because Xena’s alone and she’s in the woods, and how do you demonstrate to an audience that Xena has lost her memory? And I asked Rob Tapert how I do that, and he says, ‘Well, Joel, she falls to her knees and screams at the top of her lungs, “Who am I?”’ And that’s how we discover she has amnesia. After everything that had come before that and just the way they filmed that with the overhead crane shot, it was a great fade out.” (“The Ring” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Perhaps if there was any one thing that could have sunk these three episodes, is we relied a great deal on rubber beasts to carry the bad guy… and rubber beasts look like that which they are, rubber beasts. I actually thought that the guys did a really good job of making [it]. The directors did a good job of only showing a certain amount of the monster to keep it somewhat mysterious. And the guys at KNB who created it came up with an interesting take on Grindl. You hate to revert to rubber monsters, but there was really no other way to get around that. It’s part of the tale. And after we had done ‘A Family Affair,’ where we had another rubber beast, but very emotional moments with that rubber beast, I was not scared off [by] those rubber moments as I had in the past. What works if you’re going to do a rubber beast is to give it really human qualities, so that the humanness comes out rather than the rubberness.” (“The Rheingold” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Joel Metzger gave on “The Ring” for The Chakram Newsletter: #20.
Here is an on-set report of the production of “The Ring” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #16.
*Joel Metzger’s commentary on “The Ring” from the Season Six DVD Set is highly informative. Click here to download an mp3.
*Check back next week to read more about this legendary trilogy!
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!