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.
127. Season 6, Episode 15: “To Helicon And Back” (Aired: 02/19/01 | Filmed: 12/05 – 12/15/00)
When the Amazon Queen Varia is kidnapped by a masked warrior, Gabrielle leads the Amazons to Helicon on a bloody rescue mission.
Written by Liz Friedman & Vanessa Place | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V1419
I featured this episode as #28 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Michael Hurst (Director): “My brief was basically to do Saving Private Ryan, Xena-style. I went to town with it and again did my own Second Unit [filming]. I spent three days shooting all the beach stuff – it took a long time, but that was really exciting for me. What was funny about it was they had written some extraordinary stage directions like, ‘Xena gets up and is pumped full of arrows,’ or ‘Xena is incinerated.’ So I went, ‘Okay, this means exactly what it means.’ But while we were shooting it, I started getting phone calls from the Americans saying, ‘Er, Michael, we’re concerned about your dailies. They’re a little violent!’ I thought, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me how I’m supposed to shoot this?’ The version that I’ve got – the director’s cut – is actually much more graphic than the one that was finally shown. It’s slightly too long, by about four minutes, but it’s far more dramatic. It’s got a whole different structure, and I really love it. It’s actually the one Xena episode I’ve kept all the dailies from, because I think some of the stuff I shot was the best work I’ve ever done. I was really thrilled with it… I’m proud of my version of [this episode] – the director’s cut – because I think it tells a very dramatic, taut storyline and I feel that I pushed photographic boundaries with [this] episode that I’ve never pushed before. So I really enjoyed [this] one.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #23 – October 2001)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I think, all told, this was the most violent episode that we’d ever done… We cut so much… I remember the whole writing process of this. Even though it would seem straightforward, it was always a difficult episode to work out everybody so nobody looked like a chump… As Michael [Hurst] often does, he brought nobility to all the performers and protected all the characters, cause as written, this was a slightly difficult episode for Gabrielle’s character… [But] poor Liz [Friedman] saw [Gabrielle’s speech] and went, ‘Oh, I think you guys made a bad mistake changing it!’” (“To Helicon And Back” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
Renne O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Actually, the way [this episode] was originally written, it was more Gabrielle being Patton… but what Rob [Tapert] initially wanted in the sixth season was to balance Gabrielle by showing her more sensitive side. After the fifth season where she was trying to be the warrior protecting the pregnant Xena, we needed to find the original Gabrielle and link those two parts of her life together. That was my goal after speaking with Rob on what his plans were for the character during the sixth season… We actually did film [a] scene [where a] man is about to find Xena and Gabrielle and he would have given their position away. Gabrielle pulls out her sais and is about to kill him. Xena stops her and says, ‘Don’t – we can take care of him without having to kill him.’ She puts a version of the punch on him to keep him quiet. We filmed quite a bit of this episode that didn’t make the show. There was more of the supporting characters too, so you really had a personal relationship with them. You cared when they were dying and experienced the regret and loss that Gabrielle and Xena felt… In the original version, Gabrielle orders [that Amazon girl] to go out and be a target. Then it was changed to Gabrielle asking if anyone will volunteer. That’s the way we shot it. Then, in the final version, Rob recut it so we went back to the first version. He thought, after seeing the final cut, that he needed to have something quite strong, a moment where Gabrielle realizes the situation she’s in. She has to give that order… It was difficult. We were trying to put a character into Patton and Saving Private Ryan that wouldn’t function as heroically as they did. I mean, I’d love to play Patton. I think it would be so much fun. But it’s not Gabrielle. I understand they wanted to put Gabrielle into a situation that made her uncomfortable and see how she would react to it. But she’s not Xena. We had to find a balance between what she’s been through in the beginning of the season up until this point… There was a scene where she was supposed to rally the troops. That was really a Patton speech. It was changed to make it more of an uplifting beat rather than cheering the Amazons on into battle. They took out the ‘Kill ‘em all’ attitude. The aired version showed the Amazons realizing the loss they’d shared and brought them dignity. ‘The Amazon Nation will continue even if we all die. Like our sisters, we’ll go in and do our best.’ That was the feeling we were trying to convey… [I played it] more somber. I don’t know if that was the best call. I could have gone either way. I think maybe there should have been a moment when Gabrielle was tougher. But it was so hard with the character… I remember Michael [Hurst] really wanted Gabrielle on the verge of breaking. She’s trying to hold it together. If Xena comes up and tries to comfort her, she would feel the loss too much… This was the extinction of the Amazon race. These were the last few Amazons in the world. Maybe that affected them. Maybe only the young, inexperienced ones were left… [The fireballs] were close enough so that I could feel the heat. But I wasn’t in danger. They were just big… The first time I stayed too far away from the flames. The second time I was close enough. It was really quite exciting. They time the explosions after the speed of my run. Once I cross a safety line, they set the explosions off… There was so much debate about [the leaving the wounded behind] scene. Liz [Friedman] and Vanessa [Place] had written the dialogue with Gabrielle wanting to leave them behind. Then it was changed to Xena making that decision. I can’t remember why we changed it back. I had a hard time with Gabrielle leaving the wounded. That was my stance. But I lost out on that one because Gabrielle has to keep thinking and moving ahead. In my mind, it was so against the character of Gabrielle and maybe that’s what I was having trouble letting go of. Gabrielle is a healer. She’s the one always nursing the sick. Why would she be leaving the wounded behind if they’re alive? It just didn’t make sense. And yet, being in the scene, once I went along with the decision, it seemed to work… We had a hard time filming it. Lucy, Tsianina [Joelson, Varia] and I didn’t really figure out what that scene was about until halfway through. It was really bizarre. Finally we realized it was Gabrielle in the heat of the moment and Xena realizing how far Gabrielle has gone. Normally you have an idea how to play a scene. That one was strange, very strange… [As for Varia’s betrayal], I didn’t see Tsianina’s beat as truly being sorry. I was just so outraged. ‘How could you try to kill me!’ But when I saw the finished episode, I thought that’s actually quite sweet because she was truly regretful of the incident and the position she was in. But I didn’t pick that up while we were filming.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #16)
Michael Hurst (Director): “This is Saving Private Ryan, Xena-style… [and it] is pretty bloody, as I remember… [We used] the open shutter technique, which was used in Private Ryan… A lot of people didn’t like this quality of image… Once we started shooting, they gave me my own bottle of blood cause I was so impatient… and then I had a standing order that whoever got killed or blown up had to have a mouthful of blood… War is hell, that was really important to get across.” (“To Helicon And Back” Commentary – Season Six DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writers Liz Friedman and Vanessa Place gave on “To Helicon And Back” for The Chakram Newsletter: #15.
*Check out dailies AND extended/deleted scenes from “To Helicon And Back” on the Season Six DVD Set!
128. Season 6, Episode 16: “Send In The Clones” (Aired: 04/23/01 | Filmed: 09/11 – 09/14/00)
Modern-day Xena fans clone Xena and Gabrielle as Alti awaits their rebirth.
Written by Paul Robert Coyle | Directed by Charlie Haskell | Production No. V1412
I’ve always credited this series for coming up with clever ways to do clip shows. This episode, from the final season, concerns the clones of Xena and Gabrielle, who are brought back to life by a trio of nerdy Xena fans and the evil Alti, whom we haven’t seen since early Season Five. It reminds me most of “The Xena Scrolls,” which was not only directed by Haskell, whom the series hadn’t seen in years, but also featured wacky characters in a totally different setting and a powerful foe that transcends time and space (Ares in that one, Alti in this one). “Send In The Clones” is a fun episode that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and thus, asks that we not take it seriously either. There are a lot of great funny little moments, and fans of the Xena/Gabrielle romantic relationship will delight in seeing the duo ride off together (in a car, no doubt). And, it’s always a treat to see Alti, who’s as deliciously nasty as ever. It’s good to have something so lighthearted in the otherwise dark and self-important final season.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Claire Stansfield (Actor, Alti): “Alti in modern times… we shot [this clip show] in four days. [Director Charlie Haskell would say], ‘And Claire, go! And go! And go! And insert clip! And pretend that you’re watching a clip!’ So you’re just standing there staring at nothing, acting your little heart out, not knowing what’s going on! But the part that’s not clips is wonderful, because of the actors playing the fans. They play the fans in the extreme. We’re not poking fun, we’re laughing with them. So it’s a fine line, [this] episode. Alti just thinks that the fans are pathetic, but Claire doesn’t!… Lucy is very funny as the real Xena, who’s different from the Xena on the television show… I had so much fun [in the fight scene]! This [car] is so sexy and has this great rumble! I took my headpiece off, so I had wild hair and wore black leather. That’s really my dream part: having a muscle car and screaming and doing doughnuts in the parking lot… The [second unit] director was in the back seat with the headsets on, listening to me shrieking away and giving me some direction, crouched underneath in the back seat hiding from the camera. The director of photography was in the passenger seat filming me, and we all had the best time! We were like little kids who wanted to drive out of control.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #21 – August 2001)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Paul Robert Coyle gave on “Send In The Clones” for The Chakram Newsletter: #25.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!