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Return of the Valkyrie Reviewed

The Norse trilogy has so far encompassed Norse mythology, Wagnerian opera, the story of Beowulf and now includes fairy tales! It`s Sleeping Beauty meets the Warrior Princess...

After the last episode, where the amnesiac Xena was left howling, and Gabrielle was surrounded by an eternal flame, we open with the worrying heading "One year later". What!!! They have lost another year of their lives!

Beowulf and a gang of nobles are on a Holy Grail style quest for the ring, and the smitten warriors gaze upon `the lady of the ring`....yep, Gabrielle. A veritable Gab-worshipping trilogy this was.
However, it is clear Grinhilda has been keeping an eye on the ring too, and as the men are swatted away, Beowulf and the young sidekick he has acquired, Wiglaf(Dean O`Gorman) decide to head back to Denmark. Boy, are they in for a surprise, as when they get there, King Hrothgar (a main character from the Beowulf story) is about to marry Wealthea, a foreigner who has lost her memory. Guess who....yep, it`s Xena alright!
Of course she doesn`t know Beowulf, but thanks to Hrothgar`s conniving sister, they are soon headed back to Norseland (or wherever this trilogy is set) as Beowulf convinces Xena she must rescue her friend. This Xena is no fighter - she has lost all memory of who she is, remember - although the instincts are not far below the surface. After an encounter with Odin and that blonde valkyrie Waltraute (whose name they pinched from the Wagner operas), they head for the clearing where Gabrielle lies sleeping. A quick return match with Waltraute ends with her getting sizzled in the wall of fire(hurrah!) before Xena leaps through those eternal flames and does a Prince Charming kiss to Sleeping Beauty Gabrielle. After a brief but quite sweet reunion, the Grinhilda problem becomes pressing. Beowulf has been skewered...AGAIN, so Xena leaps into action. She is back to herself now, and amazingly manages to talk monster Grinhilda into breaking the curse of the ring. A couple of flying horses left by the defeated Valkyrie mean she and Gab are soon heading for Valhalla, to take Grinhilda home. Xena has one more trip to make..to return the rheingold to the rhinemaidens. All`s well that ends well...


There had been much talk before this episode aired about a kiss between Xena and Gabrielle, something that some fans were keen on. The whole trilogy has focussed on Xena and Gabrielle`s relationship, and once again, we heard about how only her "true soulmate" would be able to pass through the eternal flame Brunhilda made to protect Gab. Too much emphasis? Well, not to my mind. I thought this whole trilogy was brilliant in its blend of mythology and storytelling. The memory loss idea comes from Wagner`s Ring Operas - when the hero Siegfried loses his memory and ends up abandoning his true love (Brunhilda) and marrying someone else.

A lot of the enjoyment of the early part of this episode was watching Lucy Lawless as Wealthea/Xena. I thought she did an amazing job, playing her third Xena role of the trilogy! She has played so many different facets of Xena over the years, and nearly always manages to make each, unique and recognisably similar yet distinct. Wealthea had a little of the Priestess Leah about her, and I was HIGHLY intrigued by her statement to Hrothgar, about how he knew she was different to other women..what could she mean? She was a woman determined to help the people of her adopted country, but was a little TOO sweet really. It would have been nice to see just a touch of steel in her when she was being pounced on by the beastly Hrothgar. Just a little shove, or a menacing glare or something. Would a Xena even without her memory let herself be bullied? I hope not.

The whole wedding business was a bit odd, however. Hrothgar has clearly been waiting to get his hands on Xena for a year, and yet is persuaded of her allegedly infidelity far too easily. It was a little too convenient. And it is only Beowulf under threat that provokes her warrior instincts? No one has pissed her off for a whole year? Hard to believe. On the other hand, I was really glad to see that little scene on the boat when Xena talks of being stunned by being married and put under a death sentence on the same day and by the same man. As it was, her year in Denmark is hardly mentioned at all again, so I was glad that there were a couple of lines at least mentioning her feelings. After all, these are people she has spent the better part of a year with.

Then there are the flashbacks that she experiences. If the sight of a ring being placed on a finger is enough to stir a few memories, surely other things must have disturbed her during this year. Anyone with a staff? Sword fighting? Circular chakram shaped things? Blondes that look like Gabrielle? (Might be a few of those in Denmark) Horses that look anything like Argo? There must be loads of things that might remind Xena of some aspect of her former life. Maybe *that* is what she means by not being like other women... daft!

One notable thing about this episode is how peripheral Xena and Gabrielle are to the action for much of the episode. Gabrielle is barely in it (Renee O'Connor was preparing for her directorial duties on a forthcoming episode), Xena is only really a woman of action for the last 5 minutes or so. It is Beowulf who makes things happen for most of this episode. We follow him more than Xena or Gabrielle, right up until they arrive at Sleeping Gabrielle`s flamey haven. While he tells Gabrielle that Xena would have found her way to her eventually, we have to wonder whether that really is true. Xena as Wealthea looked all ready to do her duty as Hrothgar's queen. Indeed, considering her memory loss, it is amazing she followed Beowulf at all.

While Beowulf is the central character in the first part of the episode, it is Xena and Gabrielle we want to see. I was not a fan of Waltraute, the actress was not terribly talented, and the character poorly defined. Dodgy acting seemed to be a bit of a problem in this episode. Alexander Petersons as Odin once again creaked, and Luanne Gordon as Grinhilda just looked incredibly vacant for all of her scenes after she becomes human again. Was she supposed to be stunned maybe? On the other hand, I enjoyed John Leigh's Hrothgar. Funny how Xena has been taller than a couple of her S6 beaus, Hrothgar and archangel Lucifer. I wonder if that is deliberate? Maybe she is just in her high heeled boots..

They certainly get their money's worth out of that monster Grinhilda costume, and the seven foot stunt guy inside. Another couple of fights in this episode for him. And considering she had lost memory, and was fighting on instincts presumably, Xena did a pretty good job of fending off Waltraute. I gave quite a cheer when she was incinerated .. decent special effect and an annoying character.

Now, what about that kiss then...

Actually, it was very sweet. Not sure why Xena didn't just give her a shake and yell "wakey wakey", and whether she really had to use her chakram to cut away those vines. Considering how she cut her hands on it at the end of The Ring, I was keeping my fingers crossed that she wouldn't slice Gabrielle up! Clearly Xena knows her fairy tales, and having defeated the baddies and the barrier of fire, she has to kiss her princess. This was a kiss of love, but not a kiss of passion, as I saw it. It brought both of them back to who they really were (even if Gabrielle did have long hair somehow,) and reminded them of their life together. Ahhh!

Even sweeter was the very final scene. Xena goes to take the rheingold back to the rhinemaidens. I loved that scene in The Rheingold, when evil Xena sneeringly seduces the dumb blonde rhinemaiden into giving her their most treasured possession in the blink of an eye. Boy, was she good at being bad!
In this episode, Xena's entrance into their little pool is filmed almost identically (same director John Fawcett for the two episodes), yet thanks to Lucy Lawless' always wonderful acting, it is like it's a different person. The way she emerges from under the water, and in an almost identical outfit too - this time its her familiar leathers - but with the intention of putting things right, is a sign of how she has changed. "What magic could make you give up the power of the rheingold?" asks the maiden. "No magic" says Xena, with the sweetest of smiles for Gabrielle.
"It's love," we all sigh, as we fade to black. Very nice ending.




A satisfying end to a wonderfully enthralling story.

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