"Etched In Stone"
Original airdate: Week of November 14, 1999
by Michelle Erica Green

Swedish Meatballs

"Etched In Stone" Plot Summary:

Northumbrian Coast, 935 A.D.: A swordfight ends with bodies everywhere. A man calls his remaining comrades down a hill, where their leader lies fallen. "Honor my deeds. Let my soul rest with the treasure," chokes the king before he dies. While the ruler is cremated with his shield, a monk carves a rune stone. The soldiers claim the king's soul has returned to Valhalla.

At Trinity, Syndey Fox practices punching on an electronic dummy. Claudia is away, and a supremely bimboesque new assistant is filling in. When Nigel overhears her taking a phone message and misspelling the name of the president of the university, he takes the call himself. A visiting professor from the University of Northeast South Africa has requested Sydney's assistance in finding the rune stone of King Jann the First of Norway, and because of his generous donation, the president has agreed.

Sydney is horrified to discover that the "professor" is her greedy charlatan friend Stewie whom she last saw searching for the Buddha's Bowl. He thanks her for the rare coin she accidentally gave him and claims to be a new man...until he sees her temporary assistant, whom he refers to as "the new pork chop." The girl tells Sydney that she wants a rhinestone, too. When Nigel explains that it's a rune stone with a message on it, she concludes, "Sort of like a post-it!"

In Sweden, a very attractive waitress in a teeny tiny Norse bra explains the Celtic origins of the food in the restaurant. Stewie shows up wearing a Viking horned hat, asking for "a bottle of your breast beer...best beer." They appear to be in the Scandinavian equivalent of Hooters. The phony professor then presents a page from an 11th century book, and the trio goes in search of a runic translator. Lars, the one they find, explains that the book refers to the rune stone of King Jann becoming the cornerstone of a great holy place where the axes cross the line of the sacred arrow. Though none of this means anything to Sydney, Lars' bald assistant listens attentively.

Back at the restaurant, Sydney identifies the village of Anders the Axe - the axe that crosses the line of the sacred arrow. The waitress at first identifies the arrow as a Thursday special, but defines it historically as being a large wooden structure in the forest to point travelers to the north. Sydney identifies the spot on the map where the longitude line due north crossed the latitude at which the Axe's village was closest to the sea. That is where they need to seek the great holy place.

Sure enough, the trio discovers a site, which was once a Viking temple, then, a monastery. Now it's a spa...a nude spa. Nigel shrieks that he won't go in, but Sydney insists; she refuses to see or be seen with a naked Stewie. "You have a nice body," she tells her flustered assistant, who promises not to look at her if she won't look at him. Inside, a nude band plays for nude bathers while naked athletes play naked ball. Sydney spies a Stonehenge-type structure, which unfortunately has a naked sunbather blocking it. She sends Nigel over to clear her out. Nigel stammers that the sun is burning her cheeks...no, not those cheeks...though he's sure those cheeks are very nice too, not that he was looking...and before he knows it, the woman flees. Sydney and Nigel locate the stone in the base of the monument. When Nigel yells, "Pull it out!" as they hide behind the structure, the sunbather makes a face.

Sydney and Nigel steal a table umbrella to shield their find, but have to flee quickly as the entire ancient monument collapses behind them. Stewie snatches the stone, saying he'll be taking it back to Africa ASAP, but Sydney insists on looking at her find first. The rune stone is genuine, but it doesn't belong to Jann the First. Instead it bears the crest of Jann the Second, "Jann the Bold," who looted and plundered and died with a great fortune undiscovered. As she yells at Stewie, thugs attack them to try to steal the stone, furthering Sydney's conviction that Stewie didn't want a mere artifact.

Back at the restaurant, the waitress identifies the symbol for Odin's eight-legged horse. "Modem?" asks Stewie, not recognizing the name of the greatest of Norse gods. Sydney suggests they get Lars to translate the rest, but at the Swedish historical society, they find him murdered. Ash marks on his hands make Sydney search the fireplace, where she finds a charred photo of a house with Odin's horse on the crest on its gate. When they arrive at the address, the group discovers that the thugs who attacked them work there, and all have Odin's horse tattooed on their arms. The bald assistant from Lars' office is there as well.

Sneaking in, Sydney, Nigel and Stewie witness a cult meeting where the sacred relic of Odin's Star, the key to unlocking a great treasure, sits on a table. But someone has sold the holy book that explains how to find the treasure. As the group watches in horror, the cult leader kills the member who stole the book. Pandemonium ensues as the cult members scatter. Sydney and Nigel must fight their way free, but Stewie sneaks to the front to steal the Star of Odin. After Sydney reluctantly rescues him, the mercenary explains that he bought the book over the internet from the anonymous cult member. Now, with the book and the star, they can find Jann the Bold's treasure.

Sydney returns to Lars' office and threatens his assistant, who claims he didn't kill Lars. The cult leader did that once he knew the translator knew the group's secret. He explains to Sydney that the tablet refers to the House of Souls, but warns her that the place is a cursed site where dead men rest. Nigel asks the pretty waitress what she knows about the House of Souls. She says it was a holy place for great Viking warriors, but many that entered did not return.

At night, Nigel walks through caves until he finds a carving of Odin's horse. Followed by Sydney and Stewie, he comes to a covered well. "'I quench my thirst where dead men sleep,'" Sydney quotes from the runes, realizing that Jann meant the well. It is full of water, but when Stewie accidentally drops the rune stone, the water vanishes. The trio drop down the sides and follow eight-legged horse carvings to a dead end, where skeletons sit around a table that holds the remains of a feast - a Viking burial ground.

Meanwhile, the cult leaders have brought the bald man to a field, where they say they will spare his life because he assisted them, but order his execution as soon as he flees. They follow the relic hunters down the well. In the rear chamber, Sydney fits the Star of Odin into a more elaborate carving of the Norse god's horse, and a wall collapses, revealing a room filled with treasure. Stewie immediately tries on a gold crown, but Sydney warns him that the items belong in a museum. "Who's gonna stop us, the Viking police?" Stewie jokes. "That's right," shouts the cult leader, attacking the group.

While Sydney and Nigel fight, Stewie fills his pockets with priceless items, but aborts his escape to rescue Sydney by hitting a thug over the head with a gold candlestick. The professor is grateful but insists that every penny is going to a museum, no matter what percentage Stewie offers her. Back at Trinity, Nigel finds that Claudia has returned, but is not happy when she taunts that he must have met a bimbo in a Swedish bar. Then she mentions offhand that Stewie is getting a new wing of the university museum named in his honor. In her office, Sydney punches her electronic dummy, which now wears Stewie's face.


I've no idea whether either King Jann was a real historical figure, but I still enjoyed the amusing story. Relic Hunter thrives on its one-liners more than its formulaic plots, which invariably feature some attractive woman flirting with Nigel, some former colleague of Sydney's trying to call in favors, and some complicated, booby-trapped treasure hunt for a prize whose historical merits are less clear than its monetary value. What makes it work is the predictability. Unlike shows like Murder She Wrote where the audience could never solve the mystery because viewers were never shown all the pieces, Relic Hunter offers broad clues that you don't need a degree in archaeology to follow. In this episode, one could anticipate the Viking burial ground, the well...and the collapse of the Stonehenge-like structure in the nude spa.

Which brings us to the real point of this episode. Some very clever filming with strategic use of guitars, drinks, plants, and pool floats keep frontal nudity offscreen while maintaining all the comic possibilities of Sydney and Nigel working together naked. The waitress may be a bimbo, but she knows more about Swedish lore than does Sydney, who in turn knows more about Stewie, the real bimbo of the series thus far. When Stewie tells Sydney he loves working with her because they're from the same ilk, Sydney responds, "Whatever ilk you're from, I'm from a different one."

I wish they were heading somewhere or that more seemed to be at stake then just digging up artifacts and giving them to museums before the bad guys could get them. Having a religious cult was a neat idea but they acted like standard greedy thugs, not like people with a mystical connection to the Vikings and their land, which might have given Sydney a real dilemma about hunting for their treasure in the first place. On this as on other occasions, ethical questions about her motives and methods lurked just under the surface. It would be nice if she had a personal stake in some of her tasks, like Indiana Jones in the third film when his father's life was at risk. And I'd like to know what she believes in.

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