Flying Happily Off Into the Sunset
"Many Happy Returns" Plot Summary:
On the way to deliver the Helmet of Hermes to Thebes, Gabrielle asks Xena to go easy on the practical jokes on her birthday the next day. Xena agrees, but crosses her fingers behind her back. Nearby, zealots prepare a virgin sacrifice, asking for protection from the evil warlord Ferragus in exchange. Xena prevents the execution by putting on the magical helmet and flying over the cliff to rescue the girl as she falls. The virgin, Genia, believes at first that Xena must be a goddess and wants to worship her, but becomes angry when she learns that Xena is mortal and wishes to meet a real goddess. A boy spying nearby rushes home to his father -- the warlord Ferragus -- to report on Xena's actions.
Genia watches as Xena and Gabrielle play practical jokes on each other and swim naked in the river. She has renounced physical love, so Xena takes her to Aphrodite's temple where the girl can see what a "real goddess" is like. The group goes to Thebes together and heads to a tavern when Xena realizes they're being followed. Ferragus marches in to demand the helmet, which has been hidden in a bag that Xena asked Aphrodite to take care of for her. But anticipating another joke, Gabrielle switched bags, so when the warlord takes Xena's bag, he gets the helmet. Meanwhile Aphrodite rescues Genia from the scene and convinces the girl she's a real godddess; Genia wants to worship her, so Aphrodite casts a love spell on her and the man of her choice...who happens to be Ferragus' son.
Xena and Gabrielle have followed the warlord to his lair and are horrified when Genia comes in as a prospective family member. They pose as Genia's own family and start "planning the wedding," allowing Xena to steal the helmet back when Ferragus takes it off to show off a scar on his head. Aphrodite whisks Genia away, sending her back to the marketplace with the helmet, but the zealots spot her there and kidnap her for their sacrifice. When Xena arrives to rescue the girl again, Ferragus flies in with the helmet; the zealots gave it back to him in exchange for protection against Xena.
In the ensuing battle, Xena manages to retrieve the helmet, disable the leader of the zealots and save Genia from sacrifice once again. She also manages to convince the would-be-martyr that she should live her own life. Genia apologizes to the warlord's son, calls off the wedding and declares that she's going to convert her convent into a shelter for the needy. Later, as the sun sets, Xena apologizes to Gabrielle for not getting to Thebes in time for Sappho's performance. But she has gotten the legendary poet to write a poem for Gabrielle's birthday, which Gabrielle reads aloud. Then Xena puts on the Helmet of Hermes and flies Gabrielle into the sunset, wishing her a happy birthday.
A superficial and light-hearted episode with an unexpectedly moving ending, "Many Happy Returns" brings the warrior princess and her soulmate as close as they're likely to get to the most famous Lesbian of them all. It's woven around a fairly silly story in which a religious order seeks protection from a warlord, gets in trouble for trying to sacrifice a virgin for that purpose, then ends up going to that same warlord for the defense of their right to sacrifice virgins to protect them from warlords. Maybe the zealots just like to perform human sacrifices, but at Ferragus says, it seems like a waste of a good virgin.
Genia is more a caricature than a character; once she leaves the sheltered convent where she was raised to give her life to the gods, she quickly sheds her inhibitions, starts worshipping Aphrodite and looks for an opportunity to shed the chastity for which the zealots value her. One wonders why she doesn't simply lie and claim they're too late when they find her tarted up in the marketplace. Ferragus, who does a great imitation of John Belushi's Samurai Chef routine, is more entertaining than the hen in the fox house, particularly while Gabrielle is fitting him with harem pants for his son's wedding. Meanwhile "Xena, The Warrior Pain in My Ass" dresses as a man so she can pretend to be Genia's father, and says her name is Anthrax!
The practical jokes are silly, but we do get glimpses of Xena and Gabrielle's naked derrieres as they go skinny-dipping, plus some innuendo about what goes on underwater, as innocent Genia hides her eyes and demurs, "I'll just stay here and look at the bushes." More puns ensue as the virgin licks fish oil from her fingers and declares her pleasure. "If the gods didn't want us to eat fish, how come they made it taste so good?" asks Xena when Genia feels guilty over eating a living creature, and plans to sleep on the hard ground as penance. Aphrodite doesn't like fish much, and reprises her earlier snide comments about the smell from "The Quill Is Mightier...", so it's no surprise that she encourages Genia to find a boy for her first experience with physical love.
But this is Xena, where bad boy-good girl love at first sight and fancy wedding plans get lampooned, while Sapphic poetry makes women weep. Fans who resist reading subtext into episodes will be hard-pressed to come up with a platonic explanation for the passionate poem Xena gives Gabrielle, "There's a moment when I look at you and no speech is left in me: my tongue breaks, fire races through my skin and I tremble and grow pale, for I am dying of such love, or so it seems to me." Finally Xena picks Gabrielle and flies away with her into the sunset. She's wearing Hermes' helmet and the image looks a little bit like Superman with Lois Lane, but the lesbian love story has always soared above the patriarchal myths on which it's built.