"The Rheingold"
by Michelle Erica Green

Siegmund, Sieglinda, Siegfried...and Xena?

"The Rheingold" Plot Summary:

Xena and Gabrielle visit a tavern, where the Norse warrior Beowulf recognizes the warrior princess and hands her a metal emblem with two ravens. Xena recognizes this as the seal with which she imprisoned the horrible monster Grendel in the north 35 years earlier. She believed the creature trapped for eternity, even though Grendel had stolen a golden ring that made Xena invincible while she possessed it. Upset because her friend won't tell her why Beowulf's news has upset her so much, Gabrielle says she respects Xena's privacy. However, when the bard wakes to discover that Xena has left a note saying she must go on a very dangerous journey that she does not expect to survive, Gabrielle decides to follow.

Weeks later, Gabrielle is farther north than she has ever traveled, in a Viking encampment. She learns from a tapestry about the Norse god Odin and his warrior women. One of the Valkyries looks familiar, and a woman named Brunnhilda confirms Gabrielle's suspicions: her name was Xena, she came from Chin to ride across the sky with Odin's elite guard. Xena had discovered Odin crucified in a tree, but restored his will to live by reminding him that the struggle of life is what keeps it exciting. Odin adored her for it, but Grinhilda -- Odin's lover, the head Valkyrie -- despised Xena's violence. Grinhilda rightly suspected that Xena had pursued the Norse god only to uncover the hidden location of the powerful Rheingold, protected by maidens in the Rhine River.

Only those who have forsaken love can gain power from the hidden Rhine treasure. So when Gabrielle learns that Xena found the Rhinegold and forged a ring from it, she tells Brunnhilda that the ring isn't necessary for Xena -- she can't live without love, as their relationship proves. Brunnhilda envies them, but Gabrielle promises to be a friend to the Norse woman as well. Meanwhile, farther north, Beowulf tells Xena that her friend is very beautiful and he is sure she misses her. He leads her to a mead hall destroyed by Grendel. As dusk falls, Brunnhilda guesses Xena must have come north to try to stop the vicious monster. Gabrielle insists on walking all night until they reach the site of Grendel's last attack.

Beowulf, who lost two brothers and countless friends to Grendel, asks Xena how much she knows about the creature; Xena replies that she knows it's deadly yet big and slow, for she created it. That night Grendel breaks through a wall to reach Xena and Beowulf, who fight with all the strength they have, but can't defeat the monster because it now wears the ring Xena forged from the Rheingold. When Gabrielle and Brunnhilda arrive in the morning, Beowulf is gravely wounded and Xena is missing, dragged off by Grendel. Only her broken armor remains among the wreckage.


The image of Xena as a Valkyrie seems so obvious that it's surprising the show didn't go there before, though "The Rheingold" contradicts the timeline of Hercules' "Somewhere Over Rainbow Bridge," when the Norse gods were in decline from Dahok's interference. Then again, Grendel bears a strong resemblance to Dahok's grandson by Hope, so maybe these refugees from Valhalla were left around for a reason. Xena's internal continuity is in better shape than the antecedents of this story from English literature and German opera, though the crossover is a lot of fun.

Xena plays the role of Alberich, who stole the Rheingold in Wagner's The Ring, and does most of the fighting attributed to Beowulf alone in the epic poem of the same name. (Beowulf fought to help the Danes, but the Rhine flows west of current Denmark through what is now Germany and the Netherlands, so I'm not clear exactly where on the map this is all taking place.) While Xena bonds with English literature's number one hero, Gabrielle gets to know the lovely Brunnhilda, who bears no relationship to her Wagnerian counterpart in that her love at first sight is the bard rather than Siegfried. The word "friend" gets used with loaded connotations all over the place, and it looked to me like Xena had signed her letter to Gabrielle with a kiss -- a big red smooch mark.

What's at stake, other than people's lives and such? Nothing new -- as Gabrielle observes, Xena's doomed to spend the rest of her life atoning for deeds she committed years ago. Still, it's always entertaining to watch her seduce, battle, and overshadow the great heroes of mythology, and this new arc is no exception. Besides, Xena gets to wear really cool opera-style Norse headgear and to ride a flying horse! I prefer to see her falling out of Heaven while battling a Valkyrie than defending archangels against the minions of Satan. Lucy Lawless is always marvelous to watch playing unreformed Xena; her facial expressions rather than clothes and setting always tell the audience when a flashback has started. And Xena's flirtatious games with the Rhine maidens (her new "friends") are a hoot.

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