When Beowulf Met Gabrielle
"The Ring" Plot Summary:
As Gabrielle searches with Beowulf and Brunhilda, Xena appears, wounded, to embrace her friend. When the bard refuses to let Xena fight Grendel alone, both Brunhilda and Beowulf declare their intentions to protect Gabrielle. Xena doesn't entirely trust the worshipful Norse warrior woman, but allows her to come along. She explains to the group how Grinhilda turned into the loathsome Grendel after she put on the ring made from the Rheingold -- which gives great power, but destroys the thing most beloved by the wearer, which in Grinhilda's case was her beauty.
In Grendel's cave, Xena tries to create an avalanche to trap the creature, yet gets trapped herself behind the wall of rock. When Gabrielle breaks through with Xena's chakram, the two women defeat the monster and Xena regains the ring. But the dead Grendel isn't the monster Grinhilda -- its hand is intact, though Xena had sliced off one of Grinhilda's fingers. To keep the power from her old adversary, the warrior princess concludes the ring must be returned to the Rhine Maidens.
As they travel, Brunhilda tells Gabrielle she never met a warrior before who fought for love. Overhearing, Xena tells her friend she doesn't trust the newcomer. Xena's instincts prove correct: Brunhilda, who works for Odin, was supposed to attack Xena to get the ring. Odin sends the remaining Valkyries to kidnap Gabrielle, assuming Xena will barter the ring for her partner's life, but Brunhilda carries Gabrielle away on her flying horse before the others can get her.
Odin claims that after Xena's departure, it wasn't hard for him to forsake love. He wants the ring's power for himself now; if Xena won't give it to him, he will tell Grinhilda where to find Xena. Refusing to make a deal, the warrior princess goes with Beowulf to search for Gabrielle. Hiding in the bog, Brunhilda confesses her love for the bard and refuses to accept that Gabrielle and Xena are soulmates. She wants a chance to prove her love for Gabrielle in battle with Xena, but Gabrielle says the Valkyrie is sick if she thinks shedding blood in her name has anything to do with love.
Beowulf tells Xena that he would go through the fires of hell for Gabrielle. Odin appears in their path, demanding the ring. When Xena chooses to fight him instead, he brings both the Valkyries and Grinhilda into the battle. Desperate, Xena puts on the ring, knowing that it will give her the power of a god before it destroys that which she loves. She kills Valkyries with her sword and Odin's deflected thunderbolts, and slices into Grinhilda. Then she hears Gabrielle calling her name. Odin tells his cronies to let Xena go; the ring is killing what she loves most.
Brunhilda finds Xena and begs her to take the ring off, but it's too late. Xena has lost her identity and her memories of Gabrielle. Brunhilda takes the ring and goes to her beloved, turning herself into a circle of flame through which only Gabrielle's true soulmate can pass. Dressed in gold and holding the Rheingold, Gabrielle sleeps in the ring of fire. Meanwhile Xena drops her sword and chakram, begging to know who she is. Later, Beowulf finds her discarded weapons on the ground.
Xena continues to take outrageous liberties with Wagner and the oldest poem in English, via the clever linguistic conflation of Grinhilda and Grendel -- traditionally, Beowulf not only slew that hideous creature, but its mother as well. "The Ring" offers less entertainment value than "The Rheingold" because it lacks Pre-Reform Xena's grandstanding and frolicking with the Rhine Maidens. But it's a stronger love story -- instead of rejecting Gabrielle's aid, she embraces it, and the bard calls Xena her soulmate rather than her friend. Xena's distrust of Brunhilda seems like petty jealousy until we learn the Norse warrior, who looks suspiciously like the other blonde Valkyries, works for Odin.
Few of the characters' motivations make a lot of sense, but when has human behavior ever made sense? Beowulf and Brunhilda both fall in love with Gabrielle even though neither of them knows her at all, and she knows them even less. Odin now despises the mortal woman who saved him from suicide; he repays her for her deception by going to vain Grinhilda to tell her Xena killed her child (probably their child, since Grinhilda and Odin were lovers before Xena came on the scene). Which raises some questions. Was Grendel locked up with his mother for all those years? If she loved him, as it appeared when he died, how come the power of the ring worked for her? Did monster Grinhilda's use of the ring doom her son, in which case Xena was only the catalyst for his death, not the cause? There's not much attention to logic here, or in Xena's decision to wear the ring rather than give it to Odin. Either way, she risks losing Gabrielle, so why not try to make a deal for his help rescuing her friend from Odin's former servant Brunhilda?
I wish I understood why so many people love the bard at first sight, especially after they've met Xena. It's rather sweet that Brunhilda remains loyal to Gabrielle despite a lifetime of alleged Xena-worship, but Beowulf? Plot device. At least now we know that Xena values her sense of self above her relationship with Gabrielle, for she forgets how to use the chakram and the sword as well as her beloved. That's happened to her before, of course, so I doubt the experience will change her now.