"A Tale of Two Muses" Plot Summary:
Gabrielle waxes poetical as she walks through the desert with Xena, reflecting that she wishes Xena had a creative outlet like Gabrielle's writing. Xena indicates her chakram. Gabrielle complains that all this walking is hard on the shoes, and when Xena agrees that they should find a blacksmith for Argo, Gabrielle indicates that she meant her own boots. In a nearby town, Tara, the rebellious girl from "Forgiven," dances for and then with a local boy. Suddenly the magistrate Istephan bursts in and arrests her, taking her to the town center where she is sentenced to be lashed. Xena knocks the whip away and fights the militia, learning that Tara is to be punished for dancing - the local residents believe that the muse Calliope, their patron, forbids dancing.
Xena requests banishment rather than beating as punishment for Tara, but when they leave town, Tara insists on going back - she likes the boy, Andros, and his father Telemon was good to her. They reluctantly return, and Gabrielle starts dancing because the decree forbidding it has made her footloose. In the morning, she gets her boots repaired from a local craftsman who tells her that Philipon the Reformer will soon arrive to teach the local youth some values. He comes with much pomp and circumstance, removing his hood to reveal that he's really Autolycus - Xena sent for him by pigeon, sending another pigeon to the King of Oman, whose sister Autolycus was having a fling with, just to make sure he showed up. "Philipon" preaches a fire-and-brimstone sermon about the degenerate effects of dancing and all art, claiming that Telemon's painting of the land where he grew up is obscene because it contains hills, a crevice, and a tall tower. Andros defends his father as an upright citizen, but that night, after dancing in secret with Tara, he asks her to leave his conservative village for Athens, where his brother is now working.
Telemon is devastated, but Xena catches up with the runaways, calling Andros a coward for leaving and insisting that Tara should know running away never solves anything. She makes them return, telling Istephan that the local children need military training to distract them from their unnatural urges - which which "Philipon" agrees. She begins by teaching them some basic martial arts moves, then dismisses the elders so that Gabrielle (wearing her newly repaired boots with metal taps on the toes) can coach them into practicing a jig around a staff. When Istephan, "Philipon," and Xena all seem to believe that killing is a better occupation for children than dancing, Telemon declares his candidacy for magistrate, insisting that the people of the town must change their traditions before they lose their children.
During the campaign speeches, Istephan's henchmen try to assassinate "Philipon" as a demonstration of how much disorder has entered the town, but Xena reveals their treachery and points out that Istephan has lied, murdered, and brutalized their children in the name of tradition. She asks him how he'd deal with a new crisis, then starts snapping her fingers and the kids come in dancing. "Philipon" says Calliope has given him a vision and he has seen the light, rushing in to dance with Xena while Gabrielle leads Tara and the others in a jig of sorts. Xena and Gabrielle hug as the entire town joins in the celebration.
After a week of serious struggle with Caesar and war, we're back to real fluff. Of course, this fluff had the advantages of Bruce Campbell's acting and Michael Hurst's directing, so it was highly enjoyable fluff. Hurst has already spoofed disco musicals and Marilyn Monroe movies, so I suppose it was inevitable that he'd take on Footloose. There wasn't a shred of character development even on the part of minor visitors like Tara, but we did get to hear Bruce Campbell do his best Jimmy Swaggart imitation complete with southern accent and choruses of "Praise Calliope!"
I don't mind the notion that contemporary Baptists got all their good preaching ideas from a Greek thief, nor that a girl from Potedeia was the forerunner of Michael Flatley and "Riverdance," and I got a real laugh out of the flush toilet in the rundown flat where they slept. But there was no historical theme, no moral message of any significance, no consistent characterization (Gabrielle hated dancing when the Amazons asked her to do it, and Tara was WAY past dancing as a form of adolescent rebellion). So since the episode was not sidesplittingly funny (despite Xena's mishap trying the splits), nor as well-choreographed as "...And Fancy Free," I'm left feeling a little empty, and hoping that next week's prison episode has a more to it than just parody.