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Season 4, Episode 6

March 13, 1999

Reviewed by SLK


RATING: 5 chakrams

Montage for A Tale of Two Muses

SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Gillian Horvath; Edited by Jim Prior; Directed by Michael Hurst

PASSING PARADE: Shiri Appleby (Tara); Bruce Campbell (Autolycus/Philipon the Reformer); John Givins (Istafan); Hemi Rudolph (Telamon); Michael Kupenga (Andros); Campbell Cooley (Licinus); Dennis Hally (Bootmaker) and Vicky Haughton (Old Lady)

STORY SO FAR: Xena and Gabrielle find Tara in trouble in a town that has outlawed dancing.

DISCLAIMER: No self-righteous Magistrates intent on surpressing the basic human right of freedom of expression were harmed during the production of this motion picture.

REWIND FOR: Gabrielle almost whacks Xena in the nose in their first fight to free Tara. Xena catches the staff in time in what is a choreographed manouever, but all I can say is that if Xena had missed by a millimetre...ouch.

Check out Xena’s wicked Elvis lip curl just after the magistrate tells Tara’s boyfriend’s dad to teach her that dancing is evil.

Organ music for Philapon’s evangelical speech - nice, but where’s the organ, dude?

The unimpressed look on Gabrielle’s face when Tara’s boyfriend’s dad decides to leave something out of Gabrielle’s speech. Ahh those temperamental artists.

Musicians... yes, actual town musicians appear out of nowhere in the final scene to accompany our dancers. You’d rather think these people would be seen as the root of all this evil and yet there they are front and centre.

The very last scene, just after Xena’s big showy somersault, did I lipread a laughing "sorry" from Xena to Gabrielle?

QUOTABLE: "Extremism in the name of piety is never a vice." Philapon. And it sounds so believable when he says it.

"The scales have fallen from my eyes." Philapon winding up for his big finish and curiously sounding more Southern with every passing word.


If the mere sight of Tara from Forgiven makes you want to permanently re-arrange her dreadlocks or you’re kind of fussy about your Xena episodes having a plot which could sit on something bigger than a 5c piece, then this isn’t the episode for you. On the other hand if you have no expectations apart from winding up with a rather involuntary silly grin on your face by the end of the show, then Tale of Two Muses fits the bill.

I would possibly sit through 50 viewings of this episode (but don’t hold me to it) for the good vibes I felt in the last two minutes of it. I adored Xena’s showoff somersault (technically known as the Nya Nya Backflip) when Gabrielle clearly outdances her, followed by Xena’s apologetic and beautiful, warm hug for having done it (and Gabrielle letting her get away with it with such good humor).

At last, finally, yes folks, Xena and Gabrielle are in a season 4 episode looking happy to be together, happy with themselves, like the close friends they were supposed to have been all this time and minus any existential or philosophical angst about where life is leading them. Oh my god, did I just say those two were having FUN?! Wash ma mouth out with soap.

Yep, this one came straight of the season 2 vaults... almost.

There were some rather odd personality quirks coming from Gabrielle in this episode that had me doing double takes. I can only presume it was the heat or really bad PMS that had our bard thunking her shoes rudely on a strange leatherworker’s table and irritably demanding he not rip her off or give her some two-bit job. This Gabs actually reminded me quite a bit of the pumped up bard from Ten Little Warlords, her frustration here not being a lack of battle, but being denied dance. (I had no idea it meant so much to her before... but I’ll take the forbidden fruit line on that one.)

She also suddenly takes the guilty until proved innocent line on Tara - most un-Gabrielle like - in the opening scene where the magistrate identifies himself and says he is carrying out Tara’s punishment. But I guess bards have long memories and Tara was more likely to be in trouble than out of it.

Gabrielle also stood up to Xena with a doggedness I really liked: Xena wanted her to do the praise Philapon routine and she hissed: NO!

Onya gal!

Another curiousity is it seems Gabrielle, who in Hooves And Harlots was such an atrocious dancer she confessed to the Amazons her family asked her not to dance because they believed she was bad for the harvest. And then she proved it by bopping so badly I was cringing.

Now suddenly, enter Gabrielle "Riverdance Pavlova" of Poteideia, be still my beating heart... Quite a transformation - and unless Xena has been teaching her the two-step around the camp fire each night, which I find kind of hard to picture, there must be some other reason for the bard’s splendid sense of timing, light feet and a range from Irish to tap to ‘60s bop to middle eastern twirls.

To digress for a moment, it is said the reason we have dance in the western world is because during King Richard’s crusades he was entranced by people in the Middle East dancing and was convinced this was the secret to their military prowess... ie. that sense of rhythm, discpline and fluidity translated to the battlefield. Convinced he was onto something, he returned home and taught the English morris (moorish) dancing with staves and swords and fighting-like moves, so they would be honed for combat without knowing this was what they were being drilled in.

If he was right and dance and military precision are inextricably linked, then Gabrielle, who has come a long way militarily since holding her first staff in Hooves & Harlots, has indeed made the most of that battle practice - using it to tapping good effect.

The historical quirk here is that King Richard used dance to surreptitiously teach military moves to the people; Xena is secretly using military moves to teach dance to the people (and to terrify some sense into the parents).

I guess I should make some mention of the plot, such as it is, since someone presumably did stay awake for an hour or so writing it.

In essence, Xena wants to make a town embrace dance by mocking the extremism of its no-dance laws.

I won’t even ask why the goddess of poetry’s name keeps being used as the reason for the ban. I am sure she would’ve been very surprised to know that and frankly, Gabrielle, as a bard who would be intimately acquainted with Calliope’s name, should have been more shocked than she was to hear of such a ban in her name.

It might have seemed a bit funnier in the script, and I sure as heck laughed at Autolycus’s interpretation of the hills in the painting, but there’s something about Xena’s manipulating extremism that gave me a slightly uncomfortable feeling throughout this episode. It had to do with the historical fact that this is not something you ever want to foster (mock yes, foster, no) because, unlike in Xena, it’s not easy to control, it can not be predicted where it will go and, for all we knew, the people of this town might have taken a lynch-mob-like intense interest in the ideas of Philapon and started hanging people caught dancing. It happened in Salem. It happened with the Spanish Inquisition. It happened with McCarthyism. Some genies should never ever be let out their bottles. Watching Xena do this, deliberately, had me gobsmacked.

Sure, sure, we all knew it was going to end well, but it all hinged on the townsfolk seeing Philapon’s increasingly extreme views for the ludicrousness they were. (But this didn’t work for Manson, come to think of it.) And even if they thought he was a nutter, fear is a powerful muzzler. What if there were no brave or respected people willing to stand up to the magistrate? Xena would have tapped into this vein of paranoia and fear, achieved nothing but heighten it and then left the town in a far worse condition than she found it.

I am sure this was all a very entertaining spoof to some people, but I just watched it all with undisguised astonishment. The most potentially dangerous thing I have ever witnessed was watching her walking that knife edge, hoping the people would see reason before the intolerance and hate crimes started. And I’m sure any Xena fans who are closer than most to the pain and cruelty extremist views can bring - say blacks or homosexuals to name but two groups - this episode would have had an ever so slightly bitter edge to the humor. Sure they were mocking extremists. And I think we probably know which group in particular (but I won’t name names). But I felt slightly uncomfortable watching that fervour being whipped up, potentially out of control - and that tiny, icky feeling underneath was a most unexpected side effect to my Xena hour.

Seriousness aside, I did wonder long and hard what the big deal was that some son had left the village and made his life elsewhere. This happens all the time, guys. It’s what happens when you grow up. You leave the nest. Get over it.

But they talked about him as though he was dead. He only got a job in another city! There were no city walls or guards keeping them in, and I am sure Athens has visiting priviledges. Frankly, there is nothing to stop the whole family moving to Athens to be with him if they miss him so much. I didn’t understand the big deal about having to keep him in the village and also stay there themselves... until it happened. Yes, Xena uses one of the very first ever inside flushing toilets, that the village has clearly been keeping a secret from the rest of Greece. Hey, you heard the flush. Frankly, I’d be digging my heels into that place too, with a lovely sewerage system like that.

Lastly, there was Tara. I know I mercilessly panned the character in Forgiven as being central to the all-time low point episode of Xena, but I have heard a lot of people saying they had sympathy for her in this one. I agree, she is much softer without the Mike Tyson foibles. But I also believe the role she was playing here could have been played by anyone; it didn’t have to be Tara. I would be very interested to know why they chose to re-create her. Was it because they wanted us to know she turns out all right?

She is still a pouty, whiny little thing who feels ever so sorry for herself (cue those maudlin violins) and at one point they overdid it simply awfully as she cranked out her latest sob story. But at least she wasn’t such a brat. And she didn’t get in between Gabrielle and Xena this time - I think she’s lost interest or finally learnt she wasn’t welcome there (no thanks to Xena).

One funny element of the show is Xena is back to treating Gabrielle as her lapdog - as in, if she misbehaves, just yank her back in line (literally), like one would an excitable little puppy. I rather thought we had moved beyond the Warrior Princess treating her partner of so many years like that, but I laughed my head off seeing it again - it really was like those very early days of Xena. And Renee just played it superbly and to the hilt.

It does give Xena a very weird feel now though - jumping between a questioning search, "how do I feel about you and our life together" relationship, to a playful master-puppy thing. And bear in mind, this is the same bard who led an entire army into battle last week, helped destroy the Roman army and gained a cruel insight into the harsher realities of life. So you tell me how you go from that to being yanked about by Xena on a choke chain. But, again I hasten to add, I laughed my posterior off because Renee makes it so damn funny. And those little dance moves she threw in, what a chuckle. ROC sure has her comic timing down pat. I guess I just sometimes pine for a little more character consistency in the Xenaverse.


As for Xena, can anyone say "chickendance"! What a sight. I am still in shock.

I loved that lilting thumping music. And as for that split - well, I rather thought any woman as aeronautically gifted as the Warrior Princess could handle a little thing like the splits... it actually seemed a little odd to note she has any physical limitation. But, hey, the priceless look on her face, combined with the wind-up call, was almost worth it.

The strangest note for the show, was right at the start. Gabrielle talks about how her writing is a release for her and she wishes Xena had a release, too: "I wish you had something like that, Xena."

And Xena says she does and brandishes her chakram. It was done for the gag effect. But I almost wished Gabrielle had said the line less flippantly. That would have been an interesting thing to explore. Think about it: How does the Warrior Princess unwind, thumpings aside? Wouldn’t you like to know? I would.

Well, in sum, it was a patchy episode, making more of the guest star than the star for the first half, and using Xena as an excuse to do little more than a dance showcase. The plot was threadbare and quite silly; the characterisation of Gabrielle was unusual (albeit funny) to say the least and we now know Xena can’t hack ground-based gymnastics as well as the airbased ones. But we did find out that flushable toilets were around in Xena’s day; her breeches have a zip in them and Gabrielle has been holding out a mighty fine dancing talent. In all, bubble gum for the brain. So disengage that brain and go for the grins and you’ll be right.

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