Archive for category Childhood Revisited
Gargoyles has reached a point where it has enough characters in its arsenal to simply enjoy itself. After these two episodes it has become clear that the show isn’t quite as interested in developing events over a long-term story arc (although that aspect is there) so much as its just enjoying making things complex and exciting, which seem to occur pretty much after “Outfoxed.” I mean, “Protection” only stars Goliath and Broadway, and “The Cage” completely redesigned Derek Maza/Talon with nary a mention. If I could go back and adjust some grades, I might add half a notch, but they’re set in stone like the gargoyles at night. BOOM.
Gargoyles is playing around with story structures and genre styles, and “Protection” takes on the undercover racket. The only thing about these more episodic programs is that there’s less to discuss in terms of character development and overall story arcs. This episode focuses on Elisa as it seems like she’s gone rogue, pushing in on Anthony Dracon’s protection turf. Remember when he was arrested way back in “Deadly Force?” He’s free now, via a couple of bribes and connections, and he’s now extorting businesses for money, and the cops are on his tail.
“Protection” tries to portray Elisa as a cop who actually went bad, which is ridiculous. In fact, the fact that Dracon even entertains the thought makes the notorious villain seem idiotic. To its credit, the episode handles it surprisingly well, with a number of clever visual cues to clue you in. Elisa disappearing for several days; key conversations among cops when criminals are within earshot; Elisa’s continued flirtiness (which I still don’t like – seeing her with jacket down and her shoulders bare is just not right – but I’m not gonna discredit a cop who knows what she’s doing.). I love in particular the scene where Elisa is suspended by the chief right outside of the interrogation room, door wide open so Dracon’s henchman can hear. It’s such an obvious plant! I’ll admit I was a bit miffed at that, because 1) if it was a real suspension, then the lack of protocol was horrendous, or 2) if it was fake, then the bad guy would clearly know it was fake. Yet as we all know, some criminals are dumb fucks, and of course the henchman that overheard all that BS while in the interrogation room called his boss and told him all about it.
And I can buy that. My question is, why not at least let the gargoyles know? Why didn’t Elisa tell them that she would be off the grid for a while because she’d be undercover? (The younger gargoyles would explain to Goliath what that means.) It’s sort of “illegal” for a critic to get fanboy-esque in over-explaining details not within the show itself, but I think that Elisa needed the gargoyles in the dark. The plan was executable without them, but she allowed a bit of room to engage them (and slightly manipulate them) in case they interfered. So when they arrive to mistakenly save her when she’s about to meet with Dracon, she talks them up, which actually ups her cache with the crime boss.
I’m not sure how much my explanation holds up with the true intentions of the writers. There’s a certain amount of leeway you have to swallow, especially when Goliath and Broadway burst into the meeting between Elisa and Dracon, only to accept being accomplishes without being privy to the entire sting operation. In its own way, it’s about trust, a deep trust that exist between Elisa and the gargoyles. Goliath knows that Elisa wouldn’t have truly changed (a stark contrast to the doubts cast upon a “treacherous” Goliath in “Double Jeopardy”), so I can see them joining in on the racket, knowing full well that Elisa would reveal her endgame. Goliath also is committed to protecting Elisa no matter what. (This opens up a quandary: would Goliath follow Elisa if she did go evil? Trick question! She’d never go evil. The question is moot.)
I enjoyed this episode and the underlying sleezeball quality among Dracon, Glasses, and the rest of the crew. In some ways, I kind of wish the show eschewed developing plot threads and settled into a grove of good police work and some badass gargoyle action. The sting goes as well as you’d expect, and now with Dracon and his gang in jail for the second time, I can’t imagine we’d be returning to them. Beyond having a smooth voice, Dracon is in no way a major player in the large scheme of things. He’s a one-and-done criminal, a nice distraction for Elisa, Matt Bluestone, and the gargoyles (well, at least two of them) to practice with.
“The Cage” has a bit more going for it. We revisit Elisa’s brother, Derek, who was mutated way back in “Metamorphosis” into a fake gargoyle. It seems he and the rest of the experiments have not only banded together, but went ahead and re-joined Xanatos’ side. (They are referred to as the Mutates.) Which is pretty sketchy from an outsider perspective, since, no matter how you slice it, it’s basically Xanatos’ fault that Derek became who he is. Yet Derek is absolutely convinced that Goliath and Severus actions are the cause of their current grotesque state (during their rescue of Maggie, they accidentally destroyed the cure). Since he thinks Severus is dead, Derek – excuse me, Talon – is obsessed over Goliath’s involvement, and wants him dead. It looks like Derek has gotten a shave, haircut, and dye job while away. Ballsy on the part of the show to flashback to his original design and not even comment on the transformation, which looks to be from wolf-thing to panther-thing. Perhaps its for the best?
Elisa thinks she saw Talon outside her window. Golitath basically confirms it, and they head over to Xanatos’ castle to at least try and talk to the guy, upon which they are immediately attacked by Talon’s “henchmen,” Fang and Claw. Things only go downhill from there: even though Elisa explicitly tells Talon Severus isn’t dead, he doesn’t believe her. He’s so obsessed with revenge over Goliath that he thinks the real gargoyle is manipulating her. When Maggie, the innocent lady who was transformed in “Metamorphosis,” suggests that maybe Elisa is right, he only swears revenge on him as well. And this episode slightly loses me.
Part of the issue is time. We’ve spent so much of it away from any mention of Elisa’s and Derek’s relationship. So Derek immediately dismissing Elisa’s claim seems forced. I mean, I get it, but that Talon doesn’t even kind of entertain that possibility seems awkward. Even though he and Elisa disagreed so often, what made them work so well together was that, when it came to the bottom line, they understood each other. Watching Talon blindly rage over Goliath (and by proxy Severius) doesn’t work so well. The other issue is that I’m somewhat unclear of Talon’s motivation. Does he want revenge, or does he want a cure? Part of why he’s still hanging around Xanatos is that there’s a promise of one; upon hearing Severus is still alive, he wants him dead. Wouldn’t he want to, at the very least, hear more?
Obsession is one of those things that for the life of me I can’t really get into when it comes to entertainment (and yes, I have issues with Vertigo). It always seems to me that a lot of creators sacrifice motivation for the drama that obsessions can create, despite the fact that obsession is essentially motivation unchecked. So when a mysterious winged figure kidnaps the alive-and-well Sevarius, we’re led to believe that Talon is behind it, or at the very least, someone on his team. Yet Sevarius comment clearly implied that Sevarius’ fate was death, if he fell into the Mutates’ hands in any way. So, as unlikely as it seems, the kidnapper is none other than Goliath.
Even though Derek’s motivational actions aren’t clear, Goliath kidnapping Sevarius and forcing him to make a cure is. He truly cares for Elisa, and he can’t bear to watch his friend go through much pain. His actions are distinctly, um, “gargoylian,” and Elisa tells him that despite meaning well, his actions aren’t helping. It’s a nice moment, reinforcing their friendship and loyalty to each other. Another really small but nice moment occurs between Maggie and Brooklyn. Maggie inadvertently leads a raid onto their clocktower, but they fight them off. Brooklyn, who in particular, walks on all fours in a crawling position, reinforcing a wounded-self-image reflected off Maggie’s perceptions, lets them go to gain a bit of trust in the freaked-out girl. Maggie herself was so obsessed with finding a cure too, yet part of her was willing to listen to outside points of view. The contrast between Derek and Maggie is striking. Derek closed himself off, refusing any other suggestions, while Maggie, who was the most desperate to change, is now entertaining different perspectives, and even starts to embrace her mutated state.
Two other things to note. Even with a limited amount of time, I will give “The Cage” props for developing Fang and Claw in such a tiny amount of time. Claw took a vow of silence since the change, while Fang clearly embraced his transformation, with a few quips and actions that made him my favorite character (outside of Matt Bluestone, of course) by bypassing the whole “angst” aspect. The other thing? I’m not sure how Talon figured out Xanatos was bullshitting him this entire time. At the very end, the episode kinda gets convoluted, especially since everyone’s true motivations are muddled and aren’t portrayed clearly, but the gist is that Xanatos saves Sevarius (he’s too valuable to be killed), and Talon’s clan ostensibly joins Goliath’s clan. There’s a wonderful moment at the end when Elisa introduces her family to the transformed Derek (as well as his transformed buddies) and it works out surprisingly well. For an episode predicated on anger, obsession, and revenge, ending on such a nice, redemptive note does this show wonders.
The final shot of the cage Goliath kept Sevarius in? Not so much.
“Protection” B+/”The Cage” B+
Let’s talk about chicken and waffles.
When, in the intro to Disney’s The Proud Family, Oscar begins to chow down on a plate of chicken and waffles, I cried fowl. It’s impossible to not point out how this show came out along side Kim Possible in 2002. These two shows had different core premises, but ultimately focused on two young teen girls in a family that seemed oppressive but loveable. Kim, of course, had access to everything, enjoying a sense of privilege that Penny Proud did not. It’s wholly tempting to suggest that Disney, which always has its pulse on the attitudes of the nation’s youth, foreshadowed the cultural divide that took shape in early 2000 and created two similar but distinct shows to explicitly exploit the two different groups. Kim Possible enjoyed the top tier of talent, from animation and staff, while The Proud Family got the short stick, the BET-ening of Disney love and attention. So seeing Oscar chowing down on chicken and waffles seemed like Disney gearing its urban demo in the worst, most racially insensitive way, all on the cheap.
But then I watched a number of episodes. And I got to thinking about TV, about the golden age of TV and about the new, emerging interest in TV history and engaging in the past stable of television shows. Renewed interest in television’s past is a wonderful thing, but there’s a dearth on interest in what we’d probably would call black TV shows – shows with predominantly black casts. There’s a couple of things out there about The Jeffersons (which tends to be lumped into the Norman Lear opus, since it was a spin-off of All in the Family), but everything else is ignored or cast aside, like Roc or Living Single. Early goodwill about comedians Martin Lawrence, Steve Harvey and Jamie Foxx ultimately became contempt, and their FOX/UPN shows didn’t help matters. Everyone Loves Chris, The Bernie Mac Show, and My Wife and Kids were critically great, but now its as if those shows never existed. And look what happened to The Cleveland Show. Are you surprised that finding all the episodes of The Proud Family is nigh impossible?
And so I looked at the chicken and waffles. Specifically, I looked at the scene that contains the chicken and waffles. Oscar is about to chow down on that plate of chicken and waffles as the theme song plays. Penny distracts him. As Oscar looks away, Penny gobbles up the chicken and waffles in a goofy, cartoony way. Oscar glares are her daughter. Penny returns a sheepish, “did I do that?” look of affection. It’s a scene that has been done to death millions upon millions of times in cartoons since the silent era. Here, they just happen to use chicken and waffles. And then I realize the show is trying to be “…funny.”
The Proud Family isn’t funny. But it’s not racist. At least, it’s not trying to be. It’s trying to be “…funny,” which is probably best explained as being comical in its own terms: in this case, through a specific, culturally black worldview. If we were to think about the most resonate black shows in the public conscious right now – The Chappelle Show, followed by The Boondocks (Key and Peele is getting there, but not quite there yet) – we could argue their success is couched in a direct engagement with the race issues they satire. They confronted race head on, which both critics and audiences loved; yet, oddly enough, not Dave (and, if the rumors are to be believed, nor Aaron McGruder). These shows had to punch audiences in the face with context, and still people didn’t get it, which caused Dave to leave the show and The Boondocks to remain an Adult Swim oddity.
All of this raises a question: can a black show stand on its own without being some sort of scathing satire? The Jeffersons, perhaps, but that was some thirty years ago, in an era of change and conflict. The Cosby Show? That’s an interesting case. Bill Cosby made it perfectly clear he wanted to make a show depicting a successful black family, which aggressively kept it in a upper-class position and distinctly kept itself at arms length away from ideas and concepts within middle or lower-class black communities. Maybe The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? It’s depth and power has been overshadowed by its meme-ification and post-contempt of Will Smith (yet another black comedian pushed to the edges – although I will agree that a lot of this was spurred on my himself). Regardless, this show has been removed from the critical conversation as well. [Note: recently, it has been slowly propped up more and more, as a number of black people confided in me how this show helped them to confront their blackness in a world surrounded by whiteness, balancing a dangerous side of urban culture - the world where Smith's character comes from - and the upper crust society in which he's thrown into. The interplay and intersections of both worlds, of white and black, of upper and lower class, and the conflicts they create, may truly be something that is worth exploring in this show. That's an issue to explore later.]
Fresh Prince might be the most analogous show to The Proud Family – as the Fresh Prince engages in its sitcom tropes, retooled to work in its more black social aspects, so too does The Proud Family engage (or more accurately, tries to engage) in its animation and cartoon tropes, as taken through a black lens. So it’s probably best to think of The Proud Family as Bebe Kids: The Show. It’s not racist, but it is racial – and the show exhibits a confidence in being both animated and black, despite the quality of the show being extremely lackluster. The Proud Family knows what it wants to do, and that kind of confidence is ambitious and admirable, even though the execution is questionable. Which goes to explain the chicken and waffles scene in a nutshell: a typical scene that has been done over and over again, retooled to fit in a black paradigm, which fails in the long run, but rather bold in its initial attempt.
It took me a while to note the connection between both Bebe’s Kids and The Proud Family – after all, Bruce W. Smith was the head man in charge of them both. Bruce Smith is a capable animator, but I’m not sure I could quite categorize him as a capable director. Bebe’s Kids pulls a lot of strings to stretch out the late Robin Harris’ comedy routine about four mischievous kids from a mysterious, notorious figure named Bebe. The hidden theme about neglect and lack of role models in Harris’ routine seems lost to the film, save for an ending that emphasizes Harris’s transformation instead of the kids’ comprehension of the truth of their situation (yet another black issue misconstrued by cultural and executive forces at large). As a result, Bebe’s Kids is random and wild, stretching out the film with inane love stories and unearned musical cues. In other words, the perfect precursor to The Proud Family.
Here’s the thing: there is a distinct difference between a show knowing what it wants to be, and a show knowing what it wants to be about. The latter point is about the premise; the former is about the approach, tone, and execution. Smith, both in Bebe’s Kids and The Proud Family, know what he wants his works to be about, but struggles mightily to explain what he wants his works to be. Like, do you want to do something that’s really just a slightly-exaggerated vision of realistic characters, somewhat like Recess, Hey Arnold, or Rugrats? Do you want something slightly over-the-top and with an snappy edge, like Powerpuff Girls or Gravity Falls? Or maybe you’re looking for something loose and free enough to really be wacky, emphasizing physicality and meta, self-aware comedy, akin to Phineas and Ferb or the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy? Neither Bebe’s Kids nor The Proud Family knows, so they both take a personal approach, grabbing an assortment of everything and ultimately doing it’s own thing in a “throw it all against the wall and see what sticks” manner. It’s an admirable idea, but it’s also a wildly flawed approach.
It’s hard to fully describe what I mean. The Proud Family just wiggles itself into its own niche and direction, seemingly unfettered by any Disney notes to broaden itself. It wallows in its black trappings with a smile on its face. It embraces its “sassiness,” enjoying its urban style of dialogue and black, witty references, rarely loosening itself up for younger audiences. When a character says, “Look, JJ, the good times are over,” I chuckle, more surprised that the show was allowed to let a joke like that go. Likewise, when an effeminate character named Michael dresses up like Luther Vandross for Halloween, but is quick to mention he’s dressed like “skinny Luther,” I laugh, not only at the joke itself but the gall to spout a gag like that, in 2002 no less. Sometimes, that snappiness can reach some inspired moments, such as letting guest star Kobe Bryant speak fluent Italian, since he grew up there. No show, animated or live-action, would engage in that.
Yet, those kinds of references (among other issues I will get to shortly) make it hard to really advocate for The Proud Family. If my sources are correct, Disney was more or less letting Smith and his team do their own thing – a creator-driven approach – which isn’t necessarily a good idea if the creator is too scatterbrained to focus on one, single direction. Let’s look at the pilot, “Bring it On,” where Penny Proud first meets her new neighbors and oncoming antagonist, Lacienega Boulevardez. Already we have to slow the fuck down. I mean, we have a character here named after a major road in Los Angeles, which seems like the kind of joke that might have been tossed around early in pre-production, but the fact that they kept it in the show is bizarre. But here we are, introducing the new kid as a stuck up, self-centered, manipulative jerk, the perfect conflict for Penny to go up against.
The pilot, in its own, insular way, defines the kind of show we’re watching, which, again, revels in its own comedy, its own worldview and approach, completely indifferent to its audience. There’s a scene where Lacienega sniffs the air in Proud’s kitchen, asking aloud, “What’s that wonderful smell?” To which Penny replies, coldly, “Chitlins.” Okay, we need to slow the fuck down here again. First, how many people (kids) even know what chitlins are? Second, a black middle-upper class family (who frequently mention that they’re Republicans, which opens up so many bizarre observations and commentaries that it’s worthy of its own separate essay) making chitlins for dinner is highly unlikely, so it’s the kind of joke that’s less character-based, and more social-based, because it would be funny if “that smell” was “chitlins,” cause “chitlins” is a funny black word, right? Thirdly, chitlins don’t really have a smell, so Lacienega shouldn’t be smelling anything! See? Like, if that chicken and waffles opening scene was confusing, perhaps the chitlins joke would give it more context?
The show dives into gags like that with nary a concern. It doesn’t bother to ease its audience into its worldview, its approach, its references. Which, to be fair, is something that many critics and audiences want more studios to do – let creators do their own thing. However – would this approach be appreciated and acknowledged by the critical and/or the mainstream media at large? Like, could a black showrunner create a “black show” of its own design, sans explicit satire, and hope to appear in any critic’s or lay person’s top twenty favorite TV shows?
This is why I find The Proud Family more fascinating as an idea than the actual show itself. In watching it, it’s clear that, while the show was given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, it wasn’t under Disney’s Eye of Mordor. The Proud Family wouldn’t have been allowed to reference Marion Barry, the Washington DC mayor arrested for illicit sexual behavior. And it wouldn’t have allowed for the really sloppy, tonally random episode “A Hero For Halloween.” It starts off well enough, with Penny giving up on Halloween because she believes she’s too old for it. Then it gets wildly off-track when a ghost arrives to repossess the Proud house, and somehow Penny gets superpowers and fights him off, which causes Penny to realize she… isn’t too old for Halloween? The episode doesn’t connect these two threads at all:
(Oh, and that animation. Not every episode is as stiff and listless as that – I mean, look at those walk cycles! – but this gets into the budgetary constraints I alluded to earlier. The sound design, in particular, is atrocious. While the clip above sounds terrible due to the Youtube copy, Luis’ laugh has been an auditory sore point in the entire run. It’s clearly a different voice, but it’s so goddamn loud and scratchy and completely unconnected to the final mix, and they don’t actually fix this until late into season three. It’s clear that the show isn’t working with the same resources as Kim Possible.)
This actually happens again in “Camping Trip,” where the kids (consisting of Penny, Dijoney, Zoey, and Lacienega, who is suddenly hanging out with them because…?) complain excessively while on a camping trip. Suddenly, there’s a disaster, which basically turns into an Oscar and Felix (those names though) cartoon, the two falling into wacky shenanigans while searching for help and food – which include being fed by a pterodactyl. By the end of the episode, the kids learn to appreciate nature, but they didn’t earn that appreciation. Or take “Adventures in Babysitting,” where Dijoney tricks Penny into babysitting her siblings (all named after spices, seasonings, and condiments, because black names are funny I guess). The lesson Penny learns is while she can’t trust Dijoney, she can still be her best friend, which is the most absurd, tonally-off kids lesson in the entire world, to the point that it’s almost like a parody or subversion of such lessons.
And yet… there’s a sad truth to it. I have to admit that my mom has “friends” that she hangs out with, yet you couldn’t trust with your life. There’s a certain lower-class social paradigm that The Proud Family gets, whether getting the tone of a Soul Train show right (called Hip-Hop Helicopter) or overplaying a post-Michael-Jordon-like hold on corporate enterprises (Wizard Kelly, voiced by a consistently-underused Aries Spiers). There’s an episode where Sticky joins a gang of singers called The Altos, which is ridiculous but comes from a understandable place – Sticky’s parents are divorcing. The show doesn’t delve deeply into the struggle of young people from complex homes who fall into dangerous crowds, but it understands that, which is something you wouldn’t see in animation, really.
To be fair, the characters at an individual level work, but their interplay rarely do. Sugar Mama’s sassiness is funny although it’s odd that she hates Oscar so much and prefers his brother, Bobby, who is basically the show’s best character, the epitome of 70s funk music. The mother, Trudy, starts off as the put-upon nag, but later on she breaks out and becomes an aggressive, take-no-bullshit female (too bad her voice actress can’t really handle the change all too well). Sticky seems to be some kind of nerd/inventor, but they don’t make him into a social outcast with a whiny voice (but they also don’t commit to his inventor side, which is weird but on par with the show). In fact, The Proud Family’s approach to nerd characters is wildly refreshing. When a rumor implies that Penny is dating a nerd character named Myron, Myron doesn’t shell up or grow uncomfortably obsessive over her. He becomes a miniature pimp, a confident little lady’s man. I want desperately to watch “Who You Callin’ a Sissy,” where Michael, who’s always been portrayed effeminate, tries to be more manly. I’m wildly curious how the show would approach the idea of black men not fitting the tough-guy role. Sadly, this episode is impossible to find.
As of finishing this, only five episodes are accessible on Youtube, four of which are on the official Disney Youtube channel (the least offensive ones, of course). If possible, though, at least try to get your hands on The Proud Family movie, which represents everything great and terrible about this show. It has its references (Bessie Coleman!) and its commitments to loving your family, but it also struggles with its wackier plot involving a peanut-controlling, clone-creating mad scientist named Dr. Marcus Garvey Carver (of course, everyone gets the George Washington Carver reference but miss the Marcus Garvey one). The film, like the show, bounces wildly all over the place, never able to focus on one single theme or narrative thread. (A random dance-off with a few peanut clones exemplifies this – since black people love dance-offs? – but the show makes fun of this, yet doesn’t? So frustrating!)
That’s just it, though: Bruce Smith, through both the movie and the entire show, uses its black tropes (like dance-offs) to subvert, even break, animation cliches; unfortunately, both lacks cohesion and focus to make those broken cliches significant or meaningful in anyway. It fails to be self-aware of its narrative manipulations, taking its subversions in stride, which makes everything seem like a random mess. The Proud Family can’t decide on what it wants to be. It wants to be everything – familial, social, subversive, clever, referential, absurdist, wacky, musical, and so on – but it ends up being none of those things. Sad, too: with a little more focus, this show could have been something of which Disney could truly be proud.
[PS: "Why are the Gross Sisters blue?" The Gross Sisters are kind of a strange group. They're bullies but inconsistent. Sometimes everyone scared of them. Sometimes everyone stands up to them. They're used in whatever fashion needed to fit the narrative. Their blue color, I think, is due to the limitation of the animation and color palette. In the pilot, Sticky mentions the Gross Sisters being "very ashy," which is something most (white kids) wouldn't get. I assume it's the animators way of portraying the "dry flakes on black skin" distinction, making a quirky weird blue color.]
If Gargoyles was created today, the fandom would be in an uproar over “Double Jeopardy,” since this episode pretty much ships Xanatos and Goliath, and while there’s a whole lot of shipping going on, no one would have expected to ship those two. “Double Jeopardy” feels backtracky, even though it probably wasn’t, with an “oh, by the way, THIS HAPPENED in that one episode” flashback, even though we didn’t see it happen. This hurts Gargoyles a bit more than the writers believe it does. I kinda feel like Annie Wilkes from Misery, wanting to scream out about stuff not happening in the previous episode. (“Do you have AMNESIA!?”) It worked in the “City of Stone” saga, but going to this well over and over just makes the show feel false and fake. Again, because the way we view continuity now differs drastically than how it was viewed in the 90s, these kinds of flashbacks would have been the norm, instead of the contemporary method of dropping subtle hints and building off minor moments into bigger events in the future. (There’s another issue – the show is starting to break against its own mythology and rules, not to mention logic, to make events happen. I’ll get into that later.)
The screenshot above isn’t from these two episodes. I included this to show everyone the core animation studios that Disney employed to create the best looking episodes. Whenever these studios are not involved, strap in, because you’re in for a questionable ride. Gargoyles is a complex visual show, which requires the top talent to make all the subtleties and broad moments work. These two episodes did not have these studios, and while “Double Jeopardy” is passable, “Upgrade” is proof positive that some episodes just NEED your best work.
“Double Jeopardy” makes the claim that, after Goliath fought off Xanatos’ robots way back in the pilot, there was one extra hidden away, which activated and managed to get a scratch on Goliath before receiving its requisite beatdown. Owen comes in and swabs some ointment on the scratch, secretly stealing precious gargoyles cells. Never mind the fact that the show is slightly re-doing past events, but didn’t they establish that the stone slumber is perfectly suited to heal such injuries? Therefore, Goliath should have adamantly refused treatment. I get that Goliath was still on Xanatos and Owen’s side at the time, but there’s definitely better ways to handle this. Goliath was hurt many times during the run thus far. A bit of creative editing and observations could have allowed the writers to pick up Goliath’s DNA practically anywhere. In some ways, setting up this episode was more work than necessary.
But, hey, clone Goliath! That’s kind of worth it. And he comes with Maniacal Laugh (TM) and everything! Gargoyles has a little fun here, and by proxy Keith David, with a more energetic and manipulative evil Goliath, even pointing out the ridiculousness of the Maniacal Laugh in general. The DNA taken from Goliath allowed Xanatos and Dr. Severus to grow a fresh Goliath from scratch, who was taught by Xanatos himself. They let out for a test run, and it looks like it started reeking havoc on things, specifically Elisa, Lex, and Broadway. While they try to figure out if that was really Goliath or not, it looks as if Severus just went ahead and betrayed Xanatos, stealing the clone Goliath from him while it was encased in stone. The show tries to make it seem like it could actually be Goliath, but anyone who seen anything sci-fi ever knows what’s up, and beginning with the Owen cotton-swab swab plays that hand too early.
I’m not sure I buy that Elisa, Lex, and Broadway (and the rest of the gargoyles) would have bought into the very suggestion that Goliath might have been behind the earlier shenanigans. I know the beast looked and sounded like Goliath, but 1) they know damn well Goliath wouldn’t do that, and 2) considering EVERYTHING they’ve been up against, it’s odd the clone idea wasn’t floated by earlier. I mean, they figure out pretty quickly that it wasn’t Goliath, but that they even entertained that notion seems odd. I can’t strike that against the show though, since the episode doesn’t harp on it too much, and glosses over the debate quickly. A stupider cartoon would have spent way too much time over the confusion.
While tracking the mysterious fake Goliath, the real Goliath and Elisa happen to catch Xanatos heading towards an oil rig, where he confronts the betraying Severus. Yet Severus thinks that this was all an elaborate plan by Xanatos himself! (Finally, all that Xanatos-gambit nonsense has been used against him!) While those two try and sort things out, Goliath and Elisa indeed find the Goliath clone, all chained up. He calls himself “Thailog,” which is “Goliath” backwards. Kinda. Because all clones and doubles and doppelgangers name themselves the “backwards name” version of their copy. It’s just what you do.
Here, things get a little… creepy. Goliath sees the clone as an abomination and wants to destroy it, but Elisa convinces him that its not Thailog’s fault he was created, so there’s no point in harming him. So far, so good. Then Elisa starts to mention that since Thailog is made from Goliath’s DNA, essentially, Thailog is Goliath’s son. This… is a stretch. Yet, I’d be okay with this if the show meant this in a thematic way. And it kinda does. But suddenly, Goliath actually begins to feel that way. And so does Xanatos! This becomes crystal clear after Thailog escapes and captures all four of them – Goliath, Elisa, Severus, and Xanatos – outing himself as the master mind of this entire plan in order to nab 20 million dollars off Xanatos himself. The dialogue starts to skew strangely towards familial talk, particularly between Thailog, Goliath, and Xanatos, and it’s a bit terrifying, in a nonsensical way. It’s one thing to struggle and see a clone as a living, breathing being and not some meaningless copy. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to connect to it as your spawn.
So, yeah, Thailog has the strength and speed as Goliath, with the massive intelligence of Xanatos, which makes him one arrogant son of a bitch, and I immediately like him. Hell, when Severus asks him how he plans to spend the money – you know, being a giant gargoyle an all – Thailog scoffs. He’ll think of something later. (Nice deflection, writers.) Anyway, Thailog plans to blow up the rig, which seems stupidly wasteful, but the group escapes. Goliath and Thailog fight a bit, the rig erupts in flames, Goliath desperately calls for Thailog among the flames, Thailog goes after the money instead, entire rig explodes. Everyone survives except Thailog, and everyone feels bad, because they all believed Thailog was a misunderstood teenager created from Goliath’s and Xanatos’ sperm, and not just science gone crazy. Suuuuuuure.
Fret not, though, because if he really had Xanatos’ brain, then Thailog had a contingency plan, and most certainly would have escaped the flames. Which means Thailog is out there, alive and well. (Therefore, the blowing up of the rig is not stupidly wasteful.) “I have created a monster,” Xanatos says in the end. Is that guilt I hear in his voice? The last few episodes have been interesting in this regard, seeing more and more of Xanatos open up in his own subdued kind of way. Would be great to see more of this in the future.
We won’t get too much into that in “Upgrade,” though. I try not to point out flaws in the animation all that often, unless there are just terrible visuals or something particularly striking that needs to be mentioned. In that regard, “Upgrade” is fine. But “Upgrade” is a fight/battle-heavy episode, with all six gargoyles going up against all the members of the Pack, sans Fox, who are then given basically superpowers. One-on-one fights you can kinda slip by with a mediocre animation studio. This kind of battle royale? Sorely in need of the best. And Koko Entertainment can’t make it work. They try, and I mean they really do try, but it lacks dynamism and coherence. The fights in this episode are almost 60s Batman TV show levels of craftsmanship.
There isn’t that much to talk about in “Upgrade,” really. The Pack gets their asses kicked by the gargoyles. The robot Xanatos – AKA Coyote – offers the Pack a proposition. One month later, all the Pack members are given literal upgrades – Wolf his given genetic modifications to become a wolf-like creature; Jackal and Hyena are made into cyborgs; only Dingo opts for a regular suit of armor. It’s notable that Dingo is disgusted by how easily the rest of the crew accepts to alter their bodies so easily; it’s obvious he’s gonna leave the group after this upcoming beatdown. It’s a moot point, since even though they do manage to overpower Goliath and Hudson, the remaining team – Broadway, Brooklyn, and Lex – think of a plan to overtake them. Essentially the upgrade was for nothing, as they still got their asses kicked. Also, Coyote is destroyed by a pretty badass Goliath headsqueeze.
There’s two important things to draw from this episode. One, Goliath realizes he has to choose his second-in-command after a near-death experience. This gets Lex, Broadway, and Brooklyn into a competition over fighting crime, and it becomes clear that I really miss this dynamic. The show has frequently used these three to explore the complex and new modern world, in different contexts, and their easy-going nature and willingness to learn and adapt made them quite the highlight of the show. Now that Gargoyles is in the throes of the second season, its primary concern is forward progression (I… I think), so there’s really not a lot they can really do with the young brood. Still, having them compete friendly like, yet still able to kick ass when it comes down to it, gives the show a bit of breathing room separate from the brooding and the incessant planning. In the end, Goliath chooses Brooklyn, and everyone agrees. I personally think it should’ve been Broadway – he was kicking some serious tail towards the end of season one. But a Brooklyn is fine, too.
The second thing is the frame story of the episode, a pseudo-chess match between Fox and Xanatos. There’s a bit to unpack here, even though the frame story itself feels so forced, sloppy and distracting more than anything else. So during the episode, the two lovebirds play what looks like a chess game, with the pieces as gargoyles. This is wildly, insanely obtuse – probably the worse case of “subtlety” I’ve seen in a while. Yet, I don’t think the shots of the two playing chess is really about how Fox and Xanatos are manipulating everyone – I mean, we don’t really need an obvious visual cue for that. These cuts are really about Fox and Xanatos themselves, and how their perfunctory relationship is truly growing into something that one might mistakenly call… love? The two match wits over this fake-game, apparently matching wits over what may be their master plan involving the gargoyles and the Pack, using them as real-world game pieces to test each other. Fox technically wins, but Xanatos realizes he found a true soulmate, at least mentally. Once again, we’re seeing Xanatos soften up a bit, opening up with his new lover in a way not quite seen before.
I’m not sure how I want to rate these episodes. I think they were slightly better than the previous ones, but not necessarily ideal. There were elements I liked, somewhat ironically, somewhat genuinely, and there were some moments that were a bit too silly and contrived for my tastes. I did like the small callback during “Upgrade,” when Xanatos says to Fox that he still has an edge. Between his “admission” of love here, his signs of guilt in “Double Jeopardy,” and his reaction to fearing death in “The Price,” it’s a great moment to reflect on what the man used to be back in season one, and who he is now. It’s a small, but notable change, and in that regard, I’ll give it extra points.
“Double Jeopardy” B+/”Upgrade” B+