Archive for category Childhood Revisited
So where were we?
Last we left the Gargoyles clan, the group – Goliath, Lexington, Broadway, Hudson, Brooklyn, and Bronx – found their purpose, dedicating themselves to protecting New York. It is a noble gesture, but it’s certainly easier said then done. Xanatos is still Lex Luthoring around the city, and various figures are scratching at the peripheral: Demona, Coldstone, Bluestone, Macbeth, and the Pack. As season 2 begins, where do we go from here?
Right back to the Pack. “Leader of the Pack” definitely comes off as an season two introductory episode, heavy on the action and light on the significant developments, at least until the final ten minutes (well, the last two minutes; the ten minute reveal isn’t that big of a deal). Gargoyles has a fantastic voice cast, and it’s really awesome to hear the Pack again quipping and sniping at each other while in prison. Of course, this doesn’t last long, as another metallic creation, calling itself “Coyote” clambers up the side of the prison and uses a sonic wave-like attack to disorient the guards to orchestrate a Pack jailbreak. He manages to get all the Pack members out (Wolf, Dingo, Jackal, Hyena), except for Fox, who uncharacteristically stays behind to finish her sentence. The crew rough-and-tumble their way towards their escape, right into a modern version of the Millennium Falcon. (I mean, come on – that HAS to be the artistic influence, right? RIGHT?)
So, this Coyote first has to assert dominance, kicking Wolf’s ass a bit, but then revealing himself as Xanatos underneath his golden mask. This almost gets his ass kicked by Jackal and Hyena (since the events of “Her Brother’s Keeper”), but Xanatos wins their favor quickly by providing weapons and expounding upon their true enemies: the Gargoyles. Those bastards. The common enemy; the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so to speak, and we all know that Xanatos is a master of manipulation.
When the Gargoyles learn about the Pack’s escape, Lexington is furious. The Gargoyles, it has be established, put a lot of stake on revenge, and Lexington’s rage matches Brooklyn’s towards Demona’s, and he wants to pretty much track them down and kill them. And since Brooklyn completely understands that sentiment, he tries to talk Lex out of it – but he’s ain’t having it. Elisa explains that the police is covering the Pack’s original studio, but Lex rushes off (with Brooklyn and Bronx in tow) to keep vigilance anyway. Meanwhile, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway go straight to the (financial) source of the Pack – Xanatos.
Now, here, Gargoyles begins that “dancing around” thing that most cartoons do, and Gargoyles often does to get plot points settled. When Goliath and his team arrive at Xanatos’ castle, they meet Owen (seriously, can we start a “fuck you, Owen” meme?), who gives them the usual BS runaround:”Oh, Xanatos isn’t here, the Pack is heading for the studio, blah blah blah.” Meanwhile, as Lex and team stake out the studio, and Brooklyn tries desperately to talk Lex out of his revenge-centric sensibility, ALL the cops in front of the studio just leave. It’s a pretty big stretch, but you kind of have to grin and bear it, since Lex, Brooklyn, and Bronx fly in right as the faux-Millennium Falcon arrives, armed Pack-members in tow. They and Coyote quickly dispatch and capture the gargoyles, no part in doubt to Lex’s unhinged over-zealousness. When the remaining gargoyles arrive, they receive a public phone call from Owen (FUUUUUUUUUUCK OWEN SO HARD), who monologues that the Pack, along with their friends, are on some kind of oil tanker out in the bay.
I have no plausible idea why, narratively, they’d meet on an oil tanker. It’s kinda silly actually; even as I watched it, I kinda rolled my eyes thinking “Because EXPLOSIONS!” So I hoped that there’d be another reason, and to be fair, they kind of imply that the hull of the tanker is thick enough to hold the gargoyles at bay. But other than the upcoming “big” reveal, explosions and fires were the only answer. Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway arrive and it just results in a straight-forward, all-out brawl between them and the Pack, and it’s a fun, exciting piece of animation, but storyboarded piece-meal. Like, Goliath goes after Coyote for no specific reason other than for him to rip off the golden mask to reveal Xanatos. Broadway rescues the others, and it’s just an all out beat-down, given just enough BOOM once some errant laser blasts some oil tanks. Massive fires burn throughout the ship, creating a very-well-done red shading to the whole scene, giving a visual kick to the reveal that Xanatos was only a life-sized robot. This only really allows the writers and animators to go all out on the Coyote-bot, ripping his head off and blasting a hole in the center of his body. The Pack escape, and when Lex has a clear shot at their escape ship, he rightly opts to save Brooklyn from certain-death instead. There’s a weird, slow reaction to all the gargoyles as the ship erupts and explodes in flames, really to build a wee bit of false tension of whether they’ll escape in time. I mean, OF COURSE they do.
In the end, Lex learned to focus on his priorities, revenge be damned, and the Pack is still out there. But the BIG reveal is Fox, who, due to her cooperation during the breakout, is granted early parole. She heads to the waiting limo, and immediately makes out with the lover-boy inside: Xanatos. He and Fox are a couple, and he and Fox alone know who and what the Pack is and their true purpose. They discuss the Xanatos-bot and what it means for the future, which amounts to “more robots” mostly, and while the reveal was surprising, it doesn’t really mean much narrative wise. Lex learned a lesson, and there are some broad reveals, but there really isn’t much to hang your hat on, thematically. “Leader of the Pack” was generally an action/exploding boat! episode, and it delivered, but I’m still waiting for the HOOK, the thing that propels Gargoyles from good to GREAT.
I think “Metamorphasis” might be it.
Granted, I’m not sure yet, for there’s a heck of a lot of episodes to work through in season two. But “Metamorphosis” hit upon a dramatic note between Elisa and her brother Derek, if that note disappointingly go down the “Xanatos knows everything” hole. Honestly, it isn’t Gargoyles’ fault. There was a time that “glass caged villainy” – a term I’m coining to describe villains and bad guys who know EVERY SINGLE development that could possibly happen – wasn’t overdone and frustratingly cliche. But even binge watching, it’s rather boring to see YET ANOTHER THING Xanatos is completely knowledgeable of and ready for.
We begin in an alley, when a mysterious man offers to help a woman off the streets of poverty, you know, in that weird, creepy way that’s never good. We cut to an airfield, where we catch Elisa and Derek still uneasy with each other as their familial and occupational differences clash. I like this uneasy conflict. It gives everything a nice, shady grey area, and while we know Elisa’s right, it makes sense that Derek would trust Xanatos, since the multimillionaire has been so straight-forward. The scene ends in a hug, but there’s an uncomfortable heft to it left unspoken.
Chaos erupts at a company called Gen-U-Tech when some monster escapes. As the beast roams the streets, Brooklyn and Broadway come across her, who looks kinda like a gargoyle. They swoop down and Brooklyn, being the guy often searching for some kind of group or person to connect to, indirectly crushes on this female gargoyle, and offers to help her as she fights him off in utter fear. While I don’t necessarily swallow the idea of Brooklyn developing feelings so fast for someone he just met, I do understand that he seems to be the most emotional and empathetic of the group. I’ll accept it at this point, but I won’t buy into it at 100%.
The female gargoyle is captured though, and while Broadway and Brooklyn escape, the latter laments for her rescue, the former wisely being more skeptical. I should point out that Broadway doesn’t seem to be the fat, eat-everything gargoyle from season one, which is a wonderful godsend. As they discuss they’re next move, we focus on Xanatos and Derek and newcomer Dr. Sevarius, the latter explaining his true purpose: using genes to create gargoyles from wild cats and bats. Also, a few human test subjects to speed up the process. This infuriates Xanatos, demanding an end to all this. Sevarius refuses, a scuffle breaks out, and Derek is “accidentally” injected with the gargoyle mutagen. I used the quotes there for a reason.
Derek begins to change, and Xanatos forces Sevarius to make a cure. Meanwhile the gargoyles track down that female gargoyle and rip into Gen-U-Tech to save her, and the fight results in one destroyed cure. They snag the female gargoyle but Derek, now a brown cat/bat hybrid, rages at the gargoyles for ruining his last hope of changing back to a human. And we’re entering Shakespearean territory again, where spurned heroes declare unilateral vengeance on singular beings instead of the wild complicated situation and the random fate that befall them. I get where Derek is coming from, but still, he fact that he has no ill-will against Xanatos – you know, the guy who bankrolled this whole thing – is a wee bit troubling. Sevarius is killed in the fight, and Xanatos take hold of the mutated gargoyles back to his castle.
These mutated gargoyles grow accustomed to their new bodies, flying around and ultimately accepting their fate. Good thing, as the gargoyles swoop in and we get a nice, if somewhat bland and short aerial fight. Elisa arrives and talks the brown cat/bat hybrid down (who refers to himself as “Talon” now, because…?), at least for a bit, until he says a certain phrase that triggers a bit of familiarity. “Derek?” Elisa questions, and the beast is too embarrassed to respond, shocking Elisa by accident (because they can shoot electricity, duh!) and wailing in melodramatic fashion before flying off (and the others just follow, because plot). It’s a rich, scenery-chewing moment. The gargoyles don’t follow because Brooklyn, essentially, gives up on them and his passion to find a soulmate. It’s tough to watch, but again, I don’t think it’s particularly well-earned since Brooklyn falls in love with this scared, transformed gal simply on first glance.
Of course, we’re back to BIG REVEAL moment: Sevarius is alive, and Xanatos was aware of all this. There is no cure apparently and we watch him, Owen, and Sevarius survey their creations on camera. Nice to see some mutated creatures out and about. More players in the game, so to speak. They may not be under Xanatos’ control for now, but we all know how manipulative he can be. Again, the glass cage villainy is really starting to wear thin, but it’s still a nifty twist nonetheless. We end on an awkward moment, in more ways than one, where the gargoyles look on Elisa as she cries her heart out on a pile of straw over what happened to Derek. I… I wish this was done differently. It makes Elisa look pathetic instead of sorrowful. A quiet bout of sobbing at her apartment would have worked better, I think. But at least we know she cares.
Gargoyles begins its second season with novel ideas and clever reveals, but it still seems predicated on these reveals instead of the characters pushing up against numerous odds. Sevarius’ introduction is a lot better than last season’s tendency to toss in new characters seemingly out of nowhere. I’m waiting for the characters to reach a truth, something profound that its Shakespearean influences often nailed with ease, something that last season’s finale nailed perfectly. I’m looking forward to the next two episodes, because I know things can get really good. The pieces are in place. Time to start moving them around.
“Leader of the Pack” B-/”Metamorphosis” B
TaleSpin isn’t really a kids show. It’s a show for adults to relive their childhood. How TaleSpin channels the pulpy, ten-cent serials of the 30s to introduce kids to what their parents enjoyed.
A friend of mine bought a broken 78-player. He fixed it up, acquired some records for it, and proceeded to play them as we sat around and sipped scotch and beers. The sound and style recently became popular due to games like Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, and Fallout 3 – games that explore the extreme, uncomfortable sides of eras long gone. In them, these classic songs, played at various intervals, often go against the disturbing chaos around them, a quiet sense of sanity and clarity in a world gone mad and violent. Also, they’re just pretty damn good – my favorite song so far? Tony Pastor’s “Meet Me At No Special Place.”
That’s the hidden specialness of those games – they’re essentially “updated and modern” takes of various adventures that hundreds of thousands of kids would read for ten cents at their local bookstore or magazine stand. Authors tossed out tales of grand adventures, remarkable robots, grandiose superheros, hidden temples, mad scientists, rugged adventurers, cunning shamuses, and so on. These led to comics, then radio shows, then movies, then influenced modern films like Indiana Jones, Sky Captain, The Shadow, and even Star Wars.
TaleSpin, in perhaps the most boldest decision in cartoon history, sought to bring back the tone and style of those serials through the use of talking animals, many of which were from The Jungle Book. If Darkwing Duck was unique in its willingness to go wacky and silly, TaleSpin was its complete opposite, more prone to go serious, in the adventurous, pulpy sense. Unlike Darkwing Duck, characters could theoretically be killed in this show. There are shoot-outs, airplane fights, shady businessmen, and ruthless gangsters, all couched in a comfortable, fun, campy spirit so things don’t get too grim. And in the center of it all are the well-meaning but essentially morally grey characters of Baloo, Rebecca, and Kit.
TaleSpin – (1990)
Director: Larry Latham, Robert Taylor
Starring: Ed Gilbert, Sally Struthers, Jim Cummings
Screenplay(s) by: Jymn Magon, Libby Hinson, Lee Uhley
To prepare for this review, dear readers, I watched the entire 21-episode, 1-season run of Tales of the Gold Monkey, the show TaleSpin is loosely based on. Wildly popular since it debuted after Raiders of the Lost Arc, Tales, a 1985 show with a 1938 setting, style, aesthetic, and sensibility, starts off interesting but slow, pushing into dangerous racially-uncomfortable territory. But Donald Bellisario (creator of Quantum Leap) rightly focuses on the characters and their history/pasts as the show goes along. It isn’t perfect – Sarah White really gets the short end of the stick in terms of development, and Jack, the one-eyed dog, is kinda lame no matter how much you slice the camp pie – but I definitely enjoyed the change and more serious direction towards the end of its run. CBS didn’t agree, desiring more outlandish tales involving wild natives and wacky Nazi’s, and the studio and Bellisario clashed over the show’s direction, inevitably leading to its cancellation despite high ratings. I can’t say I agree with either side: Bellisario’s direction was necessary, but it wasn’t as if the later episodes weren’t silly enough (Hidden bombs on ships! High-stakes poker games! Crazed prophet predicting wild weather!). But I enjoyed it for what it was, and it’s clear where TaleSpin draws inspiration, cribbing names and ideas liberally from its source. TaleSpin also managed that perfect balance between serial tales and rich characterizations, focusing on the lives of three people: Baloo, Rebecca, and Kit.
There aren’t any heroes in TaleSpin. Sure, Baloo, Rebecca, and Kit are the show’s protagonists, but to say they are heroic would be wrong. They’re three people who in some ways are forced to be together in order to get through the times. As the backstory goes, Baloo, ace pilot but otherwise lazy scumbag, loses his air delivery business after failing to actually pay the bank. He is bought out by Rebecca Cunningham, an extremely smart but internally desperate woman, who hires him as his pilot. Kit Cloudkicker comes along as an air pirate who has no aspirations to be an air pirate, and through a truly great and exciting four-part series, “Plunder and Lighting,” ends up as part of the crew.
“Plunder and Lighting” is a fantastic introduction to the series, really working to set up the principal cast and their quirks, weaknesses, and strengths. We meet the mechanical prodigy but moronic Wildcat, the party-loving Louie, the sinister and dangerously brooding Shere Khan, and – I do not exaggerate when I say this – animation’s best character ever, the self-centered but genuinely vicious Don Karnage (I will get into him in bit.) These episodes introduces the variable tone of the show, which can be light and fun, comic zaniness, or perilous and dark. Pulling from its expansive pulp origins, TaleSpin weaves a rich set of tales that make the characters and world of its show come alive.
And TaleSpin feels alive. The various settings within the show – Cape Suzette, Thembria, the cliff guns, and the various exotic locales – are wonderfully, brilliantly designed, vibrant with its own energy and sense of culture. I feel like I could wake up in Cape Suzette and find my way from Hire for Higher to Khan Industries and not get lost. TaleSpin marvels with its detailed locations, willing to show both the upper class, middle class, and lower class of almost every place they visit. We see the luxurious office of Shere Khan, the cluttered, wooden office of Rebecca Cunningham, and the shady, slim alleyways of Cape Suzette. That in itself is bold in its sheer audacity – very few animated shows would put in that kind of detailed, layered work.
Even while the setting is top-notch, the characters are top-notchier. Characters possess clear-cut strength and weaknesses, flaws and quirks, moments of brilliance mixed with moments of sheer stupidity. Even one-off characters that pop in and out have history and purpose. They’re not just animated joke machines. They feel real and relatable. They don’t “change” per se – I wrote over on my tumblr how characterization works differently in animated cartoons – but through their set personalities we discover the core of these characters, their goals, and their constant failures.
There are essentially three types of episodes. There are “pure adventure” episodes, tales that could be pretty much ripped from the serials themselves, re-written to accommodate the show’s setting. They’re the most mysterious, weird, and exciting, with secrets and magic and wild technology and hidden rooms and undiscovered kingdoms. There are “comedy of errors” episodes, in which the characters try to do something ill-advised or poorly planned, and end up in a ridiculous situation that’s more funny and cute than anything else. And there are “character episodes,” episodes that delve into the characters and reach something deep and powerful, exposing something about themselves or their relationships to each other.
“Polly Wants a Treasure” and “For Whom the Bells Klangs” both are examples of the adventure tales. The former has Baloo and a talking parrot constantly arguing as they and Kit work to stay one step ahead of the air pirates searching for a treasure. The two-part “For Whom the Bells Klangs” is a desert-spanning adventure where Louie and Baloo reluctantly spar with a Tim Curry-voiced snake while making goo-goo eyes at an attractive archeologist fox, all over the legend of the Lost City of Tinabula. The adventure tales usually have two characters conflicting over minor shit while being up against unknown or mysterious forces. They’re exciting enough, but only really stand out when the interplay between all treasure-hunting parties are at their best. Comedy of error episodes include, “The Golden Sproket of Friendship,” (a wacky run-around between Baloo/Kit, Thembrians, and a couple of goofy gangsters over a tiny gift to Cape Suzette) “Vowel Play,” (Baloo’s poor spelling skills are used against him by a couple of “clever” gangsters) and “Your Baloo’s in the Mail” (A Rat Race-esque romp where Baloo and Kit have to assist a bunch of slow-ass mailmen to their final destination to win a contest.) And the character episodes, the most dramatically powerful ones, include “Her Chance to Dream,” where a lonely, overworked Rebecca comes dangerously close to leaving her complex life behind for peace among the clouds with a ghost – and almost leaving behind her daughter. “The Old Man and the Sea Duck” gets into Baloo’s psyche when he has to relearn flying (and more importantly, loving to fly and having confidence in flying) after suffering from amnesia. And “Paradise Lost” gives Wildcat his moment, when, in order to protect his new-found dinosaur friends from evil hunters, stops the flow of magic water that gives birth to the pre-historic setting. It sounds silly until you realize how lonely a guy like Wildcat really is; no one can really relate to him and his simple pleasures except animals, so to see him make that sacrifice is heartbreaking (also, they actually show an dinosaur getting shot).
The best episodes are the ones that really can balance all three episode-types with some wonderful animation and top-notch writing. In “From Here to Machinery,” Baloo competes with robot pilots to determine the future of mortal pilots employ. He fails (due to being unable to stay awake) and robots win, sending all pilots out of a job. When the robot pilots refuse to change directives during a lighting storm, though, Baloo flies in to save the day. It’s definitely cool to see the sleek, “World of Tomorrow” design of the various robots, but it’s nice to add the dramatic undercurrent of Baloo’s vulnerability. He is a confident, extremely talented pilot, bordering on egotistical, but when he fails at flying, it’s heartbeaking to see him all depressed. Flying is literally the only thing he knows, and it’s really great that they’re dedicated to this – “Vowel Play” and “Sheepskin Deep” showcase Baloo’s lack of an education, his efforts to reform, and implies that education is just as important as experience (which ran counter to the sheer onslaught of educational cartoons that were out there).
“Citizen Khan” is arguably the best episode of the entire show, blending character, adventure, and erroneous comedy into a nice, meaty plot. A couple of corrupt “lawmen” shoot down the Sea Duck, only to be revealed as miners who took over a Khan Industries mining town that Shere Khan failed to follow up on. Add in some forced indentured servitude, explosive minerals, a bit of mistaken identity, a couple of minors hell-bent on taking out Khan, and whether Khan himself will discover this mini-coup, and you have a really tense, fun, intriguing episode here, filled with great lines, great animation, and a real sense of isolation and locale. From a narrative standpoint, it’s TaleSpin at its best.
From a character standpoint, however, I cannot stress enough how utterly amazing Don Karnage is. He’s something of an revelation, really: a fantastic villain defined deliciously by his pride, his ego, and his incredible discordant use of language. Jim Cummings is at his vocal best here, reportedly inspired by I Love Lucy’s Desi Arnaz for the accent. It’s really difficult to capture the vocal readings in print, but Cummings take on lines like “Now, do not forget to remember!” and “Congratulation! You have not done a terrible job!” are just perfect. Karnage himself makes a great villain because despite being somewhat goofy and surrounded by morons, he himself is rather vicious, conniving, and cunning – he worked both with AND against Shere Khan, he plotted the entire attack on Cape Suzette in “Plunder and Lighting,” and he set up a really clever trap in “A Bad Reflection on You.” He even has a sense of honor – there’s a subtle but telling moment in “Stuck on You” where Khan gains the upper hand in a fight with Baloo, leaving the pilot dangling off the end of the Sea Duck. Before Karnage sends him to his death, Baloo calls him a coward and tells him to get it over with. In an ironic twist, Karnage actually saves him! When Baloo mentions this, Karnage responds, “I know – I don’t know what came over me,” and immediately goes back to attacking the bear. This great piece of nuance might be lost to kids, but Karnage, given the opportunity to finish off Baloo, failed to do so because deep down inside he believes in honor among thieves – or, in this case, killing. Honor and keeping one’s word is the perfect theme to “Stuck on You,” and it plays nicely and subtly throughout the episode.
While I had to take a moment to give Karnage his own paragraph, I can’t sell the rest of the cast short. I spoke about Baloo at length – a great pilot but lazy otherwise – but Kit is a fun character, not too annoying and a perfectly capable sidekick, and Rebecca, voice by Sally Struthers, is a smart, eagle-eyed, tough businesswoman and loving mother. (I love how all three of the main characters often get themselves into trouble.) Her daughter, Molly, may annoy some people but I was okay with her; it helps that she isn’t in too many episodes. The few times she and Wildcat get together are wonderfully sweet, especially since Wildcat has a savant mechanical mind but simple pleasures. His affection for kids and innocent animals is contagious. Then there’s Shere Khan, the imposing, ruthless businessman that quietly rules over the show, and it’s always a treat to see whether he’s being villainous or righteous, or some grey area in between. We have Louie, the bar-owner, playful monkey that often tags along with Baloo on the more epic adventures, and there’s Colonel Spigot and Sergeant Dunder – the former being a sad, less-then-threatening leader of the Thembrian Air Force, the latter being a scapegoat to Spigot’s threats but being a close and secret friend to Baloo.
It’s a great, varied cast, especially if you add to it the wonderful, wacky one-off characters that pop in now and again. The late Phil Hartman voiced a smart aleck pilot named Ace London in “Mach One for the Gipper,” bringing an exciting character dynamic to a typical “switched packages” plotline. I’m personally a huge fan of Doug Benson, a terribly over-zealous little gimp who tries to invade Louie’s bar with Shere Khan’s men. (If Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner admitted on his death bed he based Pete Campbell on some character from “some Disney show,” I’d jump up and scream, “It’s Doug Benson from TaleSpin, and also, I fucking knew it!” But I digress.) These various one-off characters really come in and shake things up, adding the kind of dynamics that give Talespin the pulpy, fun edge it deserves.
TaleSpin isn’t perfect, for sure. “Destiny Rides Again” is a rare total misfire, with bad animation and a severe lack of focus, and the villain is just not compelling at all. Two episodes, “Last Horizons” and “Flying Dupes,” while narratively fine, delve too uncomfortably into ideas of overt warfare and terrorism – which subsequently led to their banning. And physics? Please. In “All’s Whale that Ends Whale,” Baloo manages to carry a giant blue whale on the top of the Sea Duck, which is just mind-blowingly, hilariously outlandish. Then again, TaleSpin earns it, since it’s so entrenched in its pulpy origins, its cartoony sensibilities, its fantastic wold-building, and its distinct, grounded characters. In that respect, TaleSpin truly was one of a kind.
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly fans were clamoring about when they praised Gargoyles as the pinnacle of Disney Afternoon animation. Sure, I like the show – heck, I like it a lot – but I didn’t quite grasp how and why the fanbase rabidly exalted Gargoyles beyond its nostalgic reputation as a “dark” Disney action-cartoon. Yet suddenly, here comes “Her Brother’s Keeper” and “Reawakening” to shut up my misgivings. Two fantastic episodes not only finish up the first season of Gargoyles, but by focusing on relationships, both familial and communal, and questioning the notion of trust, loyalty, and motivation, they also push the show in a new direction. Alliances and “clans” are no longer permanent or meaningful. Anyone can turn on you. In the end, all you have is those you can trust, and even that can be shaky at best.
“Her Brother’s Keeper” is strictly about those family relationships. The primary focus is on Elisa and her brother, Derek, both of whom work for the NYPD, but we also get a look at the relationship between Lex, Brooklyn, and Broadway (who are brothers in their own way) as well as the sibling/criminal relationship between Hyena and Jackal, “former” members of the Pack. The thing about relationships is that, as potentially strong as the bond can be, it’s important to remember that the people within the relationship are individuals. And these individuals are working their damnedest to connect to each other to make the relationship work, while at the same time, struggling to maintain their own sense of identity. Most TV shows don’t deal with the latter half of this statement, but Gargoyles does, making this episode both poignant and significant towards the overall story. It also helps the show overall by adding much needed levity and comic playfulness to overall show, since prior to this episode, the comedy was really regulated to “HAHA BROADWAY IS FAT AND EATING”.
Elisa enlists her brother to tail Xanatos via helicopter; Lex, Broadway, and Brooklyn squabble over a video game; Hyena and Jackal plot to steal a trinket called the Coyote Diamond. Each group have their own mini tête-à-tête, and the Elisa/Derek one is the most significant. There’s a sense that Elisa and Derek haven’t been on the most friendliest of terms, made a bit more tense with Elisa making Derek following a freed man. Contrast that to the sharp but endearing relationship between Hyena and Jackal, who taunt each other but definitely possess a more likeable rapport. They slather over the Coyote Diamond, prepping to steal it for Fox (who is in jail with Wolf, while Dingo, apparently, is in Europe), but Xanatos arrives to buy it. As he prepares to leave, the two Pack members attack him, yank the diamond, and haul tail. When Elisa and Derek confront them on the roof, Jackal nearly bazookas them, but Xanatos knocks the shot off its trajectory. The tail of the copter is hit but Derek lands it safely, while Jackal and Hyena flee.
Here’s where things get interesting. Xanatos offers Derek a job, and much to Elisa’s chagrin, he contemplates it. Not only is Elisa concerned about Xanatos’ real plan behind his offer (knowing who he truly is and what he’s capable of), there’s concern about Derek’s direction in life. The Mazas are police officers through and through, so while the father agrees with Elisa to convince Derek to stay in the force, the mother fully supports Derek’s decision to leave. All the arguments are sound and everyone is correct in their own way – no one is neither right nor wrong. Elisa, however, is so desperate to keep Derek away from Xanatos that she comes very close to admitting the truth of the gargoyles to him, but he doesn’t want to hear it. Derek decided to join Xanatos, muddying up an already complex situation.
As mentioned before, Xanatos never has a real, final plan. He has objectives, or perhaps goals to accomplish along the way, but he’s not aiming for anything in particular. Discovering this “goal” before its too late certainly would take precedent, so Elisa enlists the gargoyles to follow Xanatos and Derek around. Good thing, to, since they’re attacked by Jackal and Hyena in their own flying machine. Jade Studio does the “additional” animation here, and it looks surprisingly lively, with an emphasis on facial expressions, giving things a slightly cartoony edge, which works a lot better than it may sound. The gargoyles make short work of the Pack’s copter, snagging the controls, which is followed by a goofy crashing sequence with the G3 struggling to maintain control of it. I love the mini conflicts between the G3 as well, who argue over how to handle the Pack, what to do with the helicopter, and so on. They parallel Elisa’s family turmoil, albeit in a more comic fashion – Brooklyn’s “You and what Starfleet?” response to Lex is a nice in-joke to the cast being mostly from Star Trek – and Jade has a lot of fun with faces and line readings.
Elisa confronts Fox in prison, who reveals the whole thing – and once again, Xanatos had everything planned (he told Fox to order Jackal and Hyena to steal the Coyote Diamond and attack himself so he could manipulate specifically Derek to get on his side, in a play for Elisa). Apparently he even told Fox to tell Elisa all this info. From her own mouth to Elisa’s ears: “You haven’t got a clue. You’re so far behind him it’s pathetic.” As I mentioned before, the show uses Xanatos in a “master criminal in a glass cage” capacity far too often, but in its defense, this was back in 1994 when the concept wasn’t so worn out. (But, it’s still ridiculous.) The important line is this: “He doesn’t have to hide his plans from you. And there’s not a thing you can do to stop him.” Xanatos must always seem to be in control – but again, he was stopped before, and often, so even Fox has bought into the illusion, like Derek.
The gargoyles track Xanatos and Derek to the former’s retreat, where Jackal and Hyena are waiting. They almost kill the two but – BOOM – helicopter. The G3 manage to fix up the Pack’s own chopper and use it against them, winning the fight and saving their lives. I’m a bit disappointed in how easily they beat the two Pack members – you’d think the could put up more of a fight. Regardless, some big reveals follow suit – mainly that Xanatos indeed told Derek about the gargoyles, of course with some little white lies to make it seem like the whole thing was a just a BIG MISUNDERSTANDING between them. Derek and Elisa fight again, only for Goliath to stop them cold and rant about the importance of family. It’s a bit cheesy, but it makes sense, since Goliath lost his entire clan. To him, it is literally all he has left, which becomes much more important to remember in the next episode, “Reawakening.” So it works here.
The episode ends with snow falling. “Winter is coming.” Elisa gives Derek a recording of the conversation she had with Fox and tells him its up to him to listen to it or not. Back at the clock tower, the gargoyles go to perch as the sun rises. The G3 forgive each other and make amends as they turn to stone. Behind them, Eliza holds her onto her jacket, alone, against the snow-covered backdrop. Her own brother has gone to the darkside, and their relationship is strained. The one human person she could genuinely trust is no longer by her side. She is alone, and the final shot of the episode – her standing on the clock tower, tiny and alone – speaks wonders.
Then comes “Reawakening,” a powerful episode that brings up the question the gargoyles’ purpose. Before, it was about survival and understanding. But now what? After losing so much, what reason is there for the gargoyles to go on? Hudson repeats a phrase that has been part of the clan since the castle days back in 994 AD: “A gargoyle can no more stop protecting the castle than breathing the air.” The G3 even repeats it, mockingly. But it strikes a cord in Goliath, especially when Elisa mentions that her job as a cop is to “protect and serve.” This intrigues him enough to go with Elisa out on patrol. Protection is what the gargoyles do, and he is looking, perhaps, to scratch that instinctual itch. This also explains why the gargoyles fight along side the humans who trivialize them at best and mistreat them at worst – their need to protect outweighs any desire for a positive reputation.
Meanwhile, Demona and Xanatos combine their respective proficiencies in magic and science to bring a deceased gargoyle to life. Coldstone, a light blue-skinned gargoyle who manned the castle when Goliath and Hudson went after the Vikings way back in “Awakenings.” Who Coldstone was in the past matters little, since I could chalk this up to yet another example of Gargoyle’s inability to introduce characters (the flashback tells us nothing about him), but his modern-day debut is both fascinating and horrifying. He awakens a gargoyle-cyborg, a monsterized-monster, fed with more lies by Demona. What I like about this scene (besides Xanatos’ “It’s alive!” cliche, followed by his admittance that he just always wanted to say that) is that it brings up front and center that both Xanatos’ and Demona’s methods to get Goliath have failed. They combine their efforts, re-establishing their tentative allegiance, but as the episode goes along, it becomes clear that they aren’t working for the same cause at all. Like magic and science, these two seemingly opposite forces come together for what seems to be a singular purpose, but in the end, things aren’t going to work out.
Coldstone and Goliath have it out in the middle of the street (and if there was any doubt to the existence of gargoyles to New Yorkers before, it’s all but gone here). Goliath desperately tries to talk Coldstone into seeing the truth, but it proves to be difficult. Still, he does manage to make headway, calming him down slightly before Demona and Xanatos arrive. The dialogue here is fantastic. Demona rants about Goliath’s betrayal, since to her, his actions were just as treacherous as the humans. Goliath, however, appeals to Coldstone’s leftover “humanity,” mentioning the death and sparseness of their species. Demona orders Coldstone to kill Goliath but Xanatos squashes that order. The tension between him and Demona, which was always there, begins to come out in full force. The cracks in their alliance begin to break as Goliath’s forges one with a lost clan member.
Their battle is relocated away from the center of the city to a bridge, where Brooklyn gets into a physical scuffle with Demona (clearly still pissed at her ever since “Temptation”), and a well-placed kick from Lex to the red robot gargoyles reveals the hidden Xanatos inside. Goliath and Coldstone battle elsewhere before tumbling into the icy river, and there’s a harrowing moment where Coldstone seriously contemplates letting Goliath sink and drown. Yet “cooler” heads prevail has he snags the unconscious gargoyle and rockets out of the water. One final confrontation between Goliath/Coldstone and Demona underlines the theme of the episode. Coldstone asks if that’s all there is to their existence – survival. Demona, after what she’s been through, thinks so, but Goliath refuses that train of thought. Protection is the true nature of their existence.
An errant blast from Demona’s laser gun knocks Coldstone into the river and Goliath goes in to save him. When she goes to kill the G3, Xanatos stops her, then escapes with her when Hudson, Bronx, and Elisa arrive. Lord knows they won’t be having tea and crumpets when they land, and next season looks to be a doozy, with Demona and Xanatos’ alliance in shambles and Coldstone missing when Goliath comes up empty handed. These events give Goliath focus and a new sense of purpose – to protect not only his clan, but the entirety of New York City. He has found his calling. New York is officially his place, his home.
“Reawakening” is bookended with a thug running inside a small grocery store. The first time he’s there to rob it, like he has so many times before. The last time, he’s in a panic, returning the stolen money after a threat from the gargoyles themselves. There’s a small moment in the middle where Matt Bluestone speaks to the poor grocery store owner about the robberies, and where Elisa has a talk with Goliath about why such a man would stick around after being robbed so many times. The man is important to the community. He’s needed, for without him, there would be no one else to provide the community its food (and yeah, it’s kind of a BS concept since Manhattan is filled with places to shop, but they make it work). Goliath understands that all to well. The city needs him, and in some way, the he needs the city.
GRADE: “Her Brother’s Keeper” A-/”Reawakening” A
I will be on vacation this weekend, but when I return, I shall continue with season two episode recaps. See you in two weeks!