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Gargoyles “Ill Met by Moonlight/Future Tense”

Gargoyles_Ill_Met_by_Moonlight_screenshot

And there you have it.

I’m somewhat reminded of the first season of Marvel’s Agent of SHIELD, which also hard an extremely rocky start until things heated up with the massive [REDACTED] reveal. That immediately came to mind when I watched “Ill Met by Moonlight” and “Future Tense.” Any minor quibbles I had with these two episodes are less quibbles and more fan pondering and cliche acknowledging, but these episodes are so amazingly strong, both visually and narrative, that my criticisms are pretty much moot. It’s clear we’re starting to enter some kind of endgame, as disparaging threads are starting to come together. Kind of.

Gargoyles 2×42 – Ill Met By Moonlight

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We finally get to meet good ol’ OB! That is, Oberon, the father of, like, a million magical children. A blue-skinned Final Fantasy villain, Oberon’s story is told less as a Shakespearean homage and more like a Roman myth, with gods speaking in in lofty manners while mortals look on helplessly, and Titania and the Weird Sisters acting somewhat like a chorus, guiding the narrative beats in an observational manner. But the gist of it is simple: Oberon’s back, and he’s come claim what’s his. Avalon.

The World Tour crew discover this when they return, by Avalon’s graces, to Avalon, and while the gargoyles try to make the most of it, Elisa is obviously homesick. No chance at a respite, though, as Oberon arrives and almost damn well near kills everyone to get his home back. As the mortal creatures sink into the magic mud, Oberon and Tatiana have a little chat. The chat is interesting. We learn that Oberon forced Titania (and their children) to live among mortals for a thousand years to learn humility and garner an appreciation for them, and now Titania claims that Oberon should also be humble and at the very least give the humans and gargoyles a fighting chance. He agrees (less because he cares about his humility and more because he’ll get to be Titania’s husband again), gives a portion of his powers to Tatiana, and the game is afoot.

What stood out for me was the layers of contradictions in that conversation. Oberon sent his family out in the world to teach them a lesson, a lesson he gives little thought to when he damn near kills everyone on Avalon. Also, interesting that a thousand years prior, he lived among mortals himself! I get it, though. He sees these mortals as invaders on his home, which in and of itself a disrespectful act, and never really considers his own thousand years absence as a problem. That’s how gods are, though: arrogant and hypocritical, like so many Greek/Roman/Shakespearean tales, like so many of the tales told within Gargoyles’ lore. Add to that the fact that time is meaningless to such beings, and it makes sense that Oberon would see his progeny needing to learn about mortals but utterly dismissing them himself. We see this kind of behavior with politicians, businessmen, and leaders all time time. Multiply that by a billion for gods, and you get OB. Oh, I like calling Oberon “OB.”

So the majority of this episode is basically a Gargoyles version of The Most Dangerous Game, yet this time the gargoyles chosen – Goliath, Angela, and Gabriel – really have no chance against Oberon, even in a weakened state. It’s mostly a chase sequence – but what a chase! There’s action through forests, across mountains, and even inside an active volcano (even though, at no point, was deciding to fly through this a good idea), and the A-Team of animation is here, making the dynamics of the visuals look easy in their greatness. In particular, the layouts of the gargoyles flying through the tunnels, shot in different, striking angles, over the molten lava, are stunning. The A-Team will be there for the next episode as well, which I’ll talk about very soon.

Goliath, Gabriel, and Angela put up a heck of a fight, but they can’t even put in a dent on the guy. Oberon wins easily, and when he arrives with his prey back home, he discovers the remaining mortals have been up to no good. Specifically, they melted some magic iron and made a bell that, when rung, rendered Oberon weak and almost dying. (The iron came from Magus which he used to hold the Weird Sisters in custody. I’m not sure why iron is weak against Oberon, unless there is some classic tale I’m unaware of. It seems arbitrary.) They almost kill Oberon, but think better of it – Tom says, “I’ll kill no one on his knees,” which is a great line read from Tom’s voice actor Gerrit Graham. This act of mercy wins over Oberon, allowing the mortals to stay and granting Goliath some “super guardian” award (which goes, again, to Oberon’s constant contradictions).

The question remains: why did Titania assist the mortals? After all, it was her riddle within that earlier chat with Oberon that clued them in on the bell. Titania mentions that they have helped her in the past; the event she’s referring to isn’t clear, but we all know there are plenty of them. I think Titania has something else up her sleeve though, what with that chat o’ manipulation and her assistance. She takes Oberon as her husband and they go off together, calling forth their children to “The Gathering.” We’re an episode away from that, which looks extremely promising now the stakes are so high. “Ill Met by Moonlight” had some tiny issues – the volcano, the contradictions, the question of what Oberon’s been up to all this time – but with great action scenes and great dialogue (particularly with the voice work of Oberon’s Terrence Mann and Titania’s Kate Mulgrew), you can’t even fault them.

Also in the chat, Oberon and Titania mention Puck by name, implying that he was a particularly problematic child. This conversation prior to “Future Tense” is no coincidence.

Gargoyles 2×43 – Future Tense

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I feel foolish. I should’ve know something was off with “Future Tense.” Seeing Xanatos as a pure mustache-twirling villain, who, upon finally receiving immortality through “vague” means, turns New York into a dystopia in which he assumes full control, while culling more power to take over the world in his name, is completely against everything Xanatos is, as a character. For one thing, Xanatos has enough wealth and power; global conquest would seem silly. I suppose it follows that, after achieving immortality, that such a thing would be the next step, but keen viewers would know that’s bullshit; most likely he’d be invested in teleportation, space travel (especially after “Sentinel”), or looking into alternate universes (similar to the Avalon stuff). I finished watching Project GeeKeR, and even that show acknowledged the ridiculousness of such an idea, so of course Gargoyles couldn’t really entertain it.

Still, even with a silly idea, Gargoyles brings it. It’s a dark, deadly episode – nightmarish stuff, with Xanatos assuming all the power and sending robot/clone gargoyles to do his bidding. Goliath and his team arrive in the ruined Manhattan, some forty years into the future, where Angela and Elisa are taken by the robots while Goliath and Bronx are saved by Claw (!) and… wait for it… Matt Bluestone! Looks like the rebel alliance took all the Illuminati fight out of him. He’s still awesome though.

He takes Goliath to their home base, where he runs into Brooklyn (who decks him since he was gone for so long), Broadway (who lost his eyes, in the show’s most cruel moment, making the events in “Lighthouse in the Sea of Time” tragically ironic), and Lexington (who has become a dead-inside cyborg). It’s powerful stuff, just to see, and the A-Team animation crew make every reveal and every line count. We learn that Hudson began the rebellion and lost his life for it, that several of the mutates and human allies have died in the process, and… Brooklyn and Demona are lovers.

Demona, even with her brief lines, have perspective now, and while it’s jarring to see her speak with clarity (on the goal at hand, on her commitment to protecting her daughter), it’s amazing, amazing work. Gargoyles smartly ignores any sense of jealousy between Goliath and Brooklyn, because that would be fucking stupid. Instead the show is focused on the obviously doomed execution of an assault on Xanatos’ pyramid complex, and it is a doozy. They watch Xanatos kill his own son in some kind of cyberspace battle, then Bluestone, Bronx, and Claw are killed in the first wave on the complex, then we see Lex taken, Broadway killed (his “see the sun” speech is cliched but goddamn does Bill Fagerbakke sell it), then, in cyberspace, Demona and Brooklyn killed as well. It’s insane stuff, but every single moment is powerful and horrific and wonderful.

The episode plays very close to the chest though, because there are definitely some questionable moments. Besides Xanatos being out-of-character, there’s the “dying in cyberspace = dying in real life” concept that’s not explained, and the various characters asking for Goliath to give them the Phoenix Gate (how do some of them even know about it, and why wouldn’t they ask for Goliath to use it himself?) Goliath wisely avoids it, knowing full well that it’s pointless, since history wills itself into the future it eventually becomes. He fights Xanatos valiantly though, and even though he beats him, saves Goliath, and escapes with Elisa, it’s too late – we see that Lexington was the true mastermind of this entire global, which is both a mindfuck and a “wait, what?” moment. Goliath straight up kills him, though, but the global takeover program has begun its work.

In a weakened state, Elisa mentions that he HAS to use the Phoenix Gate now, and Goliath obliges. Placing it on the ground, he tells Elisa to grab it. But she can’t? Goliath realizes that, finally, this is some crap, and in a flash, the entire scenario disappears, only to reveal that all of this was conceived by Puck! The trouble-maker that Oberon and Titania mentioned in “Ill Met by Moonlight” put this all together just so he could get Goliath to give him the Phoenix Gate, per Oberon’s rules, basically so he could fuck around some more and not go to the Gathering. My only quibble here is that Goliath wasn’t ENRAGED by the deceit, but I can’t fault that too much. Most likely he was relieved it was all a dream, but worried that it may be a sign of things to come.

Goliath sends the Gate out into the timerift, so no one can find it, and regales his nightmare to his tour mates. I suppose we’ll learn of Puck’s fate in “The Gathering,” but for now we have a bit of a rest before then. Everything being a dream was probably the only way Disney let this episode go, but it’s also important to remember that Disney had a lot riding on the show, as the studio was apparently geared to build an entire franchise off it, which gave Gargoyles quite a bit of latitude. That latitude allowed “Future Tense” to work so well, which has me excited for “The Gathering” in ways you can’t imagine.

“Ill Met by Moonlight” A-/”Future Tense” A

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Tumblr Tuesday – 08/12/14

 

I actually managed to post this week’s Tumblr Tuesday on the correct day! Just a week late.

The Brain, from Pinky and the Brain, has finally had it with Pinky’s bullshit.

How some cartoons changed visually through out the years.

Disney’s House of Mouse gets kinky with its chipmunks (and proves Disney isn’t always against being risque).

And the best summary of Orange is the New Black, in 4 gifs.

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Gargoyles “Bushido/Cloud Fathers”

Gargoyles Bushido screenshot

Gargoyles seems to be back into the swing of things now with these two episodes. Although, at this point, I’m starting to see why fans tend to be lukewarm towards the World Tour arc. Part of the problem is that, to me, the World Tour was intended as a breather, as an excuse for the writers to take a step back from their massive mythology and world-building, so they can dole out bits and pieces of that mythology and world-building in manageable chunks. When they do that, as in “Cloud Fathers,” the result is amazing, creating a product that is both fun and rich with deep moments. When they don’t, as in “Bushido,” it results in something merely passable at best and throwaway at worst (like “The Sentinel”). The idea of the World Tour is great; whether the writers are up to it is the real question.

Gargoyles 2×40 – Bushido

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“Bushido” isn’t the strongest episode, but it’s passable enough, part of the Gargoyles run of episodes geared to be more entertaining than involving. The gang arrives in a hidden village in Japan, and they discover that the gargoyle clan here works in harmony with the humans instead of hiding. This surprises the group, but the Japanese people get away with this because they believe in the concept of Bushido. Bushido is one of those broad ideologies, like “Republicanism,” that’s less tied to specific rules and philosophies, and more to an idea that everyone inherently engages in. The wikipedia link breaks it down, but for Gargoyles, it’s used as a broad “honor” crutch, in the same way most Western takes on Asian culture do.

The episode isn’t nearly as lazy as most of those Western takes though, but there is a strangeness to it that makes it difficult to parse out. One of the Japanese gargoyles, Yama, is in league with the sketchy businessman, Taro, who sends a bunch of ninjas out to distract the town during the day so they can remove the stone gargoyles and place them inside a giant city facade so Taro can show them off, ultimately as amusement park oddities for profit, a la Jurassic Park. It’s certainly isn’t the most involved or most complex of plots, but it’s serviceable, with a few question marks up in the air.

Primarily, it’s never clear why exactly Yama is willing to betray both his clan and the humans. I get the sense that Taro was telling him a bunch of lies so Yama could try to convince the other gargoyles that living isolation was not the way, that opening up their species to the world was truly the way of Bushido (Yama seems delighted at the idea that children will be coming to see them, another Taro lie). This brings up an interesting question – how far do you extend an ideal as beautiful and honorable as Bushido? Is it a concept best kept to a peaceful village, content in their lives, away from fear and marginalization? Or should it be spread among everyone in the world? That is, should those who believe in Bushido deny their self-imposed exile and spread their idea to the world, to anyone who listens?

That, at least, is what I think Yama, and this episode, is aiming for. Once again, the idea of purpose (this time, of Bushido) is the theme here, but the core nature of Yama’s belief is left unclear. I love subtlety as much as anyone else, but that doesn’t equate to ambiguity, so without a scene outlining how Yama and Taro differ, Yama’s realization that he made a mistake comes from nowhere but from the whims of the writer. It’s a disappointing, random moment, but the show plays it well, I think. Yama agrees with Taro, at the very least, to present an idea of showcasing Bushido and their existence to the world. I think he sees this as a positive. But his agreement was based on the idea that, if the gargoyles didn’t agree, they could go home. Taro presents that option at least, even though we know he’d never let any gargoyles out, for his own selfish ends.

The episode doesn’t really get into that though. Yama’s motivation is muddled, and he only seems upset when he realizes Taro isn’t the partner he thought he was. That is, he never sees the concept that “kidnapping gargoyles against their will” is in and of itself wrong, only that it doesn’t work out in his favor. All of that makes his final fight with Yama seems unearned, particularly since he kept insisting that this was his fight alone. Still, “Bushido” is as solid of an episode as can be, with some nifty Elisa moments (I don’t know what’s better, her take down of the world’s shittiest ninjas or directing a car straight into a building), and no one does anything particularly questionable. Of course, all the gargoyles leave the amusement park before the press arrives, making Taro look foolish.  Yama apparently goes on a redemption quest afterwards, and I don’t know what happens to Kai, the defacto leader of the Japanese clan. The animation is fairly good, too, so even if the motivation of many of the characters are confusing, the episode commits to its premise, which, by rule of Bushido, is fine by me.

Gargoyles 2×41 – Cloud Fathers

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With “Cloud Fathers,” however, we’re working with much stronger material, worthy of the Gargoyles mythology and world-building. This episode basically took the mediocre “Heritage” and made it into something substantial, something that involves Elisa’s family and Xanatos, who has been M.I.A. for so long. I’ve had my issues with Xanatos but it is seriously nice to have him back, even if his true endgame is unclear (as always) and even if he’s engaging in cliched villainy (his words!).

Elisa, Goliath, Angela, and Bronx arrive in Flagstaff, Arizona, where they run into Eliza’s father and sister, Peter and Beth. At this point, the Hispanic angle to Eliza’s heritage is all but gone; as it stands, the character is now part Nigerian and part Native American. The episode doesn’t specifically say what tribe Peter is from, but a bit of referential research seems to imply he’s of Hopi decent. And it’s a heritage that Peter wants to have no part of, as at the beginning, we see him leaving his father for New York after a verbal spat.

This starts off like a retread of “Heritage,” but I think this works better because it’s given a personal stake by tying it to Elisa, and by couching it in in Peter-redemption story. It’s not just about a guy who has to connect to his heritage to save the world, part of the not-at-all overdone story threads where the big city ruins people’s closeness to nature and culture. It’s about a person who his embracing his past and culture in order to understand his family and himself. “Heritage” punishes Nick for leaving his home and pursuing Western ideas. “Cloud Fathers” doesn’t judge Peter, but simply tells his story through his return to Arizona and what it means to him.

Xanatos is up to something, which is why Beth called Peter to Arizona in the first place. There’s some craziness happening at one of the mastermind’s construction sites, and a familiar-looking-but-mysterious security guard lets them in. Xanatos arrests them for trespassing, but it was really a means of getting them off the property so they could really investigate the mysterious guard while continuing with their plans interrupted.

After posting bail, Beth and Peter run into Elisa. They exchange information – Eliza fills them in on her travels and the gargoyles (beyond the info that her mother told them), Peter tells her about Xanatos’ actions. The gargoyles go to investigate but they’re captured by the new-and-improved Coyote (4.0). Tied to a sacred sand carving, Xanatos prepares to drop acid on them, hence his “cliched villainy” line. The episode cleverly undercuts this though. Xanatos is using the trapped heroes ploy as an excuse to get the “real” Coyote – the mythical being who has been masquerading as the security guard – out from hiding. Basically, Xanatos was pretending to destroy the carving tribute to him so Coyote would be lured out. It wasn’t working, though, so he has to put in a real death trap to lure him out (if it didn’t work, well… at least the gargoyles would be dead.)

Coyote is a bit of a cipher. All of Oberon’s children are, but even here, Coyote’s actions and purpose is unclear. Coyote, traditionally, is a trickster, but he’s manipulating people here to get people involved to save his carving, particularly Peter (Coyote even takes on a younger-Peter form). Trickery is one thing, since its usually self-serving, but here Coyote is being helpful, changing the odds in the Xanatos/gargoyles fight in the heroes’ favor – which is a thing he can do, as well. Coyote’s abilities to change the game in vague but distinct ways is a bit frustrating, but to its credit, the episode makes it work very well, particularly in getting the stubborn Peter to embrace the weirdness of it all and embrace his past.

It’s also a bit frustrating to see Peter deny everything that’s happening, even with giant walking winged beasts right next to him, but I think it’s less to do with his cynicism and more with his unwillingness to face his past and his father. The episode, again, cleverly implies one thing, what with Peter’s constant refusals to see his father, only to lead to another at the end, where Peter admits his faults and his lover for him, while over his grave. Michael Horse sells the powerful, vulnerable moment, which gives the episode overall a quiet, understated power.

Xanatos’ ultimate plan is to capture Coyote and “convince” him to give him immortality. I like that Xanatos is still harping on this. It fits his character so well, the confident, cool millionaire villain scared of death, always looking for the edge, what with robots and time travel and magic, and now, control over life. I also like the idea of melting down the Cauldron of Life and using its metal to rebuild Coyote 4.0. It’s a brilliant piece of information, which allows the robot to hold Coyote, but it’s not necessary a “stronger” metal, since Goliath easily can jam a metal girder into him. He’s also taken out completely with some sweet Coyote trickery, although it was so obvious what he was up to that I’m surprised Coyote 4.0 fell for it (although he did let Coyote go, which is also a odd bit of stupidity from a Xanatos creation, which even surprised Xanatos).

The episode ends not only with the aforementioned grave scene, but a bit of more myth building with Coyote mentioning that he and Peter are connected, based on the Coyote Dance that Peter did when he was young. I’m not sure how to take this. Does this mean Peter is part magic? Is that in any way related to Elisa? Why is the connection so strong with Peter, and not any other of the many Coyote Dancers that most likely took up that role? The second season is slowly beginning to end, so I’m hoping the show explores this more closely. If not, then this development comes across as forced and unnecessary. Still, “Cloud Fathers” work so well as a Peter showcase that none of the episode’s flaws can hold it back (not so much for Beth, who unfortunately did nothing but spout exposition).

“Bushido” B/”Cloud Fathers” A-

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