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!