I want to say two things. First, I am DEEPLY sorry for the mistaken spellings of several of the characters’ names. I immediately went back and fixed them all. I’m not sure how I made that mistake – I think I subconsciously combined “Elisa” and “Maza” to create “Eliza,” and I couldn’t begin to tell you how I misheard “Dracon” for “Deacon” – but there is ultimately no excuse. I promise to pay extra attention to that in the future. Second, even though my grades and tone of reviews may not reflect it, I want to emphasis that I enjoy Gargoyles quite a bit. It’s an exciting, deep show, and the action is almost always a thrill – even if Wang’s animation was less than stellar in “Enter Macbeth.” While I personally wish Xanatos had a clearer motivation, I’m fairly okay with him as a figure who seems to delight over multiple characters battling over each other. Beyond that though, critiques are critiques, and I will call them out when I see them. And so it goes with “The Edge/Long Way”.
It’s a good thing I brought up my concerns about Xanatos, too, since “The Edge” pretty much goes out of its way to explain him. And while I’m not one hundred percent on the full explanation of the man’s psyche, I think the effort behind it works well enough for me to buy it. “The Edge” asks, “Who is Xanatos, and what is his place in this growing complex situation with the gargoyles? With the Pack, Demona, and Macbeth coming in, kicking ass, and taking names, what role does a spoiled, rich human have in all of this?” The answer may surprise you.
Or maybe it doesn’t. “The Edge” begins with a minor, seemingly innocuous scene where Owen bests Xanatos in a martial arts sparring match. Xanatos mentions that Owen has been practicing, and the scene ends with a phone call. It’s a bit of misdirection, one that presents a calm “set up” scene, a typical day in Xanatos’ life upon his return home from prison. It’s particularly clever since it’s followed by “normal” scenes of the various gargoyles just getting by in their new home in the clock tower, which happens to be on top of a building that is on top of the police station. This… is kind of a stretch, but I’ll allow it.
Here is the most important thing you need to know to understand Xanatos: his outer shell is confidence perfected. Xanatos rarely, if ever, exudes surprise, anger, failure, confusion, or self-doubt. ESPECIALLY self-doubt. His pride and reputation is paramount; the man has turned projecting control into an artform. Control, and the pursuit of control, is not only Xanatos’ MO – it is his reason for existing. He must be in control, and, barring that, everyone has to think he is in control. That is made clear in a minor moment, where Xanatos takes offense at a seemingly innocent question about his donation of the Eye of Oden to the museum. Is he offended? Or is he faking it? Xanatos makes it unclear, but the point is that he wanted the journalist and the crowd to perceive that reaction.
Perception is key; he who controls the public controls the world. It’s most likely why Goliath reacts with pure rage, seeing that smug-as-fuck Xanatos on the screen act holier than thou, and the reporter brown-nosing him on TV, knowing full well what the man has done. Goliath has lost so much – his wife, his clan, his era, and his castle – and the culprit of the latter is just sitting there, on TV, after a half-assed prison sentence, and he’s cracking wise about tax write-offs? The gargoyle STORMS out of the room, and it seems like Goliath is about to unleash his anger on Xanatos once and for all. I kind of wish the scene itself made that clearer, since the episode never explains where Goliath goes in that rage – it’s misdirection without actually misdirecting the audience anywhere – but I certainly understand where his anger is coming from.
Meanwhile, two things happen. After the shooting, Elisa gets a partner, a Matt Bluestone, who waxes publicly about the Illuminati, so, yeah, he’s THAT guy. Second, a winged “thing” breaks into the museum and steals the Eye of Oden. This creates a mess, distorting the already distorted view the public has of the gargoyles (however limited), and triggers a surge of paranoia in the already rant-crazed Bluestone, who shoots at the creature but fails to bring him down. Of course, we know that the creature was a robot – we’ve seen them before, and it looks like they’re back, stronger than ever. Or are they?
Goliath and the clan confronts Xanatos, who used the robots to turn the public against them. His offer is sadly horrific: join him so they can be safe, in return for a few invasive experiments. I’m not sure why Goliath doesn’t just kill him here, consequences be damned, especially since the offer is so outlandish. (I can’t let that one go, so that’s gonna effect the grade. Yeah, don’t tell me “cause it’s Disney,” since the writers could have came up with a number of reasons where Goliath failed to kill him then and there.) But he flies away with his clan, only to get in an intense fight with three robots, including the one who broke into the museum. A vicious fight breaks out, and in the midst of the fight, Goliath says perhaps the most important line in the episode: “Xanatos does not want to destroy us. He wants to dominate us.”
Dominate, in this case, is the ultimate form of control – every aspect of the gargoyles lives is under his exploitative jurisdiction. It’s Xanatos in a nutshell, which is why, instead of killing the clan, his robots wait, expecting the clan to lead them back to their new home. Smartly, the gargoyles lure them to the Statue of Liberty for another pretty epic fight scene, and props to Broadway here as he is the one who actually figures out how to take out the new-and-improved silver robots (food be damned, Broadway knows how to throw down). When the gargoyles surround the remaining red robot, he turns tail and flies away. The gargoyles win this one, but they know they have a much tougher battle ahead of them.
More so than they think: the episodes big reveal is that Xanatos was inside and controlling the red robot the entire time. Owen says, “It would appear that your plan to learn the gargoyles’ hiding place as gone awry, sir.” Xanatos’ reply? “Not really. I have the Eye of Oden back in my private collection and the city owes me a favor for donating it, I successfully tested this prototype battle exoframe, and the most important thing… I was a little worried that I might be getting soft. But I was able to stand up against Goliath, the greatest warrior alive. I’d say I still got the edge.” There’s a lot to crib from this sentiment: 1) the city owes you shit, since you just donated it; 2) it wasn’t a successful test; 3) you really didn’t stand up to Goliath. But Xanatos truly, truly believes that there was a ton of great things from this mission, despite Owen’s direct concern being a complete failure, and yet here’s Xanatos, still confident and cool as ever. Is he right to draw such distinct positivity from the results of the fight? Or is he projecting fake positivity to his assistant in order to maintain his facade of control? Or worse: is he telling himself all this in order to justify and define his sense of control to himself? No matter what, Xanatos always must believe he has “the edge,” which in some ways makes him the most dangerous player in this game.
(Bluestone also makes a plea to find out definitively who these creatures are. This doesn’t bode well.)
Not to say Demona doesn’t have her own prowess in this game. “Long Way to Morning” focuses on Hudson, who has quietly held his own thus far but hasn’t been given a proper introduction. While I kinda wish Demona had more going for her in this episode than “shoot and kill all the things,” I am aware we will be getting more of her history in the coming episodes. Still, it’s disappointing, especially after the events of “Temptation,” that she’s just seems to be on a blind, murderous rampage. But this isn’t about her today. It’s about redefining Hudson.
Hudson is a brave warrior, but in the gargoyles’ timeline, he’s old. The question remains, then, of his role not only within the clan but within the context of the show. What drives him? The answer seems to be that grey area between loyalty and guilt. “Long Way” begins uncomfortably random, when Demona just SHOWS up in Elisa’s apartment and shoots the police officer with a poison dart, demanding that Goliath confront her in exchange for the cure, before flying away. In a stroke of luck, the dart hit Elisa’s badge, saving her life. Oh, good. I’m not sure why Gargoyles struggles with their openings and set ups. This goes doubly so when, in a flashback to 984 AD, prior to the events in “Awakenings,” we see a young Katherine is laid to bed by her father, who frightens her to sleep with horror stories about gargoyles coming to get her… only to turn and greet a younger Hudson with respect and admiration. What… is this? Like, I get that the scene is supposed to explain Katherine’s earlier distrust of the gargoyles, but why in the hell would the king espouse the gargoyles’ assistance while also espousing their aversion on his own people? What kind of mix message is this? Hudson even says, “You shouldn’t frighten the girl with threats of gargoyles, my liege. We would never harm a child.” His reply? “Oh, you are too sensitive.” WHAT? Hey, Prince Malcolm, you’re a sociopath. I don’t blame this Archmage dude for trying to kill you.
“Long Way” uses this flashback – the Archmage’s attack on the prince and Hudson’s guilt about his failure to protect him – as a frame story to Goliath and Hudson’s pursuit of Demona and her plan, which, of course was a trap. The episode becomes a cat-and-mouse chase through the city, as Hudson struggles to carry an injured Goliath as Demona chases them with one of Xanatos’ laser blasters. It’s a frequently tense and exciting series of sequences, although this wasn’t animated with Disney’s usual group of studios. The good thing is that it wasn’t Wang, either, so while it isn’t animated in top-notch form, it’s still fairly decent-looking.
One of the things that I have neglecting is emphasizing the Shakespearean aspects of the show. I’m not as well-versed in Shakespeare’s works to get all the references and allegories (in case you’re curious, I’ve read Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Julius Caeser). But I completely understand the approach, with its grand gestures and poetic dialogue and “epic” aesthetics, in which I use the word “epic” in its classical, literary definition. I can’t say it justifies some of the show’s flaws – awkward writing is awkward writing is awkward writing – but it does help to keep that in mind, especially when thinking about certain characters behaviors and actions. During the flashback scenes, where Hudson (who is the leader of the clan and this is awesome) recruits Demona and Goliath to go after the Archmage for the Grimorum to cure the prince, Demona speaks to her husband about usurping Hudson, who is indeed getting older and slower. Yep, that pure Lady Macbethian antics right there, always working an angle. Of course, in the present, the angle is pretty much “kill them before sunrise”.
Hudson holds onto his own though, lugging Goliath through old stages and sewers and graveyards, staying by his side despite Goliath’s protests for his former leader to leave him be. During which, flashbacks regal how the gargoyles went after the Archmage and retrieved the Grimorum, only for Hudson to be scarred by the fight in his eye. Hudson’s guilt is not only due to a deep belief in his failure to protect Prince Malcolm, it was a the slow realization that he, as a leader, could not cut it. He gave up his position to make Goliath the leader, but deep down inside Hudson must have questioned whether he was even relevant any more. So his stubborn loyalty was both out of necessity to save Goliath’s life, but also to prove to himself he was still needed. In awesome fashion, Hudson battles Demona just long enough to day break; by the subsequent nightfall, the stone healing restores Goliath and the two beat back Demona. Not only are they alive, they have an (admittedly small) advantage: Demona thinks Elisa’s dead. In this world, any advantage is promising.
“The Edge” and “Long Way to Morning” works to really set up answers to questions and work to get into the heads of both Xanatos and Hudson, both necessary to keep the show and its character motivated and invested. While not necessarily perfect episodes, they both assuage my fears and concerns of these characters, Xanatos in particular, while maintain the high-level of badass fighting that Gargoyles continues to excel at. The show is moving in the right direction, and I’m excited to see more.
“The Edge” B/”Long Way to Morning” B+