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+