Fox: “But what about love?”
Xanatos: “I think we love each other. As much as two people such as ourselves are capable of that emotion.”
Gargoyles, I think, is turning the corner. After developing so many ideas and setting so many tables, the show finally begins to push into a forward momentum. Things start to happen. Characters slowly open up, pasts are reveals, stories start to chug along.”Eye of the Beholder” was a much stronger episode than “Vows,” but I think “Vows” was hindered by a time travel conceit that didn’t do the already-complex show any favors (nor did the sub-par animation from Sae Rom). Overall, especially after last week’s promising two episodes, it looks like Gargoyles is becoming the show everyone keeps swearing by.
Remember “The Edge?” I had wrote about how Xanatos spends a lot of time and effort on maintaining control, or more accurately, the illusion of control, to those around him and, in particular, to himself. “Eye of the Beholder” slowly and carefully breaks down Xanatos’ image of self-perseverance, finally opening up the man and giving the character a much needed sense of vulnerability and, dare I say it, helplessness. It’s also the show’s signature Halloween episode, which was quite honestly an awesome coincidence.
Xanatos decides to up and marry Fox. His reasons include compatibility and long-term goal similarities. But when it comes to “love,” well… his wonderfully robotic response is both funny and revealing. To Xanatos, love is simply a function, a function that connects two people along with other simplistic intangibles that can lead to further perfunctory successes. Or, that is what he wants to believe. Fox sees the statement as Xanatos opening up, and in some ways, that’s the truth. She accepts the wedding proposal, and as a gift to his bride to be, Xanatos offers her the Eye of Odin to wear.
Elisa, a month later, tracks a commotion at a nearby grocery, only to find a hairy beast raiding the food stocks. She’s attacked by ostensibly a werewolf – I say “ostensibly” because it’s not a technically a werewolf. The rules are somewhat unclear: all we know is that this beast is drawn out of Fox via the Eye of Odin’s special powers. Xanatos and Owen watch the news footage of the beast’s rampage, only to see Fox returning home after a long night out. Xanatos can put two and two together, and kudos to the show to allow the audience to figure it out without hemming and hawing, or Swat Kats levels of exposition.
Still, I was somewhat surprised, only because of the female-human-to-male-werewolf transformation. Although, in the realm of magic, why should it matter? The answer is that it shouldn’t, and Gargoyles continues its subtle but pointed subversion of gender dynamics. Sexual dynamics is another thing, as this episode continues to play at a Goliath/Elisa romance, which just cheapens their relationship as lost souls in a city of madness, especially after a poignant scene of Elisa growing upset, relating Fox’s transformation to her brother’s. THAT is how the show should handle Elisa’s grief over Derek’s change – moments of panic and pain, not melodramatic haystack weeping.
The real thrust of the episode is the breaking down of the Xanatos Gambit, and, more thematically, Xanatos himself. When Fox returns home, Xanatos mentions that it’s time to start Plan A. This is about control, where Xanatos walks in casually and asks for the Eye of Odin back. He’s testing how much power he has over Fox and/or the Eye, but come to find out, it’s very little, as Fox transforms, wallops the man, and makes its escape. They manage to track the beast, but even though Xanatos plays it like it’s nothing – “Well, spilled milk. Let’s move on to Plan B.” – he turns away from Owen and, for the first time in the show’s history, expresses doubt and… sadness? There’s something wrong here, and for the first time, Xanatos is showing it.
Xanatos in his robot gargoyle suit has become a symbol. It is the cold, metal exoskeleton of man visually desperately exerting his power, used distinctively to mask his vulnerability (this becomes clearer in the “Vows”). If he can’t manipulate control, he’ll use force. But this fails to work as well, as the beast overpowers him and comes quite close to killing him, but the Fox inside recognizes Xanatos and runs. A damaged Xanatos returns to his castle and begins to discuss plans with Owen about Plan C – manipulate Goliath and his clan to “saving” Fox by getting the Eye of Odin, but Goliath is on to his tricks, refusing to even go near the beast. For the first time, Xanatos finds himself with no plan, no saving grace, no final trick up his sleeve.
Except honesty. He admits that the Eye gives the wearer power and insight, and that he just wasn’t expecting transformation. Goliath deduces the beast is a manifestation of Fox’s true character (I don’t buy this. Fox is a villain but she always had her head on straight – the fact that her true nature is a carnal. insatiable monster doesn’t quite work). Either way, a vulnerable Xanatos pleads to Goliath to help save her life – and he and Elisa refuse. Even when reaching out to Goliath, his penchant for manipulation kicks in as he relates losing his love to Goliath losing his. I love this. I never quite thought of Xanatos being so caught up in his lies and deceits that it became habitual, but it works, especially when he tracks Goliath later with a homing device. “Old habits die hard.”
Goliath does eventually come around, not because he’s concerned about Fox but because he’s concerned about the safety of the city. So he and Xanatos team up to take the beast. (The excuse he gives that leaves his clan out of the beast’s pursuit is a narrative necessity at best, cause it doesn’t make logical sense.) Take careful note that Xanatos is still walking around in his robot suit – he, in his desperate and legitimate insecurity. The two manage to finally snag the Eye, changing the creature back into Fox. A deal is struck: Goliath gets the Eye and Elisa returns Fox to Xanatos. It’s a deal he can’t pass up, because Xanatos actually loves her, a startling contrast to that opening quote. Which leads to the best exchange not only in the show’s history, but in perhaps all of TV:
Xanatos: “So now you know my weakness.”
Goliath: “Only you would regard love as a weakness.”
First, a little “dirt of the shoulder” love for Goliath’s badass comeback. Second, the face Xanatos makes after that line is striking, where anger, sadness, depression, frustration, acceptance, deference, and concession come together. He walks off with his bride-to-be. Owen says he looks heroic, but Xanatos crushes that sense of vulnerability: “A momentary lapse, I assure you.” He tells Fox it was all a bad dream, and it’s all over now. He will be damned if he’s shown up like that ever again.
“Vows” start off like a decent episode, but it gets way too caught up in its time travel concept to really be worth something. It moves a bit too fast for anything to land and has a lack of focus, but there are a lot of good ideas in the periphery. Time travel really works when 1) it’s goofy and campy enough to be fun and nothing more, like Doctor Who, or 2) so wildly, well-thought out that it’s more horror than sci-fi, like Primer. “Vows” is neither. It’s cute, it’s somewhat informative, but too packed and messy to really land an impact. To grasp the full meaning of the episode, I have to explain all the events first.
“Vows” is about Xanatos regaining the upper hand. The events of “Eye of the Beholder” leaves the man a (slightly) shattered version of himself, so he goes out of his way to show everyone he truly is in control. He confronts Goliath at the very beginning of the episode to invite the lead gargoyle to his wedding to be his best man, dropping the fact that Demona will be there as well. Goliath wavers on the decision, and while it seems we were all but past any chance of Goliath re-establishing a romantic relationship with Demona, it seems that he was not. He still has visions and dreams of their past love, remembering when they exchanged halves of a charm known as the Phoenix Gate amidst the wedding between Prince Malcolm and Princess Elena. Deep down, he thinks he could rekindle that love.
Xanatos, meanwhile, invites his father to his wedding (and again, note how Xanatos is still wearing the robot suit, still compensating from “Eye.”) Xanatos’ father is AWESOME. He smacks down his son’s luck into money, then, when everyone gets MAGICALLY zapped into the past, he doesn’t give two shits. Xanatos’ father follows along in the immense implausibility of returning to the past, and the slick manner in which Xanatos indirect made his fortune (giving a coin to the Illuminati to give to him in the future to start his fortune and a note telling him to do this), with the indifference of an emo teenager. Even after all the craziness, his father STILL is all, “Whatever, all you care about is money,” which makes me want this guy to have his own show. The Xanatos’ Dad Show, starring Xanatos’ dad, seeing magic and sorcery and giant robots and gargoyles, and simply wanting to know how the fuck to get to Denny’s. Incredible.
I digress. Goliath goes to the wedding, shows Demona his half of the Phoenix Gate, and she combines it with hers and sends everyone into the past. All the above happens, including a strange attempt by Goliath to talk past Demona into keeping her heart pure and loving so that maybe, in the future, she wouldn’t be so angry at humanity and they would once again be in love (it doesn’t work). Honestly, it’s a strange episode, a little more complex then I think the writers intended, but it’s revealing in some major ways: one, Xanatos is part of the Illuminati, which adds some deliciousness to Matt Bluestone’s conspiracies. Two, the Archmage from “Long Way to Morning” actually was a member of castle before his betrayal (I assume its the effort to get the Phoenix Gate, although it’s not made explicit). Three, this Archamge is after the ultimate power, which lies in the possession of the Phoenix Gate, the Grimorum, and the Eye of Odin. How this develops has yet to be seen.
Overall, though, this episode was intriguing and ambitious, but it didn’t quite work for me. I love what it tried to do, but adding a little bit thought to it kinda makes the whole thing fall apart. And I know time travel is a fool’s “thinking man” game, but the idea that the note Xanatos sends himself in the future, which presumably mentions inviting Goliath to the wedding and assuming everything between him and Demona would work out like that is a huge stretch. What if Goliath didn’t come? Well, the episode implies that it doesn’t matter, since the rules of time travel implied that Goliath would come, that the events happened because they’ve already happened. “Time travel’s funny that way.” This gets into a whole fate/destiny thing, and while Gargoyles plays around with fate and destiny a lot, the broad, universal theoretical approach may not be in the show’s strong suit.
But hey! Xanatos’ dad! More of him, please.
“Eye of the Beholder” A-/”Vows” B