Welcome back, Kevin! Thanks, Kevin!
It’s good to finally get back into Gargoyles recaps, especially after a great, four-part saga. “City of Stone,” as I mentioned before, won me over to the Gargoyles fandom. The first season was a bit shaky, but the second season, while awkward at points, at least had the kind of forward momentum that one looks for in shows like this. I can finally say that I understand what people see in this show.
Or, at least I did.
Continuity really wasn’t a thing in the 90s, really, especially in cartoons. There were no DVRs or Youtube to catch up on missed episodes or recap current narrative threads. I might be rehashing this, but this is actually an important point, especially after watching “High Noon” and “Outfoxed.” In the era of Separate TV, when shows were watched weekly or daily, making sure an episode stood on its own wasn’t just optional – it was paramount. Overarching narrative threads are nice and all, but it’s important to remember that such threads have to be planned in (ideally) excruciating details. My point is, as detailed as Gargoyles is, I have severe doubts that Greg Weisman planned the entire run of this show with the level of detail that his fans may think.
When I was in LA, I spoke with a contemporary of Weisman. He was particularly adamant against shows being so beholden to continuity, because, in classic TV, that kind of planning was really nonexistent, except for large scale dramas. There’s a lot to be said of the narrative connections between Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, but let’s be clear, only a certain percentage of it was planned. (It helps that comic vets worked on the Marvel Animated Universe, a group known for connecting past works with apparent ease). The contemporary alluded to the fact that Weisman and his crew were more or less scrambling to tie up loose ends more than prepping future story reveals. It just was a different approach to story telling in the 90s. And while “High Noon” felt right, moving forward with an intriguing followup to “City of Stone,” “Outfoxed” is a prime example of that scramble to tie up loose ends, taking a step backwards, both visually and narratively.
“High Noon” shares little with the movie that hosts its name. It’s the story of Elisa, really, a woman who’s lack of sleep in this episode masks a more internal struggle of a person simply tired of it all. Between Derek, the gargoyles, Xanatos, Demona, Macbeth, and a host of other crazy people, Elisa, understandably, just wants it to end and return to a normal life. Early in the episode, Elisa tells a now-literate Broadway and Hudson that she chose the badge because she knows what’s right; she’s no hero, she’s just doing her job. It’s a bit on the nose but it’s something that needed to be said – after all the insanity, Elisa is hanging in there because it’s the life she chose, the life she has to live with.
The gargoyles struggle to return Coldstone back to his former self, with the three souls stuck inside Coldstone’s body back in “Legion” due to science and magic. The internal struggle inside Coldstone continues to fall flat, especially since we know so little of his lover and the third evil gargoyle, who is apparently just swooping down on occasion to disrupt the lovebirds? There’s no meat here, and if the writers were scrambling to tie up anything, this should have been one of the top priorities.
As the sun rises, Elisa tracks some strangers in the police station downstairs, only to discover they’re Macbeth and human Demona. They knock her unconscious and fly off with “the package.” Things are really weird here. What package? How did Macbeth and Demona discover the gargoyles home turf? Why did Demona, with a perfect opportunity to destroy the stone gargoyles, not do so? Why in the world are they working together? Of course, we know it has something to do with the Weird Sisters. The question is what, and how far? This is starting to approach “Xanatos-gambit” levels of control, but at least the Weird Sisters have shown their abilities and insight to be way beyond mortal souls. That being said, there aren’t any real parameters given to the sisters’ magic powers, so it’s hard to really get a bead on why they’d enact their plan in such a fashion. More on this later.
Right now, though, Elisa tells the gargoyles what happened – that they took Coldstone – and the team goes after him. The animation here continues to be gorgeous; the fight scenes are top notch, but Demona’s human/gargoyle transformations are the real highlight. There’s a real sense of foreboding and tension as the gargoyles explore Macbeth’s spooky mansion (especially knowing how well Macbeth can set traps). And while it seems the team gets the upper hand, it’s revealed that they were fooled all along when Coldstone – in the possession of the nameless evil gargoyle – betrays them. In all honesty, this should have been a Coldstone episode. We should have been focused on the resuscitated gargoyle and given clarification on who his lover and rival are. Instead, we’re presented with an uncomfortably clingy Coldstone who has no motivation to gain control of his body, until his lover (in no small part helped by the Weird Sisters) talks him into it. Again, though, since we haven’t learned a lick about these characters since “Legion,” this just feel forced.
Demona teases Elisa to come to a certain locale at high noon to save the captured gargoyles, which seems insanely out of character, but there’s a purpose to it all. Here is where Elisa bears her soul, her desire to just get away from it all. An officer named Morgan helps to regain her sense of purpose and duty – a long running theme of the show – and while this approaches “magical Negro” levels of schmaltz, I’m willing to let it go. She rushes to the location and has a one-on-one fight with human Demona, who she beats by doing the same move twice. Meanwhile, Coldstone – the real Coldstone – is convinced to regain control of his body, forces Macbeth and Demona to run away, and then scurries off himself to achieve the victory of his internal struggle. I assume it involves learning his lover’s and rival’s names? [Okay, maybe not names since they don’t have them, but can we at least learn something about them?]
As Elisa finally gets her sleep, Demona and Macbeth break down their real spoils – the Grimorum, the Eye of Odin, and Phoenix Gate. It’s here that they finally become self-aware, confused as to the full extent of their plan and even why they’re working together. They’re just about to kick each others’ asses before the Weird Sisters show up, freezes them in place, take the spoils for themselves, and warp everyone away. Yes, it was all their hugely, wild manipulative plan to ultimately get their hands on the goods. This is important I presume. The Sisters are not a Greek chorus, a group of symbolic Fates who work to affirm or deny personal stakes and desires. They have a specific objective in mind, powered by their control of Macbeth and Demona, and a bit of solid manipulative apparition. But what is the full extent of their powers? Considering all the things they can do, is this really the best plan they could come up with?
I suppose it doesn’t matter. Elisa gets her beauty rest. She earned it.
“Outfoxed” hurts a little. It kinda seems stupid. It’s definitely the most forced episode of the run so far, creating by far the most ludicrous setup and ham-fisted metaphor in the show’s run. Remember back in “Awakenings,” when Xanatos fooled Goliath and Demona to attack Cyberbiotics’ flying Fortress, and Demona destroyed because she hates everyone in the world? Well, Cyberbiotics has a new Fortress running. Goliath “thinks” Xanatos may attack it, so he follows the thing, all exposed and everything. Cyberbiotics leader, Halcyon Renard, a creepy guy copping Professor Xavior’s hovering wheelchair, sends a legion of robots at him, besting him in a really terribly animated aerial fight, and capturing him.
Then begins a series of speeches on responsibility and accountability. This is just really, really awkward. I mean, I get it. I really love it when a piece of entertainment acknowledges the full extent of its setups and developments. (Almost Human never calls attention to the fact that its police officers routinely kill its criminals in cold blood, which implies a Judge Dredd-like dystopian worldview but never comments on it, while Sly Cooper 4 brilliantly called out Sly’s bullshit – he can rob from all the evil criminals he wanst, the fact is that he’s still a thief). It’s clear that’s what they’re doing here. But watching Renard just lecture Goliath about taking account for his role in destroying the Fortress is a prime example of telling, not showing. It doesn’t help that the animation by Hong Ying Animation is subpar, with really wonky perspective shots and off-model poses. Without anything really motivating it, like say, a cliched but entertaining thirst for revenge, it comes off petulant and whiny. Oh, speaking of whiny:
Renard: “No excuses, creature. Learn to take responsibilities for your actions, and stop whining!”
Goliath: “A gargoyle doesn’t whine. He ROARS!”
Yeesh. That’s a cringe-worthy exchange from a show that’s rather on point with its dialogue.
This should have been a lesson that Goliath learns on his own, if he should have learned it at all. Having Goliath stuck in a cage and lectured at is insane. Maybe, just maybe, he could have visited the various humans who was hurt in the first Fortress crash and saw their pain and suffering as being innocent victims to a vicious attack. After all, Goliath isn’t Demona. He KNOWS that humans, while flawed, are suspect to the same emotions as their own kind. It’s quite possible he may understand this in theory. SEEING that kind of pain and limitation in humanity would allow Goliath to understand a new, tangible truth to the fragility of humanity, and how his actions, no matter how manipulated, led to it. But no, “Outfoxed” take the “Shame on You” route via an inane, consistent lesson force-fed to the gargoyle before he finally swallows. And suddenly, Renard and Goliath are friends. This would never work on humans; I doubt the quick-to-anger gargoyle clan member would be so susceptible to it.
The real point of this episode is filler and more setting up. There’s Renard’s assistant, Preston Vogel, who resembles Owen so much that it can’t be a coincidence. Brothers? Clones? The episode doesn’t say, but I’m sure we’ll get to it. The real story lies with Fox, who we learn is Renard’s daughter and with child. The best part though is witnessing Xanatos and Fox work. Their relationship still functions perfunctorily, two machines continuing to wheel and deal sans any passion between them. Xanatos’ blase response to his wife’s pregnancy (and Fox’s own stoicism) is creepy but perfect, as is their plan to sabotage the second Fortress via Vogel, ruin Renard, and take over Cyberbiotics. Vogel proves to be more loyal to Renard in the end, assisting to save the Fortress and confessing to his treachery. This leads to a slightly-less-but-still-ham-fisted conversation where Goliath convinces Renard that Vogel’s confession proves that humans still possess the kind of integrity that Vogel believes his species has lost. Again, I understand what the show is going for, and it’s something worth learning, but “Outfoxed” fails to make that theme work.
That theme is put at the forefront when Fox and Renard talk, revealing their disturbing relationship. It’s clear Renard’s obsession with integrity and accountability stems from his daughter’s demeanor, who would rather forcibly take over his father’s company instead of inheriting it. It’s definitely a strange thing but on par with what we know of Fox. With a little bit of tweaking and rearranging, this could have been a stronger episode with a more resonant theme, but as it is, it’s a lot of posturing and lecturing, and no one likes to be lectured to.
“High Noon” A-/”Outfoxed” B-