Remember when the realm of “virtual reality” was, like, a thing? When movies like The Lawnmower Man and shows like Cartoon Network’s 1996 reboot of Johnny Quest tried to make the virtual world into a serious location fraught with danger? It always seemed like a concept writers heard about in passing and immediately ascribed a sense of confusion and mental anguish into their narratives, when in real reality, virtual reality was always a crap shoot.
Well, Gargoyles presents its own interpretation of virtual reality in “Legion,” which actually wouldn’t be that bad of an episode if it didn’t work so hard in retconning Coldstone. Well… I can’t say they distinctly retconned Coldstone; more likely they were aiming to add extra material to Coldstone’s past to build at his mental state in the present. But it just felt like retconning. I don’t think “Legion” put in the narrative work to make his virus-addled state of mind palpable. There was already a great deal of tension between Goliath and Coldstone. Did they really need to add a (hilariously) past, misguided love triangle?
“Legion” begins a undetermined amount of time after “Reawakening.” Coldstone lies motionless at the bottom of the sea, when his emergency programming boots up, auto-repairing his body. Using some quick scene flashes within the repairing circuitry, we see what appears to be part flashback, part dream of Coldstone trusting Goliath, Coldstone seeing Goliath with an unnamed female gargoyle, and a third male gargoyle instigating a surge of jealousy into Coldstone’s heart. It’s a strange, confusing set of shots, ending with Coldstone rebooting, speaking with a distinctly robotic Xanatos voice, and rocketing out of the water.
I honestly love shows with confusing and strange beginnings, because it’s always fun to see how the episode parses out these elements, slowly unraveling them and clarifying them into something coherent. (This is going to sound weird, but Rescue Rangers did this to remarkable effect.) So while I was thrown off by the opening, I trusted the writers to really work at building at it into something truly revealing. I… I’m not sure they did. I want to say they did. I truly, truly do. But what we see on the screen isn’t exactly what I think they were trying to accomplish.
Computerized Coldstone breaks into a guarded facility and it looks like he steals some data. Instead, he’s electrocuted and “awakens” from his mind control and returns to his former self, only to see he’s being shot at by some guards. Naturally he defends himself. Meanwhile, Elisa and Bluestone rig up a specialized robot called RECAP, the show’s “in” into virtual reality. At this point it’s just a typical recon robot, with weapons, but Coldstone makes short work of it. Coldstone escapes, but the gargoyles follow (who originally followed Elisa to the scene). Goliath and Lex re-introduce them to a seemingly sane Coldstone and they bring him back to the tower.
The episode is about trust. Which is a little strange, honestly, since a few episodes in the first season were about trust, notably the “Awakenings” saga, and you would think Goliath would be a bit reserved about instantaneously trusting a figure that once tried to kill him. Is it naivete at work, or is it something deeper, a desperate desire to rebuild the clan he lost? “Legion,” unfortunately, doesn’t delve into this question. Instead, Coldstone surges a bit, acts confused and hostile, and seeing himself in a reflection as if for the first time, bolts out of the clock tower. Goliath and Hudson give chase, which leads them to Ellis Island.
This is where things start to get dicey. It seems like Coldstone was struggling between four mental states: 1) the pure, cold, robotic Xanatos state; 2) the amnesiac, how-did-I-get-here state; 3) the friendly, trusting gargoyle-brother state; 4) the angry, vindictive jealous state. The conflict on Ellis Island, however, reduces it to two states, 3) and 4), and after a bit of fighting, Coldstone collapses on the ground, desperate for help. Luckily, the REACP is damaged but not broken, and Lex uses it to allow Goliath into Coldstone’s state of mind. Cue VR scene.
There’s some nifty animation work here, with wide arching shots and a bit of surreal zooming to give things a properly unrealistic edge. Goliath stands on a grid by a bridge to a fake castle, and underneath it all is a whirlpool of yellow swirls and tentacles. A hologram of Xanatos appears (like ALWAYS) and breaks it down: Coldstone, a creation of “science and sorcery,” was supposed to ultimately be Xanatos’ pawn, but when it was shocked earlier, it uploaded a computer virus that is eating at his mind (hence the whirlpool and tentacles). He also mentions that Coldstone was not made from one stone gargoyle but three – Coldstone himself and the two male/female gargoyles from the opening. Like I said, it’s not quite retconning, but it just feels like it. When Coldstone woke up in “Reawakening,” he didn’t quite seem like a Xanatos weapon, and now saying he is kinda seems like the glass cage villainy is going way too far now. Plus, the whole thing about Coldstone being made from a “legion” of gargoyles, hence the title… I’m just not seeing why this decision was made. It just over complicates thing, right?
Regardless, Goliath recognized the female gargoyle, and the male gargoyle instigates Coldstone to attacking Goliath. But the female gargoyle extolls Goliath’s loyalty, uses the word trust, and boom, Coldstone saves the Manhattan clan leader from certain doom. Then there’s a whole thing where the third gargoyle is exposed as a former traitor of the clan in 994 AD, then his digital body merges with Xanatos’, he gets all big, and is still defeated by the group. The biggest problem is we don’t know who these two extraneous gargoyles are, and their history with the clan is really just forced hearsay. I’m not even sure if they’re real or if just figments of Coldstone’s mind. I mean, Goliath recognizes the female clan member, but it rings awkward and hollow. Still, Goliath manages to escape the VR while Coldstone and said female lover work to free his mind from the virus. Goliath wakes up in the real world, and he and his clan escape before the police track down the RECAP.
The best part is Bluestone’s growing paranoia on seeing the creatures. It’s small and subtle, but he gets so worked up on finally track down the VR machine, only to see a rat. I get the sense we’re going to see psycho-Bluestone in a few episodes, and it will be glorious. But this episode was anything but. It’s sad moment to see the clan watch helplessly as Coldstone’s lifeless body just sits there, as he flies off with his lover in his mind. But since we don’t know who she is, it rings hollow, a scene that says “BE SAD.” I do hope we get more on who she is, and for that matter, who this gargoyle was that wanted to usurp Goliath. Until then though, all we can do is dream. (I should mention that the RECAP was returned to Xanatos because he built it, because of course he did, and they were able to extract the virus that hindered Coldstone, because of course it’s useful. I’m sorry, but this Xanatos-thing is getting ridiculous.)
“A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time” seems more like an abject lesson in the importance of reading, a typically mandated “teach kids lessons” episode that happens to bring back Macbeth and even develop him a little (in the most haphazardly way possible). While we are definitely leagues away from the animation problems that Wang provided, the core writing still seems to be reaching a lot and has yet to establish a firm core or direction. We’re still in the realm of table-setting, but dinner has yet to be served.
We follow two archeologists, who discover Merlin’s scrolls. The talk of the town is that they may be magic spells, which gets Lex quite excited, reading up on all the material he can. Broadway shrugs it off, mainly because he doesn’t care about reading, because he can’t read. Which makes sense, given the time period he’s from. Hudson, in particular, plays the entire thing off, which to the show’s credit is a nifty way to throw us off the trail of Hudson’s own illiteracy. In any case, Elisa and Bluestone are assigned the task of escorting the scrolls back to New York via boat, although it’s a little weird that they’re taking a boat instead of a plane. Clearly that’s a nitpick. What I DO like about this is how causally characters discuss Merlin as if he was a real person. I mean, if you’re going to do a show with gargoyles and magic books, you might as well play to your strengths and allow the entire Arthurian legend come alive.
Things go wrong when two harrier jets arrive, shooting up the boat and causing mass chaos. The jets land on the boat, and two gun-toting thugs jump out, and kudos to Gargoyles for making one male and one female. Gargoyles allowing its henchmen to be guys and gals is actually really refreshing, and it’s odd more shows don’t do this. The two snatch the scrolls and right before they leave, the gargoyles swoop in and start tearing those jets up. It’s unclear why the gargoyles were nearby in the first place. The only one who had any interest in the scrolls was Lex, and I can see Brooklyn and Goliath coming along, but Broadway and Hudson being there is a bit baffling. The fight sequence is somewhat confusing, but that’s on purpose, since things go wrong: Hudson grabs a scroll but is knocked cold into the water, Broadway sneaks on a jet as it escapes, and Elisa and the remaining gargoyles suffer a humiliating defeat.
I love how Broadway has been stepping it up in the second season, becoming the second best fighter of the clan. After the jet lands, he snatches the scroll, takes out the pilots, and escapes the facility — only to run into Macbeth. Sunwoo does the animation here, so there’s no visual Wang disasters, but Macbeth continues to be cipher. A slightly more developed cipher here, but still, a cipher. After capturing Broadway, he regales a bit about Merlin and the ancient times, which to Broadway and the audience, seems like he’s reminiscing. Macbeth shuts down that idea quickly, claiming he read about it, but Broadway is suspicious. There’s definitely something there. This isn’t quite the gargoyle-assassin from “Enter Macbeth,” so I’m not sure if this is development or retconning. (Which makes Macbeth releasing the gargoyles at the end even more confusing.)
Goliath, Lex, and Brooklyn hassle Owen and Xanatos’ castle because they think he’s behind it, but he’s not, which is some kind of meta-commentary on the show’s over-reliance on using Xanatos as a master villain? The big thing in this episode is watching Hudson be saved by a blind man, an author named Jeffrey Robbins, who lost his artistic touch, but lets the elder gargoyle rest in his home. It’s a touching moment, if bland, mostly to build to Hudson’s shame towards his illiteracy. They bond over being war veterans, kinda, but that never goes anywhere, instead focusing on the idea of being willing to learn to read at any age. It’s a good lesson, sure, but come on — this is after-school special stuff.
Macbeth manages to get the scrolls, Hudson chases him down, there’s a nice action sequence where the gargoyles take out some giant laser guns, and then there’s the final showdown with Macbeth. As implied above, Macbeth doesn’t put up a fight, because the scrolls weren’t spells at all. They were his diary, musings of the day. Which is one of those bleak, “all of this for nothing” type concepts that are really hard to make work (see: the ending to Kung Fu Panda). Macbeth has some kind of connection to Merlin, and I’m sure we’ll come to it soon, but how many moving pieces are we going to go through before we really hit some forward momentum? The upcoming four-part “City of Stone” saga looks promising, but we got a while before we get there.
“A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time” ends with an inspired Robbins voicing his new story idea into a voice recorder, a very pro-book screed that Hudson, from afar, takes to heart. I’m glad he (and by proxy, Broadway) are eager to learn how to read, two figures willing to learn after so much time has past. This is a very nice sentiment, but with so little done in terms of story or character, the episode comes off more preachy then probably intended. I know this show can get epic, but right now, it’s not.
“Legion” B-/”A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time” B-