And thus the World Tour begins to break down.
I’m not sure if “Mark of the Panther” and “Pendragon” are a sign of things to come, but after a string of solid, enjoyable episodes, we’re provided two surprisingly weak, unfocused ones. Previous episodes were willing to take their time to develop their central plots, usually through the exploration of a various historical/cultural factoid. Now the show is trying to squeeze its way back into the long term mythology, forcing things to happen way too fast without adequate explanation. This is Gargoyles when it struggles the most, when it tries to do way too much with so little, sacrificing proper setup and storytelling for spectacle.
Gargoyles 2×34 – Mark of the Panther
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The core problem with “Mark of the Panther” is that the story should be about something that directly (or indirectly) ties into the complicated parental problems between Goliath and Angela, and Elisa and her mother. The story told here has to do with a kind of rapey-and-revenge love tale. They connect at only a superficial level, and while Goliath and Angela’s relationship woes are understandable, the confusing relationship between Elisa Maza and Diane Maza is just that. The episode fails to clearly explain what exactly is the issue between the two, and Diane’s explanation – that she “disappeared” is vague at best and perplexing at worse – especially since she’s been in Africa all this time. This is the pre-cellphone days, what exactly was she expecting?
Other issues plague the episode as well. It seems to start off as an episode in which Goliath, Angela, Bronx, and Elisa have to chase down some poachers. Which is a bit low-key on the Avalon scale, but it’s something. It then devolves into a strange love tale – one of the poachers, Tea Gora, is actually seeking revenge on a Fara Maku. They fell in love, then Tea wanted to move to the city, but Fara didn’t want her to go, so he made a pact with the African god trickster Anansi, which ultimately turned them in were-panthers when they get upset. It was a act of selfishness on Fara’s part that so enraged Tea, that she hooked up with the unnamed poachers to kill every panther in Africa (I guess?) to ensure Fara was killed.
Already you can see the flaw here. We also don’t learn about Fara or Tea, unlike the characterizations we get of Hatsilane in “Heritage,” Max in “Golem,” or Rory in “The Hound of Ulster.” They just seem like two terrible people. Instead of a closer look into their relationship and the destruction of which, we’re treated with a stylized animated sequence detailing the specific Anansi tale that the episode is based on. No offense to the sequence, which is lovingly rendered with stiff movements evoking the classic forms of African paintings and sculptures, but why are we presented this, when Cu Chullian or The Golem of Prague wasn’t? It’s a somewhat more complicated piece of folklore than those stories but not so much so that the episode needed to explain it at the risk of sacrificing its characters. I suppose the writers felt it was such a fascinating tale that it was worth visually depicting. I admire the attempt but it was unnecessary and a bit too aloof from the show proper, particularly for a tale that could have been simplified to get to the meat of the characters.
The interesting stuff is the parental conflicts, but they’re never given room to breathe. Angela and Goliath fight again over the degree of affection the latter should give to the former due to their biological connection. Elisa and Diana fight over their separation and Elisa’s secrecy. The first conflict is fine, the second one a bit clunky. Didn’t Elisa introduce her mother to the transformed Derek? Just seems odd to place so much emphasis on Elisa being secretive and distant, considering all the stuff they’ve been through. There are aspects of this that make sense, but overall it doesn’t really work. Plus, none of this really connect to the Tea/Fara story, so nothing really comes together.
So they confront the actual Anansi at the end (wiki says he’s another one of Oberon’s children but the episode doesn’t say, so it’s a development that comes out of left field – I guess we’re to assume all magic people/creatures are Oberon’s progeny?) and he’s less of a trickster and more of greedy Southern plantation owner without the accent. They defeat him by cutting his magic web and stabbing him. It’s an okay sequence but nothing special. Fara and Tea getting together at the end undercuts Fara’s actions, though, but I guess being African-were-panther heroes is good enough. Goliath acknowledges Angela as his genuine daughter, and Elisa tells Diana the whole story of her gargoyles encounter. I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing Diana again though, adding to the superficiality of their conflict. “Mark of the Panther” is too messy for its own good.
Gargoyles 2×35 – Pendragon
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“Pendragon” is slightly worse than “Mark of the Panther,” but not by much. Here, the problem is turning the tragic figure of Macbeth into a power-hungry villain, which is insanely out of character. I mean, this is the guy who is desperate to kill Demona so he can finally end his tortured immortality. Suddenly he’s casting spells and vying for Excalibur’s power? Where did THIS attitude come from?
This episode really was an excuse to get Griff to New York (but what about Leo and Una? The whole main issue was Griff being gone [Una being Griff’s ‘lover’], and now we’re just moving away from them again?). Macbeth and his henchmen, and the rest of the Manhattan clan are concerned about the random disturbing weather that’s occurring in New York. I think that has to do with King Arthur’s arrival in London (he left Avalon after the events that transpired there). The episode doesn’t really connect the two, but it is what it is.
Arthur wanders into a church, where the stone that hosted Excalibur is, and Griff follows him. The stone talks to Arthur about finding his sword, Griff recites a legend about it, and the stone deems the two worthy. Meanwhile, Macbeth himself recites an incantation that summons Griff and Macbeth to New York, and the Manhattan clan gets in on this. Macbeth is disappointed in the result and runs off, but is now aware of sword’s existence, so he decides that, since he was a king once, he can take the sword for himself. So he uses a plug-in crystal ball to summon will-o-the-wisp to track them.
I quickly wrote up the summary of the first half of the episode because of its ridiculousness and half-assed nature. It feels as chaotic as that probably read, and looks as messy and scattershot on the screen. I’m not sure what the hell is going on with Macbeth here. I feel like A) they’re missing a key scene (or episode) where we note Macbeth is still vying for power and/or recognition, or B) meant this to be another character entirely, but something went very wrong, and the writers had to scramble to put Macbeth in the role. It’s feels way off, in a manner that’s completely off-kilter to what we know the show is capable of.
The rest of the episode is somewhat better, but not by much. The Lady of the Lake is probably another one of Oberon’s children, who presents another challenge to Arther with some lame water monster he and the Manhattan clan dispatches easily. Then it’s off to Brooklyn, inside a hedge maze that they could’ve flew over easily to find the stone dragon in the middle, which hosts Excalibur proper. There’s a Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but there’s no mention of a hedge maze or a stone dragon centerpiece. The problem isn’t that they made these concepts up, the problem is that they feel as forced as Macbeth-as-villain. I’m not sure why they didn’t just do a Arthur/Griff fantasy detective story, keep the events in London, and bring Una and Leo into that mix. It would’ve been more focused, with the current situation among Griff/Leo/Una clarified, and without Macbeth’s sudden character change (no villain is really necessary, really – the trials and riddles were strong enough).
The obvious sword that Macbeth pulled from the stone dragon was fake. It triggered the stone dragon to come alive and attack everyone, but Arthur discovered the real Excalibur was inside the ruby rock on the stone dragon’s chest. After snagging it, the dragon is destroyed, and, in the show’s most ridiculously contrived moment, Arthur and Macbeth come to a mutual understanding and level of respect. That’s bullshit, particularly that Griff and the Manhattan clan are okay with this. But they were probably as confused as I was what with Macbeth being evil out of nowhere. I did like Arthur knighting Griff. It’s a nice moment, but the underlying problem is… who is Arthur? He was kinda useless in “Avalon,” and while he holds his own here, I’m failing to see how or why he’s such a big deal. Griff standing by his side because he’s royalty is inexplicable, considering how loyal he was to Britain and his clan back in “M.I.A.”
“Pendragon” doesn’t work except at the bare minimum. I kind of regret writing this, as the details soured me more and more as I gave this episode thought. Here’s hoping the next two episodes continue the string of good episodes instead of these lackluster ones.
“Mark of the Panther” B-/”Pendragon” C-