Gargoyles “Monsters/Golem”

Gargoyles "Monsters" screenshot

As of writing this, at some point between last Friday and today, Disney’s Official Youtube Channel has removed all their Gargoyles episodes. I had to watch this week’s (and most likely will have to do this for the rest of the series) through more… proactive means. I wrote about how something rotten is going on at Disney over at my tumblr; it’s hard to say if this is part of that assessment. Yet considering that one has to actively go into a Youtube channel to remove what one have uploaded, I can’t help but assume this is part of that rottenness. What’s stranger is that Disney’s Youtube Channel still kept their other shows – only Gargoyles was removed. I’m at a loss as to how to frame this.

Still, I managed to watch “Monsters” and “Golem,” and it seems that the “World Tour” concept is starting to show its flaws. “Monsters” and “Golem” aren’t terrible episodes by any stretch, but there are some shockingly disappointing narrative occurrences from a show that has otherwise been on point with its storylines. The “World Tour” should be a opportunity to get a little weird and self-reflective (read: self-aware), and/or try and put the current cast into a fun, unique situation and have them claw their way out of it, metaphorically and literally. Instead, “Monsters” and “Golem” jump right back into the show’s mythology, but of deepening it, it cheapens it, turning complex, and potentially-complex, characters into stock-in-trade villains. There’s something very off about these episodes, and I can’t quite place my finger on it.

Gargoyles 2×26 – Monsters

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“Monsters” brings our characters to Loch Ness, Scotland, amidst a semi-boon in tourists eager for sightings of the infamous underwater beast. As the characters row to shore, there’s plenty of undersea attacks from some weird monsters – one mechanical, one organic. Everything starts off like a typical Gargoyles episode – strange thing happens, the gargoyles get punchie, Elisa gets investigative (there’s a scene where Elisa calls Matt Bluestone, but her message doesn’t get through because his mailbox is full. This has to mean something, right? I mean, WE NEED MORE BLUESTONE ALWAYS). This time, Angela falls off the boat and is grabbed by the mechanical monster. Elisa, Bronx and Goliath go searching for her. Nothing wrong here – a nice, if basic, set up.

Then things start to fall apart at the seams, little by little. It’s revealed that the mechanical Loch Ness is controlled by Dr. Sevarius, striking on his own after “The Cage.” He managed to capture a baby Loch Ness Monster, but it’s dying while in isolation. Capturing Angela has proven to be advantageous, as she is able to improve the young monster’s disposition, encouraging it to eat and move around. Sevarius then chains up Angela and ties her to the end of his beastly ship. He releases the young monster back into the waters, tracks it to its mother, then drags Angela out on the tailend of his ship to lure the beasts after him, in order to taze and capture the older monster. He does this because it will allow him a whole host of genetic material to work with.

This leads to a lot of questions. Why does Sevarius have a Loch Ness Monster-shaped submarine? I’m going to assume it was to lure and capture the younger creature, as well as fool and confuse the locals if they saw something in the water, but I do wish this was clarified a bit. The whole mystique of the monster is that it’s a rare (if even verified) sighting, so Sevarius swimming around wily-nily inside it seems counter-productive, begging for attention. Secondly, Sevarius has a Loch Ness Monster already, and even though its dying, doesn’t it have all the genetic material he’d need? In particular, after Angela gets it healthy again, Sevarius technically achieved his goal. I can chalk that up to simple greed (what’s better than one Loch Ness Monster? TWO Loch Ness Monsters!), which actually leads to the third issue: what is Sevarius actual motivation here? What, specifically, does he want with Loch Ness Monster DNA? Before, Sevarius was employed by Xanatos, so he was getting paid for his experiments, but of course there was his natural, sick curiosity of recreating a gargoyle either by splicing creatures together, manipulating gargoyle DNA, or cloning one outright. He was scientific curiosity run amok, but there was a distinct endgame to it all, a power in building such a useful creature; being paid for it was just a benefit.

Here, though, Sevarius gathering Loch Ness DNA is vague at best. He says he wants to start a “creature farm,” because he can create an array of creatures from the monster’s genetic code, but why? Creating a Loch Ness Monster, or Loch-Ness-type creatures doesn’t seem particularly useful; what does the Loch Ness Monster have that is driving Sevarius to such lengths? I think the writers want to give Sevarius a “Doctor Moreau” vibe, but that seems to be a step down from what we know of the good doctor so far. Sevarius, who always had a bit of nuance in his overall motivations, is reduced here to a mustache-twirling cliche (capture innocent creature to perform invasive experiments because SCIENCE!), and it’s disappointing – he’s even given grand speeches and typical over-the-top villain behavior, like using Angela as bait and the whole “making monsters out of monsters” thing. Dr. Sevarius does reveal officially that Angela is Goliath’s daughter, the details of which I’ll get to in a bit, but I thought this was already revealed in “Avalon.” Goliath obviously knows (he smirks when he response to Elisa’s question about how Angela resembles Demona), but I guess it needed to be expressed definitively? Angela didn’t know at the time, so it comes to a shock to Angela when Sevarius tells her, but again, I’m going to get into this in a second.

I could let this all go though, but there was one visual moment that just took me right out of the episode. Some set up: Elisa notices some Xanatos thugs in town, so she tracks them down to a small ruin. She, Bronx, and Goliath return to the ruin only to be taken down into the base underneath it. After a typical moronic encounter with a henchman, the base explodes, and our heroes narrowly escaping inside a mini-sub (also shaped like a Loch Ness Monster). They track down Sevarius’ Loch Ness machine, and ram it, and somehow cause a significant amount of damage to it, while their sub sustains none. I mean, you could get into a whole thing about correct angles and aiming points and how, perhaps, the mini-sub was built differently from the larger Loch Ness machine because each vehicle required completely different parameters, but you could totally get into a counter-argument that a Loch Ness machine of that size needed more shielding, and we’d be running around in circles. Also, the mini-sub had the mechanics for torpedoes, so the writers could have set up the mini-sub to be armed, then they fire the torpedoes to cause that kind of damage, then have Goliath exit through the weaponry to save Angela (instead of being fired through it). I hate this kind of critical-rewriting, especially how nit-picky it sounds, but I feel like the obvious approaches are just right there, and watching Gargoyles take these bizarre turns makes the show frustrating. All these little issues like the ones mentioned above speaks to the show’s underlying issues that prevent me from really standing behind the show. Gargoyles, as I mentioned before, is so concerned about the mythological forest that it tends to miss the details of the trees.

The episode ends with the living Loch Ness Monsters attacking the mechanical one and causing it to sink into the depths of the ocean, with Sevarius “missing”. The henchman at the end claims that Sevarius will be back – but of course we know this. The only reason he didn’t say this while literally shaking his fist was because he was tied up. The strongest disappointment though, was how ambivalent the ending treated Angela relationship to her father, after such a big reveal. It seems like there’d be some kind of emotion displayed there – is Angela resentful? Relieved? Curious? But it only ends with the two hugging and some off-the-cuff saccharine remarks. “Monsters” had a lot of promise with its characters, but the execution was half-assed, and the animation was merely passable.

Gargoyles 2×27 – Golem

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“Golem” is hardly stronger. While I’ve had my concerns about Gargoyles in the past, there were only two episodes that I would call distinctively bad: “Enter Macbeth” and “Outfoxed.” In short, “Outfoxed” felt petulant and forced, what with Cyberbiotics CEO Halcyon Renard forcing Goliath to admit his sins, a development that was much better utilized in “Shadows of the Past.” Renard has potential as a character, but his two showcases are fairly embarrassing. Renard acts like a child in an adult body, which is odd for a head of a massive, powerful corporation. This is probably by design, but there has to be something more to this guy than being preachy and, subsequently, hypocritical.

“Golem” brings the cast to Prague, which is an interesting locale to place an episode of anything, never mind an episode of Gargoyles. It begins with a car chase, the police after what seems to be a spy. The spy makes a James Bond-esque escape onto a passing boat with Renard and “Owen-clone” Preston Vogel at the helm – and they pass by Goliath and the gang, only managing to pass a glance at each other. I liked that there’s a bit of tension here. We know Renard was a good guy before, so it’s unclear what’s happening – the spy is working for Renard, but is this all for a greater good? Is there something sinister at play? Again, we have a fun little set up, but things start to fall apart as things come along.

Like, what is going on with the Elisa scene when she’s exploring the town? She bumps into a gentleman on the street who informs her she’s in Prague. She then, uh, hides behind a building to watch him enter a secluded home, then chases after him yelling “Wait!” to try and get more information out of him, only to be shut down by the doorman. This whole scene comes off very confusing, like this was meant to play out differently, but the script wasn’t fixed upon approval, and the storyboarders got mixed up, and they had no choice but to animate it. I get the whole Elisa-has-a-gut-feeling-something’s-up thing, but it isn’t played that way. Either she felt something was odd about the encounter, or she wanted to press for more info, but the scene tries to play it as both, and it just doesn’t work at all.

The episode takes its cues from this story of the Golem of Prague, and I admire how this show pulls from moments of history and folklore various tales to interweave through its mythology. Here, the man that Elisa ran into is a descendent of Rabbi Loew who possesses the power to bring the Golem to life and stop a gangster named Tomas Brod, who is the “spy” from earlier. This is all well and good for sure, but we learn very little about Max Loew, and we see nothing about how Brod is terrorizing the community. The time that could’ve been spent fleshing out those two elements were spent with a flashback of 1580, Prague, visualizing the Golem protecting Prague (a sadly well-intentioned but unnecessary scene, as we’re given nothing but a big ol’ Golem beating up a bunch of assailants with no context), as well as some minor action sequences.

Goliath tries to speak with Renard, but the later is strangely aloof. Why? Well, because he learned he could transfer his soul into the body of the Golem and walk again (and, by proxy, live forever outside his fragile body). He does this after Brod steals the Golem for him, and now, Renard indeed acts like a kid as he stomps around in his big ol’ stone body, breaking things and being a bully. It would be hilarious if the show didn’t play it so serious, and now, thinking about it, I kind of wish the show overplayed Renard’s ridiculousness (like Bluestone) instead of attempting to use him to speak about issues of responsibility, corruption, and control.

There’s just so much science and magic in the Gargoyles world that it seems odd for Renard to head all the way to Prague to transfer his spirit into this Golem. The stranger question, though, is why Renard would’ve have such a change in demeanor after “Outfoxed”. The problem, I think, is that we haven’t seen him since that episode, that both portrayals are fairly silly, and that there’s no indication on why he would be adamant about owning up to one’s mistakes in one episodes, and actively making them in the next. The episode tries to skirt over this by emphasizing Renard’s frail, quadriplegic body, but there seems to be a disconnect; Renard doesn’t seem to fear his inevitable death, just kinda annoyed by it. The truth is Renard isn’t working as a character, and his friendship with Goliath is meaningless, which is why the speech Goliath gives to Renard to turn him around comes off useless. There’s no real development between the two. The episode ends with Renard returning to his body and Max guiding the Golem to not kill Bord, but it might have well ended with everyone at dance party, what with the lack of anything real or substantial. The only thing the end revealed is Goliath and company’s commitment to letting Avalon dictate their travels, which is an obvious “because writers!” ploy but I buy it because the characters do. That’s a saving grace, at least.

“Monster” and “Golem” attempts returns to the themes of what drives people, of how desperate people may be to find something that keeps people going. But “Monster” does little to explore Sevarius’ motivation outside of his dream of a Loch Ness Monster petting zoo, and “Golem” is too narrow and simplistic in Renard’s attempt at immortality – in a world of magic, robotics, cybernetics, and all sorts of narrative flim-flamery, his focus on regaining “life” through a random piece of Jewish lore seems way too random, never mind how a bland speech by Goliath made him see the errors of his ways. The “World Tour” holds promise, and I still think it can right the ship, but so far Avalon has been leading them nowhere.

“Monster” B-/”Golem” B-


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