A storm is coming.
“The Gathering” doesn’t pull in every single event that has occurred up until point, but it does cull from a number of them. This two-part episode is about reunions and revelations and reveals, where humans and gargoyles and Oberon’s “progeny” come together and reunite, as tensions mount over one, small child. Gargoyles was built around massive layers of storytelling and mythologies, but by focusing on one simple but very important thing, and letting that thing explode to terrifying levels, the show pulls together, or should I say “gather,” its themes and narratives into one cohesive whole.
Gargoyles 2×44 – The Gathering – Part 1
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First we must re-unite. The first part of “The Gathering” is about re-establishing relationships, where disparaging groups come together, somewhat, in harmony. All of Oberon’s children arrive as predicted, including Coyote, Anubis, the Banshee, and Odin. I like that the Banshee was dragged in forcefully by the Three Sisters and everyone laughs at her; it has a humanizing effect, placing the majesty of the affair into a certain social context. That also includes the sibling-esque fight that occurs between Odin and the Banshee, which includes extraordinary powers. This amuse Oberon for a bit, but when he tires of the conflict, and they fail to heed his words, he unleashes his wrath. He removes Banshee’s voice as well, for punishment for failing to heed his call to the gathering.
I really love Terrence Mann’s approach to Oberon. While most everyone has a booming, slightly over-the-top approach to their voices (akin to the show’s Shakespearean roots), Mann brings a casual, conversational, and even somewhat board approach to his character’s voice, which allows some of his more questionable choices to slide. He’s Oberon, he’s super-powerful, so he kinda just does what he does without thinking too much on it. Note how he just ups and leaves the Gathering to fetch Puck (although part of that is the show kinda forgetting about the Gathering, since we never come back to it, unless this is brought up later). Mann’s request to Princess Katherine for Boudicca’s services is particular of note, in how the casual demanding tone both freaks out Katherine and suggests Oberon’s superhuman abilities.
The best part about “The Gathering?” Xanatos’ dad is back! The guy who went back in time, and is now about to see some powerful, magic shit, is still quipping in generic dad fashion, and it’s fantastic. Unlike all the other characters here – Renard, Fox, Fox’s mother, Owen, Vogel, and Xanatos – Xanatos’ dad hasn’t really been part of the magical/scientific dealings that the show’s been involved in. So to see him react so casually and ambivalently to the show’s more insane events is just amazing, and it feels like an in-joke for the writers. His arrival here is just for the birth of Xanatos’ and Fox’s son for now, although when Fox’s mom mentions she remarried, Owen freaks out and leaves. Thus begins the Owen/Vogel explanation.
Oberon and Boudicca tracks Puck to Xanatos’ tower, but Oberon senses Titania around, which completely shifts the episode in a new direction. Storm clouds gather and lightening flashes as a vague tension mounts. It’s a visual cliche but the episode builds so well that it works. Bursting into the room where the Xanatos family gathered, Oberon pretty much forces Anastasia to reveal herself as Titania, which of course freaks out everyone (except Xanatos’ dad, because of course). You see, Titania, after she was banished by Oberon from Avalon, assumed a human form and married Halcyon, up until he got sick and she got bored of him. Fox’s birth on earth prevented her from developing her magic, but Titania wants to bring Xanatos’ and Fox’s son back to Avalon to raise there properly. A set of parents want to steal a son from another set of parents. Shit has gotten real.
Powerful episodes of TV and several movies have been based on forces trying to steal children from desperate parents, and this is was drives this episode at the end. Oberon doesn’t seem to care too much, but he wants to satisfy his wife, and he can’t even fathom the idea of mortals refusing him. This fits his character from last week’s “Ill Met by Moonlight;” he considers giving the humans one hour (Editor note: It may be one day – will correct this when I double-check) to say goodbye an act of mercy. It’s good stuff, although getting hurt by the laser gun Xanatos fires at him seems off; the parameters of Oberon’s powers are muddled, which becomes more confounding in the second episode.
At this point though, there’s a lot of setting up, based around gatherings. In addition to the Avalon Gathering and the Xanatos Family gathering, the Manhattan clan is reunited, which is just a wonderful moment to watch. The clan hugging and greeting Goliath and Elisa and Bronx, and meeting with Angela, is such a nice scene that I wish it lasted longer. I’m less enamored by the romantic angle budding between Goliath and Elisa when he drops her off at home. The most dated “concept” of the 90s is the fact that a male and female lead pairing in a show falling in love; why writers couldn’t (and still can’t) handle long term platonic relationships is beyond me.
The episode ends setting up for the battle royal. Titania requests the gargoyles’ assistance to take Xanatos’ child, but they refuse and in fact run off to help Xanatos. Owen tells Xanatos that he knew about Titania/Anastasia and helps sets up a security system to hold Oberon back (although with advice about Oberon’s energy source and his vulnerability to iron). When Oberon tries to get into Xanatos’ building and is blocked by (I assume an iron/energy-sapping force field), he puts all humans to sleep, which is really a writers cheat to keep away gawking humans (and it doesn’t work 100%). Oberon grows into a giant and gets himself ready to unleash his power. The show’s biggest fight is about to go down, and it promises to be a doozy…
Gargoyles 2×45 – The Gathering – Part 2
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… or so I thought. I’m not insanely disappointed in the second part of “The Gathering,” but man, with all the intense hype of the first part, this is somewhat of a letdown. Part of the problem is that Koko Enterprise Animation, which handled the low-key, talk-heavy animations and expressions of the first part, just cannot bring themselves to handle the action-heavy demands of the second part. Particularly when it comes to the changing perspectives of the giant Oberon, which is shot at several angles. His size constantly changes, which makes it really hard to tell that he’s shrinking when his energy is sapped. The action sequences in the air are also boring and choppy, which characters failing to stay on model when things get really intense.
It’s not all the animation’s fault though. The writers really attempt to make an all-out action episode, but it’s clear that they’re struggling to find specific things to do to keep up the bedlam and keep it interesting. Nothing is more obvious than the arrival of Renard’s and Vogel’s airship. For one, they somehow managed not to succumb to Oberon’s sleeping spell. The other thing is that they unleash an UNCANNY amounts of “cybots” to attack Oberon, and it looks kind of silly. Is that all that he had? Seriously? I like that Renard had a real purpose here – protecting his grandson – but once Oberon takes his ship down he’s gone from the episode.
That’s a microcosm of the episode in general. It struggles with contextualizing all the action beats. Instead of bringing all the chaos together in a controlled manner, such as the iron-based gargoyle robots, Goliath’s clan, and Renard’s attack, the battle is very structured. First, it’s Oberon vs. the force field. Then it’s Oberon vs. the iron gargoyles, part 1. Then it’s Oberon vs. the gargoyles. Then it’s Oberon vs. the iron gargoyles, part 2. Then it’s Oberon vs. Renard. It also doesn’t help that Oberon’s abilities are just… random. At one point, the gargoyles fly around Oberon’s head, and he kinda halfheartedly swats at them like their flies, without actually hitting them. I know the guy is weakening, but he still has enough power in him to bring other stone creatures to life and control the weather. It’s somewhat awkward to see him flit about when he could kill everyone with a snap.
I chalk that up to arrogance and anger, though. As the cybots sap his energy, Oberon mentions that his rage has clouded his judgement. I buy it. Oberon is like a magical Xanatos, but without the smarts. Once he gets the chance to think, he takes out everyone with freezing cold rain and goes underneath the force field. (Even as a kid, when I saw this episode, my first thought was to try going underneath it. One of the problems with many action cartoons is that a lot of writers are concerned with booming action sequences instead of characters using the physical action to meet their objective. So even though the episode skirts by with Oberon’s anger admission, I’m not a hundred percent sold that everyone involved were doing their all. I mean, the second Owen told Xanatos of Oberon’s iron weakness, the guy should have had iron EVERYTHING. Yeah, don’t tell me he didn’t have time, since he seem to have time to build iron gargoyles and place them in random parts of the city – and by the way, what is up with that?)
I digress. So Oberon bursts into Xanatos’ building through the ground and destroys the generators creating the force field (?). So everyone comes together to try and stop Oberon, and they fail. (There’s a bit where Xanatos’ dad tells his son that he’s proud of him, and it’s great, not because it’s a powerful, subtle moment, but because the guy took a moment out of facing death against a GOD to do some mediocre fathering. He is seriously the Nick Offerman of the show; he even gets to shoot Oberon with a iron harpoon, because of course he can shoot the magic-super-speed-deity with ease.)
Just when it looks like things are at their worse, Owen arrives, and here’s the kicker: Owen reveals himself to be Puck! Honestly, it’s a big, surprising reveal, although how the reveal is handled is a little weird. He monologues his whole spiel – while attacking Oberon with his living visual aids – and I’m surprised Oberon let him do it, specifically since he mentions how he doesn’t care. It’s just so the writers can explain the reveal, and also to justify Puck’s decision, and to explain why Owen so similar to Vogel – because the trickster was amused by playing someone so straight. It’s a weird, weird beat, and it doesn’t work all that well due to its heavily expositional nature, but it’s a surprise nonetheless, made more so that Xanatos actually knew about it, and opted to choose Puck’s/Owen’s service over his one wish (probably because Xanatos knows all too well that wishes from tricksters never work out).
Oberon had enough, though. After blowing up everything again (including Puck), he teleports into the room to take the baby, but because of power of a mother scorned, Fox unleashes pent-up magic to blast Oberon away. It’s a nice, if predictable, climactic moment, that leads to Goliath convincing Oberon that the child can stay, with Puck as a teacher (a bit too easily, I suppose); Puck, however, is banished from Avalon and stripped of his powers, save when he’s teaching/protecting the boy. At least someone is punished for standing up to Oberon. Puck accepts his fate (as Owen), Titania plays it all like she had this whole thing plan (not sure how many of the “planned from the beginning” plotlines I can take anymore), and Goliath and Xanatos comes to an uneasy but understandable alliance. That third point may be the strongest part of the episode, but with shaky animation and random-for-the-sake-of-random rhythms to the actual fight, “The Gathering’s” second part never comes together as smoothly as the first.
Titania whispers something to Fox before she and Oberon disappear. With seven more episodes to go in the second season, those may be the most important words ever. Time will tell where they will lead.
“The Gathering, part 1″ A-/”The Gathering, part 2” B-