Gargoyles “The Green/Sentinel”


Gargoyles_Sentinel_screenshot

Cary Bates is starting to prove to be the weakest writer on the Gargoyles’ staff. I’m absolutely sure that he means well, and I think that his broader ideas are quite workable, in theory. But looking over the episodes he wrote – “The Silver Falcon,” “Outfoxed,” “Monsters,” “Eye of the Storm,” among others – it’s clear that he struggles with conflicting personalities and delving into characters’ psyches, particularly in tense situations. While everyone else on staff is trying to building up the gargoyles and their world, Bates seems satisfied with writing material bordering on fan-fiction. His strongest material are episodes that involve Thailog, a fan-fiction character if I ever saw one – but he works for the show, particularly as both a foil to Goliath and Xanatos. Beyond that, he pretty much tosses Goliath up against another character, and brute forces a relationship (protagonistic OR antagonistic) that never clicks. “The Green” and “Sentinel” are two perfect examples.

Gargoyles 2×38 – The Green

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“The Green” is an environmental episode, which always garners a sigh, even from the most staunch environmentalists. That doesn’t necessarily lead to a bad, cloying episode by nature, but, like “Lighthouse in the Sea of Time,” it’s clear that the episode is more concerned about teaching a lesson then it is about letting the lesson engage as a subtext to the overall plot (like the gun safety lesson in “Deadly Force”). It’s also… well, I don’t want to use the word “lazy,” but there’s definitely a sense that the episode believes its engaging in plot aspects that are bigger then they actually are.

Goliath, Angela, Bronx, and Elisa arrive in Guatemala, and find another clan of gargoyles battling some nameless construction crew out there chopping down trees. Interesting that the humans here have guns, after all the work the show (most likely by Disney’s demand) did to utilize laser weapons. It makes sense here though, but unlike other World Tour episodes, we aren’t presented with a “face” of the human crew, something to connect to the other side of this conflict (and there is another side, which I will get to in a moment.) The Brazilian gargoyles make a stand, right up until the point Jackal and Hyena appear.

I was kind of thrown off by this. Honestly, after the sadistic, power-mongering behavior Jackal displayed in “Grief,” seeing the two siblings be buddy-buddy is a bit disorienting. I suppose I can swallow that bitter pill if we assume that Hyena was distinctly aware that it was the immense power of Anubis that caused Jackal to act that way, and thus easily forgave him after turning her into a baby. Still, the fact that there’s NO tension between them is odd. The show is filled with moments that put once-collaborative partners at odds with each other, so to not call some attention to the events from “Grief” is just awkward. (Jackal refers to Egypt in the midst of battle, so it’s not like we can chalk it up to being aired out of order.)

Bates has always struggled with characters in ideological conflicts, so here he sets up a plot line so he can focus on cross-cutting fighting, instead of touching upon the farmer/environmental concerns the episode itself brings up. Basically, the four Guatemalan gargoyles don’t have to worry about turning to stone in the daylight due to a sorcerer who created a sun talisman, which is the power source four pendants worn by the those gargoyles that keeps them de-rocked(TM). Jackal and Hyena, after spying on them, do a bit of magic-internet research and discover that the sun talisman is New York. So Hyena is sent to the big city while Jackal stays behind, at the ready to destroy the stone gargoyles once the talisman is destroyed.

A few things. We learn that Cyberbiotics is paying Jackal and Hyena to take the Guatemalan gargoyles down. You would think that Vogel (on behalf of Renard, who is off ill-health), would be down on the plan instead of mildly reluctant. Also, Cyberbiotics have the NY resources to handle the destruction of the talisman – or at the very least throw some support behind Hyena on her mission. Also, and I guess this is part of Jackal’s impatient character, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to at least wait until you physically witnessed the gargoyles change to stone? And, this is more of a nit-pick, but where are Brooklyn and Hudson? The episode just jumps back and forth between the Jackal fight and the Hyena fight without any attempt to making this work on an aesthetic or character level.

This becomes even stranger when the episode starts to get into Ferngully-esque territory. The episode portrays the loggers as evil henchmen randomly cutting down trees, at least according to the gargoyles. But then they bring up the poorer farmers that are cutting trees down for food (well, for sustenance), which creates a morally grey conflict between the gargoyles and Elisa. The gargoyles believe all the trees should be protected. Elisa believes there should be a bit of leniency for the poorer humans. Absolutely nothing comes of this. The episode brings up a situation necessary for compromise, and throws it out the window for the all the fighting. Granted, the A-Team animation team is in full force here, and it looks amazing (particularly the Hyena fight), but in terms of developing the core story and its subtext, the episode doesn’t even bother. A minor rift occurs between Elisa and Goliath, but it doesn’t lead to anything. For a show that isn’t at all scared to get into the complexity of the issues it brings up, Bates hardly does anything with it.

The episode ends with the gargoyles defeating Jackal and Lexington/Broadway besting Hyena. Broadway’s comment about how maybe they should destroy the sun talisman is just weak tension (and I’m not sure why he’s holding it in his hand in stone form, when the Manhattan gargoyles have a room in the clock tower for important objects). Vogel ends Cyberbotics’ contract with Hyena and Jackal, as well as all the potential work they were doing in Guatemala, which probably will pay off down the line, narrative-wise. And to end the moral issue that exists between the pro-forest gargoyles and the pro-human expansion, two of the Guatemalan gargoyles take a floral section of the rainforest with the World Tour crew, which is a non-ending if I ever seen one. I suppose the assumption is that the section will indeed make it to Avalon while the World Tour crew will keep on touring, but that’s a stretch, and also, it doesn’t at all solve the core issue between humans and gargoyles, or even hint at a solution or compromise. Bates seems so focused on the dual-battles that he forgot that there were personal stakes involved, leaving “The Green” very lacking in color.

Gargoyles 2×39 – Sentinel

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Then Gargoyles decides to bring in aliens, and I don’t know what to say.

Another Bates episode that borders on fan-fiction, “Sentinel” also forgets that the core characters are actually characters, people who are confused and complicated and hurt. Also this is an amnesia plot, which is the worst of all plots. Granted, there’s a specific reason Elisa has amnesia, beyond a lazy “bumped on the head” catalyst, but the execution, again, is just way off.

The crew finds themselves on Easter Island. With Elisa asleep, the gargoyles explore the strange large-headed stone monuments that dot the area. While they’re gone, a strange creature comes into contact with Elisa, and with a quick edit, we see the poor girl wandering around, with no idea who she is. Luckily she’s picked up by Lydia Duane and Arthur Morwood-Smith, the scientists she and Bluestone were protecting back in “A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time.” Gargoyles loves its callbacks, and it’s a show that usually uses them to advance the overall mythology, but here, we don’t learn about them, nor do they exactly lend any assistance to the overall plot. Bates uses them as a crutch, a “Hey, remember these guys?” moment without giving them any substance.

Then things get really awkward. To me, it’s the most shocking scene in the entire run of Gargoyles‘ so far, because of how tonally off it is. The doctors want to take Elisa off to see specialist, but Goliath can’t let that happen. Which comes off a bit forceful, but it’s an understandable sentiment. When Elisa freaks out, Goliath’s reaction is… non-existent. In fact, it’s aggressive. Extremely aggressive. Elisa is terrified and even tries to shoot her empty-chambered gun at Goliath. But Goliath doesn’t even try to talk to her, or try to understand the situation, or express any type of genuine confusion over why Elisa is acting this way. He growls, “You’re coming with me,” then grunts out “Stop struggling,” with absolutely no gentleness that Elisa instilled in the beast via their time together.

I really, really don’t want to go here. I don’t. But with the burgeoning “romance” that exists between Elisa and Goliath (well, it’s more like a platonic relationship based on true respect and hints of affection),  the scene possesses, quite frankly, a rapey-vibe. I know that it’s not intentional. I know that I’m reading too much into it. But the aggression, the dialogue, the warm-lighting and staging of the bedroom – it’s difficult NOT to read it as such. The scientists clearly weren’t a threat to Goliath, so with the gargoyle not even trying to communicate with anyone in the room in any way, I just… I don’t know, man. I wish I could just chalk it up to being a poorly written scene, but the implications here are way too strong.

Overall, the episode is just about Goliath trying get Elisa to remember himself and the gargoyles. Barring that, at the very least she should trust her instincts (which is muddled since her original instincts were to shoot him in the face). Come to find out all of this was started by an alien who landed on Earth years ago. He was friendly with the natives (hence the Easter Island heads) and swore to protect them and all humans, then overtime, sans any contact with his species, got a bit crazy. He assumed the gargoyles were hostile aliens who brainwashed Elisa to trusting them, so he wiped her memory. He captures the gargoyles and almost kills them (via some of the strangest weaponry in sci-fi history), but Elisa  “trusts” her instincts and frees the gargoyles before its too late.

Forgetting for a moment that the introduction of aliens pushes Gargoyles into a realm that it really doesn’t need to be in (do you not have enough sci-fi/fantasy ideas to work with already!?), “Sentinel” is filled with questionable dialogue, unwieldy exposition, unnecessary characters, and problematic subtext. It, like “Eye of the Storm,” resolves its conflicts in a perfunctory manner, with little to no care of the core relationships between its main characters, nor the secondary characters it brings in. “Sentinel” tries to be about understanding your purpose in life, even when nature of your purpose is unclear or confusing. If that theme was tied to the broken structure of the episode overall, in that way, it succeeded.

“The Green” B/”Sentinel” C+

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