Gargoyles “The Hound of Ulster/Walkabout”


Gargoyles_Walkabout_screenshot

Sometimes the very things that drive you are nebulous or confusing. They’re unclear. And with that lack of clarity comes chaos, mostly of the mental/spiritual kind, but it can manifest itself into uncouth physical behavior – paranoia, threats, petty crime, the destruction of the world. That final one is somewhat unlikely, although if you were a hive-mind batch of nano-machines, then I suppose it’s a possibility.

“The Hound of Ulster” and “Walkabout” continue to solidify Gargoyles’ World Tour in strong ways, mainly by placing Goliath, Angela, Elisa, and Bronx in the midst of events already in progress, involving characters we’ve already met, or characters who deal with situations that will cause issues for certain later. It’s also been a great way to give a small amount of insight into certain characters, and surprisingly, “The Hound of Ulster” does just that with Bronx.

Gargoyles 2×32 – The Hound Of Ulster

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Really, “The Hound of Ulster” is just “Heritage” retooled for Irish folklore, specifically, this tale of Cu Chulainn. It tweaks it a little bit, adding typical other aspects of Irish folklore, like the Banshee and the will-o-the-wisps (which you may know more from Disney’s Brave.) I enjoy Gargoyles’ use of history and tall tales within its massive story, particularly how it reaches out to perhaps lesser known stories from around the world. In 2014, it is easier quickly research the show’s historical references as they occur, which gives me an advantage; in 1994, kids were fairly limited to enjoying the show’s interplay between fiction and lore on its own merits, which is both good and bad – young audiences would’ve received a passing knowledge of these stories, yet may have been less likely to look into them further.

Still, this episode is a stronger told story than “Heritage,” keeping the story simple and keeping things mysterious until the end. Unlike “Heritage,” which foretold the revelation early (which means we’re just stuck waiting until the main character realizes his true self), “The Hound of Ulster” keeps the balls in the air until it matter. We follow Rory Dugan, a young man who is lost in life, with no skills in a country with no jobs. His girlfriend, Molly, seems to be leading him on a path of chaos, stealing clothes and otherwise getting into trouble. His father is giving him a hard time, pushing him to be more active with being too overbearing.

Part of me tend to shy away from “this is your destiny” stories, because, like “Heritage,” it’s all about kinda sitting around and waiting for some wuss to stop being wuss and start kicking ass. “The Hound” works because it doesn’t even touch the idea of Rory being the reincarnated Cu Chulainn until the end, and it sets it up as as Bronx being his guide. While I would’ve preferred Rory making real decision to fight the Banshee on his own, it more or less implies this when Rory makes the decision to see the entire weirdness to the end.

Gargoyles has always portrayed Bronx as someone who can sense the goodness/evilness of a person, so here, after he finds Rory in the woods, he saves him from a pit and warns him of the danger of Molly. Molly, who is really the Banshee in disguise, tries to keep Rory away from Bronx (ie, the figure guiding Rory), but deep down, Rory knows that he has to follow the weird clues and visions to the end. He does, revealing himself as Cu Chulainn and besting Molly/the Banshee in a pretty nifty animation scene.

The only thing about this episode is that Goliath, Angela, and Elisa don’t really do anything other than get captured and listen to the Banshee rant, which leads to the revelation that the Banshee is another one of Oberon’s children. Oberon continues to be this overarching figure that seems to have his or her tendrils in a lot of the stranger characters and elements in this show (Puck, the Banshee, Grandmother), and it’s unclear if he’s evil or good. Probably both, like his children. Definitely important to keep this figure in the back of your mind.

Still, “The Hound of Ulster” is a nice, tight, focused story about Rory coming to terms to his purpose. Rory thinks Bronx is the Hound of Ulster of legend, but in reality, it’s Rory as Cu Chulainn that is the true Hound, a hero who has to prepare himself for his role in protecting Ireland, all thanks to Bronx.. Tama Animation does pretty great work here, with Jade’s sensibilities to round out the rough edges (basically, you always want to see Jade Animation in the credits), primarily focused on the framing of its characters and their interaction instead of aggressive action scenes. The episode overall makes a nice, strong, if inconsequential, addition to the episode list.

 

Gargoyles 2×33 – Walkabout

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Speaking of heroes… looks like Dingo too is taking up that mantle as well. “Walkabout” focuses on the rogue member of the Pack as he heads over to Australia tries to find his own purpose in life, after stepping away from the now-freakish members of his former team. “Walkabout” isn’t as good or tense or as well-animated as “The Hound of Ulster,” but it has a few fun reveals among some really weird, weird moments.

Dingo’s hostile reaction to his teammates’ decisions to have their bodies physically modified by Xanatos/Coyote feels like an angle that the show needs to explore more. And maybe it will, especially in the aftermath of Dingo’s heroic reawakening. Yet the episode not touching upon his egregiously bigoted behavior is a bit disconcerting. I don’t mean so much in that Dingo was being “racist” in the sense that one could be when face with people who transformed themselves into cyborgs and wolf-men. I mean that he radically directed hate and vitriol at his “friends” merely because they made changes to their body. It’s a great way for the show to display individual personalities of the Pack, but Dingo was a villain, stewed in his vileness, directed that vileness to his team, then abandoned them. Now we suddenly see him trying to reform?

I feel like we’re missing something here, and perhaps later we’ll see more of Dingo’s transformation, but we’re pretty much thrown right into a scene where Dingo is planning a walkabout to try and clear his conscious, and it’s a bit off, especially when he sees Goliath and the two start throwing down. Dingo doesn’t even try to explain his attempt at reform. It’s somewhat off-putting in an episode where “off-putting” is the basic element of the episode, especially where the grey goo comes into play.

Grey goo is a “real” thing, and now-pregnant Fox and her mother are testing their own batch of it – specifically, nano-machines that self-replicate and adapt. They can re-shape the world in their own image, and the females of the Renard clan were hoping to harness that power. Of course, if you ever seen any science fiction thing ever, the nano-mahcines, with their own AI attached, realize the world sucks (well, it’s too chaotic), and want to restore order.

Two things. I love Gargoyles mixing heavy science fiction with dark fantasy with out taking the lazy “steampunk” way out. It’s committed to the two elements equally, creating a blend that usually doesn’t work in entertainment (looks at Final Fantasy 7 grudgingly). And to be direct, other than Coldstone, I don’t think Gargoyles handled it all that well, either. But it’s COMMITTED to both sides, and that means more than anything else. It keeps the overall arcs tense and allows for the show to utilize a lot of plot tropes throughout all of literature.

Secondly, the episode brings up a pretty fascinating point. The world – the universe – is chaotic by nature. It’s purposeless. It’s random and messy because order suggests control, a force with a “plan” for everything. So an episode where an AI believes its purpose is to force order in a world defined by chaos is right in the show’s wheelbarrow. A machine whose purpose, whose programming, is designed to find order makes for intriguing stuff, especially when the episode asks: What is order?

Is order just forcing everyone to act like blind, subversive automatons? If so, to what purpose? Is their “free will” too much of a risk? That is, is mortality too chaotic, and the only true way to create order is to kill everyone? Does that include animals? “Walkabout” poses these questions smartly, although the answer they come up with is a bit strange. In order for the nano-machines to achieve their goal, they have to tap into a nuclear power source. To stop the nano-machines, Goliath and Dingo have to “talk” to it. To do that, they have to enter the dreamworld.

This is where the episode starts to fall off the rails. It’s not bad, per se, but again, there seems to be a missing step here.  Goliath and Dingo, who have come to a truce after saving each other a few times from the goo, clasps arms and go on a vision-quest with help from the local shaman, in order to talk with the AI directly. I think they’re going for the magic/science inner-workings dream state stuff that they did with Coldstone. It didn’t quite work there, and it doesn’t work now, particularly because the AI doesn’t have any real magical connection (at least Coldstone was reborn partly by magic). The dreamworld is weird, and the atom-brain AI speaks the same kind of AI crap that all AIs say to justify their genocide. Even though Goliath is the better speaker, it’s Dingo nonsensical blathering about “law and order” that wins over the AI.

I really love the idea of this – redefining order as not a state of absolute universal conformity but a process of checks and balances, of justice. The AI is unfamiliar with this concept, and technically, so is Dingo, so it’s comically interesting to see the two “fuse” together to try out their power in order to fight crime. (Particularly, I love Dingo’s awkwardness in trying to communicate his idea, and while I’m not 100% behind on the idea that it would work, I buy it because the AI isn’t hyper-intelligent, just a quick-learner, and Dingo got to it before it reached ultimate sentience.) I have my doubts though; with Dingo’s questionable attitude and the AI’s low tolerance for humanity’s chaotic moral code, this could lead to a dangerous, fascist-esque state of affairs. For now, though, Dingo and Goliath has reached a mutual understanding, and the former has found his purpose, even if the journey there was a strange one.

“The House of Ulster” A/”Walkabout” B+

 

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