Gargoyles “Grief/Kingdom”

Gargoyles_Kingdom_screenshot

Apologies for the sudden drop in recaps. To say work has swallowed me up would be an understatement. I’m getting a heck of a lot of OT though!

So would Goliath, Angela, Eliza, and Bronx if they were getting paid for their troubles (like my segue?). “Grief” and “Kingdom” are continuing the strong surge of episodes that the World Tour allows, and they also double down on my argument that this whole World Tour thing was, broadly speaking, unnecessary but established to dole out plotlines in easy, bite-sized chunks. Complexity gets a lot of love but it doesn’t quite work in Gargoyles’ favor, not because it’s hard to follow, but because it’s not a show that can give its various developments time to breathe. Now it can, and the show is better for it.

Gargoyles 2×30 – Grief

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I should be punished for not paying attention, for all that little banter between Xanatos and Owen pays off here – well, to be specific, one of their many discussions does. Specifically, their past talk of the Emir has to do with a well-versed sorcerer trying to find yet another spell granting immortality for Xanatos. I spoken about Xanatos desire to live forever; he fears dying, but not so much the exact prospect of death, but the inability to control and desire that death would bring. So the Emir was sent to discover an Egyptian spell and call forth the god of death, Anubis, to grant his benefactor that power.

“Grief” is about death and dying, up close and personal. This is not an easy episode to watch, more “disturbing” than Demona’s stone destruction back in “City of Stone.” But it’s an important one, I think. I can see people thinking its too intense for kids but there really isn’t nothing wrong with telling a story in which kids are confronted with their own mortality, as long as there’s an understanding as death as a real, unavoidable fact, and that there’s a dark but important value to it (as Hudson implied so long ago). Still, the scene where a bunch of alligators are turned into skeletons is a shock.

So we find the Emir dangerously close to finalizing the spell, under the protection watchful eye of the remaining members of the Pack – Coyote, Jackal, Wolf, and Hyena, all of whom have been transformed into robotic/monsters by Xanatos. Their role is to make sure that the Emir is following through, but the Emir has his own plans; namely, to demand that Anubis return his dead son to him. My nit-pick is that we learn nothing about the Emir except his dilemma, but Tony Shalhoub (yes, Monk!) sells his grief so expertly. I mean, the man is arguing with DEATH INCARNATE about how he will punish him unless he brings him back his son; obviously the guy has done nothing else with his life except focus on his child’s reincarnation.

The Emir’s purpose in life is clear, re-emphasizing the show’s theme of needing a purpose in life to live on, and nothing is stronger to base that theme on than death of a loved one. But what about the Pack? Coyote is just a robot, following orders. Hyena is… well, she’s attracted to Coyote. Sexually. I don’t know what to think about this. Coyote is just a program, and we ain’t working with Her material. I guess this is supposed to be a joke but I kinda feel like this is a disservice to a fairly strong female character. Wolf is kinda there, just doing what he has to do. It’s Jackal that’s the oddball out.

I never would’ve thought that the Pack were entering otherkin territory. I mean, the various names of the Pack were given to them for a TV show. Gargoyles doubling down on their names as a life-agenda was always a risk, but worked so far because they were just nicknames given to criminals. Jackal eying Anubis as “the original model” is taking it a step into an area that the show isn’t quite prepared for. The Jackal isn’t an Anubis worshiper. He isn’t modeling his combat skills to a jackal. He’s not a furry. Maybe the show is trying to establish Jackal as a guy obsessed with power. Yet he was the one more prone to having sadistic fun with his murderous behavior, so this doesn’t fly. Again, the strength of the VO work and the writing allows us to push through all this, but let’s be clear: there’s a definitive correlation gap here.

It works so well though, mainly because of the Emir/Anubis dialogue (I kinda don’t want to get into the part where the Pack leads a captured Elisa/Goliath/Angela/Bronx into another room to kill them, only for them to escape, when they could’ve easily killed them earlier. Kids cartoon… kids cartoon… kids cartoon…). Emir tries to channel Anubis’ power over life and death, but Jackal forcefully takes it from him, absorbing the power and kicking ass. It’s odd, again, that Jackal suddenly is lusting for power, and while his behavior in god-form is in-character, the lead up to it isn’t (nor was transforming his sister into a baby). Yet even though he ages Goliath and Angela, the two still manage to take him down long enough for the Emir to transfer the power from Jackal to him. The new ability gives the Emir the true perspective over life and death, realizing his desire for his dead son’s life is moot and inescapable. He brings the entire place crumbling down, not allowing anyone to derive this power ever again.

The Emir’s true purpose has been fulfilled; in some ways, he and Egypt are a snapshot of Goliath’s team and Avalon, figures on a journey of discovery and realization. Disney’s A-Team animation did this episode, although some of the visuals are a bit murky, particularly the fight scenes (I think the storyboards are what really what throws things off here). Still, “Grief” is powerful work due to the strength of the writing and the work of the actors. The Emir has found his peace. Here’s hoping the World Tour team can find their own.

BUT LET’S CHECK IN ON THE MANHATTAN  CLAN, HUH?

“Kingdom” returns us to New York as we check in on Hudson, Broadway, Brooklyn, and Lexington, all desperately looking for their compatriots. I was surprised to come back to these guys, but honestly, I did miss them a lot, and it’s great the show is taking the time to acknowledge they’re still trying to get along, even if things are in disarray.

Toon City took the mantle for animating this episode, and they kinda remind me of Startoons, particularly in how the characters talk. They do passable work, but they seem to approach a lot of the visuals and movements in a goofy, semi-jokey affair, particularly in a tonally-off scene where Claw has to pantomime the immediate events that occurred to Fang. Honestly, though, I think -everything- is off about that one scene: the character, the staging, the layout, and the music. In fact, there are a few things off about an otherwise exciting episode, which sucks as the writing tends to get away from itself from time to time.

We find the remaining gargoyles scouring the city to find their friends, to no avail. Brooklyn, the second in command, is in a panic, holding out hope that Goliath will turn up, but more worried that he isn’t ready for the leadership role he was given back in “Upgrade.” There are a lot of questions and angles to this, after all: how far and how long do you keep searching? Who do you look into, and much do you push it? How do you respond to the concerns of the people you command? Brooklyn isn’t up to the task. Luckily, Broadway and Lex are patient, and Hudson takes up the de-facto leader role until Brooklyn gets his head straight. I love how subtle they play Hudson here; he makes good suggestions slyly to Brooklyn can pounce upon them in “leader-ly” fashion, helping him out until he comes into his own.

Their search first leads them to the Labyrinth, a nondescript underground area that seems to be an abandoned subway station [note: it’s an Cybernetics lab, but it looks different – much bigger than the design of the place we see in “The Cage”] large enough to house some homeless people. But here we find the Mutates, who took up roost. Talon is dedicated to protecting the people, but Fang his planning his own bit of treason, exploiting the poor people of their goods and otherwise terrorizing the people that live below.

Part of the issue here is that Fang is voiced by Jim Belushi. I… don’t really want to get into a whole thing about the “lesser” Belushi, but while he was fine as a light-hearted, take-whatever-comes-his-way mutate back in “The Cage,” having him carry an episode is a mistake. His voice is way off from the Shakespearean intonation of the rest of the cast; maybe that’s why Toon City was chosen for the episode, to double down on his more cartoonish voice? Fang is a fine character and his traitorous motivations are sound, but Belushi really is all wrong here.

Basically, the remaining Manhattan clan along with Talon head off to Xanatos, assuming he has their missing friends, while Fang executes his uprising. After a bit of a shootout (and where Broadway continues to show that he’s the best fighter), they inadvertently tell Xanatos the news while searching the place, and we already see his mind reeling with ideas. We’ll probably be seeing him again. But they don’t find anything, and Brooklyn flies off double-frustrated and double-doubtful. Fang, down below, randomly finds some laser blasters, which is a little bit far-fetched, but it allows for some more shooty scenes. After a bit of a battle between Talon and Fang, Talon trades places with a captured Maggie, who rushes to the Manhattan Clan for help. Brooklyn, finally given the right motivation (the right purpose, if you will), orders his clan to assist.

And while we get a good ol’ fashioned battle, I do like the little trick Brooklyn and Maggie play to get the upper hand on Fang – play emotional while sneaking Talon out of his prison. There are some staging issues – I was kinda surprised they played the stolen keycard bit so long, showing where it was taken from (off Fang’s neck), and I think they’re were trying to show Claw as being conflicted about where to place his loyalties, but some scenes show him as a scared little wuss, which hasn’t never been the case for the silent Mutate. But the theme of leadership, and understanding the nature of that leadership, is what drives this episode, and it drives Brooklyn and Talon into a mutual understanding, as indicated by the handshake above. Never give up hope, but protect your people in the interim.

“Grief” A-/”Kingdom” B+

 

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CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Eek! the Cat

Eek! the Cat found hilarity in suffering, which is no easy feat.

Eek the Cat

For a cartoon centered around a chubby purple cat that constantly and consistently gets hurt, Eek! the Cat coasts wonderfully on an earnest, endearing sensibility. It physical prat falls and sly references never overshadow the sheer positivity of the show, which makes watching Eek! the Cat a treat and a delight to watch. Creators Bill Kopp and Savage Steve Holland clearly had a distinct vision and commitment to its premise, ostensibly parodying and satirizing the very nature of the “cute helpful animal” icon via Eek himself, yet expressed their quirky, comedic talents within their affection for the characters.

Eek! the Cat may not have been the best cartoon of the 90s, but it was without a doubt the most rewarding, which makes its disappearance from the public conscious all the more disappointing. If I remember correctly, it had a pretty sizable following – and with five seasons under its belt, FOX KIDS felt so as well. It’s a funny, hilarious, and occasionally subversive show that follows its titular character through some of the strangest, most surreal situations, who always approaches every encounter with an infectious optimism. Even when Eek is smashed by a door, crushed by a piano, or blown up by a bomb, he still wills himself to help others, his mantra “It never hurts to help!” guiding him through the pleasure (and pain) of altruism.

Eek! the Cat follows the principle that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” (even literally, as in “Eek Goes to the Hot Spot,” where by holding a place in heaven’s line for another mischievous cat, Eek is sent down to hell by mistake). The show’s approach to the misery that is life resembles that of another memorable cartoon, Rocko’s Modern Life. Yet while that show focused on life’s malevolent eccentricities with a Fleischer-esque absurdity, Eek! the Cat uses its characters’ inherently helpful nature to push through broader, crazier adventures via a Tex Avery-template, all in the name of saving the day, whether emotionally or physically.

As I’ve mentioned before in previous pieces, cartoon pilots are mostly about setting the tone and comic sensibility of the show, which tends to leave character development lacking, which makes Eek! the Cat’s first episode, “Misereek,” somewhat disappointing. It lacks confidence, but it does showcase some early crackpot, physically gags, where a desperate, hungry Eek tries to get the attention of his family, but ends up bouncing all over the neighborhood in increasingly absurd ways. Other than Mittens (who is fairly out of character), there are no mention of any side characters who will become central to the show’s development (well, there’s the family – Mom, Wendy Elizabeth, and J.B., but as the show goes on they become less important).

“Bearz N’ the Hood” is when the show comes into its own. The line between Eek as a talking pet and anthropomorphic character in world filled with them becomes blurred as Eek tries to get the autographs from the stars of “The Squishy Bearz Rainbow of Enchanted Fun Minute,” only to become the Squishy Bearz’s only ally when they’re on the run from the the law. (The line between “animal as pet,” “animal as animal,” and “animal as legal person” is not just blurred, but utterly irrelevant – trying to understand this is missing the very point of the show.) It’s a great episode, working with what Eek! the Cat does best – subverting yet another batch of cutesy characters (this time, the Care Bears) through a crackpot lens. And even as the show breaks apart that “mascot animal” trope, it still embraces them as real characters trying and eventually succeeding. This isn’t Happy Tree Friends. Eek! the Cat wants to break down the helpful, curious animal character trope and mold it into its own image.

The writers do depict “molding” in a variety of ways, like in “Eek vs. The Flying Saucers,” where a cute alien creature arrives on Earth and Eek tries to show him the beauty of what our planet has to offer. Of course, they encounter the worst of humanity, but even beyond that, the alien is wholly unimpressed when he’s shown “true beauty,” which is kind of a big deal – I don’t think I ever seen a piece of entertainment, animated or live-action, present the natural wonders of Earth with a mediocre shrug. I suppose it’s a moot point though, when the alien reveals himself to be Voltar, a multi-eyed creature bent on destroying the planet. (This is kind of a disappointing reveal – I loved the alien’s blase reactions to the greatest things the world has to offer and wish he was a regular character.) Or take “Cape Fur,” in which Eek’s family finds a cute pink bunny stuck in the rain and bring him into his home. Eek is more than happy to help him, even as the bunny (hilariously voiced by the late Phil Hartman) starts to exhibit obvious sociopathic behavior. Eek doesn’t even entertain the idea that this rabbit is a thief and murderer until he sees a report about him on the news, and his family doesn’t believe him until its almost too late. A Cape Fear parody is the perfect template in which to break down the fluffy helpful animal trope. Then there’s “Catsanova,” in which Eek sees the massively obese Annabelle and falls in love – of course someone like Eek, who sees the best in everything, would be completely blind to Annabelle’s weight (a running gag involves Eek responding “Really?” to everyone who mentions how fat she is). In order to declare his love for Annabelle, however, Eek has to get past Sharky the Shark Dog.

Sharky the Shark Dog

Sharky the Shark Dog is television’s greatest forgotten animated character. A viciously violent yet classically refined canine who only speaks in barks and whimpers, Sharky is one of the few creations that can flawlessly fit the role of protagonist and antagonist, depending on the episode’s needs. Maybe because I have Hannibal on the brain, but Sharky as being both brilliant and destructive reminds me of NBC’s sophisticated monster (exaggerated, of course), which posits him perfectly in the elastic world of Eek! the Cat. He becomes central to the show, especially when the second season drops the 22-minute length episodes and starts with the 2 x 11-minute approach. The show loses the endearing helpfulness of its one-off characters since it can’t really work them in the shorter time length, but after a somewhat rocky start, Eek! the Cat, which is now known as Eek! And the Terrible Thunderlizards, changes its focus to insane adventures and broad parodies, using a number of the characters to riff on pop culture and pop culture tropes. It also “pairs” Eek and Sharky up on these adventures – as both partners and enemies, which works excellently.

The compilation era of Saturday morning forced the shorter length, and Kopp/Holland paired it with a new creation – The Terrible Thunderlizards. Parodying the machismo 80s’ “talking animal” action cartoon, The Terrible Thunderlizards is about three supposedly sadistic dinosaurs released from prison in order to destroy two humans whose very existence threatens to destroy dinosaur-kind. The show really functions along three premises: 1) through the humans, where Bill always finds himself in tremendous pain when Scooter’s comical attempts at human ingenuity goes awry; 2) the Thunderlizards themselves, who, in the midst of their mission to eradicate the humans, find themselves up against the the Thuggasaurs, an evil group of living, fossilized dinosaur bones; 3) the hate/really hate relationship between the Thunderlizards and General Galapagos, which has a broken-domestic quality to it (a hilarious recurring gag involves Galapagos turning to the camera in desperation, deadpanning “We dinosaurs are just doomed” whenever the Thunderlizards screw up).

The Terrible Thunderlizards lack the loose, wild freedom that Eek! The Cat has, but it has enough to function within Kopp’s and Holland’s themes of “comedy-through-suffering” and genre parody/satire. The Thunderlizards come off as tough, cruel, take-no-shit badasses, but over the course of the show it becomes clear that they’re really clumsy, good-hearted wusses with a surprising skillset when they’re focused on the true enemy. Things start off funny enough with a Roadrunner/Coyote-like battle between the Thunderlizards and the humans, where Bill and Scooter’s unlikely escapes are mistaken for military brilliance when the Thunderlizards’ weapons backfire (I love in particular Squat’s panicked tantrums, reminiscent of Bill Paxton’s “Game Over” reactions in Aliens). It’s a template that can’t last on its own, though, so the story mixes in a secondary element, the battle against the inept Thuggasaurs, which soon becomes the primary thrust of the show. It’s for the best, really, as it gives the show a specific genre to lambast, while working to endear the prisoners-turned-heroes. Even as the “heroic” dinosaurs find themselves smashed, crushed, and demolished, the writers understand to ensure their victory against the Thuggasaurs’ typically goofy plans. Hell, the very reason the Thunderlizards were put in prison was because they rescued an injured Thuggasaur; it’s funny to see the writers turn the show from abject parody into comical legitimacy. The Bill/Scooter elements, on the other hand, are amusing enough, although you can sort of feel the writers struggle to do more with it, introducing Babes (a female human of dated women stereotypes), Huckleberry (a dinosaur child that owns them like pets who is strangely dropped from the series), and educated, upperclass primates (which doesn’t go anywhere either.) It isn’t as if the human stuff is bad, per se, but the show gets so caught up with the Thunderlizards/Thuggasaurs action that the humans angle starts to feel perfunctory.

As mentioned, though, Eek! the Cat retools itself within the new 11-minute format, focusing more on inserting its eclectic cast into thin but obvious parodies which not only allows for some wild, absurd gags (most hits, some misses), but allows the characters to… well, I don’t want to say “develop,” but are allowed to be seen in a new light. The show starts to group the cast more frequently, giving the show a new approach by playing around with the comic relationship with each other. “Quadrapedia” is an ambitious musical, where all the characters sing to hilarious rock toons when Eek and Elmo goes on a quest to save Annabelle. “Mountain Groan” is a character free-for-all, where Eek, Annabelle, Elmo, and the Squishy Bearz go camping only to be kidnapped one-by-one. “Paws” is in my top ten, where a mutant goldfish infests Wendy’s kiddie pool, and Eek, Sharky, and Mittens have to set sail to find and capture it. The episode has a lot of fun with spacial distortion, portraying the five-foot pool as a massive, deadly ocean to explore, but the real comic drive is the insane but enjoyable interplay among the characters.

Seasons two and three are at the show’s strongest, really blending the absurdity with great characterizations. “Shark Doggy Dog” is a hoot, with the actual Don Cornelius guest-starring as he develops Sharky into a hit rapper (Cornelius notoriously hated rap music but attempted to soften up to “youths” by making appearances like this). “Eek Sneek Peek” takes an Animaniacs-like approach to telling its audience how a cartoon is made, in typical wacky fashion. “Lord of the Fleas” re-tells Lord of the Flies with penguins, really just so they can have a penguin yell out “SHUT UP, PIGGY” in a hilariously bad British accent. One of my favorites is “Try Hard,” which only uses its Die Hard reference as a locale; it’s really a Professor Clouseau-esque romp as multiple Sharkys try to eradicate a clueless Eek, but they just can never nail him. It’s a tight, physical-comedy focused episode, a massive improvement from the pilot, and has some of the show’s best visuals gags.

Eek! the Cat starts to lose its focus by season four. It never gets bad, but it seems to struggle with plotting, inexplicably moving away from the goofy interplay of its immaculate cast and focusing broadly on the “dog-chase-cat” antics between Eek and Sharky and the parodies/meta-gags/references. Before, it was all about the characters within those parodies/meta-gags/references, but it becomes all about the parodies/meta-gags/references at the expense of the characters. The first few episodes of season four are great – “Valley of the Dogs,” “Pup Fiction,” and “Outbreek” – but you can see the show slowly drop the meticulous plotting for more random, stream-of-conscious pacing. There’s more references to overwrought 90s events – the broken Hubble Telescope, the public’s seeming fascination with Melrose Place – and guest stars start to approach The Simpsons’ levels of uselessness. While Don Cornelius and Mr. T (in Thunderlizards) were perfectly inserted into Eek’s wacky world, the show stops all momentum to more or less heap unearned praise on John Landis, John Walsh, and Weird Al Yankovic, the latter being a particularly waste of a cameo. “The Gradueek” is a particularly late-season highlight, giving Sharky a real, palpable arc of sorts, but its telling that it his real crush, Platinum, is never mentioned. Subsequent episodes are funny but more scattershot; it’s not that they ran out of ideas, so much as they ran out of enthusiasm.

Part of that may be due to the failure of Klutter, which only managed seven episodes before disappearing. The problem with Klutter, which stars a monstrous living pile of clothes that get into silly adventures along with its tween cast, is that the show is immutable. The parody is clear – the anthropomorphic “thing” brought to life to help kids out – but unlike Eek! the Cat or Thunderlizards, Klutter is genuinely helpful and the kids are too “real” to be broken down, physically and metaphysically, and reshaped into something new and subversive. The writers has to play it straight, and the show is at a lost, with long, drawn-out sequences and scenes that pad for time. “The Klutter and I” for example, wastes almost five whole minutes with the kids trying to stay awake while bland TV parodies play over them. Without the ability to put them through a cartoon-physical hell, those attempts to play it straight fail; the situations are wacky and absurd, but the characters can’t match that tone. (One character’s hair color fails to be consistent across episodes.) Klutter isn’t terrible, but it’s unworkable.

Klutter wasn’t the distraction that hurt Eek! the Cat/The Terrible Thunderlizard’s final episodes. It wasn’t even that they ran out stories to tell. It seems more like Kopp and Holland were losing interest in the show and struggled with pushing it in any interesting directions. The fifth season is funny but feels hollow, uncomfortably focused solely on Eek and Sharky (and not their weird partnerships but the lazy antagonisms), which does the show an unfortunate disservice. Removing Mittens, Elmo, Annabelle, and the Bearz from the full scope of the show loses a lot of comic momentum, and even though the energy is still palpable, it leaves a wanting feeling. The final episode, “Rock-Eek 6,” ends with Sharky asking for Adrian (since it’s a Rocky parody through-and-through), and feels fleeting, reference for reference sake. The previous episode, “The Sound of Museek,” feels like the correct finale, with the show’s passion for music and the characters getting together for a genre-smackdown festival for yet-another Timothy ailment. Seeing the abstract band getting back together makes for a nice moment, a proper endgame.

Eek! the Cat revels in its cartoon absurdity, utilizing such icons as anvils, pianos, safes, and especially mallets to harm and maim is characters, whipping them out from the magic worlds that exist behind their backs. It’s a classic cartoon trope, but here, it’s specifically used to – sometimes literally – break apart other classic cartoon genres in order to create something that feels both new and old, familiar and subversive. Eek! the Cat wasn’t the 90s best cartoon, but it deserves to be counted among the best.

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Gargoyles “Sanctuary/M.I.A.”

Gargoyles Sanctuary screenshot

Now we’re taking.

The “World Tour” has finally started to live up to its promise, with two solid episodes that finally gives Avalon’s mission some purpose. Both episodes bring subtext to the forefront as well, something that Gargoyles always had a bit of a problem with. The episodes themselves are strong, narrative-wise, but the subtext is where the real meat is. And while “M.I.A.” takes the theme of drive and purpose, and turns it against itself into obsession, “Sanctuary” is noteworthy because so far, out of the entire show, this arguably may be the first episode to deal with its patriarchy/ feminist subtext so overtly – how drive and purpose is also used as manipulation and control, in particular of male control over women, and the various ways its subverted.

Gargoyles 2×28 – Sanctuary

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The crew arrives in Paris, and Elisa decides to do some sightseeing while the gargoyles are stone. She witnesses Macbeth and human Demona being lovey-dovey and tries to tail the latter after they separate, but she loses her. Elisa returns to Goliath with the information as well the news that some winged creatures were spotted over Notre Dame. Goliath and Bronx goes there to investigate, but before all of this, we need to talk about Goliath’s behavior towards the two women in his life, because for the first time, it’s a lot more harsher and controlling, cleverly paralleling Thailog’s actions later in the episode.

I had mentioned how disappointed I was with the father-reveal from “Monsters,” and while I still have some issues with that, “Sanctuary” does deal with the fallout, in unexpected ways. Angela addresses Goliath as “father,” a name he shoots down immediately, demanding that she think of the entire clan as her patronage. There is a truth to this, of course, but it’s a passing-the-buck kind of truth – as of this moment, there IS no clan. There is a thin layer of resentment Goliath shows Angela here, and I can imagine that after “Monsters,” Angela has tried to talk to Goliath about their relationship, which only made him think of the pain in losing Demona. It’s obvious that he wants to put a wall between that kind of bond, and he’s hiding behind gargoyle tradition to make it so.

It gets worse when he learns of Demona. Goliath attempts to solidify the wall, and he does two surprisingly terrible things: first, in order to keep Elisa with Angela, he tells Elisa that he wants to keep his daughter away from her mother (due to Angela’s concern about her parentage); then in the same beat, pushes the truth AGAIN by claiming Demona’s desire for vengeance is so strong that he needs Angela to stay with Elisa, to protect her. It’s a shock to see the noble Goliath pull such manipulations to keep them passive, shooting down any protestations, and it’s even more devastating that the two women acquiesce, portrayed in a two-shot of Elisa and Angela facing each other but not quite on the same plane, looking down and not at each other.

Gargoyles Elisa Angela

Goliath confronts Demona, and after a really poorly shot action scene (I get the sense that the editors here were cutting around particularly ugly visuals), Thailog arrives, and he and Demona are now a couple. It’s a bit tough to watch Demona, who was driven by hate (but a hate that she owned up to), kind of submit to Thailog over love, but there’s so many layers of control and manipulation here that it’s almost a miracle that the episode get away with it. Goliath thinks Demona is manipulating Thailog, both to get the false-Goliath to turn against humans as well as some other sinister plan involving Macbeth. After failing to convince him, and being accused of being jealous (and there’s definitely a layer of jealousy here), Goliath flies off, back towards the women he CAN control. Despite the ugly animation, the shot of Goliath standing tall in between the seated, submissive Elisa and Angela in the boat speaks uncomfortable volumes.

Gargoyles Angela Elisa Goliath

Here’s the full extent of the story: Goliath thinks Demona and Macbeth are plotting against Thailog. But Demona is actually marrying Macbeth only to imprison him for all eternity, declare him legally dead, and inherit his fortune, so as to combine it with Thailog’s cashflow stolen in “Double Jeopardy.” (The episode glosses over exactly what happened to them after “Avalon.” The Weird Sisters’ spell seems to “couple” the two as a unit – as a team in “High Noon” and here as lovers, but in both cases it’s temporary, and I guess Demona turning into a human during the day snapped her out of the spell quicker than Macbeth, which allowed her to manipulate him. It’s kinda messy and unclear, in particular how Macbeth is rich in Paris, but the plot cooks so it’s more fun to follow along.) The biggest reveal is Thailog is manipulating them both! He’s finagles a way to position Macbeth and Demona to try and kill each other so he can win BOTH their fortunes. Nice to see the guy utilizing his Xanatos’ training, and nice for the episode to toss aside the whole weird “male/family/shipping” vibe from “Double Jeopardy.”

I think it was all tossed aside to emphasize the more legitimate and creepy daughter/father vibe (and, by proxy, that sense of patriarchal/sexual control). In particular, when Goliath and Angela go up against Thailog, the latter speaks of Angela with a very libido-driven tone: his line-reading of “Mmmm, and a young one at that” isn’t lost to the viewer. Of course the show can’t get too explicit – or even too implicit – but the connotation can’t be denied, especially with the episode’s whole approach to control. Take a look at the opening screenshot – Thailog’s grabbing of Angela in that shot is charged as all hell. The whole episode is about powerful male figures taking control of female ones, and their attempts to fight back against this. It’s all there, especially in the fight between Demona and Macbeth; Macbeth is trying to kill Demona, while Demona is trying to control him. It’s powerful, intriguing stuff.

Elisa ends that fight by shooting Demona, knowing that no one else can kill the two except by each other’s hand (I forget if she learned that in “City of Stone” or “Avalon.”). Macbeth awakens miserable but somewhat comforted knowing that he is capable of love, despite this date ending somewhat awkwardly. Demona awakens and sees Angela for the first time, and there’s a connection there, although Demona runs off with Thailog before she can recognize it. It’s still odd to see Demona flail back into Thailog’s arms, but it’s less weakening the character and more for her to plot with a new Xanatos-equal. Less intriguing is the obvious “more than just friends” relationship burgeoning between Elisa and Goliath, especially with all the early shutting down of Elisa’s thoughts he did. I do like that Elisa smartly ended the Demona/Macbeth fight, and straight-up told Angela that Demona was indeed her mother. I hope this will allow the both of them to push back against Goliath a bit more, especially as it’s clear the show is gearing them to be a more familial unit, but it’s important to make sure Elisa and Angela still can stand on their own and are willing to call the main gargoyle out for his bullshit. It’s awkward in spots (the attempts at making “sanctuary” a running theme in the episode doesn’t work at all), but the gender/control subtext of the episode, coupled with the show’s theme of drive and reasons to keep going, makes it a standout.


 

“M.I.A.” [apologies, the episode isn’t set to allow embedding] is another highlight, but less in subtext, and more in setting up a tight narrative and creating memorable characters in a short amount of time. This episode also takes the theme of what drives people, and turns it against itself, and how that can be perverted in a way that has nothing to do with obsession, greed, or power. For this episode, it’s vengeance, but not the almost-justified, all-encompassing kind like Demona, but the petty, misguided, heat-of-the-moment kind that masks grief, guilt, and shame.

The top-tier studios are brought in for a beautiful take on three of the hatchlings of Goliath’s old brood (I think – I had to wiki this, but I didn’t want to look too much as to avoid spoilers) that has taken up in London. I should say two, though, as Una and Leo, who are more animal-anthropomorphic than typical gargoyles (which is a bit confusing), refuse to help local Londoners being harassed by nearby thugs. It should be noted that this runs counter to the whole gargoyle mantra – their whole purpose is to protect. Without that, they become rude, cruel, and vindictive, especially when Goliath and his friends have the “audacity” to ride into town.

To what extent should your purpose in life take you? If your purpose is to protect, is that just the home? The town? The state? The world? That’s the question “M.I.A.” poses, with Una, Leo, and the late-Griff as our debaters. Before getting to that, there needs to be some setup. The crew sees a commemorative statue to Griff and Goliath and are rightly confused, but a local friendly British guy tells the story of some creatures helping the Brits turn the German blitzkrieg. He takes them (well, Elisa, as Goliath, Angela, and Bronx follow) to Una and Leo, who are pissed at Goliath for what seems to be inexplicable reasons. Una knocks them all out with a spell, and when Goliath awakens, he finds his friends missing. Una and Leo sadistically hid them away, claiming to return the pain Goliath himself caused when he failed in his promise to protect Griff.

That is a hell of a thing. Una and Leo’s actions are vicious, Una clearly the mastermind here due to the obvious crush she had on Griff. Beyond that, though: this is what happens when the need to be given a purpose is suddenly drawn out after being packed in for so many years, creating this ill-advised, sad attempt at revenge. Even though their actions are abhorrent, you can’t help but feel sympathy for them, so desperate they are at wanting to something, anything, for they’re fallen comrade and the guilt they feel for what their part it in may be. As of right now, though, it’s just vindictive anger, and this forces Goliath to use the Phoenix Gate to figure out what the hell is going on.

He warps back into 1940s Britain, and after a narrow brush with a plane, runs into Griff. He introduces them to past-Una and Leo, and thus begins the discussion of their goal. Griff is gung-ho about stopping the Nazis, but Una and Leo are more reluctant. They claim this isn’t their fight, and it’s true, to an extent. But Griff truly believes in this fight and Goliath, while attempting to stay out of the debate, knows the consequences of staying out of battles with stakes bigger than the personal. As Goliath says: “In my experience, human problems become gargoyles problems.” He helps Griff, with the promise to protect him. Hence, the beginning of the episode.

Breath-taking action scenes follow as the two gargoyles battle the Germans and their non-Nazi-symboled aircraft. I particularly love the unspoken team-up that develops between the gargoyles and the British pilots. It’s a great moment, emphasizing how the higher stakes force everyone to look past differences and stand up to an ultimate evil. Goliath saves Griff’s life as promised, but it looks as if fate will not be denied. It attempts to create other methods to kill Griff, Final-Destination-style. Goliath breaks it by warping the two of them back to the present. I’m not sure how logical it sounds – wouldn’t fate try to kill him in the present? – but, you know, magic. Also good episodes allow you to ignore logic and enjoy everything that happens.

It also makes for a wonderful reunion in the end, too, as Leo and Una finally comes to terms with the part they played in Griff’s death. Sure, they didn’t do anything, but “evil prevails when good men do nothing,” and all that. To a gargoyle, doing nothing is the same thing as being evil, and the consequence of that was losing Griff, Goliath or no Goliath. Leo realizes this first, and Una follows suit, pushing past her emotional connection to Griff and embracing her guilt and grief simultaneously. In a way, the episode “rewards” this powerful moment with Griff’s return; the real reward is watching the three finally fight off the thugs from early in the episode.

The time-travel plot is handled simply and strongly here, a bit less cluttered than “Vows” or “Avalon.” There’s even a bit of a joke about the complexity of time travel with the final Goliath/Elisa exchange in the end, probably a bit of an in-joke about their past time-travel episodes. Regardless, “Sanctuary” and “M.I.A.” finally gives the World Tour episodes their own drive, their own real purpose. Here’s hoping they can keep this up.

“Sanctuary” A-/”M.I.A.” A-

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