Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Top 11 Gargoyles Episodes
The Nostalgia Critic just did his Top Eleven Episodes of Batman the Animated Series list, and I can't really argue with it, and this is definitely not what this entry is about. I considered doing my own list of Batman episodes, but it would be close enough to his to be redundant.
So, instead, I am going to do my "Top Eleven Episodes of Gargoyles" list instead. I will admit, this one was harder to do. While Batman's episodes are all mostly stand-alone, when it comes to "Gargoyles" episodes, it is such a tapestry with events of one episode flowing into the next, you almost want to pick out entire story arcs. And I feel I am already cheating enough by counting multi-parters as single episodes. But, the Nostalgia Critic counted the two-part "Two-Face" as a single, so I feel okay with doing the same.
Anyway, without further ado...
11. Future Tense
I love this episode, but I don't love it for the same reasons a lot of fans do. I never found the events of the episode shocking, or even dark. When I first saw the episode, I knew there was a twist coming. There is no way this could be real. And there is no way this show or these characters would even go in this direction.
But I did see the episode as a loving homage to dark futures like X-Men's "Days of Future Past" and the "Terminator" series. Obviously Puck has seen these movies, read these comics, and was genre savvy. Goliath, on the other hand, is not genre savvy. Wouldn't watch these movies, or read these comics, and this would all be new to him. It also showcases how Goliath was always ready to believe the worst whenever it came to Xanatos. Tricksters are often confused with Satan, and while Goliath is angry, you can almost feel him kicking himself when he discovers that this dark image of Xanatos does not actually exist.
Now that being said, there is a lot of very effective imagery in here. The blind Broadway, the cybernetic and corrupt Lexington (hell, one of his scars even vaguely looks like the Pack symbol), a reformed Demona fighting on the side of the angels, the destroyed Clock Tower, and the Eyrie Pyramid just looks really cool.
This episode also raised the question of how much of Puck's nightmare scenario (all just to get Goliath to hand over the Phoenix Gate) will actually come true. A few things already have, and what was just clearly a fantasy. Only time will tell.
"Future Tense," while nothing in that vision was new, the twists and turns of Puck's epic mind game were a pleasure to watch, and beautifully animated as well.
10. The Reckoning
Family ties come to a head as Goliath's biological daughter, the heroic and naive Angela meets her mother, the genocidal Demona for the first time. Throw in that Demona is shacking up with Goliath's evil clone, Thailog and you have a very exciting episode of "Gargoyles" or a very typical episode of "Maury."
This episode has been building up for a long time. When we first met Angela, it was very obvious who her biological parents were. She was already getting along well with Goliath, but every "Gargoyles" fan was waiting for her to meet mommy. Goliath did all he could to keep Angela away from Demona, because... well, let's face it, Demona is a female gargoyle version of Adolf Hitler. And, let's face it, Goliath did a terrible job of it and pushed Angela away from himself and downplayed the biological connection. However, he was Angela's father by any definition, including the gargoyle definition. So, he was coming off as a distant father and all because he feared what Angela could become if Demona got her talons into her. Angela and Demona met very briefly at the end of "Sanctuary" but there was no follow up on that until this episode aired.... Six. Months. Later. We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited.
Not only that, but we waited for a resolution to Demona's doomed romance with Thailog, who didn't care about her beyond the things she could do for him... both financial and sexual. Gotta love Thailog, not even one year old and he already had himself a very rich meal ticket who hadn't gotten laid in over a thousand years who had to be ready and more than willing... and yet not only did he betray Demona, while he was cloning the Manhattan Clan, he created a clone of Demona as well, and mixed in a little bit of Elisa Maza's DNA, to cosmetically alter the clone to be Demona but with Elisa's features. Ouch.
While very exciting, the reason this episode doesn't place as high is because I felt it needed a lot more. Funny enough, "The Reckoning" was originally meant to be a two-parter and the season finale of the second season, but circumstances which I will get to later necessitated a change. So what should have been a very great episode was only a very good episode. But good enough to earn its place on this list.
Where will Demona and Angela's dynamic go from here? Here's hoping we some day find out.
Ah, time travel. It's hard to do time travel well, as it is a storytelling device that is often abused, and many series find it hard to not violate the rules they themselves set. I'm looking at you, Marvel! I found it very refreshing to see a series where the time travel was not only well utilized for dramatic stories rather than "wouldn't it be cool if we did this," but also utilized in a way that made logical sense.
In the "Gargoyles Universe" you cannot change history, you can only fulfill it. If you go back in time it will be because you always did. Demona learns this the hard way when she travels back and tries to convince her younger self to change history and become the all powerful ruler of a human free world. Of course, Demona herself remembered this discussion because she had experienced it herself, and yet she still tries to spit in destiny's eye to force this change. Likewise, Goliath tries to change the younger Demona's outlook and maybe even avert the massacre of their clan. This does not work out for either of them.
However, things do work out for Xanatos who was able to lay the stepping stones that would lead to his eventual fortune via this time travel. How did he know how to do this? He received a letter from his future self. Xanatos fulfills destiny and he is the only one 100% aware of what he's doing throughout the entire ordeal.
This episode is also great character-wise as Xanatos and Fox get married while Goliath finally gives up any semblance of hope that he and Demona will ever reunite. And ultimately, everyone is happier in the long run. Except Demona.
8. Deadly Force
This episode is a given. What can I say about it that hasn't been said already? Everyone knows this episode as the one where Broadway watches a Western movie, goes to Elisa's apartment, picks up her gun and accidentally shoots her. It teaches a strong lesson about the importance of gun safety while never once feeling forced or preachy.
Perhaps the most intense image from the episode is Elisa lying in a small pool of her own blood. This sort of thing was very rare for television animation back then, and still is to this day.
This is followed up by Broadway laying her onto a Hospital stretcher and then gasping at the sight of his hands covered in her blood.
This episode was acclaimed and helped put "Gargoyles" on the map pretty early on. It was even praised by parents groups that normally go after action cartoons. Sadly, the episode was kept off the air by Toon Disney (now DisneyXD) for several years. They thought the episode promoted violence and completely missed the point of what the episode was about. Although they now air an edited version of the episode, and I doubt that shot I posted up there is even visible.
This episode is memorable for many different reasons. First off, Brooklyn has become a real break out star, building up his own fan base within the "Gargoyles" fandom. While he does have his detractors, one cannot deny that Brooklyn made an impact. And it all started with this episode.
But as strong as this episode is for Brooklyn, it is just as strong a Demona episode. Like Brooklyn, Demona was also a breakout character, and very popular within the fandom. And here we get to see how devious and manipulative she can be. Using half truths to get what she wants and convincingly showing Brooklyn the darkness of humanity.
Jeff Bennett and Marina Sirtis should both be credited for their exceptional performances in this episode, and Jamie Thomason should be credited for directing them through some very powerful scenes that are mostly dialogue.
"Temptation" made an impact, and really set the stage for what "Gargoyles" would be very early on in the show's run.
6. The Mirror
If "Temptation" helped set the stage, "The Mirror" all by itself blew the world of "Gargoyles" wide open. Demona steals an antique mirror from the Metropolitan Museum as our inciting incident, and what follows is a revelation.
We are introduced to an entire new species when we meet Puck, and by extension the Children of Oberon. Before this episode, we had no idea that there was a third race inhabiting the world. This episode alone opened so many doors, you can easily call it a game changer.
It also set up the romance between Goliath and Elisa, as Goliath realizes just how attractive he really finds her. And the feeling is obviously mutual. They have trusted each other, and been close friends for a while now. But for the first time, they see each other in that sexual way. We've all been there where we see someone we have known for a while again for the first time. And funny enough, this happens in the same episode where we learn that part of Demona still wants Goliath. The scene near the end where Goliath wants to discuss his feelings with Elisa only to be cut off is damn near heartbreaking.
The script is clever, the animation is gorgeous, and it plays like a Shakespearan comedy. And I love the final twist at the very end when Demona gets her initial wish to not turn to stone anymore only to look in the mirror and see the thing she hates most staring back at her.
A real classic.
Let's be honest, pilots are hard. They have to do so much. They need to build a world; introduce the main characters; set up their dynamics; make sure we know what the rules and conventions are; and tell a well developed story that engages the audience. Sadly, most pilots either fail at this, or drop the ball in one of these areas. Either way, the whole ball suffers.
The Disney Afternoon on the other hand had a pretty good track record with pilots. So, when "Gargoyles" came along, and "Awakening" was aired over the course of the entire week, we were treated to a pilot that did everything right and told a very engaging story. You really have to applaud them, because it was a big story that covered a span of a thousand years. It built two worlds, one in medieval Scotland and one in 20th century Manhattan, as well as supporting casts and villains for both time periods and all without ever once dropping the ball. It never felt slow, and the pacing never stopped to introduce us to another character, or a critical rule or event. It was very organic, very natural.
Goliath starts out as a very strong lead character as he undergoes a terrible tragedy, finds himself a stranger in a new world and learns to trust Elisa Maza, and through extension, humans again. Elisa herself quickly proves herself to be more than just another human friend for fantastic protagonists, and is fully fleshed out character in her own right who is never a token female character, or token "normal person."
The rest of the gargoyles also, while not quite having as much to do as Goliath still feel like full characters, and are never dead weight. While their real growth and development comes later, we get just enough in the pilot for all of them to be likable.
And among all that, we are introduced to two of the strongest villains television has ever provided. And while their best material is yet to come, they still shine here. We see Xanatos at his most erudite and manipulative. Arrogant and confident without ever being unlikable. And in Demona, we see one of the all time great female villains, and all time great villains period. From the Dark Ages to the reveal of her betrayal, it all comes full circle.
Had "Awakening" been a five episode mini-series by itself, with no "Gargoyles" episodes ever being made to follow up, I would have been satisfied. It told a great story that while a terrific beginning was also strong enough to stand alone. I've even said in the past that if Disney ever wanted to make a live action "Gargoyles" movie, all they would need to start out with is this same script, and then go from there. In fact, had this gotten the feature film treatment in 1994, I think it would be fondly remembered as one of the better Disney animated features.
But I am glad there was more, and "Awakening" was the perfect introduction to "Gargoyles" and as perfect a pilot as any series in any medium could ever hope to receive.
4. Shadows of the Past
The first, and arguably best episode of the World Tour kicks off with Goliath, Elisa, Angela and Bronx visiting Wyvern Hill in Scotland. But painful memories and vengeful spirits nearly drive Goliath mad as old fears, and a lot of guilt surface. It all culminates in a confrontation with the ghost of Hakon and the Captain of the Guard who perished all the way back in "Awakening Part Two" and ends on a theme of redemption and forgiveness.
This episode features a strong script and is one of the most atmospheric episodes of the series. Keith David turned in a very solid performance, as did the rest of the cast. The animation was gorgeous, and it all came together as a very powerful episode, but unfortunately one that seems to be overlooked by a portion of the fandom.
I am one of those who thinks this is where Hakon should have been left, it was a powerful ending for such a loathsome villain, and I felt bringing him back after "Shadows of the Past" was one of the series' very few missteps. But, all the greatness, and the missteps are what make "Gargoyles" the flawed masterpiece that it is to this day.
3. Hunter's Moon
There is a phrase in the world of show business. Leave them wanting more. "Hunter's Moon," the final episode of the second season, and the final episode of canonical "Gargoyles" does this in spades. Everything comes full circle while a door is opened to the future.
The Hunters come to New York to carry out their generational vendetta against Demona, and the world changes forever. The clocktower is destroyed; the gargoyles are revealed to the world; Elisa almost finds love with one of the Hunters; Demona nearly unleashes Armageddon, Xanatos and the gargoyles reach an accord, and Goliath and Elisa finally kiss.
As "The Reckoning" was originally intended to be the season finale, "Hunter's Moon" was originally meant to be a direct-to-video movie. When the video was cancelled, "Hunter's Moon" became a three-part finale, and "The Reckoning" became a single episode. Was the trade off worth it? Absolutely. It's dark, painful, and yet bright and optimistic at the same time. "Hunter's Moon" takes everything that is great about "Gargoyles" and shines a spotlight on it. The world is changed forever, and yet life goes on. Isn't that an honest truth?
Sadly, it would be ten years before we got more and when we did, it was worth the wait. If you haven't read the three "Gargoyles" trade paperbacks, pick them up. They're terrific and they're canon.
"Hunter's Moon" was a strong contender for number one on this list. A very strong contender. So, let's segue into...
2. The Price
This episode is arguably the most character driven episode in the entire series. There is action, no question. But the real meat of the episode is just Xanatos and Hudson talking while Hudson is in a cage. Only there are moments when Xanatos may as well be the prisoner.
In this episode Hudson does what no other character in "Gargoyles" has ever done before, he finds the chink in Xanatos's armor. As Xanatos talks about becoming immortal, Hudson correctly points out that Xanatos fears growing old. And I'll be damned, but the normally cool collected and always in control Xanatos very nearly loses his shit. He then belittles Hudson, which would normally be behavior that's beneath him and storms off. We've never seen Xanatos run from anyone before, but here he is running from a very uncomfortable truth. We've never seen him do this before, and we've never seen him do this since. But for one, brief moment, Xanatos was brought down to our level, and we saw he could be as petty as anyone else.
However, while not giving up on his quest for immortality, the moment Hudson breaks free, Xanatos just lets him go. He could have easily had Hudson subdued, but regaining his strength of character, he lets Hudson walk. That is powerful writing right there. Even when Xanatos loses, he keeps his own sense of self-respect.
This episode also features gorgeous animation, and a pretty exciting battle as the rest of the clan is battling a robot designed to mimic Macbeth. And it ends on a strong yet ominous note when Owen makes a sacrifice on behalf of his employer.
1. City of Stone
And this, right here, is "Gargoyles" at its very best. Mighty heroes and powerful villains, and enough tragedy to satisfy William Shakespeare. The sheer scope of "City of Stone" has not been matched since, as the series once again tells a story that not only covers one thousand years, but several decades within that time frame.
I often felt a more appropriate title would be "The Tragedy of Demona & Macbeth." While the modern day story is very exciting, the real meat is in the flashbacks which tell the story of Demona and Macbeth. We see the tragedies that led to their survival across the millenia, and their mutual hatred for one another. While my preferred title might be a little too on the nose, it does have that Shakespearan feel to it.
"City of Stone" made a very bold choice in not adapting Shakespeare's play, but rather telling the story of the historical Macbeth who did rule Scotland during the eleventh century, with Shakespearan elements as well as "Gargoyles" elements. And it all adds up beautifully, and never once feels contrived.
The modern day story is just as exciting also, as Demona turns most of Manhattan to stone and then proceeds to go on a killing spree. And why? Because she is angry, vengeful, bigoted, and because she can. She manages to enjoy at least one night of slaughter, before she is confronted by Macbeth, and both are confronted by the Weird Sisters who, along with Goliath talk Macbeth down from murdering Demona in cold blood, and then Demona has her own breakdown. Powerful stuff, and it is a very powerful statement against the endless cycle of vengeance.
I could write an entire blog entry on "City of Stone" alone, and I am more than tempted to do so right now. It just does everything right. There are no right or easy answers. We come to understand Demona and why she became the demon she did. We sympathize with Macbeth, even when he's part of the problem and not the solution... he's not there to save the world, just get his revenge. We end on cliffhangers where Xanatos and Fox, two of the villains are at risk and care about what their fate are. And we're with Goliath as he almost contemplates killing Demona to end her slaughter, but he quickly abandons the idea with the manipulation of the Weird Sisters. But this is his ex-mate, so those thoughts don't come lightly. One gets the feeling if it were anyone else, he would have gone through with it.
Yes, this is a children's show. But, to this day, I have yet to see any children's show go places that "City of Stone" did. Even the other gem of that era in animation, "Batman" didn't delve as deep as this four-parter did. The gem of animation in the last decade, "Avatar the Last Airbender" didn't do it either. Hell, "Gargoyles" itself never quite got this dark ever again. I could be wrong, but I doubt you'll ever see anything like "City of Stone" in television animation again. It was that intense. And I still feel this way, all these years later.
While I liked "Gargoyles" a lot up until this point, "City of Stone" turned me into the lifelong fan that I am to this day. These four episodes were probably the most powerful thing I have watched throughout my then fourteen years being alive. It really stuck with me, even to this day, and displayed the raw power of something as simple as telling a story. Honestly, without "City of Stone," I doubt I would ever have tried my own hand at writing, and attempted a career in the entertainment industry.