10th century Scotland: like 1990s NYC, basically.
Not sure this checks out with the surface area of his wings but
FUCK THAT, IT’S TOUCHING
Long Way to Morning
We’re visiting 984 AD today – just for timeline purposes, that’s ten years before the gargoyle massacre. Katherine, the princess from the mess that started this whole thing, is being tucked into bed with stories about gargoyle boogeymen. Bigotry begins at home, kids! And because we’ve not yet had a Hudson episode yet, he’s the one who shows up to tell Katherine’s father Malcolm that former traitor the Archmage (because this is Scotland Time, and everyone is named by their narrative function) is threatening to come calling.
And call he does, looking rather a lot like your traditional renderings of Prospero. He’s a shockingly efficient villain, too, shooting Malcolm in the chest with his blowdart staff (chalk that up for “things I can’t believe I typed today”) and peacing out with less than half a dozen lines of dialogue. He goes down, apparently deader than dead. And boy is the camera not shy about lingering on the apparent corpse and sad tiny girl child. It’s like Werner Hertzhog stopped in for an uncomfortable guest shot.
Back in the present, we’re still going through the waking up animations. Cause they made that neat triumphant horn piece and fuck if they’re not gonna use it, I guess. And hooooo boy is this early bit plagued with little tinges of weirdness. The sun’s not fully set when the spell wears off, for instance, and
HOLY MODULAR MELTAGE, BATMAN. I have to assume this episode got sent to a different animation house (not uncommon – with a show like Animaniacs you can even spot the team by their quirks after a while), and it is a jarring thing. We’re talking “that one episode of Gurren Lagann” jarring. But moving on.
The theme of effective villainy is strong with this one: Demona breaks through the skylight, shoots Elisa with a poisonous dart (see what they did there), tells her the poison will be fatal in 24 hours and where Goliath can find both Demona and the antidote, and flies back out again. All while speaking with truly fantastic nonchalance. Maybe a little too efficient, since she leaves without seeing that the dart was stopped by Elisa’s badge.
While they might not need the antidote Goliath goes after Demona anyway, convinced he can talk her down and refusing to hear even the suggestion of killing her. The trio stays with Elisa while Goliath takes Hudson along as backup, since he’s the trustworthy one. This conversation is had with pointed meaningful camera zooms, so we can guess that tragic backstory will be back any minute.
Did nobody stop in to chat with this episode’s animators and say
“Yes, but can she look a little less like the LITERAL DEVIL”
Demona does not share her former partner’s qualms about lethal force, quell surprise, and she stages a sneak attack almost as soon as Our Heroes arrive – landing a pretty serious laser blow to Goliath’s chest and forcing him and Hudson to flee into the warehouse below. The stakes are now a waiting game, with Hudson trying to stay one step ahead of Demona until sunrise.
Speaking of, the understatement of his character is nice stuff in these early scenes. Obviously there’s explanation coming, but small touches like his mournful gaze toward their old home (despite helping spearhead the pragmatic move to the clock tower) and the emphatic weight to the delivery of certain lines helps show much more than it tells.
The second half of the episode is divided into parallel storytelling, with Hudson and Goliath’s escape from Demona mirroring their pursuit of the archmage back in Scotland. Which means lots of character comparison, of course: Demona’s always been a might-makes-right type, while Goliath’s eventual position as leader is foreshadowed by his willingness to listen to more knowledgeable voices than his own (I mean except when that person is Elisa or castles are involved, I guess); likewise, Hudson is flexible where Demona is rigid, and his ability to adapt on the fly in situations she thinks are untenable keeps him one step ahead; and there’s a line of foil to be drawn with Demona and Katherine as well, since both of them were pushed by stories, circumstantial evidence, and their own strong points of view to establish a mental us vs them divide – with the difference being that Katherine reformed following the massacre of her people, and Demona doubled down.
Oh, and also God is apparently on Hudson’s side, because Demona almost gets struck by lightning after Hudson and Goliath go over the scenic sewer falls Snake Eater style (yes yes, the timeline, i know). Things come to a head in a nearby cemetery while a mood-obliging thunderstorm rages overhead. Demona has the upper hand, but given that our theme for the day is “with age comes wisdom,” Hudson is able to wait her out until sunrise. I choose to believe no one ever visits the mausoleum they wind up perched atop, and that there is at this point a running circuit of rumors about the avant garde artist who keeps chiseling unique gargoyle statues all over the city and then removing them the next night.
Oh, and Hudson did in fact lose his eye fighting the archmage, which is also when he gave leadership of the clan over to Demona. Because that is how distillation of narrative detail works. And Demona flies off thinking Elisa died of the poison, which everyone agrees is for the best. While it’s not my favorite Hudson episode (that’ll be “The Price” by a country mile), this one brings a lot of depth to the character by letting his protectiveness play not just through one scene but a whole episode of increasingly high stakes. Now, that’s almost all our main characters who’ve had an episode focused on them. But who are we missing…
That is the face of a man who may or may not be vampirically feeding
on the rage of his audience
Her Brother’s Keeper
Everybody wave hello to Elisa’s brother! He’s also a cop (runs in the family, y’see), and is grudgingly helping Elisa tail Xanatos by helicopter. Which, from an outside perspective, merits him some pretty massive bro points: I’m not sure how legal it is to use police property to tail a private citizen without reasonable suspicion of a crime, unless your name is Javert; and of course Elisa isn’t going to tell him the whole stone mythical creatures angle, so this is Derek putting his neck out so his sister can stalk what looks like a white collar offender with good behavior and a low likelihood of recidivism. Good on you, Derek.
In miscellaneous things that aren’t especially important to the plot but delight me nonetheless: Broadway finally gets a nice burn in about all those “heeeeeee’s fat” jokes in the first couple episodes, it took Xanatos putting on a suit for me to notice that he’s 110% the image of the “casual 90s executive,” and Owen has a special chauffeur outfit because of course he does. He’s like that guy in Avatar: the Last Airbender with the hats.
Derek and Elisa following Xanatos (to a Diamond Exchange, as it turns out), means that they’re there when crime starts to go down. You may remember Hyena and Jackal, the trigger happy sibling duo from The Pack? Turns out that while Wolf and Fox are in prison (and Dingo skipped the country), these two have taken to heisting for kicks. The manage to make it all the way to the roof and even damage Derek’s helicopter before escaping….and of course Xanatos just so happens to be there to be impressed at Derek’s skills, and offers him a job riiiiiiight in front of Elisa. Because what’s a good plan if it doesn’t have a contingency for a little bit of gloating?
Popping again into Derek Vision, Sis’s supposed dangerous billionaire was just victimized, cooperated with the cops, AND is now recognizing his skills with the implied addition of a sweet, sweet pay raise. Hard to turn down. Elisa even drives the stake in herself by implying (not incorrectly, but certainly tactlessly) that the job offer has nothing to do with Derek himself. Gven that her father’s later advice is to guilt him with “it would just kill your mother,” it’s not exactly hard to see where her lack of skill is coming from (on many levels – right across town, said aggrieved mother is counseling Derek to do what makes him happy). Which again, with the information they have, toooooootally the right call. I mean, it is the worst call to work for Xanatos if your name isn’t Owen Burnett, but it sure seems like a good idea.
And look at that, Derek’s first night on the job and Xanatos gets attacked by Hyena and Jackal (who got the mysterious go-ahead from Fox – more on that in a second). The gargoyle trio manages to hijack the Pack helicopter, crashing it while the two original pilots makes a break for it, and….yeah, I think you can see what’s up with this. With Derek as a pilot Xanatos not only has a bargaining chip against Elisa, but an effective gargoyle defense force if an outside threat happens to come too close while he has said pilot.
Elisa, who waited a bit too long after putting her foot in her mouth, is hesitant to come forward with the big gargoyle reveal until she also has proof of Xanatos’ cloven feet. To that end she heads off to visit Fox in prison. Fox has come down with a real bad case of the Feels, and spends a lot of time telling Elisa about how she could never catch someone as brilliant as Xanatos, and you can practically see the sparkles and flowers breaking out around her. Which is just fine, because Elisa gets the whole thing on tape.
By the time she gets out Xanatos has already popped out in his helicopter for – are you kidding me, he has a fucking retreat named Xanadu? I mean, he’s probably going for the poem but all I can think of is the name pun, the gross malingering name pun and also images of all the retreat’s employees being forced to roller skate everywhere.
Xanatos is taking a midnight stroll with Derek, talking him up. I think it might be something about his always-smiling-casually persona and Jonathan Frakes’ vocal performance, but wow does Xanatos sound like he’s flirting with everyone he talks to, ever. No wonder Fox got the feels. Not a lot of time for bonding when the remaining Pack members show up though, decked out as they are in night vision everything. Team Gargoyle shows up in the updated helicopter (which Lex both repaired and upgraded within a day because, again, Tony Stark wishes he was that good) and manages to arrest both siblings, aaaaaaand the awkward conversations begin.
Not only did Xanatos hire himself an insurance meat shield, he ingratiated himself emotionally by “trusting” Derek with the whole gargoyle truth bomb before Elisa could bring herself to say it. That’s the thing about skeletons in closets: reveal them yourself, and you have control over how the narrative is perceived. The Maza siblings’ arguing is cut short when Goliath tells them to knock it off because HIS PARENTS SIBLINGS ARE DEAD, and Elisa leaves the recording of Fox’s confession with her brother. Did he listen to it? A story for another day, readers.
Points to this episode for how well it weaves the theme of siblings: Elisa and Derek, the gargoyle trio, and even Jackal and Hyena all present mirrored versions of one another; the Pack twins are doomed as soon as they split up and stop relying on each other, while various layers of mistrust and a lack of respect for one another’s needs stretches the heroic relationships to the breaking point. The best moments of this show are the ones that sneak up on you (case in point: her brother’s keeper might seem to point to Elisa as Derek’s protector…but it’s really Xanatos, now isn’t it?).