It’s Feelings About Villains week, so strap in.
Well if you’re going to noir, best to out-noir the Bat.
(A+ background artists)
The Silver Falcon
We open this week with a tale of two noirs: the first with Elisa’s partner Matt stumbling into something over his head, and seemingly captured by arms dealer Dracon; and the second with Broadway’s new genre love affair. You’ll recall that last time we had a Broadway episode, his fascination with westerns ended with Elisa being shot. This goes…well, it doesn’t end in anyone getting shot.
What does happen is that Elisa’s check-in on the missing Matt turns into a high stakes chase, as the stowaway Broadway (dressed in trench and fedora, because of course he is) pounces into the apartment to tackle a robber who’s rifling through Matt’s things (and would’ve gotten a shot off at Elisa had she come in). Yay! But then he gets in the way of Elisa having a clear shot on him. Boo. But he keeps the guy from escaping in the elevator. By breaking it, but still, yay! Buuuut then he turns on Matt’s computer, which the robber had booby-trapped, not only potentially destroying evidence but allowing the perp to get away when Elisa has to keep him from falling off the roof. So, net boo. But even still, she’s convinced by his impassioned plea to let the amateur accompany her on her search for Matt.
Sigh. While there’s some pretty great color around the edges of this one – Matt’s search for underground societies and the like goes on to open up some pretty great worldbuilding and a touch of the conspiracy thriller – the actual beats of this episode can be a bit of chore in how familiar they are. Of course Broadway fumbles the early going of the case as he tries to make a glamorous go of it, and of course he’ll come through when it’s most important and he’ll relearn the lesson that life isn’t like the movies, and Elisa will learn (again) that she has to learn to trust others.
But my, it is some very nice worldbuilding. For instance, it’s revealed that Matt (as part of his steady path to eventually becoming one with Dale Cooper) is a former FBI agent. And for a guy who talks a good game about trust, he’s somehow neglected to mention that to Elisa. She finds it out instead from Matt’s former partner, Martin “Did They Recruit You Just for the Name” Hacker. Apparently, Matt rang Hacker up for help with a case he’d be working on in private. Which for our purposes means that I get to type the glorious phrase illuminati gangsters. See, we’re coming back to that Drakon thing after all.
You know, Illuminati meetings might’ve been the least skeevy clandestine
meeting going on in New York in the years leading up to this
The contents of the letter itself are suitably vague, talking about a “silver falcon” as a reference point for this secret illuminati gangster base of operations. And that’s enough for Elisa, as she stuffs a 70 year old historical document into her jacket with no protection and retreats into the night.
Or would retreat, if the continuous cuts to the voyeuristic camera angle hadn’t clued us into the fact that she’s been followed. But Broadway is there to save her (yay!) from the same guy (boo) and some of his goons. And then the guy gets away again, now with the info successfully sussed from Elisa’s clandestine meeting (that one’s sort of a yah-boo wash). But it would seem that Elisa manages to find the apartment in question before the mob, which leads her to the site of the former Silver Falcon Nightclub – the very same dilapidated building where we opened. The art team plays up the noir effect for all its worth here, using the raging storm to cast long, ominous shadows and set an appropriately brooding tone.
They manage to make it a whole two feet into the spooky basement before Dracon’s men collapse the staircase on them and the sun comes up, taking Broadway out of the equation. Matt (who’s been down there the whole time one imagines, and is probably suffering a wicked dehydration headache by now) convinces them to dig Elisa out because she might still have that incriminating letter. Why the letter? Why, because it points directly to a stash of stolen jewels our supposed (not) illuminati gangster stole from Dracon’s grandfather – the DD in the missive, y’see.
When the vault they’ve been down there working on turns out to be a whole lot of nothing, complete with mocking note from beyond the grave, Elisa seizes the chance to bargain for her and Matt’s release: she knows where the actual silver falcon is, but conveniently isn’t willing to take Dracon there until dark.
The scene that follows, with Broadway emerging from the rubble and finding the discarded note, is the highlight of the episode. There’s great continuity as he struggles to read the words, and the scene manages to convey both Elisa’s trust that he’d find it and his own actual detective work without beating the revelations over the head (his movie-fantasy trenchcoat becoming increasingly shredded is also a really great symbolic choice). And for all that it’s pretty obvious that the paydirt will be in the prominently featured falcon-shaped architecture from earlier in the episode, Broadway’s childlike pride at being able to help is very sweet (Fagerbakke is mostly called on to play very broad with his Spongebob gig, so it’s wonderful to see him have access to such a range of writing here). And even when they do let him play out the movie scene verbatim, the fact that it feels organic over orchestrated plays as a bit of icing on the cake.
Oh, and there weren’t any jewels at all, a twist you probably guessed. Which turns out to be a cover to hide the second twist that the old man in the apartment was DD himself, a contingency Elisa was completely prepared for. Well played, script. A little too optimistic about the human condition to be the most noir of noir, but I can’t say that’s anything but a good thing.
Eye of the Beholder
The hits keep on coming. This episode and the upcoming four-parter cover a lot of ground in humanizing Xanatos. It’s going to become increasingly clear that there are things he values above his own gain, that matter to him more than winning the power struggle of the day. This absolutely won’t stop him from being a right bastard (if a charming one), but it’s always worth noting the steps that went into layering one of animation’s finest antagonists.
Fittingly enough, this story begins on the first of October, with the Xanatos family playing the world’s highest stakes game of house. Or perhaps it’s better to say that this is the moment when they become, properly, the Xanatos family. David is asking Fox to marry him, you see, in what remains one of my favorite fictional-proposals as far as fitting pragmatism and just that hint of genuine emotion. And I love the play-pretend of it all: the fact that Fox, clever person that she is, must know what’s happening with the formal dress and empty tables serving only tea, the roaring fire and for fuck’s sake they got Owen dressed up like the butler from a regency romance. They’re courting each other, in their odd way, presenting us with a snapshot of what their relationship has become since Fox got out of prison. There is also a necklace involved, which is when things become complicated.
Fast forward to All Hallows Eve-eve, where that one beleaguered shopkeep from way back in season one is still having legendarily bad luck. This time Elisa is there to investigate, bursting onto the scene in time to see a gigantic werewolf ravaging the refrigerator section. While this is a surprise for her, the scene spares no time in giving the game away to us – you can see Fox’s eyepatch quite clearly, as well as the Eye of Odin Xanatos stole back from the museum around the werewolf’s neck. This saves some crucial time in the script, since we effectively have two forces trying to solve a common threat with different means, and it also gives us as the audience a chance to step into Xanatos’ shoes. For once, we also have more context in our back pocket than the heroes (ever notice how infrequently the earlier episodes pull the camera back from Elisa and the gargoyles’ experience? For the most part, learning along with the heroes is an integral part of the show).
The date rolls around to Halloween proper, and the tiny trio is jazzed about the opportunity to walk around in the open. An interesting character aside – Brooklyn’s line is “nobody will know who we are,” but when Broadway tacks on “or what we are” Brooklyn looks resentful. Perhaps as part and parcel of his romantic hero complex, not to mention his early conversations with Demona, he has a keener hurt for being marked out as an Other. Also, Elisa and Goliath are UST-ing at one another hard enough to put both Mulder and Scully and Hannibal and Will a run for their money. They might’ve put their feelings aside since “The Mirror,” but they’ve clearly not forgotten about it.
Speaking of feelings, Xanatos has an inkling that something’s up with his fiancée. His attempts to get her to hand over the necklace are for naught, as are his and Owen’s tranquilizer guns once she transforms. She escapes the castle once again, looking for food. And their failure is a dire one: at the rate Fox’s wolf body metabolizes, she’ll be dead by morning. Xanatos carries on his usual glib façade, even though Owen’s the only one to see it – and if he’s putting on airs for his most trusted right hand, you know he has to be rattled. Plan A’s a wash? Must just be time to move to Plan B.
Plan B involves tracking Fox to a meat packing facility, and luring in Elisa and Goliath with an anonymous tip in order to have help subduing her. I bring this up mostly so that I can mention the scenic design of the meat locker, which has hanging carcasses with spiny, almost Cronenbergian protrusions of rib bones all down the sides. Excellently spooky for a stalking scene. But what’s important is that this is our first glimpse of a helpless Xanatos. There’s no doubt that it’s on some level a calculated risk, but in the moment he still bares his throat to Fox with no apparent means of survival or backup, trusting that she’ll come to her senses long enough to let him go. We’ve never seen Xanatos give up on anything. Accepted a secondary win condition, yes, but he’s never put himself at someone’s mercy before.
I sometimes wonder if my adulthood fondness for Xanatos has to do with moments of nonverbal storytelling like this – he’s not for the kids as a character, not in the way the gargoyles are. And so the writers seem a little more comfortable not telegraphing his growth and motivations. Xanatos is written as though he’s in a story for adults, and that helps both his mystique and his many layers.
Plan B is also a failure, by the way. The necklace is proper cursed stuff, and will have none of that “removal by human hands” business.
On to Plan C! Which involves goading Elisa and co. into doing their own efforts to save this poor wolf creature from the wicked Xanatos.
Plan C lasts about ten minutes before going down in flames. On the one hand this points to the gang becoming more specific of Xanatos’ hidden machinations. On the other, larger hand, it’s increasingly obvious that the man is becoming cornered and desperate. Check out the way the camera spirals in on his face when it becomes clear his plan’s failed, and how haggard he looks. There are lines under his eyes, his hair is in disarray, his armor is torn right over his heart. There is no Plan D, friends, and for all the harm he’s caused it hurts to see him honestly, truthfully (and here is the importance of the dual narrative, because we need to know it’s the truth through and through) begging for help. Perhaps it’s my retroactive fondness speaking, but it’s heartbreaking.
There’s a brief interlude at a Halloween street festival, where we get to see the baby gargoyles in costume and have a nigh-obligatory Beauty and the Beast dance between Goliath and Elisa, but then it’s straight back to the heart of the matter as Fox wrecks a nearby party. Goliath simply can’t ignore the possibility that Xanatos might really love someone after all, and agrees to help capture Fox.
Things come to a head, as they so often do, on a rooftop, with Xanatos trying to appeal to Fox’s inner humanity as Goliath tries to keep her from gutting them all. And with a little help from the electrical grid on a neon sign, they subdue her long enough to get the necklace off. The character beats in this finale are stunning: Xanatos wordlessly crushing Elisa’s gun early in the confrontation, Elisa immediately rushing to cover the naked, vulnerable Fox as soon as it’s clear Xanatos was telling the truth after all; the werewolf’s violent reaction at seeing an echo of its humanity in Elisa (perhaps Fox is not so unfamiliar with duality…).
What utterly perfect OT3 I don’t know what you’re talking about
And of course, that last scene. Owen comes to the rescue in a helicopter, and each family parts ways (once Goliath has Xanatos hand the Eye over, of course). The proposal might’ve happened at the beginning of the episode, but this is the bit that feels like a tender revelation. Every damn second of it is perfection, from Xanatos’ attempt to look deadpan as Owen (equally, perfectly monotone) teases him about acting heroic, the melting look of fondness on David’s face as Fox comes to; the establishment of the castle, which looked so purposefully vast and uncomfortable at the start of things, as home; and Owen’s openly fond expression as the two Xanatoses climb aboard the helicopter. It’s magnificent, and satisfying, and I just want to follow them around while they have adorable evil schemes. The Xanatos family is perfection, internet. Accept no substitutes.