One thousand years of bad decisions. Also an Illuminati wedding.
We open this week on a most auspicious occasion indeed: the upcoming wedding of Fox and David Xanatos. Our scheming billionaire is making all the preparations, asking a suspicious Goliath to be his best man (and casually mentioning that Demona will be there as the maid of honor) and having his father flown in for the ceremony. And here we get an intriguing fact: Xanatos’ father is a self-described “poor fisherman,” implying that his son as a purely self-made man. Or…is Xanatos responsible for his own wealth, after all? It seems that someone sent him a valuable ancient coin in his youth, and Xanatos’ father has been disdainful of his son’s apparently ill-gotten wealth ever since.
As the other attendees settle in to wait for the gargoyle guests of honor (Xanatos has an instructional video prepared for the officiating judge, because of course he does) we flash back to a young Demona and Goliath as they peek in on Prince Malcom’s wedding (the eventual father to Katherine, who you’ll recall as the ruling witness to the gargoyle massacre). Inspired by the exchanging of rings, Demona breaks a mysterious crest and gives half to Goliath as a symbol of her devotion.
Oh, and did I mention that Xanatos is a member of the Illuminati? He’d like you to know, so much so that he’s incautiously chosen to wear their symbol at his wedding. What a strange detail to conspicuously mention early in the episode. The ceremony is short, but Goliath helps make it memorable…mostly because he brought his half of that ancient emblem. Which turns out to be a time-traveling device called the Phoenix Gate. Which Demona then uses to transport herself, Goliath, Xanatos, Fox, and Xanatos Sr. back to Scotland in 975 A.D., almost 30 years before the gargoyle massacre. Whoops.
While Goliath goes chasing after Demona, running into past-Hudson in the process, the Xanatos clan helps avert an attack on a group of travelers – Princess Elena, as it turns out, the future wife of Prince Malcolm. Xanatos’ convenient Illuminati pin gets him an invite from Elena’s escort, as well as Malcolm’s gratitude when they all arrive safely. Gratitude in the form of several gold coins, in fact – and there is a really nice shot of Xanatos Sr., clearly no mental slouch, putting these pieces together. Though of course Xanatos still explains how he sent instructions to have one of the coins delivered 1000 years in the future, and another just before the episode starts. Partly for the younger viewers in the audience, and partly because even the great David Xanatos falls prey to daddy issues, and really wants to drive that whole “self made man” thing home.
The plot thickens further as we drop in with Malcolm’s Archmage – you know, the one who Hudson lost an eye defeating? – and it’s revealed that he sent the goons after Elena, who was carrying the Phoenix Gate. And his next plan? Sending his disciple, Demona, to retrieve it. And she does, but before she can return she’s intercepted by future-Demona and transported, along with future-Goliath, to the aftermath of the 994 massacre. Young Demona is horrified as her future self urges her to use the Phoenix Gate to rule the world, and vows that she will never become such a person. And my fucking. Heart. Shatters.
There’s always been something of a devious streak to Demona in regards to happily betraying humanity and keeping things hidden under the assumption that she knows best. , At the same time, there’s a sense that she truly cares for her fellow gargoyles and believes she’s doing what’s best for them. And while it is generally a good rule of thumb not to think too hard about time travel episodes that aren’t That One From Futurama, the general principles of this one hit hard: everything Demona will do, including breaking the Phoenix Gate and trying to have the humans killed, will be in the name of trying to prevent the future she’s seen, a future that likely wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t acted; and because she’s always had that streak of overconfidence, combined with horror, grief, and a thousand years alone chasing those thoughts in her head (because she knows time travel is possible, and must be endlessly replaying what she could have done in her head, coming back to blaming the humans as a defense mechanism to keep going), she shuts herself off in an increasingly bitter, angry echo chamber.
In some ways, she’s a dark mirror of Xanatos. In this case, Xanatos’ selfishness is what ends up protecting him in a small, fairly contained loop, while Demona’s attempt to alter the bigger picture spirals out of control. But generally, they’re headed in opposite directions. Present day Demona is Xanatos’ “ends justify the means/others as pawns” mentality once it becomes totally unmoored from any desire to protect someone (imagine what Xanatos might be, and likely was, capable of doing without Fox and Owen around). And as he gains things that he cares about, she only becomes more bitter and isolated. While many of her actions are inexcusable, it’s equally undeniable that hers is a tragic tale.
Everyone is returned to the present without further incident, on a bittersweet note for all. Demona asserts that she remembers Goliath’s attempts to comfort her, and that they did nothing (though she holds those memories tight); Xanatos Sr. dismisses his son as caring only about money; the Arch Mage turns on young Demona and retreats to scheme, resolving to blame the disappearance of the Pheonix Gate on Xanatos; and Goliath returns to the clock tower, still brooding on the past.
City of Stone (Part One)
Another week in New York, another hugely dramatic hostage situation. The important bit about this one is the leader of the vaguely defined captors shouting that their cause is “worth any sacrifice,” a decided moment of thematic seeding for our shiny four-parter. Oh yes, four parts. And when Gargoyles goes big, it’s pretty much always a treat to watch.
Also important: the three spooky little girls hanging out with the hostages, accurately predicting when the titular gargoyles will show up to save the day. They back up my whole “thematic foreshadowing” thing by making vague noises at Goliath about remembering how every life is precious, otherwise he’ll be no different from Her. And Goliath thinks they’re talking about the terrorist, because why wouldn’t he, and I imagine y’all are over here with me in having conjured up the only major female antagonist on the show. Oh, and also only the gargoyles could see the dead eyed disappearing children. Totally normal.
If you guessed “does Goliath wonder who they were talking about, and does the scene immediately fade to Demona,” then you’re getting good at this. We’re briefly gifted a shot of her triumphantly carrying a scroll before flashing back to the eve of the massacre, this time from her perspective. It’s about as bitter and awful as you can imagine, and then a little more besides. She trusts that her one human ally will protect them during a daytime assault, though not enough to stay at the castle herself. And perhaps not at all – she starts to warn our future Coldstone and Desdemona, only to lose her nerve when she sees the invaders appearing through the trees. And as the sun rises (there are some beautiful shots of Demona as she turns to stone and as the sun sets later, making her look almost like a statue of a martyred saint) she sheds a tear – perhaps knowing deep down what will come.
She wakes to what came after, seeming to truly believe that her clan would be alive and safe. To see that they were not sends her into a panicked despair, and there’s a clear strain of under the surface, avoidant guilt in all of her actions. She sees Goliath returning to the castle but can’t bring herself to face him, resolving to come back later and say she’d been looking for him. She does…but not until he and the others have already been turned to stone permanently. And her reaction in that moment is her fatal flaw, as she begins to admit guilt only to back away from the revelation, falling again upon the humans (who were pretty demonstrably awful to them, but are certainly not wholly responsible for what Demona’s plan brought about) rather than face her own actions.
And there’s a bit more that we’d not seen til now, as Demona spies the Magus and Katherine keeping their promise to take and care for the rookery eggs. Of course, Demona takes this as a sign of betrayal, one more degrading heartbreak, and flees the castle. And that night, she disfigures the face of a boy who found her raiding his family barn for food. She claims it to be payback for humanity’s betrayal. And it has 1000 years to get worse.
In the present once more, we follow Demona and her scroll to the now empty Pack Media Studios, where Xanatos and Owen have set up broadcasting equipment for her. And here we are introduced to a very important character trait for our zillionaire: his obsession with immortality, and his corresponding willingness to play with supernatural things he doesn’t necessarily grasp in order to get it. In this case, Demona claims that her scroll has the ability to steal a minute of life from everyone who sees and hears it, hence the camera set up to broadcast to every screen on the island. Xanatos leaves Owen to man the equipment, though he at least has the presence of mind to tell Owen he should only see or hear Demona at any given time, just in case.
So of course Demona’s first action once Xanatos is gone is to paralyze Owen and tie him up, citing him as a danger to her schemes, which has to be one of the most backhanded compliments on record. And then she turns the spell recording on him, and the program starts looping across Manhattan as well. Elisa sees it and immediately knows to run for help, and we also see a very familiar trio (now adult and gogo-booted) making vague commentary about waiting 975 years for something to begin.
Which is also the cue for another flashback! This time to 1020 A.D., 26 years after the massacre. Demona is demonstrably elderly, and the commander of a tiny group of underfed gargoyles; and it would seem as well that they’re besieged by the mysterious “Hunter.” A trio of, yes you guessed it, spooky women (gargoyles this time) come to tell Demona that the Hunter is planning an attack on Castle Moray, and that Demona should ally herself with them. Given what happened last time she allied with a human (both in reality and the more demonized version she no doubt remembers), Demona is pretty quick to reject that option and chose instead to go alone. Note that she’s well into the formative stages of her modern self here, welcoming to strange gargoyles but also quick to crush any dissent within her existing group.
What’s the big deal about Castle Moray, you ask? Well, for one thing it’s home to a certain young Macbeth, who by all appearances has a loving father and a tentatively reciprocated crush on a clever girl named Gruoch (they play chess, it’s adorable). He also has an “unstable” cousin named Prince Duncan, which we do not in any way need to worry about. This happiness will surely last forever, and let me tell you about the rabbits while we’re at it.
Macbeth leaves to show Gruoch and her father to their rooms, and not even a minute passes before the Hunter shows up to murdernate Macbeth’s father Findlaech. And even though the entire party ends up coming to help before the fight ends (except, notably, Gruoch’s father), Findlaech is still thrown from the castle walls to his death. Demona arrives not long after, the Hunter says something about revenge (gee, those three red marks on his mask sure do look like claw marks, don’t the- y’know what, it’s the farm kid, the episode’s gonna tell you in like five minutes) and Macbeth winds up nearly thrown to his death himself when Demona bats him out of the way.
Gruoch rushes to help, only to begin slipping over herself…and Demona forgoes her vengeance to help save the young lovers, sparked perhaps by some memory of the young gargoyles from years ago (I’ll remind you now of the gentle, open fondness she showed for them in the pilot) or the ghost of her better nature. Either way, the Hunter is gone and Demona flies off in a rage.
But who set the Hunter on Castle Moray? None other than Duncan, who feared Macbeth would be a threat to his place on the throne. In case you weren’t sure that Findlaech’s loyalty pledge last scene was for max irony points. The Hunter is given Findlaech’s place as steward of Moray, and we ripple forward to the present, where a very familiar pair of abs is now donning the Hunter’s mask.
Elsewhere in the city, it’s even worse. The gargoyles wake to find a stone Elisa in the clocktower, while Xanatos loses both his right hand man and his wife in one fell swoop – the latter of which was flying them both in a helicopter.
I did mention they go big, didn’t I?