I’m not saying they’re watching, but they’re watching.
Nothing like a news broadcast to give us some exposition. You don’t see it as much in recent cartoons (or series generally), perhaps because it was once so ubiquitous, but this was a pretty common technique in the 80s and 90s. The relevant info here is that Cyberbiotics, a chief business rival of Xanatos’, has recently invested a huge chunk of change (rumored to be enough to tank the company if it goes under) in a fancy new airship called the Fortress-2. It’s due to be run entirely by robots, so perhaps it’s fitting that this is all delivered by the highly robotic Owen palette swap known as Preston Vogel.
What happened to the Fortress 1? Why, it’s that airship Xanatos had Goliath and Demona raid waaaaaaay back in the pilot. The one that crashed into the bay as a flaming wreck? Yeah. Don’t worry if you forgot – the episode gives a comparatively hefty chunk of time recapping old footage. Which is fair enough given how many episodes have passed, but does highlight how much times have changed. An Adventure Time would just carry on with the assumption that you knew about this ship and what happened with the last one (or had already checked a forum if you were confused). Ah, the forward march of technology.
So because of that prior hoodwinking, Goliath is following after the Fortress-2 in order to make sure nothing fishy goes down. Being a sculpted flying man with the world’s most sultry voice, it isn’t long before Cyberbiotics head Renard, piloting the Fortress on its maiden voyage, takes notice and sends out some collection bots. And while Goliath is initially just annoyed at the little flying trashcans giving him trouble, it’s not long before they overwhelm and capture him.
Now, about Renard and Vogel. Halcyon Renard’s character, on the surface, sums up pretty nicely as “get off my lawn.” He’s pretty acidic and blunt and doesn’t have a lot of time for extenuating circumstances – he’s certainly not impressed that Goliath blames Xanatos for what happened to the last ship, and one gets the feeling he’s probably dealt with more than a few sleazy so and so’s sniffing around his fortune. It’s also never quite clear if the futuristic floating chair he’s confined to is needed because of an accident or a natural decline in health.
As for Vogel, while he might look like Owen it seems he lacks the latter’s unshakable loyalty, seeing as he soon proves to be in cahoots with Fox in planning a sabotage of the airship – with the bonus wrinkle that Goliath should be set up to take the blame.
Speaking of Owen, Renard tells Goliath something interesting: both Owen and Anton Sevarius (whom you, I, and everyone alive cannot stop thinking of as simply “Tim Curry”) were originally Cyberbiotics employees. Neither of these are ever quite explained (I’m sure if you go back far enough Weisman’s answered a question about it, but by his own admission half the time he makes things up just to have an answer, so I can take or leave that kind of thing), once again reinforcing the running theme that “people connected to David Xanatos have the most interesting unspoken backstories on the show,” which is (as always) my longwinded way of saying did I mention Owen is a really cool character, y’all.
As an aside to all of that, the Fox and David are having a sparring tete-a-tete, because apparently that’s where Xanatos has all of his important bonding moments. And it is adorable, by the way. There’s a great deal of subtext laden talk about whether Fox might regret her impending hostile takeover of Cyberbiotics, as well as an ominous call that even Xanatos didn’t know about. It’s not hard to put the two twists on display together, but perhaps that’s retrospect talking. It still makes for a lovely little character scene.
The ongoing subplot with Goliath and Renard is an admirably complex one for children’s animation – the idea that regardless of intent or how much knowledge you had going into a situation, you must nonetheless take responsibility for the outcomes caused by your actions. It’s presented fairly openly here, as the two have an ongoing dialogue about it that eventually results in their shared bonding over choosing their codes of honor over loved ones in their lives. But I am in the habit of handwaving bluntness in the name of especially rarely discussed or important themes, and this is no exception.
Their bonding moment is cut short by the room’s robot guards malfunctioning, the result of a chip implanted by Vogel that seems to be spreading by wireless signal from robot to robot.
But that’s not all – once they started malfunctioning, the robots set the Fortress 2 to collide with Cyberbiotics headquarters. Renard is busy playing the saint, claiming that he has an escape pod ready for himself and Renard and a detonation plan to keep the ship from crashing and killing anyone, but Renard is ready to go down with the ship. So he sends Goliath to destroy the central power grid for the androids and heads to the bridge to fix the ship’s course. And while all hope seems lost when Renard remembers that the manual override needs two people, it seems Vogel’s devotion is deeper than his pockets after all.
So Vogel confesses to his misdeeds (after a little encouragement from Goliath), the ship is saved, and Renard and Goliath strike up a friendship of sorts over a discussion of the human ability to grow and change. But there are still some loose threads here. And it’s Fox – birth name “Janine Renard” – who stops in to the Fortress 2 to tie them up. She’s come to check up with the family, and to deliver the news about her baby-to-be.
This is another one of those long-simmering things, so tuck that knowledge away. Likewise, the conversation Fox and Renard have about integrity versus “fun” is going to appear a lot more frequently in episodes to come, not just as Xanatos versus Goliath but in the form of the various fae and mythological creatures and what they want to gain from the mundane world. And, also in keeping with the core themes, it’s in finding the grey areas between worlds that the most fruitful relationships are born.
Look, you don’t understand. There was this code in the 90s, and if you used the title “Revelations” at some point they taught you the cool secret handshake.
The opening is in media res, which might’ve well been a first for younger members of the audience. Goliath awakens to find himself in a trap-laden building called the Hotel Cabal, which may or may not be more disturbing if you, say, just finished listening to the “murder house” episode of Lore. More frightening than the whirling death blades is the man behind the controls: remember that old guy in the photo in “The Silver Falcon,” the gangster? Yeah, him. But not just him. It looks like Elisa’s partner Matt has thrown his lot in with this caper.
Because you are savvy readers, you’ve no doubt guessed that Matt’s dogged search for proof of the Illuminati is involved. The setup for this episode is a lot of poking into the uneasy underpinnings of Elisa and Matt’s partnership: Matt’s wise to the fact that Elisa is keeping something from him, though not what; and he thinks she doesn’t care about his illuminati chase either (I guess none of the gargoyles took much notice of all that during the whole Phoenix Gate debacle). He even finds the clock tower hideout, only for Elisa to try playing it off. Badly.
And likewise, there’s a lot of Matt following leads, winding up at the grave of a silent film star still visited by her old love – one Mace Malone. Who is surprisingly willing to come clean to Matt about all the Illuminati business, even saying that the society has been watching Matt and come away impressed. Never trust a triangle who tells you you’re smart, people. In fact, the ancient secret society is so impressed that they’re willing to offer Cooper Mulder Matt membership…provided he proves himself loyal. They even offer some information on goodfaith.
That information leads to one of the episode’s best scenes: a longtime coming confrontation between Elisa and Matt on a moonlit, cliffside road. It’s straight out of a noir, up to the art going very pointedly (but effectively) off model into deep, angular shadows as Matt demands answers. And Elisa, cornered, finally relents. She even agrees to properly introduce them, not knowing that Matt’s part of the loyalty test is delivering a gargoyle to that hotel I mentioned before.
Matt knows that the basis of a good lie is a solid chunk of truth, and tells Goliath that he’s found Mace Malone hiding out in an abandoned hotel. The two go in together for a sneaking mission, which ends us back where we started – though now we have the additional knowledge that Goliath picked up the hotel key given to Matt, which allows him to pass through the traps unharmed. That’s good news for Goliath (it is always a wonderful touch to see him as a tactician, especially at the end of a run of episodes that involved a lot of focus on combat) but bad news for Malone, who’s already starting to take out the deadly weaponry. The Hotel Cabal has a reputation for never letting a single prisoner escape its mind and body breaking traps, y’see, and they’re very serious about upholding that reputation.
And Matt? He’s pretty willing to go along with all of this in the name of getting more info on the Illuminati, right up until the moment when Mace has a gun pointed directly at Goliath. That’s clear cause and effect, and it seems Matt’s conscience won’t let him go far enough to directly be responsible for someone’s death. So he takes out Mace, leaving him keyless and wandering the halls of the hotel, and he and Goliath escape together. It’s not clear if Goliath knew about Matt’s potential double cross, but then, maybe it wouldn’t matter if he did. He’s dealt with enough grey areas that so long as someone does the right thing in the end, they’re gonna be alright.
Elisa and Matt even share a nice moment as the sun comes up, as she admits that being the gargoyles’ only human friend made her feel special and he confesses to feeling the same about the illuminati. They’re real partners now, sealed by a shot of them finally meeting eye to eye as their chief stands, out of focus, in the background. Matt does quite a bit of questionable stuff in this episode – it’s really not clear what his plan was before Goliath’s life was directly threatened, and how far he was prepared to let things go in the name of getting that membership pin. If not physical torture, how much psychological torment was he willing to let slide? Ultimately things worked out, of course, but that makes yet another good guy who’s been brought to the precipice of doing very, very bad things in the name of obsession. I do believe I sense a theme here.
But the episode has one more twist up its sleeve: Hacker, Matt’s FBI contact, has been a member all along. And he’s visiting to give Matt his shiny new Illuminati initiate badge. Apparently getting to Malone and delivering Goliath was all Matt needed to do, and the fact that Goliath got away was Malone’s problem. Which implies all kinds of fascinating things about how the society works and how they value individual ability (Matt’s search) versus culpability and how that ties into the whole secret society thing (which is totally bereft of the whole hooded figure meeting) thing. It constantly feels like glimpses of something enormous that never materializes, and it’s downright tantalizing in a way lots of shows have difficulty pulling off (and it will always, by and large, remain as these sorts of whispers). That’s how you do a conspiracy.
And I’m going to go now, before this becomes one long string of Bill Cipher references.