Two wizards enter, nobody leaves.
This guy has been rolling way too many crits, I’m getting the rulebook
Avalon (Part 2)
Picking right up from last week’s cliffhanger, there’s about two seconds allotted for joyful introductions before things start to go bad in a real magic-oriented way. The Arch Mage, whom you may remember from Hudson’s first flashback episode – initially had the Grimorum, both Demona and the Magus’ one-time teacher, fell down a gaping chasm? – attacks by way of evil sand tentacles, proclaiming their impending doom and nearly suffocating a few party members before they manage to drive him off. This was the danger Tom was talking about, and things look pretty grim as far as the team defense goes: both Katherine and the Magus are in their old age, the latter unable to do magic without a spellbook; and many of the young gargoyles are too wounded to fight.
While that bittersweet reunion is going on we pull back to not one but two Arch Mages spying on the castle in a magic pond. The latter is wearing the Phoenix Gate and preparing to go somewhere, thus leading us into the meat of this middle segment: time travel shenanigans. Now, a certain amount of props is owed here. Rare is the time travel episode as clean and tightly tied as Futurama’s “Roswell That Ends Well,” and this episode opts instead to minimize the actions of the future influence in the name of keeping the narrative as clean as possible. The Arch Mage falls off a cliff fighting young Goliath and Demona? His future self is there to catch him right before he hits bottom (I see what you did there). The partnership with the Weird Sisters? Just after the castle crew successfully makes their way to Avalon. Someone had to de-bird the Sisters, after all.
The part that comes next is the most interesting. In addition to fetching the three objects from “High Noon,” we also see the Arch Mage instructing the Sisters to keep an eye on Macbeth and Demona. An obvious play when you see it in plain print like that (the Sisters are your basic chaotic neutral, after all, so it stands to reason that getting revenge for the whole owl slight is why they’re poking around in all of this), but there’s a great deal of underlying stuff about “fate” in this episode. The past version of the Arch Mage is always whining (GOD does he whine – more on that in a minute) about getting the Grimorum back, but his future self tells him that it needs to go out and play its part in history, implying a certain level of immutability to the flow of time.
But at the same time, both the Arch Mage and Xanatos have done a great deal of monkeying about with their personal timelines. On the other hand, you have Macbeth and Demona – they’re both characters whose tragic flaws have lead them to their current state….but it’s also implied in this episode that the Sisters were helping them stay alive and guiding them to who they became. So how much is free will, and how much then can an individual be held culpable for what they do when there are larger forces at play? The show’s ultimate answer seems to lie in personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, intended or not (see Goliath and Renard’s long conversation), but this concept of limited predetermination is left to simmer for a while as well.
This is a gross misunderstanding of the history of Deepthroat
As for what’s predetermined, things eventually come full circle to the start of the episode: the Arch Mage has the Eye of Odin and the Phoenix Gate, and he gets round the Grimorum not being allowed on the island by literally eating it. Just unhinges his jaw and stuffs it in there, Thing style. The Sisters take the still mind-controlled Macbeth and Demona to cripple the castle’s defenses, and the Arch Mage declares he’ll wipe them all out at dawn. The home team isn’t quite ready to count itself out yet, as Goliath takes two of the young gargoyles (I’m going to hold off discussing Angela for the moment, but yes she’s what you’re thinking) to try and find a viable plan of attack. He leaves Elisa behind to form a contingency plan with the other humans (and the way he unquestioningly trusts her to do this is adorable), and she digs into their potential trump card: the ominously mentioned “Sleeping King.”
It’s good this episode has a few interesting themes to offer, because the Arch Mage is by far the worst of the show’s villains. His motivations are standard fare for cartoons a decade prior, but this is Gargoyles, and a desire for power and conquest with no other depth of character is not going to fly. There’s at least a certain bar of coolness to be passed for Implacable Asshole Villains, and “cranky, shrill old Dungeon Master” is not near to hitting it.
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Avalon (Part 3)
As you might expect, most of this episode involves the battle against the Arch Mage’s forces. But before we can get to that, there’s a brief detour in which the episode, amazingly, turns into Elisa Maza and the Last Crusade. The Magus guides our detective to the resting place of Arthur Pendragon, the “Sleeping King” lying dormant on the island until his country has need of him. And while this works on the general level of “what’s the big myth associated with Avalon that we can bring into our fantasy kitchen sink,” it actually works as something of a historical in-joke as well. You’ve probably heard of Arthur as a great English monarch, the “once and future king” who took the idyllic notion of chivalry and prosperity with him when he died and then served as a sort of idealized coping mechanism for the real world’s less-than-awesome monarchies.
But! Historians have figured that the closest thing to a real-life historical basis for Arthur was in fact a Scottish ruler, Arthur Mac Aden. Now, this line of thinking is pretty darn recent, having to do with the discovery of a supposed “round table” in Scottland’s Stirling Castle in 2011 and expounded on by Adam Ardrey in a book released a few years ago – too recent for the Gargoyles writers to likely be aware of it. But it still works retroactively, and does alleviate some of the oddity of the whole English-legend-meets-Scottish-monarchs thing, given the often bloody and oppressive relationship between the two neighboring nations.
I digress. Elisa takes her leap of faith, is saved the other steps by the time constrictions of half hour animation (I would give good money to hear Salli Richardson do the Penitent Man scene though), and speaks the incantation to wake Arthur from his nap. From there, everyone divvies into battle formations: Katherine stays at the castle to protect the eggs and winds up facing down Demona alongside Elisa, Goliath finds himself at the Arch Mage’s mercy until Angela is able to provide some critical assistance, Arthur and Macbeth have a manly mullet-off, and the Magus throws the last of his strength into taking down the Weird Sisters.
And whatever else happens – things are put right, the Arch Mage is dispossessed of the Eye of Odin and thus eaten alive by the Grimorum’s magic, the Sisters are captured – this is the Magus’ episode. While he and Elisa march their way up to Arthur’s sanctuary, he relates how Katherine and Tom wound up becoming romantically entwined (we don’t get an exact count, but I’d wager there’s about a decade between them – not so much once you hit 30), raising the gargoyles as their children while the Magus felt himself useless to the little family. His feelings for Katherine could easily, in a dumber scenario, be penned as a case of “Nice Guy Syndrome,” with him pining after her and staying devoted and she oblivious to his intent. But it’s complicated by the Magus’ sense of guilt, for cursing the gargoyles and thus starting the situation where they’ve all ended up; and his sense of worthlessness upon losing the Grimorum, the sense of manifested power where he was storing his last sense of viable contribution to the group. This is a guy who’s only name is literally his job title, after all. It’s easy to see how he withdrew from Katherine’s potentially equal feelings as a kind of self-punishment rather than being a martyred unrequited lover. A tragedy, not a cliché.
Everything is terrible, everything hurts
There’s no doubt that Katherine continued to love him dearly (and really, what is the point in keeping traditional family structures on a magical island disconnected from space and time, what even). When the Magus finally expends the last of his power capturing the Weird Sisters and lays dying in Arthur’s tomb, the simplicity of Katherine’s dialogue is given layers of history and regret by Kath Soucie’s performance. In fact, as Weisman himself points out in introducing this episode, both Bennett (Brooklyn and Owen, here playing the Magus) and Soucie (also doing double duty this episode as all three Sisters) knock it out of the park. They form the backbone of a great deal of secondary characters for the series (Weisman names it at 100 roles or more), a feat of versatility that’s rarely celebrated for how much talent it takes. How wonderful, then, that they’re given a chance to shine here as two longstanding characters say their goodbyes.
Once the battle is settled and the loose ends tied up – Arthur takes a boat to sail the world on his own, and Macbeth and Demona are pushed out to sea with no memories of the last few weeks in the single funniest bit of animation I’ve seen this season – the Manhattan crew prepare to set sail with the addition of one extra passenger. That’s Angela, our new recurring character. Now, the cynic in me catches a whiff of the focus group around her introduction so late in the game, but I’m not really complaining. Angela’s introduction opens plenty of interesting plot threads, particularly in her struggle to have a relationship with her mother (and if there’s one thing the show has always needed, it’s actual positive interactions between its various well-developed-but-surrounded-wholly-by-dudes female characters). Also some occasionally exasperating ones, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider her our Bright Eyed Ingenue, stepping in for Elisa as audience surrogate now that the latter is wise to most of this supernatural stuff.
As the boat pushes out, Tom sets things straight on what to expect: “Avalon takes you where you need to be.” Yes, we’re entering the chunk of the series known as the “Avalon World Tour.” For those of you who were Digimon fans in the 90s, yes you’re pretty spot on in what you’re imagining. Prepare for the Small World After All of the fantasy kitchen sink, readers. Prepare for it for the next dozen episodes, before we head into a truly incredible final run.