It’s hard not to be better than last week, really.
“All I’m saying, officer, is that child will be much happier when it learns
to pull candy up from its own bootstraps.”
While the good ship World Tour is off making its way through episodes I am largely of my depth in grappling with, we take a merciful break to check back in with the characters in Manhattan. Since an hour passes in Avalon for every real day in the outside world, a hefty chunk of time has accumulated since Goliath and Elisa’s (and Bronx’s, but he’s less character than mascot) departure. The Manhattan gargoyles are in disarray and despite fighting so hard for it before, Brooklyn’s sidestepping the mantle of leader now that the time has actually come for that title to actually mean something.
Meanwhile, it would seem that Derek is having much the same problem; unfortunately for him, his clan contains 100% more agro bro in the form of Fang, who you might remember as “the loud dickish one/the stock boorish villain of the week but with fur this time.” When Brooklyn comes by (goaded into actually taking point on the search after Hudson reminded him that Maggie exists, and Brooklyn is nursing some background twitterpation) and thus brings news that Elisa is Missing-missing instead of Secret Adventure missing, Fang takes the opportunity to push Derek’s Xanatos rage button and thus leave the underground labyrinth unguarded and ripe for a coup.
Brooklyn has the good sense to point out that the risks of confronting Xanatos far outweigh the potential gains – after all, without the threat of Goliath it’s likely that our smug bastard billionaire would be happy to return to previous levels of spreading misery hither and yon, but he’s unwilling to push the issue, and to the castle they go. Fortunately for them it is a casual night at House Xanatos (one season, iron throne gained, everybody go home) – so casual that Owen is chilling out at the office with his tie loose AND his sleeves rolled up. It’s practically island time. It’s also probably the only reason the search team doesn’t end up dead.
I wanna hang out with the Xanatos family all the time
Yes, I know that’s not the point.
In fact, Xanatos goes so far as to let the gang search his castle and his computer (the latter thanks to Lexington, whom I can only assume tapped really fast on the keyboard and then shouted “I’m in!” offscreen). This is another one of those “in case you forgot Xanatos was a bastard” episodes. Which I’m pretty okay with, because I’m here for the scheming and his protectiveness of his very select little family, but it’s an interesting card to play in effectively the last third of the series – that only leaves about two dozen episodes for him to make it to honorary good guy status, and he’s still quipping about having fun in regards to breaking out the heavy artillery on our protagonists. The writing staff had an amazing grasp of Xanatos as a character but not always of his relative tonal position in the narrative, is what I’m saying.
Having handed Xanatos an invitation to bust out his pre-fatherhood bucket schemes – Brooklyn still grumbling all the way with good points that he won’t step up and take a stand on – they head back to the labyrinth to discover that the takeover was, indeed, hostile. Most of the back half of the episode is taken up by the fight to depose Fang of his newfound power (which came courtesy of a fortunate vault of laser weapons that were just kinda, down there I guess. When in doubt, Xanatos). Derek’s claims that there is no leader in their underground labyrinth of abandoned tunnels winds up being forcibly set aside in order to fight Fang off, and Brooklyn is likewise forced to actually take command in order to help set things right.
I can’t tell how much subtext about noblesse oblige – traditionally in reference to the upper classes but generally the idea that the more resources you have, the more you are duty bound to use them to help others – the writers was going for here. The script tries to balance the idea of what qualities constitute leadership by way of Brooklyn’s character arc: he has good ideas but they’re meaningless until he stands up for his convictions; while he ends up giving “orders” the others only follow because they’ve trusted him to have the best judgment on the matter, and it’s his craftiness in the exchange with Maggie, ultimately an ability to react based on an understanding of others, that lets them get the upper hand in the labyrinth fight. Those are all solid traits that feel earned in the specific episode as well as for Brooklyn’s character in general. And while Brooklyn’s an appointed leader rather than one chosen by consensus, the fact that he has to reprove what Goliath saw in him undoes the most of the weirdness of that dynamic.
Derek’s story arc is considerably more muddled, suffering from that problem of an overcrowded episode. The basic conflict seems to be that Derek’s unwillingness to lead and instead attempting to promote a collectivism of sorts with the refugees, human and mutated, leads to Fang’s coup. Derek becomes a strong leader, in parallel to Brooklyn’s story, and presumably things are copacetic again. The problem is that Fang was gonna be a problem no matter what Derek did, because he’s a Stock Power Hungry Villain, and nothing short of killing or imprisoning him (as he is by the end of the episode) was going to stave off this conflict. So tying it to the episode’s theme of leadership feels awkward and forced.
It also doesn’t help that Derek’s desire for a collective society gets exactly zero screentime. The human refugees are basically window dressing there to give the mutates something to have dominion over, a kingdom to fight about, and they all uniformly cower through the whole affair without a single line of dialogue. Now, considering the electro-furries have super future weaponry, of course they’re scared. But there’s not a single Elisa or even Matt among the bunch? No normal human able to rally them together in a team effort to help Derek or Maggie out? It’s not given a chance to succeed or fail in practice, since the issue ultimately comes down to Exceptional Beings punching the crap out of each other and asserting leadership through, in practice whatever the script might’ve intended, physical force. Ah well, at least the A story worked.
Oh, and fun fact: this episode ends with Brooklyn agreeing to take on the role of leader while refusing to give up the search for Goliath. This is also the last episode of its particular box set (even though the Wikipedia episode listing sets it considerably later, but whatever), released in 2005. The rest of the series got round to being released in 2015. Good searchin there, Brooklyn.
If Nessie could talk, this episode would be dangerously close to passing
the Bechdel Test twice
Scotland! Good old Scotland, well entrenched in the series lore and within a cultural and mythic context the writers know how to deal with. Oh, how I’ve missed you. Yet again we start with the world’s simultaneously sturdiest and wobbliest boat dumping one of its passengers. In this case the victim is Angela, who is seemingly swallowed up by the shadowy figure passing underneath the water. For we are not just anywhere in Scotland. No, this is Loch Ness, aka that landmark mostly everyone thinks is the name of the mythical monster therein (PS, a loch is a partially landlocked portion of the sea).
While Goliath and Elisa start a frantic search, Angela wakes up in deep-loch laboratory run by everyone’s favorite typecast creep (it’s sort of cute how the animation tries to hide his face, when Tim Curry possesses the single most identifiable voice of the 90s). Except….he’s kinda too far into creep territory here, to the point of making bits of the episode rather squirmy to watch. Originally his plan is to extract Angela’s DNA for study like the other gargoyles, which is perhaps why his handsy nastiness is so starkly highlighted. Or maybe it’s that previously, while Sevarius was always a bit scummy, he almost exclusively played off of characters who were stronger or more in control than he, thus setting parameters on his characterization. Hell, even with Maggie he had a fairly detached approach to her as an experiment. Now we have a new female character and she’s immediately menaced in a subtextually predatory manner. Yippee skip.
Angela is put into a holding cell with the lab’s big secret: and if you did not say the Loch Ness Monster, I’m going to have to shake my head in disappointment for several long minutes at you. As it turns out, The Monster is actually part of a breeding pair, and Sevarius has been trying to capture the male in order to stave off their current captor’s increasingly debilitating pining. But it turns out Nessie is just happy for someone to talk to, because she takes to Angela right away and it is adorable. I am suddenly so angry that Angela does not get to command a fearsome sea creature and fight crime from the depths. It would have been amazing, y’all.
Then the episode gets a little weird. Aboveground Elisa goes into town and runs across the minions from waaaaaaaaaaay back in season one (seriously, she even recognizes them), or Hedgmina and Hedgminello as I prefer to call them, and is able to uncover the entrance to the lab by following them. This turns out to be a trap because of course it does, and Elisa and Goliath are forced to fight their way out of captivity while Sevarius seizes on the brilliant idea to let the newly perkified Nessie out long enough to get both monsters in one swoop. And to bring Angela, because Nessie has adopted the tiny stone child as her own by this point (she curls her tail around Angela during the day; did I mention how cute it was?). And in the middle of all that, there’s a big moment where Sevarius tells Angela that Goliath is her biological father, and it’s shocking or something. To somebody, I’m sure.
This episode also features a zenith of QUALITY facial animation
Menopause comes very suddenly for gargoyles
In fairness, the point of the scene is that it’s a revelation to the character rather than us as the audience (we’ve already been handed the info on a shining platter of unsubtlety, thanks). And it makes a certain amount of sense. While Goliath is obviously proud of the communal (there’s that word again) arrangement in which he was raised, considering it a valuable part of gargoyle culture, Angela was raised with human ideals of what a family structure looks like (a fairly restrictive model too, since even being ALONE ON AN ISLAND SEPARATED FROM SOCIETY couldn’t get Tom, Katherine, and the Magus to work out a dumb love triangle in an agreeable fashion). And this moment sets off a big part of Angela’s character arc in the series, often to Goliath’s puzzlement. It’s a shame that traditional gargoyle communities don’t get a chance to have more of a spotlight, but that’d be pretty impossible without some awkwardly crammed in flashbacks.
Of course Goliath and Elisa break out and steal a sub (in the shape of the monster, because Sevarius is flashy and enjoys wasting Xanatos’ funding wherever he can), which they ram into Sevarius’ ALSO monster-shaped vessel. Angela is freed, Sevarius “dies” but never shows a corpse because that’s tradition for him now, and Nessie goes back to her mate and tiny Nessie children. I am going to assume that part of their legendary magic is the ability to create a sustainable gene pool from two adult creatures. That, and I suppose webbed toes can only be a bonus.
You’ll notice that the monster this week is pretty much beside the point, effectively window dressing to create a point of conflict between a group of well-established characters and create a little extra flavor while doing so. And you’ll also notice that this episode is, correspondingly, far less painful than the awful, awful “Heritage.” Part of that is in coming back to the familiar shores of Scotland, as I said; but part of it is just that the script knows the limits of its scope. There’s a bit at the beginning where Elisa is convinced the “monster” is just an invention of the local tourist trade, and there’s some interesting potential material there about the commodification of culture and mythology (which you could break down further as being done by locals vs outsiders, what aspects of culture, the complicating fact that myth is reality in this universe) but it’s dropped as soon as Angela goes overboard. And as tantalizing as those themes would’ve been done well, the episode is a lot better for dropping them. Because none of that was going to fit smoothly into 20 minutes. The best moments of the show are character breadcrumbs dropped over multi-episode arcs, after all.