Godwin’s Law is officially broken. We had such a good streak going, too.
Life was hard for a pre-apocalyptic War Boy
They had to get to Australia somehow, for one
The tourists have a stopover in London, where we learn that gargoyles apparently were a big help during the Blitzkrieg – and one of the statues looks uncannily like Goliath. Despite extensive past experience with the Phoenix Gate, it will take this episode most of the first act to figure out that time travel is the answer to the problem of the week. The wait is mildly excruciating.
A local cabbie takes note of Elisa’s interest in the gargoyle memorial and points her toward a shop in Soho, where the owners of a magic shop are, by all appearances, really dedicated fursuit enthusiasts. They’re actually gargoyles, of course: a lion and alicorn named Leo and Una. I probably should’ve told you to put something soft on your desk before I told you that, but I wanted you to share my experience. They want nothing to do with the gang violence on the street outside (while this plotline could be happening in pretty much any metropolitan city, your analyst was reminded of that time they were stalked back to a Stratford B&B by some very Clockwork Orange-esque teenagers – personal bias leaes me quite inclined to buy this plot, I’m saying), and while Goliath is surprised and overjoyed to find another clan of gargoyles, they’ve apparently been holding a grudge against him since World War II. Apparently there was once a third member of their family named Griff, and he disappeared the same night Goliath did.
Wow, it sure does take a whole first act for them to get round to the 40s.
Once Goliath puts two and two together and gets time gate, he pops back to the Blitzkrieg just in time to meet the illustrious Griff. Guess what kind of gargoyle he is. Go on, guess. More importantly, he’s the affable rogue type – your Lockon Stratos, your Agent York, your Poe Dameron. The kind everyone’s a little besotted by and practically has a target on his forehead for an easy heartstring tug. And boy does he hate him some Nazis. And since Brad Pitt does not exist in this particular alternate history, he’s been trying to talk Una and Leo into helping him instead. Until now they’d had a party line of staying home to protect their family shop, but Goliath’s comment that “human problems become gargoyle problems” is enough to propel Griff out into the fray.
Goliath follows after, determined to prevent whatever event kept Griff from returning home that night. And the sequence that follows is half dogfight between the RAFF and Nazis (fun note: while the Iron Crosses on the German planes initially come off as an attempt to sidestep splashing swastikas onto everything, they’re actually quite historically accurate) and half almost black comedy as Goliath rushes around narrowly saving Griff from certain doom. Eventually he realizes that fate itself is out to get them – Griff can’t return home because that didn’t happen, and there’s no changing that.
Back in the present, Elisa is doing her second job as a monster grief counselor, helping Una and Leo realize that their anger at Goliath is a front for the guilt they feel in letting Griff go into battle on his own. So of course the very second they begin to accept this Goliath pops in from the past with Griff in tow. It’s arguably cheap, but on the other hand it makes their decision to join Griff in protecting the streets a decision born out of personal resolve rather than a simple fear of letting him out of their sight.
They cant possibly mean to imply this much polyamory, but I believe it anyway
While this arc generally just gets more exhausting as it goes on (I long for Avalon and New York, you have no idea), I do genuinely like this episode. Once it actually gets there the time travel plot is well integrated and retroactively answers some questions about the show’s previous use of the device. While there is a bit of a ham hand on the WOT WOT PIP CHEERIO Britishisms in the early going that largely tapers off when the script is called upon to be dramatic. And most importantly, the script really sells its trio in the time it’s given (this show loves a triad, doesn’t it? Not that I’m complaining). Though I confess to finding Sarah Douglas’ (you know, Ursa from Superman II?) voice work as Una a touch on the overbearing side – hammering on the Wise Elder Matriarch voice hamstrings the emotional dynamics a bit, though in fairness she is saddled with the bulk of the accusatory exposition – there’s a palpable sense of something missing in the shop even before Griff’s name is mentioned. And that reunion works like gangbusters. And yes, this is another World Tour episode where the quality coincides with how much the historical setting is basically set dressing. I almost feel as though I should be encouraging you to start a drinking game.
Death: like nesting dolls, in a way
And now we swing round to the other recurring theme of this arc: episodes with more ideas than a twenty minute script can comfortably contain. This one has its sights set on no less a topic than death and mourning, which is has to stuff in alongside the introduction of a new character, a new mythos, and the reintroduction of The Pack. It fairs slightly better than “Golem” in that the choice of Egypt, for good or ill, means the episode winds up drawing mostly from the shorthand of MGM Horror and Adventure Serials more than any untapped veins of history, resulting in an episode that more or less holds together even as multiple moments beg for their own separate spotlight.
We’re not just in Egypt but in the Sphinx, because landmarks, where The Pack has been called in to oversee Xanatos’ latest venture. It seems our absent billionaire contracted Emir (having learned his lesson about tampering with the supernatural in any manner that could harm him or his family personally) in a new scheme to attain immortality. This one involves summoning and entrapping Anubis, the lord of the dead. If Anubis is bound by the summons, nobody dies. And hey, there’s something this episode can lay claim to! It is way, way better than Miracle Day! Sometimes I hallucinate that Ianto and indeed all the best characters died, and they kept making Torchwood seasons. It’s the strangest thing.
Presumably Xanatos’ plan from there was to somehow bribe or threaten an ageless, deathless diety, but we never find out what step two is. Y’see, Emir lost his young son in a car accident, and now he’s planning to use this summoning ritual to demand his child back. When Anubis refuses, stating that death is a great equalizer which comes to each and every one of us (and then I was crushed to death by the falling dark matter that was this subject), Emir initiates his own Plan B: a spell that will make his body an avatar for Anubis’ spirit.
Which is all well and good, except the other Jackal has been watching all of this, and decided that he too wants to decide who lives and who dies. So he pushes Emir out of the way at the last minute, because soul transfers are like Spirit Bombs apparently, and gets the powers instead. This marks our merry return to the Pack being fucking terrifying, as the snake-necked, dog-headed Jackal proceeds to suck the life out of everyone in the room and then begin a purge of all life on earth. Because I guess we were supposed to assume that the only reason the dumb sadistic adrenaline junkie wasn’t committing global genocide was simply because there weren’t enough hours in the day.
And his cat ears grew three sizes that day
With everyone but Emir out of either certified into the AARP or made into a diapered spinoff show, it’s up to Emir to dither around until the last possible opportunity to fix things. This is the point where the episode feels the most forced – we’ve not had a chance to meet Emir before this, so it’s difficult to sympathize with his plight above our protagonists and also all life on earth, and for an episode that’s titled “Grief” the connection made with our tourists about moving on from loss sure is contained to a single line. It’s a dilemma that the plot hasn’t sold beyond the shorthand markers of “a child is dead, so feel sad,” although Tony Shalhoub is doing his damndest as Emir to sell the material (and while we’re naming guest stars, that’s Tony “Judge Frollo” Jay as Anubis).
The ambition and genuine complexity of the ideas on display here, absolutely unheard of for a kid’s show in the early 90s and still rare now, is sold short by how the script distributes that pathos. When Emir successfully absorbs Anubis and realizes that death must proceed as it always has it’s just a thing that happens – Goliath’s suggestion that Emir is now at rest with his son is a nice sentiment to bookend the episode, but it’s entirely weightless. And so a very thoughtful and measured portrayal of mortality is just kind of there, floating free in the breeze. And The Pack are off doing something. Somewhere. They’re probably dead, No Really, and I’m certain we won’t be seeing them again any time soon.
And no, dear readers, I haven’t forgotten I owe you a post from Christmas. Keep your eyes peeled this weekend.
Re: Gargoyle names: Maybe gargoyles in Britain are just generally crap at naming themselves, and that’s the reason why the Scottish gargoyles don’t do it it. They were all “okay, you look like a…something, so your name is obviously…eff it, I can’t do this.” Or maybe they decided that they couldn’t all be named “Rocky”.