This might actually be the Monty Python King Arthur. He certainly has equitable charisma.
Mark of the Panther
Everyone has a bad day because a guy couldn’t handle his girlfriend breaking up with him. There’s a lot more, and this is actually one of my favorite episodes on the tour, but that’s the basic nugget of the plot. The tourists find themselves in Nigeria, which Elisa has actually been to once before. Almost as soon as they land the group happens upon the skinned remains of a panther left by poachers, in a scene that is admirably ambitious but doesn’t quite click: while the actors are suitably horrified and the audio mix has an alarmingly loud chorus of flies, the fact that we don’t see any of the body (most age-restricted shows in this position go for either a stylized flash or a very limited show – a foot or something – that hints at the larger picture) makes it a rather “take our word for it” moment. In fairness, it is hard to find even a coy angle for a puddle of meat and viscera. And the poaching is little more than a bow to tie the episode together at the ends anyway.
The meat of things comes when we arrive at a small village with a familiar face: Elisa’s mother Diane has been living there and studying her heritage (which is why Elisa’s family went on the trip as well), and we catch her on her first night out as a storyteller. The fable involves the Panther Queen, who was transformed into a human by the spidery trickster god Anansi for her arrogance. As penance, she built the web-shaped city of Kara Digi, but found that when she had been made a panther again she missed her human children. In exchange for food, Anansi agreed to turn one of her children into a panther alongside her, whom she was to mark with her claws. But the chosen son didn’t want to become a panther, and comes to the brink of killing his mother before realizing, when the moment comes, that she did it out of love for him.
It’s a beautiful little sequence, rendered with flatter designs and simpler animation to play to the fairytale aesthetic, and voiced entirely by Diane so that it never loses the sense of being a story told. The tie to Elisa and her family’s background isn’t explored much beyond giving Diane a reason to be in the story, but it still gives the episode far better grounding than a lot of the ones before it. Diane has not only a cultural tie to the stories she’s studying but has invested significant time in immersing herself in the culture, keeping it from that feel of breezing in to solve the problems of total strangers. And from a larger writing perspective, giving almost the entire first act to the relating of the Anansi myth gives it a chance to breathe and actually be explored rather than serving as an aesthetic topper to someone else’s story.
We discover that one of the poachers, Tea, is hunting panthers because she was cursed with the “mark” by her ex-lover (and head of the village where Diane has been studying) Fara Maku, and her desire for revenge winds up leading everyone on a chase into the mythic city of Kara Digi. So that forms the engine of the plot, and plays into the “cycle of repetition” vis a vis the myth without feeling nearly as forced as previous tour episodes. For sure enough, at the center of the city is Anansi, looking for more minions to bring him food. The sequence in the maze-like city is skin-crawling stuff, with Anansi himself an effectively imposing design – though I suspect I may here be swayed by an ingrained wariness of arachnids. Still, it’s both tense for the action of the plot and a very effective bit of mood setting, building on the trickster mythos established earlier on to create that palpable threat. Anansi’s role not as a summoned creature but a lurking, forgotten reality that is stumbled upon also creates a breadth of worldbuilding beyond the immediacy of our protagonists’ presence.
I am frankly disappointed Diane didn’t try to MOM Anansi into submission
It turns out that Fara Maku marked Tea because she was leaving him to move to a metropolitan city, and he hunted down Anansi specifically to get this power from the myth. Thankfully for my sanity and any nearby tables, Diane is there to point out that this was a terrible and selfish thing to do, and in no way an action born of love (the fact that Fara Maku atoning for doing this involves protecting the jungles as a werepanther with Tea at his side….pretty much the thing he wanted in the first place…leaves a bit of an unpleasant taste, but it’s such a relatively minor subplot that it’s easy enough to let go).
The bulk of things have to do with the parallel parent/child conflicts between Goliath and Angela and Elisa and Diane: Angela is frustrated that Goliath won’t treat her as his daughter, he feels that she’s spurning gargoyle culture; Elisa feels like her mother asks too much of her, but also has a habit of keeping secrets (which we also saw in her relationship with Matt). Splitting parents and children up to talk about how the grass is greener is a pretty direct approach but excusable for speeding up the resolution, and the amount of nuance packed in is pretty impressive. Goliath realizes it will make Angela happy to be his daughter, and since she’s the only child with them won’t really be favoritism in the way he’s worried about. Elisa resolves to be more open with her mother, who also realizes that she will have to be less overprotective of her adult child. It’s a nice, mature conclusion told with extreme narrative efficiency, and it’s nice to see Elisa chose to open up rather than being more-or-less bullied into it with reckless driving (hello again, Matt).
Truly, this entire arc is a nursery rhyme of plotting: when it is good, it is indeed very, very good.
P.S. Anansi was played by Geordi LaForge, because this show got pretty much the entire cast of Next Generation by the time it was done.
The PortaPotty of Shalot was never quite as revered a poem
Well, they set up the King Arthur plotline back in Avalon, so they’re pretty well bound to pay it off. This is that episode, as well as another in that line of back pocket spinoffs that the World Tour arc has been tucking away (personally I’d watch the adventures of Law and Order or the London gargoyles long before this, but we’ll get to that). Arthur’s boat brings him to London and promptly sinks, being a far less bravehearted fantasy construction than the gondola the tourists have been knocking about in. He promptly heads to an abbey and finds the Stone sans its Sword, and a gargoyle angry that Arthur beat the doors of his protectorate in.
Said gargoyle is actually Griff, who seems to be here to fill in for Arthur’s fairly crippling lack of likability over the bulk of the episode. Being the easily impassioned heroic sort that he is, Griff is champing at the bit to help the Arthur Pendragon once the mistaken identities are cleared up. They work out well enough as a team, but it’s a bit hard to take that Griff doesn’t give a second thought or so much as a mention for the family he was only just reunited with. Y’know, the one we spent a whole episode with, which was totally bereft the last time Griff was gone and had been helping him defend London? It would be one thing if Griff nonetheless felt himself pulled to a higher calling, but some conflict would’ve been nice.
The Stone, which turns out to speak in the voice of Dr. Claw, tells Arthur that if he wants Excalibur back he’ll have to prove that he still deserves it. Though it is at least obliging enough to send Arthur to Manhattan, where the sword resides. Why is the sword in Manhattan (or, more accurately, Brooklyn)? We don’t know. Arthur keeps pondering on it, but the question never actually gets answered. Simultaneously, Macbeth is tinkering in his garage and preparing for something called the “harmonic convergence,” which will apparently pull some powerful reward into the world if the right ritual is performed. And booooooy is the plotting messy on this. So Macbeth conjures up a bit ol’ portal, and out comes Arthur and Griff….whooooooo were sent to Manhattan by the Stone. It is entirely unclear whether these two events are linked or just happen to align, and it doesn’t matter anyway. The harmonic convergence business is purely an excuse to have Macbeth around when the plot kicks into gear, because the plot felt like it needed an active antagonist outside of Arthur facing his challenges.
Because of course Macbeth decides that if “eternal king” is the only qualifier to wield Excalibur, then why shouldn’t it be him? This makes perfect sense with the well-intentioned but astonishingly arrogant man we’ve known up to this point.
I christen thee “half of our forced impending bromance”
Getting him to that point is the problem, and the episode doesn’t have an adequate answer for it. Last we left Macbeth he was picking his life back up from Demona and Thailog’s trickery, and seemed to be on the way up, relatively speaking. We open this episode and he’s rehired his old goons and is seeking ultimate power for….reasons? To defeat Demona? Except that’s not how their curse works, and he’s never been the “ultimate power for its own sake” sort of guy. These are storylines that could be explored, but not without any indication of how we returned to status quo, and certainly not when it’s so clearly a means to an end.
Anyway, the remaining members of the Manhattan gargoyle clan show up to chase Macbeth off and end up lending Arthur their aid (Griff hanging out with the kids is such a great plot opportunity, and it’s just wasted here). Griff knows a nursery rhyme about the location of Excalibur, which leads the group to Central Park. The Lady of the Lake is hanging out there, because the plot says she is, and she too has a test for Arthur. It involves stuffing him in a water monster and seeing if he can coordinate some help before he drowns. This proves his natural leadership capabilities. And as a reward, she shows them a stone dragon at the heart of a maze: the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. I really, really hope they actually have stone dragons. I’m afraid to look it up and have my hopes dashed.
Macbeth’s been eavesdropping from afar and manages to beat them to the statue, drawing the sword from the dragon. You get no points for guessing that the dragon comes to life. And because it has so many players on the field, much of the remainder of the episode is a big multi-part fight scene. The Manhattan gargoyles fight off Macbeth’s minions, whom I hope have really excellent health benefits; and Macbeth and Arthur struggle over the sword while trying not to get dragon’d, feat. Griff. Macbeth’s victory turns to be short lived – Arthur manages to get his hands on the sword for about two seconds and determines it to be a fake, which means a backup plan for fighting the dragon.
Ah, but the rhyme has an answer for that too: the red stone in the dragon’s chest (a very common piece of fantasy lore, where the one weakness in a dragon’s scaly hide is the missing scale over their heart). Arthur is able to smash the stone and get the sword from inside, causing the dragon to disintegrate. And Macbeth, a decent human being under all that brash pride, yields to the True King (there’s a throwaway line about Arthur’s domain involving a “bigger kingdom,” and all I can imagine is this poor idiot running for local government and regretting every moment of that eternal kingship). Macbeth declines the offer to serve as Arthur’s knight, but promises his aid as an equal on the battlefield. And if nothing else, that moment really works (it decidedly seems like the moment from which the script was born). Arthur starts growing a modicum of charisma around the time he actually has to use his wits against the dragon, and is in danger of being mildly interesting instead of shouty and one-note by the time the credits roll.
And because this is the World Tour, Arthur declares that he must soon be off on another quest. He even knights a giddy Griff as his traveling companion. Because I am fairly uninterested in this dynamic, I’ve chosen instead to think of Una and Leo pitching a fit when Griff doesn’t come home after a few weeks and tearing off looking for him across the world. Now that’s a story I would hear.