Apologies on the delay, readers. A rather unexpected day of WiFi loss reared its ugly head on Friday.
James Cameron, do you need to cut a check?
It’s the save the rainforest episode! Oh, readers, take a trip back in time with me. Let us return to a day when eco-friendly messages were de rigueur in children’s media, most of them well-intentioned but likewise excruciatingly blunt or tone deaf. This was the age of Ferngully and Captain Planet, my children. And as of this episode, not even Gargoyles got away unscathed.
We pull into shore in a Guatemalan rain forest, where a small clan of gargoyles are fighting off logging equipment. But, because that’s not an equal enough threat for a bunch of supernatural warriors, said deforestation project has also contracted Jackal and Hyena. So after our group gets a glimpse of the conflict and sides with the locals, the battle lines are fairly clearly drawn for the rest of the episode. And it remains of two minds for pretty much the entire running time: one is perceptive above and beyond the subgenre they’re traipsing through, and the other is sort of the equivalent of putting on Slob Day jeans.
The basic conflict boils down thusly: the rainforest gargoyles, of which only four have survived, are holed up in an ancient Mayan pyramid and trying to scare both encroaching loggers and locals from cutting down any trees; the construction operation is being headed by Renard’s company, but is actually under Vogel’s command since Renard’s illness has put him out of action; the gargoyles have been a problem because of this ancient totem that lets them stay awake during the day, so Hyena heads to Manhattan to break the ancient totem that keeps that magic going while Jackal waits back in Guatemala to take out the stone statues.
This round of new characters are fine enough – not an active annoyance onscreen, and with enough potential that it might’ve been nice to check in with them somewhere down the line – but they’re also splitting one character’s worth of personality between the four of them, since this is a Pack episode and that now apparently means stuffing the script well past what it can comfortably allot.
No, no, we’re starting with positives.
We’ve gone from “Antarctic Horror Creature” to “Wow, That Looks Useful for Lectures”
This isn’t an Elisa episode, but she nonetheless carries on the streak she’s had of carrying the most thematically interesting moments along with her. Here she points out that technically the gargoyles are vigilantes and Halcyon Industries within the realm of the law, as well as the fact that the local villages have to clear some trees in order to grow food. The script ultimately lets the gargoyles win, as the episode ends with Vogel suggesting they pull the plug on the operation, but it lets Elisa’s arguments stand. Goliath respects her decision not to participate in the sabotage operation, and she has the final grace note in suggesting conservation by way of growing the plants on Avalon. The latter is a bit of a cheat, since there’s no magical island out of time that provides an out for the interplay of natural ecosystems and society, but on the whole it’s some nicely nuanced writing.
Broadway and Lexington’s appearance winds up being a net positive as well – while they wind up under the false conclusion that the sun relic is harmful rather than helpful, they hold onto it rather than breaking it on sight. It’s both an effective stinger and an indicator of how much the impulsive kids have had to grow up in Goliath’s absence.
Then there’s the other stuff. This episode, if you weren’t certain during “Grief,” hammers home that the writers have no significantly interesting ideas left for Hyena and Jackal at this stage in the game. Fox is co-masterminding with Xanatos, Dingo is on a redemptive journey involving a sentient alloy, Coyote has the self-iterating robot thing going on, and the twins….have sort of plateaued as far as mercenary psychopathy goes. There’s never been any kind of grey or sympathetic depth to their characters, not even in their bond with each other. And here they’ve lost even the ability to outdo their own eeriness. The robo-bodies are no longer animated with Cronenbergian uncanniness but a simpler action-Transformers manner, and there’s nothing in their dialogue or actions that goes above and beyond (or below, as it were) their previous appearances. It’s really, really hard to top deciding to exterminate all life on Earth for kicks and giggles.
And even with the additional subtlety, it’s still a Save the Rainforest episode with a few Gargoyles flourishes on top. It feels like it could be pulled out and put in any supernatural action show with very minimal changes. And even when the show doesn’t work, it’s always felt in tune with itself. So while this episode is never out and out terrible, it skims along the surface of being dull.
I also can’t tell you how disappointed I am to see the title “The Green” spent here. This is a writer’s room full of Shakespeare nerds, after all. “The Green” is a concept in literary criticism referring to a setting that breaks down societal barriers. You from the safety and constraint of the normal world into the chaos of the green, work out your personal issues in a world without limitations, and rejoin society once you’ve literally and metaphorically come out the other side. It’s the exact plot of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (making the non-use even more surprising, since the show borrows so much else from that play), and the archetypal plot surfaces from Alice in Wonderland to Silent Hill to Digimon. To see that opportunity passed by is something of a shame (it would’ve been more interesting, certainly). Ah, well. Consider this your mildly disappointed history lesson.
Not pictured: my sad expression at the nonexistent archaeology-alien buddy movie
HEY, SO ALIENS.
That is…roughly all I have to say about that. But for the sake of the word count, I shall continue. The tourists wash up on Easter Island, and since poor Elisa is having her first nap in an age and a half the rest of the team goes off to explore without her. Naturally, she is promptly kidnapped, and winds up wandering down a lonesome road with no memory of who or where she is. This is an opportunity to throw in a cameo from the archaeologists Lydia and Arthur – you know, they had those Scrolls of Merlin in season one? They’re still pleasant, even if they pretty well disappear from the episode once Goliath arrives to pick up the very alarmed Elisa.
Meanwhile, Angela and Bronx are both picked up by the same mystery creature that nabbed Elisa. Said figure is….sigh…Nokkar, a sentinel protecting Earth from the threat of alien invasion. He’s been underground and uninformed so long that he’s convinced the gargoyles are manipulative aliens, and that Elisa was a victim of mind control when she tried to defend them. As you can guess, most of the episode is Elisa being hostile to Goliath while he tries to prove that they really for reals were friends. Given that the tension is a false one – Elisa’s mistrust is a cheat rather than a genuine hurt that would cause permanent change in their relationship – it makes the early going in this episode something of a chore, but I admit to not liking amnesia episodes as a general rule.
Eventually Elisa finds herself instinctively drawn to side with the gargoyles despite not remembering them, harkening back to the whole “cop instinct” thing from previous episodes. And this eventually gets Nokkar to back down as well – his magic amnesia beam only erases false memories, so if she still trusts them she must’ve been telling the truth. And at the end it’s implied that Nokkar will become friends with the adorable archeologist duo, taunting me with a way more fun and interesting episode concept than the one I just watched.
There’s a good idea at the core of this: Elisa’s trust and loyalty has been assumed for so long that, in keeping with the “shake things up” mindset of the World Tour, it would be interesting to see her have to navigate an apparent rift with her friends. But they, perhaps running out of time to fit such an episode but wanting to try, took a short cut to get there. And as much as that only debatably works in other shows, it really doesn’t work for one that’s tried so hard to emphasize slow-burn long term development.
His brother J’onn’s been really bad about calling lately
And the aliens, my dudes. Now, you may say “well, Gargoyles is a fantasy kitchen sink so might as well.” But this isn’t just another in the line of “historical thing is actually a signifier of an older magical thing.” The idea of a space war, aliens, and alien technology opens an enormous door that the series isn’t prepared to really sit down with and integrate. And unlike the evolution of human technology interfacing with the ancient world/magic, the implications of sci-fi technology are an implication unto themselves. An implication way, way too big for 20 minutes at the end of an arc. And it doesn’t help that the visual aesthetic takes a sudden left turn into looking like it was borrowed from a Justice League episode. Even the recurrent theme of “you are also a forgotten protector fighting a long-over war” is sort of awkwardly plopped there at the end with the grace of a wet hairball.
And you know what, I’m gonna leave it there. One more week of Tour, and then onto the best stuff. And oh, how it is best.