We’re so close. I can see the shore.
I’m not sure if that’s QUALITY or if these gargoyles took to American 80s fashion icons real hard
The “previously on” segment for this episode takes a lot of clips from the pilot, apparently wanting us to compare this villain of the week to Xanatos. I mean, it certainly succeeded in making me miss Xanatos. Our stage this time is the small village of Ishimura, where humans and gargoyles live in harmony and time has passed the place by juuuuuuuust enough to excuse breaking out all of the Common Aesthetic Signifiers for a loose visualization of “Japan.”
The local gargoyles are, of course, protectors. And they also historically taught the samurai ethos of “bushido,” though they currently have no students (in one of the far less irritating amalgamations of that running “tradition being spurned for modernity” theme). And one of their number, Yama, is quite restless with living in the confines of the village and its secrecy. That’s led him to make a deal with the Totally Trustworthy Businessman Taro, who’s built a super neato theme park version of Ishimura for the gargoyles to inhabit. And “teach bushido.” That last bit translates to “scam money from tourists.”
By far the most interesting part of this episode is the fact that Yama is written, for the first half of the episode, like one of the show’s pretty stock shortsighted greed-oriented villains. The reveal that he’s genuinely well intentioned (he thought there was a bus full of children coming to meet them, he’s sort of sneakily, adorably naïve) and has been taken in by the first person with access to the outside world is a fairly effective shift, refocusing the narrative from the Bold, Strapping Goliath-equivalent who seemed like the eventual hero.
Of course the gargoyles are eventually able to band together and escape, with a brief pause for Yama to fight Taro in one-to-one combat (Taro is kitted out in armor that seems to be patterned after…Nobunaga, maybe? Because of course he is). And so the press coverage that had been called for the theme park’s grand opening laughs the whole thing off, and the secret of gargoyles is kept safe for another day.
“I, for one, love our mousy corporate overlords!”
The biggest problem the episode has is that is wants to be about cultural appropriation, with Goliath counseling the gargoyles to reveal themselves on their own terms rather than appearing in a human’s side show, and the whole chintzy park attraction element of it, but that exploration is kneecapped right out the gate by the fact that the setting resembles nothing so much as an Epcot Center rendition of Japan. The buildings are arguably historical landmarks, kept up out of respect for the past. That fits fine enough with the themes going on. But then there are things like Elisa changing into a kimono while they visit the gargoyle school, something which I have no damn explanation for (that’s a formal occasion outfit, one she’d have difficulty moving much less fighting in, and above all who even offered? At least you could’ve offered me some usual excuse about her regular clothes being ruined); or the apparently modern business office wallpapered with ukiyo-e style paintings. It’s hard to buy the episode’s conflict when the episode is doing that very thing, albeit well intended rather than blatantly for a cash grab.
Though at least this episode fared better as its own little self-contained story than when it was resurrected to more or less be the overarching plot of the abysmal season 3 (which I am saving myself and you the pain of experiencing – oof, you think I’m too mean now. This is the season I really like).
Before his death, he went on to have a very lucrative career warning people against littering
Nothing like the sweet high of my favorite smooth awful business dude returning (and actually…well, more on that in a moment) coupled with being forcibly reminded of the worst episode of the series. For this episode frequently seems like nothing so much as an apology for “Heritage.” I’m still not convinced it entirely succeeds in sensitively portraying indigenous cultures, but that falls into “discussions that are so very, very far outside my depth.” So let’s sort of nudge that to the side and rest comfortably in the knowledge that Ian will get round to it eventually.
Aside from the immediate advantage of centering this story around Elisa’s father, Peter, and thus having a character to work with who exists outside of the arc’s worst ham-fistedness, the move from general to specific is also a huge boon. “Heritage” was ostensibly about this one guy finding himself but was really about taking a place in a larger narrative whether he liked it or not. “Cloud Fathers” is ultimately about family ties, with the fact that the divisive factor is cultural ties more or less an aside in the end.
So, back in the 60s Peter Maza left his father for the big city, souring that relationship until the latter’s death. Now Elisa’s sister Beth is attending university in the same town where her father grew up, and that’s where our tourists have stopped in today.
Xanatos has purchased some local land and has a construction site going for pure Nefarious Scheme reasons. He hasn’t yet given up on his quest for immortality, and he’s hoping to catch the trickster god Coyote by threatening to desecrate an ancient sand carving of the god in question. The excuse the plot works up for this behavior, and for Xanatos’ shenanigans in the episode at large, are that Coyote can sense when Xanatos is bluffing, and will only come out if there’s actual danger to his carving.
So this is Xanatos taking his “first stab at clichéd villainy,” an episode that would be quite perfect if it had managed to take place BEFORE the tour and Fox’s pregnancy. Here it reads, at best, as a sort of evil bachelor party or midlife crisis. We’re out in Arizona, so it’s divorced from the potential softening of being at all connected to his family, and placing this “clichéd villainy” business at this late stage of the game really throws what’s trying really hard to be a redemption arc off the tracks. Goliath and Xanatos are going to reach an accord sooner rather than later, and this feels like a season one draft that sort of floated along and got grabbed for a later stage in the game. It’s disappointing, after missing the character considerably and even having that great little visitation in “Kingdom.” It was also a reminder that I am good and tired of every character who meets Angela commenting primarily on her appearance. At least she got a chance to be sick of it as well, here.
At least the Coyotes are worth writing home about: Coyote 4.0 has returned from his last character-and-myth-sharing excursion and is now molded using the remains of the Cauldron of Life (you know, that time Xanatos ostensibly learned not to meddle directly with supernatural forces he has no assurance will work?); he’s also “programmed for vengeance,” which is both a great line and a good character tell for the robot and its creator; meanwhile, Coyote the spirit is almost as fun as Puck, charming without being overbearing and mysterious without being stiff or cringe-worthy (and one more hearty fuck you to Raven, while I’m here).
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL ARC, CHARMING GUEST CHARACTER
The interactions between the Maza family wind up being the other great surprise of the episode. Peter has the somewhat tiresome role of playing the nonbeliever in a continuity that’s already explicitly proven the existence of supernatural beings, and his donning of the coyote headpiece is the absolute thinnest of plot turns – succeeding in confusing Coyote 4.0 so that it releases the ACTUAL coyote when the character is far, far too competent for such a blunder. The fact that Coyote exits by declaring his undying love telling Peter that he “took a piece of [Coyote]” when he performed the role as a teenager, causing something of an obsession on the trickster’s part, is interesting but also comes right the fuck out of nowhere and leaves just as quickly. But Peter’s acceptance of the importance and reality his culture held for his father, ending with a family trip to the man’s grave, is a restrained and well-delivered moment. One of the quiet denouements that the series does so well when it sets its mind to it.
Also, Elisa and Beth are a fantastic team and I adore their rapport. Frankly I am already sour that this was not the sibling Elisa had the most prominent relationship with throughout the series. The missed opportunities for sisterly adventures, you have no idea.