THE WORLD TOUR IS OVER. EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL AND EVERYTHING HURTS.
I mean I question when Titania picked up Heavy Metal, but besides that
Ill Met By Moonlight
WE’RE BACK. THE QUALITY IS BACK, BABY, AND EVERYTHING IS MAGICAL. Literally, but that wasn’t my point. This episode marks the progression into the series’ endgame, properly introducing the last really important piece of series lore: Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the Third Race. And it looks good doing it; like, “The Price” levels of good. There are some beautiful, creative action scenes, and everybody gets to stay on model even at a distance. This is what all those QUALITY shots during the World Tour were paying for.
But let’s start at the beginning, as I’ve been told that’s an advisable place to start. After all those weeks (and weeks, and weeks, as I slowly scratched increasingly desperate tally marks into the wall beside my TV) of floating around the world have finally led the gang back to Avalon, the last locale in need of assistance. And not a moment too soon, of course, for Oberon has returned to Avalon after 1,000 years (1,001 apparently, but who’s counting) of absence. That was the date that Oberon divorced his wife, Titania, for her cruelty to mortals, and banished her and all the Third Race to live amongst they disdained for a millennium. And like most immortals he has no conception of time as mortals view it, and sees no reason why he can’t just pop in, settle back on his island, and kick out the squatters who’d taken up residence there for the preceding 900 and some years.
Now, most of my readers are from English-speaking countries, particularly the US and Canada. If you’re not, hail and well met friend – I only bring it up on the assumption that damn near every one of you had high school literature at some point (or even middle school, or hell, I’ve seen grade-school versions that obviously ignore all the filthy, filthy jokes), and more than like have some level of familiarity with A Midsummer Night’s Dream: a quartet of misaligned lovers go into a forest, get in the middle of a spat between the King and Queen of the fairies, love potion shenanigans ensue, everyone comes out in happily matched couples, the end. It’s by far Shakespeare’s best known comedy and one of his most frequently performed and adapted works. It feels redundant to spend extra time on it here – though we may end up returning to the subject momentarily the next time these two put in an appearance. Digression concluded.
Anyway, Titania steps in to keep Oberon from spitefully making the humans and gargoyles a literal part of the island, and suggests a compromise. If Oberon reduces his powers to that of “just” a child of the Third Race and bests Goliath, Angela, and Gabriel in a Most Dangerous Game setup, then they get to kick the humans out and Titania will agree to marry him again. Thus is most the episode given over to the chase, with the humans at the castle trying to work out an alternate weapon they can use against Oberon. It’s a fantastic return to form: in the field Goliath gets to show off his smarts as a strategic commander again in a situation with tension beyond “punch until deus ex machina,” while the human side of the fight makes use of the show’s love of wordplay (spelled out a bit for the younger viewers in the audience, which doesn’t do much to detract from how well it’s all executed).
And the detail of it is just fantastic. The animation really is lovely – at one point Oberon turns himself into a crystalline creature, and his body vibrates from the useless punches being thrown at him – but more importantly it’s full of character. Little touches like Oberon peeling branches from living trees to do his bidding say a great deal about his character without much fanfare, while the island itself is given its farewell by coming a character all its own during the fight. Although I have to take some minor points off because I don’t care how you try to obfuscate it with old timey-ness, having Oberon use “heed my say” as a spell is not a thing.
YOU KNOW QUALITY IS ON WHEN ANGELA GETS REAL MUSCLES AGAIN
While the heroes of Gargoyles are indeed a lovable lot, it’s the villains that are the truly memorable waypoints of the series. That’s part of what makes the World Tour predominately such a slog, saddled as it is with dull and unmemorable one-off antagonists. But ah, here is Oberon to refresh our souls, and what a delight he is. I mean, he’s an asshole, but that really only serves to make him more of a delight. A lot of that is thanks to the perfect casting of Terrence Mann, whom theater geeks will recognize as the original Javert from the 1987 Broadway run of Les Miserables. And all of that gravitas comes to bear here in a performance that’s smug and proud but also contains a genuine arc of contrition and love for Titania. Who’s no slouch herself, by the way, but I can’t in good conscience talk about her until next week.
Oberon is defeated by the ringing of an iron bell (iron being a weakness of fae creatures, as the series helpfully reminds you) created from Elisa’s gun and the chains the Magus summoned to bind the Weird Sisters. But they call off the bell before it can kill the king, and swear never to use it if they’re allowed to live in peace on the island. Impressed by this show of mercy, Oberon grants them clemency, and makes Goliath’s clan the first guard of Avalon. And Titania, in turn impressed by Oberon’s learned humility, takes him back as her husband. Yup, everything sure is hunky dory. Except for that “gathering” thing.
Mmm, tasty foreshadowing.
Today in gargoyle anatomy: I presume any vital organs are in the breasts,
explaining the new metal chest armor but continuing lack of midriff coverage
This might be one of the most beloved episodes of the series – at the very least it’s one of the most talked about. And it is good. In fact, it is really good. And smart, to the point where I’m tempted to ask you to watch it before you carry on reading. But either way, here we go.
WELCOME TO THE “BAD FUTURE” EPISODE.
We open as we left last time, with Goliath and co. wishing that they could see Manhattan again. Then Goliath gets hit by a bolt of lightning, and we’re off. The crew comes back to their home island alright, but it’s in Bad Future Ruins, and patrolled by mecha-gargoyles on the coastline. The skiff is destroyed and Angela and Elisa are captured, while Goliath is rescued by Claw and an elderly and be-bearded Matt Bluestone. It seems 40 years have passed since that fateful trip to Avalon begin, and Xanatos has taken over Manhattan and made it into its own sovereign nation. Also everything immediately went to totalitarian garbage, because that’s the trope we’re playing with here. Oh, and like the last episode things are still very, very pretty in the animation department, but it’s in a GRIMDARK APOCALYPSE way now instead of an EPIC FANTASY way.
Back at the Secret Rebel Base, we meet the remaining resistance fighters and the script starts laying its cards out on the table. See, this isn’t just the Bad Future episode. This is the Holy Shit, How Did This Pass 90s S&P episode. Hudson is dead, killed in a one-on-one battle with Xanatos. Brooklyn is the leader, and angry (understandably) with Goliath for abandoning them. Broadway is blind and has big ol’ gaping eye sockets that I’m half convinced are meant to be an homage to the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear. Lex is a cyborg now, most of the human populace are mutates, and Demona is dating Brooklyn. And Xanatos is planning world takeover, and this so happens to be the night that Fox (also part of the resistance, a spy on the inside) and Xanatos’ son Alex are going to try and take him down.
WELCOME TO THE DISNEY AFTERNOON, KIDS
It…uh. It doesn’t work. Xanatos not only knew the attack was coming but, having attained the immortality he so desired, is quite happy to destroy his traitorous heir. With the jig quite thoroughly up, Brooklyn decides it’s time to launch a final suicide assault on Xanatos’ base. And from there on, the episode is pretty much on long string of BUT THENs. They get to castle and are doing well BUT THEN Matt and co. are vaporized. They fend off Thailog clones BUT THEN Broadway is shot and killed and Lex is captured. They make it to Xanatos BUT THEN it turns out he died in the fight with Hudson, and this is an evil computer program that traps everyone in cyberspace while it takes over the globe, and it kills Angela, Brooklyn, and Demona. BUT THEN Goliath is able to use mind over matter powers to break himself and Elisa free, BUT THEN it turns out Lex was behind the computer program the whole time, and NO ONE CAN STOP HIM NOW. At this point it is all quite exhausting, and the amazement at how much bleakness they were able to get away with is traded in for feeling rather worn down by it.
BUT THEN the episode turns out to have one more trick up its sleeve, and everything clicks into place. Throughout the episode, characters have been begging Goliath to use the Phoenix Gate to fix things, only for him to refuse. He knows from experience, if you’ll recall, that time will flex to keep itself from being altered. And at the last, he almost gives in…only to find that “Elisa” won’t take the talisman from him. She keeps demanding he hand it over. And the masquerade falls apart, revealing that the entire episode was an illusion created by Puck. It’s a fantastic twist, one that still holds up years later. Everything about the episode cumulates in a feeling of “too much,” to the point of being tragedy-porn. Characters know things they shouldn’t, just because it would hurt more (like Demona begging Goliath to save their daughter), and other characters stay helpless when they might have actually done something because Goliath needs to feel beaten down (at least, that’s the reason I tell myself that Elisa apparently didn’t have a strong enough will to fight cyber-Xanatos). It’s not engineered to feel natural in the way a narrative should, with an ebb and flow of victory and defeat that keeps the audience from going numb. In fact, it’s designed specifically to make its audience, Goliath, so beaten down with sorrow that he hands over the Gate to make it all go away. It’s a way for the writers to push the limits and get away with it by erasing all the damage, but also to keep that take-back from feeling overly cheap in the way of most Bad Future stories.
As for why Puck wanted the Gate in the first place? Well, he was looking for a little something to bribe Oberon with. It seems the “gathering” Oberon spoke about involves taking all of the Third Race back to Avalon, and Puck doesn’t want to go. But he can’t simply steal the Gate and there’s no way Goliath will hand it over now, so Puck dispels the illusion and vanishes. Back in reality, Goliath immediately chucks the Phoenix Gate into its own portal, ensuring that it will be lost in the timestream forever. This both keeps Puck from coming after them again and removes a very powerful trinket from the last leg of the plot. There are a few other shades to this illusion, but I’ll be holding those off until next week as well. We’re going to have a lot to discuss.