The finale is upon us.
On the other hand, we have uh…we have not escaped the bane of corner cutting entirely
That eyeball-eating scourge is brief but horrifying
Hunter’s Moon (Part 1)
Just in case you forgot about it, we’re starting off with that flashback about how Demona created the Hunter. So, adjust your expectations accordingly for a story about Cycles of Destruction. Not a bad note to end the series on, in a broad sense. We’ll tackle the specifics as we get there.
As we open everything is feeling pretty okay, which is how you know (in fiction-speak) that things are going to go exceptionally sideways: Elisa’s blonde wig is getting a workout again as she watches some punks with contraband weaponry on the subway; when the gargoyles arrive to save the day they’re a cheerful and well oiled team, but the rest of the populace on the subway is less than enthused. Also there are conspicuous lines about Goliath being Elisa’s “best friend” when she’d never really tried to put their relationship into a box before, so no chance that’s going to come up as an issue. Even the sudden rash of thefts from Xanatos’ warehouses of a powerful cleaning agent, D/I-7, can’t seem to dampen the good mood.
Elsewhere, we introduce three new characters who are definitely not related to the antagonists who show up at the end of the episode (unless you turned on the closed captioning, whoops): there’s Jason, Elisa’s new partner on the force – hanging out with him means she’s on dayshift, and more pressingly she thinks he’s haaaaaaandsome, which is causing unspoken tension with Goliath; Robyn has sought out a job as businesswoman “Ms. Destine’s” personal assistant, and given that said woman is a redhead with the most deliberately contrived sounding name on the face of the planet, you have two guesses as to who that player in the plot is; and there’s Jon, who’s posing as a reporter and sniffing around the Xanatos mansion for a story (but really for gargoyles, because come on now).
When the trio reveal themselves as Hunters, swooping down on the gargoyles under the suspicious that Angela might be Demona, they prove themselves to have all the bearing of a century of grudge-fueled preparation. There’s something of a divide in the animation quality for this episode: daytime or conversational scenes are fairly stiff and reserved, without a lot of detail on the character models; while moments such as Demona’s reveal at sunset or confrontation with Brooklyn at a Xanatos warehouse are (if not so exquisitely animated as some earlier episodes) elevated by an excellent hand of mood lighting and camera work.
This isn’t important to the episode’s plot, I’m just both endeared
and alarmed about the dumpling child there
The unevenness between moments is pronounced in its oddness: we get a beautiful shot of Demona revealing herself, somewhat earned by her uncertain survival in her last appearance but still unexpectedly monumental; meanwhile, Angela’s extremely serious injury in battle with the Hunters is animated with a comparable level of danger to previous combat scenes (this is at least partially down to S&P guidelines too – Angela’s attacked by an electric net, which visually doesn’t have the punch of a stabbing or some other visibly “special” wound). It’s only retroactively, when we have a quiet scene of all the gargoyles gathered around her at the clock tower and worrying she might not live until dawn, that the seriousness of the consequences dawns on the viewer. And it really is an animation over writing issue – the script takes care to have a setup early on about Brooklyn healing a minor injury during the day so that it can remove the safety of stone healing with Angela’s injury. It’s something of a major moment to trip up on too, as Angela’s potential demise leads Goliath to swear that he’ll kill the Hunters in revenge.
And the Hunters, meanwhile, are a house divided: Robyn and Jason seem content to carry out the grudge on Demona, whom they “know” is evil, and leave it at that. But Jon, who gets veto power as the clear head of the group, makes a bold declaration that “the only good gargoyle is a DEAD gargoyle.” So, that can only lead to understanding and good things going forward, right?
Assassin’s Creed: StoneHunters coming 2019
Hunter’s Moon (Part 2)
See, the thing about this show is that when it’s good, it’s so damn good. And while we’ll talk more about the choice of this story arc as a finale next week, there’s no denying that this episode takes just about every opportunity to show off some great individual scenes.
Since it’s another arc about Demona and the Hunters, that means it’s also time to start pulling out flashbacks. This time it’s Florence, 1495, where Demona manages to track down a tablet of some apparent importance to her. While escaping she’s cornered by another generation of Hunter rigged up in a personal flying apparatus Da Vinci would be proud of, and she only narrowly escapes. It’s a pretty great aerial combat sequence, not overly complicated but smooth in what it does; and even though we know Demona obviously makes it out alright, there’s genuine tension in it just by virtue of the intensity of the cinematography and performances.
Not to be outdone, in the present the gang is gathered in the clock tower, moments before dawn. Angela, it seems, won’t make it until then – and seems ready to breathe her last until Elisa shows up to perform emergency CPR. This, too, is a beautiful scene for its little touches: Elisa’s hair is limp and frazzled as she works, and Angela is drawn with particular gaunt attention to her bone structure, making her look already like something of a corpse. Unlike Demona, we don’t know Angela’s fate, and even within the censorship standards of the time the risk of a character’s actual death feels very real. When Elisa is able to restart her heart, it feels like a genuinely won, narrow victory rather than a mandated cheat.
Boy, it sure is lucky these stone-transforming creatures have basically human circulatory systems!
That near miss sets up the rest of the episode. Goliath tells the team to scout out the Hunters and act with caution, and to report back rather than doing anything dangerous. Very responsible, leaderly behavior. It goes right out the window when he gets to Elisa’s and finds that end results of her day having long, deep staring contests with her new partner Jon (there’s another nice, small moment of genuine chemistry when the two of them talk at cross purposes about the importance of getting justice/vengeance for a friend, all while leaning about a quarter inch away from one another).
There’s a smooch, but Elisa finds she can’t go through with it – she can’t move past her feelings for Goliath, even though she also won’t move forward because of their difference in species. And I seriously have to doff my cap to the script here: Goliath stays for the whole of the relevant conversation rather than flying off right after the smooch and making histrionic, cheap assumptions to keep the plot in the air. The actual truth of the characters’ reservations is enough without contrivance, and it’s a mature take on a tired device.
With his judgment impaired by the scene he just witnessed, Goliath forgoes his own advice and leads a charge on the Hunter ship (with poor Lex and Brooklyn along for the ride). They run into Demona, and it takes about two seconds for them all to get captured. So despairing and angry is Goliath that he calls a truce with Demona, playing out an excellent case of showing-over-telling in how cycles of vengeance lead to poor judgment and violence without belaboring the point too finely. It also makes a nice mirror to Demona freeing Goliath from Thailog in order to rescue Angela, marking a particularly well folded parallel in this story about cycles.
They’re able to escape by shorting out the electricity on the cage bars, but wait! It was all a plot by Robyn (you know, the one who’s posing as Demona’s assistant during the day, and finding out that she’s in cahoots with Sevarius to create some kind of not-at-all ominous super mutagen; because the 90s loved mutagens liked the 00s loved nanomachines) in order to find the location of the gargoyles’ nest. And since the revelation that Demona is human during the day means that waiting for daylight isn’t necessarily a safe bet, they go with the only possible option to take out their enemies: tactical missile strike.
Ah, but there’s a hitch! Elisa arrives at the police station just as the missiles are primed, meaning Jon diverts from his mission to take out the survivors in order to try and find her. The missiles fire, and we cut to credits waiting for the smoke to clear.
I learned something weird, screencapping this episode. A lot of these scenes look really lovely in motion, cleverly framed and shot to create a feeling of exceptional fluidity. Trying to isolate any of those scenes in a single shot wound up, by contrast, looking strange and stilted. This episode is rather like that within the arc and series as a whole. This middle chunk here, in motion, boasts some of the top quality writing for the show as far as trusting the intelligence of its audience, and is full of some beautiful isolated character beats. How well the arc as a whole is executed, as well as how this works as a means of ending the series (and its official-unofficial status as such, given what happened with the terrible third season)…that’s a bit more complicated. Hold that thought one more week.