In which we must, at last, say out goodbyes.
Did you know that a Hunter’s Moon is a thing? Outside of the context of the show, I mean. It comes in October, and hangs a vivid orange in the sky. Its unusually brightness for the season helps give it its name – hunters would use the extra light to stalk their prey under cover of nightfall, and there have historically been important feast days tied to the natural occurrence. The moon also, by virtue of its orbit, has a shorter period between moonrise and dawn than other full moons. And given the course of this finale, that might be the most fitting descriptor of all.
Before we return to the aftermath of the bombing, we take a brief stopover in 1980, to witness the death of the Canmore siblings’ father. Like many before him, he faced off against Demona and met his end instead. And on the one hand, it’s a genuinely affecting scene: there’s quite the sickening crunch when Canmore Sr. hits the ground after his rooftop fall, and focusing on the kids’ reaction rather than trying to depict a body was a smart choice. On the other hand, Sr. also declares that he was BORN FOR THIS about two seconds before he gets dispatched by a disinterested Demona (who is busy getting a Very Important Plot Statue). I’m fairly certain laughing at that practically smash-cut timing makes me a bad person, but here we are.
Back in the present, things are about as fucked as you’d imagine: the clock tower is a shambles, Jason drugged Elisa pretty much immediately after rescuing her from the station, and the general public misattributed the explosion to a terrorist attack by the mysterious gargoyles. But at least Jon, the babyest of the Canmores, has an attack of conscience upon seeing the clan help one another out of the rubble, and lets them escape. Not that the gargoyles know how close they came to further exploding, and it certainly hasn’t helped Goliath’s ever growing fixation on getting vengeance against the Hunters.
In fact, Goliath has no interest in waiting around for the next attack. Instead, he has Lex hook up the tracking device he snagged earlier, which helped them survive the explosion, and uses it to trace the Hunters back to their ship. Alone. But not really alone, because the others have followed along, using the excuse that Elisa needed a ride. These little moments of solidarity are really beautiful, as you’d expect from the familiarity the actors have with their roles. The animation is pretty gorgeous too, more or less from start to finish, as the crew throws together their last dollars to make the best looking sendoff they can manage.
I don’t have a justification for this, I just like them best
Just to, y’know, draw back that deeply mysterious curtain
Anyway, Elisa shows up and tries to break up the fight, and for her trouble she and Jason get thrown off the dam where the action is happening. But unfortunately, Superman isn’t there to bring them back up, and Goliath isn’t quite quick enough to catch them. Both parties assume that their loved one is dead, and they swear renewed vengeance. It’s particularly devastating for Jon – you know, the reporter one, who let them go before? He’s feeling a particularly virulent, Demona-shaded strain of guilt, and is now fully team “wipe out all the gargoyles.”
And right that second is when his sister Robyn finishes decoding the floppy disc she stole from Demona’s lab. On that disc is some ripe old plot BS: it contains a full explanation, Wrath of Khan style, of Demona’s plan to wipe out the human race using a combination of the cleaner she’s been stealing and the mutagen, wiping out all intelligent life on Earth (but gargoyles will be alright, thanks to the magical protection of the gargoyle statue she stole while also casually offing Papa Canmore). With that information revealed, everyone officially has a Thing They Must Put a Stop to, and everyone heads to the final confrontation in an abandoned church (because few things make for lovely combat choreography quite like cathedrals).
Now, putting aside the nits I could pick – how on earth is the mutagen going to be able to distinguish between intelligent and non-life (answer: probably it’s not, so sucks for you omnivorous species); why in blue blazes has the painfully paranoid Demona left a physical record of her plans anywhere, given the likelihood of this very scenario (answer: because we need to get to third act already) – Demona’s plot is easily the weakest part of the finale in general. Other than the fact that it ties together the three Hunter flashbacks, there’s really nothing specific about this particular plot: it feels chosen for the size of it, to give a grand sense of stakes to the final episode, rather than because it ties in to the specific events at hand. It has nothing to do with the Hunters specifically, despite that being the supposed heart of things, and the motive of it reflects little to no inkling of the change, even incrementally, that was hinted at by Demona’s last appearance. Arguably it represents another element of the “full circle” theme of the episode, with Demona now slightly more amenable to letting the other gargoyles live as she might’ve been in the finale, but if anything it feels like a step back rather than forward for her character. She’s a means to an end here, and that’s a shame after the poignant spotlight she was given in “The Reckoning.”
Actually, this finale isn’t great with the women of the cast in general (again: if you’re gonna talk about how proud you are of your Strong Female Characters, I’m gonna hold you accountable for following through on the sentiment). Angela gets a few good lines, actually, despite being necessarily regulated to a secondary role alongside the rest of the clan. As for the women who are ostensibly important to the plot….while the dudes of the Hunters Three each have full arcs that make their characters grow and change and affect the course of the episode, Robyn sure can type on things. And wear 80s-tastic power miniskirts to her dayjob. You could divvy up her role in the plot to Jon and Elisa and miss very little.
See, I’m just realizing they could’ve just called this the Genesis project and I have no words
But speaking of, boy is Elisa’s role in this episode a travesty. She’s as much the main character of the show as Goliath is, and this is the finale. But while Goliath is having all sorts of active thoughts and developments, Elisa spends roughly 70% of her screentime doing the Supportive Lady Arm Touch, getting thrown off of things, or nearly dying whilst being totally unable to save herself. It’s the kind of role in the plot that you could maybe get away with, a few eye rolls aside, in a general episode of the series. But this is the finale. This is the triumphant last appearance of the cast. Even Xanatos gets to show up to be a deus ex machina. But Elisa is reduced from an active member of the team to the passive lead of an especially bad YA romance novel. Not because she’s dealing with her love life, but because that’s all she gets to do. Worse yet, the one part of the plot where she probably was instrumental? Happens offscreen.
So we get to the church – by which I mean Demona sneaks in, Jon crashes the Hunters’ ship into the door because fuck subtlety in the this point, and the rest of the gargoyles follow the mess – and the big confrontation is in full swing. Demona has her spell set up, the Hunters and the gargoyles are squaring off with vengeance in their eyes…and Elisa and Jason show up, turning out to be very much alive despite their trip over the falls. Jason pleads with his siblings to stop, having had a change of heart despite being the most gung ho when all this started. Presumably, that was Elisa’s doing. In fact, not presumably, because there was a deleted scene for this arc where Elisa and Jason discuss the Hunt, and Jason talks about how he doesn’t even remember how it started, cycle of vengeance, so on and so forth. Their wilderness survival jaunt didn’t need a whole arc or anything, but it is a dire misstep not to give one of the show’s foremost protagonists at the very least a chance to give her big speech as the voice of experience and reason in all of this. Not even that, Elisa gets. Crying. Shame.
The short and short of it is that Jon is now in full Demona mode and refuses to hear reason, and Jason gets shot defending Goliath, causing Jon to flee into the night. Cycles. You see what they did there. Somewhere in a plot that didn’t happen in the nonexistent-by-awfulness season three, Jon went on to form an anti-gargoyle group called the Quarrymen, while Demona becomes a reluctant ally to the team in the comics. Because opposite tracks, and it’s all rather interesting, and alas it’s not what we’re talking about here. Speaking of Demona though, she’s all ready to smash her doom vial and commit genocide when Goliath destroys the statue that would have made the gargoyles immune – throwing his lot in with humanity and leaving the decision in Demona’s hands. Left with no alternative, she pitches them the horrible doom virus and escapes out into the night; where, meanwhile, a considerably sized angry mob has had time to form.
This is the point where, realizing that this was a finale and not a standalone arc, the episode realizes it had better give Xanatos something to do. And so he rides in on his helicopter and gives the gargoyles an out from being shot at, and is even nice enough to give them back their home in the castle. Now, here’s the thing about this. I buy that this was the eventual plan for the finale. I buy, in theory, Xanatos (and family)’s transformation into a chaotic neutral sort of force, helpful to the team but with a fondness for unsavory methodology. But both of these events suffer from where they exist relative to Xanatos’ character arc, and the final impression is rather that the gang has maybe a few weeks before their host goes off on another self-interested tear and they need to start watching their backs. “The feud is over” is not a sentiment that applies to Xanatos or his relationship to the gargoyles. Their antagonism to one another had to do with a difference in ethics, not the kind of sworn vengeance that dominates Macbeth or Demona’s life (hey, remember Macbeth? The Hunter? He got written right the fuck out of the plot, didn’t he).
But at least the show’s last moments are lovely ones, as Goliath and Elisa finally take the plunge in regards to their relationship and share a kiss as the sun rises. It’s a gorgeous, quiet moment, a peaceful and hopeful bow on top of the sometimes messy and chaotic preceding events.
And that’s Gargoyles, gentle readers. Ahead of its time in many regards, and still one hell of a watch when it’s at the top of its game. The show’s multi-parters showed the great potential of what serialized all-ages animation could look like at a time when the whole medium was still being sneered at, and some of its character study episodes stand proudly toe to toe with the universally beloved Batman: The Animated Series. This show more than deserves to be remembered for its place in animation history, even if the show never really recovered from the missteps of the World Tour, and kept on overshooting its world building at the occasional expense of the early run’s quieter character contemplation right up to the end. Ultimately uneven, sure, but even to this day it’s can’t-miss when it’s on its game, and I’d go so far as to say this evolutionary step was crucial in getting us to the Steven Universes and Gravity Fallses that we’re so fortunate to enjoy in this current golden age of television animation. For that, for its flashes of brilliance, and for all the overwhelmingly talented actors it employed during its run: thank you, Gargoyles.