Monday, September 22, 2014

My Top Ten "Gargoyles" Episodes

It's the twentieth anniversary of the premiere of "Gargoyles," Disney's ambitious action-adventure cartoon, created at the height of the syndicated animation boom of the 1990s. I was a big fan in junior high, and it was one of the first online media fandoms that I was really active in. At the same time, it's the last series I remember really enjoying from the Disney Afternoon block, and it served as a bookend of sorts to my cartoon-loving childhood. The show itself remains fantastic. I mean, it's a fantasy series full of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" actors and geeky Shakespeare references! How could I not love this? As always, the following entries are unranked and ordered by airdate. And I reserve the right to totally cheat and count two-parters (and three-parters and five-parters) as single episodes.

Deflagrate muri tempi et intervalia!

"Awakenings" - It was tradition for Disney Afternoon shows to launch with a feature-length adventure that was then broken down into regular episode sized chunks for future airings. "Gargoyles" kicked off with "Awakenings," which really set the bar for both animation quality and the sophistication of the story. "Gargoyles" impressed me immediately with its complex world, conflicted heroes touched by tragedy, and a pair of cunning, memorable villains in David Xanatos and Demona. If "Gargoyles" had never gotten farther than the premiere, I'd still count myself a fan.

"Temptation" - One of the ways that "Gargoyles" distinguished itself from the rest of the action cartoon crowd was having very smart, very capable antagonists. Here, Demona shows off her skills as a manipulator after Brooklyn has a run-in with a group of humans that leaves him vulnerable to suggestion. Her little tour of the worst parts of humanity is impactful without being preachy and gives a lot of insight into her character. All the stuff with the motorcycle is great too, showing how the younger gargoyles are continuing their exploration of the modern world.

"The Edge" - Demona was my favorite character in the series, but the signature "Gargoyles" baddie was David Xanatos, whose complex plans rarely left him without a way to turn any situation to his own advantage. TvTropes went and named several related tropes in honor. "The Edge" sees Xanatos recently released from prison and ready to regain the upper hand in his dealings with the gargoyles. The return of the Steel Clan robots and the skirmishes that he has with the gargoyles aren't particularly exciting, but Xanatos's attitude toward the events is fascinating.

"Long Way to Morning" - This episode was the first indication that though a millennia had passed, "Gargoyles" wasn't done with the medieval era. As Goliath and Hudson go up against Demona in the present day, Hudson recalls a similar mission they undertook in the past, that resulted in him giving up the leadership of the clan. Stories told in flashback can be tricky, but this is a strong outing that reveals a lot of the characters' shared past history, introduces a new villain, and gives the underappreciated Hudson some much-needed time in the spotlight.

"The Mirror" - My favorite episode by far. Demona summons Puck - yes, that Puck from Shakespeare - and tries to get him to do her bidding. Puck happily twists every command she gives him, resulting in gargoyles becoming humans, humans becoming gargoyles, and all sorts of "Midsummer Night's Dream" style chaos inflicted on the residents of Manhattan. The animation in this episode is particularly good, juggling multiple character designs, transformations, and magic spells. And Brent Spiner's mischievous Puck is an absolute delight, especially when he's infuriating Demona.

"Eye of the Beholder" - Xanatos seems to become more complex every time he appears onscreen. Here, he delivers one heck of a memorable marriage proposal to Fox, which appears to be part of his latest scheme testing out a magical artifact called the Eye of Odin. Or is it? But Xanatos's love life is only part of the fun, as it's Halloween, which means that it's the one night of the year that the gargoyles can go out in public. I love the different relationship dynamics in play here, and that in the end Goliath gets to deliver one of the best comebacks in the entire show.

"High Noon" - Elisa is sleep-deprived and stuck dealing with Macbeth and Demona's latest plot largely on her own during the daylight hours. It's a great look into how our favorite detective juggles a busy life full of conflicting responsibilities. After the great chase sequence she had in "Awakenings," I always thought that Elisa got in on the action far too rarely. Here, Elisa is not only the main driver of the action, but gets to be a serious badass. It's also a great Demona episode, highlighting her strange relationship with Macbeth and how she's been dealing with Puck's little gift.

"Future Tense" - I love jaunts into nightmare futures, or as "Community" refers to them, "the darkest timeline." "Future Tense" is one of the last of the notorious "World Tour" episodes where Goliath, Elisa, Angela, and Bronx spent a huge chunk of the second season traveling the world and meeting various one-off characters. Mysteriously, then end up in a Manhattan decades in the future, where Xanatos has become a tyrant, and Demona has joined the surviving gargoyles under Brooklyn as a freedom fighter. It's all wonderfully dark and weird and twisted.

"The Gathering" - My favorite of the big multi-parters in the second season, where Goliath temporarily allies with Xanatos in order to stop Lord Oberon's assault on the Eyrie building because of the big fat spoiler I'm not going to reveal here. It's a pair of episodes that deliver so much payoff for all the ongoing storylines - the World Tour finally ends with a round of reunions, the Gathering at Avalon gets underway, and Xanatos's family issues get sorted out. There's also a big reveal that is telegraphed far in advance, but that completely knocked me out when I first saw it.

"Vendettas" - Yes, it's a clip show. However, it's such a clever way to do a clip show, creating a new character out of three incredibly minor background extras. Vinnie the ex-security guard, who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time, retells portions of past adventures from his point of view, and then finally gets to exact his revenge on the gargoyles. The rest of the episode involving Wolf and Hakon and a magic battle axe (wtf?!) isn't nearly as interesting, but it's worth slogging through their antics to get to Vinnie.


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