Gargoyles, “Deadly Force” & “Enter Macbeth” (season 1, episodes 8 & 9; originally aired November 18, 1994 & January 6, 1995)
I always love reaching the first bad episode of a TV series. The viewing experience tends to be unenjoyable, but it gives the audience a point of contrast to better appreciate the good chapters. “Enter Macbeth” is that episode for Gargoyles, a repetitive, bland, roughly animated installment that shows what this series would be without the allegory and social commentary that gives it such depth. It introduces a major new player in the Gargoyles mythos and is the cartoon’s first Shakespeare connection, but it doesn’t present that information in a way that is intellectually stimulating, taking a traditional superhero plot and sticking to the formula with little variation.
The low quality of “Enter Macbeth” is especially apparent after “Deadly Force,” a Very Special Episode about gun control that mines remarkable emotional impact from its central lesson. The trio of Broadway, Brooklyn, and Lexington can be seen as the three youths of the group, with Brooklyn as the rebellious teenager while the other two skew even younger, and writer Michael Reaves runs with the idea of Broadway as an ignorant child to tell a surprisingly mature story about the dangers of firearms.
Broadway is enamored by a new western film called Showdown and the idea of a heroic gunslinger, but he doesn’t understand just how deadly guns actually are. As Hudson mentions, it can be hard to tell what’s real in this strange world of movies, television, and video games, and seeing a gunfight on screen doesn’t give Broadway an accurate representation of what it’s actually like to wield a gun. He learns that in the worst way possible when he goes over to Elisa’s house and plays around with the service weapon she leaves hanging on her coat rack after a long day of work, accidentally shooting his friend in the chest while she’s preparing them steaks.
The direction during the shooting is exquisite, heightening a sense of frivolity at the start as Broadway strikes various gunslinger poses while bouncy, light-hearted music plays in the background. And then a shot is accidentally fired, the music stops, and the camera zooms in on the smoking gun as it falls to the ground, indicating that things have just gone very wrong. The camera moves around the room as Broadway tries to see where the bullet landed, building the tension up to the inevitable reveal of Elisa on the floor in a pool of blood. It’s an extremely affective sequence that captures the confusion and terror Broadway feels in that moment, setting him on a vengeful path against anyone who threatens another person with a gun.
Bill Fagerbakke and Salli Richardson provide outstanding voice work in this episode as Broadway and Elisa, and they capture the emotional reality of the situation to prevent the script from coming across as preachy. Fagerbakke does particularly strong work showing Broadway’s rageful side, which is further developed by fight choreography that shows how scary it is when a Gargoyle really lets loose. The monster-like character design becomes a boon in those situations, giving the directors and storyboarders the opportunity to push the action in a more horror-influenced direction.
In “Deadly Force,” we have allegory, social commentary, smooth animation, and rich character development, making it one of my favorite episodes of the first season. It’s a great piece of all-ages entertainment, tackling a serious issue in a way that resonates with younger viewers while still playing truthfully to an older crowd, and the episode’s two plotlines weave together in a way that accentuates the themes of the story.
Elisa has been trying to take down crime boss Tony Dracon for quite some time when he steals a shipment of non-projectile firearms from Xanatos Industries at the start of this episode, but the NYPD doesn’t have any solid evidence to pin on him. He’s “bulletproof,” an intentional turn of phrase that highlights just how different Elisa and Dracon’s positions are; he’s a criminal that is safe everywhere he goes, whereas Elisa is a hero that is vulnerable in her own home. That vulnerability is a big part of this episode’s success, and seeing Elisa on the brink of death cements the reality of the shooting.
Thankfully, Elisa has Gargoyles watching over her, and when the NYPD wrongly assumes that Dracon is behind Elisa’s shooting, Goliath goes after the offending party and is later joined by Broadway, who keeps his role in Elisa’s shooting a secret because of his intense shame. Eventually the truth is revealed and apologies are exchanged, with Elisa taking her share of the blame for not properly putting away her gun, a smart writing choice that puts the responsibility of a gun in the hands of its owner. If she had put the gun in a place where no one could reach it, or had made sure it wasn’t loaded, this situation wouldn’t have happened. Elisa and Broadway both understand their mistakes, and the episode ends on an inspiring note with the image of Goliath and Broadway perched outside Elisa’s hospital window, stone guardians warning any villains that they better stay back.
I’ve mentioned my appreciation for this show’s female characters in the past, and this week we meet a few more: Captain Maria Chavez of the NYPD and Diane Maza, Elisa’s mother. The show’s commitment to depicting a wide range of female personalities is refreshing, as well as its focus on diversity. Captain Chavez is Latina, Diane is African-American, and Elisa is part African-American and part Native American; their ethnic backgrounds are miniscule elements of their characters—Maria is primarily defined by her loyalty, Diane by her faith—but it’s important to see this kind of representation in a genre that is typically dominated by white male characters.
You know who the white male characters are on Gargoyles? The villains. David Xanatos, Tony Dracon, Macbeth, these are the people that prey on the weak for personal gain, and while I don’t think the race and sex connection is intentional, there’s certainly a pattern developing here. (The Pack? Also all white.) In “Enter Macbeth,” we see evil white guys teaming up as Macbeth comes to Xanatos’ prison to offer him help with his Gargoyle infestation, and it leads to an especially boring episode. There’s so much to unpack in “Deadly Force,” but none of that complexity is on display in “Enter Macbeth,” which is essentially an extended fight sequence that takes place in two interchangeable castle environments. Written by Steve Perry, the episode offers tiny hints at a larger story involving Macbeth and Demona, but all of that is pushed into the background to make way for a standard abduction plot.
After a fight at Castle Wyvern, Macbeth kidnaps Brooklyn, Lexington, and Bronx, and Goliath has to make his way through Macbeth’s castle in order to free them. It’s not very interesting to watch because Goliath has no problem making his way through obstacles because he’s a super strong Gargoyle, and the ugly animation makes this episode even more forgettable. The movement is extremely choppy and the characters are off-model in both their faces and bodies (why is everyone so stumpy?), visual problems that, combined with a lackluster story, make this entire episode feel like an afterthought.
The saving grace of “Enter Macbeth” is the voice work, with John Rhys-Davies bringing a mystique to Macbeth that makes me want to see more of the character after a disappointing introduction, and Keith David delivering another powerful performance that makes all of Goliath’s emotions read vocally when they’re visually sloppy. You can really feel the heartbreak and loss Goliath feels when he’s forced to abandon Castle Wyvern, so when he threatens to make Xanatos pay for this, every word lands like a promise of future doom.
There are some major events in “Enter Macbeth”—the introduction of Macbeth and his relationship with Demona, the Gargoyles moving out of their Castle Wyvern digs, Xanatos getting out of prison—but this episode could be easily skipped and the viewer wouldn’t miss much. Reading the preceding sentence plus any “Previously on Gargoyles…” scenes should cover any information you may have missed, and now you have 22 minutes of your life to spend on something else, like the next, far superior episode. This show is going to do such great things with Shakespeare mythology in the future, so you might as well jump past this episode and get to those far more interesting developments a bit quicker. But if you want to have an even higher appreciation of the best of Gargoyles, a slog through “Enter Macbeth” gives you a taste of the show at its worst.
- It’s the early ’90s, so why is Showdown a black-and-white western new release?
- Elisa gets poked with a comically oversized syringe in the hospital. It’s huge.
- Why does a castle made of stone go up in flames so quickly?
- Elisa looks especially like a Disney princess in “Enter Macbeth,” when the size of her eyes increases dramatically.
- Awesome Keith David line reading of the week: “How DARE you?!”
- “It must be good. He didn’t even have his dinner.”
- “Be glad you’ve got a home, cat. The streets just got a whole lot meaner.” Elisa’s cat is named Cagney and I love that.
- “Just like ma used to make. If ma was a prison cook.”