“A Gargoyle can no more stop protecting the castle than breathing the air.” – Hudson, “Reawakening”
True heroism isn’t born from a desire for fame, fortune, or other personal gain, but a deep-rooted sense of morality that drives a person to perform good deeds. Sometimes that morality grows from personal tragedy, giving heroes an understanding of how immorality hurts others and motivating them to prevent that pain with their actions, but sometimes that ethical code stems from a natural instinct to protect. In the case of the Gargoyles, personal tragedy reinforces the morality that guides their actions from birth, pushing them to become heroes to anyone in need, human and Gargoyle alike.
The adage repeated by Hudson in “Reawakening,” the show’s first season finale, establishes just how important the role of defender is to the Gargoyles. They don’t guard the “castle” out of any sort of obligation, but because it’s a task as essential to their survival as breathing air. This explains why Goliath is so devastated by the loss of his clan’s ancestral home, but he’s able to find a new purpose for his people this week by adjusting his definition of “castle.”
Thanks to the magic of modern technology (specifically Twitter), Greg Weisman clarified to me that the plan to create a larger Disney superhero universe around Gargoyles didn’t come into play until the second season, and it’s a direction that is set up perfectly at the end of season 1. At this point, we’ve seen the Gargoyles primarily fight to protect themselves from the threats of the modern age, but “Reawakening” sees them direct their focus outward as they vow to protect their new “castle”: the island of Manhattan.
In order to reach that point, the Gargoyles have to realize just how big of a threat they’re facing, and they learn that by facing off against the combined might of Demona and David Xanatos, who resurrect one of the Gargoyle’s fallen brothers using a mix of sorcery and technology. In a very fun homage to Frankenstein, a new kind of creature is born, a cyborg that combines the deadly mechanical augmentation of the Steel Clan with the natural ferocity and drive of a biological Gargoyle.
Coldstone is another cool twist on the Gargoyle design, combining the unique visual elements of his natural form with sleek robotic parts, and the contrast of the biological and mechanical aspects in his appearance represents the battle that rages within the character when he’s put in a position to choose between his old clan leader and the evil forces that resurrected him.
After a very public showdown in Times Square and a bridge battle where he attacked his former Gargoyles brethren, Coldstone finds himself sinking underwater with Goliath, who is reaching out to his rookery mate for salvation. In that moment, Hudson’s words ring in the cyborg’s mind, reminding him of the instinct that Demona’s manipulation had clouded. Gargoyle versus Gargoyle isn’t the natural order, and Coldstone takes Goliath’s hand and rockets them to safety.
When Goliath meets his cyborg brother, he calls it an “abomination,” but he could easily be referring to Demona with that word. As Hudson repeats over and over, protecting the castle is the natural duty of the Gargoyles, but Demona doesn’t feel this instinct at all. She didn’t feel it back in 994 when she fled Castle Wyvern, and she certainly doesn’t feel it after witnessing a millennium of Gargoyle persecution by humankind.
So here’s the question: Is Demona an abomination or is the evolution of the Gargoyles? It’s not like the Gargoyles had a perfect life as guardians of the castle. They were treated as monsters rather than allies, and that mistreatment forced Demona to change her behavior. It’s survival of the fittest, and Demona saw the ways the tides were turning against the Gargoyles and fled her duty, guaranteeing a future for herself while the rest of her clan perished.
As a kid, one of my favorite things was meeting new characters on TV shows. I didn’t (and still don’t) have the longest attention span, and I would grow tired of seeing the same characters in every episode; when a new Power Ranger appeared or Batman villain debuted, I got very excited. As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate the work it takes to build up a strong core cast and admire the consistency that brings to a show, but I still love seeing my favorite series expand and bring in new faces. We’re starting to see that expansion in these two episodes, beginning with a spotlight on Elisa’s brother Derek and ending with an introduction to one of the old Gargoyles of Castle Wyvern, two characters that will play larger parts as the series continues to grow.
Family is a major theme of these two episodes, and we delve deeper into Elisa’s non-Gargoyle clan with “My Brother’s Keeper. Derek is the latest pawn in David Xanatos’ game, caught between his wealthy new employer and a sister that isn’t being open about why she doesn’t want him to take this great opportunity, leading to an episode that tackles a complicated sibling relationships with surprising maturity for a children’s cartoon. The situation is essentially an older sister not wanting a younger brother to hang out with the wrong kinds of people, but having the characters as adults gives the story more gravity than it would if Elisa and Derek were children.
It’s notable that the first season of Gargoyles has no child characters in the main cast, allowing the writers to explore the more complicated lives of its adult character while finding more creative ways to explore the juvenile story elements that attract younger viewers. Elisa and Derek’s situation is more difficult because they’re not just arguing about an acquaintance, they’re arguing about an employer; Derek’s livelihood is at stake here, and if he can make a big upward move, he’s going to take the opportunity unless his sister can give him concrete evidence not to.
As a child, you don’t quite comprehend how important a job is to everything else in your life, but Derek and Elisa’s situation gains more weight as the viewer gets a better understanding of what’s at stake here. The occupation aspect of the argument also changes how Derek’s parents react to the conflict. His father agrees with Elisa, but mostly because he wants Derek to stay in the family business, a prideful view that is more focused on maintaining the Masa legacy rather than Derek’s well-being. Derek’s mother has a much more sympathetic view, telling her son that this is his future and he shouldn’t let anyone else tell him what he should do with it. It’s great to see the Masa parents get more screen time, and devoting attention to a multi-cultural family is one of the major things that sets Gargoyles apart from most cartoons of the time.
The person with the most valuable advice is Goliath, who tells Elisa that she should tell her brother about the existence of the Gargoyles and what Xanatos has done to them. Her reluctance to do so ends up having disastrous consequences, because that’s exactly what Xanatos expects her to do. Both “The Edge” and “My Brother’s Keeper” showcase just how well Xanatos knows his enemies, using this knowledge to take advantage of his opponents without them realizing they’re playing right into his hands.
Xanatos knows that Elisa won’t tell her brother about the existence of the Gargoyles, so he tells Derek himself, changing the narrative so that the Gargoyles look like ungrateful monsters. This basically ruins any hope Elisa had of convincing her brother not to work for Xanatos, even though she has a recording from The Pack’s Fox implicating Xanatos as the evil mastermind behind all the siblings’ troubles.
Goliath once again serves as the voice of reason at the end of the episode, providing some valuable context to make the siblings appreciate each other. “Quiet! Both of you!” He shouts in this week’s Awesome Keith David Line-Reading. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have siblings to fight with. All of my rookery brothers are dead. And there is nothing, nothing more important than family.” Suddenly Elisa and Derek’s problems seem so small in comparison, and it’s the reality check they both need. Elisa ends up handing the recording over to Derek, but she leaves the decision to listen up to him, understanding that she’ll just have to trust her brother to make the right decision.
“My Brother’s Keeper” and “Reawakening” have very similar endings, but the tone is completely different. The former ends with a melancholy sequence of the Gargoyles frozen in stone while snow falls on Elisa, emphasizing the feeling of loneliness that has overcome Elisa now she’s lost her brother. She sacrificed that relationship to protect her new friends, but the Gargoyles are only with her for half of the day. Derek was someone that was there for her 24-hours-a-day, and there’s a hole in her life now that he’s not a big part of it. It’s a depressing take on the now-standard “Elisa stands on the roof while the Gargoyles petrify” ending, but the finale brightens things up considerably while achieving some nice symmetry with the ending of the season premiere.
At the end of “Awakening,” Elisa wondered if the city was ready for Goliath and his clan, but by the end of the season, she knows that even if the city isn’t ready, it needs the Gargoyles for protection. As she watches the sun go up, she notes that the city feels safer already, closing the first 13 episodes on an inspirational note that fills the viewer with optimism for the future. The show has already grown from exploring a castle to a city, and in the next season, it will set its sights even higher to travel the globe. That growth is possible thanks to the work done in this first season, setting up mythology and character relationships that will continue to bear delicious narrative fruit as the scope dramatically expands.
- Huge thanks to Gargoyles fans for checking out these reviews and keeping the conversation going in comments. If you want to see more Gargoyles coverage, make sure to let us know! In the meanwhile, you can enjoy reviews of the final season of Justice League Unlimited, which will be returning in a few weeks.
- Both of today’s episodes feature crisp, smooth animation that heightens the impact of the action while finding more nuance in the character work. I’m finding that emotional storytelling suffers most when the animation is low quality, so I’m glad that the visuals are on point for these two meaty episodes.
- Coldstone was such a great name for a villain, and then Coldstone Creamery had to go and make it really silly in retrospect.
- Where the hell did Lexington, Brooklyn, and Broadway hide a downed helicopter?
- Xanatos’ private woodland retreat is called “Xanadu.” That. Is. Awesome.
- I love the romantic lighting on Fox when she tells Elisa that Xanatos is “the most brilliant man on the face of the Earth.” She may be in prison, but Xanatos shines a glorious light on her just by existing.
- “Yeah, use the force, Lex!”
- Derek: “I’ve no doubt you could find a snitch that would tell me Xanatos is the prince of darkness.” Elisa: “He practically is!”
- “Why go out in the snow to see something that will be on cable soon enough.”
- “‘It’s alive! Alive!’ I always wanted to say that.”
- Broadway: “That surround sound is great.” Lexington: “I don’t remember any explosions in Bambi.”
- Elisa: “Is there anything you need?” Goliath: “I need...a detective.”