Gargoyles: “The Thrill Of The Hunt”/“Temptation”
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Gargoyles: “The Thrill Of The Hunt”/“Temptation”

Lexington and Brooklyn are manipulated as they’re spotlighted

Gargoyles, “The Thrill Of The Hunt” & “Temptation” (season 1, episodes 6 & 7; originally aired November 4 & 11, 1994)

The five-part series premiere establishes the ambition of Gargoyles, but it isn’t indicative of the show’s actual structure, which comes into focus with this week’s two episodes. Rather than repeating the multi-episode arc of “The Awakening,” the rest of this season dedicates each episode to a standalone story spotlighting an individual member of the cast, delving deeper into character while still driving the larger narrative forward.

We’re really starting to see the Hill Street Blues influence on this show as it starts to explore its larger ensemble and build up plots that will evolve throughout the series, trusting younger viewers to keep up with a story that is more complex than the typical animated fare, especially from Disney. As a kid, I didn’t pick up on the pop culture commentary of The Pack—who represent all the bad things about superheroes in the early ’90s—and while I understood Demona’s reasons for hating humankind, I couldn’t completely relate to her plight until I’d experienced loss and alienation myself. It’s easy for children to be pulled into Gargoyles by the brightly colored monster superheroes, but as that audience grows up, there are plenty of reasons to revisit episodes for a different viewing experience

Knowing that this series was intended to be the beginning of a larger Disney superhero universe, it becomes clear that The Pack is a tool to show how different the Gargoyles are from the superheroes that dominated comic books of the time. A bunch of Wolverine clones with ridiculous costumes and even worse hairstyles, The Pack is a corporate creation with no real gravitas, just a lot of manpower and superficial glitz. Image Comics was founded two years before Gargoyles hit the air, and it’s not hard to see a connection between The Pack and Image superhero team titles like Youngblood and WildC.A.T.S., particularly in terms of appearance.

The garish designs and one-note personalities of The Pack’s members are a sharp contrast to the Gargoyles, who are far more refined in every aspect. Strong but simple graphic imagery is a big part of creating an iconic superhero look, and the bright colors and striking silhouettes of the Gargoyles separate them from what viewers typically associate with superheroes while still maintaining the basic tenants of superhero design. In terms of personalities, the Gargoyles cover a huge range of character types, and their individual attitudes were established in their debut.

“The Thrill Of The Hunt” writer Michael Reaves wrote the teleplay for that first appearance, so he knows how to introduce a group of distinct characters, but that’s not the point of The Pack; they’re supposed to be cardboard cutouts so that we can appreciate the development of the main cast. It’s a Lexington-centric episode, but there isn’t actually that much work done with Lexington’s character in this episode. We see how his curiosity and naïveté make him vulnerable in this devious new world, but the episode is primarily about that contrast between The Pack and the Gargoyles.

Goliath ultimately sees the most growth in the episode as he learns to embrace Lexington’s worldview. He realizes that the Gargoyles can’t hide from the world anymore, they have to live in it and find allies in it, which means taking chances like the one Lexington took by introducing Goliath to The Pack. Sure, it almost got them killed, but it’s always possible that they’ll actually meet a group of good guys with truly noble intentions.

The common thread between “The Thrill Of The Hunt” and “Temptation” is the theme of manipulation, with David Xanatos as the mastermind in the former and Demona controlling Brooklyn in the latter. Xanatos bankrolled the creation of The Pack with the intention of making them more than just TV stars, and he tests their might by pitting them against the Gargoyles to get a better idea of Goliath’s strength. Xanatos may be in prison, but his power hasn’t diminished in the slightest, and if this is what he’s capable of from behind bars, then the Gargoyles should be very afraid of what he’ll do when he gets out. In both episodes, Elisa pressures Goliath to find a new home before Xanatos is released, and Elisa’s repetition establishes that this is a major plot point that is going to come up again.

Brooklyn is one of the characters that changes the most over the course of this series, and his growth begins in “Temptation” as he’s lured over to the dark side by Demona. At the start of the episode, Brooklyn is his usual cool, carefree self, enjoying life behind the handlebars of a sweet new motorcycle made by Lexington. This is a world full of new wonders waiting to be explored Brooklyn, but it also contains the same old prejudices of the past, a lesson that the Gargoyle learns when he tries to ride with a group of human bikers.

A lurking Demona saves Brooklyn from a biker attack, and uses this fresh example of social hatred to attract Brooklyn to her way of thinking by giving him a tour of modern humanity’s despicable behavior. They watch a woman get robbed on the street, and when Brooklyn offers to help, Demona tells him that it’s useless because the criminal will be out of a human prison by the end of the day. She takes him to a home where two parents are fighting with their child, an example of how they can’t even share their own homes without fighting. Why would Brooklyn expect to be accepted by these people? These people murder each other on the streets, what’s to stop them from killing these flying beasts that immediately trigger a fearful reaction?

This is heavy subject matter for a children’s TV show to cover, but it teaches an important lesson to its young viewers about learning how to cope with a depressing, hopeless world. Superhero stories so often look at good and evil as black and white, but this series emphasizes the shades of gray by looking at how society pushes people in different moral directions. When we first saw Demona, she was one of the good guys, but events forced her to become the villain she is today. In order to bring Brooklyn to her side (and gain Goliath in the process via a mind control spell in the Grimorum), Demona tries to concentrate a millennium of witnessing human depravity in a single evening, showing Brooklyn the highlights of humanity’s worst behavior.

After seeing the evidence, Brooklyn has to decide whether he wants to believe that humanity is doomed or if he wants to have faith that there are people who want to do legitimate good, but Demona ends up making up his mind through her own behavior. By enslaving Goliath, Demona proves that there’s no reason for Brooklyn to trust her, and seeing Elisa’s positive representation of the human race shows him that there’s still good in the world, despite all the horrific events that happen every minute.

“Temptation” starts laying the seeds of Demona’s backstory, hinting at the hundreds of years of suffering she endured while her friends were frozen, but she’s still not a particularly sympathetic character. That said, Marina Sirtis’ performance of Demona’s line, “I always survive,” goes a long way to making the audience care about the character, capturing both the sadness and pride carried in that statement. You get the impression that death is something that has been denied to Demona, and she’s managed to cope with that by flaunting her resilience, even if it’s a curse.

The major thing diminishing the quality of these episodes is the animation, which is a major step down from the smooth visuals of “Awakening.” Animal-Ya and Jade Animation handle “The Thrill Of The Hunt” while Tama Productions and Jade Animation work on “Temptation,” and both chapters have a choppiness that diminishes the impact of the script. The action sequences fare far better than the more emotional moments of dialogue, which require a level of subtlety that the animation doesn’t provide, and after seeing such high-quality work on the season premiere, the dip in these two episodes becomes very noticeable.

While the animation falters, the writing continues to impress on “The Thrill Of The Hunt” and “Temptation,” offering kid-friendly done-in-one adventures that still provide enough meat to keep the attention of more mature viewers. Sure, the resolution of “Temptation” is a total copout—breaking a spell by telling someone to act like they’re not under a spell may work for children, but it makes me roll my eyes—but its the kind of hasty conclusion I’ve come to accept as a reviewer of youth-targeted entertainment. And honestly, those juvenile plot points are a big part of the show’s charm. Gargoyles is remarkable for its more serious emotional elements, but it’s a cartoon classic because it never loses sight of the silly fun that draws young viewers to these shows in the first place.

Stray observations:

  • The recurring joke that The Pack fights evil ninjas all the time is a really clever way of poking fun at the late ’80s/early ’90s cultural obsession with ninjas.
  • Brooklyn’s wings can be adjusted to look like a biker’s outfit. That’s some brilliant character design.
  • It’s always fun to hear Keith David as background characters, because no matter who he’s performing as, it’s hard to cover up the Keith David-ness of his voice.
  • The use of shadows in the big fight scene between Goliath and The Pack does a very good job covering up the shoddiness of the animation.
  • “Later, Harvey! Work on those backflips.”
  • “Maybe we shouldn’t believe everything we see on television.”
  • “You rode a horse once, could you build one from spare parts?”
  • “That’s it. I’m off sugar.”
  • “Last time we met, you just wanted to blow me away with a bazooka.”
  • Lexington: “What happened to the motorcycle?” Brooklyn: “It...uh...blew up?”

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