The Archmage, the Witch, and the Gargoyles: “Long Way to Morning”

“This game is futile.  You were too old to play it a thousand years ago.” — Demona

Original Air Date: January 20, 1995
Introduces: The Archmage; Prince Malcolm
Timeline placement: Flashbacks: 984 A.D.;  Present Day: Jan. 20 – Jan. 21, 1995

Synopsis:

Castle Wyvern, 984 A.D.  Prince Malcolm is tucking in a young Katharine to bed, using unconsciously racist (you know…metaphorically speaking) stories of gargoyles to frighten her into staying put, when Hudson-who-was-not-yet-“Hudson” (who notably does not have his scar or miscolored eye) enters the princess’ bedchambers with tidings for the father.  The gargoyle leads the prince outside, and after asking his liege not to use gargoyles as boogeymen (a request the prince dismisses as over-sensitive), gets down to business: an old enemy of theirs, the Archmage, whom Malcolm had banished after he tried to usurp his throne, may still pose  a threat.  NotYetHudson is immediately proven right when the Archmage appears, shoots a dart at Prince Malcolm from a blowgun, and escapes.

Roused by the commotion, young Katharine arrives at the scene, and sees NotYetHudson kneeling before an unconscious Malcolm.  After pushing the Gargoyle away with her power-puff fists, she then kneels before her fallen father, crying, as the gargoyle looks on, guiltily.

Fade into present day, where the clan is just waking up.  As the trio make plans for the day, Hudson stares wistfully at castle Wyvern “dreaming old dreams”.

Elisa’s apartment.  As the policewoman prepares for work, she is attacked by Demona, who shoots a dart (could it be? symmetry?) at Elisa, hitting her in her left breast.  The gargoyle gloats that the dart contains poison, which will kill her in 24 hours unless an antidote is administered; unless Goliath shows up at the Old York Opera house, Elisa will die.  As the gargoyle leaves Elisa to her fate, the policewoman feels relief at the fact that the dart was stopped by her police badge, which she’d put on not a minute ago.

Some time later, after Elisa finishes recounting these events to the rest of the clan, Goliath decides that, even with Elisa safe, it’s best to go after Demona, to “try to reach her”.  He orders Brooklyn (who wants badly to score some payback on Demona, making him inappropriate for the task at hand in the gargoyle leader’s eyes) to remain in the tower, while Lexington and Broadway will guard Elisa at her home.  Hudson will go with Goliath.

As the two gargoyles arrive at the meeting place, Hudson uses his tracking skillz to deduce Demona’s location.  It’s for naught, however, as Demona gets the drop on both heroes and scores a direct hit on Goliath with her laser rifle.  Hudson moves in to protect his leader, and manages to use his sword to deflect another shot from Demona, which hits the rifle and causes her to fall from the roof.

Granted a few seconds respite, Hudsonpicks up Goliath positions his arm on his shoulder to support him.  Demona catches up however, and begins taunting Hudson, calling him “old soldier” and saying that he’ll never defeat her; Hudson responds that he doesn’t have to: he just has to wait until sunrise and its healing properties.   Spotting a skylight, he decides to break through to escape, with Goliath still hanging by his shoulder.  After falling through to area beneath the opera stage, the old gargoyle leaves Goliath to rest for a moment, unmindful of his leader’s wish that he be left behind.  He takes out his sword to face Demona, who has followed .

We flash back to 984 A.D., where Hudson, the Magus, Katherine, and the Captain of the Guard, all stand around the bedridden (but conscious) Prince Malcolm.  Magus diagnoses the prince, saying that the dart contained poison with magical properties, and that only with the Grimorum Arcanorum (currently possessed by the Archmage)would he have a chance to cure him.  Katharine blames NotYet Hudson for her father’s fate, and although the prince sends her away and apologizes for her, the old gargoyle can’t help but agree with the girl: it was his duty to protect the prince, and he failed.

Castle Wyvern battlements, not long after.  Hudson is joined by Goliath (although it’s unclear if he’s been named that yet) and NotYetDemona, and he explains their mission: to find the Archmage and retrieve the Grimorum.  NotYetDemona, in a conversation with Goliath that is less private than she thinks, tells her lover that she thinks not NotYetHudson should step down from leadership, as age has taken its toll.  Goliath disagrees, saying that his age has also brought him wisdom, which is why he leads.

Back in the present, Demona has caught up with Hudson and Goliath, and tries to psyche him out.  As she shoots to and fro, Hudson carries Goliath outside the opera house via a small window.  As he ignores Goliaths pleas that he leave him behind and save himself (he’s very whiny this episode), he makes his way to a sewer.  As he carries Goliath through the underground tunnels, he reminisces on the Archmage adventure, which brings us back to 984, where NotYetHudson is using his tracking skills to follow the Archmage and draw conclusions on what his possible course of action will be.  Hudson hears as NotYetDemona tries to convince Goliath, that he, not NotYetHudson, is the natural leader of the clan,  although Goliath doesn’t agree.

The three ‘goyles arrive at a cave and enter.  NotYetDemona complains that doing so is tactically unsound–they can’t glide, for one–but remains with them nevertheless.  As they continue, they begin to see a series of etchings carved into the wall, including one that NotYetDemona notices looks a lot like her getting attacked by the Archmage.

The three trek on.  Eventually, they arrive at the foot of a deep, but not terribly wide, chasm; at the other side, at the threshold of a structure with  intentionally skull-like architecture, is the Archmage, who attacks the gargoyles with a Grimorum-channeled lightning bolt, which causes them to (apparently–the animation isn’t terribly clear here) fall into the chasm.

Back in the present, the game of cat and mouse continues.  You know the drill: Goliath asks to be left behind; Hudson ignores the plea and continues carrying Goliath; Demona follows, trying to demoralize her prey. She eventually manages to corner Hudson, pressing him against the tunnel’s mouth, which forms a small waterfall some fifteen feet above the river.  Instead of allowing himself to be shot, however, Hudson lets himself and Goliath drop into the water below.

After he takes Goliath to the shore (a fortuitous lightning bolt has temporarily prevented Demona from pursuing–did I tell you both chases take place during a thunderstorm?), we flash back to the fight with the Archmage, where the mages’ thunderbolts have downed NotYetHudson (leaving him with his trademark scar) and NotYetDemona.  Goliath, on the other hand, manages to dodge the attacks and retrieve the Grimorum.  However, the Archmage, although now powerless, isn’t done: picking up a stalactite (which may actually be a stalagmite), the tries to attack the Gargoyle.  Goliath dodges, and the Archmage falls into the chasm.

Meanwhile Back in the present, Hudson and Goliath have arrived at a graveyard.  After confirming that yes, he is still being followed, the old gargoyle hides Goliath inside a mausoleum, and, fully cognizant that he can’t beat her, heads outside to face Demona.

To be fair, Hudson does a more than respectable job against the demon-gal, even busting out some nice acrobatic flips.  It is only when Goliath, who had been listening to the battle, attempts to help that Demona gains the upper hand.  “I’m smarter, stronger, and younger than you!  Your pride will cost you your life!” she declares, as she disarms Hudson.

“But I know something you don’t,” a downed Hudson says.  “Something that only comes with age.  I know how to wait.”  Cue the sun.

984 A.D., Prince Malcolm’s bedchambers.  The Magus’ antidote worked, and the prince is on the mend.  Malcolm thanks NotYetHudson, but the gargoyle tells him that he doesn’t deserve the credit.

Outside, NotDemona again tries to convince Goliath that the clan needs a new leader.  Goliath tries to argue his point, but is stopped by NotYetHudson, who tells Goliath that it is indeed time for him to step down and for the younger gargoyle to take charge.  Goliath protests, saying that it was the elder’s tracking skills that led them to the Archmage, but eventually acquiesces, on the condition that NotYetHudson continues to provide his guidance.  The older gargoyle agrees.

Graveyard, present day.  As the sun once against sets, the Gargoyles wake.  With Goliath now healed, however the tide has been irrevocably turned.  Demona retreats, gloating that she’s still succeeded in killing the (she believes) poisoned Elisa.

As they watch Demona leave, Goliath thanks Hudson for his invaluable assistance.  Hudson, with none of the heaviness from the beginning of the episode remarks that he’d believed he had no more uses as a fighter, but is glad to be proven wrong–even managing to joke about it.  With nothing else to do in the graveyard, the two gargoyles glide home.


—-

This episode always kind of gets lost in the season 1 shuffle; I’ve only seen it twice , and one of those were for this review.  Aside from the flashback scenes, there’s just not much here–Hudson feels old until  he realizes that he’s can still be a badass, the end.  It doesn’t help that this is the second-worst-looking episode in the season (just try to count the coloring errors) which, in an episode that is mostly action scenes, helps bring it down even more–Goliath, for example,  just stands there as Demona shoots him, which is just poor storyboarding.  This isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t anything that can be said about it.

The most interesting detail in this episode is the relationship between prince Malcolm and NotYetHudson.  While its clear that Malcolm treats the gargoyle with some respect, and maybe even friendship, it’s also clear from his persception of  NotYetHudson’s so-called oversensitivity that he isn’t terribly sensitive towards gargoyles as a whole.  It’s a slightly more benign, and unconsious, version of  what Rush Limbaugh does when he rallies against gay rights while inviting Elton John to sing at his wedding (assuming that the radio pundit actually believes what he says, which is in no way a given).   He’s definitively a racist (or more accurately, speceist, although that word lacks the undertones of the former so I won’t use it here), but not a conscious one (one can just imagine him saying “some of my best friends are Gargoyles” if asked) which is is some ways worse than the worn-on-their-sleeve racism of Demona (if she wore sleeves), Castaway, or early princess Katharine, because it can be just as ingrained, and yet is much harder to fight.  It’s also a good bit subtler than the usual treatment than intolerance gets in cartoons–even in this one–and the sort of thing I wish I’d seen more.  It also makes Prince Malcolm more than just a background character–the writers make very good use of his very limited screen time.

This is the first non-pilot episode in the series  to really feature an extended flashback to medieval Scotland, setting an important precedent for the series; such flashbacks will eventually become a hallmark of some of the series’ most important episodes. Plus, it introduces The Archmage (love!),  in his generic we-didn’t-expect-we-would-be-using-this-guy-for-more-than-an-episode character design (boo!  hiss!).  Plus, designs for the younger Katharine, Magus, and Captain add some spice to the episode.

This episode’s strenghts (such as they are) lie in its small moments, and the weirdest of these is the brief appearance of carvings and sculptures in what initially appeared to be a natural cave.  Like everything else in the series, the cave is eventually revisited, yet not really explained, and it remains one of the more intriguing (if oft-overlooked) plot bunnies in the series.

Random thoughts:

  • While dramatic symmetry can be an effective storytelling technique, it’s a bit too blatant here, what with Hudson’s state of mind, the tracking, the storm, the poison darts, and the (sort of) chase for the antidotes. Although Gargoyles usually loves its symmetry (see “Hunter’s Moon”), this is a bit too anvilicious.
  • Given that Demona obviously knows where Elisa lives, one wonders why she doesn’t try to kill her more often once she discovers her failure (which occurs two episodes from now) especially after she gained the ability to function during daytime.  At the very least, I would have appreciated  a funny (if ill-fitting) montage of all her Coyote-style attempts on Elisa’s life.  My current theory for why it didn’t happen is that there’s no logical reason why she wouldn’t eventually succeed, which can’t happen for obvious reasons.
  • Elisa’s destroyed handgun count: 2.  Again, this is something that begins bugging once you realize how the police bureocracy works in real life; there’s no way that something like this would go unnoticed.  Granted, police organizations in the superhero genre are nothing like the ones in the real world by necessity, but it feels particularly out of place here, perhaps due to the focus that Elisa’s various guns get throughout.
  • On that note, Elisa’s handling of her gun in this episode seems somewhat off to me.  Given that we eventually see her
  • On the other hand, Demona’s laser rifle is surprisingly resilient, taking a lightning bolt, a laser blast, and several blows from Hudson’s sword.  Even when Demona begins using it as a club it’s not clear if the reason is because it stopped working.
  • Goliath is uncommonly whiny here; one shot, and he’s almost immediately “Imma gonna die”.  Abject hopelessness is not a terribly attractive look on him, I’m afraid.
  • More than any other episode thus far, this episode highlights that when all is said and done, Demona is a relatively poor fighter–there are tons of small tactical errors made here, and she relies more on ferocity and surprise than actual skill–which will become plainly evident when she faces Elisa in season 2.  Fortunately, she makes up for it in other ways.

ETA: More random thoughts:

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3 Responses to The Archmage, the Witch, and the Gargoyles: “Long Way to Morning”

  1. Pingback: This Breathing Isle, this Beating Heart: “Avalon” Part One | Monsters of New York

  2. Pingback: How, Through the Years, Are You Still Unchanged? “Avalon” Part Two | Monsters of New York

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