Somehow, “I Told You So” Seems Inappropriate: “Metamorphosis”

Written by: Brynne Chandler Reaves & Lydia Marano
Original Air Date: September 5, 1995
Introduces: Maggie; Anton Sevarius; Fang; Claw
Timeline placement: ? – Sept. 11, 1995

Synopsis:

In the streets of Manhattan, a homeless woman looks on at a group of equally homeless men, as she converses with a sympathetic, well dressed, probably not homeless man.  She explains that she is not like them (they never are)–her situation is just a temporary setback.  Fortunately, the sympathetic man just happens to have a job opening for people just like her, and she offers homeless woman the position.

The next day, inside a private airport, Detective Elisa Maza watches  a glider swoop down from the sky. Its pilot is one Derek Maza, her brother. Once Derek lands, Elisa comments on how Derek missed on family dinner night, and asks if Xanatos was responsible for his abscence, starting another round of the “working for Xanatos is a baaaaaad idea” argument and the subsequent “I’m pretty sure Xanatos is not a Nazi” comeback.  Fortunately, he discussion doesn’t get too heated, and Elisa finishes by asking her brother to tell her if there is any trouble, which he promises by punctuating it with the old “cross my heart, hope to die” swear.

Night.  Inside a building labeled “Gen-U-Tech”, something not quite human is causing a stir, as we hear alarms ring and security guards running to the scene.  We see a lithe, winged creature attack the guards and escapes into the night.

Brooklyn and Broadway are gliding through the city when they spot our winged catgirl inside an alley.  Suspecting Demona–after all, there aren’t many winged females in Manhattan–they decide to land and check it out, and find out that they’re quite wrong: cat girl isn’t nearly as intimidating, and is in fact completely terrified of them.  The gargoyles don’t get enough time to explain themselves, however, as a couple of “ambulances” arrive at the scene, carrying the goons from before, armed with tranquilizer guns and other non-lethal ordnance.  Brooklyn tries to save catgirl, but only manages to make her drop the bracelet she’s wearing.

Eventually, the goons managed to recapture the beast.  At Brooklyn’s insistence, both gargoyles try to fight the goons and rescue the mutate, but a well placed shot from a tranquilizer puts the Gargoyles’ lancer out of commission, forcing Broadway to abandon the attempt and carry his rookery brother to safety.

Castle Wyvern.  Xanatos’ helicopter is making its landing and is met by Owen, who informs Xanatos of some “fascinating expense reports” coming from Gen-U-Tech: apparently, the head of one of Xanatos’ “special projects”, Dr. Sevarius, has been hiring mercenaries behind X’s back.  The billionaire decides that he’ll have to pay his employee a visit, and Derek, concerned about the mercenaries, decides that he’ll go as well.

Clocktower.  Brooklyn and Broadway have finished telling the clan (+ Elisa) of the night’s misadventures.  The two ‘goyles have one notable disagreement: while Brooklyn is convinced that the cat-creature wanted their–particularly, his–help, Broadway points out that everything he saw suggested the opposite.  Broadway also shows the clan the bracelet catgirl dropped, which Elisa identifies as a tracking device–“digital, long-range, expensive”–and which she nots is marked with the Gen-U-Tech logo, leading us to…

Gen-U-Tech.  Xanatos is asking Dr. Sevarius–whom we now see is the man from the opening scene–about the project he’d been charged with:  designing a creature using gargoyles as a template.  Sevarius exposits that since cloning gargoyles or working off their DNA was not an option, he had to merge the genes from several species into a chimera that managed to replicate their key traits; combining genetic material from bats (for their wings), jungle cats (for their strength, speed, and agility), and eels (for their unique energy source) he finally achieved a measure of success.

Derek, not terribly impressed with the doctor’s expospeak, comments that while it’s all very nice theory, it doesn’t explain why he’s been hiring mercenaries.  Sevarius nonchalantly explains that they were needed to recover escaped test subjects.  Also non-chalantly, he explains that said test subjects were humans taken from the streets and mutated.

Sevarius, soon realizing that his initiative and creative problem-solving skills are apparently not the qualities Xanatos was looking for in an employee (wait…), gets defensive, pulling out a dart gun and shooting Derek with it. This doesn’t down him, though, and the bodyguard earns his keep by disarming the mad scientist. As Derek notes that Sevarius’ dart seemed to have no effect, Sevarius gloats that the dart did not contain sedatives, but the mutagenic formula he’d used on the human subjects.

Xanatos demands an antidote for Sevarius’ mutagenic formula.  The scientist counters that while he can produce one, he needs time to actually make it, and has no desire to do so—he does not wish to destroy his work.  A lab assistant/goon announces that there are two policemen—Elisa and Matt—at the door, giving Xanatos the ammunition he needs: if Sevarius doesn’t work on the formula, he’ll just invite them inside to see the doctor’s work for themselves.  Terrified by that possibility, Sevarius stutters that Xanatos, being equally or more responsible for everything, would be in equal or greater trouble than himself.  Frankly, Sevarius, Xanatos doesn’t give a damn: he’s perfectly willing to go down for this, should Derek give the word.  Fortunately for the billionaire, Derek declines, asking for Sevarius to cure him first.  It’s going to have to be quickly though—he’s already changing.

At the clocktower, Elisa muses on how Gen-U-Tech is hiding something, and how there’s not enough evidence of probable cause to do anything about it.  Brooklyn murmurs how his ties, as the sun turns him to stone for the day.  At least he didn’t get interrupted midsentence.

Transitional scene: As Derek’s mutation progresses, Sevarius works on a cure under Xanatos’ eye.

The Manhattan Clan wakes up, and Brooklyn is raring to go rescue  cat lady, because “she needs [his] help”—something he believes wholeheartedly, despite any evidence to support the assertion.  Goliath sensibly tells Brooklyn that rushing in to rescue her without a plan won’t help her—fortunately, he has one. A plan.

The gargoyles make their way inside Gen-U-Tech and find Brooklyn’s “girlfriend”, but she’s in no mood to be rescued; using the intercom built into her cell, she calls for security, and, as Goliath frees the mutate, we find out that “security” is the Xanatos goon squad, last seen in “Deadly Force” (and although it’s not explicitly said, it’s patently obvious that they are also the men in white coats).  A quick shot from a tranquilizer gun sedates the mutate, forcing Brooklyn to carry her to “safety”.

At Sevarius’ lab, the bad doctor is about to give Derek the antidote when the gargoyles burst in, followed by the goon squad.  The battle resumes, and the general chaos causes Sevarius to drop the antidote.  Derek dives to save it, but fails.

Their task completed, the gargoyles make their escape.  Sevarius, trying to safeguard his creation, grabs Goliath by the leg, but the gargoyle effortlessly kicks him aside.  Unfortunately, the force of the kick causes Sevarius to crash against the eel tank, breaking it, and spilling both the animals and the water.  Dazed, the mad geneticist grabs, and gets the shock of his life.  ^_^

The gargoyles now gone, Xanatos makes his way towards the fallen doctor and checks for a pulse that is no longer there.  Sevarius is dead.

Derek’s bad day has just gone from horrible to worse; if he only had one more second, he believes, he’d have been cured; now, thanks to the gargoyles’ intervention, he’s fated to remain a mutant forever.  He vows his revenge on the creatures.  Xanatos, ever calm, suggest they make their exit before the police—including, most likely, Elisa—find them.  The billionaire promises he will find a cure for him and the others.

Inside the clocktower, the female mutate regains consciousness and finds herself surrounded by the clan.  “Were you human once too?” she asks, clearly scared out of her wits.  Upon hearing the negative, she insists that she is not like them—she’s a human “Maggie…Maggie Reed.”  The gargoyles try to console her, but she doesn’t believe them; she just wants things to go back to normal.

Goliath notes that sunrise approaches, and the gargoyles take their positions atop the clocktower roof.  Maggie watches as the six “monsters” turn to stone.  She does not take it well.

Sevarius’ lab, Gen-U-Tech.  The police, including Elisa and Matt, are making their way through the crime scene.  Notably, Sevarius corpse is nowhere to be seen, nor is the chalk outline which would indicate that his body had been removed by the police.  Elisa is looking through the company papers and finds what we already know: Xanatos owns Gen-U-Tech.

Sundown.  The gargoyles wake, only to find that Maggie’s gone, and had probably left just after the ‘goyles had turned to stone.  Goliath orders Hudson and Bronx to stay behind while the rest go to the castle.

At the castle, Derek, who is acting as the makeshift clan’s leader, takes his fellow mutates—including Maggie—for a gliding session.  As Xanatos watches, he instructs Owen to find him the best geneticist on the planet.

As they glide through the Manhattan sky, the mutates see the gargoyles approaching.  At seeing the people (he believes are) responsible for his condition, Derek orders his no-longer-men to attack.

As the two groups fight, Brooklyn tries once again to get through to Maggie.  No dice: the cat-lady still believes that he wants her to remain a monster.  In desperation, manages to emit electricity from her hands, a feat that Derek is able to recreate with Goliath.  Apparently, the eel D.N.A. isn’t just for energy.  Shocking.

Elisa arrives at the castle battlements and points her gun at Derek, stopping the fight between he and Goliath.  The policewoman asks the mutate why he’s attacking her friend; Derek, who identifies himself as “Talon”, explains that Goliath is responsible for his situation.  Elisa categorically denies Talon’s claim and offers to help him, doing the “cross my heart” swear…which Derek instinctively replies to, giving the game away.

Immediately, Elisa blames Xanatos’ for Derek’s fate; Talon defends the billionaire, saying it was an accident.  He accidentally shocks Elisa, which causes him to grow even more despondent.  Derek takes to the sky, followed by his fellow mutates.  The gargoyles, at Brooklyn’s insistence, decline to follow; clearly, their help is not wanted.  Chin up Brooklyn: you might have lost a potential girlfriend, but in exchange you got a clue.

With Derek gone, Elisa threatens Xanatos: “Now it’s war, Xanatos.  You’re going down for this, I promise you.  No matter what it takes.”

Not a tag: Xanatos is at his office when he Owen enters the office, leading a man in a trenchcoat and hat, whom the majordomo introduces as “the best geneticist on the planet”.  Geneticist removes his hat and coat; although he doesn’t look quite like him, Xanatos refers to him as Sevarius, so I guess that’s who he is.

Sevarius talks about his “death scene” with some pride; Xanatos thinks he overplayed it (yes).  They go on about how the plan was a complete success, even if it took months for the gargoyles to become aware of the mutates; although their four victims still have free will, the fact that they know Xanatos is the only person who could ever provide them a cure

Meanwhile, at the Clocktower, Elisa cries, alone.

—-

This episode is both a breakthrough and a disappointment. Its animation is rather terrible, the plot stretches believability to its breaking point, several of its details just don’t make sense, and its rewatchability is nearly nil. And yet…and yet…damn. What a punch in that last scene.

One of the things that people most mention about Batman: The Animated Series was its ability to make its villains tragically human. Two-Face, Scarface, and Clayface (the similarity in names is coincidential–I think) weren’t just villains, they were regular guys who couldn’t deal with the bad hands given to them by life. It gave their existence an element of tragedy that hadn’t been seen in cartoons before. Even so, they were still villains. We knew that they were going to become villains, the writers knew they were going to become villains, and once it inevitably happened, that element of pathos eventually faded away from their continuing narratives.

Derek’s story in this episode takes the Batman approach one step further, with one key difference: his fate is not a foregone conclusion, and in no way certain. Additionally, his status as Elisa’s brother and as a recurring cast member (his appearance here is his fourth, which means that at this point he’s appeared more than The Pack and just as many times as Matt Bluestone) means his story can’t just be ignored; his tragedy and how he adapts to it will continue to be a part of the series as long as it continues. What’s more, there’s the fact that this is indeed a tragedy, one that involves a good guy and which will not be resolved in half an hour. What other cartoon was doing that, at the time? Even with all its flaws, the episode carries a tremendous punch.

Last episode portrayed Xanatos as his villainous best, as he enacted a plan which was brilliant, atypical, and yet completely plausible in its execution—the prototypical Xanatos Gambit, as TVTropes would eventually call such plans. This episode, however, his plans take one step further and head into implausibility, into what would later be called a Xanatos Roulette—a plan so dependent on random chance to work that it requires omniscience to plausibly be conceived and executed successfully. And this one’s a doozy, requiring not only lots of improv, but riding entirely on no one being able to save Sevarius or his “cure”. While there’s indeed a nod to the role chance played—Sevarius mentions that it’d been months before the gargs’ took their bait—it’s still stands out as the series’ most implausible plot.

The whole plan to turn Derek also stands out for portraying Xanatos at his cruelest, reminding us that while he may be awesome, he is in no way good.  Until now, none of his plans had any real, notable consequences; his worst act–driving the gargoyles from his home–was also perfectly legal (note that we won’t learn of the extent of the whole Cyberbiotics thing until Outfoxed).  Here, he’s kidnapping people, lying to them, mutating them against their will, and possibly killing them (we don’t know how many test subjects Sevarius went through before perfecting his formula to make viable mutants–given science and his particular methods, I think “a lot” is a safe bet).  And, as I’ve mentioned before, it also proves that he’s lying when he claims to be above revenge.  After all, why specifically target Derek if not to get at Elisa?  Heck, had he wanted to, he could have rather easily gotten willing test subjects.  Imagine, for example, a man with a terminal disease, who can’t afford to care for his kids–surely, the odds are better than fair than he’ll find being turned into a mutant in exchange for security for his sons an acceptable deal, particularly if he can get rid of his disease in the process (not that we know if the mutagenic formula can do that, but it seems a logical-enough assumption).  All in all, while he’s not a complete monster, he’s nowhere near as cool as some would portray him.

Speaking of revenge, Elisa’s vow turns into one of the series’ rare series details that never got a proper follow-up.  Given her eventual sting to finally take down Tony Dracon, one would have expected Elisa to consider doing something similar to Xanatos, but nothing really comes off it.  It’s also somewhat difficult to reconcile an Elisa who hates Xanatos for what he did to her brother with the Elisa who seems accepting to the clan’s decision to return to his castle, and indeed who accepts party invitations from the guy.

This episode also expands the series’ rogues gallery by introducing Anton Sevarius to the mix. He’s a fun guy, Anton, very much in the mold of The Joker–he’s amusing until you realize he’s also a complete monster.  The fact that he’s voiced by Tim Curry–who was originally going to be the voice of Batman:TAS‘ version of the Joker–merely makes the comparison more apropos.  I have to say I don’t really get the design switcheroo.  We eventually find out that he’s still working publically as Anton Sevarius, using his look from the end of this episode, so…what was the point?

Random thoughts:

* Notable detail: While the woman in the first scene is obviously Maggie, she never really identifies herself until she’s already a mutate.  Technically, there’s nothing stopping Weisman from suddenly revealing that Maggie and the woman are different people.  Heck, if one where to run with it, it begets the question: what happened to her?

—–

As all of you must have noticed, this post is unforgivably late in the coming.  I’d been working on this post, but between schoolwork, driving lessons (yes–only 9 years too late), hip-hop and capoeira classes, and meeting new people, mean that by the time my day gets done, I just want to go to sleep .  So yeah.