Magic Tech: “Legion”

“Without trust there can be no clan.”–Goliath

Written by: Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir
Original air date: September 6, 1995
Introduces: Desdemona, Iago
Timeline placement: September 6, 1995 (Coldstone’s auto-repair activated) – September 20, 1995

Note: I’m going to try something a bit different here and combine the synopsis with my actual thoughts—it seemed to smooth things over when writing about the episode.

While Gargoyles has in many aspects aged quite well, there are a couple of episodes that can’t help but invoke “1995”, and none more than this one. I remember quite well how, for a couple of years, “virtual reality” was going to be the Next Big Thing, and we can all see how wrong those prophets have been so far. That, combined with less-than-stellar animation, and a plot that at times feels repetitive, makes for one of the less interesting episodes of the first part of season 2.

The episode begins as we look in at Coldstone, who still lies inactive, half-buried at the bottom of the river. We watch as an auto-repair protocol begins, and as it works its magic, we see a narrative where Coldstone (or Othello, his name on the script) watches from afar as a female gargoyle (“Desdemona”) appears to having what appears to be a rather intimate conversation with Goliath. Another unnamed gargoyle, male (“Iago”), suggests to Othello that G and Desdemona have betrayed him (Othello, I mean), which causes O to attack Goliath.

In the world of the living, Coldstone, reactivated, takes flight, and we hear a voice—not quite Othello’s—announces, robotically, that he is “initiating new program parameters”. He flies towards the city and breaks into the Golden Cup building, which is apparently the site of some high-tech research facility. The frankengoyle ignores the guards shooting at him, an proceeds deeper into the building.

Inside the clock tower, Elisa hands Lexington a headset, so that he can listen in as Matt tests out the new police R.E.C.A.P. (“Reconnaisance Emergency Cyber-Automated Probe”) a system designed to be used in high-risk situations, capable of rendering accurate virtual reality versions of a scene in real time—at least, that’s how I presume it works: the show doesn’t give any sort of explanation, and I don’t seeing being any useful any other way.

Back at Golden Cup, Coldstone breaks into a restricted area and finds his target: a mainframe. He hooks up to the computer system, and begins downloading “all relevant files”. As he does this, something goes wrong, and Coldstone becomes dazed.

Coldstone regains his senses, but realizes that he doesn’t know where he is. He also sounds less like a robot and more like he did in “Reawakening”. He sees the building guards shooting at him, and begins defending himself.

Outside, policemen have arrived at the building entrance, and are helping those hurt by Coldstone out of the building. Elisa and Matt are among them, and Matt himself is outfitted with special visor and remote control. He’s been studying the manuals for the system for six months, so he explains how R.E.C.A.P. works:

“The virtual reality hook-up transmits directly to this visor. I see everything R.E.C.A.P. does.”

There’s also a nice little moment of banter, as Elisa expresses hope that he’s better at controlling R.E.C.A.P. than he is behind the wheel, only for hit to reply that she’d never know, since she never lets him drive.

He then uses the remote control to send R.E.C.A.P. itself—a tiny robot mounted on threads, and sporting a familiar Scarab logo—into the building. On a rooftop across the street, Lexington and Goliath watch.

How here’s my first problem with the story. Setting aside the fact that a system that can program life-like (if red) three-dimensional visuals on the fly was easily more than twenty away back in 1995 (although not, I suppose, In a world where one can make robots indistinguishable from humans—then again, the existence of those, unlike R.E.C.A.P.’s, is meant to be a corporate secret) and continues to be a pipe dream now, there’s no reason why it’d be used in situations like this, where a simple video camera hook-up would have done the same job equally as effectively and for a fraction of the cost. However, since the final act of the episode can’t work with a video camera (not that it’s any more logical as is), we get this minor wallbanger.

Anyway.  The Bluestone-controlled R.E.C.A.P. soon runs into Coldstone. Matt activates the robot’s defenses, including tear gas and a tazer, but they do little more than annoy and further confuse the cyborg. Angered, Coldstone shoots the technocrap out of R.E.C.A.P., causing it to crash through a wall and into the streets below. He then exits the building and takes to the skies, where he is noticed and recognized by Lexington and Goliath. They decide to give chase, and eventually catch up to him when he stops atop a rooftop. They ask the frankengoyle what it is doing, and he answers that he doesn’t know what he’s doing—he’s lost. Nevertheless, Goliath, deciding to trust Coldstone, offers him the opportunity to rejoin the clan, an offer the gargoyle accepts gratefully. Lexington, on the other hand, isn’t to wild about the idea—as the three gargoyles make their way towards the Clocktower, he asks Goliath if it’s wise to bring someone who hasn’t always been their friend into their clan. Goliath replies that trust is an essential part of the clan’s existence.

Later, during a warm reunion with the clan (particularly Hudson), Coldstone suddenly becomes paralyzed. When he regains control, we see that his demeanor has changed considerably—he is more timid, more fearful. He also does not remember arriving at the tower or the events of “Reawakening”, and is confused when Goliath insists on calling him “brother” until he sees his reflection on the TV screen. Terrified by his reflection (and remember, we know that he saw it back in “Reawakening”), he runs out of the clock tower and flies away. Goliath and Hudson glide away after him, leaving behind a very confused trio. Lexington, however, thinks he may know whats up, although he’ll need some special materials to make sure.

Outside, Coldstone has taken the chase to Ellis Island when he loses power and crashes, allowing Goliath and Hudson time to catch up. When the rejoin their clanmate, we see that his demeanor has once again changed: this time, he looks evilly confident, smirk and all. Hudson feels that something is amiss, but Goliath is still intent in following through with his offer, stating once again that he trusts his brother.

Coldstone responds to this show of good faith by activating his hand canon and shooting Goliath. Oops. Fortunately for Goliath, the cyborg used his concussion canon instead of his laser (not that there’s any difference if you look at the animation) which means the gargoyle merely becomes dazed instead of fricasseed. After Coldstone makes clear that his attack was completely intentional, a fight begins in earnest.

The scene changes as we look back in on the Golden Cup building, where the policemen extras are still helping out the victims out of the premises, Elisa is listening as Matt tells how the monster he saw “was just like the one [they] saw in Times Square last winter.” Elisa gets a call from Lexington through her earpiece, and she makes up an excuse to get Matt out of the scene.

Elisa and the gargoyles fill each other in: Lex confirms that the monster was Coldstone, and Elisa tells them that he’d been trying to steal government weapon specs from the building’s computers, and in the process, downloaded into himself a “virus” that had been programmed into the system as a defense mechanism, designed to erase all unfamiliar programming. Lexington, now putting all the pieces together, asks Elisa for a favor.

Back at Ellis Island, Hudson and Goliath have Coldstone on the rope when he freezes and shifts personality yet again, this time reverting to the persona that Goliath had initially encountered and taken to the tower. He tries to explain what he’s been going through, when his personality begins shifting again and again in rapid succession. We look into Coldstone’s biological eye, and see Desdemona and Iago talking to Coldstone, telling him what to do. Distraught by the voices in his head, Coldstone begs for help, then goes out of control, firing lasers randomly into the air.

Nearby, the trio searches for Coldstone when they notice the commotion in Ellis Island. We see that Lexington carries R.E.C.A.P.’s visor array. They arrive at the battlefield and knock Coldstone out, allowing Lexington to hook the VR visor to the cyborg.

Back at Golden Cup, Matt notices that R.E.C.A.P.’s visor is missing. While Elisa tries to convince him that there’s an innocent explanation for the disappearance, the conspiracy buff isn’t convinced. Fortunately for him, R.E.C.A.P. has a homing device he can track, and he’s determined to do so, fully expecting to find the missing creature.

Ellis Island, where Lexington reluctantly hooks Goliath up to R.E.C.A.P.. Once it’s activated, Goliath finds himself inside a virtual world representing Coldstone’s programming, and we get to minor wallbanger #2.

Okay, so from what we’ve seen before, R.E.C.A.P. works no differently than a video camera with a silly visor: the camera takes in the visuals, recreates what it takes in as a 3-dimensional visuals, which allows the user to control the mobile probe using the remote—a throughly uninteractive system. Here, however, we see it working in a manner akin to the Cybermat portal in TMNT: Back to the Sewer, allowing Goliath to actually enter a computer program and mentally, and directly, interact with it, which should be nowhere within the capabilities of the program as established. Basically, the writers are saying: “virtual reality” (which they never care to define) can do whatever we want it to do, which is plain Bad Writing—technology as magic.

Anyway, we are now inside Coldstone’s memory or whatever, which is represented by a barren (in an artificial way) landscape (“floor” would be more accurate), with Castle Wyvern in the distance. Suddently, the “floor” collapses, revealing a void, and from it, a mass of tentacles indiscriminately eating away at the environment. Suddenly, a bridge appears over the void, leading to Pseudo-Wyvern, where Goliath notices, in the parapets, the stone forms of Othello, Desdemona, and Iago—and then, appearing in flash of lightning, Xanatos.

It’s not actually Xanatos, though, only a program designed by him to take over Coldstone. He explains that it would have worked, too, if it hadn’t been for the virus—the tentacles—which is eating away at all their programming.

Xanatos disappears, and Goliath watches as his three stone clanmates awaken. Desdemona, upon seeing Goliath, flies towards him and explains the situation: when Coldstone was created, he was cobbled together from pieces from three different gargoyles, which had the side effect of trapping all three of their souls inside the same shell. Meanwhile, as she explains this, Othello, who has been left behind atop the parapets with Iago, listens as Iago and the Xanatos program attempt to convince him that Desdemona has betrayed him for Goliath. Othello, apparently never one to require much convincing, believes them and attacks Goliath, making our protagonist lose his footing and begin falling to the void. While Goliath manages to embed himself in the castle walls, the virus tentacles grab him and begin pulling him in.

Back in the real world, the Gargoyles notice that, whatever is happening inside Coldstone, it’s affecting Goliath physically. They can’t worry too much about that, though: Elisa calls Lexington and tells him that she’s on his way to their location with Bluestone, who is tracking the and has brought in a S.W.A.T. team to retrieve the stolen VR equipment. Fearing this new danger, Lexington attempts to manually unhook Goliath from R.E.C.A.P. but gets a nasty electric shock for his efforts. With escape an impossibility, the gargoyles decide that they need to buy time until Goliath can return to them.

Inside Coldstone, Goliath fights the tentacles in an attempt to get to safety, but is pushed back down by Othello. Desdemona flies in to save her leader, and as she attempts to keep him from being pulled into the void, she is joined by Othello, who gloats that she knows of her transgressions. Desdemona denies these, saying that she loves him and that he has once again been conned by Iago, as he was a thousand years ago. Othello replies that he does not remember this, since his mind is cloudy: there is no reason for him to trust that she’s telling the truth. If that is the case, she says, then he needs to trust himself.

This does it. As Goliath is about to be pulled into certain doom, he grabs hold of him and pulls him to safety. However, the danger has not passed: Iago has merged his programming with Xanatos, forming a giant amalgam of the two villains, which grabs Desdemona and demands that she merge her programming with his, which is basically the unsexiest come-on ever.

Real world, as a squadron of police boats and helicopters make their way to Ellis island, they are stealthily impeded by the remaining gargoyles.

Inside Coldstone. Iago tells Desdemona that she is destined to spend eternity with him. Desdemona replies that she prefers the clingy, jealous, and potentially abusive gargoyle over the manipulative shit-stirrer, thank you very much, and bites Iago, setting herself free.

Iago attempts to fight his three gargoyle enemies, swatting at them, but all he manages to do is get distracted enough to allow the virus tentacles grab hold of him and pull him into the void.

Now free of their enemies, Othello and Desdemona implore Goliath to return to his body, lest he be consumed by the virus. As for them, they’ll try to stop the virus: if they fail, so be it: at least they’ll be together forever.

Goliath returns to the real world, just as the rest of the ‘goyles announce that they can no longer keep the N.Y.P.D. distracted—lucky! Leaving the visor behind but taking the still unconscious Coldstone with them, the Gargoyles leave the island just as the police arrive—Matt finds R.E.C.A.P. abandoned.

Castle Wyvern. Owen hands R.E.C.A.P.’s visor to Xanatos, explaining that, since it was they who supplied it to the police, it was simplicity itself to confiscate it after the Coldstone debacle. He also says that “Coldstone provided the perfect cover for your robot probe,” and I officially have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. In any case, while R.E.C.A.P. wasn’t able to get the defense specs that were their original target, it did manage to download the virus when it tazered Coldstone (WHAT). Xanatos called the virus “The deadliest weapon I know of”, since it even managed to defeat “the mighty” Coldstone, which goes to show, again, that Xanatos is far too impressed with the gargoyles.

Okay, so I get that Xanatos is prone to dream up complex plans, but this is far too convoluted for the show’s own good. We know from Xanatos’ program that he wasn’t expecting the virus, which means the original plan was to download the specs via Coldstone. And how in the how did he have any sort of reasonable expectation that R.E.C.A.P. would be tested during the Coldstone sting, given that, again, it was the sort of thing that R.E.C.A.P. isn’t really suited for. And again, if the entire plot was to use R.E.C.A.P. as a back-up plan, why in he heck did it need to be virtual-reality based at all?

While I’m on the subject, I find it darn convenient that the government’s “virus” didn’t spread past Coldstone, particularly given that a computer virus, by definition, is programmed to replicate and spread where it can. Given what it was designed to do, I don’t see why R.E.C.A.P.’s programming wouldn’t be wiped out as well, particularly given that again, Xanatos wasn’t prepared for it.  All in all, Xanatos’ victory feels misplaced here, and alongside with Matt pursuing the gargoyles yet again, helps make the episode feel repetitive.

At the Clock tower, Goliath tells the Coldstone husk that he believes that both Othello and Desdemona will eventually find a way to return to the land of the living. Once that happens, they will both be welcome and trusted.


5 Responses to Magic Tech: “Legion”

  1. Supermorff says:

    Nice post, as always, although I don’t like the new format with both sections combined together. Usually I just skip over the summary (since I already know what happened in the episode) and go to your thoughts, which is the interesting bit. Can’t do that here.

  2. Ian Perez Zayas says:

    Noted. The change came about because I didn’t have much to say about the episode, couldn’t think of a way to really organize me thoughts coherently. Also, I thought that this would at least spruce up the recaps so they wouldn’t be more dry. In any case, if this is the case, then I’ll consider switching back, or at least switch between the two styles as practicality allows.

  3. Blaise says:

    I’ve never commented on your reviews before, but I’ve always enjoyed reading them (it’s always refreshing to see another perspective). This is a very well thought-out and insightful review (even pointed out a few things I had never thought of before, like a camera mount being cheaper).
    The “Not-so-virtual” reality in Coldstone’s mind always struck me as a side effect of the sorcery inherent in Coldstone’s construction. This would also explain why Goliath and Coldstone are surrounded by “auras” and Lex couldn’t unplug Goliath. In other words, yes it is *literally* magic-tech.
    As for the convoluted nature of Xanatos’s plan…now that you mention it, it is kind of venturing into “Roulette” territory. Maybe Xanatos wasn’t expecting THE virus, but installed safeguards for A virus (and the damage to RECAP stopped the process before the virus could destroy itself). As for the coincidence of RECAP being called in against Coldstone…maybe Xanatos used his influence to insure it. These are all just rationalizations, mind.
    But at any rate, I liked the review.

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