Fighting Fate: “Vows”

Written by: Shari Goodhartz
Original Air Date: September 14, 1995
Introduces: Princess Elena; Petros Xanatos; Judge Ian Roebling;  Norman Ambassador; the Phoenix Gate
Timeline placement: November 1, 975; October 1, 994; November 5 – November 6, 1995

The Beats:

  • Xanatos invites Goliath to be the best man at his wedding. He stresses that Demona will also be in attendance.
  • Goliath decides to go to the wedding, and brings half the Phoenix Gate with him.  We find out that the other half belongs to Demona, and that she had split it between them as an improvised symbol for their commitment to one another.
  • Xanatos and Fox marry in a small, intimate ceremony involving only the judge, Goliath (best man), Demona (maid of honor), Owen and Petros Xanatos (witnesses) present.
  • Petros Xanatos, by the by, is David’s father, who does not approve of his son’s lifestyle.  Before the ceremony, they shoot the breeze over the source of Xanatos’ fortune, which, it turns out, grew out  from an initial investment of an ancient coin David had received over the mail from an unknown patron decades ago.
  • After the ceremony, catches up to Demona at a secluded part of the castle and attempts to rekindle their romance.  He shows Demona his half of the Phoenix Gate.  Demona, as it turns out, has her own half with her.
  • Demona brings together the two halves of the Gate, and, after expositing that Goliath has fallen right into “their”–her and Xanatos’–trap, she chants an incantation and an orb of fire engulfs her and Goliath.  Xanatos, Fox, and Petros dash towards the sphere; once it dissipates, the five are gone.
  • The Phoenix Gate, it turns out, is a time machine.  The five characters end up in Scotland, in the year 975 A.D.
  • The gargoyles and the humans separate: Goliath chases Demona until she disappears using the gate, leaving the Xanatos family behind.
  • David, Petros, and Fox save a couple of travelers from a band of brigands. The male traveler is a ambassador from Normandy, while the woman is Princess Elena (Princess Katharine’s future mother).  The ambassador is a member of the Illuminati society, and acknowledges David as a fellow member when he sees that the billionaire wears an Illuminati pin.  The ambassador also offers to let the three time travelers accompany the party to Castle Wyvern, their destination.
  • Goliath arrives on castle Wyvern and spies both his and NotYetDemona’s younger selves in the distance.  He himself is approached by NotYetHudson, who notices that there’s two Goliaths.  Goliath explains himself, and although skeptical, NotYetHudson chooses to believe him.
  • David and his family are introduced to Prince Malcolm.  The prince thanks David and gifts him a handful of coins as the first part of his reward for saving his bride-to-be Elena.  Among those witnessing the scene is The Archmage.
  • Elena carries the Phoenix Gate with her: it is meant to be a wedding gift for Malcolm.  We’ll call it P.G. 2.
  • Later, in his chamber, the Archmage fumes to his apprentice–NotYetDemona–about his brigands’ failure in obtaining the P.G. 2.  He orders her underling to retrieve it.
  • David gives the Norman Ambassador an envelope sealed with the Illuminati emblem.  He explains to Petros that it contains two letters: one including the coins that Xanatos used to jumpstart his fortune, and another, to be received later, with instructions on how to engineer the events of the episode.
  • NotYetDemona steals the P.G. 2.  She is approached by Demona who uses her own Gate to transport them foward in time to 994 A.D., the night after the Wyvern Massacre.  Goliath (present day Goliath–975 Goliath is distracted by NotYetHudson) follows.
  • In 994, both Goliath and Demona advise NotYetDemona on what to do with the information she has obtained about her future.  Demona entreats her younger self to prevent the massacre by keeping the Gate and using it to take over the world.  Goliath advises her that saving the future will depend on her ability to “attend to the petty jealousies and angers that prey upon your heart”, and to fulfill the vows that she makes.
  • NotYetDemona rejects her older self, and she and Goliath manage to knock Demona out and retrieve Gate 01.  NotYetDemona vows to heed Goliath’s advice and uses her gate to return all three gargoyles to 975.
  • Goliath retrieves David, Fox, and Petros and returns to the present.  The archmage, upon seeing the sphere of fire, believes that NotYetDemona has lost the gate, and chastises her for her “failure”.
  • Back in the present, Demona lets Goliath know that she’d always remembered his speech, and that it did nothing to stop her from fulfilling her role in the massacre. Faced with the realization that NotYetDemona didn’t seem to heed her future self’s words either, Goliath concludes that history is immutable.

Continuity Notes:

  • Xanatos proposed to Fox last episode.
  • While the Illuminati has been hinted at in previous episodes, this one confirms its existence.
  • The Archmage–whom we first met in “Long Way Until Morning”, although this comes before that chronologically–mentions that with the Phoenix Gate and the Grimorum Arcanorum (currently in his possession), he will only need the Eye of Odin in order to “secure the ultimate magical power”.  We will eventually see what happens when he reunites all three.
  • On that note, it is not a coincidence that this episode reminds us that Goliath is the current owner of both the Grimorum and the Eye in 1995.  Once the episode is done, he has the P.G. as well.
  • The mechanics of time travel in the Gargoyles-verse will become key plot points in the episodes “M.I.A.” and “Future Tense”.

—-

This was the first episode of Gargoyles I ever saw in its entirety (I believe the first I saw in its non entirety was a minute of “Awakening, Part 4”).  It is not a particularly good episode to start with, especially if you don’t like confusion, but in retrospect, I think a more accessible episode wouldn’t have caught my attention as much as this one did.  I think I’ve been on the record as a fan of starting stories in the middle (whether they’re written that way or not)–having to figure out just what the fuck is going on adds an extra layer of fun to the proceedings, and makes the whole product more rewatchable.

“Vows” serves as the series’ first big push in humanizing Demona, and serves as a sort of thematic preview to her role in the “City of Stone” arc. Here, we get hints as to what she might have been thinking when she betrayed the clan, since now we know that she knew what failure meant.  Whether this makes her actions more or less justified, I leave as an exercise for the individual.

While this episode is ostensibly about vows (see title) a more consistent theme seems to be fate and what people do about it, a topic that gains particular importance as the characters and viewers learn that the past (or future) is time-travel-proof: once history happens (or once it is determined that it will happen), nothing you do will change it.  This, of course, has some interesting consequences when it comes to matters of free will: does it exist?

Now, for people dealing with time as a linear entity–by which I mean those who don’t do time travel and don’t know that time travel is possible or how it works–the whole matter is moot.  Even if free will doesn’t really exist, what they possess is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from it.  With someone like Demona, on the other hand, the matter is much less clear-cut, to the point in which it can be questioned whether free will is possible.

Say, for example, that NotYetDemona, in an attempt to escape her destiny after the events of this episode, attempts to commit suicide.  According to The Rules, she can never succeed–nothing she could ever do would stop that event from happening.  Her will is secondary to history, which raises the question: just how culpable is she, then?  After all, there is literally nothing she could have done to stop it.

Petros Xanatos?  Is a douche.  Assuming for a moment that David didn’t insist on his presence because of the letter (it could go either way, I feel), then I have no idea why Daddy didn’t just say “eff it” and then not go to the wedding, if he couldn’t even pretend to be happy for his son.  It seems to me that he was just there in order to snipe at David for not being just like wanted him to be–I mean, could you not see him acting the same way if his son had decided to become a movie star, a hippie, gone to college, or done anything but become a fisherman in Maine?  He’s not the worst person in the Gargoyles-verse, but to me, he’s by far the most unpleasant, and the fact that David apparently took the earliest opportunity to get away, and managed to grow up with healthy self esteem despite his father’s toxic influence makes me happy for the bastard.

And the thing is, I’m not sure if this was how Weisman and co. intended the character to come across as.  The feel I get from Greg’s comments on the episode make me feel as if he sees the character as one with deep personal integrity, but I don’t see how that’s supported by the text.  It’d work if he’d rallied against Xanatos’ crimes or jail sentence, but that’s not really what he’s talking about: in specifically complaining about Xanatos’ ability to invest wisely–which requires a not insignificant amount of skill–and to make and maintain a fortune–he’s basically arguing that being rich or conspicuous consumption are inherently immoral, which…nope. That’s not being principled: that’s being judgmental and prejudiced. Saying that the son who just invited his estranged father to his wedding (and we’re given no indication that David isn’t doing it in good faith) only cares about money isn’t speaking truth to power: it’s being dishonest.

Now, Petros being a different sort of bastard from his son could have been an interesting storyline–after all, one of the major themes in Gargoyles is the whole “shades of gray” thing.  But it would have required, I think, more self-consciousness in the episode’s plot.  Fox, in particular, feels like just the kind of person to comment on something like this–especially given her relationship with her own father–but that never really happens, and it keeps the episode from being all that it could have been.

Random Thoughts:

  • Like his proposal, Xanatos’ wedding seems engineered to be as awkward as possible. While this is less inexplicable than the former–potential instructions from the letter, and Xanatos’ general preference to keeping the gargoyles a secret, would likely keep a more traditional wedding from really being a possibility–it still seems somewhat counter to who Xanatos is.  While I can  buy him holding some contempt for traditional romance tropes.
  • The original version of this episode features a rather prominent animation mistake: the final scene is shot in the Clock Tower, when it’s meant to be a flashback to 975.  This was eventually corrected for TV, but only the earlier, incorrect version made it to the DVD.  It brings to mind “The King”‘s two different endings, although that obviously came later.
  • Given that it’s not until then that we really see the events surrounding the massacre  from her point of view, I wonder if the revelation that she already had some idea of how it could have ended would have been more powerful had it been reserved until after that arc.  Granted, there are logistical reasons why this couldn’t be the case, but I wonder if she wouldn’t have been more sympathetic if I hadn’t known that she knew how it would turn out.  As it is, this episode doesn’t appear to have any bearing on the next, although maybe that’s just me being dense.
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6 Responses to Fighting Fate: “Vows”

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