Revenge!: “City of Stone” Part Four
1 November 2012 10 Comments
“You fool! Macbeth did not betray you, Canmore did! He destroyed your clan! You are the last of your treacherous kind.” — Gruoch
Written by: Michael C. Reaves (Story); Brynne Chandler Reaves & Lydia C. Marano (Teleplay)
Original Air Date: September 21, 1995
Timeline placement: 1057; August 15, 1057; November 12, 1995
TMNT episode I could make a forced comparison to: “Tale of Master Yoshi”, “Secret Origins”, “City at War”
(Content Note: Revenge, crime and punishment, miscarriages of justice, vigilantism)
- Macbeth and Demona are embroiled in a new conflict, this time against a new Hunter backed by British allies and their forces. While the Hunter has the advantage when it comes to resources, Demona’s gargoyles have been enough to prevent him from building up momentum.
- Bodhe and Luach meet with Macbeth to hash out strategy. Bodhe notes that much of the Hunter’s support stems from anti-gargoyles sentiment in Britain, and that if Macbeth were to sever his alliance with Demona, they’d be likely to sever theirs. Luach is immediately against this idea, but Macbeth does not dismiss it–not a good thing, in retrospect, since Demona has been spying on the council.
- Demona and her gargoyles desert Macbeth just as Castle Moray is attacked by The Hunter. Without their defensive linchpin, and with Luach’s reinforcements too far away to do much good, Macbeth and Gruoch are forced to flee.
- As they make their escape, Lord and Lady Macbeth are found by The Hunter, who reveals himself to be Canmore, Duncan’s son; and Demona, who reveals that she decided to betray Macbeth before Macbeth could do the same. As the King of Scotland protests, he is impaled by Canmore, causing both he and Demona to keel over. Canmore then remarks about the sorcery binding King and gargoyle together and about the final fate of Demona’s clan before leaving the scene.
- Luach and Bohde arrive to find Macbeth’s body. Bodhe crowns his grandson.
- As Gruoch, alone, mourns her fallen husband, she is approached by three crones who address Demona, who is now regaining consciousness. Grouch gives Demona a hefty tongue-lashing, gleefully mentioning how she is now “the last of her kind”.
- Macbeth regains consciousness, apparently fully healed, as the crones explain how the spell actually works: both Macbeth and Demona will feel each others pain, and neither will die unless one kills the other, which will cause both of them to die.
- Macbeth has no time to enjoy his new lease on life, as Grouch notes with him believed dead and his son already made king, returning to public life would only make things harder for them all. Husband and wife decide that he will remain dead, while she will return to their son. They kiss for the final time.
- With Bronx preventing her from introducing Elisa to her mace, Demona decides to fiddle with Xanatos’ computer instead, reprogramming the Steel Clan’s fuel packs to detonate prematurely. She’s not the only intruder, however: the modern-day Hunter has followed her into the building in order to finish what she’s started. Demona isn’t worried, however, since she knows who the Hunter is–Macbeth–and knows that he can’t kill her without dying himself. What she doesn’t know is that Macbeth doesn’t give a damn.
- After talking with Xanatos and realizing that Bronx’s mutilation of an ancient tapestry last episode was significant, the two frenemies return to the Eyrie Building, where they find M and D mid-fight. There, Goliath saves Elisa and Owen, while Xanatos attempts to regain access to the computer and finds out that only Demona can.
- Thanks to Macbeth’s high-powered weaponry, both he and Demona fall into the building’s inner garden. Demona loses consciousness on impact, which gives him a chance to take her and attempt to impale her on a rebar. Before he can take his revenge, he is stopped by Goliath and the Weird Sisters, who implore him not to go through with it, arguing that killing and revenge solve nothing and instead bring about more misery. A tired Macbeth acquiesces and allows himself to be taken under the Weird Sisters’ thrall.
- Using some sort of mind mojo, the Weird Sisters awaken Demona and convince her that she has been more or less directly responsible for all of her misery. Broken, she reveals the code which will allow the heroes–and Xanatos–to regain control of the computer. The access code is “alone”.
- The Weird Sisters disappear with Demona and Macbeth, leaving Goliath and Xanatos to save the day. Access code in hand, they restore the time to its original setting.
- With the spell broken, the gargoyles and Xanatos head their separate ways, but not before admitting that they sorta kinda work well together.
- This episode continues directly from “City of Stone” Part Three.
- The Steel Clan was last seen in “Reawakening“, where it had been destroyed, as is their wont.
Like I said last time, “City of Stone”, despite its premise, is not the sort of arc that heralds large changes to the world at large. This does not mean that it without consequence, however; while New York would let its two missing nights without remark, the characters we’ve grown used to following all leave their stories subtly changed by it. Demona and Xanatos’ alliance is broken beyond repair, and the two will never again work together. Xanatos and Goliath’s, relationship, on the other hand, evolves into one of grudging respect. Macbeth abandons his vendetta against Demona for the short term (although he’ll briefly attempt to kill Demona in “Sanctuary”) and leaves his fate in the hands of the Weird Sisters. Only Demona isn’t changed by the experience–of course.
As Phoebe, Luna, and Selene helpfully remark throughout the four-parter, this story is about the cycle of violence and how it can become self-perpetuating if one lets it. It’s not the first time the topic has come up, nor will it be the last, as Goliath, in particular, finds the urge to just kill his opponents rather attractive.
That said, I’m not entirely sure, the series makes its case all that coherently, or if its even means to. Given what we eventually learn of the Weird Sisters, I feel that one can safely conclude that they don’t actually believe what they’re saying–or at the very least, they’re not saying it all out of a sense of concern for the people involved, but rather, because it’s a way of assuring that their investments make it through the night intact. Their actions during the flashback segments–where they give various players enough key information for them to act on their revenge-y feelings–belie their words in the present.
That said, let’s take each of their statements individually.
Seline: The cause is everything until one’s own life is threatened. Still, it’s good that you saved her.
Phoebe: If you forget what she’s forgotten, that every life is precious,then you’ll be no different from her.
I wonder: is Phoebe arguing simply that every life is precious, or that every life is equally precious? Because the first belief, in my view, isn’t necessarily incompatible with the idea that there are times when lives should be ended to spare others. As to the second interpretation, it carries the whiff of a suggestion that a criminal offenders be given the same standing as their victim, which I don’t especially agree with, as it would declare acts like killing in self-defense to be immoral because the life that has been taken is just as precious as the life the initial attacker would have taken.
On a similar note, an argument made in some circles regarding the DC Universe is that, at some point, super-heroes and law enforcement agents at large share varying levels of responsibility for the atrocities committed by the villains. In a universe in which the legal system has proven time and time again that it can not prevent the Joker from continuously escaping prison and killing scores of people every time he does so, then refusing to go outside the system to do so–usually out of respect for the sanctity of his life–becomes morally indefensible or even monstrous. Under “every life is equally precious”, however, whomever killed him would be considered no different from a person who has killed thousands and terrorized millions, and frankly, I don’t think that makes sense at all.
As we’ve seen throughout this arc, Demona does not respect life: she has decided that humanity as a whole is guilty for the crimes committed, and will kill all of it regardless of personal culpability. As a gargoyle and an immortal, there is no system set in place to deal with her and make her pay for her crimes. Why would killing her be bad, in the abstract?
Yes, [Demona] must be stopped. But remember your own words Goliath: every life is precious. Take care not to become what you fight against. Vengeance begets nothing but a vicious cycle of further vengeance.
This is where the argument stops being coherent. Why are “all life is precious” and “revenge” being conflated? Granted, they’re not completely unrelated, but the concepts are far from being interchangeable. There are lots of types of revenge that don’t involve killing–living well, revenge fucking… Are they all equally immoral?
As for vengeance begetting nothing but a more vengeance, it’s a conclusion that I feel is not supported by the evidence as seen in the flashback. Vengeance may have turned Canmore into an enemy (although one can easily argue that Macbeth wouldn’t have lost his kingdom if he’d slain Duncan’s son way back when he’d first taken Scotland), but it also allowed Demona and Macbeth to become allies, saving both their lives.
Goliath: No! Killing her won’t solve anything. Death never does.
Weird Sister: He’s right, Macbeth.
Goliath doesn’t know it yet, but in a few months, he will take the Eye of Odin away from the Archmage, which will result in the sorcerer’s death. Given the power differential between the characters, such a course of action would have likely been the only way the Archmage would have been stopped.
Granted, it’s rather clear that, unlike here, that was a case of killing in self defense. However, Goliath isn’t making that distinction. He treats death as an absolute. I’m sure he’ll feel really silly about these comments then.
Luna: Duncan was afraid that your father would make you king. Did your father’s death stop you from becoming king?
Yes, actually: after Findlaech’s death, there was no chance that Macbeth could become king by succession. Macbeth eventually became king anyway after winning a civil war–which came about partly due to the Sisters’ involvement–but that’s not quite the same thing. This is, if anything, an argument for fatalism.
Selene: You wanted revenge for your father. Did Gilcomgaine’s death settle that score?
I’m unsure whether Selene is referring to an emotional settling or a material satisfaction, and in either care, I think the evidence leans towards “yes”. Emotionally, there is no evidence to suggest that Macbeth did not derive satisfaction from playing a part in the death of his father’s murderer. Materially speaking, claiming that Gilcomgain’s death furthered the cycle of revenge requires an incredibly liberal interpretation of the facts. Duncan did not hold any animus against Macbeth for his role in his agent’s demise–in fact, just the opposite. It wasn’t until the weird sisters themselves intervened that Duncan turned against Macbeth.
Phoebe: Did your own death save your son Luach from Canmore?
This is relevant…how?
Goliath: Death is never the answer. Life is.
Goliath has a tendency to think in absolutes, and this is one of the better examples, and one that comes pre-stocked with a nice array of unfortunate implications. Does Goliath’s belief that death is not the answer mean that he is against suicide? Against abortion? Against voluntary euthanasia? Because I know that I were ever to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s–and given my family history, that’s quite possible–you can bet that I’ll be wishing for death right quick, and will kick the ass of anyone who tells me that living as time strips away everything I am is preferable to dying.
Selene: But who betrayed your clan?
Demona, the Captain, and Hakon. No argument there.
Luna: And who caused this pain?
I’ll leave that question to the philosophers.
Selene: Who betrayed the castle to the vikings?
Again, no argument here.
Phoebe: Who created The Hunter?
Objection! This is like arguing that Batman is responsible for all the costumed criminals that overtake Gotham after his debut. The Hunter was conceived by Constantine, whom Demona had never met; after he dies, Gilcomgain takes on the visage and gives it a name. Sure, it’s true that Constantine was inspired by the scars Demona left Gilcomgain, but so what? This does not make Demona responsible for everything Gilcomgain does afterwards, nor does it absolve him of responsibility for his decisions.
Weird Sister: Who betrayed Macbeth to Canmore?
Demona, who has nobody else to blame but herself here.
Goliath: Your thirst for vengeance has only created more sorrow.
As I’ve said before, this is patently untrue, as Gruoch and Macbeth would testify, given that said thirst is what allowed them to live happily for several decades instead of dying at the hands of Gilcomgain. Goliath is speaking out of his ass here.
So in the end, I think it’s clear that the Weird Sisters are not saying anything they actually believe. This is fine: like I said, they’re working towards a particular end game that requires keeping both Macbeth and Demona alive, so laying a philosophical groundwork that prevents them from killing one another makes perfect sense. What makes less sense is that the show itself–using Goliath as an authorial proxy–appears to agree with them. And while something like that would be more or less acceptable on a less smart show, it feels considerably less so on a work that prides itself on the moral complexities of its characters.
Now, I can see perfectly well why Goliath would adopt a “no killing” stance for his clan. As someone who even while outside the law still works on its behalf, it makes sense to adopt limits similar to those governing actual law enforcement officers. If policemen in theory can only use the minimum necessary force to apprehend suspects, I have no problem with them drawing their own line in a similar place. In their particular context and time, it works.
However, just because a particular code makes sense when dealing with average criminals in the United States in the 20th century doesn’t mean it always makes sense. In a place like medieval Europe, where the law was often what an unelected ruler said it was, saying that death is never an answer, in effect, advocating that those in power should be allowed to do whatever they wish without consequence. Even if revenge via assassination isn’t an ideal alternative, the status quo is equally abhorrent. Goliath, to a degree, knows this. So why is he arguing for one size fits all morality?
In this particular case, I find it hard to object to Macbeth’s attempts to kill her. After all:
a) He is a wronged party.
b) The System as it exists cannot deal with her. Even the gargoyles are hard-pressed to do much more than letting her go whenever they stop her plans.
c) She is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
d) She remains a clear and present danger as long as she remains free.
Sure, allowing him to kill Demona so at this particular moment would have meant the deaths of the gargoyles still in the sky (avoidable, but for the fact that Xanatos’ neglected to outfit them with comm equipment), which is why it made sense for Goliath to stop him, but the scene isn’t played as one where Goliath is being pragmatic (otherwise, he could have just tackled Macbeth); it’s played as Goliath suddenly being really invested in Macbeth’s moral well-being, something he’s never really done before with people who aren’t his ex. Not only is he wrong when he says revenge wouldn’t solve anything–it’d certainly solve Macbeth’s particular problem rightquick–it feels as if the creators were saying “this is the way things are” without arguing why that should be the case. And it doesn’t help that it’s Goliath has an established pattern of finding revenge a rather attractive option, even if he never actually gets to the point of indulging in it. It would be one thing if he actually acknowledged this tendency; instead he’s simply all “revenge is bad, yo”, which makes him sound a tad hypocritical. Glass houses, stones, etc.
It won’t be the last time a character will be so conveniently concerned: in Bad Guys #4, Dingo will attempt to stop Yama from skewering the mutate Fang, who had just attempted to turn the people celebrating New Year’s in Time Square into mutates. While Dingo is in fact trying to become a good person (more specifically, he’s trying to refashion himself into a super-hero), it still feels rather out of character that he–who has been a mercenary and is much less idealistic than Goliath or the gargoyles– would think the same way they do, both regarding Revenge! and his certainty that Yama (who’s been raised under different cultural norms, and whom Dingo has hardly been chummy with in the two months since they’ve met, as far as we’ve seen) will be morally compromised by slaying someone whom he sees as evil; in the end, it feels like a false note.
To bring in the other show for a minute, I feel this particular sense of morality is one of the more substantive differences between the gargoyles and the TMNT, and one of the main reasons why I don’t believe they’d be natural allies, should they meet. While both groups would agree about the immorality of killing or seriously maiming street punks for kicks, the gargoyles would have never even attempted what the turtles pulled off in “Return to New York”–heck, there’s a better than normal chance that, if they actually shared the same universe, they would have tried to stop them, even though the turtles–who, like the gargoyles, are kept outside of the system–have no other recourse when it comes to redressing the Shredder’s transgressions.
So who’s right? I wouldn’t know. Killing people like the Shredder or Xanatos isn’t an act that’s likely to be free of consequence–and season 2 of TMNT deals quite a bit with the fallout of the turtles’ actions–and prevents the “dead” from having an opportunity to repent, but not doing anything means the bad guys get to do whatever they wish without consequence. It’s a thorny issue with no easy answers, which is why I find Gargoyles reductionism so disappointing.