Intent Isn’t Magic: “Outfoxed”

“Who said you’re not responsible?! It doesn’t matter you were tricked!–Halcyon Renard

Hey, it's Castle Wyvern!

Written by: Cary Bates
Original Air Date: September 26, 1995
Introduces: Halcyon Renard, Preston Vogel, Anastasia Renard (Mention)
Timeline placement: November 17 – November 18, 1995
TMNT episode I could make a forced comparison to: N/A

The beats:

  • One November night, Halcyon Renard, C.E.O. of Cyberbiotics, makes the final preparations for the maiden voyage of his airship, the Fortress II.  In order to prevent the tragedy that befell the Fortress I, and the perceived errors that led to it, the new ship is to be operated entirely by Cyberbiotics-built robots–Cybots.
  • After the Fortress II‘s launch, Goliath approaches the airship, intent in preventing its destruction.  He is overwhelmed by tiny CyBots and captured.
  • Inside the airships holding cells, Goliath, Renard, and Vogel (and eventually just Goliath and Renard) talk, discussing Goliath’s culpability for the attack on the original Fortress and his plans for the second one, and how it makes the gargoyle no different from all the humans he’s worked with.  Goliath initially chafes at the suggestion that he, who was tricked by Xanatos into doing as he did, is responsible for it, but eventually he comes to see his captor’s point of view and accepts it.
  • Vogel, who has been bribed by Fox to sabotage Renard, inserts a computer chip into one of the CyBots, which subverts is program and allow it to subsequently take over every robot in the ship.
  • Goliath and Renard are about to come to terms when the notice that the CyBots are behaving oddly.  Vogel informs them that the robots have taken control of the ship and set it on a collision course with the Cyberbiotics Tower.  The treacherous aide blames Goliath and advises Renard to join him in the ship’s escape pod.
  • Renard, who does not believe Goliath is responsible for the coup, makes a deal: he’ll let Goliath go free, and the gargoyle will help eliminate any obstacles preventing the tycoon from retaking control of the ship.
  • Goliath makes his way to the room housing the robots’ power source and destroys it, eliminating the immediate danger.
  • Renard reaches the bridge, only to remember that the system needs two people–himself and Vogel–to take manual control of the airship.  Fortunately, Vogel has had an attack of conscience, and arrives in time to allow them to steer the ship away from the building.
  • The danger past, Vogel confesses his role in the sabotage scheme.  Renard proclaims that his betrayal is yet another example of why people suck, but Goliath argues that his repentance is why they are better than machines.  Goliath leaves, having made a new friend.
  • Renard meets up with Fox.  It is revealed that a) the are father and daughter, b) Fox’s take-over scheme is done less because it might succeed, but more because it’s fun, and c) she’s pregnant.

Continuity Notes:

  • Cyberbiotics was first introduced in “Awakening” Part Three, as a company that allegedly attacked the Eyrie building and stole data from Xanatos.
  • Goliath and Demona destroyed Fortress I in “Awakening”, Part Five, as part of an operation where the various members of the Manhattan Clan attacked several Cyberbiotics facilities in order to retrieve allegedly stolen data.
  • Fox and Xanatos have been married since “Vows“.  They have been together since before the series started.
  • Renard initially posits that Goliath is a Gen-U-Tech creation.  Gen-U-Tech first appeared in “Metamorphosis“, and is the outfit that turned Derek Maza, Maggie from Ohio, and Fred Sykes into mutates on Xanatos’ behalf.
  • Renard notes that Xanatos poached  Owen Burnett and Anton Sevarious when he left Cyberbiotics.  We have seen them in his employ, in “Awakening, Part 2” and onwards, and in “Metamorphosis”, respectively.

If there’s one character which I feel Gargoyles mistreats, it’s Fox.  There’s no big thing I could point to, just a smattering of impressions–the way she never seems to be the focused on, even in episodes that are ostensibly about her.  The way she’s doesn’t seem to have a defined role–she’s been an actress/mercenary, a pilot, a would-be corporate raider, and a regional supervisor in the three years we’ve known her, with little explanation behind why she wears each hat.  The fact we never quite get told how she feels about becoming a wife and mother in the space of a year when she’d previously expected neither (or so I gather from her surprise at Xanatos’ marriage proposal), and the way those changes tie into her pseudo-redemption arc.  It’s a shame, because I think she’s one of the show’s most fascinating characters.

While Fox gets a share of the spotlight in “Outfoxed”, she is not the focus of the episode (although she does get to act independently of Xanatos for once).  That, instead, is on the idea that intention is not a mitigating defense when harm has been caused–or in other words, intent isn’t magic.  If somebody runs over you, they are still morally responsible for it, even it if was done unintentionally as they sped towards the hospital because their wife is in labor.

Put in those terms, this can seem rather obvious.  However, things are not always that easy: when the harm is emotional and or social, it is not uncommon to see people evade responsibility.

In his deconstruction of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode “Bridle Gossip”, noted Ponyonomist Froborr notes the various ways in which the story, which introduces a character hailing from that ‘verse’s version of Africa, is racist.

We thus get a character who is built to be generically “African”: named “zebra” in an East African language, wearing Southern African neck rings, and with a hut decorated in West African masks. This is a show that has taken pains to give pegasi, unicorns, and Earth ponies extremely distinct architecture (and, in later episodes, clothing both modern and traditional) that reflects their cultural origins–Classical Greco-Roman for the pegasi, fairy-tale Western European for the unicorns, and a blend of nineteenth-century Old West and medieval European thatch-roofed cottages for the Earth ponies. The one zebra, on the other hand, gets a blend of African elements separated by a greater distance, physically and culturally, than the distinct cultures used to make each of the three Equestrian tribes.

The only explanation for this is simple, old-fashioned, paternalistic imperialist Othering: everything from the entire continent of Africa goes into a pot labeled “African,” while more familiar European cultures are seen as distinct. To make matters worse, Zecora has an Ojibwe (as in the Native American tribe) dreamcatcher over her door, making clear that she’s not only the generic “African” but the generic “tribal” pony, too. The episode thus not only lumps all of Africa together, which is appalling enough, but all of humanity outside of a small circle of European-descended cultures. These Other cultures then get depicted as primitive and crude: Zecora’s cutie mark is more abstract and less colorful than the others on the show, her masks have chunky outlines suggesting rough-hewn handmade carvings compared to the polished, manufactured look of most pony decorations, and she cooks over an open flame rather than on a stove.

Froborr then lists out several possible reasons why the episode turned out this way, some more plausible than others.  No matter what the actual reason is, though, they don’t change the fact that the episode as a finished product is harmful and problematic, and would have been harmful and problematic whether it had been made in good faith or out of actual racist sentiment.

And so it goes.  Microagressive comments about a person’s body that have the effect of making that person  hate theirs cause harm, even if they happened to be made due to sincere (if often misguided) concern for that person’s health.  Homophobic comments harm, and no amount of concern about how they’re for that person’s own good because otherwise they’ll go to hell will change that.  And how people then go on to respond when things like this are pointed out says a lot about the person.  Some people–usually the ones who actually harm people out of well-meaning ignorance–are quick to acknowledge their mistake and seek to either correct it or make sure it will not happen again.  Other, like Goliath initially does here, seek absolution in their good intentions.  Still others will attempt to make apologies that aren’t, or will attempt to dismiss other people’s claims that harm or offense was caused; those people tend to be assholes.

(By the way, I’m talking about cases in which who did what isn’t in doubt.  When reasonable doubt exists, it then becomes unjust to expect someone to take responsibility for something they may not have done.)

Goliath mentions that the concept of intent is not magic is new to him.  It is not a new concept to the show, either: the entire basis of Broadway’s characters growth in the episode “Deadly Force” comes from his acknowledgment that he was responsible for Elisa’s brush with death, even when his motives were entirely innocent.  More subtly, in “Her Brother’s Keeper”, Elisa takes responsibility for attempting to police her brother’s life choices; as she admits in the end, she was wrong, even if she was right to be concerned about what Xanatos would do to Derek.

This belief that intentions aren’t an absolute defense is why I’ve never been able to join the camps that say characters like Demona or Magneto deserve absolution for what they’ve done (this includes actual creators for the latter).  Even if their intentions were entirely pure–and they aren’t–the fact that these sort of characters harm scores of people means that they’ve, well, harmed scores of people.  While redemption isn’t impossible, it can not come until they’ve come to terms with the harm they’ve caused.  Has Demona ever done this?  She almost did, once.  Since then, she has been all about avoiding that responsibility, of avoiding saying “I was wrong”.

Somehow, I don’t think a chat with Renard will be enough to help her.

Random Thoughts:

  • I mentioned in my last review that this set of episodes is when Gargoyles really starts playing with continuity and planting seeds that will actually give fruit, and this is one of the better examples.  In the space of less than a minute, we learn a whole lot about Xanatos and his circle, get reference to a whole lot of previously established stuff, and set the stage for “The Gathering”, thirty episodes down the line.  Better, yet, it’s all interesting stuff, the sort that makes me disappointed at never getting a flashback to the days where everyone worked at Cyberbiotics.
  • While “it’s a fucking airship” should be reason enough, in my book, try as might, I’ve never been quite convinced why either Fortress exists, from a business perspective.  Are they technological marvels?  Yes.  However unless they’re, say substantially more fuel efficient and/or faster than ships or airplanes, or its meant as a showcase of all of Cyberbiotics’ various patents,  I do not see what gap in the market it would exploit, to the point where the answer to the original’s destruction is to build a second one, with no plans to mass-produce.  Maybe Renard is just that big a Final Fantasy fan (and yes, I realize they didn’t originate there–my reference pools aren’t deep enough to provide me with a more appropriate/accurate answer).
  • On a tangential note, it’s rather odd how nothing, neither the characters nor the recaps ever mention about the other two Cyberbiotics installations that were attacked.  Granted, the Fortress I was by far the greater loss, but still.
  • I really like the robots in this episode.  It makes me wonder what Cyberbiotic’s capabilities are vis-a-vis Xanatos Enterprises, though: could they create something that could pass for human like the original Coyote?  On the other hand, could Xanatos create a Fortress-like ship?  Then why the heck hasn’t he?  😛
  • You know, even if everything else about this episode had sucked it would have still been one of my favorites, because it introduced Renard and Vogel, whom I think are just fab.  Vogel, because it’s a sign that the creators have become confident enough to play with the audience, and choose to do so in such an incredibly devilish way.  Renard, because he feels like something new and refreshing, even when he’s not.
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4 Responses to Intent Isn’t Magic: “Outfoxed”

  1. Pterobat says:

    I do buy into what we’re expected to buy into of Fox: that she is as cool as the writers want us to believe, and as worthy of Xanatos, and she of him. I think she takes multiple jobs because she can, and none of them are serious commitments–for example, I don’t think she’s Xanatos’s regular chopper pilot, but just does so on a whim.

    As for being a wife and mother, Fox obviously enjoys both things, and there seems to be little more to say about it. The only problem I had with the timeframe was Greg’s reveal that Fox was already pregnant by “Eye of the Beholder”, which, while not impossible, doesn’t seem to fit with the timeframe, and is more abrupt a transition than a couple would normally want, even if they are already rich enough to afford a child.

    Once you know Fox is Renard’s daughter, however, “Outfoxed” feels a lot less like it’s involves only her sporadic presence. Fox might not be onscreen for most of it, but the radical difference between her outlook and her father’s, and their apparent estrangement, tells us a lot about Fox as a person: how she can be both playful and ruthless, and won’t be held down by other’s morals, not even those of her father. Fox does it to rebel, but also because that’s who she is.

    This episode used to bore me back when I was very young, because Goliath was almost the only gargoyle in it. Later on, I can appreciate the principles it discusses, and the level of action. Halcyon’s name certainly fits him as someone who tries to achieve the highest ideal no matter what the situation, a rigidity that eventually pushed Titania away from him. “Intent isn’t magic” is a valid principle, and so is asking people to be responsible for their actions (cf: villain apologism), but Halcyon takes it to extremes and becomes a little bit unpleasant.

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