Trust, OR You’re An Asshole, Matt Bluestone: “Revelations”
24 January 2013 17 Comments
“You want me to prove my good faith? How will you prove yours? ” –Matt Bluestone
Written by: Cary Bates
Original Air Date: October 26, 1995
Introduces: Hotel Cabal, Mace Malone (actual appearance), Jack Dane
Timeline placement: November 21 – November 25, 1995
TMNT episode I could make a forced comparison to: N/A
(Content Note: Microagressions, Transgressions of Boundaries, Harassment, Misogyny, Workplace Oppression, Bullying, Online Harassment)
- Matt Bluestone and Martin Hacker meet. Despite his misgivings, the F.B.I. agent gives his former partner the information he’s requested on the current whereabouts of Mace Malone’s stepson.
- With his shift beginning, Matt searches for Elisa inside the 23rd district HQ. He finally finds her exiting the supply closet, where, according to her, she’d just replaced the mop she’d been using to clean up a spill in the women’s bathroom. Matt doesn’t believe her, and is shocked at the idea that his partner would lie to him.
- Matt meets up with Mace Malone’s stepson Jack Dane, who has been in the Witness Relocation Program and is now officially a retired banker. He asks him to identify Mace in an a old photo and where he can find his mother–Mace’s former wife. Jack tells Matt that his mother, Flora, was buried in Pine Lawn cemetery under the name Flora Dreedle.
- Elisa enters the gargoyles’ lair, only to find Matt there looking at the TV he’d helped her carry on the day they met. Elisa “explains” that it, and the various materials in the clock tower like the cooking utensils and fridge, are all hers, and that she’s basically turned the space into her own illicit home away from home. As they walk back down to the police HQ section of the building, Matt explains that he’d done some digging and found that a man leaves a flower at Flora Dreedle’s grave every Thursday, and that he intends to follow that lead.
- At Pine Lawn, Matt meets up with Mace and presents him with everything he believes he knows about the old gangster’s involvement in the Illuminati. Mace confirms (or doesn’t deny) Matt’s theories, and tells the detective that the society is impressed by his perseverance and is willing to let him if he passes a loyalty test. As a show of good faith, Mace gives Matt him some free information.
- Elisa and Matt are driving across the coastline when Matt insists on driving Elisa’s vehicle. After taking the wheel, Bluestone begins driving at an unsafe speed, and starts talking about the information he obtained from Mace, and how it pertains to Elisa. He threatens to drive the car onto the ocean unless Elisa tells him the truth about the gargoyles and her relationship to them.
- Elisa takes control of the car and stops it. She tells a now-calmer Matt that he’s basically right, and that she’ll explain.
- The next day, Matt meets up with Mace and reports that the Illuminati’s information was accurate. Mace gives Matt a key for a Hotel Cabal and informs Matt that the Illuminati wants him to bring a gargoyle to that location.
- Elisa takes Matt to the Clock Tower, where the former F.B.I. agent sees the gargoyles in their flesh form for the first time. Unsurprised by their new guest–they seem to have concluded that Matt being brought in on the secret was just a matter of time, not will–they explain their whole deal to him.
- After a private chat with Goliath, Matt explains to Elisa and the other gargoyles that he wants Goliath to help him infiltrate the hotel Mace uses as an headquarters, and obtain the proof he needs to take the Illuminati down. Although help is offered, Matt refuses it, saying that Elisa needs to trust him.
- Goliath takes Matt to the rooftop of the Hotel Cabal. After breaking in, both are taken by surprise when the stairs they are on turn into a slide, which separates them and takes them to different parts of the building.
- Mace lets Matt into his office, since Matt no longer has the key that would have allowed him to enter unaided; there, both men remotely watch Goliath via the Illuminati’s surveillance equipment.
- Meanwhile, the room that Goliath has been deposited in turns out to be a death trap. As the gargoyle tries to remain alive, he hears Mace’s voice through a P.A. system explaining what the game is–breaking him to the point where he can no longer protect whatever secrets he might be hiding–and generally trying to psych him out.
- As Goliath makes his way through the hotel, Mace is having a ball. Matt asks what would have happened if he’d fallen down Goliath’s shoot, and the old gangster explains that it’s lucky he didn’t, since the key he no longer has was the only thing that would have protected him from the death traps.
- Matt notices that Goliath has suddenly gone missing from the monitors. Mace double-checks, realizes that Goliath is making his way across the building with far too much ease, and concludes that he must have found Matt’s lost key.
- Mace arms himself and asks Matt to follow him; with Goliath set to escape, the Illuminatus has no choice but to kill the gargoyle, no matter the consequences.
- As Goliath makes his way up an empty elevator shaft, Mace prepares to shoot him from outside (there’s a one-way mirror inside the shaft, allowing people at the other side to peer into the chamber); before he can do so, however, Matt tackles him, causing both men to break through the glass and into the shaft. Goliath saves Matt; Mace saves himself by grabbing on to the elevator cables.
- As Mace realizes, it turns out that Matt and Goliath had been in cahoots all along; the two make their escape. Meanwhile, the gangster makes it back to solid ground, but not to safety; having lost his key in the shaft, he is now trapped in his own prison.
- Dawn. As they exit the clock tower, Matt asks why Elisa kept the gargoyles secret for so long. Elisa explains that she trusted Matt, but felt that keeping her friends to herself made her feel special. Matt says he understands; he thinks he feels the same way about his Illuminati hunt.
- As Matt heads home, he runs into Martin Hacker, who presents Matt with an Illuminati pin making the detective’s membership official despite his betrayal. The agent explains that he’d been in charge of keeping Matt from ever finding the Illuminati, and that the Jack Dane tip had been an unsuccessful part of that strategy. He leaves, promising that they’ll met again and leaving Matt rather pissed off.
- Matt’s and Elisa have been partners since interest in the Illuminati since “The Edge“, the episode that also revealed his interest in the Illuminati.
- Matt first heard of Mace Malone in “The Silver Falcon“. Matt’s former F.B.I. partner Martin Hacker was also introduced in that episode.
- The existence of the Illuminati was confirmed in “Vows“, where it was revealed that the society has existed for more than a millennium and that Xanatos is a member.
One of the reasons Gargoyles managed to struck the chord it did with me–and, I suspect, with others–was because of the sense that everything in it mattered. And this episode is an excellent example. In many series, an episode that doesn’t feature the stories’ established main antagonists or isn’t told in two or more parts is immediately derided as “filler; here, an episode that does just that–and focuses on a supporting character, to boot–turns out to be one of the most important in this era of the show, as it establish some solid foundations for a terrifying new antagonists, and gives the gargoyles a new confidante.
Too bad it had to be Matt fucking Bluestone.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of [insert computer-related term relating to quantity] recently on Dr. Chaplin, from the 2003-2009 Ninja Turtles cartoon, particularly on the way the character felt innocuous when I first saw the series, but has become less so the more I learn of problematic narratives. Matt is another character who has gone through that same process, with one notable difference: I still have some residual affection for Chaplin, while I have none for the detective.
It’s actually rather interesting: usually, character focus episodes are meant to make a character more sympathetic. This is the case even when the focus character is a bad guy doing bad things, since people have a tendency to overlook problematic behavior the closer one is to the person exhibiting it. This is the first time where I’ve felt it backfire, and rather spectacularly.
Frankly, I hate the guy.
Matt’s arc so far has been one of discovery: for whatever reasons, people have been keeping things from him, which has made him all the more resolute in finding out just what those things are. On the macro level, there’s the Illuminati, which secretly runs the world and attempts to subvert his every attempt to crack their eggshell of secrecy. On the personal level, there’s Elisa, who has a part of her life that she doesn’t want to reveal. The episode, in presenting them together, attempts to equate them, and does so in a way that suggests that Matt was equally entitled to know both secrets: indeed, when Matt discovers Elisa lying to protect her friends’ secret, and becomes incensed at the fact, the episode expects us to take his side. This is, as the cool kids say, Highly Problematic.
Yes, Elisa and Matt have been partners for almost a year, and have since become friends. Yes, they’ve learned to trust one another when it comes to some specific things. No, this does not mean that Elisa has lost her right to set boundaries, or that Matt can simply ignore them–if Elisa were a closeted lesbian, she would have the right to maintain her sexuality a secret, and Matt would be wrong for trying to out her. And yet, throughout the episode, this is precisely what Matt does, demanding a level of openness and trust that Elisa isn’t prepared to give, attempting to break through her boundaries, and then placing her life in danger when he doesn’t get what he wants. Worse still, nobody–whether writer or character–seems to find anything wrong with this. In fact, after the incident in the car, Goliath will, with apparent sincerity, tell Matt “you’ve proven yourself to be a loyal partner and a righteous policeman”. Car? What car?
This isn’t to say that Matt can’t feel betrayed or disappointed at the fact that their relationship is not what he wishes it were–he can. I does not mean that he can’t use Elisa’s reticence to determine that he’s not prepared to be Elisa’s friend on her terms–he’s entitled to his own thoughts and opinions. What he’s not entitled to is to decide that his wants and needs and feelings allow him to trample over Elisa’s.
Now, one can argue that the nature of this particular secret changes things–that the fact that human beings aren’t the only sentient being on Earth is the sort of thing that changes the way one sees the world, and therefore is the sort of secret one simply doesn’t keep from people, since it involves humanity as a whole. It’s a valid argument, but it’s not the way Matt is approaching the issue: after all, he’s not exactly chomping at the bit to reveal the gargoyles’ existence to the world; he’s perfectly happy with their existence being a secret, as long as its one he’s in on. So again, why doesn’t Elisa get to keep secrets from him?
One can also argue that Elisa’s didn’t need to lie, and that it she was within her rights to keep her friendship with the gargoyles private, then all she needed to do was assert that what she does is none of Matt’s business. If only it were that simple.
One of the more prevalent norms in spoken communication is that explicit rejections are something to be avoided at all costs (Content Note: Rape Culture). Expressing overt disapproval is considered impolite, and especially so when the one doing the disapproval is part of a traditionally oppressed group, which is when expressing said disapproval is often seen as an encroachment of the oppressors’ privilege (see: Fox News, entirety of content). Elisa, as a mixed race woman of color in a male-dominated field, is underprivileged in several interconnected ways; as such it’s very likely that she would have been taught how to be a “good girl“–to ignore the countless microagressions she undoubtedly faces each day, to be a “team player”, even when it means letting injustices stand and to not enforce her personal boundaries–all for the dubious benefit of not being considered The Bitch. Even without an internet as all-encompassing as the one that would eventually emerge, Elisa would almost certainly know the consequences of expressing the “wrong” sort of assertiveness: abuse, of the type Anita Sarkeesian, Melissa McEwan, and DC Women Kicking Ass‘ Sue (Content Note: Harassment, Stalking, Death Threats, Misogyny on all three links) constantly go through for the crime of asserting the radical notion that sexism exists, or more mundanely, the insults typically lobbed on women who have the absolute gall to assert that no, unsolicited sexual propositions by a total or near total strangers are not appreciated–and no, simply existing or dressing up in a particular manner do not constitute solicitation.
Elisa would almost certainly know these things (although she might not be able to put them into words or a coherent belief system) and would know that there are many times when a white lie is better than a truth with the potential to get her labelled as aggressive and the potential to make her work experience rather hellish. What’s more, she would almost certainly know that there are instances where even the unadorned truth wouldn’t have worked, and that setting clear boundaries oftentimes only has the effect of eliciting the reaction “Boundaries? What boundaries?” from those who would and often do transgress them. Given these circumstances, it’s not at all surprising that she chose lying over assertiveness.
This social training would also explain why Elisa’s immediate reaction following The Incident In The Car was not to press charges against the asshole who placed her life in danger, or even request to have him fired. No, despite having obtained proof that her workplace partner was a person who could, without warning, try to kill her and should not be trusted in any circumstance ever, her reaction is to immediately try to downplay that fact and say that yes, she should have been more open about a part of her life Matt has no right if Elisa chose not to grant it to him. Why? The show doesn’t give us an explanation, so I offer this one: she knew that success was not guaranteed, while being certain that such a gesture would make her work hell.
Let’s posit a scenario where Elisa does bring up charges. With no evidence to back her claims, Elisa has an extremely hard time building up her case. While she does that, she’ll be tarred with the label “not a team player”. Enough people will say that even if Matt did do what she claimed, he only meant it as a joke, and that Elisa should have just “manned up” and taken it, instead of making a good detective suffer. Jokes will be made at her expense, and her experience will be used as yet another example why Women Don’t Belong In The Force–they’re just so sensitive, dontcha know? Sure, they’ll be people who are sympathetic to Elisa’s point of view. Many of them, however, will remain silent, thinking that it’s best to hunker down until things blow over, and making waves will just cause them to become targets as well–which is, of course, what will happen to those who do speak up. Even María Chávez, who is a rare woman of color in a position of authority in the force, is reluctant to use it to help Elisa to the extent that she’d like, lest her authority be undermined by charges of bias. Even if Elisa eventually wins her case and gets Matt jailed or fired, she loses. Heck, even in the unlikely situation where Matt for some reason doesn’t question the charges, she loses, as many of these things would end up occurring anyway
Some people will likely find this scenario farfetched. Others will find it all too real, or even say that the reality is oftentimes worse (Content Note: Institutionalized Homophobia). This is the nature of what McEwan calls The Terrible Bargain That [Women, although really, it could be any oppressed group] Have Regretfully Struck (Content Note: Sexist Microagressions). Do nothing and end up feeling horrible as you’re attacked by someone who has no reason to stop, or do something, and end up feeling horrible as others now turn you into The Bitch. And thus the kyriarchy has another way to perpetuate itself.
Which brings me to the end of the episode, where Elisa tells Matt that the reason why she exercised her right to keep the gargoyles private was because she wanted to feel special. The truth, or a conciliatory lie told to keep a man with a history of placing her in danger and breaching boundaries placated?
Now, I’m 95% sure that the writers for the episode did not think of any of this when writing the episode (the last 5% is to allow for the fact that I can’t read minds). If it ever occurred to the creators that having Matt threaten to send Elisa over a cliff to her death very seriously undermined the case they were making for him as a good guy, or that having the man who could not trust that his partner would let him into her life when she was ready demand that that same woman to trust him with the life of her best friend is damn hypocritical, these ideas were left unstated or ignored. That said, that it probably didn’t occur to them doesn’t make them bad people; it makes them people whose blind spots helped them produce an episode with a horrifying message, and one changes, perhaps irreversibly, my opinion of the characters involved. It’s hard to think of Elisa as a heroic character when she either doesn’t recognize injustice when it happens or allows it to occur without a fight. It’s hard to think of Goliath as a good person when he calls someone with no respect for others’ privacy or even life a noble person. And despite how the series wishes for him to be perceived it’s damn impossible for me to think of Matt Bluestone as anything other than an asshole.