This Breathing Isle, this Beating Heart: “Avalon” Part One
23 May 2014 2 Comments
“Why, it’s me, Tom! I was but a lad in Castle Wyvern, the night that the vikings destroyed your clan. But there’s no time to explain now! We must go: the eggs are in danger!” — Tom
Written by: Lydia C. Marano
Original Air Date: November 20, 1995
Introduces: Kenneth II, Constantine, Finella, Maol Chalvim, Angela (Unnamed), Gabriel (Unnamed), Boudicca (Unnamed), Avalon
Timeline placement: October 1, 994 – September 28, 995 (The Past); December 27 – December 28, 1995 (The Present)
TMNT episode I could make a forced comparison to: “Legend of the Five Dragons”.
- Katherine and the Magus, joined by Tom–who has been given the title “Guardian of the Eggs” by the Princess–and Mary, make their way to the castle where Katherine’s uncle, Kenneth II, holds court.
- As the Wyvern refugees acclimate to their new home, they become acquainted with the web of relationships that make up life in court. King Kenneth is smitten with Lady Finella, who is in love with Constantine, who only has eyes for the throne and wishes to get under Katherine’s not-pants.
- Constantine, using Finella as his cat’s paw, gets Kenneth alone and slays the king. The murder is witnessed by both Finella, who is horrified, and Tom, who watched the scene from atop the roof.
- Despite resistance from people like Kenneth’s son Maol Chalvim, Constantine is made King, and wastes no time in establishing his will over the court. He demands loyalty oaths from his subjects and forces Katherine into an engagement with him, on pain of losing the gargoyle eggs if she doesn’t comply.
- Katherine, the Magus, Mary, and Tom, along with a remorseful Finella, conspire to spirit away Katherine and the eggs. Thanks to the Magus’ magic and a ruse by Finella, they succeed, and all manage to escape.
- Using a spell from the Grimorum Arcanorum, the princess’ party arrives at the island of Avalon, which, in Oberon’s absence, is guarded by the Weird Sisters. The three fae attack, but the Magus is able to repel their assault and turn it back against them, gaining the party entrance to the island.
- Realizing that they can’t take the Grimorum into Avalon–it deals with magics different in nature from those Oberon commands–nor can they destroy it or leave it behind where Constantine may find it, the party chooses to split up: Katherine, the Magus, and Tom remain on Avalon with the eggs, while Mary and Finella return to Scotland, where they’d guard the tome. Before their separation, Tom says good-bye to his mother for the last time.
- A skiff lands at the edge of the lake in Central Park. It is manned by a person wearing medieval armor and a Goliath-shaped helmet.
- Although bewildered by the sights of modern day Manhattan, the man in armor presses on, until he is confronted by the trio of hoodlums first seen in “Awakening”. The knight defeats them with ease, although not without attracting the attention of Morgan, who arrests them all.
- At the 23rd Precinct, Elisa overhears Morgan talk about the knight and presses her co-worker for more information. Her interest is piqued when she learns that the knight–who identifies himself as “a Guardian”–was not only looking for gargoyles, but a specific one–Goliath.
- Elisa goes to the Clock Tower, where Goliath and Bronx pass the time while the others are out, and asks Goliath about the Guardian. Goliath claims to know no such person, but agrees that it’s essential that they meet in order to find out who he is and what he wants. Elisa suggests that she release the Guardian from custody so that Goliath can meet him in Belvedere Castle; Goliath agrees.
- Goliath and Bronx meet up with Elisa and the Guardian, who is pleased as punch to see the gargoyle again and identifies himself as Tom. He also explains that there’s no time to lose and that Goliath must go with him: the gargoyle eggs are in danger from the Archmage. This is enough to get Goliath to agree to go with him.
- Goliath, Elisa, and Bronx join Tom in the skiff, which then takes off. As they travel, Tom explains the circumstances that led him to being in twentieth century New York. Especially relevant is the revelation that time passes differently in Avalon–one day outside the island is equivalent to one hour inside it, which is the reason why he is still alive.
- The skiff and its passengers arrive on Avalon, where Bronx quickly finds the eggs–or rather, two adult gargoyles and a gargoyle beast.
- Tom, Mary, Princess Katherine, the Magus were all last seen in “Awakening” Part Two, where the latter two vowed to protect the gargoyle eggs.
- The hoodlums encountered by Tom and arrested by Morgan were first seen in “Awakening” Part Three.
- The Archmage’s seemingly-but-apparently-not-really-fatal battle with the gargoyles was seen in “Long Way to Morning“.
- This is the first chronological appearance of the Weird Sisters. Their last chronological and in-show appearance was in “High Noon”.
- Belvedere Castle was last used as a rendezvous point in “High Noon”.
Yes, if things had been differently, I would have totally titled this post: “The Game of Thrones”. Tip of the hat to Jillian Aversa, whose work provided the actual title.
“Avalon” serves as a season finale of sorts to season 2 thus far. It’s the biggest story since “City of Stone”, and one that does a more thorough job of upending the status quo than that previous arc did. It’s the culmination of developments dating back to the pilot. It’s even placed at a very season-finale-ish position within the larger season, being episodes 2.21 to 2.23.
And, honestly it couldn’t have come at a better time. While the episodes between “City of Stone” and this arc’s comprise my favorite set of episodes in the series, there is nevertheless a feeling, in retrospect, that the series was in danger of settling into a complacent groove if it didn’t do something to shake things up. Yes, the series might well have remained in New York indefinitely, and told some quite good stories in the process, but as “City of Stone” showed, the series is bigger than that. Gargoyles spans continent and centuries; limiting it to a single time and place would do it no favors.
Enter Tom, who not only brings back information of characters not seen since the first season–Katherine, the Magus, Mary, the eggs, and the Archmage are now all important again–but mentions two important new things.
- Avalon is real.
- The Manhattan Clan are not the only group of living gargoyles in the world.
The importance of the first thing, in particular, can’t really be overstated. Yes, magic had been woven into the series’ DNA from the beginning, but it tended to be somewhat akin to a necktie that various characters could put on and take off at will–“magician” is rarely the first thing one thinks of when one thinks of Xanatos and Demona, even thought they’ve used it from the very beginning. While Puck and the Weird Sisters are magical to the core, those characters at this point tended to feel like outliers, visitors rather than an actual part of the gargoyles’ world. Similarly, while Macbeth’s story had served to indicate that Gargoyles would be delving into other stories, it’s separate enough from the main story to feel like one-off. Here, however, with the introduction of Oberon’s island of Avalon, which houses the sleeping King Arthur, and is the home for the next generation of the Wyvern Clan, both magic and stories become integral parts of the world. It is in this arc that the words of that one Weird Sister and King Arthur–“All things are true.”–becomes the actual reality for this series. And indeed, once the Avalon World Tour begins, the series will introduce magical character after magical character, all based existing mythology or legend.
Similarly, the existence of other gargoyles suddenly gives Goliath and company something to fight for as a long term project. Yes, the clan had established in “Reawakening” that their mission would be to protect Manhattan, but as seen several times throughout the series (including this episode, where the fact that Goliath doesn’t feel like patrolling that night allows him to meet up with Tom), the gargoyles at times tend to treat that mission less like a mandate and more like a hobby . There’s nothing the gargoyles really want for themselves but to keep on living, and thus, they have no reason to attempt to change the status quo. After all, who cares if society discovers them and decides to hate them? They’re used to it, and what’s more, they’ll all be dead in a century. With the discovery that the gargoyle race can go on, however. making the world better suddenly becomes imperative–particularly since Angela, Gabriel and company have never faced the overt prejudice Goliath did. The Quarrymen would have never worked, before “Avalon”.
So “Avalon” is big, and yet not, as the core of the story is actually very straightforward–Goliath, Elisa, and the Avalon Clan defend themselves against the Archmage’s forces–leaving the first two episodes to essentially serve as piece-setting. Very good piece-setting, actually, which ends up being better than the main story.
Gargoyles tends to shine especially brightly when visiting medieval Scotland, so this episode’s extended look at the post-Wyvern adventures of Katherine and her coterie are a treat. The show very efficiently manages to set up a rather complicated political background in a way that lets the audience see enough while suggesting that there’s a whole bunch that is we don’t get to see. It’s by far one of the show’s better pieces of world-building, and it’s fantastic.
If there’s one thing that doesn’t really appear about this episode, though, it’s Tom. While the little moppet was inoffensive enough in “Awakening”–he fulfilled one specific role, and he did it well enough–the additional focus doesn’t really do him any favors.
Tom is mostly…odd. He’s fascinated with gargoyles to the point where a one-minute interaction and a rescue are enough for him to declare his undying loyalty to them. He claims that the night of the massacre was the worst night of his life and yet, as we see him this episode’s flashback, he appears no worse for the wear mere hours later, which makes his comment reek of appropriation. He acts as if Goliath, personally, is a friend, even though they’ve never interacted onscreen before their meeting in the park. The series draws too many parallels with Xanatos to ignore, perfectly exemplified by the helmets they each wear. In short, there’s enough about Tom to make him feel not quite right, and makes me think that his fascination with gargoyles crosses the line to fetishization them, sort of in the way you sometimes have white teenagers who claim they should be considered a member of X race, based on their love for their limited perception X culture–note that given what we know and what we’re shown, Tom’s knowledge of historical gargoyle culture is almost nil.
And frankly, that’d be super-interesting thing to the series to explore: the way that fascination without empathy can, like bigotry, serve to other and dehumanize–see, for example, the word “exotic” and its connotations–and can often lead to things like cultural appropriation, where expressions of an oppressed people’s culture become acceptable when performed by appropriators, while remaining unacceptable when performed by those the expression was taken from. We’ve seen hints of this in the show already, such as the various gargoyle Halloween costumes that (somewhat implausibly, given the timeline) popped out all over the place after the clan was outed , and, more obliquely, with Xanatos’ whole “be my gargoyle pet/best friend” deal. But I want to see more of it, if we ever get more Gargoyles.
What makes Tom especially interesting in this context is that one would probably be able to find plenty of gargoyles–mostly within his clan–who believe that it’d be fine for him to consider himself one of the species if he wants to: he has, after all, spent most his life as a co-parent to gargoyles, and it is thanks in part to him that Scottish gargoyles remain a viable at all. However, one would just as easily be able to find people who believe he can make no such claim, under the rather unassailable logic that being a non-oppressed parent to a member of an oppressed group doesn’t make you part of the oppressed group, and that he has privilege that a gargoyle can never have.
Still, this is just speculation built on speculation: in the end, we don’t know enough about Tom to make solid conclusions about his beliefs and identity. That’s not the only thing that bugs me about the Guardian, though, and the second thing, unlike the first, can be clearly backed up by his on-screen actions in the episode.
When Tom sets out to find Goliath, he has several pieces of information in his possession. He knows, for example, that he’d be asking the gargoyle to risk his live. He knows, given his friendship with the Magus, that “the Archmage” likely means something very different to Goliath than what it means to Tom, and therefore that invoking his name without additional context could give the gargoyle a mistaken impression. Tom also knows, given his experiences, that there’s a massive time difference between Avalon and the rest of the world that means spending a day on the island would mean going missing for almost a month outside it. Finally, he knows that Avalon may not take Goliath back home once everything’s over. All of these are crucial things to know in order to provide informed consent re: helping, and yet Tom mentions none of them until after he’s secured Goliath and Elisa’s cooperation and gotten them on his skiff, where they are essentially captive.
This is no small matter. According to the timeline, it will take six months for Goliath, Elisa, and Bronx to return to New York , and it is only because Elisa has considerable plot armor that this absence goes by without major consequence. Tom knew that something like this could happen, and did nothing to warn them that this was a possible result of their decision to help. And there’s no reason to keep this information from them, unless he believed that that knowledge would actually be enough to dissuade them from helping, or that the three minutes (Outside Avalon Time) it would take to fully explain the situation would doom the eggs. And yet, that’s just what he decided to do.
I understand the dramatic reasons why Tom is so stingy with information during this episode: it allows the writers to avoid infodumps and to keep the audience guessing. However, in his insistence that Goliath follow him without knowing several vital pieces of information, Tom comes off as super-shady, in a way I don’t think the writers intended.
Fortunately, Tom’s part in the episode is mostly limited to the present; while he’s in the flashback, he’s pretty much relegated to the background while more interesting character do more interesting things. And it’s in those interesting things that the episode shines.
- One thing that’s struck me while writing this: I don’t get why Goliath is held in such high esteem by Tom and later, Katherine and the Magus. After all, the last thing Goliath did, as far as they know, is leave them in charge of the eggs so he could essentially commit suicide by Magus. Unless they have some way of knowing what he’s been up to, I don’t see why they’d think of him as the guy to go to when they’re in a pinch. Would they be happy to see him? Sure. Would they be glad for his help? Ditto. Would they feel empathy for his situation, which allows them to understand why he did what he did? Yes again. Still, I think it’d have been more interesting if their reactions had been more nuanced than what we got.
- Constantine, the villain of the piece, doesn’t get to do much here but be evil, but he does it fairly well. I’m not sure if the success of his plan is plausible, but I can understand the decision to write it as they did. Extra points for killing Kenneth without having to drop him from a tall building.
- Still, Constantine can’t hold a candle to Finella, the other major character introduced here. I have lots to say about her and how the show allows her to retain her dignity despite being played for a fool, but that will have to wait until my next “Why I like…” essay.
- One of those odd little things about Gargoyles is how the rumors surrounding the gargoyles appear to always specifically refer to them as such. I suppose there’s no real reason why that shouldn’t be the case, but it’s an interesting bit, particularly since it stands in contrast with the way the turtles are always referred to as lizards or aliens or whatnot.
- I wonder if Goliath got to finish that book. I find the idea that he might have had to wait six months to finish it because he wanted to finish it that night perversely funny.