And that’s why you always leave a note: “Kingdom”
2 June 2015 9 Comments
Original Air Date: February 5, 1996
Timeline placement: January 4 – 5, 1996
TMNT episode I could make a forced comparison to: “Garbageman”
- The trio returns from their search for their missing clan members, without success. Broadway, in particular, has gone to Elisa’s apartment and found nothing but unattended mail and an abandoned Cagney, the latter whom he has retrieved. The clan turns towards Brooklyn, Goliath’s second, for direction, but he’s unwilling to give it. The trio then sets off again to try and shake down new leads: Lexington will try Elisa’s parents; Broadway will ask Matt; Brooklyn, thanks to some subtle manipulation by Hudson, decides to go to the Labyrinth to see if Elisa’s brother knows something, and to see if he runs into Maggie the Cat.
- At the entrance to the Labyrinth, Brooklyn watches Fang, joined by Claw and two human randos called Chaz and Lou shake down Al, a homeless man. Before Al can get seriously injured, the gargoyle steps in, and is promptly attacked by Fang, Chaz, and Lou, but not Claw, who stands by helplessly. The fight lasts it is broken up by an arriving Talon, who does little more than slap Fang on the wrist before leaving with Al and Brooklyn. Maggie, who arrived with Talon asks if a more severe penalty wouldn’t have been more appropriate, and Talon disagrees, considering harsher punishment to be unnecessary.
- At Matt Bluestone’s apartment, the detective tells Broadway that he’s just in the dark about their friends’ disappearance as he is.
- Equally as clueless is Talon, who had no idea at all that Elisa was missing. Fang suggests that the disappearances could be the work of Xanatos, who has a history of fucking with all of them. Worked up into a rage by Fang’s provocation, Talon storms off to confront the billionaire, with Brooklyn reluctantly following him.
- At the clock tower, Lexington returns with nothing new to report: Elisa’s parents don’t know anything either, from the looks of things. Soon after, Talon arrives, followed by Brooklyn: the mutate, righteous fury in his belly, easily convinces Lexington and Broadway to join him in his let’s-make-Xanatos-talk crusade. Brooklyn is not as convinced, and halfheartedly suggests that while interrogating Xanatos is an excellent idea if he indeed played a hand in things, it’s a terrible one if he didn’t. Talon and Hudson demand and ask for alternatives, respectively, and it as this point that Brooklyn gives up and just decides to follow Talon’s lead. The trio follows the mutate.
- The trio, let by Talon, storms into Xanatos’ castle in order to demand answers. It goes disastrously, as they only succeed in letting their enemy know about their missing comrades.
- Inside the Labyrinth, Chaz and Lou lead Fang and Claw to a door they found but can’t open. It turns out to lead to a storage room, which among other things stores several energy weapons inside a reinforced locker, which can only be opened with a card key found by Claw. The group takes both the weapons and the locker, which is large enough to hold a single man–or mutate.
- After leaving the trio behind at the clock tower, Talon returns to the Labyrinth, only to find that Fang has instigated a coup in Derek’s absence. As the mutate fights the would-be rulers of the Labyrinth, Maggie, who has been captured and placed in the locker, asks her guard, Claw, to release her so that she can get help. Claw, who apparently only follows Fang out of fear, acquiesces, and a freed Maggie flees the scene.
- Maggie makes her way to the clock tower. When the Manhattan Clan awakens, she enlists them to help her save Talon. All the gargoyles, including Hudson and a newly resolute Brooklyn, join her.
- At the Labyrinth, where Talon has been placed in the locker in Maggie’s stead, Fang is gloating and terrorizing and gloating like some sort of Bender Bending Rodríguez when Brooklyn and company make their entrance. A fight ensues, one that eventually goes Fang’s way when he takes Maggie captive.
- With the advantage in his hand, Fang demands that Brooklyn and the clan leave; shockingly, Brooklyn agrees, but only if Maggie can come with them. It’s only a ruse on the gargoyle’s part, however, enacted so as to give him an opportunity to give Maggie the key card, which had been in Fang’s possession until Brooklyn took it during the fight.
- Maggie frees Talon, who quickly turns the tables around. With his human followers’ weapons destroyed and with Claw unwilling to follow him any more, Fang is soundly defeated and placed in the locker.
- Order restored, Talon makes two proclamations. 1) Al and Chaz are banished forevermore from the Labyrinth, and 2) no weapons of any kind will be permitted in the realm.
- With this first test now behind him, Broolkyn, still reluctant but still just as resolute, vows that the clan will never stop searching for Goliath, but will also never forget that their first responsibility is for the people that are still there and still need their protection.
- Goliath, Elisa, and Bronx first left New York in “Avalon” Part One.
- Talon, Maggie, Fang, and Claw first struck out on their own in “The Cage”.
- The Mutates’ commune is located on The Labyrinth, first seen in “Awakening” Part Four and last seen in “The Cage”.
- Cagney, Elisa’s cat, was first seen in “Deadly Force” and last seen in “City of Stone” Part One.
While the World Tour era cast of Gargoyles continues to be one of the more singular in Western Animation, it also had an issue in that its members were all built in the Hero role: they’re all Cyclops, with no Wolverines in sight. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing–Goliath, Elisa, and Angela are fantastic characters, and having them together allows to the show to denote more subtle differences between the three–ignoring the rest of the cast in favor of this dynamic is the sort of thing that can easily get grating with time, just from a sheer monotony. Fortunately, the writers knew this, and so interspersed a handful of New York-based episodes between all the world touring. “Kingdom” is the first, and deals with the world Goliath and Elisa have left behind. Because they did not have George Bluth Sr. as a parent (and also, because Tom the guardian is the worst, taking them to Avalon without indicating first that they might want to prepare for the possibility that it’d be months before they could return and no I will not stop complaining about it) Goliath and Co. left New York without a trace, leaving the rest of the clan out of sorts. While they’re not caught completely unprepared–Goliath appointed Brooklyn his second for just this sort of eventuality–those measures were designed for a future that they all hoped would never happen, not the actual, terrifying now. And so, Brooklyn in particular knows what he has to do in the most general of terms, but has absolutely no desire to do it. Meanwhile, we also revisit Talon, Maggie, and the other mutates, in a story that is meant to parallel Brooklyn’s, as Derek is forced to deal with his own burden of leadership.
Gargoyles isn’t the sort of series that likes to have lots of things happen off-screen, with characters sort of hitting pause whenever we don’t see them; when Goliath and the World Tourists return, they’ll find the world to be largely the way they left it months ago. This is not the case with the mutates, as we find that they’ve actually been rather busy since we last saw them. Not only have they apparently dealt with all the transformation angst seen in “The Cage”, they have spent their time since then turning the Labyrinth into a community for those discarded and ignored by human society. In the few months since its establishment, it has grown large enough to make the form of anarchy theretofore practiced unsustainable. Like with Brooklyn, the expectation is that Talon will adopt some sort of leadership role, and like Brooklyn, Talon is deeply reluctant to do so. With no one with the power or authority to check them, aggressive elements within the community have begun to extort and terrorize the powerless.
Leadership and responsibility are subjects Gargoyles tackles with some frequency; this episode is a thematic sequel to “Upgrade”, and there are clear parallels between Talon’s arc here and Natsilane’s last episode. Here, it’s the crux of both arcs, and the solution to both crises turns out to be the same; just do the job you signed up for. This story is quite effective in Brooklyn’s case; we not only know why he was selected leader, but also both why he doesn’t want to do it and why he should. Enough information has been provided for the viewers to understand why they should see Brooklyn’s undertaking of his responsibilities is the optimal outcome for the Manhattan clan. Talon’s story is less successful.
While the series’ attempts to position the Labyrinth complex and its people as a pseudo-gargoyle clan (one which would later include actual gargoyles), and could have claimed that the mutates were just such a thing in “The Cage”, the same is no longer really true in any meaningful term, by “Kingdom”. Any comparison between the Manhattan Clan’s situation and the Labyrinth complex is, at best, strained, which makes the episodes’ arguments rather eyebrow raising. First of all, is leading a community of homeless people the job Talon had implicitly signed up for? It’s impossible to say, since we have no idea what the circumstances behind the expansion of the Labyrinth are. One could say that he’d signed up for the job back in “The Cage”, but again, that is not the same job he is expected to hold in “Kingdom”. A more interesting question: is this a job he is suited for? To a certain degree, yes. Thanks to his police training, Derek would have at least some knowledge about the various ways to maintain order within a society and in that sense, he does make sense as leader. As a mutate, he also has the advantage of being able to enforce his directives, to a degree no other single person within the labyrinth can. Similarly, he is probably the single best person to call in order to defend the Labyrinth from outside forces. In short, if the priority is survival and stability, Talon is a better choice than many.
It is not clear, however, that survival and stability are in fact the main priorities in the Labyrinth. They face no external threats that we have seen. We have no evidence of any internal strife aside from that shown here. The complex’s population growth would seem to speak to its ability to–somehow–provide for its people’s basic needs (or at least, to do so better than simply living outside, but given the utopian bent of the place, let’s assume that it does indeed meet them) which means they don’t exactly need to make the sort of hard, urgent choices that would require strong central leadership. No: although it lies unstated in the actual episode, the actual priority in the labyrinth isn’t survival, but management, something that that requires a completely different set of skills, which Talon has yet to display. In fact, given the state of the complex, I’m not at all convinced the Labyrinth needs strong central unelected leadership at all. So why is Gargoyles arguing for it, aside from “because parallel”?
Especially interesting in this view is a detail I’d forgotten about: Talon’s proclamation that weapons of any sort were forbidden in the Labyrinth. It’s a very “children’s cartoon” bit, and one that deserves to be explored further, because its implications are fascinating. First of all, there’s the fact that Talon didn’t say guns, or knifes, or anything specific, but weapons, which in theory includes things like hammers, pepper spray or socks full of quarters. How he plans to enforce that is a mystery and a half, and one the series never deigns to explore.
Talon’s decree also seems to suggest that he is either a politician who makes pretty-sounding promises he cannot and does not intend to keep, someone with a whole boatload of unexamined privilege, or somehow, despite everything we’ve seen about him, optimistic to the point of delusion. Or all of them, possibly. Consider the people he is telling these declarations to. These are the homeless, a group of people who a) often feel insecurity of various kinds, and often find their lives threatened, particularly if they fall within other axes of oppression like being mentally ill, transgendered or not white b) have little to no reason to trust the people who are ostensibly there to protect them–i.e. cops, the government, Talon. While homeless people tend not to carry weapons, choosing to so is perfectly justified, more often than not. And yet here is Talon, who currently has very little reason to worry about being assaulted or raped, and whose origin, one can assume, is unknown to the human denizens of the Labyrinth, telling them that no, it’s all right: he can and will defend them. Al, from the beginning of the episode, would probably disagree.
Now, it’s hard to know with any certainty just how large the population of the Labyrinth is–particularly since those numbers would likely be very fluid–but from the way it is presented in this episode, it seems to be somewhere around thirty by the time Talon solidifies his leadership in this episode–fifty tops; it will likely get larger until it becomes unsustainable to continue doing so, at which moment they’ll have to think of what to do. Until then, though, it might indeed be possible for a single person, to actually keep things in order. And yet, even if it’s possible, it doesn’t feel plausible; the mutates can’t be everywhere at once, and Cyberbiotic’s complex appears to be quite large, given that it took months for the weapons cache to be found. Talon cannot protect everyone, as we will eventually see in the comic books. And yet there he is, not only vowing that very thing, but also assuring that nobody else (or at least, no humans) will be able to protect themselves if he’s not around, something that at the very least deserves some sort of discussion, I would think. That it doesn’t happen–there’s not even talk of it happening–suggest that Talon has taken Fang’s comments literally, and plans to run the Labyrinth as his own kingdom. And that’s really interesting.
And yet the question remains: why? Why is the series arguing that this particular status quo, where an unelected, arguably unrepresentative, dubiously qualified single person gets to lead a group of extremely vulnerable and powerless people? Why does Talon, who clearly does not want the role, not make these arguments? Is Greg Weisman a secret monarchist (he asked, only half joking)? Is this just the first act in a longer story that never got to play out, rather than a conclusion? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but an enterprising fan writer could do fantastic work answering them.
There are a lot of things about this section of the gargoyles-verse we have to take on faith. How the Labyrinth can remain self-sufficient. That Talon is a good leader. That he is well-liked and that people have a reason to like him. Showing how these things come to be the case remains probably the most interesting thing the series has no desire to explore, and a good showcase about how problematic writing (in this case, writing that takes the homeless and makes them into window dressing, existing only to allow Talon his growth) and bad writing reinforce each other and / or are actually the same. While this episode is by no means bad, it could have been a lot better, and part of the reason it isn’t stems, I think, from the fact that it simply doesn’t consider the homeless as active agents. Once one starts thinking of them that way, and start thinking about how they would likely feel faced with the situations they face, the path towards a much more more complex and interesting story becomes clearer. It might not be a story that pushes forward the themes and characters Gargoyles wants to push–or, to be fair, one that can be done justice in twenty-two minutes–but it’s one I’d be much more interested in seeing.
- Xanatos has adopted Macbeth’s anti-air defense set-up, and it continues to suck just as much as it ever did.
- Where scouring Xanatos’ computer for evidence of the billionaire’s involvement in Goliath’s disappearance, Lexington notes that he can only find evidence of the usual shady dealings. Nothing really comes from this, which suggests that both the characters and the series have given up on trying to actually put a stop to Xanatos through anything resembling legal means.
- I’ve mentioned before that Gargoyles, intentionally or not, has a tendency to invalidate anger, usually by tying it to “wrong” decisions and unproductive outcomes. This episode presents an example of just that thing, as the middle portion of the episode is largely spent with Talon being angry about Xanatos, and thus making a slew of mistakes because of it.
- I run hot and cold on Maggie’s role in this episode; she gets some nice moments and isn’t entirely without agency, and yet, she gets to be. I’d be more happy about it if we’d seen more of her perspective throughout, especially as she tried to reach the Clock Tower. However, this episode is not about her, so she doesn’t, and that’s a pretty darn big missed opportunity, in part because she is a more natural leader of the Labyrinth Clan 2.0 than Talon is, given that she’s actually been homeless in a way that is actually comparable to the experiences of most Labyrinth denizens.
- Actually, Claw is also someone whose role in this episode I’m largely unsure about. After implying in “The Cage” that his muteness was due to unspecified emotional trauma, this episode utilizes it as an opportunity to have him be comic relief in a way that feels uncomfortable, largely because we don’t know much about him or how these various things intersect, and because both the episode and the characters treat it in such a matter-of-fact way. What, exactly is it that we’re meant to believe about him? What is his behavior supposed to say about him, other than “he’s afraid of Fang”?
- One of the things I really wish this episode had done is to have gargoyles actually have an opinion on the Labyrinth and what it’s attempting to do.
- In case anyone cares to wonder or ask: while I don’t think “Garbageman”, TMNT‘s own episode that deals with the homeless, does an especially good job in its portrayal of the homeless–for one, it also has a problem with giving them agency, at least until the very end–I think it does a considerably better job of actually focusing on them.