Feet (and Everything Else) of Clay: “Golem”
14 November 2015 4 Comments
“You must follow the words of our ancestors: ‘love justice and do mercy.'” — Max Loew
Written by: Gary Sperling
Original Air Date: December 14, 1995
Introduces: Tomas Brod, Max Loew, Janus, The Golem, Rabbi Loew
Timeline placement: January 19, 1996
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
TMNT episode I could make a forced comparison to: N/A
Content Notes: Anti-Semitism
- Across the streets of Prague, dastardly criminal Thomas Brod is pursued by police cars. Cornered on the middle of a bridge, he escapes by jumping off it and into a speedboat piloted by Preston Vogel and carrying Halcyon Renard as its passenger. As the ship speeds away, it passes by a familiar skiff carrying familiar world tourists. Both Goliath and Renard see and recognize one another, although they don’t have the opportunity to communicate before the speedboat continues on its way.
- Once on dry land on a place that is not New York City, the world tourists decide to split up: Goliath will go out and look for Renard to see if they can’t hitch a ride back home; Elisa will go an find out just where the heck they are; and Angela and Bronx will just stay hidden and…play cards or something.
- Elisa runs into a dude, who tells her that, hey, she’s in Prague. The dude, Max Loew, then continues on his way to a synagogue. Elisa follows to ask for a phone book, but she is turned away at the door by Janus.
- Inside the synagogue, Max and Janus exposit about the Golem. Apparently the key to awakening the Golem came to Max in a dream, and things with Brod are bad enough that they’re willing to try awakening the clay man, even if Max isn’t sure about any of it.
- At a warehouse at the riverside docks, Brod negotiates with Vogel on their deal. In exchange for completing their mission, Brod will get Renard’s hovercraft (not Fortress 2; this is one for personal use not unlike Macbeth’s). From the rooftop, Goliath watches as Brod and his men leave.
- Goliath enters the warehouse and finds Renard and Vogel. Goliath is all “I’m so happy to s–I need a favor” like some sort of Veronica Mars, but Renard is having none of it and tells Goliath to make like a Scandinavian and Leif.
- At the synagogue, Max finishes the scripture necessary to awaken the Golem, and heads up to the building’s attic, where the Golem sits, sleeping as he has for over four hundred years. He reads the incantation, causing the Golem to stir. Before Max can do anything else, however, Brod blows opens a hole onto the synagogue from his hovercraft and steals the Golem along with the incantation.
- From the rendezvous point, Goliath, Angela, and Bronx watch the events at the synagogue take place. They decide to interfere. Elsewhere, Elisa hears the ensuing gunshots and decides to do the same.
- After the hovercraft successfully escapes with its prize, everyone meets up at the synagogue for introductions and explanations. With all the pieces now in place, Goliath heads out to see Renard once again.
- At the warehouse, Renard and Vogel are about to do their own incantation when Goliath bursts in to try and stop them and demand an explanation. Renard explains that the Golem is an attempt to undo his disability, by serving as a living container for his soul. While Renard holds Goliath at laserpoint, the two humans complete the ritual, allowing Renard to take possession of the Golem.
- With Renard now having gotten his Ben Grimm on, he defeats Goliath and heads out to the streets so that he can enjoy his new body. This mostly involves wanton acts of vandalism.
- Renard eventually finds his way to the synagogue, whose contents he proceeds to destroy, in case they include a counter-spell. After violence proves ineffective in stopping the old man, Team World Tour and Team Gargoyle turn to talking, explaining how Renard’s actions compromise everything he believes in and that taking over the Golem is no solution to his woes.
- The combined words of Goliath and Max have their effect; Renard, now horrified at his actions, retreats back into his own body.
- With Max and the Golem now reunited, they, along with the World Tourists, go to Brod’s base of operations and kick his and his gang’s ass. Things get iffy for a second when it seems like the Golem will kill Brod, but before that can happen, Max successfully manages to explain law enforcement 101 (only cops can kill indiscriminately, and even then only people of color).
- A now repentant Renard offers to give the World Tourists the ride to New York they’d previously wanted. Goliath, however, now realizing that Avalon isn’t throwing dice when it sends them places, declines the offer, saying it’s important for him to see the trip through. Elisa declines as well. Angela says nothing, because she is not a character in this episode.
Continuity and Mythology Notes:
- Halcyon Renard and Preston Vogel were introduced in “Outfoxed“, where we see them both meet Goliath for the first time.
- The version of the Golem seen here is based on pre-existing Jewish folklore. Rabbi Loew, seen in a flashback, is Rabbi Judah Loew Ben Bezalel, the real-life figure, who in legend is considered the person to first waken the Golem of Prague. The synagogue seen here, although unnamed, is the real-life Old-New Synagogue, which also figures in the traditional Golem of Prague legend.
If there ever was an episode of the World Tour era of Gargoyles that deserved better, “Golem” is it. There are a ton of interesting ideas introduced here, and nowhere near the time to develop them all, leaving us with an episode that feels (sorry) half-baked in almost all respects. The structure the creators have settled on for the world tour is often not ideal, but as we’ve seen in episodes like “Monsters” and to a lesser extent”Heritage”, it can be made to work, with the right combination of factors, which include not introducing more concepts that can be chewed in twenty-two minutes. “Monsters” did it by having its characters, barring the non-speaking Nessies, be established ones, and having the story be set in a locale that didn’t need much development (it’s a lake). “Heritage”, while having more characters and concepts introduce, had getting to know who those characters were be a key part of the story, meaning that the character establishment beats could be incorporated into the story more or less gracefully.
“Golem”, for its part, has far too much to do, and not nearly enough space with which to do it. It has to establish a new villain in Tomas Brod as both a character and a threat to Prague. It has to introduce Max and Janus as well as the legend of the Golem, and the first two’s efforts to get it working. It has to reintroduce Renard and believably turn him into an antagonist, and then get him back on the side of the angels. Its more than enough for two episodes, and Gargoyles is trying to tell it in one, and not terribly efficiently. The first scene introducing Thomas Brod is weirdly contextless; it doesn’t actually establish how he exists in terms of Prage or how he’s dangerous, and appears to exist only so that Renard and Goliath’s missed connection can happen. The flashback to 1580, while, consistent with “show, don’t tell”, doesn’t do much more than take up precious time and remove the suspense about whether the Golem in fact works.
On the other hand, lots of ideas don’t get the necessary time to gestate. Renard’s arc, in particular, needs a lot of development in order for the change in his character to feel organic. While it’s perfectly conceivable that he would turn to immoral means to get what he wants, should it be practical to do so, the episode just has us believe this is the case here without explaining why. There’s a suggestion that his condition has worsened, but we’re not given any details as to how. We’re left to presume that he has exhausted all other means of obtaining the Golem, such as outright purchasing it or offering to take care of Brod himself. We’re left to assume that being a Golem is the best available choice, and is in reality fantastic, even when it actually seems really shitty and we’ve seen that advanced cybernetics are a thing. Yet, that time didn’t exist–there wasn’t even time to allow the shifts in his moral compass or his sudden paranoia to feel at all natural.
Brod, at least, fares better, largely because there isn’t meant to be a whole lot to him, and thus can be developed with broad strokes. He just has to be mildly memorable, and he succeeds at that, thanks in good part for a combination of design and voice acting, and also his declaration that he’ll totally take that hovercraft as payment, thank you very much. It’s hard to hate people who appreciate hovercrafts. His role in the episode feels misguided–the story needed a different sort of villain, I feel–but he works well enough.
Max, on the other hand, requires a lot more attention, and doesn’t. Of the various national heroes introduced during the world tour, he remains the most insubstantial, defined by little more than his initial reluctance and doubt, which are features of all of them. In the end, it feels as if he exists because the Golem needs someone to animate him. It’s not his story, not really.
(Also worth noting: both Nick and Max are important because of their bloodlines. Discuss.)
If there’s one thing that could have helped Max stand out, it is his culture and faith. Given the right development, “Golem” could have been a fascinating exploration into both Jewish identity and how it’s been shaped by a history of global anti-semitism, a history with particular relevance to Gargoyles‘ characters, given Goliath’s own relationship with genocide. Add in Elisa’s own dual kinship with systematic oppression and extermination–one that has gone largely unexplored–and there’s a lot of really interesting ground that could have been covered, had there been time. Unfortunately, the episode only calls back to all this parallel history obliquely: while Max and the Golem’s Jewish origins are explicitly alluded to–the use of the title “rabbi”, as well as actual written and spoken Hebrew–it’s something the episode doesn’t try to draw attention to. The flashback to 1580 doesn’t specify that the attacks that leads to the Golem’s creation are anti-semitic is origin; the threat posed by Brod in the present is equally generalized. The subtext is there for anyone with a basic understanding of its elements to find, but that’s not really something that can be taken for granted in Gargoyles‘ primary intended audience. Or, to take this back into the story, by Goliath himself. Does he even know of the Holocaust, or the various genocides committed throughout human history? It’s certainly possible–we’ve seen Goliath attempting to catch up to the twentieth century via literature–but it’s nowhere near certain that this is the case, and it’d be interesting to actually see him grapple with these ideas.
While the restrictions placed upon season two by its hasty production schedule have made its effects felt before now, it has so far only occurred on the macro level, when one considers the season as a whole and the way its individual episodes collectively fit together. This, however, is really the first time it affects individual episodes, as it meant that the writers couldn’t make “Golem” the two-parter it deserved to be. And that sucks, because it’s not hard to imagine this episode being much better than it actually is.
- The world tourists finally obtain a measure of agency regarding their role in the world tour, which is much appreciated. It’s important to note, however, that their “yes” isn’t exactly revocable, which is a key element of consent. Avalon’s consciousness or whatever is responsible for the world tour is still acting coercively.
- Firearm inconsistently watch: Brod’s rifle suddenly turns into some type of stungun when he shoots Goliath at point blank range.
- While the TMNT cartoon doesn’t feature any golems, there is a TMNT tale that does: “Kaddish” featured in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #10, is a story featuring Donatello’s encounter with a contemporary Golem. Like “Golem”, it makes mentions of the existing legend of the Golem of Prague and Rabbi Loew, and also features the Old-New Synagogue. It’s a story I enjoy very much; while I could see parts of it being a problem to some–it features a community of exclusively male Hasidic Jews (who are thankfully not the only Jewish characters in the story) in the role of the mob, after a series of break-ins and thefts targeting their stores goes unresolved–I quite like it for its atmosphere and its attempts to combine mathematics and metaphysics. The best way to read it is by finding a copy of the original release, but the easiest way to do so is to read the Tales collection that features it along with some other stories and an almost-certainly terrible coloring job.
- As I mentioned in the write-up for “Monsters” the standard World Tour structure is not kind to Angela, often leaving her with little to do. This is one of the episodes where it’s most notable, as she downright reaches sexy lamp levels.
- Along with Renard returns Vogel, apparently back in his employer’s good graces. Aside from giving Renard a sounding board, it also hints at the two characters’ future roles. Renard may be Goliath’s ally, but he can also be trouble. “Golem” was not an exception.
- One of the reasons why I’m disappointed we don’t see Renard attempt anything besides theft to get the Golem is because it colors his goal as inherently unsympathetic, which I don’t think is the case. We’re not explicitly told what his condition is or how it has worsened, but I can imagine many a condition with would make soul-transfers attractive, even if it is by hook or by crook. I’m also not a fan of Goliath’s implication that Renard should just deal; the episode frames him as correct, even when the foremost expert on how unbearable Renard’s condition is is Renard himself. All in all, this episode makes me glad Renard’s not the only disabled character in the series.
- Ian plays Devil’s Advocate: It’s worth noting that Renard’s actions technically don’t make the situation worse for Prague; had he succeeded and not gone on a destructive rampage, the main consequence of his action would be that things would remain the same.