These Ten Episodes Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know About “Gargoyles”

So I was talking to Jed Blue in an attempt to convince him to work with me on little something-something for the blog, having to do with “Golem”. Whilst talking, he mentioned that he hadn’t had the opportunity to watch Gargoyles, and that he’d been thinking of asking me for a list of episodes to watch, so that he could have an idea of what the series was about and what it was trying to do, and work the series in as part of The Near- Apocalypse of ’09, his ongoing deconstruction of the DC Animated Universe (which y’all should seriously read, because it’s great).  Because he is cleverer than me, he immediately saw through my ploy of giving him a sixty-five episode list and told me that he’d prefer it if it were around ten episodes long.  Well, since I love a challenge, so I said “yes”, and after some thinking, here are the episodes, presented in airing order.  They’re not necessarily the best episodes, or the most significant, or even ones that necessarily make a whole lot of sense outside of their contexts as parts of a larger ongoing story, but together, they are enough to give the newcomer  comprehensive idea of what the series is about.

  1. “Awakening” Part Two: Now, Jed actually told me that I didn’t have to worry about including the series’ five-part pilot in the list as he’d be watching it in addition to whatever episodes I suggested, but still, if one had to choose only one part to watch, this would probably be it. Not only does it feature both of the series’ two core time periods, it introduces David Xanatos and Owen Burnett, the series’ approach to magic, and its first exploration of the concept of redemption.

  2. “Deadly Force”: Also known as the Very Special Episode about gun safety where Elisa gets shot with an actual bullet from an actual gun, complete with an unprecedented-for-Western-animation pool of blood. Still, it’s what happens later that is arguably most important: a focus on Elisa’s tribulation at the hospital, one that focuses on both her family, introduced for the first time here, and her co-workers, and is rather unprecedented for the medium and genre. It’s the first big sign that the series has a rather expansive lens, and isn’t just about the gargoyles and punching. More subtly, it is also the first time where the series’ Elisa problem–which is actually more of a marginalized character problem–can be first identified.

  3. “Leader of the Pack”: Because any proper sample deserves at least one episode of David Xanatos being a magnificent bastard.

  4. “Vows”: No other episode better illustrates just how offbeat Gargoyles could be, as no other episode has Xanatos inviting Goliath and Demona to his wedding all as part of a plot to assemble a time travel artifact so that the millionaire can fulfill his destiny and have a kickass honeymoon. Also, it has the worst wedding dress ever.

  5. “City of Stone” Part Three: City of Stone is uniformly fantastic, and the reason I pick this one episode over the others is because it has the coolest flashbacks, the best set-pieces, and doesn’t have to spend a significant amount of time with setup.

  6. “Outfoxed”: As I’ve come to realize during this latest rewatch, one could argue that Gargoyles, at the end of the day, has consistently conservative politics [ETA: or possibly white progressive politics, which is possibly more annoying]. Unintentionally, perhaps, but they’re there. This episode, exploring the relationship between motivations and actions and how the purest of motives don’t matter a whole lot when harm is caused. It’s surprisingly fresh ground for the medium, and the fact that it comes on an episode with some incredibly tantalizing hints as to the backstories of Xanatos and his circle is some seriously tasty icing on the cake.

  7. “Avalon” Part Two: Yes, I’m splitting yet another multi-parter, but “Avalon”, unlike the others, at least feels more like three different stories that join together into a whole. This part tells the Archmage 2.0’s origin story, and utilizes time travel in some really fun, clever ways.

  8. “Heritage”: The World Tour is too large a part of Gargoyles to ignore, and while there are far, far better episodes than this one, a thorough sampling of Gargoyles needs to touch upon the places where the series fails. Nowhere does it fail more spectacularly than here, the whitest episode ever not to feature actual white people, and the best example of the writers’ chronic inability to empathize with its marginalized characters, or even to understand how marginalization affects them.

  9. “Pendragon”: One of a handful of World Tour-era episodes not focusing on the world tourists, I include it here because a) it’s important to highlight the fact that Gargoyles isn’t married to Goliath and is perfectly happy to make episodes in which he is not at all a factor, and b) because it features one of the better examples of Gargoyles’ brand of mythology mashup, as it has Macbeth and King Arthur fight for Excalibur in New York City.

  10. “The Journey”: In the last canonical episode of the series (or at least the last canonical episode before the comic book series replaced it with its own take on the same story) gives us hints of its future direction and themes. With the introduction of the Klan-inspired Quarrymen, the series hints that the gargoyles’ journey (sorry) now looks a lot like the X-Men’s: fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them. While there are a lot of reasons one might be grateful that they never could do much with this direction, I have no complaints about this particular episode, other than strictly mechanical ones.

If y’all have other suggestions, feel free to write them below!  One thing, though: given that this post’s audience is people new to Gargoyles, I’d appreciate that spoilers be avoided whenever possible.

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2 Responses to These Ten Episodes Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know About “Gargoyles”

  1. Loudo says:

    If this were my list, it’d definitely have “The Gathering, Part 1” in it, because it’s possibly my absolute favorite episode of the whole series. The emotional stakes are just so high in this episode. Also, I frickin’ love Oberon, and this episode has Oberon at his very best (i.e. worst). I think this episode also best illustrates the role of the Third Race in the franchise, since we get a glimpse of pretty much every Oberon’s children to ever appear, as well as a reference to everything regarding them (what Avalon is, who Oberon is, how his law works, their weaknesses, their role, etc.)
    The only reason not to have this episode in the list would be a huge spoiler for the rest of the series, but as that is revealed in Part 2 I think it’s still worth watching Part 1.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t have in my list “Avalon, Part 2”. Not because I don’t love that episode (I very much do), but because I feel like it’s one of those episode that you can only fully appreciate if you have seen the episodes it’s referencing. As the culmination of an ongoing plot “Avalon, Part 2” is great, but as a stand alone I think it’s only confusing and it spoils the episodes that came before it. IMHO, a better episode to illustrate how time travel works in “Gargoyles” to newcomers is M.I.A., which works great as a stand-alone episode.

    Other episodes I would strongly suggest are “Temptation”, “Her Brother’s Keeper”, “The Mirror”, and “Eye of the Beholder”, because I really like them, they work well as stand-alones, and establish some important characters really well. Though including all these episodes I mentioned probably gives the idea that “Gargoyles” is more focused in NYC than it really is.

  2. Ian says:

    Ah!!! These are all great choices! Thank you for sharing!

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