The Good: “Mark of the Panther” (Post 2 of 2)
9 April 2017 2 Comments
Written by: Lydia Marano
Original Air Date: February 8, 1996
Introduces: Tea, Anansi, Fara Maku,
Timeline placement: May 16, 1996
TMNT episode I could make a forced comparison to: “Return of the Justice Force”
Content Note: Rape, Abuse, Assault
Not long after publishing my critique of Gargoyles and the way its storytelling favors the privileged, I got my very first piece of hate mail—or at least the first I couldn’t just dismiss and forget about. While its specific claims aren’t important, it did make me realize something—specifically, that I may not have been entirely clear when talking about “Mark of the Panther” and the rape metaphor at its center—and I remain convinced that’s what it is, even if unintentionally—and more specifically still, that I may have given the impression that it is the metaphor in itself that is the problem with the episode. This is not actually the case.
To be clear, as much as I hate where Tea and Fara Maku’s story eventually went, I actually have no problem with the metaphor itself, which I actually think is executed rather brilliantly. The sort of entitlement and misogyny that drives Fara Maku is something very real that absolutely needs to be deconstructed and condemned, in large part because it is so prevalent and because so many people try to explain it away as honest mistakes by people who simply didn’t know better and whose so-called ignorance deserves sympathy. Tea’s circumstances and reaction to being turned into a Panther do a great job of mirroring and explaining how many victims feel like in a context where talking about it in more plain terms isn’t a possibility. Had the episode then taken the story to a different conclusion—say, the one where Fara Maku is treated as the bad guy he is instead of as a misguided second victim, and where Tea’s quest for justice as something to be taken seriously instead of as something to be dismissed offhand—I would not hesitate to name “Mark of the Panther” one of the best, most important episodes Gargoyles had ever done. That the episode still manages to remain a definitive high point in the world tour despite its ending is evidence of just how solidly built it is.
And indeed, “Mark of the Panther” is one of the best episodes since the World Tour began. It is paced incredibly well, introducing three new characters, giving them enough development time to allow the audience to become invested in them while still having time to actually tell a story. It features a location that manages not to feel like a pit stop on the way to somewhere else. Diane Maza’s inclusion and the way her story is tied to Elisa’s own heritage gives out glimpse into their slice of Nigerian culture weight other World Tour episodes have not managed; it is important, even defining, but in a way that serves to complicate the characters and the culture instead of reduce them to single traits.The two women’s conflict, and the way it ties into Angela’s own feelings about her father, is an interesting one, and like the best Gargoyles conflicts allow both characters to have ideas which feel right to them and aren’t necessarily right or wrong. Anansi is a great antagonist, feeling alien in a way the Children of Oberon have not always felt—he’s a Lovecraft monster in a world filled largely with Whedon monsters—and I love that his motivation is, essentially, “I’m going to get so fat, you guys!”, in a way which can’t really be called fat positive—he’s still the designated bad guy, and his fatness ends up being integral to his defeat—but still makes me predisposed to like the guy. The art shift used to tell the story of the panther queen is not only quite effective, but is also appreciated from the perspective of seeing the show’s artist stretch themselves. In short, it is, in both concept and execution, the sort of episode I wish we’d been getting more often, during the world tour era. It also makes the fact that they then go on to stumble a few steps away from the finish line intensely frustrating.
- Something that doesn’t get a lot of attention here is the way Fara Maku disdains “The Big City”. While the episode makes it clear that his blame is misplaced, it lets this comment stand in a way that serves to once again remind me that Gargoyles, for all its sci-fi technology and its setting, can often be quite provincial.
- For the record, I’m actually more sympathetic to Goliath and Elisa’s perspective. I’ve been on the record before as to how Elisa owes no one her secrets, and while Angela’s desire to connect with Goliath is understandable in the abstract, I also feel that there’s a bit of unaddressed context in that, in his way, Goliath could be said to be attempting to give his daughter the opportunity to connect with Gargoyle culture in a way she’s never had the chance to. This isn’t to say that Angela isn’t right to be angry, but the situation is a whole lot more complicated and nuanced than the episode manages to convey.
- On that note, this is one of those clear examples of how Gargoyles isn’t always entirely consistent in its stance on one’s right to reevaluate one’s culture. We’re meant to sympathize with Angela here, when she’s taking the stance that made Nick wrong in “Heritage”.
- Between this episode and “Her Brother’s Keeper”, it seems that Elisa tends to be more in tune with her father Peter than with Diane. It’s a nice, interesting detail that helps make the family dynamics feel real.
- This episode features one of the few times where the series isn’t able to navigate broadcast standards and practices with its usual elegance. Early on, the world tourists stumble across the carcass of a panther which, one can glean from the context, been skinned, except we can see none of it. It’s not a terribly staged moment by any means, but still an odd one.