The Men who Would Be King: “Pendragon”

“In the heart of these gardens across the river lies the sword in the stone, to be claimed by the timeless king who can find it.” The Lady of the Lake

Written by: Lydia C. Marano

Original Air Date: February 12, 1996

Introduces: The Lady of the Lake, the Stone of Destiny

Timeline placement: May 18 – 19, 1996

Location: London, England; New York City

TMNT episode I could make a quite forced comparison to: “Darkness at the Edge of Town”


The Deets:

  • In Manhattan, Macbeth, accompanied by Banquo and Fleance, is attempting to use the energies brought about by harmonic convergence in order to see what boons he may obtain. Elsewhere, the Manhattan Clan, noticing the weird energy in the air, decide to see what’s up.
  • King Arthur arrives in London and watches as his skiff sinks. He makes his way to Westminster Abbey, where he hopes to find the Stone of Destiny and perhaps Excalibur, but only finds the former. He himself is found by someone else–Griff, who does not take kindly to people breaking into churches. They discover that they have a mutual acquaintance in Goliath and attempt to make proper introductions when they are interrupted by the Stone, who tells Arthur what he must once again prove worthy of Excalibur, and that it will take him to the sword if he can say where it is.  Hearing this, Griff recites an old riddle which proves useful:
    • Isle of towers, glass and stone / the Lady waits for him alone. Ebon glass in emerald frame / pure white lilies speak her name. Blood-red bane in dragon stone / Excalibur waits for him alone.
  • The Stone of Destiny accepts this answer, and transports Arthur and Griff to Excalibur’s location.
  • In Manhattan, Macbeth is casting his spell with his cute little cauldron and the passcode for the Phoenix Gate, which causes Arthur and Griff to drop from the sky.  At the same time, they are spotted by the Manhattan Clan, who attack their old foes and drive them back.
  • More introductions and explanations, including the nature of Arthur’s quest.  Also worth noting: Broadway destroys one of the lightning guns left behind by Macbeth, while Griff keeps the other.
  • In his airship, Macbeth uses summons a will o’ the wisp, which he hooks up to his ships computer, adorably, to track Arthur and Griff.
  • The newly constituted Team Arthur works out that “ebon glass in emerald frame” refers to the lake in Central Park, and they all head there.  At the lake, the lilies indicate that they’re on the right track, so Arthur summons the Lady of the Lake.
  • The Lady of the Lake, while surprised at seeing Arthur ahead of schedule, nevertheless gives up the goods, after Arthur passes her test. While she does not have Excalibur, she shows Arthur where the it can be claimed by “the timeless king who can find it.” Macbeth, who is eavesdropping into this conversation, realizes that “timeless king” applies to him just as well as it does Arthur, and decides to search for the sword as well.
  • Team Arthur surmises that the location shown by the Lady is the center of the hedge maze at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  They arrive there, and are ambushed by Macbeth’s muscle, armed with sky sleds.  Team Arthur splits up, with Arthur and Griff heading for Excalibur while the Manhattan Clan deals with Banquo and Fleance.
  • The Manhattan Clan deals with Banquo and Fleance.
  • Arthur and Griff arrive at the center of the hedge maze just moments after Macbeth has removed the sword from the stone dragon statue.  During a brief battle, Macbeth argues that he has removed the sword and thus become its rightful owner and king, and that an honest man would admit so. Arthur, seeing the truth in this, yields.
  • Griff attempts to convince Arthur to fight for Excalibur, but before the argument can get far, the three men are interrupted by the stone dragon, which has come to life and has begun attacking.
  • As Macbeth, Arthur, and Griff fight the dragon, Excalibur is taken from Macbeth’s hand. Arthur takes the sword, and smashes it against the dragon, claiming it is not the real Excalibur, but Excalipoor.
  • The dragon takes flight, Arthur and Macbeth in its clutches.  Griff hangs on to the dragon’s tail and is taken with them.  The Manhattan Clan follows.
  • Arthur, remembering the last part of the riddle–“Blood-red bane in dragon stone”–realizes what he must do. After being freed by Griff, he uses his mace–by the way, he’s been carrying a mace this entire time–to smash the red crystal at the center of the dragon’s torso.  Not only does this cause the dragon to disintegrate, but also reveals the location of the true Excalibur, which Arthur now claims.
  • The danger past and the turns tabled, Macbeth acknowledges Arthur as the one true king. Arthur recognizing the worthiness of Macbeth’s own claim, offers him a seat at his table, which Macbeth declines: he’s been a king for far too long.  Nevertheless, he’ll assist Arthur if assistance is ever needed.
  • At the Clock Tower, Arthur announces his next move: finding Merlin. More importantly, he knights Griff, the first knight of his new round table.


Mythology and Continuity Notes:

  • King Arthur was last seen in “Avalon” Part Three. Griff was introduced and last seen in “M.I.A.“. The Manhattan Clan was last seen in “Kingdom“. Macbeth and his hired muscle, Banquo and Fleance, were last seen in “Sanctuary”.
  • Arthur recognizes Macbeth, but the opposite is not true, as Macbeth still remembers nothing of his time in Avalon.


What is The Avalon World Tour for?

The easy answer is that it exists so that the show can expand its world and allow for new stories to be told. While this is accurate, it’s also, for people who have found the arc to not be to their tastes, an entirely satisfying or convincing one. So far, the experiment’s record has been spotty, and we’re nowhere near done, yet.  Is the potential for better stories in an uncertain future worth a lackluster now?

This episode, then, provides a more immediate and visceral answer. Episodes  like “Pendragon” is why the World Tour exists. In twenty-two minutes, we have an episode that brings together elements from four different corners of the Gargoyles universe, and uses them to tell a story that is light on its feet, fun, expands the show’s world even more, and takes established characters in interesting new directions.  And while we’ve seen this  sort of mish-mash before, it has often tended to take place in multi-parters, with additional space for the building blocks required to explain how everything comes together.  Now, however, the scaffolding isn’t necessary. One doesn’t need to spend time explaining how this is all possible; it can just happen. It’s rather great, and if the writing had been paired with animation of comparable quality, then this episode would have likely been a favorite.  As is, it’s a B+, marking it as solidly above average for World Tour episodes.

Still: is it all worth it? I’m not sure there’s one right answer, particularly given the series’ premature end, which meant that much of the set-up did not get to serve its eventual purpose. Nevertheless, “Pendragon” makes one hell of a case for “yes”.

Random Thoughts:

  • Arthur is consistently bemused by seeing elements of his mythology separated from their British context.  The Lady of the Lake provides a possible answer: they are now working on a much larger stage.
  • Speaking of Arthur, it is noted once again that he has been awoken ahead of schedule. It’s an intriguing detail, and foreshadowing of a sort we have not seen much of, thus far.
  • The magic equipment used by Macbeth this episode is all adorable. His tiny cauldron is far too cute, and the crystal ball that can be hooked up to his nav computer is fantastic.
  • While there’s still plenty of episodes to go before the world tour is done, we now know, at least, how the tourists will know when it’s over: their skiff will let them know.
  • Macbeth has been portrayed as an increasingly sympathetic character throughout the second season, and this is the apex of that development, as he finishes the story as, if not quite an ally to the gargoyles, as an ally to an ally.  It feels quite earned.

2 Responses to The Men who Would Be King: “Pendragon”

  1. I barely even remember this episode; but after reading your post here, I’m thinking it deserves a rewatch!

    Have you ever thought about live-tweeting as you watch these episodes? Or do you already do this and I’ve just missed it?

  2. Ian says:

    I hadn’t thought about it! It seems worth a shot, so I’ll let you know when I get to the next episode, probably in a week or two, at most.

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