25 years ago this weekend, the Disney Afternoon TV block premiered something wildly different from their regular fare: Greg Weisman’s Gargoyles. The underdog series has amassed a cult following in the intervening years, leading to cosplay, fan-art, and even conventions called “Gatherings” named in honor of an episode and story arc. I was a baby when the series aired, and, as such, didn’t have any memory of it. I actually got into Gargoyles in high school, around the time I saw Batman: The Animated Series and Avatar: The Last Airbender. I was taken by the series’ bold art style, vibrant characters, and numerous literary and mythological references and tie-ins. My colleague Brett is writing an overview in the show’s honor, so I’d like to talk about some of my favorite episodes. There are so many great episodes of Gargoyles, and only a couple of duds (excluding the spin-off which shall not be named), but my goal is to keep it under 10.
“The Mirror” could have been really bad based on its premise alone. It sounds like fanfiction on paper, but its exploration of Gargoyles’ characters elevates trite concepts to great storytelling. Creator Greg Weisman has actually cited “The Mirror” as being his favorite episode, and it’s easy to see why. Demona steals a magic mirror and releases the Shakesperian trickster Puck hoping he’ll do her bidding. However, Puck is nothing if not mischievous, and has great fun intentionally misinterpreting her requests. Ultimately, the humans are turned into gargoyles and vice versa. This does a number on our heroes. Goliath and Elisa have always enjoyed a special friendship, but in “The Mirror,” Puck essentially taunts them with the question, “What if?” What if they were both humans, or both gargoyles, and could simply be together without complications? In the end, the heroes capture Puck, and Demona runs away. In one last bit of trickery, Puck “grants” Demona the ability to turn human during the day instead of into stone. Being that she hates humans above all else, the villainess isn’t pleased with this gift. “The Mirror” is a really emotional episode all around. You don’t want Demona to get her way, but her frustration is palpable nonetheless. She just can’t get what she actually wants out of Puck, and, in fact, he continually makes things worse for her. The core of this episode, though, is the relationship between Elisa Maza and Goliath. The events of “The Mirror” fundamentally change the way the two see each other. Thoughts and feelings that just can’t be ignored are planted, passions are ignited, and a question is posed that won’t be resolved until the season finale.
“The Gathering” is another epic, sprawling story that utilizes flashbacks, bombastic visuals, and complex interpersonal relationships to push Gargoyles forward. The title refers to a mandatory assembly that Oberon calls on his children. The conflict begins when Puck is nowhere to be found, despite being a servant of Oberon. Queen Titania is likewise nowhere to be found, but Oberon remarks that she may come and go as she pleases, a luxury Puck doesn’t have. Meanwhile, Xanatos and now-wife Fox of TV sensation The Pack are welcoming their first child. Fox’s parents, Xanatos’ assistant Owen, and Preston Vogel, the assistant of Fox’s father Halcyon Reynard, are all present. Things really kick into gear when Oberon arrives, much to everyone’s shock, except for Fox’s mother, Anastasia, and Owen. Oberon insists that they reveal themselves; Anastasia is really Titania, hiding in the human world all this time, seeking entertainment. Owen is really Puck, who is subsequently banished from Avalon, never to return. At the same time, Goliath, Elisa, and Goliath’s daughter Angela finally arrive in New York from their Avalon-induced “world tour.” They find everyone in the city asleep, thanks to Oberon’s magic. Oberon unleashes magical attacks on the city, and, specifically, Xanatos’ building, to steal his and Fox’s son Alexander. This is prompted by Titania’s saying they should take the baby to Avalon as he has magical blood from her. However, in the end, it’s neither Xanatos’ defenses nor the gargoyles who save the day, but maternal love. In a fit of rage to protect and keep her son, Fox utilizes magical abilities neither she nor her mother knew she possessed. The King and Queen agree to leave the child with his parents, and Oberon commands Puck to stay and train the boy. Protecting and teaching him are the only ways he may use his powers henceforth. There’s a lot to love in “The Gathering;” it has one of the show’s best and biggest action sequences, it’s full of magic and mystery, and it answers some hanging questions from earlier episodes. However, it’s one of my favorite chapters in the Gargoyles canon specifically for what it does with the character of Fox. By this point, there had been a few hints at Xanatos’ humanity and perhaps a changing nature, but motherhood changes Fox. She was quickly established as being one of the least evil Pack members, but she was less good than amoral, merely acting in her own interest regardless of ethics. In defense of her baby, Fox stands up to her own mother and the King of the Fairfolk. This is a huge character moment, and Fox is a changed woman from here on. I also just love the whole exploration of Oberon, his children, and how these complex social networks function. It’s also good to finally see Puck’s mischievous actions rewarded with some punishment.
The “Avalon” story arc has a wonderful, epic tone to it, and it answers a lot of questions while re-introducing some characters from season one. This is when we meet Tom, the boy from Castle Wyvern who befriends the gargoyles, as an adult. He comes to New York in the present day by way of Avalon’s magic to seek the aid of his old friends. In short, the Archmage, Demona, Macbeth, and the Weird Sisters are waging war on the mythical island of Avalon, a real place in the show’s lore. Goliath, Bronx, and Elisa accompany Tom back to Avalon, and along the way, he tells them of his life on Avalon with the Magus and Princess Katharine; how they’ve survived so long, what they’ve been up to, what became of the clan’s rookery eggs. We also get the Magus’ perspective on things, which is much less rosy, as he is and always has been in love with the Princess, who favors Tom and considers him her husband. Once the party arrives on Avalon’s shores, Goliath enlists the now grown “eggs” to help in the battle. Ultimately, they wake the sleeping King Arthur Pendragon, and the day is won, although the adversaries escape to fight another day. The battle in “Avalon” would later be dwarfed by an all-out war waged by Oberon and Titania against the residents of Avalon in “Ill Met by Moonlight.” Nonetheless, “Avalon’s” sophisticated storyline and streak of tragedy make it one of my favorites.
It may seem like a random choice, but “A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time” struck an emotional chord with me when I first saw it, one that’s always stuck in my mind. There are two subplots in this episode, but both revolve around books and the power they hold. Macbeth steals a coveted scroll believed to have been inscribed by Merlin himself, believing it to hold magical properties. Meanwhile, a weakened Hudson wanders into the home and hospitality of a blind Vietnam vet turned-author named Jeffrey Robbins (Paul Winfield), who discusses the value of literacy with the aged warrior, who never learned to read. Macbeth takes Broadway prisoner in an attempt to test the power of the scrolls, but discovers that they hold Merlin’s diaries, not his spells. Naturally, Broadway’s clan, including Hudson, come to rescue him. Goliath threatens to destroy the scroll, but the dejected Macbeth no longer cares about it. To everyone’s surprise, Broadway and Hudson plead with Goliath, extolling the value of the written word and the information contained in the artifact. Macbeth simply leaves them to do with the document as they will. Goliath offers to read Broadway the diary, but he says he will read it himself after he learns how. It’s strange, because I’m not a big reader myself, but this episode packs a big emotional punch no matter how many times I see it. This series always had immaculate performances coming from great vocal talent, and “A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time” is an excellent example of that. From John Rhys-Davies conveying Macbeth’s utter sense of defeat to Robbins’ passion for literacy to Broadway (Bill Fagerbakke) and Hudson’s (Edward Asner) newfound interest, the voice work in this episode is incredible. I find it interesting that, unlike many of the series’ great episodes (and several on this list), “Lighthouse” initially teases the prospect of supernatural elements but ends up being about our ability to pass our stories and history down through books. For all his years and wisdom, Macbeth may not be able to see the value in a simple journal, but for someone like Jeffrey, books are a life preserver. His aside from the episode’s end, an excerpt from his next book, is one of my favorite moments in any TV series:
“The written word is all that stands between memory and oblivion. Without books, we are neither teaching nor learning; we are cast adrift. Books are windows to the past, mirrors to the present, and prisms reflecting all possible futures. Books are lighthouses in the dark sea of time.”
“City of Stone” is one of my favorite Gargoyles story arcs for a number of reasons, not the least of which its exploration of series villains Macbeth and Demona. Weisman’s vision of the Scottish King is different from Shakespeare’s play, but the major players are present, and the tale is still tinged with tragedy. Part one sees Goliath’s ex-mate Demona trick wealthy businessman David Xanatos into airing footage of her casting a spell. She tells Xanatos the spell will steal a minute of life from everyone who watches the broadcast, but in reality, it turns them to stone. Throughout the series, Demona is shown to harbor a deep, visceral hatred for humans. She hates them for fearing her kind, and more often than not, blames them for all her problems, even those that are her own fault. “City of Stone” indicts her on this defining character flaw, and we’re treated to flashbacks of a rare positive relationship she has had with a human: Macbeth. At least, it was positive at first, 900 years ago. For a time, decades after the slaughter at Castle Wyvern, Macbeth’s kingdom and Demona’s gargoyles were allies, with her serving at his right hand. The two made a pact with the Weird Sisters that made them immortal, their fates intertwined. In the present, the cryptic and creepy Sisters bring Goliath into play, hoping he can help subdue their “children” without killing them. I love episodes (of any good show) that explore two different stories in separate timelines. The tension in the present storyline is supplemented by seeing what caused it. These two immortals have tormented one another through the years. Ultimately, Macbeth has come to regret making the pact in the first place. “City of Stone” parts 1-4 present a complex storyline, compelling character arcs, and stunning aesthetics, making it my favorite episode(s) of Gargoyles.
Inspired by the X-Men: Days of Future Past storyline, “Future Tense” presents Goliath with a hellscape New York 40 years in the future. Ravaged by Xanatos’ corporation and totally under his control, everything’s gone wrong, and it’s all apparently Goliath’s fault for being gone so long on the “world tour.” Gargoyles have been killed, mangled, and scientifically tested on, people scrape for food and supplies in the streets, and Xanatos’ robots kill civilians on sight. All isn’t as it seems in the bleak episode, but nonetheless, it’s a wild ride from start to finish. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, our heroes have turned out shockingly differently than we’d expect, and the performances really sell the chaos and dire situation. I think this was a really bold story, and it’s an insanely entertaining episode.
“Eye of the Beholder” is Gargoyles’ designated Halloween episode, and that earns it bonus points right out of the gate in my book. Xanatos proposes to Fox, gifting her a magical amulet known as the Eye of Odin. This turns her into a werewolf, and we get some insight into Xanatos’ priorities as he finally puts something before himself. He’s forced to humbly ask Goliath and his clan for help in subduing Fox, but not harming her, which, of course, they do. I also love a scene early in the episode where Elisa and Goliath attend a party, the former dressed as Disney’s Belle.
And that’s my top 5 episodes of Disney’s Gargoyles! What’s your favorite episode? Tell us in the comments and bookmark Geeks + Gamers for more exciting content!