Old age is a strange topic for shows in the 6-11 (or even 12-18) demographic to hit. But it’s a recurring theme in numerous animated shows past and present; I mean, consider that the entire conciet of Batman Beyond is “What happens when Bruce Wayne becomes too old?” Even stranger, that concept of “too old” is often dealt with better than any actual child-centered tales are in childrens’ programming. After a run of wacky action, colorful villains and broad morality tales establishing its first season, Gargoyles started to slow down and look at the more “mature” characters with “The Edge,” and takes it to the next level with “Long Way to Morning”—a belated spotlight on our beloved Old Beard.
Right from the start, this episode sets itself apart from its predecessors: it opens with a pre-“Awakening” flashback in Scotland. This is the first time the show has flashed back, and thus the first hint that the characters we met in the first two episodes have not been forgotten.
A King tells his daughter, who we realize is a younger Katherine from the pilot, to “Go to sleep or the gargoyles will get ya.” This is promptly followed by family friend Hudson, an aforementioned gargoyle that would get her, popping out. It’s pretty much like if you told your kids stories of the Boogeyman attacking them, and then introducing them to their new babysitter, the Boogeyman.
That’s actually not a criticism, though, oddly enough. It infers Katherine’s character as we came to know her, for one—why she tolerates the gargoyles even though she hates them. And it’s not completely without precedent; it’s not any different than people who throw out homophobic and racist jokes but shrug them off because “I’ve got plenty of gay/black/etc. friends!” or “Hey all jokes are kinda racist!” a la Paula Deen. Hudson sort of calls the King out on it, but doesn’t try too hard since he’s never been the outspoken activist type. The King just brushes him off for being “too sensitive.” It’s kind of hilarious how relevant and familiar this scenario is to current culture, isn’t it?
We get some exposition about the Archmage, someone who’s apparently a villain or whatever, who has “returned” wanting “revenge” on the King. There aren’t any specifics, but they don’t really matter because the Archmage shows up within 10 seconds of his first mention. Any other time I’d call this shoddy writing, but as we learn, this attack is not meant to be the focus. The Archmage gets his revenge pretty quickly, using his terrifying, malevolent wizardly to…shoot a blowdart.
Hudson isn’t able to stop the dart from hitting the King, and it poisons him. Katherine runs out after the Archmage bolts, and attempts to do that “sad girl weakly weeping/punching a big man” thing they do on TV all the time. I mean, that’s kind of what it looks like. The animation in this episode is kind of awful again, unfortunately. In any case, she’s angry because she automatically assumes Hudson did it, which has absolutely nothing to do with the xenophobic comments her father has gradually instilled in her, nothing at all.
In the present, Broadway reveals that his tastes have suddenly become more refined than eat everything everywhere all the time, as he wants blintzes for breakfast. Hudson, meanwhile, is being all introspective, “just dreaming old dreams.” If it’s not obvious yet, this is going to be the first Hudson-centric episode, and it’s already setting itself apart from the spotlights on the Trio.
The Trio themselves are something of an experiment, each character starting out as an individual conciet (the cool one, the inquisitive one, the fat one) totally devoid of baggage so they could grow and expand without restraint. “The Thrill of the Hunt” and “Temptation” capitalized on this, giving the characters new things to learn and do, but without too much history behind them, there was also time to introduce new villains and larger philosophical concepts. “Deadly Force” didn’t develop Broadway much for the sake of the bigger story, but not to the episode’s detriment, and it also shed new light on his naivete.
All that’s to say: none of those stories would work for Hudson. While visually, he’s “the old one,” he was established in the first three parts of “Awakening” as being a third of the Goliath/Demona/Hudson trio that led the clan. He was there when all the shit went down, and Goliath probably would have killed a lot of people if Hudson hadn’t been there to bring him down with his calm wisdom and advice and stuff. That dynamic faded into the background after around “Awakening, Part Three”, when Elisa started fulfilling that role for Goliath, leaving Hudson to be the butt of “Americans watch too much TV jokes.” Over. And over. And over. There’s a level of tragedy to it, though; that the once-high ranking gargoyle is now just fat grampa sitting around all day and complaining. He doesn’t fit in with this world.
But let’s pause this discussion for a brief moment. Because we cut to Elisa’s place where—wait, wasn’t she going to be keeping her gun in a safe place from now on? Because…
Anyway, Demona breaks in, and Elisa takes fighting stance.
Demona crashes in and she shoots her with a …laser…dart?
Anyway, like the King in the flashback, Elisa has been hit with a poison dart. Demona at least has the decency to explain it, unlike the Archmage: Elisa will be dead in 24 hours and Goliath needs to meet Demona for the antidote. It seems like this will be an obvious parallel to the flashback, where Hudson saves Elisa from the poison when he couldn’t save the King. Except, we get a curve ball.
No, the dart hit her badge, so she’s totally fine. She takes it to the clan, and though they all know it’s a trap, Goliath wants to go anyway. He makes a good point: if he doesn’t, Demona will know Elisa is alive and come after her again, more ruthlesssly. Goliath also notes that he doesn’t know what to do with her—they can’t lock her up there, and he “doesn’t want to discuss the alternative” because the censors said so (and also that would suck.)
He gives everyone else jobs of protecting Elisa (mostly because Brooklyn is still angry with Demona from the whole Grimorum debacle, and because Lex and Broadway are chopped liver, I guess.) So he’s dragging the least likely candidate and yet his most trusted ally: Old Beard.
The two go to the meeting place. Demona shows up with a laser, because of course she does, and Goliath immediately gets hit by it.
Demona fires her laser at Hudson, but it reflects off the metal in the sword, which is…I mean…sure, why not. Who knows what kind of laser it is, right? It could do that. It allows Hudson to escape with the injured Goliath, and a surprisingly slow-paced action sequence ensues. They crash through the roof (and stage) of a nearby theatre, but our heroes are shielded by all the giant props, and it’s cool that THEATRE SAVES THE DAY, WOOT. “You can run, but you can’t hide. In fact…you can’t even run, ” Demona says.
Back in Scotland, we see the young Magus being all fabulous and Katherine still being a dumb 8-year-old bitch.
Magus can only heal the King with the Grimorum, which the Archmage has. Hudson, totally committed to saving the life of his racist friend, asks for Goliath and Demona to help him retrieve it. While they all eventually agree to help, Demona totally throws up attitude because “Ugh defeating the Archmage will be haaaaaaaaaard” and “Ew Hudson is like so totallyold now gag me with a spoon.”
Back in the present, Demona is giving Hudson one last chance to swear fealty to her before leveling the theatre. She does anyway, and one of the notes I took during this sequence episode was, “Fuck demona is killing that theatre so sad,” so you see where my emotion is. “Oh but you’re a clever old thing,” she says, after discovering that he escaped out the window, which isn’t all that clever but eh. And then she immediately calls him foolish when she deduces they went into the sewer.
In the past again, Demona keeps up all her ranting, and says verbatim, “I’ve never seen him look so old.” Within earshot of Hudson.
“But his age brings wisdom,” is Goliath’s defense, but that still plays into how his age is the only fact about Hudson that people can come up with, positive or negative. And Hudson is totally aware of it. Broadway’s episode didn’t have people telling him how he needed to lose weight; this one is directly pointing out Hudson’s archetype and spinning it as something tragic.
After deducing that the Archmage “wants to be followed,” they get to his cave, where Demona FREAKS OUT about a cave drawing/etching thing.
In the present again, Hudson and Demona reenact that part in The Fugitive at the sewer dam, and Hudson just fucking jumps like Harrison Ford.
And then Demona gets…uh…
Yeah, she legit gets struck by lightning for absolutely no reason. She also sees it coming somehow? I don’t know. It doesn’t get mentioned ever again, either. I guess this would technically be a big-lipped alligator moment for the episode? Because I don’t get it.
After getting out of the water, Hudson relays to Goliath the rest of the flashback story to keep his spirits up. The three fight the Archmage, who I must point out is voiced flawlessly by the always flawless David Warner. And he uses the much more effective magic missiles now, instead of blowdarts.
They have a pretty forgettable fight and get the Grimorum…mostly thanks to Goliath and Demona getting out of the way when the Archmage runs at them. This malevolent, powerful evil that the kingdom feared and Demona herself was super terrified of facing? He throws himself off a cliff.
It’s worth noting here that the Archmage’s “master plan” made no sense, and if there was a master plan, it failed fantastically. Why did he poison the King instead of killing him there? Why did he seemingly want to be followed? What did he have to gain? If this gets revealed later on, don’t tell me, because I honestly don’t remember. But in the context of this episode…this little plot was kind of a mess, considering how simple it was.
Anyway, Hudson got his eye cut and blinded in the fight, and the wound automatically turns into the scar we all know and love.
In the present again, they end up in a cemetery, because they would end up in a cemetery.
Demona continues her taunting, telling Hudson what he can’t do because of his age, not unlike her flashback self. She eggs him on to come out, and despite Goliath’s pleas, Hudson says, “I can face her…I just can’t beat her.” And, apparently, decides it’s best to go down fighting. And then shit gets AWESOME.
Hudson just GOES FUCKING AT HER with his sword. And I mean GOES. AT. HER. He’s still pretty damn spry in his old age, hopping from gravestone to gravestone and not stopping for a single breath. This is the first time we’ve seen him let loose, and so far it’s the best use of that signature sword.
Like, he’s just fucking wailing on her. She doesn’t even get to pull the trigger on her laser weapon—he forces her to use it as a blunt force weapon. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, even though the animation is sub-par at best in this episode, this fight is waaaaaaaaaay more epic than when Goliath was fighting Macbeth.
Goliath tries to help out, but only makes it worse by being a distraction, thus allowing Demona the upper hand. “I’m smarter, stronger and younger than you!” she yells at Hudson—a little on the nose, of course, but it checks out. However, Hudson retorts: “I know something you don’t. Something that only comes with age. …I know how to wait.” It turns out the slow-movingness of the chase sequence was on purpose. It was a long con, an hours-long stall to keep Demona doing her creepy-stalker routine for as long as possible until she got fed up…only for the sun to come up before she could do anything.
This is awesome, and a wonderful payoff for an already strong mini-journey. Unfortunately, this last exchange is undermined by Demona’s previous comments that imply she’s been alive for a really long time (and spoiler: she’s totally over a thousand years old.) We aren’t supposed to know it for a fact yet, but it’s been pretty heavily implied. So, while I totally get what they’re trying to do here, the fact that this is Demona voicing the “youth” side of the argument and not, well, every other villain ever, seriously hurts an otherwise strong juxtaposition. But in any case, the idea behind it, and the execution surrounding that logistical slip-up, is fantastic.
Back in the past, our heroes return to the King with the Grimorum. However, Hudson decides to step down as leader and have Goliath step up, which has nothing to do with all his friends’ comments about how lousy he is, etc. Nothing at all.
In any case, Goliath still looks fondly on his loyal mentor, and might be the only one who still thinks he’s pretty damn competent regardless of his age. Thus, he asks Hudson to stand by his side as an adviser/second-in-command/what-have-you. It’s evident what they’re dynamic is, now: Hudson forced Goliath to grow up, but Goliath is never, ever going to stop respecting the one who came before him.
In the present again, they wake up from their stone sleep and Goliath is healed. Since he’s a total trump card, Demona’s just got to run scared. She maniacally laughs and tells them the poison has run its course and THERE IS NO ANTIDOTE MUHAHAHAHAHA. Which is…hilarious.
The playful twist that Demona now believes Elisa to be dead is akin to Elisa’s method of breaking the spell on Goliath in “Temptation.” It’s distinctly Gargoyles, a twist that might not be totally necessary, but harkens back to Shakespearean irony and other classical prose; it borders on nonsensical sometimes, and is often tacked on to the story, but it just adds so much flavor. It’s layered with half poetic justice, half…well..nihilism, oddly enough, just in a way that benefits the leads. The universe throws out these random twists of fate for no reason sometimes (Elisa’s badge blocking the dart, the spell in the Grimorum not having horrible consequences) and our heroes just happen to be smart or creative enough to let it work in their favor. Or in this case, it’s just blind luck. And really, there’s something impossibly dark about the idea that, had it not been for that one police badge in the exact right place…Elisa totally would have been dead now. There was no antidote to begin with, right? That’s…rough.
Anyway, Goliath and Hudson do their “Thanks and we’re all still besties” routine. Hudson comments on his old age again, which we’ve come to realize is something that’s been drilled into his head by outside sources constantly, probably before he even started feeling old himself. “There are years of fighting left for you,” Goliath says. Hudson just retorts, “Now there’s something to look forward to.” That’s appropriately dark, isn’t it?
So, the technical stuff. The animation in this episode is unfortunate. While it’s not on the level of no-running-only-prancing awfulness of “Enter Macbeth”, I’d like to think it justifies the frustrations I had with that episode’s writing and directing beyond just the animation. This week’s animation is pretty piss poor, but there’s a lot of clever direction to cover it up (the use of reflection on Hudson’s sword, and especially the cemetery and sewer/dam sequences.) There’s also lots of creative locations for this episode—I mean, we feature a theatre, a cemetery, and a comically gigantic sewer all in one episode. And the writing is really engaging, of course, especially considering this is an episode where our focal character doesn’t have too many lines, really. So far the episodes after the pilot have been pretty cut and dry structure-wise, and “Long Way to Morning” has broken out of the shell before it’s even become old yet. It’s refreshing to get a “different” episode so early in the run (it’s late in the season, but…only 11 episodes in, total.)
Now, the meat of it. I’m not what society would call an “old person” myself, far from it. But I do think all of us can relate to the frustration that comes with people making assumptions about you, telling you what you can and can’t do like it’s a fact they’d know better than you. It’s even worse when deep down, you think they might be right. And then your horrors are sustained when what they say about you comes true. People—peers, friends, us as audience members—started billing Hudson as “the old one.” And that’s what he became—just the old guy, watching TV alone with his dog until he can sleep again.
What’s brilliant about “Long Way to Morning” is that, even though all the “EW OLD PEOPLE” comments are incredibly on-the-nose, Hudson’s internal struggle to overcome his own limitations, internal and external, is completely silent. He makes no mention of it until his final, single monologue to Demona. And Ed Asner delivers the fuck out of that monologue. We see Hudson start to doubt himself, we see him become affected by other people doubting him, we see those doubts justified, and then we see him completely overturn those doubts as if he never had them. It’s impeccably underplayed, a level of subtlety Gargoyles has been distinctly missing, what with its end-of-episode morality recaps and loud orchestral music. This whole episode feels very different from beginning to finish, and succeeds because of it.
Hudson very well might not have learned anything from the experience, but he proved to everyone that he’s capable. No other character could have survived this story. Call me crazy, but I think I’ve decided just now that Hudson is my favorite character. “Long Way to Morning” is just that good.
Next time: Bros before sentient species from a thousand years agos.
I can’t apologize enough for the delay. Like last year, my lease is up around this time, and I’m packing up and moving to another place, which makes it hard to sit down and do these in the chaos. That, and—shameless plug—there’s a show in Richmond I’m co-producing, co-writing, co-directing, and co-acting in (phew!), and we’ve hit the ground running with getting that up by August. So, you know, I’m not just a lazytown bananapants.
Also, apparently Season Two Volume 2 is on DVD or something? Sort of? You have to join Disney’s Movie Club, the coverart is kind of awful, and something tells me there’s probably no extras, or at least none to the extent of the last DVD. So, you know, yay?
There may or may not be an entry next week, just because of the aforementioned time-consuming things, but it’ll be up within the next two weeks at least. I’m not letting another year go by, I promise. I want to finish season 1, for the love of god!