Elisa Maza is the action hero of Gargoyles. While all other characters have their super gargoyle powers, or technological enhancements, or Machiavellian intellect, Elisa has normal human wits, normal human strength, and an extreme drive. She’s the underdog, the audience surrogate, the everyman, and just a pinch of love interest all mixed in one super cool, red-jacketed package. Thus far, her flaw has been nothing more than just being an average human. But the cracks are starting to show, and the everyday humanity that makes Elisa such a likeable character might ultimately lead to her downfall.
As a quick personal anecdote: the major reason this blog had to cease for a while was because of the stage production I was working on in my off-time, in addition to the day job getting increasingly more intense in the past few months. It all kind of came to a head at the same time, and even though I thought I’d prepared for it and what it would entail, I ultimately had to turn my back—both intentionally and unintentionally—on a lot of things, friends and family included, to make it all work. It was justified in some (not all) cases, because you have to make sacrifices for your work, especially when you have other people involved in that work depending on you.
The reason I’m mentioning this now, aside trying to subtly throw in an excuse and apology, is that I learned something throughout the process: no matter how much you believe in what you’re doing, if it comes at the cost of your loved ones, you’re going to feel like crap regardless. If you cast off people for any reason, even if it’s for a noble cause, someone will get hurt. Someone will inevitably be angry or upset, even if only slightly, even if they never verbalize it, and even if you never intended to hurt them, it’s still ultimately your fault for making that choice. In my case, the “noble” cause wasn’t anything more than putting on a donation-based community show that would hopefully attract people without the disposable income to spend on expensive theatre. In Elisa Maza’s case, it’s protecting a secret race of sentient creatures and while protecting everday people at the same time.
Elisa works all hours of the night and presumably some hours of the day, too. Not once has she gone out for drinks to chat about her dating problems with her best gal pal. We’ve never even seen her on a date. In fact, as friendly as she’s been with her coworkers, we’ve never seen her hang out with any of them outside of work. The only time we saw her family was when she was in a hospital bed potentially dying. And granted, in these 11 episodes she’s often doing her own thing, so who knows what she might have been up to offscreen. But consider that when we did get her “day in the life” in “The Edge”, what was she doing? Working. Helping out the gargoyles. Working again. Working and helping out the gargoyles. When we’ve seen her have downtime in “Deadly Force”, she’s hanging out alone, with her cat, until Broadway stops in. As personable as this lady is, she doesn’t seem to have even a speck of a social life outside of the gargoyles. Maybe she did before they came along and she found a purpose with them, I don’t know. But since we’ve met her, she hasn’t really done much else—whether that’s tragic, normal, or justified is up to your perspective at this point, but the concept is there.
So it’s initially unique, then, that “Her Brother’s Keeper” opens up with Elisa finally spending quality time with her brother, Derek.
Except it has nothing to do with him—she’s obsessing over Xanatos, trying to follow him to find out what nefarious schemes he might be planning; Derek’s just there because he can fly a helicopter, making it easier to follow. Derek calls her out on using him and his police connections just to indulge her little obsession, and he’s totally right. As much of a dick as Xanatos has been to the gargoyles, thus far there hasn’t been any attempt at a “master” plan beyond what’s already happened, so actively trying to find something bad is kind of unfounded at this point. But Elisa, as we’ve seen since her first introduction, has an intense drive and sense of responsibility (like meeting the hot gargoyle once and then turning into John-fucking-McClane.) And you could say she does have a responsibility to keep an eye on the arch-enemy. But just a couple of minutes in, and it’s clear there’s a rift between Elisa and Derek because of this; he’s completely validated in feeling used. She barely even makes conversation with him outside of XanatosXanatosXanatos.
Meanwhile, the gargoyles are playing a video game. Or some semblance of one.
Elisa didn’t give them Final Fantasy, though, she gave them a helicopter simulator, which pretty much makes her on par with Marge Simpson in terms of video game gifts. Broadway asks the million dollar question: “Why do you wanna learn to fly a helicopter, you’ve got wings!” The response is merely more fat jacks.
Meanwhile, Xanatos, being Xanatos, is apparently aware that he’s being followed. He ends up at the Diamond Exchange, where we run into our favorite terrible haircuts, Jackal and Hyena.
The pointy-haired duo mention that Wolf and Fox are in prison, and Dingo is somehow in Europe…whether these two escaped or what is never established. They decide to steal a “Coyote Diamond” (foreshadowing?), but someone has already bought it on the spot. The only reason they don’t grab it and shoot up the place? “Style.”
Hyena has a fucking mental breakdown when it gets purchased, which is exquisitely animated and hilarious. If the goal was to make these two look more unhinged than they already were, it’s been met.
Of course, who else but David Fucking Xanatos is buying it.
Finally, Jackal and Hyena get recognized as those big #1 TV stars that were all over pop culture. The lone Hyena whips out a terrifying letter opener to hold off a large crowd, and people scream and back away (including presumably armed cops.)
Jackal, however, decides to be more reasonable.
Now outed to the crowd, they they take the sensible approach and backflip away.
They make it to the roof, and—total sidenote, but—I particularly like the sound of footsteps here. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the sound of footsteps in Gargoyles has always stuck out to me. There’s a bit more detail in it than you often get, with slight sliding sounds mixed in with the steps, giving it a cool effect.
Anyway, Jackal and Hyena note how they “planned for something like this.” Which is to say, they hid hang gliders on the roof.
Elisa and Derek, hearing about the mayhem over their police radio, stop Hyena and Jackal from hang gliding away (no, really, what?), but Jackal gets his backflip on and pulls out a rocket launcher that they also hid on the roof as part of their preparations.
Xanatos tackles Jackal before he can cause serious damage, but Derek still has to land the helicopter swiftly since the rocket still hit the back of the craft. In the confusion, Jackal and Hyena manage to hang glide away (still, what?). “Never a gargoyle around when you need one,” Xanatos says to Elisa, pissing her off with his suaveness, as often happens. Then Xanatos, impressed with Derek’s landing skills in the face of crisis, starts taking a liking to him….and offers him a job.
Derek barely resists his charms long enough to give him a firm “Maybe.” The guy is weirded out, of course, but not quite swayed one way or another. Elisa accidentally tips the scales, though, by saying: “Ignore him Derek, he’s just using you to annoy me.”
Not unlike Elisa’s initial interaction with Matt Bluestone, she’s being a total dick here. The difference is that while Elisa’s attitude with Matt was caused by stress, here she’s simply not showing much regard for her brother’s feelings. She might be right about Xanatos, but she doesn’t even consider her that her brother might, you know, have liked being told that he’s good at his job. The way it’s phrased, it’s clear that Elisa has blinders on to everything in this situation outside of “Xanatos has an ulterior motive!” It’s not untrue, but no matter what Elisa knows, I can’t help but side with Derek on this one. Casting off the very possibility that Xanatos honestly gave Derek a compliment is an insult, because it implies that there’s no way he can be that good at it. As we learn a couple of scenes later, Elisa is Derek’s big sister, and getting belittled by an older sibling is a common Achilles’ Heel for a lot of younger siblings.
In Elisa’s defense, she shows clear worry about her brother when he’s not around. She’s being admirably active here, actually, going to the gargoyles for help. They’re pretty cool about it, too, offering to reveal themselves to him as a way to convince him of Xanatos’s true nature. Lex, however, is totally obsessed with Jackal and Hyena being missing because of his vendetta. Be prepared, because this continues for a while (and I’ll touch on it.)
Elisa immediately goes to tell Derek everything without hesitation, which is already refreshing for a Big TV Secret™. But in an even better twist, he cuts her off to tell her he’s taking the job. That passing, indirect and unintentional insult Elisa threw out hurt him more than she realized, and it’s pushed him to the proverbial dark side. And this has all happened within the first 10 minutes!
Then, finally, we see Elisa having drinks with someone outside of work. It’s her father.
Elisa discusses the dilemma and tries to spin it from a different perspective: she believes it’d kill his mother if he quits “the family business” (an interesting little character tidbit.) Hilariously, this scene immediately jump cuts to their mom telling Derek that of course it’s okay the quit if that’s what he wants to do. This episode does a really stand-up job at twisting this kind of formula.
Elisa heads into the locker room talk to Derek. In spite of all her naked coworkers, Elisa’s just all, “Eh, nothin’ to see here.”
The two argue again, but Derek is being more and more stand-offish. At this point, it’s become less about whether it’s right to take the job, and more about his big sister being both a weirdo (she says Xanatos practically is the Prince of Darkness!) and trying to control his life. We don’t shed any light on their past, really, but the implication seems to be that this isn’t a one-time occurrence. Elisa’s interactions with Goliath have often involved her constantly pushing and pushing and pushing him to make a decision, like the multi-episode move from the castle. She was right in that case, and her secondary function as an adviser for the clan justifies it. But it’s starting to seem like being a self-righteous bossypants (even if for good reason) is part of her nature. Coupled with good instincts, that makes her a good, even if forceful, kind of protector; but it’s got to be grating to someone like her brother, especially when he thinks her instincts are wrong.
Elisa isn’t going to let this go, so she asks the gargoyles to keep an eye on him…if they can get along. It seems that the bickering over the video game earlier wasn’t just a joke, this is a full-on resurgence of the Trio’s antagonism toward each other from the early episodes. It’d been put on the backburner lately, mostly due to separation and dire circumstances. But now that they’ve settled in, the slightest little frustration ignites a spat. It was Lex hogging the video game earlier, and now it’s Lex continuing to be obsessive about The Pack.
I don’t think Lex being at the center of these arguments was meant to be anything insidious, if that’s where it sounds like I’m leading; it’s more convenience, really. This is an episode about sibling relationships, and including sibling villains Jackal and Hyena—the only brother/sister villains we’ve had so far—just-so-happened to be tied to Lex, giving him motivation to spark these arguments. Jackal and Hyena themselves don’t really contribute much other than a sly connection to the theme, though I guess you could say their borderline-incestousness is at least, well, different from any other sibling relationship on the show. Though the episode doesn’t go as deep as it could in juxtaposing all these relationships, it’s worth noting the care it took to weaving these threads together to fit the theme, much better than the stitched-together “Let’s just mention homes a lot” faux-theme of “Enter Macbeth”.
Jackal and Hyena are sanctioned by Fox via phone call to waste Xanatos, just because he’s a meanie. They decide to go all-out, using a hi-tech helicopter trying to shoot him down just because, you know, revenge and whatever. Gotta give props for this, too, since it uses the villains’ obvious insanity to justify a crazy assassination plot that has next to no motivation whatsoever.
The Trio works together to take out Jackal and Hyena, throwing them out of the copter. It turns out they have parachutes, but…would our heroes really know that? I’m pretty sure they figured they’d just die from this.
Lex uses his knowledge of the flight simulator to keep the copter from crashing on the people below, and we get some cute banter from Brooklyn, like “Famous last words,” and a nicely contextualized “Use the force, Lex.” It’s cheesy, but it’s subdued enough that it totally lands. The whole sequence where they try to land is very cool.
They do manage to get it on the ground, and Lex claims he can get it all fixed up by the next night.
More desperate now that the job with Xanatos has clearly put Derek in danger, Elisa decides to step up her game. Curiously, she goes to Fox in prison, and suddenly the flat leader of who’ve thus far been the weakest villains in the show becomes hella interesting.
This entire scene is absolutely stunning, played with almost no music whatsoever, with a spot-on performance by Laura San Giacomo, and beautifully animated facial expressions. It’s a quiet scene full of exposition—something Gargoyles has already often collapsed under the weight of—but not only is it engaging, it’s enlightening for multiple characters. Fox reveals that she knows everything, and explains how Xanatos set up own assassination attempt because he wanted Derek, because he gets what he wants. “You’re so far behind him, he’s pathetic. He told me to tell you,” she says. “He’s the most brilliant man on the face of the earth.” We know Xanatos is the master manipulator, but the scale on which he’s playing for something so simple is legitimately frightening. Fox is caught somewhere between being his accomplice and being utterly infatuated by him, to the point that sunlight magically starts shining on her.
Elisa is left feeling like an utter failure; defenseless, powerless, and belittled.
None of this matters, though, because we later find out that Xanatos’s personal retreat is called Xanadu. I am abso-fucking-lutely not making that up.
Anyway, Elisa and the gargs follow Xanatos and Derek there, and it’s a good thing they do, since Hyena and Jackal are carrying their vendetta to the extreme.
The gargoyles show up to save the day, like they do, but this time in the new Hi-Tech Super Gargoyle Chopper™ with net-missle and blinding light action!
After a pretty cool chase sequence with the super cool helicopter, our heroes finally catch Jackal and Hyena.
...And for some reason, Hyena’s face seems to imply that this is part of yet ANOTHER maaaaaaaaster plaaaaaaaan.
Afterwards, Elisa tries to have a moment with Derek and introduce him to the gargoyles—only to find out that he already knows. Xanatos one-upped her once again, telling him about how “He tried to help them, but he rejected them,” and spinning his lies, blackmail and murder attempts as little “mistakes.”
Goliath breaks up the sibling squabble and gives them a silly little speech about the importance of family, how his is dead, etc. etc. While the deeper pathos are appreciated, tying in Goliath’s tragic backstory is a bit unnecessary. The story works better as a grounded one, something any brother or sister can relate to. Elisa is only looking out for her little brother, but she’s gone about it so harshly that all it’s done is alienate him and deny him a choice. Had she left him to make his own choice when Xanatos first offered him the job, he probably would have brushed it off. Instead, Elisa tried to force Derek into her viewpoint, and that pushed him toward the guy who was leaving it up to him. Elisa admits to her mistakes, and tries to make up to him by giving him the choice of listening to the tape. But by this point—and if this really has been going on all their lives—it’s too late for him to listen to his pushy big sister.
But at the end of the day for Elisa, after her friends have turned to stone and her family has gone to live their own lives, where does she end up?
“Her Brother’s Keeper” continues the upward swing of this season’s final quarter into the mature territory the show is known for. The pilot dealt with death and tragedy and the horror of humanity, sure. But there’s a very specific horror involved when the parts of your life you hold most dear are lost to you. Despite what the uplifting orchestra might suggest sometimes, the entire first season has been decidedly cynical thus far, with someone somewhere always managing to sneak some win for the bad guys every week. “Her Brother’s Keeper” doesn’t even try to hide that, but its events aren’t what are chilling about it. Derek is alive and well, after all, and has proven that he can take care of himself. There’s no reason he can’t come to his senses down the line, or listen to that tape and become a spy on Xanatos for Elisa. He could become a valuable asset, right? However, the ominous, but uncertain, final shot would suggest otherwise.
Elisa isn’t a brooding superhero who had great responsibility thrust upon her. She chose to be a protector, as a cop and of the gargoyles, something she had to know would require time, effort, and sacrifice. There are always consequences for your choices, good or bad. And while she’s managed to keep afloat thus far, it’s only a matter of time before things get worse.
Next week: Worf wakes up in the first season finale.