Any good superhero team needs an opposing supervillain team. Even amongst the craziness this show has thrown out, The Pack is still the closest to feeling like colorful, wacky comic book villains. It also makes them the least interesting ones so far, but at least we can get some fun, mindless action out of them. It’s not like an episode about The Pack can yield anything with nightmare fuel or romance, right?
After a brand-spanking new season 2 opening—well, it now has the iconic voiceover and a couple of new scenes to replace some of a lamer ones—we open with a dude in a robotic coyote suit scaling a wall, not unlike how gargoyles do with their claws. It’s a prison, one so high security that it possesses exactly one hallway guard with the most inexplicably bad hair I’ve seen on this show, which is saying something.
Coyote dude uses a sonic wave on the guard that screws with his senses and makes him hallucinate…pretty horrifically, actually.
But seriously, it’s unexpectedly freaky, not to mention the trauma the guard is visibly in afterwards. It’s a striking way to start the episode…until the music becomes stupidly peaceful and quaint after the device is turned off and the Coyote dude steals the guard’s keys. Not sure who made that choice with the score, but it’s a lame one.
If it wasn’t apparent in the episode’s title, members of The Pack are the ones being sprung from this prison. We get a peak of how they’re spending their lives behind bars: Jackal is chillin’, Wolf is doing like a billion one-handed push-ups, Hyena is playing with cockroaches, and Fox…well….
“Nieztche’s too butch and Kafka reminds me of your little friends over there,” Fox says, referring to the cockroaches (ha!). I’m not familiar with Sartre’s writing beyond what I skimmed on his Wikipedia page, so I can’t say if it’s some sly reference to the underlying theme of the episode (last time was more existentialist than this one is.) But it’s probably meant to quickly establish her intellect, which wasn’t readily apparent in her first appearance as a generic bad guy and second as a lovestruck accomplice. Showing her reading about French philosophy and Marxism is a little…forced, to say the least, but it gives color to a character that feels like she should be more important than she has been. It also makes sense given how the structure and ultimate goal of the episode unfolds, but we’ll get to that at the end.
Anyway, Dingo arrives to free the guys and stops them from building a pillow fort, having been presumably freed by Coyote.
Coyote introduces himself to the girls, on the other hand (he identifies himself as Coyote, which…duh.) Hyena is immediately smitten, of course, and since the only way to impress a guy is with murder, she goes after a guard.
Fox, however, saves the guard’s life by stopping Hyena from murdering her. This is a much more interesting way to present Fox as someone with hidden depths, as she plans to stay in prison and “fulfill her debt.” Hyena thinks she’s nuts, but suddenly we’re all the more intrigued.
That said, it’s also an easy way to set-up this new member and obvious leader of The Pack (see what I did there?) And that’s exactly what Coyote shows off he’s capable of, as he tears the place to shreds with his super strength and array of blasters.
After this extensive sequence, Elisa informs the clan that The Pack was freed by “Dingo and someone dressed in black.” …Black?
Anyway, Lex freaks out as par the course for him, though his freak-out this time is kind of… well…
Adorable, is what it is. And quite silly, especially considering it amounts a Popeye routine. The silliness is mostly the result of the animation, which morphs what’s supposed to be uneasy fidgeting into a jittery mess. That’s unfair to the character, admittedly, because it’s clear that Lex is meant to be acting irrationally angry. I like Brooklyn quite a lot in this scenario, as he sympathizes with Lex’s plight and tries to keep him tempered like any good bro ought to.
Back with The Pack, Coyote instills himself as the new leader (duh) to Wolf’s dismay. The two tussle, but Coyote kicks his ass. It’s pretty standard “supervillains fight amongst themselves because they’re shitty people” fare, but it’s in-character for Wolf, especially.
If it wasn’t obvious that Coyote was being voiced by Jonathan Frakes this whole time, he unmasks himself to everyone’s “surprise.” It’s becoming apparent now that if someone’s in a cybernetic anthropomorphic animal battlesuit, it’s definitely going to be Xanatos.
Something’s…off about all this, though. Particularly that Xanatos voices his main motivation as getting revenge on The Gargoyles for thwarting his plans all the time. He’s never really been all that pissed at them before, and has even all-but-admitted his lack of hard feelings towards them. Was his loss in “Reawakening” really all that bad? This is Xanatos we’re talking about, so it’s obvious that he must be playing The Pack somehow. But until that becomes clear, he’s spending his time giving The Pack their old duds back and bringing them together as a team. Which prompts Wolf to casually rip off his shirt in delight.
Meanwhile, with the knowledge that Xanatos created The Pack Goliath barges into Xanatos’s place like a beast.
Owen is the only one there, since Xanatos doesn’t keep his castle-mansion fully-staffed due to all he illegal robot weapons and monsters barging in all the time, presumably. Goliath demands information, but all Owen does is give them sly hints for where The Pack may be (i.e. tells them exactly where to go and what to do.) It’s an odd, slightly lazy choice to have Owen just…tell them where to go, but that’s something we’ll address at the end.
Brooklyn goes with Lex and Bronx to Pack Media Studios, and Brooklyn uses the opportunity to try and quell Lex’s rage. Not that continuity is a surprise in this show, but it’s notable how Brooklyn uses his very similar betrayal by Demona to empathize. It doesn’t work, but it’s a noble enough effort. Brooklyn frankly hasn’t gotten very much solo screentime in the show thus far, so his conversations with Lex showcase a level of common sense and intelligence that weren’t apparent before. It fits with what we’ve seen, given how snarky and sarcastic he normally is—he’s usually just voicing common sense—and, like Fox, gives the slightest bit of color to an otherwise underdeveloped character. Not that it matters for Lex, because as soon as The Pack shows up…
Lex has about the reaction you’d expect.
Brooklyn tries to hold back his buddy, but Lex just can’t resist.
They try to fight off The Pack, and while they lose badly, it’s a decent enough sequence. Brooklyn gets lots of hits on Hyena, which is surprising considering most action cartoons’ avoidance of having dudes hit chicks. But this show has done a nice job with throwing out women on par with or stronger than the men, so it’s only fair that a particularly nasty one can take a sucker punch square in the jaw.
Lex’s utterly ridiculous unbound rage is especially fun to watch, and you can’t help but love seeing the little guy wail on everyone. His anger is stretched out to a cartoonish extent, admittedly, but I’d like to think it’s meant to showcase a big point about his character. Lex is bound to have an inferiority complex considering his stature, his baldness, and the fact that he’s the smart nerdy one among all the buff fighters. His clan is good to him and it doesn’t seem like he’s been bullied, but he is certainly more susceptible to it, and has probably been left out or forgotten by accident on numerous occasions. It’s enough to have frustration built up within him, even if he hasn’t had as many bad things happen to him directly. And even though he’s never flown off the handle this badly before, he’s shown to get pretty angry when he’s being abused by people for being different, like the townsfolk in the pilot and the kids in the alley in “The Thrill of the Hunt.”
As usual, Lex, Brooklyn and Bronx are kidnapped when The Pack wins the battle (Brooklyn even remarks how this is becoming a pattern.) The rest of the clan shows up per Owen’s message, but only after The Pack has cleared out. They then get another lead from Owen, who calls a phone at the building. Again, he tells them exactly where to go to find The Pack, which this time is on a boat…just…because. Why he didn’t just tell them to go straight there in the first place instead of having them detour to the studio is beyond me, though. It’s all lazy, if we’re being honest.
In any case, everyone knows everything is a trap and no one cares because we’ve got to get to the action. And we do, as a fight with guns and big sonic weapons breaks out on the boat, yadda yadda yadda.
The fight is pretty much what you’d expect, with some cool moments mixed with generic fighting moves. In the midst of all this, Lex, Brooklyn and Bronx escape and join the fight, and a fire breaks out, as they often do. Hudson gets some cool moves in, like slashing off Hyena’s claws, which isn’t physically possible but okay.
Goliath also fights back Coyote’s hallucinogenic sonic wave because…well, I don’t know. Everyone always talks about how perfect of a trump card Goliath is, so I guess it makes sense. It would have been cool if the heroes had to come up with some creative way to stop the wave from working rather than just…the power of being the perfect stud, or whatever. Anyway, Goliath eventually unmasks Coyote as Xanatos and gets into a pretty epic wrestling match with him (which was spoiled in the new opening credits.)
And then finally something happens that isn’t totally predictable.
Well, it’s freaky enough that we see Bronx ripping a guy’s face off, but it’s justified when we find that:
First of all: GAAAAH! And also: Cool! This whole development seems entirely unnecessary and tacked-on at first, but it also explains the inconsistencies. Why was Xanatos suddenly so squarely focused on revenge? He wasn’t, it was just the main mission this particular android was programmed for. Also, Hyena says, “A robot? Even better…” with a smirk, so you know, we have similar tastes.
But nevermind all that, because Lex shoots a hole through Coyote’s torso and Goliath KICKS HIS SCREAMING HEAD OFF.
So there’s your nightmare fuel for the next week. Explosions prevent The Gargoyles from getting a full win in, though, as the boat starts sinking and The Pack gets away. Our heroes glide away, though not before a creative and well-animated moment where Bronx howls while almost sinking with the ship.
Lex apologizes to Brooklyn, too, citing their almost dying in battle and losing Brooklyn because of his carelessness as helping him get his priorities straight. It’s not much of a resolution since the consequences weren’t really that huge (every episode ends in a crazy battle where they almost die) but it’s as much of an arc as we’re bound to get with everything going on. Lex still has the capacity to fly off the handle, though, and that leaves something for the show to deal with later on down the line.
Back at the prison, we find that Fox has been granted an early parole, mostly thanks to her actions during the breakout.
Her ride when she gets out?
“Who won?” Fox asks Xanatos. “It never mattered. It was the icing, you’re the cake.” Xanatos built a robot—of which he could build dozens—just to break The Pack out to allow Fox to not escape and thus get an early parole. Everything else with The Pack vs. The Gargoyles was just kinda for fun, a test to see which wacky team of misfits would win in a fight. Because Xanatos is not only a playa, he’s a player. Like, of chess. “Revenge is a sucker’s game,” he says. “True love was the main mission.” That’s my Xanatos.
And then, of course, we end on a quaint, fitting scene of–
What the heck did we just watch? I don’t really mean that in a bad way—well, not mostly. There’s a lot of random bits thrown into “Leader of the Pack”, but not always bits that make this particular episode terribly interesting. The main plot is so color-by-numbers that it’s laughable (again, Owen literally tells everyone how to get from plot point to plot point), but that can be rationalized by everyone following and falling into Xanatos’s plans. However, things like the nightmare fuel-inducing sonic wave or Lex’s rage—which you’d think would make up the primary goals or plot devices of the episode—are inexplicably beaten and quickly resolved, respectively. With that in mind, this episode fails miserably as a standalone action adventure. At least “The Thrill of the Hunt” had a pseudo-moral; this one just lets Lex wail on The Pack a bit and then ends.
But then, it’s a bit of a bait-and-switch for our expectations. Where the main plot fails, it makes up for (and makes a whole lot more sense as) being the season premiere, and functioning as a surprise introduction to upcoming threads. This episode confirms the romance between Xanatos and Fox, and throws out clues for why they’d be compatible. It introduces a creepy-ass robot head called Coyote, and the way it’s ominously presented at the end teases that it might become something important down the road. It’s also another showcase of just how good Xanatos is at manipulating people. Even when people know they’re being manipulated, they end up being manipulated to do something else completely. The final scene ratchets this episode way up in points as we realize what it was doing this whole time, and the 20 minute misdirect is a perfect representation of everything we love about Xanatos.
But at that, “Leader of the Pack” still remains a lackluster affair on its own. The last 60 seconds are the most important, but we could have used some tightening to not feel like everything leading up to it was a waste of time. That’s a shame, but at least the surprising bits successfully amp up excitement for what’s to come in this second season. Xanatos was scary enough for being a super-smart weirdo, but now he’s a super-smart weirdo who’s in love and has something to lose. That’s bound to make things more interesting for him.
Next time: Fox isn’t a fan of Kafka, but apparently someone is.