Shakespeare. Cyborgs. Virtual reality. Colorful video game outfits. Lovecraftian horrors. A love story. Our favorite Frankenstein-Worf Gargoyle, Coldstone, returns in the trippiest, most “EXTREME 90s” episode of Gargoyles thus far. It would probably be terrible if it were any show but this one.
We open under the water, where we hear what’s since become Coldstone’s musical motif (a very cool one) and see his body buried.
We get a peek into his head, which leads to a fairly trippy sequence—circuits firing, followed by seemingly random images with weird backgrounds. It’s much less grounded than anything we’ve seen on the show thus far (and this is on a show with flying, talking man-bats.) A voice “initiates new program parameters,” and we see a series of intriguing images of Coldstone macking on a lady gargoyle and subsequently fighting over her with Goliath.
There’s also some creepy gargoyle egging Coldstone on in the jealous-rage stuff.
So…uh…yeah. There’s that. The beneficial thing about this, other than immediately setting the stage for a very weird episode, is that we get a pretty cool view into the gargoyles as a society within themselves. For all this talk about clans, we’ve never seen too much outside of the gargoyle relationship with humans and their castle. We’ve seen them interact with one another about as literally as you’d expect brothers to interact, but outside of Goliath and Demona’s weird relationship, we’ve seen very little of less-familial relationships. They’re an entire species after all, equipped with the same mental capacity as humans. There’s no way they’d all behave like big, happy families all the time.
In any case, it’s a strange way to open a strange episode, even stranger by the place Robot!Coldstone breaks into.
It’s a military research facility that’s housed in, like, a warehouse or something. It also doesn’t have any semblance of order, what with scientists haphazardly experimenting on themselves in obviously not sterile environments. None of it matters, though, since it’s all blown up by a robot gargoyle on a mission to stab computer ports with a switchblade.
Shoving a piece of metal into an electrical device will surely cause the electrocution shown here, but the unexpected result is that it somehow brings Coldstone out of his robotic trance, with no memory of where he is.
Meanwhile, Elisa and Lex fangirl over this device called RECAP that stands for something nonsensical. It’s a new device police are using, “robotics technology linked with virtual reality.” Virtual Reality. Uh-oh. Those words should stand out to anyone who paid attention to pop culture—particularly sci-fi and comics—in the 90s.
A bit of context: technology was booming in this weird, exciting-but-confusing way in the 90s. I mean, that’s when most of us got the internet in our libraries and homes. Think about what that means: there was a time when we had to make it a point to get the internet because we didn’t have it yet and never had it before. The advent of that, alongside the first major uses of things like, say, polygons in video games (“they look so real!” we said), movies and shows made technology seem so alien yet so close to home. You knew all this stuff existed, but you had no idea how it worked or what it did. So while we’d get some pretty great things that did a lot with the “technology is magic” concept, like Reboot for example, we’d also get things where technology turns people into psychos or is hilariously and nonsensically misused (just the first minute of that video.) More specifically, you get buzzwords like “Virtual Reality,” which end up losing all meaning and get thrown in when tech speak is needed, even when it has no use being there. Virtual reality isn’t a very hard concept to crack, but boy howdy did people somehow not understand what the heck it was.
The reason I bring this up is because the stuff in “Legion” needs some of that context. Because, while the science in “Metamorphosis” wasn’t exactly accurate, it at least stayed vague and was kept in the background. We’re going to be seeing how super cool new 90s technology can do everything in this episode, but if you can ignore that aspect, there’s plenty to still look at. Not that I won’t still laugh at it mercilessly.
Since there’s a monster attacking a highly-armed military facility (which is IN THE MIDDLE OF MANHATTAN?!?!) the police are using RECAP to check it out. Which pretty much involves an adorable R/C Roomba that resembles one of the lamer parts of a subpar Sliders episode.
Also, instead of having, like, a video camera, RECAP uses EXTREME VIRTUAL REALITY, so the viewer sees life through a Terminator’s eyes.
Coldstone wanders around the facility, now just trying to get out, and is totally confused as to why he’s being shot at by the guards. “Why did you bring me here just to attack me!” he yells, in a brilliant line reading from Michael Dorn. His “What the fuck is going on?!” reaction is only amplified when he encounters RECAP, which even has weapons and tear gas attached to it, meaning it will definitely take over the world eventually. Coldstone blows it up, which somehow makes Matt—who is, you know, merely watching a video broadcast through a visor—yelp in pain and throw the expensive machine recklessly on the ground.
Coldstone busts out, but Goliath and Lex arrive just in time, as per usual. After some ol’ fashioned wrasslin’, they remind Coldstone that they’re on the same side, offer to let him join their clan, and it’s all puppies and rainbows.
It’s a bit refreshing, actually, that Coldstone isn’t shoehorned into being a villain yet again. They all (presumably) resolved their issues back in his first appearance, so it would be silly to not have him side with him. And it’s a pretty cool reunion, as we learn he had a connection with more than just Goliath; Hudson was his mentor, too, for example. Again, after having been so squarely focused on this clan, it’s nice to hear that these guys are only the last of their kind by luck; there were plenty of others that they were close to that fell in the slaughter.
“There is only one other I miss more,” Coldstone says, before he freezes and his eye starts beeping.
He reboots, now sporting a higher, more effeminate voice that doesn’t recognize where he is. He’s also confused as to why Goliath calls him “brother,” and lets out a perfectly girlish scream upon looking in the mirror.
I like that this isn’t played for laughs. Not that it’s terribly obvious what’s going on yet, but…well, you can probably figure out that there’s a female that’s taken over the body. It’d be easy to try to spin this as awkwardly funny, but Gargoyles has never been that kind of show. Dorn’s brief performance in this state is strikingly good; there’s not much to it, really, it’s just soft enough without feeling exaggerated or like a parody. It’s actually pretty easy to sense the horror of the reveal here, and even plays better than Coldstone’s initial reveal back in “Reawakening.”
After this version of Coldstone escapes…again…Goliath and Hudson chase her down, where a reboot happens yet again. This time, the Coldstone that emerges is darker, obviously evil, and again presented with a subtle-yet-effective change of voice from Dorn. And so, since this gargoyle is evil, apparently, a fight breaks out.
Elisa contacts the clan with some exposition: the government mainframe Coldstone stabbed had quite a few secrets in it, and they were protected by a powerful new computer virus capable of infecting and totally deleting any program that illegally accesses it. The government in the Gargoyles universe is apparently way more effective than the government now at technology (cue ACA website jokes) because the virus is even capable of infecting a mainframe as complex as Coldstone, giving him the virus.
Coldstone is going progressively crazier, freaking out because of the multiple voices in his head and shooting everything everywhere. Luckily, the Trio shows up and knocks him unconscious.
Lex just-so-happens to have the exact plug that will fit into Coldstone’s…neck port? Which he apparently has now?
See why I said to ignore the technology parts of this? “If we want to save him, someone will have to go inside,” Lex says. The plan is to use the VR aspect of RECAP—which apparently does do more than just broadcast video—to go inside the “virtual reality” of Coldstone’s head. Yay for convenience! Goliath offers to go in, needing Lex to stay and monitor the equipment, and also because he doesn’t comprehend how much of a dork he’s going to look like with RECAP on.
Luckily, all this VR BS paves the way for the truly cool aspect of the episode: the inside of Coldstone’s head.
Also, Goliath’s confuddled reaction.
VR Goliath crosses a bridge to get to Castle Wyvern, atop which are three stone gargoyles. Then, Xanatos appears in what must be the most fabulous extreme videogame outfit I’ve ever laid eyes on.
“Surely you didn’t expect to explore Coldstone’s mind without my permission,” Fabulous Extreme Videogame Xanatos says. As a computer program, FEVX’s main directive is to enslave Coldstone to follow Xanatos’s will (hence the Robot!Coldstone invading a government facility at the beginning) but the computer virus is instead devouring the whole place.
One thing to say about this section of the episode is that, even beyond the mindscrewy background designs, the direction is absolutely dynamic. The camera angles are constantly moving and zooming, further enhancing the disorienting effect of Coldstone’s broken, part magic/part computer mind. The dynamic camerawork shown here is hard to pull off in animation, especially during this time, so to see it used to extensively is a real delight.
The stone gargoyles awaken, and the lone female tells Goliath that, since Coldstone was made from pieces of different gargoyles, all their souls are trapped there.
This is a very heady concept. Not heady in the sense that it’s complicated, but in that this show is openly confirming the existence of souls as the essence of a being. It’s not really even treated as a big deal, it’s just another part of life. “Oh, duh, of course their souls would be trapped in that gargoyle’s body if they used different pieces.” It makes sense that the gargoyle characters would accept this considering the time period they’re from, but for the show itself to not shy away from embracing a concept so deeply entrenched in spiritual belief is kind of awesome. In the context of this magical world, it makes sense.
It’s also a distinctive spin on a character that was previously just an homage to Frankenstein. Not that this episode isn’t still a homage to something, it turns out. Even though we got a character named Macbeth in season one, “Legion” is the first time we have a plot that directly alludes to Shakespeare’s works, Othello in this case. The Bard himself isn’t even namedropped, it’s merely up to us to pick up on it, an example of the literary fun we’re going to have later on in the show. But essentially, Coldstone (Othello) is manipulated by the sneaky gargoyle (Iago) into thinking that his lover (Desdemona) is having an affair with Goliath (Cassio). It’s in broad strokes, and Coldstone goes after Goliath directly instead of (spoiler alert) Othello ruining Cassio’s reputation and totally murdering Desdemona, but the story is familiar enough that it functions as an added bit of color. The imagery is reminiscent of common depictions of the characters and some scenes, not to mention that Coldstone’s voice actor is African-American.
We could have easily just had one gargoyle be “bad” and have him attack the rest, but the extra layer of dredging up past tiffs amplifies the chaos and gives more life to Coldstone as a character. It’s actually much easier to believe his immediate anger at Goliath in his first appearance, since he already had trust issues with Goliath from before. It might be a bit superfluous in a storytelling sense, but it’s more interesting seeing this play out than much of the pro-technology stuff was in the early parts of the episode. Also, Shakespeare is awesome, so yeah.
Meanwhile, Matt gets PISSED that RECAP was stolen, turns on a homing beacon, and calls in a SWAT TEAM to take down the thief on Ellis Island. Lex tries to pull Goliath out of the VR, but it electrocutes him…because, I dunno, sorcery or whatever.
In VR world, the female gargoyle is way more proactive than Shakespeare’s Desdemona, as she manages to break up the Coldstone/Goliath fight and convince Coldstone to “trust his heart.”
Realizing that it was the Iago gargoyle that set him against his friends, Coldstone chooses the good side, and the three set off to take down the enemy. However, they’re stopped when Xanatos and Iago-garg merge into a giant Fabulous Extreme Videogame entity.
Meanwhile, Hudson, Broadway and Brooklyn take down the SWAT team in secret, by slowly bringing down helicopters and breaking the boats’ rudders, 100% ruining Matt’s day.
In VR world again, the videogame boss offers the lady gargoyle to merge with them and take over Coldstone’s body, but she badassly responds, “I will choose who I love!” before biting him, which is awesome. In the mayhem, the tapeworm virus grabs our big bad boss and drags him into the vortex, presumably deleting both the evil gargoyle and the Xanatos program.
Goliath wants to help the two gargoyles, but they want him to escape. “We are finally together, that is all that matters,” they say. “If we can stop the virus, so be it. If we fail, we can still be united for all time.” Which…whoa. We’re back to the “Gargoyles lose everything all the time” resolution, but it’s a little different this time. The heroes are choosing the lesser of two evils, deciding to earn their sort-of happiness at the risk of complete desolation, or more likely, losing their other half. It’s not particularly selfless or heroic, really, but considering they were unfairly trapped in a hellish, crumbling virtual plane with an Eldritch abomination threatening their very existence, they deserve a little happiness.
Goliath runs on all fours to get to the exit, making it out just in time for our heroes to clear out before Matt’s SWAT time finally makes it.
We shoot over to Xanatos, where Owen “returns” RECAP…which was apparently just on loan to the police from Xanatos himself. In true Xanatos fashion, he knew he could either a) get the defense specs from Coldstone; b) get defense specs from RECAP after it intercepted Coldstone; or c) get a super powerful computer virus from RECAP by way of Coldstone. This is a much better example of a Xanatos gambit than last week’s unnecessarily complicated mess, one which showcases Xanatos’s ability to get a win out of every angle no matter what rather than just, well, make complicated plans.
In closing, Goliath leaves Coldstone’s comatose body in their tower, in hopes that he will one day wake up among friends. The virus tears through his mind, but the two gargoyles in love remain together.
“Legion” feels weirdly run-of-the-mill at times, even though it’s a very dynamic episode, visually. The inside of Coldstone’s brain really does look cool, and while the animation and art isn’t at its peak, the creepy clouds, virtual plane and creepy tentacles are used to great effect to make up for it. What sets the episode back is that it follows two episodes that drastically changed the status quo, even if in small ways–Xanatos and Fox getting together, and Derek turning into a mutant. We don’t really get much of a “wow” factor or emotional resonance here, especially since the love story comes into play so quickly that we don’t quite get to latch onto it with everything else happening.
Even at that, though, it’s notable for how hard it tries. That sounds like an empty compliment, but I mean that in the best possible way. There are genuine pathos in the Othello-inspired story unfolding in Coldstone’s head, and is more entertaining for that extra layer than another good guy vs. bad guy story. But between the extensive introduction of the new technology and just getting around the headier concepts of Coldstone’s…well…head, the love story doesn’t quite have enough time to yield the emotional reaction its conclusion should. But the effort is appreciated, and while “Legion” doesn’t always spend enough time on the right things, it does make Coldstone much more interesting than he was in his first appearance.
It still doesn’t make VR seem as cool as the 90s wanted it to be, though.
Next week: Reading is FUNducational.