A lot of shows hit a turning point in season 2. Most of the time, these are big, dark or momentous occasions–a shocking twist, a major death, a big reveal–and from then on the show is never the same, and the momentum keeps going throughout its golden years. While we have some major multi-parters coming up, it’s this episode that really shakes up the landscape of the Gargoyles universe and its possibilities, even if it underplays it as a silly standalone comedy. Also, there’s no way Weisman and co. weren’t totally hammered while writing this. Because this mess is wacky.
“The Mirror” is intimidating to write about, if anything because Greg Weisman has made it clear many times that it’s his personal favorite. That’s kind of a big deal, considering TV writers will often play coy about picking favorites, and Weisman himself tends to be the coyest of the bunch on every other subject. So clearly this one means a lot to him for one reason or another, though it’s admittedly hard to pin down exactly what that reason may be. Particularly because it’s just really goddamn weird, like the writer’s room went on an all-night bender and just-so-happened to write down their stupid ideas when they got back to work hungover the next morning.
The episode starts off pretty weird from the first minute, as it has Elisa undercover as a museum security guard just…because, I guess. But the bit with the reflection in the titular mirror not moving with real life is nice.
Demona shows up, naming Elisa “the most useless member of a craven, puny race,” and proceeds to rip the shit out of the velvet rope that she could have just, I dunno, walked around.
But, of course, Goliath has Elisa’s back, and the three continue to break all kinds of shit in the museum without setting off any alarms. Demona gets some distance by making massive leaps, a cool animalistic feature we haven’t seen gargoyles do at this point. Elisa and Goliath lose her, as expected, and throughout all this two flunkies run in and still steal the unguarded mirror.
Oh, and lest not forget–
But…more on that in a bit. The two flunkies arrive at Demona’s estate—yep, she has a giant mansion, which looks like the house of “Dracula’s daughter,” as one of the flunkies say. Girl’s doing well for herself. We also get a big literary reference by way of the password: “Oberon sent me.”
Demona does a magical spell on the mirror involving ringing some bells and blowing a feather, which is probably something she’s done so often that it’s the equivalent to making a baked potato for her.
She also spouts an incantation with the names “Titania” and “Puck” in it, which makes it pretty evident what’s coming next. Suddenly, a little elf dude in chains shoots out of the mirror. It’s Puck, of A Midsummer Night’s Dream fame.
For the kids not following along, The Gargoyles pretty much spell out what’s going on, even if they’re blissfully unaware. This episode takes on something I discussed in the previous episode, where in that case the version of Merlin we know in pop culture is shown to be a real historical figure in their world. This episode takes that idea and runs with it, not only revealing that characters from medieval fantasy and classical literature were real in the past, but also introducing them as actual characters. Yeah, technically we’ve met Macbeth a couple of times, but as far as we know he’s just a dude who has the same namesake.
Here, the object in question is declared to be the famous “Titania’s Mirror.” Now, it’s a little weird that Elisa is still surprised that the characters popularized in Shakespeare’s play are real when there’s a historical object in a museum stated to be owned by Titania. But I’d venture to guess that, much like with Merlin’s scrolls, the definitive history of the mirror is uncertain for historians; realists would assume it was just named that by an owner and as it got passed down stories about it being “magical” came about, just because. We have plenty of “haunted objects” in museums nowadays, so it makes sense. The difference, of course, is that the mythology behind is totally accurate…”if the stories be true,” as Hudson says. It’s the first use of that phrase, but it’s a great summary of how this show tackles the various mythologies it will eventually take on. Maybe it’s real, maybe it’s not. What matters is that if it turns out to be true, you’re gonna have to deal with it. Because being a skeptic won’t help you fight magical monsters and robots.
Anyway, the big thing about this bit is that Titania was the Queen of the Third Race, aka Oberon’s Children, aka Dark Elves, aka Changelings, aka beings of pure magic.
That’s…kind of a big deal.
Despite having spent so much time in the past through the pilot and flashbacks, this show has surprisingly only built a minimal mythology thus far, at least in terms of universe-backstory. We have a lot of elements that make this show distinctly Gargoyles, but other than “Gargoyles existed, they fought Vikings, magic happened sometimes,” we don’t really know jack shit about the world outside of the Manhattan clan. But we know, just from the clues and details—or the fact that fucking gargoyles are walking around—that this universe is vastly different from ours on a fundamental level, even if Manhattan seems similar on base appearance. The explanation of the three races, simple as it may be, opens up so much about the nature of this world and where it can go. With just one line, Gargoyles seems so much bigger. It’s genius. And I can totally picture Weisman drunkenly explaining “Humans, gargoyles, and magical things that can LITERALLY BE ANYTHING ELSE IN EXISTENCE, like elves and the loch ness monster and shit.”
And our first example with this is a smart bridge to potentially weirder things, providing a character that’s very familiar in his human appearance and desires, but still really goddamn weird and alien when it comes to just about everything else. Particularly in how utterly ridiculous his animation is.
Yeah…it doesn’t really come across well in screencaps, particularly because Puck is animated in the same exaggerated, extra-cartoony way “Enter Macbeth” was at times. But unlike that episode’s total mess, Puck’s ultra-cartoonishness must be intentional. No one else has the detail and exaggeration as he does, at least not consistently. In fact, this episode is exquisitely animated and designed aside from one or two usual rough spots, and the best we’ve gotten so far this season. So with that, Puck’s movement stands out even more, giving the guy a very off-kilter feel in a good way. Brent Spiner’s voice for Puck doesn’t instantly work—he has a tendency to play things more low-key and deadpan than they should be, the same issue I had with him voicing Joker in Young Justice—but he grew on me after a few viewings. Particularly in that Spiner is good at making Puck sound equally playful and devious, hiding a bit of cunning underneath the childish jokes without appearing threatening.
Demona mentions, “You serve the human, now you can serve me,” a very quick and weird little line that’s easy to miss and will definitely prove to be irrelevant and never come up in the future. (This show is kind of brilliant, by the way.)
Puck is totally cool with doing her bidding and bugs Demona to make him do things, and the interaction between the playful Puck and the dour Demona is classic humor. What’s also funny is that Demona went through all the trouble to get that mirror…and hadn’t been thinking of what she wanted Puck to do. She has to think long and hard before getting to the brilliant idea that, “Oh, I guess I should destroy all humans!” like it’s some big revelation. For all her elaborate plans, the one where we get to see her endgame doesn’t exactly make her seem like the mastermind she’s pretended to be.
It doesn’t matter anyway, since mass genocide would too hard for Puck to do (or, more likely, wouldn’t be very fun so Puck has no interest in doing it.) Instead, Puck messes with her head a bit by showing her what’s bothering her the most—which, as it turns out, is Elisa Maza. Or more specifically, the thought of Elisa rubbing her head all over Goliath’s hunky buff arms, because apparently Demona can’t tell the difference between a human and a purring cat.
What’s really awesome about this scene, and what keeps this from playing out like a run-of-the-mill love triangle, is that Demona actually gets an offer to make Goliath love her again. Puck throws it out like it’s no big deal, in fact. That right there would be a wacky episode to do—have the two villains cast off their prior angst, get all lovey-dubby and make a funny, weird romantic comedy out of it. Buffy did that a couple of times, and it worked out okay. Plenty of other fantasies that had foe-yay between heroes and villains have probably done it.
But Demona shoots it down from the start. Hell, she doesn’t just shoot it down, she doesn’t even acknowledge it. What we’ve seen about Goliath wouldn’t really fit if she did, honestly; she’s been fully willing to either totally murder Goliath or make him an emotionless zombie in all of her appearances. There have been no clues whatsoever that she has any love for him left in her heart once she declared him an enemy, no doubt spawned from her feelings of betrayal when he decided to protect the humans. What’s made this conflicting is that her hatred for Elisa has been pretty irrational—yeah, she hates humans, but she’s made it clear that Elisa has been #1 on her kill-human list this whole time. And there really isn’t any reason why other than that Elisa fights alongside Goliath. So there has to be a tinge of jealousy, right? But how can there be jealousy without Demona still having feelings for Goliath? And if she still has feelings for him, then why wouldn’t she wish him to love her again?
“The Mirror” doesn’t really answer these questions, it merely brings them up before flying off the handle and going nuts. But out of all previous appearances, this is the most interesting one for Demona to date. It’s subtle, but that her motivations are not so cut-and-dry—it can’t be just about jealousy, or just about unrequited love, etc.—show that there’s so much more to explore. Reading between the lines, you could infer that perhaps her anger towards Elisa isn’t so much about how she and Goliath have a spark, but that Elisa is somehow worth Goliath’s attention. One of Demona’s first lines in the episode has her calling Elisa “the most useless member” of her race. But we already know from “Awakening, Part Five” that she’s projected her own faults onto other people before. So, perhaps, her frustration isn’t that Elisa isn’t worthy of Goliath. Instead, Demona’s frustration is that she herself isn’t worthy of Goliath. For her, Elisa is the representation of those feelings of worthlessness.
There will surely be more discussion on Demona’s stupidly complex thought processes on a future date, but for now we get lots of fun with wordplay. Demona asks to get rid of “that human,” to which Puck asks, “that human or that human” bit, which is such a Greg Weisman thing to do. Puck places the emphasis on human, and we get…
The Gargoyles ogle her, which you can’t really blame them for. What lets this initially function as more than fanservice is Elisa’s reaction; the spell tries to cover itself by having Elisa think she was always a gargoyle. Even further, she thinks Goliath and the others have changed into gargoyles, because I guess the first year of the show wouldn’t make any sense if they hadn’t been what Elisa is thinking was the dominant race. The memory caveat of spell is…still kind of stupid when you think about it, though, since everyone else retains memory of her real form, so it doesn’t benefit anyone other than make Elisa look like kind of an idiot. For example, Goliath asks Elisa what happened when they met, she mentions how she fell off a skyscraper and Goliath glided down and saved her, and it’s this big point of confusion because of course she can’t glide with wings! Goliath’s reaction is something along the lines of “No shit, moron.” It’s a weird aspect to insert into the proceedings that gets brushed off quickly, but it’s surely meant to be a cover for what happens later.
“Elisa Maza the human is no more,” Puck precisely tells Demona, prompting her to ask to do it to all the humans in the city. She brings Puck to the top of the World Trade Center where he can channel and project his energy better, and literally keeps him on a leash.
Meanwhile, Goliath is gliding around with Elisa. The conversation is…hilarious: “I never realized when you were human how beautiful you are” / “You mean you thought I was ugly?” / “Well…uhhhhh…” It’s kind of a joke, but it’s interesting since there’s the impression that Elisa still thought Goliath was an attractive stud when she first met him (and I mean, don’t we all?) Apparently the feeling wasn’t mutual with Goliath at the time, at least on the physical level.
It is strange that Elisa’s naivete is upped quite a lot for the sake of the humor, to the point that Salli Richardson’s line readings are even a higher octave. It’s the spell doing it, of course (and we’ll see that it makes everyone extra blissfully unaware, apparently) so it doesn’t really have negative implications, but it’s still a little jarring to see a smart character be so… not smart.
That said, it results in the first (only?) appearance of sassy eye-roller Goliath, who gets 100% done with Elisa’s shit in about 0.2 seconds, and you can’t help but love it. Considering everything Goliath’s faced since 994 has pretty much been relentless tragedy and life-or-death violence, a “problem” that’s really only an inconvenience and has him facepalming instead of roaring in rage is refreshing.
Puck passes out after casting his spell. The light from its casting summons The Gargoyles to the tower to figure out just what the hell is going on.
Demona gets away with Puck but not the mirror. When she gets to street level, though, she realizes that Puck didn’t make all the humans disappear, he turned everyone in gargoyles. Or as Demona puts it, “gave them the privilege of being a gargoyle.” Also, it’s the middle of the night and tourists are now out with their children, so something is definitely off.
That’s all fun and crazy, but what are the implications for the world when this happens? Like, okay, the spell causes the changed person to think this is how they always looked. Fine. Anyone not affected by the spell does notice the change, though, and at least in the clan everyone remembers what happened afterwards. Now, for simplicity’s sake, it’s very likely that Puck made sure the city’s memories were wiped of the events and only kept the clan’s intact. What is less likely, but more troublesome, is that this is New-freaking-York, where thousands of pictures are taken or things are filmed at any given time, even before the advent of smartphones. Think of how many live news broadcasts are filmed in New York. Even assuming this is strictly the island of Manhattan and no other locale, there’s going to be a lot of live feeds and recordings of what people looked like during the night they became gargoyles. Did Puck make all electronic recording material scramble during this point? Did he wipe it from existence when the spell was undone? I don’t think Puck would really care much about that, especially given the kind of playful chaos that would erupt from the world having random recordings of people as gargoyles, but no one with any memory of where they came from. Not that it will ever be mentioned again (will it?)
There’s a missed opportunity here, too, in that we could have seen gargoyle redesigns for other recurring characters. What about gargoylified members of The Pack? Or Matt? Or David fucking Xanatos as a fucking gargoyle! Time and money, I know, but damn would that have been cool. I guess they have to save something for the fanart.
Also, our heroes fall down the stairs. So there’s that.
After seeing the rest of the world in Gargoyle form, Lex gets the quote that encapsulates the entire episode: “It’s too weird. Kinda fun…but weird.”
Demona just does not fucking get this whole “semantics” and “specificity” thing, and throws out another vague command to Puck to “turn the gargoyles into humans!” Which does pretty much exactly what you’d expect, with Goliath mid-air.
Elisa catches Goliath, it’s all platonically romantic, they go through the same “We’ve always been human, we’ve never needed wings to glide before!” stuff, yadda yadda. This is really just a way to transition to the next phase of the episode, where fan-art comes to life. (Because there’s definitely an online audience for recreating non-human characters as humans.) The designs of the human gargoyles are very good, in terms of representing the most human character traits of their previous forms. And it’s pretty cool that Goliath isn’t actually a white guy, unlike everyone else. They’re almost too good though, and the eerieness of their designs makes them…less than easy on the eyes. I mean, they were all pretty darn attractive as gargoyles. As humans? Ehhhhhhhh….
It’s cool though, because the human-to-gargoyle designs are REALLY FUCKING AWESOME.
After gathering their bearings, The Humans decide to stage a battle with Demona to undo the damage—well, “damage,” since the stakes aren’t all that high–and summon her and Puck with the mirror. And then it just goes iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinsssssssssssaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne.
Magic thus far has been kind of terrible. The most prevalent use of magic has been to curse or kill people, either in sadistic ways like resurrecting a corpse with multiple souls, or boring ways like shooting bolts of lighting out of your hand. For the first time, magic…well…literally does anything. Anything. There are no rules here. It’s utter chaos, and the only reason everything doesn’t collapse in on itself is because Puck doesn’t really have his heart set on hurting people, just having fun. He just looks so happy the whole time!
It’s all so exaggerated, too, with even the less-magical fight scenes being upped to the most generic action movie levels. Goliath fights Demona with medieval weapons that just so happen to fall on top of him. Demona even gets a badass boast: “Now to end this farce!” Then we get a bit where the Trio takes her down, but passers by think they’re monsters attacking her.
Also, a thing the thing every fan has wanted since day one:
OH YEAH AND…
And for real, there was a very deliberate reason for this shot.
Need I say more? Demona is beaten, the good guys get Puck to turn everyone back, Puck gets more of his Puck faces.
And everything is back to normal.
Puck grabs Demona and teleports her away, feeling indebted to her for giving him so much fun. Demona is the funniest she’s ever been, not even angry or upset so much as just annoyed and disappointed. He decides to give her one last gift: that she no longer has to turn to stone. Demona still seems annoyed about it for some reason, but that’s kind of her schtick I guess.
The Gargoyles, meanwhile, are actually kind of disappointed that the whole ordeal is over, Hudson noting “I would like to have seen the sun, just once.” Even more evident is the conversation between Goliath and Elisa: “I know, you’re as relieved as I am that things have gone back to normal.” / “That’s not what I was going to say…”
“I know, but that’s the way it is,” Elisa says.
WHERE DID THOSE PATHOS COME FROM?!
This is such a dumb, ridiculous episode from the first second that its final few seconds very much sneak up. The show has done this before, with the shocker at the end of “Leader of the Pack”, but that was more about an episode-long misdirect. “The Mirror” teases this silly little romp, delivers a silly little romp, but closes with the most succinct, definitive development between Goliath and Elisa’s will they/won’t they relationship we’ve ever had. Had Demona not been involved, maybe they could have let Puck keep things the way they were for a while? There simply wasn’t much danger in what Puck did in the grand scheme of things.
After all, Gargoyle!Manhattan seemed like a weirdly happy place; lots of families on the street in the middle of the night without fear, everyone smiling and going about their day. A bearded lady is walking around with her kid and no one bats an eye. We only got a snippet of it, but Puck kind of created a better world, and one where our tortured heroes could have been accepted. Or alternatively, they could have spent time as humans, living among the creatures they protect and seeing the wonders of the day. Goliath and Elisa could have totally hooked up.
But that’s not the way it is. A big evil caused it all to happen, and changing people’s very identities against their will is not a very heroic thing to do. Maybe they could have asked Puck to keep the spell in place for a little longer, to let everyone experience some new things without the dread of Demona lingering over them. But I’d argue that cutting the adventure short eased the pain a bit. Elisa and Goliath aren’t exactly happy that the day is saved this time around; they had their feelings for one another exposed more than ever before, and had them ripped away just as quickly. All it did was reinforce just how different the two of them really are on a physical level. It’s kind of horrible for Elisa especially, who was finally called beautiful by Goliath…only to be shifted back into the form he inferred was, well, not as beautiful to him. He’d probably beg to differ, but you can’t blame her for shutting him down at the end of the episode with that hanging above her head.
Oh, and lest we forget the massive gamechanger on a plot level, when Demona finds out what Puck’s spell really means.
“The Mirror” honestly plays like a piece of Gargoyles fanfiction. Now, it’s not bad fanfiction, mind you; I know I have to tread lightly when using “fanfiction” kind of derogatorily, since the only people who read this blog are going to be the kinds of people who write Gargoyles fanfiction. When I say it plays like that, I mean structure-wise. Essentially, the episode is a form of wish-fulfillment. I mean, yeah, that’s obvious in an episode where wishes are literally being granted. But things that were once subtext are turned into plot points, the rules of the world are suddenly exaggerated, and there’s a lot of “what if?” stuff that almost feels like an AU story. It’s the silliest, funniest, weirdest episode the show has put out thus far. Weisman probably had more fun breaking this story than any other, because they got to sort of rewrite the rules of the show for a week. “Let’s make Elisa a gargoyle, guys! Hell, let’s make EVERYBODY a gargoyle! And Goliath and Elisa will want to get together! And…dude, dude, dude...let’s MAKE THE GARGOYLES HUMANS! HOLY SHIT MINDBLOWN RIGHT?!?!”
But, lo and behold, that’s really the only reason it works. You wanted a fun episode? You fucking got a fun episode. And none of this is dumb in the way it’s presented; there are plenty of holes, but most of the details are so clever that it covers up any potential problems. It’s as entertaining and brilliant as those stupid ideas sound to you when you’re still drunk, except they actually are. So here, we have an episode that throws out a lot of silly shit, executes it well, essentially gives you canonized versions of Gargoyles fan-art, finally acknowledges the primary romance, and totally blows the universe out of the water. Gargoyles really, truly introduced magic this time, and established that absolutely anything can happen in this world. You can’t really expect things to be the same after that.
Next time: A whole lot less magic.
(Disclaimer: My allegations that Greg Weisman is a drunkard are purely satire. He seems like a professional guy and would probably never come into work intoxicated. Probably. But, I mean, come on.)