This week’s retrospective on Disney’s Gargoyles looks at “Enter MacBeth” and “The Edge,” which respectively aired January 6, 1995, and January 13, 1995. The former is a pivotal episode that sees the Gargoyles relocating after Xanatos hires a mysterious Scottish mercenary to evict them from their home. The latter sees Xanatos freed from jail, and framing the Gargoyles for a series of robberies so they’ll want his protection.
1. “Enter MacBeth” looks awful
Let’s get this out of the way: that episode looked terrible. The animation was clunky, with many awkward, overly tight camera angles, and the characters often look off-model. Broadway in particular looks like he ate something he disagreed with, possessing an overly green pallor throughout the episode.
I think series creator Greg Weisman put it best, when he pointed out how at times, Goliath “looks like an Animaniacs parody.” As he elaborates here, “This was the first episode not animated in Japan. And immediately we knew we were in trouble.” As this was a pivotal episode that saw the Gargoyles relocate from Castle Wyvern to the Clock Tower, it would’ve been confusing if they had slotted in another episode, so they delayed the broadcast to keep working at it, but clearly couldn’t afford to keep doing so. A shame too, as it’s one of the most action-heavy episodes thus far.
2. MacBeth? Didn’t he die when Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane?
No, not that MacBeth, though he is namechecked by the characters. It is funny, how despite being a thousand years older than anyone else on the planet, the Gargoyles are already more familiar with Shakespeare’s mad monarch (who isn’t King Lear) than the actual King of Scotland. Poor guy, forever known for his Jacobean character assassination than his actual accomplishments.
Enough digressing: this MacBeth is a middle-aged, Scottish mercenary voiced by John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, Sallah in Indiana Jones). Rhys-Davies is actually Welsh, so you gotta wonder why he kept getting cast as these characters with Scottish accents. We don’t get to learn much about MacBeth in this episode beyond that he’s as wealthy and armed as Batman, with his code of honor (refusing to attack the Gargoyles during the day), and a master of disguise. We also learn one pivotal thing: he’s enemies with Demona, and he named her (which is why he approached Xanatos, and he believes capturing the younger Gargoyles will lure her out).
These two episodes are a strong example of how serialized the show is. Elisa is on crutches throughout “Enter MacBeth,” which showed her near-fatal shooting in the previous episode had real repercussions. The prime example, other than the Gargoyles’ permanent relocation, is an otherwise random and bizarre moment where Bronx runs across Times’ Square, and tells Goliath where MacBeth is keeping the younger Gargoyles prisoner.
That moment, where someone must’ve caught them on camera, is ignored for the rest of the episode, but pays off in “The Edge,” as we learn New Yorkers are becoming aware something is swooping around the city. It’s also implied that when the Gargoyles defeat the Steel Clan – them again – the people of New York assume they were behind the robberies, and the Gargoyles can go back to going incognito.
4. Xanatos is just socially inept
“The Edge” opens with Xanatos practicing martial arts with his aide Burnett (who demonstrated he’s no slouch towards Hudson, Broadway and Elisa in the preceding episode). It’s a strong character moment, demonstrating that Xanatos sees even his friends as competitors to be defeated in combat. It made me realize later on, as he’s forcing the Gargoyles to choose between submitting or exposing their new lair to the world, that his attitude is a tragedy born of capitalist thinking. He believes he can only earn Goliath’s friendship by establishing dominance over them, and that is a pretty sophisticated message for a kid’s show, warning of the essential paranoia all wealthy men must inherit.
Goliath mentions he’s reading Dostoyevsky in “The Edge,” leading to a great moment where Elisa messes with him by asking, “Yeah? Who’s it by?” I’m not an expert on Russian literature (I’ve only read War and Peace), so I’d love to know if anyone has any idea if the reference plays on a correlation between themes in his work and those of this episode.Continued below
– They actually play bagpipes when MacBeth introduces his name to Xanatos and Burnett. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
– Imagine if Burnett had moved the Gargoyles during the day in a previous episode.
– The reveal that Xanatos is piloting the Steel Clan leader himself just reinforces that he looks like an evil Tony Stark.
– For the record, John Rhys-Davies has made some extremely offensive comments about Muslims (ironic for the man who played Sallah). I felt I had to acknowledge this when bringing up the man, as upsetting as it is, given he was a fixture in our childhoods.
Next week, we’ll look at Demona’s third appearance in “Long Way to Morning.”