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Time to ramble...
Chapter XLVII: "Mark of the Panther"
Story Editor: Brynne Chandler Reaves
Writer: Lydia Marano
Director: Dennis Woodyard
We reestablish Elisa's reluctance to share the Gargoyles even with people she trusts. And we reestablish Angela & Goliath's conflict over her parentage.
This one went through a number of permutations, as you'll see from the various drafts of outline that I'll try to remember to post tomorrow. We kept changing the title as we kept learning more about the myths of the area. Here was one time where our research helped to keep us honest. Since it's not a one-word title, it probably came from Brynne and/or Lydia.
NOTE THE WATERFALL
We did Elisa falling and Goliath saving her so often -- even as we tried to avoid relegating Elisa to a mere damsel in distress -- that we always had to find variations on the theme. This time he catches her, but then gets slammed by Angela and they all fall into the water. Fortunately, he split the distance on the drop, so they're all okay. Compare this to Hunter's Moon III and... well, maybe I'll wait until I get to that ramble to elaborate...
THE LEGEND OF THE PANTHER QUEEN: TEETH, FUR & CLAWS
I've always been interested in Tricksters. Tricksters and Bastards are my two favorite archetypes. So I'd already done a bit of reading on Anansi legends. This one isn't authentic. The words that Nichelle Nichols speaks in narration as Diane Maza were written by Lydia, but the story itself was mine... though I had made it more of a tribal creation myth. Anansi creates a human being by removing the things about the Panther Queen that were the root of her vanity: her pelt, teeth and claws. The Panther Queen then mothers (at least this segment of) the human race, the ancestors of Fara Maku and Tea. Brynne felt that might be disresepectful to the peoples of the area, so we modified things so that the Queen had her own individual children but was no longer mother to the ENTIRE tribe. (Although I like to think that Fara Maku, at least, was an ancestor of the Queen.) From the beginning, we kept the emphasis on the fur, teeth and claws. Even the poachers are the most interested in those three items.
And how about our little mini cartoon within a cartoon? I love it, myself. (He says without a hint of bias ;) I think Dennis and his team did an amazing job at designing an entirely different art style appropriate to the fable. And I think Nichelle's reading is amazing. She did that in two takes. The first half in one take, the second half in the second take.
But as good as I think it is, I think it's most amazing for its daring. We stopped our episode and ran another cartoon of a totally different style for minutes there. Imagine someone tuning in late to see Gargoyles and finding themselves in the midst of the Tale of The Panther Queen... That was one of the things that was just magic about working on Gargoyles. We took RISKS.
OUT OF CONFLICT...
Some of our best stuff came out of conflict, I hate to admit. Like "The Mirror", this episode was one that Brynne and I fought over a lot. In general, I "won" those fights, because, after all, I was the boss -- and because, even if I had trouble at times articulating it, I had a clear vision (or would eventually find a clear vision) of what I was looking for. But Brynne (and everyone else) would influence me, temper me, moderate me. And the result was usually pretty darn cool. In the end, I think this was one of Brynne & Lydia's favorite episodes. They asked Nichelle to autograph their scripts -- and Nichelle asked THEM to autograph her script. I think she was quite taken with it as well.
PARENTS & CHILDREN
The Panther Queen & her son. Goliath & Angela. Diane & Elisa. Obviously, the theme of parents and children ran throughout the episode. But because of that, we made a conscious decision to make Tea into Fara's lover, not his daughter. We didn't want things to seem TOO pat by having every observable relationship be a parent/child relationship. But Tea & Fara still provide a cautionary example of someone attempting to hold on too tight...
Diane: "That's not love, Fara, that's selfishness."
It applies to any relationship.
Still, we get some fun mother/daughter and father/daughter and mother/son stuff from the three parental relationships we did have in the episode.
As with Fox and Anastasia in "Walkabout" you get moments of the old dynamic emerging between Diane and Elisa. Elisa comes up with a lame excuse for being in Africa ("I'm on a case.") and Diane responds with the kind of "Oh, please," that you know she must have used a hundred times on the 16-year-old Elisa.
But Elisa is still impressed by her mom and proud of her. She listens in some reverence -- and without interrupting -- to her mother telling the tale of the Panther Queen. Angela, also impressed, asks if Diane is a queen or magus (trying to relate her own reverence to her experience). And Elisa responds simply, but eloquently: "Actually, that's my mother."
We also get to see how much ALIKE Diane and Elisa actually are. Both hate spiders. ("Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?" is of course a riff from Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Both hate to be seen as weak or needy. (I love Goliath's intimidated reaction when Diane tells him: "I don't need watching over." I wonder if he's already regarding her as his mother-in-law?)
My kids listened to Elisa being pissed off at Diane in front of Angela. She seems to be making sense at first, but it soon becomes clear -- even to an embarrassed Elisa -- that she's being unreasonable. Angela does a very Goliath-esque reality check for her (remember when Goliath reprimanded Elisa & Derek in "Her Brother's Keeper"?), which also served to remind us that Angela is Goliath's daughter in more ways than one.
Erin said: "I don't always understand Elisa." Goliath gets her. She doesn't like to share her secrets. She doesn't seem to trust easily. But she also views knowledge as power, and she doesn't want to share that power. The "THAT" which makes her special.
We also get some nice Angela resolution here, as well. Goliath's obviously so concerned about Angela focusing on her biological parentage (because he fears what that means vis-a-vis Demona) that he's totally blind to his duties as her only present (if not surviving) rookery father. He's there. She needs him to act as a father to her, not just as a leader. He refuses. And then Diane sets him straight, simply and clearly. Later, when he says he's proud of her, it's a bit of a sappy moment, but I like to think we've earned it.
And I like to think we've earned the better executed moment at the end between Elisa and Diane. Diane knows that loving sometimes means letting go. (Fara helped remind her of that.) But Elisa now doesn't want her mother to let go so soon. While the gargs sleep she has a full day to tell her story. *You know... Chapters I - XLVI.
Diane's last line is cute: "There aren't any more spiders are there?" But I wish we had ended there or with Elisa's little chuckle. When Elisa ends by saying, "No." it flattens out the moment. Oh, well...
During the Tale of the Panther Queen, Anansi laughs when the Queen attacks him because "creatures such as he cannot die." This is a tip off -- along with the little tiny spider we see at episode's end -- that we weren't actually killing Anansi by having Goliath plunge that spear into him. As my son Benny asked: "Is that all magic that's coming out of him?" Yes, indeed. He's being bled, in essence, of some of his magical energy. He's weakened but not destroyed. And he escapes as a little spider, to reappear in cameo during the Gathering. This was ALSO designed as a hint that Banshee was still alive too. I'm not saying that Oberon's Children cannot be destroyed. I think they can. But it's tough. They have to be utterly wiped out. Otherwise, they are simply weakened. It's easy enough for them to flee to recharge later and fight or trick or whatever another day.
Anansi was played wonderfully by LeVar Burton. But Frank Paur felt that his voice wasn't threatening enough to play the giant spider. So he was enhanced by the good folk at Advantage Audio. (Love those guys.) I think they did a marvelous job of merging LeVar's voice with the effect. We lost none of the acting. But we gained a lot of presence. And Anansi has some great lines:
"I know. Company's coming"
"I'll spin you wishes!"
NOTHING GETS BY THEM
Benny noticed the mark on Tea's shoulder, indicating that she was a were-panther. He wondered if Tea and Fara were the actual Queen and Prince from the legends...
Erin noticed that when Goliath was gliding with Tea and she transforms, she seems to scratch Goliath with her claws. She wondered if that meant Goliath would become a panther-goyle? THAT thought never even occured to me before. Should have though. I'm contemplating adding that to the list of missed bets along with the Pack killing everyone in "Grief" and Cu Chullain's armor and bones being in the tomb in "The Hound of Ulster".
Goliath has his own version of the Weird Sisters: "All Things Are True" line when Diane expresses surprise that the legend she had just faithfully related might have had some basis in fact.
Bronx is a great old smell hound. (I miss Norman. After watching this episode, my kids went to bed... and then an hour later my daughter had another grief-attack over our late dog. I can't help thinking that subconsciously, Bronx reminded her of Norman in this episode. Not that Norman ever hunted down were-panthers for us, but you get the idea.)
There's also a wonderfully animated moment, where Bronx knocks Tea over, just as she's about to spear Fara. The way she stumbles before crumbling is just gorgeous.
Fara Maku echoes the Captain of the Guard when he says: "It wasn't supposed to be that way." One could argue that it's us just being unoriginal. Or self-indulgent. But I like to think we were creating thematic echoes that ran across the entire tapestry of our 66 episodes.
"Dream on, Spider-Man!"
DID WE CHEAT?
Tea spends most of the episode trying to take revenge on Fara Maku. Then at the end they reconcile? I like to think that the events with Anansi really served to take the steam out of her need for vengeance. That seeing him threatened reawakened her feelings for him. And the fact that he admitted his mistake and apologized didn't hurt either. She makes a conscious decision to forgive him. But did that forgiveness come too cheap? Was it too pat? Maybe. I'm pretty confident about Renard's turnaround in "Golem" and the Captain's in "Shadows of the Past". We only had 22 minutes, and I think we planted all the necessary seeds to justify those last minute changes of heart. I'm less confident about this one. But I can live with it. And we created two more heroes for down the road...
Anyway, that's my ramble...