In the nineteenth episode of the second season of Gargoyles, the team confronts the messy implications of Derek’s transformation. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Gargoyles.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent and nonconsensual medical procedures, and abuse/manipulation/gaslighting.
Broken record time, and I’m gonna be a broken record about being a broken record. THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD, HOW IS IT REAL, HOW WAS IT EVER ALLOWED TO AIR, HOW ARE WE BLESSED ENOUGH TO EVER GET TO EXPERIENCE IT. And I know I’ve said that many times in various ways, but I can’t get over it. “The Cage” is one of the most emotionally complex stories I’ve seen on television, written convincingly and with honesty. The tragic element of Derek’s story hurts so much more because we understand why he is behaving the way he is.
On a personal level, it’s heartbreaking to watch someone get manipulated. The audience knows the truth about Xanatos’s machinations, and that makes this episode frustrating on a very basic level. We can watch the ways in which Xanatos takes advantage of each new variable or twist in order to push Derek further in his hatred of Goliath. But that hatred is only irrational from an external perspective. This show did an excellent job of demonstrating why Derek saw things as he had. From his view, Goliath’s invasive behavior is what destroyed the antidote. From there, it was easy to construct a narrative, one that Xanatos heavily contributed to. If Derek accepted that Goliath was his adversary, then each new bit of information could be twisted to fit that interpretation of reality.
I don’t want that to sound like Derek is responsible for his own manipulation, though. If you remove Xanatos from the picture, this all falls apart. There was little chance that Derek would have committed so wholly to this worldview if Xanatos had not actively gaslit him, convinced him that Servarius was dead, that Goliath despised him. Xanatos set himself up as Derek’s savior, his “last chance” at humanity. It’s despicable, isn’t it? We all knew that Xanatos didn’t care for Derek in the slightest, at least not outside of how Derek could be used as a means to an end.
Which is one aspect of this episode that’s a persistent theme: the means can’t justify the ends. It’s what Elisa says to Goliath after learning that he kidnapped Dr. Servarius, but it’s also a part of Maggie’s ethos as well. She’s the sole member of Derek’s “pack,” if you can call it that, who wants the others to exercise to caution. To consider other interpretations. To ask for understanding. This journey is important to her, right up to the point where she nearly risks it all. These characters are directly contrasted with Xanatos and Dr. Servarius, who only care about what the end result is. They will harm or kill anyone who stands in their way, and sometimes they do it just to entertain themselves. Y’all, Xanatos spared the very man who betrayed him OVER THE ONE WHO WAS FIERCELY LOYAL TO HIM just because, in the long run, Servarius was worth more to him. As he put it, Derek was just the “experiment.”
It’s such a horrifying moment amidst a chaotic confrontation, and y’all, the pacing of this episode is BRILLIANT. I love that it builds to that sequence, in which all the cards are laid out on the table and Derek realizes the full extent of how he’s been manipulated, how even in the end, he is disposable. It’s heartbreaking because it’s so easy to imagine that Derek struggled with that exact fear after his transformation: Was he disposable? Was he no longer worth anyone’s time or love or care anymore?
It’s where Maggie fits in to the story, both as a support system for Derek but as a character in her own right, one who has agency beyond her meaning to another person. She was the only one who got to know the gargoyles prior to this, even if she didn’t learn that much. Plagued by doubts and uncertainties, she wants to stop all the fighting, but she also wants a cure. Unlike Derek or the other two genetically enhanced people, she has no real desire to remain as she is. I’m glad that this conflict was given room within the story, too! It made the final confrontation so much more satisfying, since we were given a reason why Maggie was willing to drink Servarius’s “cure,” even if it meant that she was actually being poisoned.
The point I’m trying to make about “The Cage” is that the pieces here are intricate, but they fit together in a way that is urgent, necessary, and fulfilling. As frustrating as it was to watch Xanatos and Dr. Servarius escape unscathed, there’s still a joy to be had. Derek and Maggie accept one another; Derek reconciles with Goliath and Elisa; Goliath extends an invitation to his clan; but Derek chooses to form his own with the people who have shared this traumatic experience alongside him. It’s a form of found-family, something y’all know I love dearly, but it’s given one final bit of love. I was utterly shocked as I watched Elisa reveal to her family that Derek wasn’t missing, but changed. THAT FINAL IMAGE MADE ME TEAR UP, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHOW. The cage was open. Derek and his friends were free.
Again: Gargoyles consistently goes the distance, and it is a goddamn spectacle.
The video for “The Cage” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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