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Chapter LIX: "Vendettas"

Time to ramble...

Chapter  LIX : "Vendettas"
Story Editor: Cary Bates
Writer: Cary Bates
Director: Bob Kline
Voice Director: Greg Weisman

I don't usually list the voice director for each episode, because it's ALWAYS the same name: i.e. the incomparable Jamie Thomason. Out of 78 Gargoyles and Goliath Chronicles episodes, Jamie directed 77 -- and did a damn fine job on each and every one. This is the only episode I directed. I'd been sitting on Jamie's left hand (not literally, you sickos) throughout the first 58 episodes, and I wanted to take a shot at directing myself. I had done a few pick-up sessions here and there, mostly long distance phone patches with Keith David (who was starring in SEVEN GUITARS on Broadway). But I had never directed an entire episode. So I chose one with a small cast of people I knew very well and who knew me and would cut me some slack... FINDING an episode of Gargoyles with a small cast was no easy task, by the way. I tend toward casts of thousands. (I really drove the WITCH folks crazy this past year.) But Vendettas was perfect. Only five actors: Keith David (as Goliath), Edward Asner (as Hudson), Jeff Bennett (as Vinnie), Clancy Brown (as Wolf & Hakon) and Jim Cummings (as Mr. Acme & the Construction Worker). They were a great group, who made popping my voice directing cherry a pleasure.

In any case, I have a particular fondness for "Vendettas" for this reason. I don't think we got the animation to support the comedy. We didn't get the snappy timing. It's all pretty turgid. But I still think it's a fun story... with a great little cast.

The title is mine. Originally, back when "Hunter's Moon" was scheduled to be a separate Direct to Video and NOT part of our 52 episode second season order, the ideas in Vendettas were part of two separate springboards. The Wolf/Hakon villain team-up was going to be story edited by Cary Bates. The Vinnie/Pie stuff was going to be story edited by Brynne Chandler Reaves. When Hunter's Moon became our ending three parter, we had to lose three episodes that we were planning to do. One way NOT to lose anything was to combine these two thematically similar stories. Allow the comedy and action to play as counterpoint to each other. It was a great theory. But as I said above, I don't think we had the animation to support the slapstick, and so the comedy falls flat and just winds up undercutting the drama... making this arguably one of our weaker eps. Which doesn't mean I don't still like it a lot. A LOT. Cuz I do. (So depending on your point of view, Brynne either was out of luck or dodged a bullet when I pulled her Vinnie story away from her and combined it with Cary's Hakon/Wolf story. [Brynne was busy on the Gathering two-parter and on Reckoning, so she had plenty to do even without this.])

I think Jeff's performance as Vinnie -- another inspiration for the episode -- is hilarious. And the interaction between Clancy as Wolf and Clancy as Hakon is also terrific. (There's very little difference in the characters voices... just in the performance. Clancy's previous performances in these roles was, of course, another inspiration for the story idea. It came to me one day that Wolf was Hakon's descendant BECAUSE of the voice actor connection. But also because it just felt right.) Plus the normally stellar work of Ed & Keith. I'm not focusing on the voice actors because I directed them, but probably in spite of that fact. They were so great, that even my tyro effort couldn't make them bad.

Of course, it bothers me to no end that one of the biggest blunders in the series is right here in this ep. The whole haunted battle-axe idea is great. Except that it should absolutely have been a HAUNTED MACE. It should be the Mace that Hakon used to massacre Gargoyles back in "AWAKENING, PART ONE". We should have reestablished that in "SHADOWS OF THE PAST" and used the mace here. Instead we use an axe, which has no resonance for the series. It still drives me nuts. Though it does give us one good line of dialogue: "Tonight is battle-axe night!" I don't know why I like that line so much. Again, I'm sure it's mostly Clancy's reading. But it's still fun.

Of course, the name Carter was chosen (and we had Jim say "Carter" clearly as Acme so that we were legally protected) specifically because it would sound, with Vinnie's dialect, like he was saying "Mr. Kotter". This of course, because Vinnie sounded like Vinnie Barbarino (a.k.a. John Travolta) from the ancient sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter". Mr. Acme's name is of course a tribute to all the wacko-gadgets that the ol' Warner Bros. Coyote got from the Acme company. Vinnie in this episode is our Coyote. (Wile E. as opposed to the Trickster or the robot or Xanatos... although when you think about it, who's to say that the spirit of the trickster isn't present in all of the above.)

Of course (and yes, I realize, I'm saying of course a lot... all of this stuff seems kinda obvious to me... which does beg the question "Why are you writing about it then?" but I guess the answer is, cuz maybe it's not THAT obvious), the idea behind Mr. C. was that the audience would view Vinnie as a comic but real threat. You were supposed to think the gun was a gun. Vinnie threatens Mr. Acme with it. Threatens to "cream" him. But I tend to doubt on your first viewing that "cream" tipped you off to the nature of his ammunition.

There's some nice parallelism with Vinnie talking to Mr. C and Wolf talking to his axe. Of course, Wolf's axe is possessed, and Vinnie's just kooky. But we liked it.

Sometimes it's fun just to have an old-fashioned slugfest. Let Goliath and Hudson duke it out with Wolf/Hakon. Not every story has to have three hundred twists and turns. If they did, even that would get old. Sometimes you just want (as a creator, at least) a little satisfying ultra-violence. Even the characters agree sometimes. After the first skirmish, Hudson says: "I enjoyed that." Goliath not so much: "I'm glad SOMEBODY did."

There's a semi-funny double beat that can be hard to catch where Goliath cocks his fist to hit Wolf and accidentally smacks Hudson in the face. Later he NEARLY does it again. I really like that stuff. But I'm not sure the animation pulled it off.

The idea behind Vinnie as he developed over time to this point, was the idea of the shmoe. The guy who just keeps getting nailed by life. Life, in this case, being the gargoyles. They aren't aware of his existence, but they keep trashing him. Vinnie's narration is a riot to me. I love the shock in his voice after Lex takes his bike: "Can you believe it? He didn't know the first thing about motorcycles!"

"Can you believe it?" became Vinnie's catchphrase. Also "Uh oh."

In order to make Vinnie play, we actually had to visually "recast" the guy with the big nose from "Awakening, Part Four". I mean that guy had a REALLY big nose. He looked like Mr. Darling from 101 Dalmations. But I did like the contrast between the two versions of that scene. In Awakening, when Goliath grabs "Vinnie" he pulls him off screen and we hear an off screen BANG. And then "Vinnie" collapses unconscious. The implication being that Goliath knocked "Vinnie" out. Now in Vendettas, it's not off screen. And we see that Goliath BANGED his fist against the bulkhead, and Vinnie... fainted. Yet in his narration, Vinnie is always the hero.

Vinnie's true origins of course are in joke voices that Jeff did off the microphone. But when we had a security guard in "CAGES" that needed to be a bit dim, we had Jeff use the Barbarino voice. Then we ret-conned Vinnie back into the guy with the motorcycle and Big-Nose. There's also a scene with Vinnie that wound up being cut from the script for time from "Hunter's Moon". Remember when Goliath pulls the metal hatch off the Hunters' airship, so that he and Brooklyn and Lex can infiltrate. There was a follow-up scene where Vinnie's walking down the street and the metal hatch comes crashing down -- and nearly brains him. This was just going to be another example of Vinnie's "luck".

And it's just perfect here when after taking the pie, Goliath is asked by Hudson who Vinnie is, and Goliath answers, "I haven't the slightest idea." The gargoyles have no idea how they are changing life in Manhattan... not just by the big battles they win (ala Wolf/Hakon) but in many small ways. Most of these things are good. (Look at Mr. Jaffe, for example.) But they can't all be good. And the gargs can't possibly be aware of all the connections they are making. (BUT I TRIED TO BE.)

Of course, I later used Vinnie in "The Journey" (my one episode of Goliath Chronicles, my farewell episode). Vinnie at the end becomes something of a stand in for me, myself. At that point I knew I was moving to DreamWorks just as Vinnie was moving to Japan. But I also couldn't resist giving Vinnie the opportunity to grow and even be mildly heroic. We tried on Gargoyles to let all our characters grow, even someone as goofy as Vinnie. And seriously, anyone who would chose revenge by pie can't be all bad, right? Or even all stupid. There's something sophisticated in creating a gun that looks threatening... to the idea that you are letting your enemy know that you could have killed him. But instead you chose to hit him with a pie. I'm not recommending this in real life. But it's a bit more advanced than straight out revenge OR straight out pie-throwing.

"Since when do Werewolves fly?" It was fun to give a Hakon-possessed Wolf some ghost powers. This may not have been as effective as "Shadows..." but I think we had some play with it.

Hudson gets his "Jalapeña" here.

Wolf to Hakon: "Dream on, Casper!"

Hudson to Hakon: "Hakon Clan-Slaughterer!" I wish we had made more of this. (And again, I think the mace would have helped.) The idea is there, but I would have liked to push it more. Hudson was one of the clan's rookery fathers and grandfathers. He lost a lot -- A LOT -- of gargs he cared about. To Hudson, Hakon is the ultimate evil. I do like his line: "Get an afterlife!" But I do wish we had played this more. The idea was to comment on the foolishness of vendettas, vengeance, revenge, which is -- as a certain DX once said -- a sucker's game. And yet, I would have liked to see Hudson actually taking revenge here. Not just defeat an enemy, but take revenge. Although it seems contradictory, I think it would have helped to illustrate the point. Hakon sought revenge and wound up a victim of it. The cycle continues. This is all mostly there, but I would have liked to play the drama more.

"And now it's time to take my sweet revenge." And boom, the goofball whom we have been trashing for an entire episode gets the clean kill shot that neither Hakon nor Wolf could achieve. Only he doesn't fire a bullet (or cannon shot or whatever). Rather he fires a pie. The idea of the pie was Brynne's. I seem to recall that she got that off a Superman story she saw or read once. The choice of BANANA CREAM was mine.

That choice was a direct result of a pie memo I wrote to the original staff of Bonkers (including Duane Capizzi and Ralph Sanchez) on what makes a funny pie. We decided on that show (for a character named Gloomy the Clown) that cream pies were funnier than fruit pies (something Gloomy had trouble grokking). And we decided that the funniest possible pie was Banana Cream. So that had to be Vinnie's choice.

Anyway, that's my ramble. Where's yours...?