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Mark of the Panther

Synopsis |  Review by Juan F. Lara |  Review by Todd Jensen



by Leigh Ann Hussey

Act I

"Previously on GARGOYLES" shows scenes from the end of Revelations, where Elisa tells Matt she was reluctant to share the gargoyles, and from one of Angela and Goliath's arguments over the importance of biological parentage in Sanctuary.

Three poachers, a black woman, a white man and a black man, stalk and kill a black panther.

The boat from Avalon appears, fighting the rapids and waterfalls of the jungle river. "Where are we?" Goliath demands. Elisa looks ahead at the waterfall over which they're about to plummet, and answers "In big trouble." Boat and travellers and all plunge over the falls, but all survive. Once on shore, Elisa opines that it may be Africa, as it looks like Nigeria where once she visited with her mother, whose ancestry is African. "You're lucky," Angela says, "My father never wants to talk about himself. Or my mother." Goliath argues again that she's the child of the whole clan, but the argument is cut short by Angela glancing toward the sound of flies and reacting in horror. "Why would any hunter take an animal's skin and leave the meat behind?" Goliath demands. Elisa explains, "Poachers don't care about the meat. They get rich selling the skin, teeth and claws." "Maybe Avalon sent us to stop this disgraceful thing," Angela says.

In a village, a matronly woman is telling a rapt audience of children by the fire a story of the beautiful but vain panther queen who offended Anansi the spider (traditional trickster character of African tales), and was changed by him into a human female. As the story continues, we see it illustrated in stylize images. "She begged Anansi, then threatened him, but he would not return her to her proper form. Finally he agreed to change her back if she would uild him a great city shaped like a giant web. She knew she would need help to do this, so she married the Oba (chief) of the Hauka tribe, who was very good to her. Together they had many stron sons and clever daughters. But the queen never forgot, and still longed for her beautiful panther body. In time, they built the city of Karadiji -- in the shape of a web. Anansi was very pleased, and when the queen came to him, he wove a spell giving her back her panther shape. But he had tricked her -- for now she was lonely and missed her children. She asked Anansi to turn them into panthers as well, so they could hunt and be together. He told her he would change only one of her children, and only if she would hunt for him. So she hunted for him and brought him food and he grew fat.

"The queen made her mark on her eldest son, the wisest, bravest, and handsomest man in the tribe. But the selfish Anansi didn't want to give up his own favorite subject, so he told the prince of his bargain with the queen. The prince did not want to become a panther and asked if there were any way to escape that fate. Anansi told the prince to kill the panther queen. Being young and very angry, he set off to do so, but when he found her, looking into her great, golden eyes, he remembered the sweet voice and gentle hands of his human mother and realized she had chosen him out of love. He loved her too; he could not kill her. Anansi was forced to abide by the agreement, and having done, was so angry that he banished all humans from Karadiji. But that was foolish, for now he had no one to tend to his needs. And so the spider went hungry."

The children laugh as the tale ends. Angela, looking on from hiding with the others, asks Elisa if the woman is the queen of the tribe, or their magus. "Actually, Angela," Elisa answers, "that's my mother." An old man shoos the children away as a young man tells Mrs. Maza that after the feast they'll free the ceremonial panther they have caged there, in honor of the panther queen. She asks the young man, Fara Maku, how she told the story, saying she'd been practicing for weeks. He answers that it was one of the best tellings he'd ever heard, that she did them proud. "Especially for someone born and raised in New York city," Elisa adds, emerging from the bush.

Her mother greets her with joy and relief touched with anger, and is less than pleased when Elisa delivers an unconvincing answer as to where she's been and what she's doing in Africa. "Why doesn't she just tell her?" Angela wonders. "Elisa does not like to share her secrets," Goliath answers, "But she should not keep this from her mother." "You're right," Angela needles him. "Parents and children should be able to discuss anything." He is spared having to answer by the arrival of the poachers. Fara recognizes the woman, Téa, and demands to know what she is doing. "Only what must be done," she retorts. The white poacher approaches the cage and raises his gun, but Mrs. Maza interposes herself. Téa tells Fara she will kill every panther in the forest if she must. The white poacher proposes to shoot them all so there'll be no witnesses. Fara Maku collapses, and just as the gargoyles run from the bush, he transforms into a panther.

Act II

"It was you?" Téa demands of the panther, then shoots him. "Now we're even," she says. Elisa stops her from finishing him off, and he flees into the woods. "Deal with them," Téa orders the other poachers. "That panther is mine." And she takes off in pursuit. "Say bye-bye," the white poacher grins, not noticing Mrs. Maza looking past him with a shocked expression. "Bye-bye," Goliath rumbles, and knocks the man cold.

Elisa introduces the gargoyles to her mother, who wants to know how long Elisa's been keeping this secret. "That's not important right now," Elisa retorts. "Didn't we just see your friend turn into a panther?" "I don't know what I'm seeing," Mrs. Maza replies, "I thought the legend was just that -- a story!" "Most legends contain a seed of truth," Goliath says, freeing the caged panther. Angela points out that, legend or no, they have to protect Fara Maku. Locking the poachers in the now empty panther cage, they set off after, led by Mrs. Maza, who refused to return to the village, saying "While you go chasing an armed woman and a wounded panther through the jungle at night? I don't think so."

The panther and Téa continue the chase. "I loved you once," she tells him between shots at him, "but for what you did to me, you won't live through this night!" Just as she draws a perfect bead on the fleeing panther, Goliath appears in her scope and knocks the rifle from her hand. He picks her up, and as she struggles in his arms, in the strength of her frustrated rage, she too transforms into a panther. She claws him and he drops her into the river below. She pulls herself out, catches Fara Maku's sent, and is off after him. Gargoyles and Mazas track after, following their "secret weapon" -- Bronx.

They find Karadiji, with its spider gates, just as in the story, now ancient and tumbledown. They enter the city and split up -- not without some argument between Elisa and her mom about who needs looking after -- Goliath with Mrs. Maza. Angela and Elisa, with Bronx, following one panther, encuonter some huge spider webs, and then a big white sheet of web falls on them and they struggle in it, watched by many pairs of eyes from a dark window. Mrs. Maza hustles after another of the panthers and she and Goliath fall down a pit. Angela and Elisa manage to tear their way out of the sticky sheet. Goliath climbs out with Mrs. Maza on his back (As he digs in with his claws, little spiders swarm over his hand, and Mrs. M echoes Indy, saying "Spiders! Why did it haveta be spiders!").

Angela and Elisa talk about parents, Angela wishing Goliath would talk to her as Mrs. M does to Elisa. "No you don't," Elisa answers. "She always wants more -- more time, more details ... more honesty." "And you think that's a bad thing?" Elisa doesn't answer.

Meanwhile, Mrs. M and Goliath talk about children, Goliath saying that Angela demands special treatment from him but he can't favor one hatchling over another. "All children demand special treatment at times," Mrs. M says, brushing the spider silk off him, "it's natural. And Angela is the only hatchling with you."

Goliath flicks a little spider from his hand, and watches as it scuttles away -- we follow along with the spider until it runs across one huge web and disappears; the web's occupant shortly appears. "Yes, I know," the huge spider says. "Company is coming."


As the wounded panther approaches the center of the city, he becomes a man again. Likewise, Téa resumes her human form, seizes a spear and attacks him, but is stopped by Bronx. Goliath breaks the spear in two and demands to know why she is hunting Fara. She tells them that the day she left the village for the big city, she was attacked by a panther, which didn't hurt her but marked her with the three pale triangular marks we've seen on her shoulder -- as on Fara's -- in both human and panther form. Life in the city was full of frustration, and every time she got angry, she turned into a panther. "Your love turned me into a freak -- a half-animal with no hope of a normal life," she rails at Fara. "Your life was here," Fara answers, "with me! I loved you, I couldn't let you go." "That's not love, Fara," Mrs. M tells him. "That's selfishness."

"Wait a minute," Elisa says, "You marked Téa, but who marked you? Who transformed you into a were-panther?" "I did," comes a deep, smooth voice, and from the big brass tower in the center of the city, a positively vast spider descends. "Anansi!" Mrs. M exclaims. "Why did you mark Fara Maku?" "He came to me, storyteller," the spider replies. "He believed the legends, and hunted until he found me, so that he could keep the old bargain -- change them both into panthers, andk keep his love by his side."

"Then it's you I'll destroy!" Téa shouts as she picks up a big rock and runs at him, but he slaps her away. Fara runs to her, saying he should never have marked her, and demands that Anansi free her from the curse, and in exchange he'll serve Anansi for the rest of his life. "Oh yes you will," the spider replies, "all of you. Fara, hunting alone has made Anansi this fat -- imagine what seven hunters might do!" Elisa leads the attack, but Anansi has the upper claw. Mrs. M is knocked down, and Fara in rage becomes a panther and attacks, but Anansi just shoves him into the web and binds him there in a wrapping of silk. Téa runs to his rescue as a panther too, but can't climb the web, it just tears. Angela notices Anansi slipping as the torn web fails to support him, and shouts, "Cut the webbing! He's too fat to fight us on the ground!" The spider begins to fall as they attack his web; he begs them to stop, offering treasures beyond counting, but Mrs. Maza retorts, "Your gifts always come with a price, Trickster," as she hacks at the web with a spear. The spider falls, helpless on its back; Angela gets the spear from Mrs. M and passes it to Goliath. He plunges it into the belly of the spider, which explodes in light and vanishes.

With Anansi gone, the panther curse can't be removed, and Fara is full of remorse. Téa wants to atone, too, for all the panthers she helped the poachers to kill, and suggests that using the curse to protect the jungle may be penance enough for them both.

On the riverbank close to dawn, where the skiff is waiting, Angela throws stones into the water. Goliath approaches her and says, somewhat hesitantly, "Your quick thinking helped us defeat Anansi. I am proud of you -- my daughter." "Oh, father!" she cries, leaping to embrace him, and the sun's touch turns them to stone in their embrace.

Elisa makes up with her mom, too. "We're on a quest and have to leave soon," she says, "so while my friends sleep, let me tell you the whole story." "There aren't any more spiders in it, are there?" her mother asks. Elisa chuckles, "No."


by Juan F. Lara

A mostly unexciting week ended with this GREAT episode.

Good Points

I loved how they handled the fable. The artists changed to a different artistic style that fit the fable very well, particularly their rendering of the panthers. I found the story itself very enchanting. The fable took a furry perspective in showing what humans miss out by not being panthers. :-) It also had themes of parental love and dedication between loved ones that the episode would later expand upon very well. I was touched by the scenes of the Panther Queen being separated from her children, and her son confronting her. This adaptation should be the model for the "educational cartoons" that the networks have to make. :-)

I thought that Diane Maza would never be more than a background character. So this episode pleasantly surprised me. Nichelle Nichols overacted at times. And the tension between Elisa and Diane was jarring at first because this was the first time the series had brought this up. But I stilled cared about the their relationship enough to stay interested in the episode all the through. The creators noted the common traits between the two, like their headstrong nature and their fear of spiders, and gave each character scenes that paralleled each other. Diane and Elisa's final scene felt very poignant because of the short time Elisa would have with her mother.

LeVar Burton played Anansi using a casual delivery of his lines. Also, the creators gave Anansi an arrogant but unpretentious characterization that made him a distinctive villain. I especially liked how Anansi tried to bribe the others with wishes when they were getting the upper hand on him.

Bad Points

Angela was the one major problem I had with this episode. She had really awful lines about how Goliath treated her, and Bako's whiny delivery turned Angela into a spoiled brat.

Tea seemed to forgive Fara Maku too easily at the end. She had been trying to kill him only minutes before. And Fara Maku WAS a big jerk for what he did to her and why.

The scene with the panther carcass was poorly handled. They should've found some way to show the carcass on screen, perhaps in shadow. I feared that MotP would be a badly written PC episode, ("to stop this disgraceful thing!") but the fable completely wiped away my concerns.


The Travellers sure have a sturdy boat. It survived the waterfall in one piece. :-)

For once the "Previously" segment served a useful purpose. I probably would not have made the connection between Elisa's problems opening up to Diane and her explanation to Matt about why she never told him about the Gargoyles. But that scene made the characters' tension easier to understand.

I hope though that Goliath and Angela still feel friction due to their different upbringings in upcoming episodes. A "happily ever after" resolution right now wouldn't fit the show's style.

I'm crossing my fingers that Diane will return to New York really soon, and tell everyone there what's happened to the Travellers. :-)

Nichols played Lt. Uhura in the original "Star Trek". So the week wound up as "Star Trek Week" with representatives from all four ST shows. Also, Burton played Geordi LaForge from ST:TNG. (though his voiced was digitally altered here to the point that I couldn't recognize it.)

Other casting: Don Reed played Fara Maku and Roxanne Beckford played Tea.


Diane: "But the queen never forgot her true form, and longed to race through the night in her beautiful panther body."

poacher: Say "Bye-bye."
Goliath: Bye-bye.
[ WHAM!! ]

Diane: I don't need looking after.
Goliath: Of course not.

Goliath: She is demanding special treatment from me, but I cannot favor one hatchling over the others.
Diane: All children demand special treatment at times. It's natural. And Angela is the only...hatchling with you.

Elisa: Dream on, spiderman!
[Always good to take a jab at the second-rate competition. :-)]

Elisa: So while they sleep, let me tell you the whole story.
Diane: There aren't any more spiders in it, are there?
Elisa: [ laughing ] No.

Diane: "Gone were her beautiful black fur and sharp claws. And when she opened her mouth to speak, she had no fangs, but puny little teeth."

Of the four new eps this week, this was the one that I really got into. It had characters that I really cared about and I was eagerly waiting to find out the outcome. "Mark of the Panther" has become one of my favorite episodes.


by Todd Jensen

The Avalon World Tour now takes Goliath and his companions to Nigeria, where they encounter Diane Maza (Elisa's mother), a couple of werepanthers, and a very large spider.

"Mark of the Panther" focused on two major "family issues" that had already been introduced in the series. The first was Goliath's semi-rejection of Angela as his daughter, that had already been depicted in "Sanctuary". The second was Elisa's hiding the gargoyles from her family; this had never been directly focused on in any of the episodes (except maybe "Her Brother's Keeper"), but had still been indicated in Elisa's keeping the gargoyles a general secret from everyone (not to mention touched upon in "Revelations", where we find out why Elisa did not bring Matt into the loop until he forced the issue). The meeting with Diane in Nigeria leads to the addressing of the second issue, and also helps bring about the resolution of the first issue.

While Elisa's decision to keep the gargoyles secret is in some ways a wise one (a lot of humans even in the modern world would be frightened of gargoyles - and even if they could learn to see past the fearsome exterior of Goliath and his clan, there would be many who would have other reasons to threaten these beings, as Xanatos, the Pack, Macbeth, and the Illuminati had already demonstrated), there is still clearly something questionable (at best) in her keeping them a secret from her own mother. Goliath himself clearly disapproves of this - and Elisa, soon enough, has a great deal of explaining to do when Diane discovers the company that she's been keeping for the last couple of years. Elisa is clearly frustrated over this turn of events, as she comments to Angela in Karadigi, but the way in which she says it leads her to the understanding that she should have been more open: "My mother always wants more from me: more time, more information - more honesty."

But Diane's presence helps lead to Goliath finally accepting Angela as his daughter. In fact, despite Goliath's citing of "the Gargoyle Way" as his reason for holding Angela at arm's length, the customs of his people were an insufficient justification for this behavior; after all, he and Angela were the only members of their respective generations on the World Tour, so he was the only "clan-parent" present for her. Diane helps him understand this, so that he can finally put aside his rejection of her and call her "daughter" to her face, to her joy. (The interaction between Goliath and Diane is itself a delight, particularly when she tells Goliath in a tone of considerable dignity, "I don't need protecting", a statement with which he finds himself agreeing.)

These two threads develop amid the context of the story of the werepanthers, Fara Maku and Tea, and their ties to Anansi the Spider. This story is prepared for by Diane's tale of the Panther Queen (in a particularly lovely touch, the legend that she tells is depicted in a very different style of animation from the rest of "Gargoyles", evocative of sub-Saharan African art). Through Diane's recitation, we learn of Anansi and his magical abilities, and of the "mark of the panther". And then we discover, alongside the astonished protagonists, that the tale was based on truth, for new werepanthers have emerged in the modern world, and Anansi is ultimately behind it.

The werepanthers provide a reverse to the case of Goliath and Angela; here the problem is letting go rather than becoming more of a family (though the relationship between Fara Maku and Tea is one of lovers - or former lovers - rather than parent and child). Fara Maku had been alarmed when Tea decided to leave his village for the city of Abija, and had Anansi make him a werepanther so that he could mark Tea and transform her into one as well. This condition quickly made life in a city impossible for Tea, and she left it - but to hunt down every panther that she could find in the hopes of getting revenge on the one who had inflicted this fate upon her. (Her actions in the opening briefly make the episode appear to be a story about the evils of poaching, but it soon turns out that Tea's reasons have nothing to do with monetary gain - unlike those of her sidekicks.) Upon learning Fara Maku's story, Diane correctly rebukes him, pointing out that he was motivated by selfishness rather than by love, and he comes to understand that - especially after discovering how Anansi is eager to convert Tea into another servant for himself. While their reconciliation and repentance at the end is maybe a little too quick, it still provides a reasonably satisfactory conclusion to their story (though, in "Gargoyles" tradition, an open-ended one, as they remain werepanthers and now have taken on themselves the task of protecting the Nigerian jungle).

Anansi gets fewer "clever lines" than the other tricksters in the series (his tone is more that of gloating than of wisecracking), but still makes an impressive antagonist. The portrayal of him in this episode also holds true to his characterization in African legend; Anansi was a cunning and wily trickster, but also one whose schemes had a tendency to backfire upon himself. And this is precisely what happens to Anansi in both the tale of the Panther Queen and the modern-day adventure. In the former, Anansi, banishing the human inhabitants of Karadigi in a petulant mood, discovers too late that he's just sacked his entire hunting force and has no one to catch food for him any more; in the latter, Anansi has gorged himself too well on the food that Fara Maku brought him, and has become so overweight and unwieldy that, once knocked out of his web, he's easily defeated by the gargoyles. (In a particularly amusing touch, Anansi, when he realizes that the battle's turning against him, frantically offers a multitude of wishes to his opponents.)

The episode ends on a happy note, with Angela's joy over Goliath accepting her as his daughter at last, and Elisa and Diane becoming reconciled over the matter of the gargoyles (we fade out just as Elisa is about to explain the entire story to her mother). The protagonists have taken another step forward in dealing with many of their difficulties - though there are other problems to face in the journey ahead....


While on the surface level, Anansi appears to have been slain by Goliath, he is seen among the Children of Oberon returning to Avalon in "The Gathering Part One", indicating that he survived. Indeed, there is a hint of his survival at the end, when, after Anansi's disappearance, we see a small spider scurrying along its way; according to Greg, the spider was Anansi, who had hurriedly shrunk himself to escape the gargoyles.

In very early outlines, Fara Maku and Tea were to be were-jaguars instead of were-panthers; fortunately, this was changed ("fortunately", in the sense that it saved the production team from the embarrassment of placing jaguars in Africa rather than South America).

Elisa does seem to have a knack for running into humans transformed into panthers, in light of "Metamorphosis" alongside this episode.

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