June 4, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, episode 4 "The Price of Freedom"


Robots! Slaves! Bad decisions by Leoric! All on this week's episode, "The Price of Freedom"!

Reekon and Mortdred, the Darkling Lords with the ability to power vehicles through magic, have sort of become the evil Odd Couple of Prysmos. Reekon, he of the perpetual scowl and the "What's in it for me?" attitude, and Mortdred, boot-licking sycophant and president of the I <3 Darkstorm fanclub, are often teamed due to their shared abilities. The results are often funny, as well as illuminating.

While on patrol, the duo come across a man who pleads with them to stop. Mortdred wants nothing to do with him, but Reekon is curious. He asks, "How may we be of service, my man?" This one little moment is a perfect illustration of the nuance that flavors this series so far. Maybe Reekon is more of a selfish mercenary than a purely evil henchman. Or, perhaps, where Mortdred sees an obstacle, Reekon sees an opportunity.

The man is amazed that they possess "technology". He begs them to come with him to Khemir, a once great city that has fallen into ruin since the collapse of the old technology. Mortdred wants to tell Darkstorm first, but Reekon agrees to go. He smells opportunity.

When Reekon and Mortdred reach Khemir, they find a society that had grown to rely on technology for all of their manual labor. Robot slaves (how something with no soul or free will is a slave, exactly, I don't know) did all of their dirty work. Having failed to harness the new magic of the age themselves, the citizens search desperately for some way to power their robots once again.

Reekon attempts to gain their allegiance by promising them new human slaves. Mortdred, however, foils his plan for personal power by telling them that Darkstorm is the true leader of this new age. The people of Khemir readily agree, and a plan is hatched.

The people of Khemir make for New Valarak and plead for help from the great Leoric, who swings his gates wide open for them. I know what you're thinking, "Gee, that Leoric is a swell guy, isn't he?" No, he isn't. He's dumb as a brick. Not because of his compassion or generosity, but because, in a dangerous world, a group of strangers show up at his door and he lets them in without even checking their IDs. It should be more difficult to get into the Kingdom of New Valarak than it is your local Sam's Club. Do you think Barack Obama takes peanut butter sandwiches out to homeless dudes hanging around outside the gates of the White House?

Anyway, as you, me, and anyone with half a brain (basically, anyone except Leoric) can imagine, this goes horribly wrong. The Khemirites/Khemirians/whatever-they-are-ians open the gates of the fortress from the inside and let the Darkling Lords in. Caught off guard, the Knights are quickly overtaken by the Lords and enslaved. Oh, did I mention that Leoric's totem warned him to look out behind him and that our fearless leader still got punked? Silly me.

Luckily for our heroes, there is one among the Khem-- the people of Khemir who isn't down with slavery. Her name is Marna, but I'll call her Babe-raham Lincoln. When Babe-raham sees one of the Spectral Knights turn himself in rather than see his friends be sent into hard labor in the Van-- Ven--, the made up mineral mines, she takes it upon herself to free the Knights.

In spite of Leoric's leadership, the Spectral Knights defeat the Darkling Lords. The people of Khemir learn the error of their ways and usher in a new era of hard work and personal responsibility.

This episode is another winner. Slavery is a pretty heavy duty topic for a kid's cartoon, and humanity's increasing reliance on technology is as timely a theme as ever. I really wish the Knights were more interesting, but I suppose there's a reason good-for-you yogurt is bland and bad-for-you burritos are so tasty.


"Comfort and wealth mean little if one is not free. Oh, and watch out behind you." *wham*

Our episode opens with the downtrodden people of the Lost City of Khemir. Before the Cataclysm, they lived a peaceful and pampered life through the care of their robot slaves, but now that technology has stopped working, they're left starving and destitute as the jungle rapidly swallows up their homes. This is a great stark setup, and I love how it suggests that the Cataclysm didn't happen as far back in the past as one would think. Maybe even less than a decade ago. A lot has changed in the time since, but that's not entirely unreasonable given how violent changes often provide extreme motivations to adapt. While the rest of the world re-educated itself on low-tech practices and managed to settle into a new status quo, these people, cut off by their seclusion (a gated community, perhaps?) have nobody of such knowledge to fall back on and begin to waste away.

Until, that is, they see a working vehicle pass through the woods, piloted by two of our main knights. Surprise #1 is that the knights are bad guys, Reekon and Mortdredd of the Darkling Lords. Surprise #2 is that, upon hearing about the peoples' plight, Reekon turns his vehicle into the town to see what can be done. His later actions prove he's still not so noble, but it is an interesting sight to see one villain stop at the call for help, even as another is telling him to ignore it so they can move on.

Reekon vows to find the Khemirites food and shelter, but only if they pledge their loyalties to Reekon Darkstorm (a correction on the part of Mortdredd), and he starts to tell the people about the Spectral Knights, dangerous villains who would plot to enslave them all. These people have no outside context of the world, so of course they believe him as a plan is hatched to give them a new batch of servants.

The Khemirites show up at New Valarak as a communal Trojan horse. They beg for mercy and assistance, and the Spectral Knights welcome them in. The show is a little lacking in terms of the Khemirites not instantly questioning what they've been told when these supposed monsters give them warm meals and shelter, but they honor their pledge to Darkstorm and pull an inside night siege of the city. Even before the Spectra Knights awaken (in their long underwear, no less), their Power Staffs have been stolen, their guards overpowered, and the Darkling Lords let into the city.

In any other show, this would be the point where the Darkling Lords act all stupid and allow the heroes to break free, but we've only just begun. The Spectral Knights are, one by one, forced into the Dagger Assault's magic extractor, which robs them of their totems. The city is given to the Khemerites, and all of its inhabitants, including the Knights, are turned over to them as slaves so they can once again kick back in lives of leisure. Though the Knights are ridiculously kept in their suits of armor, they are defeated. They have to sew and hoist and cook and suffer insults, and are locked away each knight in the dungeons below. The bad guys have once again triumphed, and even when the Darkling Lords hold a ferocious tournament to see which of them will own the captured Power Staffs (the snivelling Mortdredd forced to fight the screaming warrior Cravex is a hoot), they still don't cause any convenient blunders that allow the heroes to escape.

No, that instead comes from within the Khemerites themselves. Three members of their people are singled out for development. Oddly costumed in a look reminiscent of Central American Dictators, Orzan is their leader. He stubbornly refuses to allow his people to change their lifestyles because that would make them lesser citizens. In the end, he's bitten by a Fear spell and has to face the demons of his past robotic slaves. Belizar is a young man eager to prove himself as a knight. At first, he idolizes the Darkling Lords and desperately wants to stand alongside them and make others bow before his power. As things change, he comes to recognize the honor and nobility of the Spectral Knights. Marna is a young woman so used to robotic servitude that she doesn't know how to react around slaves that think and feel. She's the first to have her eyes opened when she witnesses one Knight voluntarily sacrifice his freedom for the others, leading her to slip Leoric the key to his chains.

Aside from the animation quality taking a bit of a dip (a post-pilot tradition), this is a really solid episode. The heroes are once again thoroughly beaten by surprisingly resourceful villains, and instead of the day being saved through an easy out, it instead comes as a result of deep exploration of how slavery can once again rear its ugly head in the new dark age of this society, as people who have never worked a day in their lives will either cling to their desire to keep it that way, or learn to change.

And now here's this week's "Now That's Being a Visionary" moment:

Johnny: "Let's go down to the arcade and play some Space Munchers."

Eddie: "I can't. I don't have any money."

Johnny: "You could always steal some from your Mom's purse."

Man’s Voice: (off screen) "Beep! Beep! Back that shit up!"

Boys: (simultaneously) "Arzon!"

Johnny: "It would only be a coupla bucks."

Arzon: (mockingly) "It would only be a coupla bucks. And I suppose if I punched you twice in the face it would be okay because it was only a couple of times."

Johnny: "....."

Eddie: "I saw my older brother come in past curfew last night. We can go blackmail him for the money."

Arzon: "Now that's being a Visionary."

Additional articles in our Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light series:

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