June 18, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, episode 6 "Lion Hunt"


Tony

"Leoric is too smart to fall for a trap set by me." - Darkstorm

The past few weeks, we've had some fun taking shots at Leoric's questionable decision making and his tendency to fall for just about every scheme the Darkling Lords throw his way, but after this week's episode, I'm genuinely starting to worry about the man.

Our story begins with the Darkling Lords attempting to recharge their power staffs in the lair of the wizard Merklyn. As usual, Merklyn demands that they first perform a task for him. The proud Lords refuse, vowing to find another way to get magical aid.


Their search leads them to the cave of an old crone named Heskedor. She's your standard Baba Yaga/Stygian Witch, mixing potions and reading leather-bound tomes, their covers thick with dust, by the light of a flickering candle. She's also surprisingly mellow, allowing the Darkling Lords to crash her pad without so much as a threat of turning them into toads. In fact, she offers to help them free of charge. Maybe she's just paying it forward, but it struck me as odd.

Heskedor conjures up a potion that will trap Leoric in his animal totem form forever, provided the Lords can trick him into assuming said form and get close enough to douse him with the potion. But this is Leoric we're talking about here. Of course they can do it.

The Lords trick the superstitious citizens of a small nearby village into believing they're under attack by a terrible beast. The villagers, as villagers in Prysmos do, get a direct audience with Leoric, mumbling their pleas for help. Thus far, every citizen of Prysmos who is not a Knight, good or evil, has been presented like an extra from some sort of high fantasy version of Deliverance. But this week, we're introduced to the fair Fletchen. PAUSE: Is it just me or do Heskedor and Fletchen both sound like guy's names? PLAY: Leoric, in a rare moment of wisdom, seems just about to tell the rabble to go to Hell when Fletchen makes her special 80s cartoon fantasy maiden plea, her voice all aflutter like Scarlett O'Hara. Leoric, apparently even less intelligent when he's horny, agrees to rid the village of their menace. Alone. Again.

Forget that he has a group of mighty Knights at his disposal. Forget that he's the de facto King of New Valarak, and the only thing standing between the good people of Prysmos and the terror of Lord Darkstorm. Leoric wants some 'tang, so he's going to go charging blind into a dangerous situation with no back up. If there were an angry black police captain from an 80s buddy cop movie here right now, he might say something like "Son, your ego is writin' checks your body can't cash!"

Here is where it gets funny, gang. Leoric shows up at the village, sees plumes of smoke in the distance, and goes charging in for the kill. The smoke is, of course, a ruse cooked up by the Darkling Lords. When Leoric arrives, he sees a giant, monstrous head. A giant, lifeless, obviously fake to everyone except Leoric monstrous head. Leoric casually strolls up to the beast and whacks it a few times on the snout. It doesn't move. It doesn't even blink. The slow on the uptake Leoric eventually realizes it's a fake. Too late! He's ambushed by the Darkling Lords. Heavily outnumbered and obviously outsmarted, he uses his animal totem to assume the form of a lion. Curses! Darkstorm douses him with the potion, which turns Leoric the lion red. The villagers see the red lion, assume that's their beast, and attack. Foiled!

Leoric escapes and the Lords show up. They tell the villagers that they too hunt the beast. Darkstorm offers his assistance in slaying the creature for a pledge of fealty. When Fletchen asks what happened to Leoric, Darkstorm tells her that he was devoured. Devastated, she returns to New Valarak to tell the other Spectral Knights in person. The Knights, after a comical series of "Dead?" "Dead?" "Dead!" "*sigh*...Dead.", vow to seek vengeance.

When Fletchen returns to the village, she finds Darkstorm and the Darkling Lords running roughshod over her people as they prepare for the return of the beast. She later comes across the lion, who scratches the name Leoric on a rock. But before she can tell her people, the villagers and the Lords attack.

Leoric flees, only to be caught (surprise, surprise) by... The Spectral Knights! But Fletchen arrives in time to convince them that the lion is actually Leoric. The Knights consult the Bearer of Knowledge, who informs them that there are over five-hundred species of lion on Prysmos. Oh, and he tells them that only Heskedor has access to such spells as that which afflicts Leoric. One of the things I've enjoyed about The Bearer of Knowledge, thus far, is that he tended to speak in riddles. This rather straight forward answer broke with character. How convenient. With the spell set to become permanent at the setting of the three suns, Witterquick makes for Heskedor's cave.

Witterquick bests the old witch, get the antidote, and races the setting suns back to the village. Meanwhile, the Lords and the villagers close in on the Knights and Leoric. Witterquick arrives in the nick of time to save Leoric, which turns the tide of battle as the villagers change sides.

The Darkling Lords beat a hasty retreat. The poor, dumb, uneducated peasants realize that not all magic is evil. And the Knights help them rebuild their village.

This is a middling episode. Heskedor is a lot of fun, and I'm impressed by how far, by 80s standards, they're willing to push Darkstorm's evil - "Slay them!" he screamed to his men as they attacked the villagers - but the plot tumblers never quite fall into place as a promising set-up is resolved far too easily with your standard cartoon plot contrivances.


Noel

I don't know, Tony. I quite enjoyed the cleverness of this episode.

As has been well established, this is the rare show where the villains are surprisingly capable, due more to their cleverness than the stupidity of the heroes. Leoric setting out on his own to slay the beast makes a lot of sense. Not only would he not deprive the kingdom of all its knights for what is likely just a lion or a bear, something a single warrior could take on easily (though how he plans to slay it with a whip instead of a lance I'll never know), but it's another throwback to the medieval tales this entire series mimics. The knight learns of people in danger and sets out to prove his bravery and skill against it. It's a single creature, there haven't been any fatalities reported, so of course he'd go alone.

And I applaud the Darkling Lords for their inventiveness. The dressed up Dagger Assault does look like a stiff mannequin of a monster - which, let's be fair, Leoric does recognize as soon as he sees it - but if you race that thing through the buildings of a village during the night, the populace won't have time to process whether or not it's actually animated and alive. And I love how the Lords spring this entire trap on Leoric without their power staffs. Again, it's really clever how the creators are working the limitations of these tools into the series and still acknowledging that (most) of these people are still capable thinkers and fighters when deprived of these bonuses. Yes, even Leoric, who wipes the floor with the Lords before they trap him in lion mode.

The villagers being superstitious and uneducated about the world also makes perfect sense. Within a day, technology crashed and magic slowly slithered back into existence. This is a scary thing for people isolated from the central cities, who are still recovering from and adapting to the change in status quo. This town is doing pretty well for itself until a random "creature" knocks down its buildings and everyone is suddenly surrounded by bizarre men in armor who use magic. They would be confused and terrified, and what little they do know could easily attach them to the promises of the wrong person - in this case, the charismatic Darkstorm.

You can tell the writers have really dug into and thought about the rich potential of a modern civilization suddenly cast back to a medieval state. The rallying around larger-than-life, though flawed, figures. The fear of mysterious magic. The desperate return to half-forgotten cultivation as a means to survive. There is some really clever and honest stuff going on here. Yes, there's a sly tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about the absurdity, but that only makes it feel all the more real.

I'll grant you that the climax was a little mishandled, though. Witterquick using his power staff to race toward Heskedor's cave was nice, as was Fletchen being unable to convince her people that they were attacking the good guys, but how Witterquick managed to get all the way back without his power staff, swimming across part of an ocean while in cheetah form... it just doesn't make sense. Maybe if they'd added some consequence to it, that Witterquick collapses and is stricken with illness from exhausting himself so, then it would have sold better. But it's the only major flaw I found. I really loved this episode.

Some thoughts:
  • Heskedor really is a great personality, with her best moment coming when she asks Witterquick to stand still so she'll stop destroying her own home with her magical bolts. What I love most about her, though, is how she hints at a much deeper history for Prysmos. The claim is that she's 10 millennia old, and she has an ancient tome about magic that can affect Spectral Knights. She literally uses that term, Spectral Knights, to refer to all magically imbued warriors as opposed to specifying our heroes. This may be something unintentional that I'm digging too deeply into, but it adds depth to the series to suggest something like this happened before, that history is repeating itself and every advancement eventually collapses only for Knights, both pure and evil, to rise out of the ashes and rebuild. We've been introduced to three wizards so far, and all of their histories are clouded in mystery. We don't know where they come from, how long they've been around, or if they've interacted with warriors such as these before, but they're starting to hint at something very rich that, sadly, we'll unlikely have a chance to explore before the series comes to a close.
  • If you think Darkstorm's "SLAY THEM!" is chilling, how about the great moment where Lion/Leoric is cornered by the Dagger Assault, and Darkstorm, grasping the handle for the catapult, says, "Stand still, Leoric. It will all be over in a minute."
  • Kudos to the animation team. Animals could be hard to convincingly portray in the restraining budgets of 80s tv animation, but Leoric as the red lion is fantastic.



It's time for this week's "Now That's Being a Visionary" moment:

Donnie: "I'm thirsty. What do you have to drink around here?"

Lenny: "Let's see... some spoiled milk, a bottle of Liquid Plumber, and some flat Coke."

Donnie: "Cool. Mix it together and let's see what it tastes like."

Man’s Voice: (off screen) "That sounds like a recipe for disaster!"

Boys: (simultaneously) "Merklyn!"

Donnie: "We were just curious."

Merklyn: "You know what curiosity did to the cat, don't you?"

Donnie: "It made it, like, ask questions and stuff?"

Merklyn: "Your father's name isn't Leoric by any chance, is it?"

Donnie: "I..."

Lenny: "My folks don't have a lock on their liquor cabinet."

Merklyn: "Now that's being a Visionary!"



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

2 comments:

Anthony Williams said...

Noel, that was an exceptionally well written piece. But, try as you might, I still see Leoric as a fantasy world Frank Derbin :p.

The claim is that she's 10 millennia old, and she has an ancient tome about magic that can affect Spectral Knights. She literally uses that term, Spectral Knights, to refer to all magically imbued warriors as apposed to specifying our heroes. This may be something unintentional that I'm digging too deeply into, but it adds depth to the series to suggest something like this happened before, that history is repeating itself and every advancement eventually collapses only for Knights, both pure and evil, to rise out of the ashes and rebuild.

I caught that too. I thought, here's a character who supposedly hasn't left her cave in however long, and yet she has some ancient spell specifically for Spectral Knights, who weren't formed until very recently? Either she has internet access or that was a flub. I think you give the writers too much credit on this one :p. But I like how you think.

Kudos to the animation team. Animals could be hard to convincingly portray in the restraining budgets of 80s tv animation, but Leoric as the red lion was fantastic.

I agree, it looks striking doesn't it?

NoelCT said...

But, try as you might, I still see Leoric as a fantasy world Frank Derbin :p.

He is a ridiculously over-the-top portrayal of the heroic knights of medieval ballads, to a degree that's often played for laughs, but he's not a complete idiot. While some of his choices are a little silly, they are justifiable, and I stand by my argument that he had no reason in this instance to bring any other knights with him.

Either she has internet access or that was a flub. I think you give the writers too much credit on this one :p.

It may have been a flub, but the reason I think it may have been intentional is that this episode, instead of being written by a for-hire freelancer, was penned by Buzz Dixon, the frequent collaborator of series head Flint Dille.

Also, I can totally imagine Heskedor and other wizards kicking back with a crystal ball and watching the rest of the world for laughs. The ultimate in reality tv.