July 23, 2011

Visionaries: Knight of the Magical Light, episode 11 - "Honor Among Thieves"


"Dump the condiments! If we're to be eaten, we don't need to taste good!"
In return for doing such a splendid job on their latest quest on his behalf, Merklynn gives the Spectral Knights a gift in the form of the Crystal of Detection, which reveals all nearby enemies who are moving against you. Though Ectar has his reservations, the Crystal first proves itself when it uncovers a disguised jewel thief, then again when it prevents an invasion by the Darkling Lords before they can even make it into town.

The jewel's success is a mixed blessing as New Valarak's civilian representatives argue that, with the supreme security of the Crystal, funds should be stripped out of the defense budget and put towards the botanical garden they've been fighting for since Episode 7. Ectar tells them that automated security systems are no substitute for old fashioned police work. To illustrate this point, we flashback to the Age of Technology, where future Darkling Lord Reekon makes a living setting up security systems for banks, then using his own loopholes to rob the joints. He was only caught when supercop Ectar disguised himself as a mannequin of a pretty princess (really) and caught the thief red handed. Back in the present, the civilian reps vote in favor of the garden.

Off in his castle, Darkstorm learns that he needs a Cloak of Concealment in order to slip past the Crystal of Detection. He's stuck on where to find one, until a giant chicken dragon flies up to his window (really) and sets up a trade on behalf of his boss. A Cloak of Concealment in return for a wagon full of beef flanks, complete with condiments (barrels labelled "Ketchup", "Mustard", and "Steak Sauce" - really).

The Darkling Lords head off into the forest with their supply, and are quickly set upon by giant venus flytrap monsters. A fight is had, and it's ended when Darkstorm unleashes his Decay spell, whithering the plants to their deaths. Except for the final one, who holds up his leaves and shouts "STOP!" In a voice that's painfully ripping off Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors, the final plant reveals that he's the one who set up the deal through the talking chicken dragon. The Darkling Lords give him the meat and he points them off to a pile of clothing "rescued" from passers by. They find the Cloak of Concealment: a red polyester jacket with a pretentious designer symbol on the back. Really.

Reekon shows up at New Valarak. He's wearing the polyester jacket over his armor (bulging shoulder pieces and all), and just walks into the central castle, tucks the crystal under his arm, and walks away. Ectar spots him on the street and pursues in his animal form, but the city's own guards throw a net over the Knight when Reekon claims he's being attacked by a mad fox. Reekon slips past the last of the guards - which includes a morbidly obese man squeezed into his armor (really) - and makes his escape.

Reekon knows that it's Ectar's turn to play the thief, just as Ectar realizes Reekon is now the defender. They try to out-strategize one another, until Ectar uses Arzon as a distraction to slip into the tower where everyone bungles all over themselves. Arzon snatches the crystal and runs, and Ectar and Reekon have their final standoff. These two enemies stare one another down, weapons drawn... then share a laugh and decide to part ways, declaring the whole thing a draw. Their excuse? They need each other in order to define themselves. Really.

The Knights return the crystal to Merklynn, who apologetically explains that the crystal was created before polyester came into existence. He offers several other gifts to the Knights (I'd love that Magical Food Refresher), but they turn them down and instead leave him owing them a favor. Back at Darkstorm's castle, the Lords sit down for a meal. Cindarr looks down at his soup and shouts "Where's the beef!" Really. Cut to the giant plant monster as he munches down his steaks.

In the last episode, I expressed a hope that we'd learn more about the past between Ectar and Reekon, and see the old foes square off. This isn't what I had in mind. There is a shadow of a great episode in there as the two try to out-maneuver one another, even as they slip into each other's roles, and there is a great flashback to the Age of Technology, but everything else is nonsense.

Why did this story need a steak-craving giant venus fly trap who strikes a deal with the Darkling Lords through an envoy in the form of a talking chicken dragon? Why can the Lords only see one crime at a time when the Knights clearly saw a second threat (invasion) while the first (jewel thief) was still being dealt with? Who are the people that Darkstorm is using to play a game of human chess, and why does every single square on the board have a trap door that leads somewhere else? And how do the Lords suddenly forget which doors lead to where?

My biggest problem with this episode is that it felt like a big joke. This series has a sense of humor, yes, but this felt like even Flint Dille, the show's creator, was playing it so light by now that there's no point in taking anything seriously anymore. I mean, the entire plot hinges around a polyester jacket gag. Really. And worst of all was Ectar and Reekon, adversaries for years, simply waving away their final confrontation with a shrug and a laugh. Bullshit. It's an interesting idea for about a second, but then additional seconds allow you to realize it's not believable in the least, as further proven less than a year later when Alan Moore had Batman sit down and share a laugh with Joker in The Killing Joke. It just doesn't make any sense.

Now, in the show's favor, a lot of the comedy is really well written. The sudden utterance of "Where's the beef!" Ectar in a pretty pink princess dress. The condiments. Cravex falling through a trap door as he screams "YOU SHALL SUFFER FOR THIIIIIIIIIIIS!" The snooty civilian representatives working their way through a series of campaign slogans such as "Make gardens, not weapons!" or "More roses, less lances!" And, if I may share two of my favorite exchanges:

Ectar: "Arzon, I would be less than honest with you if I didn't tell you that I intend to use you as a lure for Darkstorm."

Arzon: "Happy to be of some use."

Ectar: "You'll be captured."

Arzon: "Fine."

Ectar: "Imprisoned. Maybe tortured."

Arzon: "Tell me something I didn't know."

Ectar: "Oh, to be young and foolish again."

Darkstorm: "Three thousand gold pieces!?"

Meat Vendor: "Flanks are hard to come by nowadays."

Darkstorm: "Mortdredd, pay the man."

Mortdredd: "Yes, I-bu-bu-but... Well, I-I saved all my allowance for two years, Darkstorm, but it's not half enough."

Cindarr: "Me, Cindarr, broke."

Cravex: "If your last check to me had cleared, I might be able to help."

Virulina: "Sorry, Darkstorm. I'm still waiting for some blackmail money to come in."

Reekon: "I'm a mercenary, not a banker! Pay the man or I take off!"
In the end, this is an odd, uneven episode. There is a serious character piece buried in there somewhere, but it's lost in the gags and wordplay. And even though the humor is quite funny, it's almost too silly, to the point where the balance between genuine worldbuilding and tongue-in-cheek absurdity is tipping too far in favor of the absurdity.


Crystals make wonky McGuffins. Whether it's the eponymous Dark Crystal or the skull in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or this week's Crystal of Detection, they're not bad ideas on the surface, but they seem to weave some sort of spell on the storytellers that causes them to fashion puppets that look like the as yet unborn Olsen Twins, hire Shia LaBeouf, or include a chicken-dragon that sounds like Cobra Commander. Not to mention, the show is starting to get a bit artifacty, to coin a word. Every week it's the "Cloak of" this, the "Scepter of" that, the "Pool of" whatever. I get that magical objects and such are part of the relationship both groups have with Merklynn, but it's dancing a bit too close to the cliché line, and that's something the series has managed to deftly avoid so far.

There are so many things that could've been awesome about this episode that aren't. I've been dying to learn more about the Age of Technology and would've been all for an entire flashback episode, or perhaps one that cuts back and forth, weaving two narratives into one. Instead, we get Ectar in a dress. I wasn't asking for Blade Runner, but I expected more than Mannequin.

There was potential for some real conflict, not to mention a dash of social debate, between the Spectral Knights and the citizens of New Valarak over the duties of the Government and the needs of the governed. What we get is one of those old Brady Bunch moments where the kids all start talking at once and Mr. Brady has to do that whole pinkies in the corner of the mouth whistle thing that I've never been able to master.

And, of course, there's the anticipated showdown between Ectar and Reekon that never comes. On the surface their nonfrontation (Get it? Nonfrontation?) seems to be consistent with the unconventional way the series deals with such matters, but there's no good story explanation for it. It feels totally out of character for Ectar and Reekon, and nothing in the episode gives us a reason to believe otherwise.

As Noel mentioned, Visionaries has thus far made terrific use of genuinely funny humor, but here it's heaped on a bit too thick and obvious, and it undermines any potential drama. I'm not saying it's not funny, but it feels out of synch with the plot.

Ultimately, this episode is an unholy marriage between the groom of missed potential and the bride of frivolity. The result: a wildly uneven offspring with the worst traits of both parents.

Let there be... list!
  • This might be the first episode where Leoric doesn't have en epic fail moment. Good job, sir!
  • And speaking of Leoric, how do the citizens of New Valarak keep getting such an easy audience with him? Do they even knock? It's like they're all Urkels and the Spectral Knights are the Winslows.
  • Are they ever going to focus on either of the female knights?

It's time for this week's "Now that's being a Visionary!" moment:

Larry: "I can't believe all the homework we have. This'll take me all night."

Vinnie: "Not if we make someone else do it for us. Hey, Timmy! Come here. I got a job for you."

Man's Voice: (off screen) "I give that plan an F!"

Boy: (simultaneously) "Lexor!"

Vinnie: "But Timmy is the smartest kid in school."

Lexor: "And that's the problem, my boy. Your teacher would never believe his work was yours."

Larry: "Because we're...."

Lexor: "Too stupid. Aim lower and you're less likely to arouse your teacher's suspicions."

Vinnie: "Andy over there is a C student. And he's a slow runner!"

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

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another adventure of Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light in "Sorcery Squared".

1 comment:

Eleanor Burns said...

I must admit, I rather enjoyed this episode's surfeit of offbeat humour (especially Detective Ectar finishing his film noir flashback in a pretty pink dress and smug grin, and the Darkling Lords' increasingly lame excuses for why they can't lend their boss any money), though it does indeed suggest the premise was already stretched to shark-jumping point ... though one can forgive it that, being the penultimate episode.

One thing I would love answered is why, in the flashback, is Virulina apparently reading the business news beneath a large sign stating "BOSTON" (visible at 3.43 - https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5wabsc). Had the animators forgotten that Prysmos, for all its suspiciously Earth-like tropes, is definitely not just future Earth? The three suns kind of rule out that interpretation ...