July 16, 2011

Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, episode 10 "Trail of the Three Wizards"


Evil wizards are on the loose! Prysmos is in danger! Who you gonna call? If you're Merklynn, it's Leoric and the Spectral Knights. God help us all.

The ever cantankerous Merklynn has summoned the Spectral Knights to his mountain lair to inform them that three potentially dangerous wizards have escaped from the Wizard's Jail, which is similar to non-wizard's jail, except instead of contraband like drugs and cigarettes, they have eye of newt and toe of frog. How do our virtuous champions of Prysmos react? In no uncertain terms, they tell the old conjurer to get bent.

"Well, not this time, Merklynn. I can't risk my men on a wizard hunt. Besides, we really don't need anything. Our staffs are fully charged with magic. Our cities are thriving."

"The status of your cities could change."

"That's not fair, either!"

"I am not fair!"

This veiled threat is enough to convince Leoric to accept the quest, so Merklynn introduces us to their quarry. There's the treacherous Falkama, who we first met in the episode "Quest for the Dragon's Eye". Next we have Wizasquizar, a magician cursed with never being able to tell the truth. And a ridiculous name. Finally, there's Bogavus, a wizard whom Merklynn admits he's never known to have committed evil. But, as they say, "Three is a magic number."

According to Merklynn, the wizards are headed for The Lost Shrine. We're not told exactly what The Lost Shrine is, only that the wizards must not make it there. Not even Merklynn knows the exact location of the Shrine, but he believes it to be located somewhere in the Anarchy Zone, so that is where our heroes begin their search.

The Knights are in the Anarchy Zone for all of two seconds when former law man Ectar goes all LAPD on a random scumbag who just so happens to have heard scuttlebutt on not one, not two, but all three wizards and their whereabouts, even though they all seem to be acting independently in spite of their simultaneous escape. The Knights break into three groups, each following up a lead.

Cryotek and Arzon find Wizasquizar on the wrong side of an old west style mob. The boys affect really bad cowpoke accents and try to apprehend the wizard, but he manages to get the mob on his side by promising to tell them the location of a treasure in exchange for protection from the Knights. The Knights use their powers to capture Wizasquizar and escape. One down, two to go.

Next up, Witterquick and Ectar track down Bogavus in a sort of monastery where he’s attempting to steal a map to The Shrine. They take him with no resistance.

Finally, Leoric and company find Falkama leading a group of slaves in the rain. Leoric boldly announces "I am Leoric of New Valarak. I hereby emancipate your slaves!" You can almost hear the thoughts of his companions, "Yeah, that oughta do it. Thanks, Leoric." Unimpressed, Falkama attempts to use his remaining magic dust to foil the Knights, but it's rendered useless by the rain.

So, that was easy, right? We've got about ten minutes left. What else can the boys get into... oh, we forgot about the Darkling Lords. The Knights attempt to leave in their vehicles, only to find them unresponsive. The Lords attack and pin down the Knights and their wizard prisoners. Ah, but Leoric has a plan. Release one of the wizards as a diversion! Wait, release one of the wizards? Are you... what in the... how does that.... *sigh*

The Knights argue over whom to release, having tired of all three. Eventually, they settle on Wizasquizar. The Darkling Lords, perhaps having drunk the same idiot juice for breakfast as Leoric, focus on the wizard, allowing Witterquick to escape and go to Merklynn. Within moments, a giant magical hand appears and snatches the Knights up.

The Lords are stuck with Wizasquizar, but they soon discover that he can be useful. Because he can't tell the truth, the Lords simply ask him questions and then do the opposite. Soon, they’re on their way to The Lost Shrine.

Meanwhile, the Spectral Knights arrive at Merklynn's lair with only two wizards in... hand. Merklynn casts Falkama back into the Wizard's Jail. Because that worked out so well the first time. Bogavus pleads with Merklynn that he is merely an illusionist and not in on the plot. Merklynn decides to test his truthfulness. Pass, and he may go free. Fail, and he will burn in flame for eternity. Bogavus passes the test and is set free, but one wizard remains loose, so the Knights are sent back to find him before he reaches The Lost Shrine.

The action converges at an abandoned zoo, home of The Lost Shrine. Wizasquizar manages to activate a group of magical guards before escaping. The Darkling Lords transform into their animal forms and attempt to fight back, but are eventually thrown into cages. The Spectral Knights arrive and suffer the same fate, save Leoric, who uses his power staff to ask what he should do. He is told to resist the temptation to do what he would normally do (something dumb?) and, in a rare moment of intelligence, Leoric doesn't transform into his animal form and is able to slip past the guards unmolested. He arrives in time to find Wizasquizar with a magic crystal (heretofore unmentioned, undescribed, and apparently the source of great power) which Leoric whips out of his hands, sending it crashing to the ground.

Back at Merklynn's lair, Wizasquizar is sent once again to the Wizard's Jail. The episode ends with the now free Bogavus sitting on a throne before a group of cloaked figures.

There are some great moments in this episode - Merklynn's initial meeting with the Spectral Knights, the basic concept of the Anarchy Zone, the moody atmosphere of the monastery and the stormy encounter between Leoric and Falkama - but, otherwise, it's a bit puzzling. Merklynn's reminder of the escape from the Wizard's Jail is breezed over in a single faint line, and we're never told why they all suddenly made for The Lost Shrine or what, exactly, The Shrine is. And the ending with Bogavus, while interesting, is left rather unexplained. It may be a setup for a future episode, but it really would've helped had they set the rest of it up a bit better.


One of my biggest issues with 80s animated series, hell, most shows before a shift in format around the mid 90s, is the stale status quo they can settle into where every episode has to be a done-in-one adventure with no dangling threads. Leave it to Flint Dille to defy conventions, because not only does this pick up on the dangling thread of the escaped wizards from the end of "The Overthrow of Merklynn", but it sets the stage for another adventure down the road with its final image of Bogavus lording over a mysterious group of cloaked followers. I love it when shows do this, and always find it a treat when it happens in an era where such serialization wasn't common. It gives the stories broader depth and scale as new drama builds out of the consequences of prior resolutions. Yet, in a display of perfect balance, the story we get here is still very much complete.

The last time we saw the Spectral Knights set out on a quest together, they were stiff and bland, and their do-goodery was overshadowed by the charismatic wickedness of the Darkling Lords. Here, for the first time, our heroes come off as bad ass. A giant monster swallows the Knights, so they beat the crap out of its innards, clearly stabbing with the points of their weapons and everything, until it gags them up. Ectar goes into Dirty Harry mode as he tracks down and roughs up some of his old snitches for info. Leoric dives into situations as he always does, but uses his head and thinks his way through a series of obstacles. Most of the other Knights just tag along (did Galadria even have a line?), but they finally come off as a crack team of seasoned pros.

The world building on display is also excellent. It's so bizarre seeing armored knights walk into a wild west town complete with cowboys and a saloon, but this speaks to a realistic cultural diversity and acts as an acknowledgement that there are different levels of Dark Ages living. Not everyone will regress as far back as what we've previously seen. I also love the touch of the shrine being tied to an ancient zoo where the automated guards make sure the animals stay in their cages, regardless of whether or not they're the correct beasts. And going back to Ectar for a moment, not only was it great to be reminded of his life before the fall of technology, but it's explicitly stated that Darkling Lord Reekon was someone he's had dealings with in the past. I know we're getting pretty close to the premature cancellation of this series, but I'm hoping we get to see an episode where these two old foes square off.

As for the Lost Shrine, Tony's right that they never give it a full explanation. They could have been a little more explicit, but I rather like the vagueness. There's little hints here and there that the crystal in the Shrine is similar to Merklynn's Orb, and any wizard who reaches it will have a conduit that will makes their magic strong enough to either surpass or rival him. Thus, Merklynn holding back on a few details again speaks to the ambiguous nature of his character as we realize he didn't send the Knights out on a quest to protect their world, he sent them out to protect himself.

The humor was also a treat. The Darkling Lords plummeting to their dooms, begging Cravex to rescue them in his animal form, and him screaming "WHY SHOULD I?!" in reply. The above mentioned Knights-swallowing-monster who looks like Jaba the Hutt with eyes on his hands. The way the Lords take advantage of Wizasquizar's inability to tell the truth. Merklynn's giant hand reaching down from the clouds to pluck people around like a Monty Python sketch. A wizard sneaking into a monastery, and being told by a monk that what he's looking for can be found "in the fourth chamber, in the third niche, behind the fifteenth pillar, atop the catwalk, under a bust of Dagolus the Eighth."

My only complaint about this episode would be Jim Cummings' lousy performance as Bogavus, who should be an unassuming presence, but is played with an over-the-top slurry cockney accent. Otherwise, I love the story, I love the power and presence our heroes finally carry, I love the way it balances all the characters even as it opens up new realms on this bizarre world. Most of all, I love the animation, which tops that of every other episode up to this point. There's a fluidity and sense of detail that brings our characters to life (great moment after the Knights are swallowed where Feryl finds Galadria's feet on his head), and a moving "camera" that gives all of the action scenes a rushing, sweeping energy. It's definitely a top notch production and I wish every episode had been put together with such skill.

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

Jesse: "Hey, what's that up in your tree?"

Bobby: "Looks like a cat. Lets throw rocks at it!"

Man's Voice: (off screen) "Why not start with the rocks in your head!"

Boys: (simultaneously) "Cindarr!"

Cindarr: "The little kitty is just scared of falling. You should help it down and give it some milk so it'll go home happy."

Jesse: "I'll get a ladder." (runs off)

Bobby: "But it's trespassing on our property! And so are you!"

Cindarr: (raises staff) "By nature's hand, by craft, by art, What once was one, now fly apart!"

(Destruction emerges, cuts down tree, continues rampaging through the neighborhood)


Cindarr: (picks up cat) "Aw, it's okay, little one. There's nothing more to be afraid of."

(flames, people screaming, mayhem on a massive scale)

Jesse: (runs up) "I found the ladder."

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

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

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