ThunderCats - Episode Guide

Lion-O’s Anointment Third Day: The Trial of Cunning

Written by Leonard Starr

   

 

ThunderCats - Episode Guide - Official Rankin-Bass Synopsis header

http://thundercats.org/cartoon/cartoonguide/episodeguide/trialofcunning/synopsis.jpg LION-0 undergoes the third of his Anointment Trials, which each LORD OF THE THUNDERCATS must pass to prove he is worthy of his inherited title. The Trial of Cunning pits LION-0 against the THUNDERKITTENS: a race through the Maze of Infinity. The THUNDERKITTENS have the advantage of having reconnoitered the maze and plan a number of diversions to confuse and delay LION-0. The MUTANTS take advantage of the fact that LION-0 must pass the trials unarmed and cannot accept help from anyone, so the trial includes a number of skirmishes with them.

In the maze, LION-0 is captured by half-blind CAVE DWELLERS who believe he is an OVERLORD, an over-earth-man whose ancestors feared the CAVE DWELLERS’ books and forced the gentle creatures to live below ground. To punish LION-0, they try to force him to read until his eyesight fails. LION-0 escapes the CAVE DWELLERS and prevents the MUTANTS from destroying their books.

Meanwhile, the THUNDERKITTENS are trapped above a fiery chasm and call for help. Even though he is sure this is just another THUNDERKITTEN trick, LION-0 investigates. The CAVE DWELLERS help him rescue the THUNDERKITTENS, who were indeed in real danger. LION-0 finally wins the race through the maze, tricking the THUNDERKITTENS by roping them to a rock.

 

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In the Third Anointment Trial, Lion-0 is forced to match wits with Wilykat and Wilykit, whose traits are tricks and cunning. They are masters of mischief and of using stratagem and devious means rather than direct confrontation to attain their ends. Lion-0 displays astuteness and calls upon his own craftiness to shrewdly match their trickery and win the trial. Sometimes when we are stuck trying to reach a goal by direct means, we should consider the alternative of a skillful plan or device that is indirect. In any event, we should never be so caught up with our own goals that we ignore others in need. Lion-0 takes time to rescue the Thunderkittens and, because he had aided the Cave Dwellers, they in turn help him. We must never be too busy or too lazy to respond to persons who need help.

 

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The third act in the play that is Lion-O’s Anointment Trials, “The Trial of Cunning” sees Lion-O competing against the Thunderkittens, Wilykat and Wilykit, in a battle of wits that tests a unique facet of Lion-O’s personality, his cunning and ability to outsmart opponents rather than using physical prowess such as strength, speed or combat skill. As such, this episode effectively complements the other four parts of this “mini-series”. 

Although it is a debateable point, arguably this episode is the least interesting of the five Anointment Trials episodes. “The Trial of Strength” benefited from being the first part, containing much interesting exposition as well as soul-searching from Lion-O, and “The Trial of Speed” benefited from the unique challenge of Lion-O having to beat Cheetara in a race – equally, in the case of the two Trials episodes that follow this one, “The Trial of Mind Power” reveals a unique and rarely seen ability of Tygra’s, putting Lion-O through several psychological hurdles, and “The Trial of Evil” features the exciting premise of Lion-O facing off against Mumm-Ra unarmed, whilst at the same time giving us an in-depth look at the interior of Mumm-Ra’s pyramid. To be truthful, this episode features none of those elements, and as such there is a slight sense of going through the motions with this tale – as per the previous Trial episode, this one basically involves Lion-O and his ThunderCat opponent (or, in this case, opponents) trying to best each other whilst the Mutants provide a distracting backdrop and an additional sense of danger.

Despite these shortcomings, however, this episode offers an enjoyable insight into the relationship between Lion-O and the Thunderkittens. Although not blatantly displayed, for the most part the interaction between Lion-O and the ‘Kittens seen in this episode is the interaction of equals rather than that of an elder and two kids, and this subtle piece of writing actually makes a big difference to this episode. Something that is often forgotten throughout the course of the series is that Lion-O and the Thunderkittens were roughly the same age prior to the ThunderCats’ arrival on Third Earth, and it is only Lion-O’s accelerated aging that created any sort of age difference. Whilst Lion-O does mature faster than the Thunderkittens as the series wears on (largely through necessity), nonetheless it’s not difficult to imagine the Thunderkittens not looking up to Lion-O as an “elder” in perhaps the way they otherwise might, because in Lion-O they would see a former playmate, someone who was their age and size not so long ago. Again, some episodes choose to completely overlook this, but it is interesting to note that more than one of Leonard Starr’s scripts (another notable example being “The Tower of Traps”) subtly display and explore the unique relationship between Lion-O and the Thunderkittens.

This episode is also a great showcase for Wilykit and Wilykat themselves. Whilst the Thunderkittens are often present in the ThunderCats’ battles with their enemies, often they are shown more as irritants to their foes rather than as a genuine force to be reckoned with, yet this episode allows them to properly display just what an effective weapon cunning and quick-thinking can be. Whilst some later episodes would show the Thunderkittens as being somewhat immature, this episode instead shows them as smart and enthusiastic young ThunderCats, focussed and more than capable of handling themselves. Only at the very end of the episode, where the Thunderkittens fall foul of a giant snake and find themselves on the brink of a molten doom, do they revert slightly to type, yet even this is done in a way that does not automatically discredit their competence. Setting the episode’s events in a maze is actually another clever move, as this is the perfect location to show off Wilykat and Wilykit’s talents and personalities.

Arguably the other most interesting element of this episode is the introduction of the mysterious and anonymous race of creatures generally referred to by fans as the “Underearth People”. These creatures initially look like evil beings, seeking to enslave Lion-O, but in fact they are merely bitter at the cruel treatment that was meted out to them by those on Third Earth who “feared their books”, driving them underground and thus robbing them of their vision, the most essential component for reading the books that are the storehouse of their knowledge. This backstory is interesting in several ways because of the mysterious origins of the beings in question – no explanation is ever given as to why their books were feared or who drove them underground. One possible explanation is that, in the early post-apocalyptic days of Second or Third Earth, these creatures and their books were feared because their knowledge was considered to give them power over other, more primitive, races on the planet, and thus were persecuted out of fear that their knowledge could lead them to becoming the dominant species on Third Earth. Another possibility is that their books contain something altogether more sinister than knowledge, perhaps spells for working dark magic or other such forbidden secrets – however, this theory is debunked somewhat by the brave, noble and fair-minded actions of the Underearth People in their rescue of Lion-O and the Thunderkittens, risking further damage to their eyes in the process. It is a shame that the origins and backstory of these creatures were not explored in greater detail, if only in a later episode, as their story could have leant itself to an interesting tale about wisdom, books, and persecution.

Whilst “The Trial of Cunning”serves more as an appetizer rather than the main course when compared to the episodes that follow it, nonetheless these elements mark it out as an enjoyable story with some great character moments and a variety of interesting and exciting scenes, and as such it is still one of the stronger episodes of ThunderCats‘ season 1.

Written by Chris (He-Fan)

 

 

 

ThunderCats - Episode Guide - Notes of Interest header

Notes of Interest button This episode marks the only appearance of a strange race of beings that dwell underground, beneath Third Earth. Although it is explained that these beings were driven underground by other Third Earth races who feared their books (or, presumably, the knowledge contained within them), their origins are still left shrouded in mystery, and in fact no official name is assigned to these creatures during this episode.
Notes of Interest button In this episode, it is revealed that Lion-O was aged 12 when the ThunderCats fled Thundera.
Notes of Interest button In this episode, Panthro twice refers to the Thunderkittens as “the Wilycats”, a rare variation on their usual name.
Notes of Interest button Even though all of the episodes that comprise Lion-O’s Anointment Trials are spaced apart, they are written as taking place on consecutive days and as such are designed to be watched together.
Notes of Interest button When ThunderCats was shown in the UK on the BBC, it was common practice for one episode of the show to be broadcast once a week, unlike in the US where many stations would broadcast the show daily. As opposed to in the US, where the Anointment Trials episodes were spaced apart, in the UK they were shown together, with the five parts being broadcast over the space of five weeks.
Notes of Interest button These episodes were not broadcast in the UK until September 1990, where they kicked-off a new series (season) of ThunderCats – the new season in question being the latter half of season 1! Interestingly, even though the Anointment Trials episodes had not been broadcast in the UK until that time, several episodes that appear after them in both production and US airdate order had been broadcast on the BBC several years earlier.

 

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