Xanadu:  A review of 'Ariel'

by Bruinhilda 


Someone was asking about Xanadu earlier, I noticed. Sorry I couldn't respond right away, but it takes time to write a full review.  This essay is meant for writers and plotters <you know who you are>. If you're not one of these, and don't care about Xanadu, go ahead and skip it, you won't hurt my feelings.

Thanks to my beta-readers, Jess, Trivia, Heidi, Annie, and Sam.



This essay presented in SmartAss Screen


--Featuring the collected sayings of Mentor Ariel

     For a planet that appeared in a single episode, and was never mentioned again, Xanadu gets a lot of attention from the fans. You could say that the whole concept of a planet of telepaths hits a chord in the fanficers, but you'd be wrong. It's Niko's home planet, we're obsessed with Niko, end of story. If Niko were from New Jersey, New Jersey would feature in a lot more stories. Of course, that wouldn't be nearly as interesting, so it's just as well she comes from an exotic hidden colony of psychics.

     For those of you who have not seen "Ariel", (or have not seen it in many years), the basic plot is as follows: during a quiet day at BETA Mountain, Niko gets a psychic summons from her old mentor, Ariel. While trying to get an interceptor and explain to Zach what's going on, Ariel herself teleports into Q-Ball's lab to explain the situation better.  This causes Q-Ball to go into conniptions over the security breach.  Zach, on the other hand, handles the shock well (and looks highly amused at the effect Ariel has on Q-Ball). Ariel then proceeds to embarrass her own student in proper motherly fashion. ("He's very gallant.  Handsome too. Just as you said my child...I'm sorry dear, did I say something wrong?" This also seems to amuse Zach, who I suspect may have noted a possible way to embarrass his own children in the future.) But I digress. Ariel explains the plot for us, using her gift of illusion to show us key events. Here, in her own words:

"I am a member of the Circle of Thought, a society as old as time itself. We are teachers and philosophers, and we seek out and train others who are as gifted as we. But we have one terrible enemy. The Megamind seeks to consume the Circle of Thought, and use our power for evil!"

"Eons ago, we defeated the Megamind, and imprisoned it in a
mind-space singularity. We have directed our powers to secure the
mighty prison that holds the Megamind...but somehow, it has escaped. If
I'd been there when it got free, I'd be a prisoner too."

     Yes, Niko comes from a planet of hyper-dramatic expositionary speakers. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

     Zach, of course, offers BETA's help, citing the technology and weapons at their disposal. Ariel declines; as far as she's concerned, technology is childish, primitive, and certainly of no help against one of the biggest mental powers in the universe. In other words: she came specifically to facilitate her student's departure, thank you, we should go now. Of course, things are never that easy. The Megamind picks that moment to track Ariel down and taunt her. Deciding to have a little fun with the whole situation (or perhaps, hiding the fact that it's not *quite* as sure of victory as it claims, and hoping to rattle its opponents), it takes Zach hostage, teleporting him to Xanadu to join its other entranced prisoners.

     As strategic moves go, this one was a loser. Instead of having to fill in Walsh on all her personal history and the current situation in order to get a ship, all Niko had to do was tell him "A massively powered psychic monster from my home planet just kidnapped Captain Foxx. Q-Ball can explain. I need a ship; I'll file a report when we get back." Which is probably more coherent than what she actually told him, but it's late enough in the series that Walsh is used to weirdness from his "special team of rangers". Heck, he probably just thought "this explains a LOT", and gave her clearance. Why Ariel doesn't teleport both of them to the planet is not really addressed, but a number of plausible explanations come to mind: conservation of power for the battle ahead, she can't safely teleport a non-teleporter without help, the Megamind might have caught them incoming if they tried, etc. Whatever the reason, Niko takes them both in an interceptor (whose computer has a nervous breakdown when it's told to land in the middle of empty space).  The battle commences, as the Megamind uses images from Ariel and Niko's minds to challenge their progress and Ariel turns the scenarios topsy-turvy, rattling the Megamind and wearing it down. This includes two of the more memorable scenes from the series: a spectacular battle with the Sphinx, and a zany food-fight at the Mad Hatter's tea party (complete with a Tommy-gun wielding White Rabbit). It's no wonder we fell in love with Ariel: how often do you see an elderly lady take out one of the supreme menaces of the universe with a sharp wit and a two-layer cake to the face?

     Needless to say, this seriously annoys the Megamind, who decides to stop fooling around and teleport them to the Vault of Eternity, where its prison is. (Another indication that its power isn't what it claims it is: it's kind of stuck as a psychic manifestation around the singularity that imprisoned it.) Deciding that Niko is no real threat, it brushes her aside, and concentrates all of its power on Ariel. The battle goes badly, and Ariel is worn down...and her image starts to fluctuate. Too late, the Megamind realizes it's been wasting its power on a disguised Niko, and still has to deal with a full-fledged Mentor. 
"Ahhh! You deceived me!" "Haven't you heard? War *is* deception! And illusion is a specialty of mine!"

     Unfortunately, Ariel is still no match for the Megamind, and now Niko is powerless as well. And this is where Niko gets a chance to truly shine. Zach is among the captured mentors, unconscious and floating about a hundred yards up. And totally ignored by the Megamind. Which wouldn't do a lot of good, except Niko's carrying the remote control unit for his bionic arm. Yes, there's a remote control unit for his bionic arm. Q-Ball was playing with it  earlier, proving that he has way too much free time in his lab, and Niko nicked it on the way out, proving that she's the most foresighted of the Series 5 (she's the only one who seems to carry a knife, med kit, grenades, scanners and other useful things on her person that you would assume would be standard Ranger issue along with the guns).

     Niko uses the remote to activate Zach's thunderbolt...and blast the singularity at the center of the Megamind's projection. The results are spectacular, as the Megamind loses control of his prisoners (one of whom is kind enough to catch Zach before he splats into the ground), and it drops its attack on Ariel. The Circle of Thought, now seriously honked off, blast the protesting Megamind back into its prison. Afterwards, Zach does what he usually does upon meeting a new culture: offer them membership in the League of Planets. And as usual, he's politely rebuffed, with no hard feelings.
So, Zach and Niko head home, with Zach slightly worried about one thing:

"Will the Circle let me remember all this when we get home?"
"Well, one's mind belongs to one's self, Zachary. That's our strongest law."
"Good, 'cause there are a few million questions I'd like to ask you!"
"And I might even answer some of them!"

     Jump to hyperspace, roll credits, yadda yadda yadda. Which is a nice change from the usual "sorry, you're not allowed to remember that you just helped to save an entire culture and possibly the universe because we're paranoid," ending Lost Paradise stories usually have.


Of Xanadu, we don't really see that much. And some of what we do see is *after* the Megamind twisted things to suit its own tastes. Untwisted, Xanadu seems to be a pleasant pastoral world with a single sun, a sculpture garden, and one building that looks to be a *lot* bigger on the inside than the outside. (Construction by Gallifrey, I assume.)

There's no technology of any sort to be seen on the planet, Megamind or no Megamind. And it would be VERY surprising to see any, considering Ariel's (apparently normal) attitude:

"Spaceships? Machines? Machines are such primitive things. It's little good machines will do you, Ranger Foxx, if the Megamind destroys all life in the universe!"


<Q-Ball> "This is an ultra-security zone! Would you mind telling me *how* you got in?!"
<Ariel, laughing> "Why, what a *dear* naive young man you are!"
"Madame! I hold advanced degrees! In.."
"..Machines and computers. Hasn't Niko told you yet how inferior they are to the power of the mind?"


"Niko, will you *forget* those foolish toys?"
"Sometimes these toys come in handy."


"Tut tut! Mind over mathematics, child!"

And so on. The overall Xanaduan attitude towards technology isn't really hostile. They just see technology as primitive, childish, and otherwise a waste of time. Niko's willingness to embrace technology seems to be looked on as youthful, but relatively harmless, folly. Something she'll grow out of someday.

<Niko> "Hyperspace travel is not quite as dramatic, however, it does get
us there."
<Ariel> "Really, child, I prefer my *own* travel arrangements."
"Sorry to slow you down, Ariel, but some of us need spaceships to get around."
"Teleportation's just another trick of the trade that you'll learn someday, child."

There's no "technology is evil!" attitude seen, no fear of it. 
Just amused contempt:

<AI> "Warning! Warning! There is no star system or planet anywhere in
this region!"
<Ariel> "Don't trouble your little chips about it, computer. You're not *supposed* to know there's anything here! See what I mean about technology, Niko?"
"Then *why* did you and the other Circle members encourage me to join BETA?"
"Your rangers do some good in their own way. Besides, you *did* volunteer."
"And I have no regrets."
"Caution! Caution! There is absolutely nothing at these coordinates!"
"No match for machines..."

From the AI's distress, we can deduce that not only is the planet cloaked from view and scanner, but so is the entire system! Until Xanadu's cloak falls away, it looks like an empty sector of space. The implied power of that is enormous. The Circle may well be right that technology is primitive and silly, in spite of the fact that it helped save their butts.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Xanadu does not involve itself with outside matters. Period. Their main concern seems to be the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, personal perfection, and the training of less-evolved psychics. Certainly disappointing for the League:

<Zach> "The Circle of Thought would be such a tremendous help, to BETA and the League of Planets!"
<unnamed Mentor> "Individual members are free to do as they choose, but
our society does not concern itself with governments or their wars. We have other responsibilities."
"Maybe someday you'll reconsider."
<Ariel> "You have our help, Ranger Foxx. You have the best pupil I've
ever trained!"

And one may be all they get. Something notable about the episode: 

Xanadu seems to be an exceptionally small society. Freeze-framing and counting revealed that there were no more than 15 people shown in Ariel's flashback of the Megamind's imprisonment, and a mere 9, including Ariel, at the final battle with the Megamind. It was implied that these were all Mentors, full members of the Circle of Thought. Which meant that Niko was the only student on the planet at the time!

Is Niko the only student they've had recently, or were the others less-experienced, and in hiding during the crisis? Certainly, there didn't seem to be any other Mentors free to help Ariel, since she only involved Niko in her rescue attempt. We can only theorize about the casualties the Megamind's escape may have caused. Darn G rating... 

Why and how Niko came to join the Rangers has never been really explained, but it's obvious that she's something of a rebel. And it's just as obvious that she is well-loved anyway:

"Now prepare yourself, my child. We will be attacked and tested from this point on. Oh, and Niko?"
"Yes, Ariel?"
"One more thing. You're the best pupil I've ever had, and I'm glad you're here. Even if you *do* have an uncouth love of machinery!"

Certainly a tolerant, emotionally mature society in most respects. And it definitely shows in Niko's attitude in much of the series. She isn't horrified by a species' appearance, which was an asset in negotiating peace with the insectoid Traash, and she doesn't act scornful of other cultures. So it's not surprising that Xanadu is not a human or human-dominated culture. Ariel and Niko are human (we assume), but at least half of the Mentors seen in the episode were non- humans. Race is probably not an issue in a place devoted to people of mental ability and higher thought.

So this is Xanadu. Amazing how much information you *can* get in a single episode, and how many questions you find yourself asking. A pity we didn't see more! Of course, series or no series we, like Zach, may never know all the answers. The Circle isn't talking. And neither is their finest Student.