"A Vanishing Art"
Original airdate: Week of March 12, 2000
by Michelle Erica Green

That Old Black Magic

"A Vanishing Art" Plot Summary:

In Budapest in 1897, Emperor Franz celebrates his anniversary with Empress Elizabeth by watching a magic show. The magician, Brodsky, causes explosions and appears to be out of his body for a few moments. When he returns, the cursed Scepter of Hungary is missing. More than a hundred years later, Sydney's friend Rex Rolands tells her he believes he has tracked the missing scepter to Brodsky's former home, now the mansion of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Atlantic City. Only magicians are allowed in the mansion, so Sydney and Nigel pose as Rex's assistants.

At first the two are amused by the hidden passages and kinky personages, though Sydney is nearly clobbered by a knife-throwing dummy and Nigel is teased by Erica the Erotic, who warns Sydney about proprietor Malcolm's "magic wand." Rex reveals that Brodsky's bedroom is now Malcolm's lair, so Sydney and Nigel sneak inside and find a secret overlook to the main stage. But there's no evidence of the scepter, so Sydney begins to wonder whether there's another chamber beneath the stage itself. Rex claims the trap door leads to a hidden space but no secret passage, yet Sydney is certain that if she can get down there, she'll find one. So the group tells Malcolm they need to rehearse, forcing Sydney to dress in black leather and Nigel in a clown costume.

The night of the show, Sydney and Nigel drop into the pit during an illusion that nearly gets Nigel killed when he finds someone has bolted the trap door shut as Rex thrusts swords into the box where he hides. The two crawl through hidden passages and brave the illusion of an endless well, finding a recreation of the Hungarian throne room from which Brodsky took the scepter. "At last," says Erica the Erotic, coming into the room. Sydney realizes she's Erica Brodsky, descendant of the great magician, as the woman locks them up and tells them Rex will never look for them down there - he'll assume they double-crossed him.

When Erica goes to watch the magician humiliate himself, Sydney asks Nigel to pick the whalebone out of her bustier with his teeth, then picks the lock. The two get back into the box in time for the end of the act. Erica flees into the hall of mirrors, pursued by Sydney, who figures out reality from illusion and decks Erica. Sydney and Nigel get credit for finding the scepter and Rex gets his own TV special, but Sydney and Nigel decline the opportunity to assist since they have their hands full with Claudia, who now wants to be a magician.


The credit for most of the humor in this silly episode goes to Nigel, who has several hilarous moments. First he tells a magician who plays a trick pulling his ID out of his shirt that it would have been more impressive if he pulled it out of his pants. Then he accidentally turns a mirror transparent, and snoops on Sydney as she gets out of the shower. Then he puts on a costume that "even Elton John couldn't pull off." Then he nearly gets stabbed to death by swords, then nearly toppled from a plank across a pit, and finally he is nearly shot by would-be-paramour Erica. It's a rough life!

The carnival funhouse atmosphere and props were amusing as well, which enhanced the thin plot. Erica made a too-obvious villain; sleazy Malcolm didn't seem to have the smarts to hide the scepter, but that didn't matter because we knew sooner or later we'd get to see a catfight between the red vinyl-clad mistress magician and the black leather-clad Sydney Fox. So if Sydney and Nigel aren't Penn and Teller, who cares?

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