TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Warlock” and “Amberle” (S2, Eps. 7 & 8)

Whoah. So, some major stuff happened in this week’s double episode of The Shannara Chronicles. While our old friend Bandon was able to resurrect the Warlock Lord (who appears to have taken on the guise of a twisted Allanon, due to the Druid’s blood used to resurrect him), Wil had to confront the truth of his heartbreak, Eretria confronted her own demons, and both Riga and Tamlin saw the resolution of their respective plots.

I’ll be the first to say that there are times when this show hits some bumps, when the dialogue is a bit clunky or trite, and there was definitely some of that in this week’s offering. However, there are also times when it hits you right in the gut, and Wil’s painful admittance that his love for Amberle is over is one of those moments. I truly felt my heart breaking right along with him as he finally had to come to terms with the fact that the beautiful Elf girl was a part of his past, not his present or his future. Any of us who have experienced this kind of heartbreak know that this sequence gets it exactly right.

Beneath this exchange there is a fundamental philosophical and human realization. No matter how much we like to hold onto the moments in our lives that fill us with joy (or sadness, or both), we also have to come to terms with the fact that time waits for no one. W have to leave behind our pasts, and that brings both closure and an ineffable sadness. I give The Shannara Chronicles enormous props for being able to do justice to this profound feeling.

I have to say, Austin Butler continues to amaze me this season with his growth as an actor. He’s always had a prettiness about him that fit in nicely with the MTV aesthetic, but the shift to Spike has, I think, allowed him to put that prettiness to a different use. There are moments when you can see his emotions strain to break free of his beautiful exterior, his jaw clenching with the strain. Indeed, it’s precisely his male beauty that gives this struggle its potent force and that makes us feel with him rather than just for him.

This pair of episodes forced the various characters to confront the darker parts of themselves. While Wil emerged from his testing with the Sword of Shannara intact, ready to do battle with the Warlock Lord, Eretria gave in to her demons and became…part Mord Wraith? It’s still unclear exactly what she is now, but the sense of bodily violation was certainly a potent one. It feels a bit unfair that this brave Rover girl, who has conquered so much–and endured such heartache–meet this fate. I do hope, however, that she is able to overcome.

For his part, Allanon has finally confronted the reality that his death is coming, that his actions to save the Four Lands have inadvertently set him on a path to an ending from which he will not escape. He continues to evince a harsh yet vulnerable stoicism, and he is willing to accept the fact that, if by his death he is able to bring about the safety of those in his care, then the sacrifice will have been worth it. Fortunately, he has already begun training Mareth (who has really grown into her own as a character), to take over for him. We can but hope that she is up to the task of carrying on the legacy of the Druids into a new era.

And lastly we have Bandon, who at last succeeds in his mission to bring back the Warlock Lord. Unfortunately, his new master is far more cruel and heartless than he had imagined, and one gets the sense that the resurrected creature is not at all what he had thought he might be. While Bandon ultimately seems to embrace the absolute nothingness that the Warlock Lord represents, I continue to hold out hope that there might be some redemption for him in the end.

This week also asked the profound question: can you still go on with your heroic quest when it seems that there is no hope? Wil confronts this dilemma, for the Sword has shown him what he believes to be the truth: that the  Obviously, Wil decides that the answer is in the affirmative, but who knows how true his vision might turn out to be? The fact that he goes on with his heroic quest despite the uncertainty speaks to his strength as a character and a worthy adaptation of Brooks’s original creation.

This week also saw the death of two of the major characters of the season: Queen Tamlin of Leah and General Riga. The death of the queen had an understated grace about it, as she stoically accepts that this is the price she must pay for the actions that she has taken. Riga’s death was quite a lot more graphic, as the Warlock Lord proved to him in no uncertain terms that though he has attempted to eradicate magic, his efforts have been in vain. It was quite cathartic to see this evil character at last dispensed with, and it was fitting that he suffered from the very thing that he sought so ruthlessly to eradicate.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my thoughts about the resurrected Warlock Lord. It was quite a nice touch to have him be played by Manu Bennett, who has brought Allanon to life with such memorable scenery-chewing. This sets up an interesting doubling that will hopefully pay some dividends in the final two episodes.

All in all, this series has really grown into its own, and I really do hope that it gets a third season. Now that it’s finally proven that it can capture an effective blend of gritty and splendid (the visuals continue to stun this season), it could really go in some interesting directions.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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