Category Archives: Fantasy Television

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Breakline”

Now that The Shannara Chronicles has finally discovered the meaning of momentum, things are happening at a pretty good clip. In this episode, the company is scattered (after their encounter with the Reaper). Amberle and Eretria discover a long-lost remnant of the Old World, while Wil gets assistance from Perk, a Roc-riding Elf. Meanwhile, Arion and Ander confront the Dagda Mor. Though Allanon arrives, fully healed, in time to save the younger prince, the elder son is killed by the Demon lord. Utterly bereft, Ander nevertheless manages to kill the Changeling. After a deadly encounter with the Elf-hunters, Amberle is saved by Wil, while Eretria falls into their hands.

The addition of Elf-hunters seemed a bit ham-handed, and the idea of them cutting off Elf ears in order to sell them to Gnomes verges on the silly. However, I’ve begun to notice that the series, understandably, has taken some of the larger threats portrayed in Brooks’s novel and channeled them into more human obstructions. While they don’t always pan out as well as the writers no doubt thought they would (the obvious sexual tension between Eretria and the Elf-hunter Zora seems designed to titillate more than add nunace to Eretria’s character), they are understandable responses to a limited budget.

Speaking of Eretria…she is slowly emerging as the most compelling and complexly drawn of the three young leads. She’s a broken person, and this quest seems to hold out the promise that she might somehow be able to put herself back together again. Those who have read the books know how her story ends up, but for those who don’t…well, I won’t give it away. I will say that the series does a great job of making us care about her, as well as inspiring in us a wish and a desire that she will somehow find happiness, whether or not that ends up being with Wil (who, by the way, didn’t seem to have much to do in this episode).

The revelation of the party hall was a nice touch, both appealing to the show’s target audience and also making clear the essentially ephemeral nature of both youth and human accomplishment more generally. It is one of the few genuinely reflective moments in the series so far, in which we as viewers are led to experience, at least for a moment, an almost terrifying sense of our own impending destruction. Could it actually be that we are trembling on the threshold of doom, all unknowing? It’s a frightening question, and I give the show a lot of credit for daring to ask it.

I was immensely pleased with Allanon’s healing scene, which allowed us a glimpse of his father and mentor Bremen. While not exactly as I imagined him, he is nevertheless a stern and imposing presence, and it is clear that he continues to exert a powerful (one might even say inexorable) force on Allanon’s life. While the younger Druid seems to feel overwhelmed by his burdens and by the refusal of those in the Four Lands to heed his warnings, Bremen reminds him that that is part of what it means to serve.

And I am also glad to see the Changeling storyline finally resolved and to finally get Arion out of the way. Ander is one of the series’ more fully-fleshed characters, and it will be interesting to see him change and develop into a king in his own right. After all, he now has the unenviable burden of overseeing the defense of the Elves and their homeland against the horde that is preparing to sweep down upon them.

All in all, I found this to be the most satisfying episode so far. There was a bit of everything on offer, and it did a great deal to not only move the plot forward, but also show us what the show can do when it really hits its stride. Let’s just hope they can keep that momentum going for the next three episodes.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles:” “Pykon”

Note:  Spoilers for the episode follow.

In the most recent episode of The Shannara Chronicles, the small company heading toward the Bloodfire confronts a pair of deranged recluses in a mountain fortress, Allanon struggles with both the seer and the increasing power of the Dagda Mor, and Ander finally sees for himself the enormous forces gathered to sweep across the Westland.

While I really, truly do like this show, I often find myself frustrated with the choices it makes in terms of narrative and dramatic construction. While I’m totally okay with changes being made to the show for the sake of clarity and increased drama, it doesn’t make any sense to me why they would introduce characters that do not appear in the books (in this case, the deranged recluse and his mentally scarred daughter), other than to act as mere titillation. After all, they are both dead by the end of the episode, so one is left wondering:  what, exactly, was the point of what just transpired? I can’t help thinking that the narrative space taken up by this rather superfluous storyline would have been better used to beef up some of the other plot threads that are, in the main, infinitely more interesting.

However, this episode did give us a little more information about Eritrea, who makes an attempt at seduction of Amberle. While I’m sure some will read this as mere pandering, I actually think it adds a layer of complexity to her. She is gradually emerging as a young woman scarred from the years under Cephelo’s cruel and uncaring hand, and as such she wants to find affection wherever she can. This scene also sets the stage for an emerging dynamic among the three leads. No matter what happens, it’s almost a certainty that at least one person is going to end up getting very hurt.

I am also increasingly impressed by the growing relationship between Ander and the Gnome Slanter. Although Slanter doesn’t actually enter the Brooks’ universe until the book The Wishsong of Shannara, it’s actually a little nice to see him here in this narrative. He actually seems to be a fairly complex and contradictory character. Of course, it remains to be seen in what ways his arc will continue to develop, though we can hope that he will take a leading role in the fight against the demons.

Of course, the biggest shock of the night was the seeming death of Allanon. The Changeling continues to sow chaos throughout the royal palace and beyond. I’m still not entirely sold on this particular storyline, as it seems to raise more questions and narrative challenges than it solves, but I suppose I just have to have hope that the writers have a larger game plan in mind. Though Allanon didn’t get a great deal of air time in this episode, I am absolutely confident that he will come to the fore again as the final confrontation with the Dagda Mor and his armies at last comes to pass.

So, was this a great episode? No. However, it did lay the groundwork for what is to come, and I sincerely hope that the writers finally figure out what they are doing and finally get to the meat of the story they want to tell.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Reaper”

Warning:  Spoilers for the episode follow.

In the most recent episode of MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, the three young heroes have at last begun to make their way through the wilderness of the Westland. While they are briefly captured by the Rovers, they manage to escape and take Cephelo captive, only to find themselves confronted by the Dagda Mor’s newest weapon, the killing machine known as the Reaper. In Aborlon, the Changeling finally murders the king, setting the stage for political chaos to follow.

While there were a few hiccups throughout the episode, overall I felt this was one of the strongest outings yet. The action has finally begun to move forward, and really it is about time. We’ve now halfway through the season, and there is a great deal of material to cover before we reach the much-hyped titanic battle between the Demons and the Elves, to say nothing of Amberle and her own quest. That’s a lot of plot to get through, but I have confidence that they will be able to do justice to the material (though I still think they could have compressed the previous couple of episodes).

I was also quite excited to see the race of the Gnomes at last brought into the light. So far, they’ve simply hovered at the edges of the narrative, but with their introduction we get another glimpse at the darkness that runs beneath the Four Lands. It’s sometimes easy to forget that, in Brooks’s universe, one unfortunate byproduct of the downfall of the Old World was the genetic damage wrought upon many of the humans. While the Elves predate humanity, the other races (Dwarves, Trolls, and Gnomes) are the byproduct of mankind’s proclivity toward self-destruction. Their introduction into the series gives me hope that the series will continue to provide us glimpses into the other Races that comprise the political landscape of Brooks’s world.

The Reaper was certainly worth waiting for, as it has always been one of my favourite of Brooks’s many compelling and deliciously evil villains. The creature as it is presented here is a being that desires nothing more than killing anything and everything in its path, a being of such mindless hate that nothing short of absolute destruction has any hope of stopping it. Millennia of imprisonment in the Forbidding have given it a thirst for blood, and it remains to be seen just how many innocent people it will take down before it too is destroyed.

During the confrontation with the Reaper, we also get out first glimpses of Wil’s struggles with the Elfstones, for he finds that they refuse to respond to him in this desperate hour of need. As with all magic in Brooks’s world, they demand something of the user in order to work properly, and Wil’s half-Elven heritage means that it takes even greater effort than it did for his father. Furthermore, their lack of response also suggests that Wil is not nearly as confident as he might appear at first, and that he will have to make many sacrifices if he hopes to see this quest through to its completion.

If I have one other major complaint, it would be the premature murder of King Eventine by the Changeling. I mean we still get the privilege of seeing Jonathan Rhys-Davies (who has always been one of the highlights of the show), but I find it difficult to imagine how they are going to reshape the rest of the season to make this incident fit into the established narrative arc. It just seemed like a bit of a cheap move, but perhaps there will be some payoff later in the season.

All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying episode, and as always I cannot wait to see what next week’s episode has in store.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Changeling”

In the most recent episode of MTV’s fantasy drama, Amberle finally enters the Elcrys and overcomes her personal demons and is granted the precious seed, Wil emotes and sleeps with Eritrea, who in turn is finally forced to accompany them both to the Bloodfire. Allanon finally uncovers the Changeling and seemingly kills it, only for it to return to life and slay the Elf charged with destroying its body.

On one level, I can understand what this episode was trying to do. It wanted to give us a little more insight into the motivations of these characters, what makes them tick, and how they continue to navigate what is obviously a very troubled and fractious relationship. And certainly, it also wants to provide its target demographic with the sort of soap opera (and I don’t use that term derogatorily, btw) antics that it believes tweens and teens want to see. But haven’t we seen a great deal of that already in the episodes we’ve already seen? Why do we need to spend more time loitering about the palace, when there’s a quest to be undertaken, and no one really knows quite where the Bloodfire is?

Given the fact that there is a great deal more to happen (I assume) within the space of the season, I remain somewhat flummoxed why so much time was spent on what amount to relatively trivial matters (especially given the fact that, you know, apocalypse is basically looming just around the corner). There remains much in this episode that feels far too much like filler, and I’m left wondering why they didn’t spend more time developing the characters of some of the other key characters, such as the Captain of the Guard, or even the King and his sons (though it also remains unclear to me why his elder son stubbornly clings to his disbelief in magic, despite all evidence to the contrary).

I’ve heard it said that Manu Bennett almost seems to be in a different TV show than everyone else, and while that’s true to an extent, I also think that’s part of the series’ appeal. Allanon and Eventine are the only two who seem to have a true grasp of the enormity of the challenges and dangers they face, and it is up to them to pull the younger, more foolish people into the maturity they need in order to survive. However, this particular dynamic can only remain interesting for so long, and it is high time that the series moves on with showing the youthful trio begin that painful (in this case no doubt both literal and metaphorical) journey into adulthood.

On the plus side, I continue to enjoy the appearance of the Changeling. I’ve long thought that one of Brooks’s singular talents as a writer of fantasy has been his ability to craft exceptional villains, and the series has done him justice. I have no doubt that the Changeling will continue to wreak havoc in the palace and beyond, with consequences that might prove dire for at least some of the characters that we have already begun to know and love (no spoilers, I promise!)

Overall, I found this to be the weakest outing for the series thus far. While it had its enjoyable moments, it far too often fell into the trap of pointless bickering for bickering’s sake, leaving its young leads little room to grow. Fortunately, however, it appears that next week’s episode is set to show us the epic quest in its proper form, as well as one of Brooks’s most formidable demonic creations:  the Demon known as the Reaper.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”: “Fury”

In this episode, Amberle and Wil find themselves captured by the Rovers, whose leader Cephelo is a greedy and uncaring fellow. Fortunately, they are rescued from their capture by Allanon, who finally gets them back to Arborlon. There, a reluctant and plainly terrified Amberle is finally granted access to the Ellcrys, who will determine whether she is worthy to carry the seed to the Bloodfire.

The young cast continues to do itself credit. Eritrea has finally begun to gain a bit of depth. Beneath that petulant and sneering exterior beats the heart of a young woman deeply embittered by the world in which she lives and by the “father” that continues to treat her as a piece of (sometimes) valuable property. While she sometimes comes off as more than a little petulant, we can’t really blame her, not considering how awful her “father” continues to be.

Speaking of Cephelo. Though he is, without a doubt, one of the series’ most despicable and ruthless characters, there is a certain amount of charisma about him (which is exactly how he appears in the book). You want so much to like this character, even as you realize that there is an intense and even somewhat sociopathic cruelty and malice underneath all of that, a darkness that will have significant consequences for everyone with whom he comes into contact.

Naturally, Manu Bennett continues to be the heart of the show as the great Allanon. In my humble opinion, the Druid has long been one of the most compelling of Brooks’s many creations, and Bennett continues to do him justice. This is a man on whom the burden of the fate of the Four Lands has disproportionately fallen. As he tells Amberle, the centuries that have preceded them have led up to this point, and none of them–not Amberle, not Wil, not Allanon himself–have the power to resist the power of the past, of history, and the burden of the future.

This episode allows us to see, if we haven’t already, that this is not an easy world to inhabit. The Demons are monsters are implacable hatred and cruelty, and they are clearly willing to do anything in their power to bring about the deaths of their nemeses the Elves. What’s more, we also learn that the Elves are themselves divided, and their relationships with the other Races (including and especially Men and Gnomes) are fraught and often violent.

What’s more, we also get an increased sense that, in Brooks’s world, magic often exacts a terrible price on those who use it. While not as intricately imagined as some other magic systems (such as that in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, for example), Brooks leaves us in no doubt that the Elfstones will have an impact on Wil beyond the moment. Though he has finally mastered the art of using them as a weapon, readers of the book know that his actions will have effects not only on his own body, but also for generations of Ohmsfords to come.

If anything, “Fury” is an even better episode than the premiere. The story continues to move forward at a good clip, and even though I know the eventual endpoint (having read the books several times over my life), I still find myself wanting to watch more. If anything, I’m as excited for the potential changes to the story as I am to see the familiar notes adapted. What’s more, I sincerely hope that the series will pick up steam, and an another season, so that I can see many more of Brooks’s magical words brought to vibrantly beautiful life.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles:” “Chosen”

Terry Brooks’ long-running and bestselling Shannara series was my second foray into the world of epic fantasy (the first, of course, was The Lord of the Rings). As such, Brooks’ work has always occupied a special place in my heart.

Imagine my delight, then, when I heard that the series had, at long last, made it through the trials of production and was finally going to emerge as a TV series. Imagine also my small amount of distress when I discovered the sponsoring network was MTV.

Having watched three/four episodes (the premiere was a two-parter), I can say that those doubts have been largely laid to rest.

The first episode establishes this universe. Amberle (Poppy Drayton), the granddaughter of the Elf king Eventine Elessedil (Jonathan Rhys-Davies), breaks the traditions of her people and enters the service of the mysterious tree the Ellcrys. Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler), a young, aspiring healer, Eretria (Ivana Banquero), a member of a vagabond group called Rovers, and the enigmatic Allanon (Manu Bennett), the last of the ancient order of scholars, warriors, and sorcerers known as the Druids round out the cast. Together, they must not only contend with the dying Ellcrys, but also with the demons that will slowly be unleashed with its dying, including the terrifying Dagda Mor and his servant the Changeling.

There is a lot to like in this first episode. The cosmic stakes are established quite early, and the plot moves at a brisk pace. There are some politics seething in the royal family of the Elves that show some definite potential, including a three-way feud between Eventine and his sons Arion (Daniel MacPherson) and Ander (Aaron Jakubenk0). There are also glimmers of several other Races that might come to play a part in the eventual climactic confrontation (Gnomes and Trolls are both mentioned by name, and a Troll even makes an appearance).

Don’t get me wrong, there are some minor glitches. While I fond the trio comprising the central cast to be charming, they are clearly still growing into their acting chops. And there were a few sour notes in terms of contemporary jargon creeping in (though this doesn’t really become an issue until several episodes in). Still, there’s a lot of chemistry between the three leads, and if the show beefs up its writing a bit they could really grow into something quite compelling.

As far as the “mature” cast goes, there is not question that Manu Bennett absolutely nails it as Allanon, one of Brooks’ most enigmatic and fascinating creations. Bennett certainly has experience playing in fantastic series. This is the man, after all, who was the stern and brutal gladiator in Spartacus and the villainous and merciless Orc Azog in The Hobbit films. Here, he manages to combine a measure of gravitas with a certain world-weary and wry sense of humour.

A similar phenomenon occurs with Jonathan Rhys-Davies, himself no stranger to the fantastic worlds. This is the man, after all, who played both Treebeard and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. Here, he is in fine form as the proud and strong King of the Elves, a man who has survived his fair share of heartache and war, who led the Races through war and eventually into peace thirty years ago, and must now lead his people through an even greater challenge.

As with any fantasy series, some of the most compelling characters are the demons. Headed by their terrifying leader the Dagda Mor, these demons are mindless and terrifying killing machines, determined to bring about the end of the the Elves and the society that they have so desperately sought to build in the ashes of the Old World. Both the Dagda Mor and the Changeling are also creatures of immense power, and as the Ellcrys grows weaker, we know that more and more deadly and destructive forces will be unleashed.

And no review of The Shannara Chronicles would be complete without mentioning the absolutely gorgeous New Zealand landscape. With its tantalizing glimpses of our –rusted husks of helicopters, the iconic Space Needle toppled and overgrown with foliage–the series reminds us of the futility of human endeavour. Far more than just window-dressing, these reminders of humanity’s past glories show us the ultimate ephemerality of human accomplishment. As such, these sights serve as something of a counternarrative to the quest narrative established in the main narrative. Who’s to say that, even if they defeat the Demons, that evil will not return in an even more pernicious form? It’s a humbling, and bleakly pessimistic, undercurrent to this otherwise optimistic series.

Is The Shannara Chronicles the new Game of Thrones? No. But then, it doesn’t want to be. For those of us who have always loved Brooks’ work, it’s a thrill to see it brought to the screen, and I for one can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has to offer.