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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TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–“Paranor” and “Crimson” (S2, Eps. 5 & 6)

Full spoilers for the episode follow.

In a special double feature, our intrepid heroes Wil and Mareth continue their quest to bring the Warlock Lord’s skull back from the past, the politics of Leah grow ever more complicated, and Allanon must confront the reality that he is dying.

The Warlock Lord continues to loom as the series’ potential Big Bad, the force that will bring about the fall of the Four Lands and all of our noble (if seriously flawed) heroes. At this point, it’s pretty clear that we are going to see this figure return from the dead, though it’s equally certain that Wil will have to defeat him.

The Queen of Leah continues to be a compelling and deeply flawed character. Despite the fact that she does what she does–the scheming, the manipulating, the backhand dealing–she does for the good of her people, she inadvertently has set in motion the very destruction that she originally set out to prevent. In the end, she not only sees her ambitions come to nothing when Riga slaughters her retainers and Ander himself (which was both brutal and hear-wrenching), but she has also put her daughter at risk. The Crimson is a destructive force that will, it seems, make the Warlock Lord’s mission to bring the world into darkness that much easier. There is clearly a dark poison working its way through the bloodstream of the Four Lands, and one can hope that Wil is able to cleanse it before it does any more damage.

We finally learn the secrets of Eretria’s legacy, as one of those whose ancestors survived the Great Wars; as such she has the potential to be either a being a saviour or a demon. If I’m being completely honest, this feels a bit tacked-on, a means of giving Eretria something to do besides mope around after her sundry love interests. Don’t get me wrong: Ivana Baquero is probably one of the better actors in this show, and it’s that fact that keeps her character so continually interesting to watch.

For his part, Manu Bennett continues to chew scenery with abandon, but that’s part of what makes him one of the best things about the show. One thing The Shannara Chronicles gets right is the fact that Allanon is a ruthless manipulator, one who is willing to sacrifice anyone in his efforts to save the Four Lands. At the same time, we also get to see the toll this has begun to take, both physically and emotionally. I, for one, have no doubts that he’s not going to make it through to the end of the season, and that will actually fit well with the series’ clear intention of breaking apart the myth of the triumphant hero.

I can’t shake the feeling that the show-runners know that this is going to be the final season, and so they are pulling out all the stops (including showing two episodes in one night). It’s really a shame, though, since the series has taken some interesting turns. Still, I rather wish that they had chosen to adapt most of The Wishsong rather than doing a grab-bag of the various other parts of the Shannara mythos. Doing so has really short-circuited some of the season’s narrative threads, though fortunately “Crimson” managed to bring things together in the end. Still, it’s rather irritating to see the characters wandering about doing nothing consequential and then abruptly having a climactic moment that is moving but doesn’t really feel earned.

Overall, these two episodes were…good. However, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that the series is verging on the edge of going completely off the rails. There are just too many sub-plots going on–time travel, sinister wraiths, anti-magic users–and the show hasn’t done a great deal to bring them all together into a cohesive whole. The time travel plot in particular feels both strange and unnecessary, and I for one am glad that that plot is done with.

At this point, I will be satisfied if the series comes to a satisfactory conclusion, with all of the sundry plot threads wrapped up. I really don’t think it would be wise to leave anything hanging (as happened last season). I guess we will just have to wait to see how things pan out.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–“Dweller” (S2, Ep. 4)

Well, kids, shit got really dark on this episode of The Shannara Chronicles.

(My apologies for taking a week to respond to this episode. I was out of town for a conference.)

In the fourth episode of the second season, all of the characters have to contend with a personal crisis. Bandon has to relive the trauma of his childhood when he encounters a group of Elves who are virulently anti-magic; Jax has to relive a moment of terror during his time with the Border Legion; Wil has to see his father’s dead body and relive a traumatic memory from his past; the list goes on. These characters are put through the wringer in this episode, and none of them are left unscarred by their encounters.

This episode is fundamentally about the various broken characters that inhabit this world. Bandon, Ander, Wil…all of them struggle with the realities of politics and magic. Bandon comes across in this episode as someone who really is a product of his environment: tortured and imprisoned by his family, shunned by his own people, to some degree it’s no wonder that he has succumbed to the darkness inside him. The fact that he murders a child with the mask that had once been used to oppress him is both horrifying and

If the first season fell rather predictably into the epic hero pattern, this season seems to be about the deconstruction of that mythic pattern. Ander, for all that he might seem to be an epic hero, comes to understand the terrible price that that will exact, as exemplified in his execution of his childhood friend for murder and treason. He knows that it must be done, and in the end he does it without any compunction, but we’re left to wonder just how deep the psychic wounds go and how he will continue to deal with the consequences of what he has been forced to do. What’s more, we’re left to wonder whether, when all is said and done, anyone will emerge from this whole adventure intact. Adventures, like magic, seem to have a heavy price for those cursed to go on them.

This episode really plunges into a dark vision of the Shannara world. Clearly, it is tapping into the anxiety many of us feel about the rise of the alt-right, which bears some striking similarities to the Crimson. However, it’s important to remember that Brooks’s work in many ways predicted the sort of rabid brutality that has infected the American body politic, and so in that sense the series is staying true to the books that gave it birth, showing once again just how socially engaged the Shannara novels have always been. I’m just glad that the series has chosen to tap into that vein of the mythos rather than the more optimistic one.

For all of its darkness, this episode is also about the importance of family, of carving out an identity that is part of something larger than the self. At this point, none of the characters have yet found the elusive thing that they clearly desire: Shea is tormented by the fact that his father was driven mad and had to die alone; Mareth craves mentoring by Allanon, though she insists that she does not need a father; and the royal family of Leah continues to be riven by internal conflicts that may yet lead the kingdom to ruin.

Lastly, and somewhat inconsequentially, the series continues to display a visual splendour that really leaves the first season in the shade. From the sweeping vistas to the magnificent sets associated with Leah, it’s clear that Spike gave the show a lot more money. And if I’m being perfectly candid…well, Bandon makes a very dishy villain indeed. He may be a real bastard–slaying children and all–but he sure does look good with his shirt off.

Needless to say, I am really looking forward to the next episode. Clearly, there are a lot of pieces still in play, and it remains to be seen how it will all play out.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–Graymark” (S2, Ep. 3)

So, we’ve come to the third episode of The Shannara Chronicles. The last episode saw all of our characters in states of peril, and this episode moves the pieces in some interesting directions as each of them has to cope with an increasingly hostile and unstable world.

Wil, having been seriously injured by an thoroughly-evil Bandon, is at last reunited with Eretria. There’s no doubt that the two actors have some truly sparking chemistry. It’s not just a romantic connection–though that is undoubtedly there–but also the pressure that each character puts on the other. Each of them has their own personal demons, and neither seems quite able to reach the same level of closeness that they used to possess. Hopefully, they’ll be able to put aside all of the old wounds and scars and find the healing they need with one another. Both of them are also fiercely loyal to each other.

It’s nice to see the incredibly charismatic Garet Jax continue to appear. Seriously, I cannot tell you how much I really love the way that the series has interpreted this character. Like all good rogues of fantasy, he thinks that he will be able to remain distant from the conflicts engulfing all corners of the Four Lands, but there is little doubt that he will eventually be drawn in. In a world like this one, it really isn’t possible to stay unallied unless, of course, you want to end up dead.

I continue to be impressed by the sweeping visuals. The network clearly threw a lot of money at Shannara in the hopes that a larger scale will elevate the drama. And I have to say, I think that the gambit has paid off. This season has a grandness and a power to it that I rather felt was lacking in a lot of the first season, which was very typical of the epic fantasy quest in many ways. There is a greater emphasis on politics and scheming, and this is always refreshing in the fantasy genre.

Though she is (I think) one of this season’s villains, Queen Tamlin is still a very compelling character indeed. This is a woman who is ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to protect her country and gain a little power for herself. She may not be the most sympathetic of characters, but there is definitely something attractive about the fact that she is so kickass.

There’s something especially ominous about Graymark, the fortress of the Crimson, with its double-headed red eagle emblem. There are clear echoes of the sort of neo-fascism that this group seems to espouse, which makes the series feel an especially relevant one for the troubled political times in which we live. Riga, for all that he seems to have a greater good in mind–averting the sort of  catastrophe that nearly saw his people eradicated with the release of the demons–has become something even darker and more ruthless than they were. There is no limit to what he is willing to do, and he is truly willing to inflict a tremendous amount of damage on Allanon in his attempts to gain the codex that will allow him to eradicate magic.

Allanon continues to have to cope with the law of uintended consequences. Though he clearly did not intend for Bandon to become a scion of the Warlock Lord and lead the world to the brink of total ruin, that seems to be exactly what is happening. What’s more, he doesn’t seem terribly capable of getting himself out of the mess that he is created. This is an Allanon who is significantly more vulnerable than his novel counterpart, but that actually works well for the universe that the television series has created. I’m not sure the seemingly-invulnerable Allanon that Brooks originally created would fit in with our current world, where such things seem hopelessly antiquated. Who knows, though. He might just become a hero in his own right. We know that he is willing to sacrifice the lives of other’s for the greater good, which is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that this season is a hell of a lot darker than the last one. The bodies of our heroes are as subject to torture and pain as any other’s, and that allows a distinct sense of unease and disquiet to permeate the episodes so far. Let’s hope they keep it up.

I remain quite enamoured of this series, and I really hope that the network sees that this show is worth the continuing investment. If so, it could well prove to be a truly worthy adaptation of Terry Brooks’s magnificent work.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–“Wraith” (S2, Ep. 2)

Having escaped from the dark spirits sent to murder him, Wil attempts to save his uncle Flick from the imminent danger he faces, while Alannon leads King Ander to the kingdom of Leah to seek the aid of its queen. The Crimson continue their quest to destroy those who wield magic, and Mareth wants to find her father (allegedly Allanon). And of course the Mord Wraiths persist in their quest to destroy Wil and resurrect the Warlock Lord.

The series continues to move along at a brisk pace. For those familiar with Brooks’s novels, this is in keeping with the Shannara universe, in which the action is always tightly woven and driven by a powerful momentum, and the episode both poses several enigmatic questions about the past and the future, forcing each of the characters to confront the secrets of their identities and their histories.

Despite its brisk pacing, the series continues to ask a fundamental question: is there price that is too high for heroism? One of the characters states that “history is made by those who survive,” a rather bleak assessment of the future of these characters. Having barely recovered from a near-apocalypse, they still have to keep going, no matter how many lives are lost in the process. (Needless to say, this season is much grimmer than the last, and that is definitely a good thing).

This episode introduces us to two new characters. The first if the weapons master (and bounty hunter) Garet Jax. The other is Queen Tamlin of Leah, a formidable political player determined to make sure that she gets the best out of every bargain. Both of these characters remain enigmas, with their own murky motivations, and one of the episode’s strengths is that it doesn’t tell us too much about them just yet.

One of the things I love the most about this adaptation is its willingness to cast people of colour in roles that don’t render them as simply a fetish or a projection of orientalist fantasies (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones). Garet Jax truly shines in this episode and, given that he’s always been a favourite of the fan-base, I’m going to assume that people are happy with his portrayal here. I’m going to be quite honest: he’s gorgeous, and if you don’t like him, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The Shannara Chronicles continues to showcase its obviously-substantial budget, with some gorgeous scenery and a lush colour palette that is truly a feast for the eyes. The palace of Queen Tamlin is truly resplendent, a stunning confection of gold and light. I know the series rather gaudy techno aesthetic isn’t to everyone’s liking, but I for one find it a unique take on Brooks’s imaginary world. It might not have the grandeur or dignity of some other fantasy adaptations, but that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable to watch.

If there is one casualty of this season, it’s Allanon. While Manu Bennett is still as badass as always, he does seem to be a bit out of his depth. When he is struck down by the Crimson and taken away, it’s hard not to see it as a sign of his growing weakness in the face of the threats assaulting the Four Lands. I do wonder if he will make it out of this season alive, and whether he will be able to defeat Bandon (who, for his part, continues to combine beauty and evil in equal measure. One wonders whether he is beyond redemption or if there is some hope for him).

Lastly, I’d like to note that one thing I particularly appreciate about this series is the way in which it plays with sexuality. This is, I think I can say without fear of contradiction, one of the most straightforwardly queer fantasy series I’ve seen on television. It’s not just that the characters entertain same-sex attraction; it’s that there is a free-wheeling play with gender and sexuality that I find truly refreshing. It feels honest rather than merely titillating.

Overall, this was another strong episode. I’m curious to see how it will continue to adapt Brooks’s oeuvre, especially since they seem to be using the vast timeline of the book series (which covers multiple generations and several hundred years) as the basic ingredients for very different stories. As a longtime reader of the books, I find this approach to be a uniquely enjoyable one; though I have an inkling as to how the entire season will end up, I am just as in the dark as non-novel readers. Truly exciting stuff!

 

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–“Druid” (S2, Ep. 1)

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but The Shannara Chronicles has at last returned, now on Spike rather than on MTV. I admit to being a little skeptical going in, but overall I’m quite pleased with the result. This is a series that has truly grown from its beginnings and that shows a lot of potential for the future.

To enjoy this series, you have to accept this basic premise: the show is not, in any way shape or form, a direct translation of Brooks’s work to the screen. It is instead an adaptation of the various books combined, with each season drawing on various narrative threads from different books. This lends the series a vitality and energy that it might not have had were it a simple adaptation. I know that I may not be popular with the many fans of the original series, but I’m sticking to it.

This season takes us into some darker territory than the preceding one, with our three remaining leads pursuing their own lives. Eretria has settled into life with a community led by the former Druid Cogline, while Wil has taken up with a group of Gnome healers.  King Ander from the last season has begun to grow into his role as the ruler of the Elves, while Allanon continues to fight against the forces of evil that would see the ruination of the Four Lands. The stakes seem to have never been higher, and it remains uncertain who will make it out of this season alive.

The heroes are matched by two malevolent forces. On the supernatural side, the seer Bandon from the previous season leads a band of followers to the Skull Kingdom, initiating them into weapons of hate and destruction known as Mord Wraiths, all in the service of continuing the efforts of the undead Warlock Lord. In the world of mortals, the heroes are faced with the Crimson, a group determined to weed magic out of the world. Both are intent on finding and destroying our beloved Wil, and they will harm or kill anyone who dares to get in their way.

The first episode does see the introduction of some new characters that are fan favourites from the books, such as Cogline, the disgraced Druid who believes more in the power of science than in that of magic. It remains unclear what his motivations are other than his vow to Eretria’s mother , but it seems he may be a bit more menacing this his book counterpart. The other major addition is the young woman Mareth who is, to be quite honest, a total badass. If there’s one redeeming thing about this show, it’s the abundance of great female characters. Given the problematic way in which many other fantasy series treat their female characters, this is definitely a breath of fresh air.

This first episode also featured some truly beautiful scenery, including an aerial shot of a post-apocalyptic shot of San Francisco (which, for what it’s worth, is also the setting for the post-apocalyptic Planet of the Apes). The world in this season feels more fleshed-out than in the first, and we get a better sense of its contours, as well as the conflicts that will rage across it. It remains to be seen how the conflicts among the various races will take shape, with consequences that will potentially be deadly for everyone involved.

Just as importantly, the characters also feel richer and more textured, and this no doubt stems from the fact that the actors themselves have matured. While Manu Bennett continues to chew scenery as the irrepressible and indomitable Druid Allanon, both Austin Butler and Ivana Baquero have really matured as actors since the first season. This is not to say that they weren’t perfectly capable in the first season, but in that case they definitely seemed a bit more of what one might expect from MTV. These characters feel like they actually belong in the grand landscapes in which they appear; in my view, this definitely bodes well for the development of both their characters and the series a whole.

All in all, this second season of The Shannara Chronicles feels like a more mature series. I’m sure that many of the Brooks purists out there will not be pleased, but as someone who has read the books for over 2 decades, I’m pleased with it. There’s a certain pleasure to be gained from the changes, and since the series has Brooks’s approval, I’m happy to go along with it.

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

So, here we are. The penultimate episode of The Shannara Chronicles has dawned, and it was definitely one of the finest episodes (if not the finest) that the series has produced so far. In this episode, the brave fellowship of young people finally make their way to Safehold and the Bloodfire, while Allanon ensures that Ander at last takes the throne that is rightfully his. And, of course, the last leaf at last falls from the Ellcrys, ensuring that the Dagda Mor is now free to march on Arborlon with his demon army at his back.

This episode had a lot of gems for those fans of Brooks’ novels. Those who have read the entirety of his oeuvre recognize in the rhetoric about the children of the armageddon (of which Eretria is a descendant) the Genesis of Shannara trilogy which revealed that the world of the Four Lands is indeed our world in the distant future. Furthermore, the emphasis on Eretria’s blood–it ultimately unlocks the Bloodfire–suggests that it may be her heritage, as much as Wil’s, that will influence the fate of her children and their many descendants.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This series has really done wonders bringing Eretria to magnificent life. While she was certainly a feisty and compelling character in the original novel, Ivana Banquero manages to convey both her phenomenal strength and her intimate vulnerability. Even now, as they near the end of the quest, she still feels the pangs of love for Wil (which she believes are not reciprocated), and it is this deep, and very human, need for love and acceptance that grants her character such depth.

And how amazing was it that we (we being Brooks’s faithful readers) finally have a solution to the mystery of Safehold’s location. We can now say with certainty that it is in the ruins of San Francisco/Oakland (Wil uses a stone to scratch in the missing letters on an old street sign). This is a bit of a mixed blessing, as it clears up one of the most enduring mysteries of Brooks’s world, and yet there is something a bit bittersweet about learning the exact location of this mysterious form. Fortunately, the series also leaves a great many questions unanswered (we still don’t know exactly what the Bloodfire is, for example, nor do we know why it’s located in the ruins of San Francisco).

If there was one thing I did not particularly like about this episode, ti was the way in which the witch sisters Morag and Mallenroh appeared. They were always one of my favourite parts about the novel, precisely because we knew so little about them and yet they seemed like such an integral part of the world Brooks had created. They were, according to the mythos, part of a coven, and they had long existed in a stalemate of hatred. None of that complex backstory made its way into the adaptation, alas, with the two witches appearing as straightforward guardians of the Bloodfire.

That minor quibble aside, this episode managed to bring out the very best that this series has to offer. We got some politics, the fulfillment (almost) of the quest, and the climactic death of the Ellcrys. This is the kind of storytelling that the series should have focused on all along. Indeed, I would argue that it really does best dramatically when it stays true to the epic roots from which it so clearly draws. With this kind of emphasis, it gives the characters, and their arcs, more depth and heft than they have gained (up until this episode, that is). Hopefully, this is a lesson that the writers will take into account if the series is granted another season by the powers that be.

Given the strength of this episode, I can say without a doubt that I am eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this first season. I will also admit that I am fervently hoping that it will be renewed for a second season. With the vast tapestry of Brooks’s work to draw on, especially the intergenerational component, the series could easily fit into the anthology model that has become increasingly popular and common in the cable media sphere.

Are you listening, MTV?

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

Events on The Shannara Chronicles continue to speed forward in “Utopia,” as Amberle and Wil set out to save Eretria from the clutches of the Elf-hunters and from a group of peace-seeking humans in a settlement called Utopia. Meanwhile, Ander must finally make the choice of whether to become the king that the Elves need, while Allanon braces for his final confrontation with the Dagda Mor.

While Wil and Amberle are supposedly the narrative and character center points of this series, this episode showed why both Eretria and Ander have always threatened to steal the show. Both are broken in their own way, she from the cruel and heartless treatment from her “father” Cephelo and he from the fact that he is the youngest, and most disappointing son of an illustrious dynasty. Now, they both have opportunities and risks to face. She ultimately has to decide whether she will throw her lot in with Wil and Amberle or stay with the (ultimately corrupt) denizens of Utopia. He must decide whether he will take up the mantle of kingship that was never meant to be his. In many ways, their drama seems to be much more compelling than that of Amberle and Wil, and while this may seem like a good thing, I’m not entirely sure it’s what the series intended.

In many ways, it’s hard to believe that we’ve almost reached the ending of this first (but hopefully not last) season of The Shannara Chronicles. We haven’t even attained the Bloodfire yet, and the Demons have yet to launch their all-out assault on Arborlon, and yet there are only two episodes left until the season is over. It seems like the series has opted to focus (understandably, given the way in which it conceptualizes its target demographic), on the personal rather than the epic scope. Unfortunately, this has the effect of sometimes emptying out the larger scale drama of its significance. This is not to say that the epic and the personal cannot be intertwined, only that the series has not been terribly effective at bringing them together.

While I liked the introduction of the sarcastically titled city of Utopia, this again felt like a plot twist too quickly resolved to have any lasting impact. We’re briefly introduced to yet another set of vaguely malicious and unscrupulous characters, only to have them consumed by Trolls at the end of the episode. While this sort of structure works to keep each episode moving along, it doesn’t really add up to anything, and the disappearance of the Demons from the narrative only exacerbates this narrative problem.

Speaking of Trolls…I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the series’ treatment of them. In the novels, the Trolls, while primitive in some respects, do have a solid social structure, and they don’t go about hunting and eating Elves. Given that, I’m not sure that the series will ever be able to do anything truly meaningful with them, but I could be wrong. Given the substantial role that Trolls play in several of Brooks’s later works, I sincerely hope that they give this particular Race more development in future seasons.

This was, all in all, a very satisfying episode, though I do worry that the last two episodes are going to feel rushed and therefore unsatisfying. Hopefully, should the series get a second season, the writers will develop a better sense of pacing and characterization, so that we don’t spend so much time in trite (and not very compelling) drama and move into the truly interesting bits at the heart of Brooks’s epic vision.

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.