Well, friends, it finally happened. “The Shannara Chroncles” served up a show I didn’t like. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop watching the show. Oh, heck no. Shannara is still a bunch of fun and, at four episodes old, it’s not even found its stride. This week, though, the writers decided to strand us in Arborlon for a while while they faffed about. To make sure we couldn’t get on with the actual quest to save the actual world, they gave every main character a recurring case of the stupids. As a result, we all wasted about 45 minutes of our lives.
Let’s start this at the beginning. When we left off last week, Amberle faced a challenge. Since she ran away from her duties as a Chosen, she has to endure a test from the Ellcrys to see if she is worthy to remain a Chosen. If she passes, she’s Chosen. If not, the Ellcrys will kill her. Scary, right?
No. This is the first of many problems in this episode. The Ellcrys is not going to kill Amberle. It can’t. She’s the last Chosen. If she dies, the Ellcrus can not be reborn, the Forbidding will fall, and demons will run roughshod over the Four Lands. The only reason the Ellcrys exists is to maintain the Forbidding. It’s not going to kill Amberle. It will, however, take the form of Wil, for some reason, and demand that she fight in order to prove her worthiness. Swords clash. Blood spills. The test is passed somehow. Amberle emerges with an Elven Tree Seed and a reason to pull back from Wil, which she does immediately and obviously.
Wil is understandably confused by Amberle’s sudden distance, especially after he specifically extends his friendship to her and she walks away with only a pained expression. His confusion makes things much easier for Eretria, who just happens to show up in Wil’s room and uses the Power of the Boner to swindle him out of the Elfstones once again. A more confident Wil would not have gotten suckered so easily, but he does. Fade to sexy time. You know what happens next, right?
You guessed it! Eretria has the Elfstones and is conveniently loose in the palace so we can get a bit more character conflict. See, the Changeling is on the loose and…remember the Changeling? I only ask because no one else in the entire Palace seems to. The King sits alone his throne-room. His son, Prince Drunky McAngstypants, walks in completely unguarded where they have another useless moment of Father/Son squabbling. Wil walks in on Bandon, the complete stranger with the unknown magical powers, who is also unguarded. Amberle, who we have to remember is the focal point of the entire quest, walks about mostly unguarded. Oh, you can say that Allanon is always near her, except at key times he isn’t except for one key time when he is.
For an episode called “Changeling”, there’s precious little actual concern about the Changeling. It spends most of its time looking either menacing (when it’s disguised) or sexy (when it’s having a literal tête-à-tête with the Dagda Mor). When it does strike, it telegraphs its attack in a way that almost guarantees its failure, unless it’s attacking a secondary character.
Oh, yes, the Ellcrys’ tender takes a sword to the head and I think I’m supposed to care about him but I didn’t know who he was until I looked him up in the cast list. R.I.P. Guy Whom I Think Was Supposed to be Important.
Look, I’m not even halfway through this episode and you can see how it’s going, yes? We learned in the past three episodes that the Four Lands faces an immediate existential threat. We should be in full crisis mode here. King Eventine should have buttoned up the palace. We have no time for sexy love triangles or Royal succession games. Demons are on the loose. Either the eventual fate of the Four Lands is important, in which case all the talk about how the mission matters more than the individual means something, or it is not and we’re simply faffing about. This week the writers actively leeched from us the sense of urgency they built slowly in the first three. We are faffing when we should be moving with purpose and plan.
Don’t believe me? Okay. Here’s more faffing. Our protagonists — I can’t call them heroes yet since they’ve not been heroic — finally vanquish the Changeling. Allanon gives a group of guards specific instructions to burn the body, put the ashes in a special urn, and return to him. Easy, yes? No. One guy — ONE GUY!! — gets that detail. This is a demon. Allanon apparently killed it by breaking its neck. Can we be sure it’s dead? Perhaps it is only paralyzed. Perhaps it can regenerate all but the most grievous injuries and burning it is a sure way to kill it. We don’t know because we’re not told much about demons except they are quite powerful and very dangerous. At any rate, one poor mook who appears to be unarmed draws demon-burning duty and learns the hard way that the Changeling isn’t dead at all.
This is where we end the episode. Our young main characters are about to embark on a quest to a place that exists only in legend to take on a task that no one has ever taken on before, hunted by at least one demon of formidable power and an entire Rover band. Amberle and Wil are at the snark-flirt stage that will eventually erupt into open pouting and perhaps huffing off into the woods alone. Eretria is being dragged along in chains and has openly sworn to screw things up as royally as she can, even though there’s no good reason for her being there. Finally, Allanon is…
…not going with them because he needs to stay in Arborlon to help protect it from demon attack. WHAT?! No. Seriously. What?!?!
Arborlon has an entire Elven army and one of the finest warriors of the age in King Eventine. Prince Drunky McAngstypants and Commander Tilton are both rumored to be stout warriors as well. They are on known ground, battling a foe for which they have some reasonable amount of intelligence (thanks to the Ellcrys). They don’t need Allanon a tenth as much as Amberle and Wil right now. Nevertheless, Allanon is going to disappear for a bit so these crazy kids can do crazy kid relationship stuff.
By the time we see the “coming next week” trailer, we’re only slightly farther along than we were at the beginning of the episode. We gained nothing for our time in Arborlon. The entire reason we stayed — the Changeling threat — still exists. We wasted our time. This is not just bad writing; it’s lazy writing. It’s writing that presumes we prize relationship angst so much that we need it shoved down our throats for an entire episode. I say we’re smarter than that. We can take our relationship angst along with the rest of the story, from intelligent characters who act according to their natures and who don’t suddenly turn dumb because the plot required them to turn dumb. I like this show. I want it to do well. Let’s hope the writers forget the debacle of Episode 4 and gets us back to that solid pattern I spotted last week.
P.S. Remember how there are other races besides Elves and Humans? I’ve kind of forgotten. Heck, I forgot there were differences between Elves and Humans more than the shape of their ears. I hope the writers haven’t forgotten as well.
P.P.S. I noticed this week I used the word “remember” quite a lot. I don’t see it as a good thing that we have to remember important plot elements from the pilot when the show is only four hours old. Tighten up, The Shannara Chronicles writers!
(Photos via MTV)