In every good story, there is at least one point at which everything goes bad for the main characters. The the universe sets its teeth against them, friends disappear or turn to enemies, internal divisions worsen and open into direct conflict, and fellowships fracture. We’ve reached the one of those points in The Shannara Chronicles. Our heroes (and we can finally call them that this week) begin in a bad way and it only gets worse. Let’s get into it!
We have a lot of different plot lines happening in the Four Lands, such that a straight-up recap would be as confusing as heck. Behold!
1) Amberle, Wil, Eretria, Cephalo, Crispin, and various Black Guard (or is it Black Watch? I honestly can’t tell at this point) mooks are on their way to the Wilderun, which they think will get them to Safehold. A mighty blizzard forces them into the mostly-forgotten Elven mountain fortress of Pykon.
2) Ander, Tilton, and Slanter are on their way to spy out the demon army massing off the Brakeline Mountains.
3) Evil Eventine is sowing chaos in Arborlon with his chief target the incredibly suggestible Arion.
4) Allanon and Bandon are working on Bandon’s Seer gift.
It’s not any less confusing, it is? Let’s see if we can unravel things a bit, working backwards.
I had forgotten all about Allanon and Bandon, mostly because their little side quest took up almost screen time. In fact, I had to go back to last week’s episode to figure out why Bandon was comatose in a bed. As it happens, their escapades into Mystical Vision Land was very important because Bandon’ ran astral face-first into the Dagda Mor, who stuck his soul into a spiky pit cage. When Allanon got close enough to touch, the Dagda Mor jumped into Bandon’s now vacant body and pulled Allanon into Mystical Vision Land, where they did some sort of battle that Allanon lost. Thus enchanted by evil, Allanon tried to choke the adorable Catania and put a little bit of a magical whup-ass on Arion, who came in to fund out what all the ruckus was about.
This encounter then turns out to be one of those most important things that’s happened on the show in two or three weeks. Earlier, Evil Eventine convinced Arion that Allanon was, in fact, hiding many important things about himself and his plans for Arborlon. This is why it’s a dumb idea to hide critical secrets from your allies. At some point, the bad guy will turn that secrecy against you, especially if there’s a little paranoia in the air. Thanks to the Changeling’s earlier escapades, and Allanon’s arrogance, Arborlon is redolent with the stuff. Eventine convinces Arion to search underneath Arborlon for a mystical Druid’s Blane which, he says, will kill the Dagda Mor. We all know this is garbage, but Arion is so twitterpated his father just gave him all the affirmation he ever wanted that he swallows the line whole.
Arion and Catania, who is breathtakingly lovely by the way, venture under Arborlon and find the sword. Kind of miraculous, when you think about it, that a weapon of world-changing power could exist under the Elven capital without a single elf knowing about it, or even randomly stumbling upon it considering how many centuries it’s been there. Ah, well. Best not to think about that much, or you will get a headache. They have the sword, Allanon races to the Throne Room. Evil Eventine twirls his figurative moustache and Arion, still sore from the magical attack from earlier, strikes. Suddenly, we’re down one Druid.
Yep, they “killed” Allanon in a side-quest. I put that in quotation marks because he does have a Magic Druid Table, so you can never be sure he’s dead, but a sword powerful enough to kill the Dagda Mor and/or infused with huge amounts of evil magic ought to be enough to end him, right? And we did see him consumed by fire from the sword, didn’t we? So maybe he is dead and maybe he isn’t. Now, the Changeling is running Arborlon, the Dagda Mor is free to act through Bandon the powerful Seer, and no one at all in Arborlon is powerful enough to stop either of them.
To paraphrase several characters this week, they’re doomed.
I’m already 800 words into this recap and I’ve not gotten past the least of all the subplots, which turns out to be the most dramatic of all the plots, and…ARGH! There’s no way to explain how nuts that is. I’m in a confirmed love/hate relationship with the writers who either dazzle me with their work or frustrate me when they wander off the path in search of butterflies.
And by “butterflies” here, I mean “sex”.
Yes, the main plot appears to be far more about sex and relationships than it does saving the Ellcrys and the Four Lands. I’m no prude (seriously, ask around!) but it sure seems to me the writers consistently go out of their way to sex up the Amberle/Wil/Eretria troika. We begin the episode with a dream sequence with a shirtless Wil and a horneyed-up Amberle. The use of artifacts from the old world was touching but, really, the whole scene was an odd way to begin an episode, especially when Wil suddenly became the Dagda Mor. Does this mean Amberle has sexy thoughts about the evil Druid also? Is the Dagda Mor able to reach through dreams? Does Amberle’s psychic connection with the Ellcrys make her vulnerable to the Dagda Mor’s fiddling around? Actually, the latter seems awfully likely considering what happened to Bandon and Allanon, which could be a real problem for the heroes later on. Perhaps the writers could have spend a minute or two on that possibility and less on…wall, we’ll get to that.
The crew need to skedaddle because a big blizzard is coming. Cephalo, who for some reason is unrestrained even though he’s attempted to rape or kill everyone in the party, suggests they travel through the mountains via an old Elven fortress called Pykon. Nonsense, says Crispin, Commander of the Home Guard who should know an awful lot about Elven forts, Pykon is but a myth! Oh yeah, retorts the still-free Cephalo, tell that to my parents who died there! Well! With a retort like that the heroes obviously have no choice but to wander into the fort that Crispin, Commander of the Home Guard DOESN’T EVEN KNOW EXISTS!
Really, Shannara writers. Was is truly necessary to gimp Crispin that badly? Did you have to make him cruel, helpless, and a compete ignoramus about subjects he ought to know pretty well? I might get angry about this if I thought we were going to have much more of Crispin in this series, but we aren’t. The crew enters Pykon on a long bridge over a seemingly-bottomless gorge and if you read the books, you’re probably getting awfully excited here. I did. I shouldn’t have. Once inside, they see a creepy Elf girl named Mag and her creepier “father” Remo who turns out to be more or less insane. He was an Inquisitor, assigned to Pykon to get information from prisoners. He’s still there, chopping up whomever happens to wander inside, like the remaining Black Watch mooks, and occasionally lobotomizing and raping them as well. That’s apparently where Mag came from. We learn this in a creepy Hostel-like torture scene with Remo and Amberle, who heroically tried to use her clout to get everyone else off the hook.
Literally. They’re chained up and hanging from hooks.
Before that, though, we get a scene with Amberle and Eretria taking a bath together in a convenient pool in a sexy but PG-13 fashion. Because MTV. They snark a bit before Eretria lets on that maybe she digs girls as much as she digs guys. Woo woo! Amberle doesn’t, but she will take a moment to notice the tattoo on Eretria’s back, a branding mark, we’re told, from her first owner. Awww. Look at the glimmer of potential friendship or not! Either way, we’ve wasted more good story time on needless sexiness. Look at the low estate to which this show has brought me. I’m complaining about too much sexy time!
But really, who cares about all this? Let me remind you at this point that none of this Pykon trip matters to the story! Mag befriends Will, who befriends her back but it doesn’t matter because she’s not going to get out of Pykon alive. She can’t. There’s no way she’s anything but a disposable character. Remo tried to lobotomize Amberle and make her his new sex slave, but Wil, aided by Mag, stabbed him with his lobotomizing tool. he wasn’t dead, though, and tried to shoot Wil with a crossbow. Mag got in front of the bolt and died. So much for all that.
Suddenly, The Reaper appears! Thankfully, it didn’t go out like a punk in the toxic waste dump. This could have been a golden moment. Those of us who read the books probably expected a major showdown on that catwalk over that bottomless gorge. We looked for the heroic Crispin to leap in front of the others and hold off the Reaper while Will tried to get the Elfstones’ magic to ignite, all to no avail. Instead, we got Crispin getting reaped in less time than it took for Mike Tyson to crush Michael Spinks and a zip line instead of a catwalk. Eretria throws in with Amberle and Wil and saves them, temporarily, from The Reaper, but Cephalo betrays them because…
I…I can’t go on here. The zip line was ridiculous for three of four reasons. Eretria’s heroic move aside, the scene was emblematic of a bigger problem.
Like with the Episode of Faffing, the writers shortchanged us. We could have spent more time with Ander and Tilton and Slanter, who got all of a few short minutes of screen time but more character development than any other character we’ve seen yet. Slanter got off the best line of the series yet — “In another life, we are not enemies” — and we barely know anything about him or his people. Will we learn more? Who can say? Perhaps we’ll learn whether the Dagda Mor’s ability to reach into Mystical Vision Land includes the ability to reach Amberle in her dreams. Perhaps we’ll learn why Arion completely ignored that his father could suddenly read the Codex, which is written in a magical Druid language.
All of those things would have given us a deeper, more satisfying story. Instead, we got a sexy dream sequence, a sexy bathtub sequence, Amberle being tortured and threatened again with rape, a rushed Amberle/Wil kiss , and the ridiculous zip line scene. I get that the show is on MTV, so there’s a certain amount of pandering that has to happen. But do the writers truly not trust their core audience with a deeper story? Ander and Slanter. Ander and Tilton. The Reaper hunting our heroes through a vast, abandoned fortress. Allanon and Bandon fighting the Dagda Mor in Mystical Vision Land while he builds a massive demon army without dropping a million Ellcrys leaves (and how, exactly, did that happen?!). All these are excellent stories waiting to be told but we don’t get any of them.
This is a good show. I like it a lot but I’m not such a fanboy that I can’t recognize how much better it could be. Come on, Shannara writers. You’ve shown us you can tell a solid story with some dazzling scenes. You’ve given us reason to hope for a breathtakingly-good show. You have TERRY FLIPPING BROOKS at your disposal. We know you can deliver it. Stop being lazy and give it to us.