If I had to pick just one word to describe this week’s episode of The Shannara Chronicles, that word would be MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Every villain but Cephalo was in play this week, including a new one, and they delivered on the villainy. We also got some real character development for just about everyone, a couple more new characters, a death, a resurrection, and some comeuppance.
Sweet, sweet comeuppance.
Exciting, eh? Let’s go!
Generally, a flashback is not how I want to begin a show. This week, though, we need one because where we ended — the heroes and the Reaper plunging into an apparently-bottomless gorge thanks to feckless Cephalo — is not even close to where we begin. Wil wakes up in a river, a long way from any mountain, with a dead (?!) Reaper in the shallows next to him and his Elfstones partially-welded to his hand. I think we’re seeing long-game foreshadowing here. One of the important themes in Terry Brooks’ stories is that magic always has a price. The Elfstones are incredibly powerful and Wil should not get to use them for free. More importantly, though, we should wonder who else will pay for the magic they’ve used already or will use in the future. More on that later.
First, we need to meet our first new character of the episode! Why, he’s a dazed Elf with a jaunty coat, which means Wil has fallen through a wardrobe into Narnia! Except this thin man in a jaunty jacket is missing an ear, which is not Narnia-like. Wil’s new frantic friend, whom he soothes with some tasty bud (no, really. They make a “recreational use” joke!), is named Perk and he’s run afoul of a band of Elf Hunters, who catch elves and cut off their ears. See, elf ears are prized by Gnomes for their medicinal value, and by this I mean Gnomes apparently think elf ears are Four Lands Viagra. They got Perk, which is why he’s down one ear, though I wonder why, if elf ears are as valuable as he says, why he’s not missing both of them. The Elf Hunters left money on the table!
No time to ponder that now. Away we go to Arborlon where Evil Eventine is about to send his two sons on a mission to assassinate the Dagda Mor with the fell new blade Arion used to kill Allanon. Surely, the brothers know this is a dumb idea, right? Surely they’re going to band together, defy their obviously-crazypants Father, bring in a couple witnesses, and declare him officially incompetent!
No. No, they won’t. Instead, Evil Eventine brands their mission with a merch-ready slogan and pats them on their doomed little heads. Here is where all that father/son drama pays off in plot. Arion would do anything to gain his father’s regard, up to and including a futile suicide mission. He says as much to Tilton in bed the night before he leaves even as she all but outright tells him what a dumb idea the mission is. Ander, on the other hand, knows the mission is a bad idea, but he’s been such a screw-up and a wastrel that he can’t make a useful stand against his father. Neither brother has the reserve of honor or courage they need to stand up to Evil Eventine. This, by the way, is a problem that I think plagues the Elves as a whole throughout the show. They have bravado without accomplishment. They have history to bolster them but not recent history, so their culture is in serious decline. They rely on the forms of the old and strong ways but don’t understand the purpose for those ways nor from what makes them strong.
I’m not necessarily saying the Elves are a metaphor for anything in particular, but I certainly won’t stop you if you see parallels with certain aspects of our modern world. In fact, I’ll probably smile and give you a secret thumbs-up.
Back to the story. Remember how Allanon died not long ago? That’s not going to last, not as long as he has his Magic Druid Table, which appears to make his immortal. This is powerful magic, with a potentially-huge price tag, and I’ve wondered a time or six why he doesn’t share that magic with the rest of the world. If he could have used his Magic Druid Table on the Chosen, then Amberle’s mission wouldn’t be quite as important, or at least he could send six other gifted Elves on the mission with her. It’s likely, though, that the MDT only works on Druids, who are not at all Wizards even though Allanon specifically calls on magic to revive him. Then he has a vision of his mentor, the great Druid Bremen, who is neither a wizard nor a Jedi, despite his sparkling and his ability to show up in a vision long after his death. In short, Allanon is tired and wants to die since he’s been here 300 (!) years and nobody likes him. Bremen tells him he’s not alone. There is another. I know. I know. I said he wasn’t a Jedi either and I’m beginning to doubt myself here because he’s acting awfully Jedi-like.
Of course Allanon isn’t alone in his quest because of Amberle, Wil, and Eretria. Bremen forgot all about them, though. I can suppose he’s talking about Bandon, the added-in character whose power and potential Allanon has already specifically mentioned loudly enough for us to notice. Maybe more people would like Allanon if he didn’t hoard his secrets like a dragon hoards shiny gold and if he didn’t treat people like chess pieces. That would have been a handy thing for Bremen to mention, but I guess he forgot that as quickly as he forgot the young people Allanon sent on a nigh-impossible quest.
At any rate, Allanon is back in the game and not a moment too soon. All sorts of ruckus is breaking loose in all our plot lines. This isn’t a bad thing. We need some ruckus so we can shake off some recent laziness.
Amberle, who is yelling and splashing about loudly enough to attract the attention of even a stone-deaf demon, runs into Eretria who shows heroic self-restraint by not smacking her around and reminding her that, for all they know, the Reaper is still out there. After all, they survived the terrible fall and the improbable journey down the river. Why shouldn’t the Reaper have survived it as well? That’s a heck of a question, but it never comes up. Not once. Ever.
The ladies meet the Elf Hunters, who are dressed like the Lost Boys from Hook. Their leader, whom I swear resembles a cross between Rufio and the Feral Kid from The Road Warrior, tells her gang they’re hunting a royal elf which means big bucks! I guess you don’t get that four-hour side-effect from royal elf ears, am I right? She twirls her villainous mullet and the chase is on! Amberle and Eretria fall into a pit where their fall is broken by a enough scarves to outfit Stephen Tyler’s microphone stand for a year. They are in a building from the old days, before the events of the opening credits. Everything, strangely, is well-preserved, including scarves and yearbooks. An oversight? Magic? Who knows?
Kudos to the writers for tossing in a David Bowie reference, though I have to ask why anyone would scrawl “We Can Be Heroes” above their bed. It’s not like the bed is a triumphal arch. I mean, you have all those walls there. Why not write on them?
We’re getting into a good vibe with Amberle and Eretria and the pair are settling into common tropes. Amberle is the uptown, snooty rich girl and Eretria is the street-smart, cynical, working class girl. They’ve each fallen for the hunky and innocent boy yet manage to forge a friendship anyhow. You’ve seen this before, right? I can handle this. It makes the story-telling a bit easier and still leaves room for a surprise or two. Run with the cliche, Shannara writers! Run like the wind!
I do have one question here, though. Both Amberle and Eretria are wearing a lot of leather. Tight leather. Tight leather that very recently got wet. Do you know what happens to leather when it gets wet then dries? I do and it’s not at all comfortable. Amberle should have spent a lot of this episode gasping for breath inside that corset. I don’t even want to contemplate how uncomfortable those pants would have been. I’m not putting a lot of blame on the writers for this, but in a show as good as Shannara is most of the time, little things like wet leather or the distance between the mountains and where they washed up on shore or the status of the Reaper do stand out. They’re loose ends that don’t need to be as loose as they are.
Two things of significance happen here. First, Amberle sees a map on the wall next to an old newspaper clipping. The clipping has an picture of the same symbol Amberle’s seen in her Bloodfire vision. What a wonderful coincidence this is! Second, Eretria and the leader of the Elf Hunters seem to have a history together. I bet that will come up again soon perhaps after some sort of miraculous rescue by a character we haven’t seen in a wh–
Oh, look! There’s Wil and his new friend, who is a Wing Rider. Wing Riders have flying companions called Rocs and they’re very handy to have around if you need a last-second rescue of a couple people who are in a place from which they can’t easily climb! Too bad Eretria took an arrow in the hip and fell into the moustache-and/or-mullet-twirling grasp of her old friend, the Elf Hunter leader. There is a very good chance Amberle is going to derail her world-saving quest in order to rescue Eretria! But first, let’s have a moment between Wil and Amberle who took souvenirs from the room that look like Elfstones but aren’t. They’re ten-sided dice! SHOUT OUT TO THE GEEKS, YO! Respect, Shannara writers*. You made me smile.
Okay, we’re nearly in the final stretch here. The Suicide Mission reached the Brakeline, where they find the demons are gone and Dagda Mor’s henge apparently deserted. Except it’s not. The Dagda Mor was there all along, waiting for the brothers. The whole thing was a ruse to get them to bring the sword right to him. Arion takes a magic sword through the stomach, Ander watches it happen, and all is doom until Allanon (WHO IS NOT A WIZARD) shows up like Gandalf at Helm’s Deep. His magic binds the Dagda Mor, saves Ander, and apparently frees Bandon’s soul, which clearly is a tangible thing for some reason.
Ander goes back to Arborlon where he reports his failure, and Arion’s death, to his father. Ander doesn’t seem to remember the Dagda Mor told him his father was dead. Was he not paying attention. Was he concussed? Was he…oh. No. He remembered. He just needed time to whip out his mechanical sword and run Evil Eventine through. This time, the Changeling gets sweet, sweet comeuppance! Let’s hope it is dead (I’ll miss you John Rhys-Davies!) and the Reaper, which we left in a river, is not.
So here we are. Ander is now King of the Elves. The main mission is proceeding in one way (the clipping) but not really (we need a rescue mission). We are a tantalizing step closer to learning something more about Safehome and the Bloodfire. Allanon has his groove back. We probably haven’t seen the last of the Wing Riders. Everything is set up nicely for some forward plot movement on all fronts. Have to love that, right?
Right. I’m still in. Nice job, Shannara writers.
(Photos, save one, from Shannara on Twitter)
*Many of us Shannara fans discovered Dungeons and Dragons and the books at right about the same time. I dig that the writers got that and threw us a little bit of fan service. Also, what do you want to bet those dice show up again at an important moment? They look so much like the Elfstones that they have to, don’t they?