Is The Shannara Chronicles an epic tale of heroism and sacrifice or is it a soap opera? Asking for a whole bunch of friends here.
We need to know because it sure appears that the writers want to do the first but they’re being forced to throw in a bunch of elements from the second because this is an MTV show and someone, somewhere things pandering to a stereotype is what makes a hit show. MTV, amirite? Winky winky!
There is rage here, but also a lot of good. I love this show, but it’s giving me eye twitches. Let me show you.
When we begin this week’s show, the stakes are as high for the main characters as they’ve been since the Ellcrys gave Amberle the Magic Seed. Eretria has been shot by an arrow and is in the hands of the Elf Hunters. Wil and Amberle are in pursuit, but they have an important decision to make: should they rescue Eretria or continue to Safehold? Wil rightly reminds Amberle that the fate of the entire Four Lands rests on their success. Amberle responds by reminding Wil that Eretria is important to the quest and also that she believes her redeemable. Compelling stuff! We also learn, thanks to Wil’s sharp eye, that they are in Troll country. This truly is a crossroads. If they continue after Eretria, they’ll have to travel farther into danger and do so without resting. If they turn toward Safehold, they can get out of Troll country and grab a bit of rest.
What will they do? Who will pull rank here? Will their budding relationship suffer a dent that may well derail it, given that Will has slept with Eretria twice but that he appeared to choose Amberle in Pykon?
I like this tension between the characters and between important tasks. We are on a short clock here. Time spent rescuing Eretria could doom the world. Yet Eretria is in existential danger and needs rescue. We should spend a little time with Wil and Amberle as they decide and make a plan. Maybe they’ll come up with a genius idea to do both! Who knows? We should be on tenterhooks here.
Instead, Wil and Amberle make camp, talk about their relationship, and jump into some attempted sexy time.
They are in Troll country. Remember the trolls? We haven’t seen one since the pilot, but they are dangerous, like bogeymen. Everyone is a little afraid of the Trolls, even the Elves and their top-notch (**cough**) Black Guard! Not only do Wil and Amberle decide to both rest and go after Eretria, they do so in the dumbest way possible. They don’t set traps. They don’t find a defensible place to set camp. They plop down next to one of the Gryphon statues like the ones we see in the opening credits and commence to talking. Loudly.
An aside: the Gryphons are fantastic. Their backstory is solid and grounds us more firmly in the lore of the Four Lands. Amberle’s casual “maybe they remind us that Elves are jerks” is wildly out of place. Fortunately, we have no time to think about what nonsense she just spouted because it’s sexy time!
Yes, folks, the kids are going to have sex right here, in the open, in Troll country.
Fortunately, their heavy-breathing is interrupted by a noise that sounds like it could either be a Troll or Cephalo caught in a Troll trap. Fortunately, it’s the latter. Time for another loud discussion, in Troll Country, about whether Cephalo can be trusted. Time, also, to learn he’s been tracking them for a day or so. We don’t actually learn how he managed to get from the other side of the mountain, down the river, through the Elf Hunter grounds, past the old building full of treasure that might interest a greedy Rover, and into Troll country, but we don’t need to know any of that. He’s going to guide them because Will and Amberle clearly need a guide even though they’ve been doing fine to this point and also because he’s totally honest, for now.
Let’s leave the heroes here, in Troll country, and jump over to Eretria. The Elf Hunters have taken her to an honest-to-God village where no village has any right to be. We meet the head of said village, Ty, who buys things from Elf Hunters who pass through like maps and stuff from the old world before. Hey…wait a minute! The Elf Hunters have the map that Amberle said would guide them to Safehold! So…Wil and Amberle can’t continue their quest without Eretria after all? Why in the world did we have that discussion earlier? What was the point of that scene except to heat up their passions a little bit so they could each apologize to each other, talk more about their feelings, and engage in a little…ohhhhhh.
You know, I’ve discovered the problem here. This show is on MTV, which means it’s supposed to be slathered in relationship angst and sexy times, because that’s what kids these days want, right?
No. NO! NOOOOOOOO! I refuse. I simply refuse to believe, in an an era of television that includes The Walking Dead, A Game of Thrones, Flash, Arrow, The Returned, and the X-Files, that any audience has to accept anything less than true care and consideration from a series. We are in a golden age of television. There is no excuse for patronizing storytelling and, make no mistake, that is what I truly believe happened in the first ten minutes of this episode. We could have had a beginning worthy of the setting and actors, driven by the pressures of time, loyalty, and fate. Instead we got…mediocrity.
While I’m here, let me say a couple of things about the actors. They’re darned good. I love Poppy Drayton, even though she’s decided Amberle has to alternate between looking scared and looking sad. Doesn’t matter. I can’t take my eyes off her. Manu Bennett is strong as Allanon. I wish they’d give him lines where he doesn’t have to speak through clenched teeth, because he sounded a lot like New Zealand’s version of Sean Connery in Highlander this week. This show has a good cast. They deserve the meaty story of the book (and boy howdy are we miles from the book at this point).
But here we are. Eretria and the map are in the hands of Ty, leader of a village called Utopia, smack in the middle of Troll country. Surely, everything is on the level here. Nothing creepy could be lurking around the corner at all. Nope. Just settle back and wonder how in the world they’re using technology that, we’re told from the opening of the show, is thousands of years old. I’m picking here, but come on. The Space Needle has collapsed into rusted ruin, but surgical tubing and gunpowder work just fine?
Oh, Ty casually drops that the village and the Trolls have an agreement. Anyone want to bet that involves sacrifice and that Eretria is going to end up in mortal danger?
Back in Arborlon, Allanon and Bandon are trying to launch another plot line that really doesn’t make much sense. Allanon says Bandon could be the next Druid (so…there can be only one? Well, that explains the accent!) but the Dagda Mor is on his trail so he’d better get his head straight! That’s all fine, but do we care? Bandon is an add-in who didn’t appear in the book and while I’m not one of those who demands canonical purity, I do want the deviations between book and show to matter. Thus far, Bandon hasn’t mattered. We’re told he’s powerful. Allanon led him, unwittingly, into a trap and didn’t go with the main quest in large part because he wanted to find out how powerful Bandon is. He’s been in a coma for a couple episodes and roused only long enough to get Allanon stabbed with a magic sword. I get the feeling that Bandon exists in Season One so that he can become an important character in Season Two. Right now, we’re on a quest to save the world. After that, though, they’re going to need more story to keep the show on the air. Bandon’s struggle to control his power while harassed by the Dagda Mor (who probably won’t be fully banished when the Ellcrys is reborn, yes?) sounds like the kind of thing that could propel a show through a second season. I get why he’s there, but I dislike that he’s taking valuable time from the quest to save the world.
I really need to speed through the rest of the show here. There wasn’t a ton of substance, so let’s do a quick summary. Ty talks Eretria into thinking everyone hates her but him and that he’s only looking out for her. She falls for it, of course, because she is the most easily manipulated woman in all the Four Lands even though she’s a crafty Rover who is well-trained in all manner of manipulation. Utopia is indeed creepy. It had tech way more advanced than it should given the history of the world. They do have a sacrifice deal with the Trolls. There is a dance party. Wil and Amberle try to sneak in to rescue Eretria but are caught. So is Cephalo. Eretria sneaks about and gets a touch of mystical prophesy on her — something about how she’s the vessel. She’s caught, too.
Oh, did I mention the guns? Utopia has a couple guns. They’re the future. Or the past. Of the past-future. Whatever. There’s a gun fight during which Cephalo gets all kinds of noble then all kinds of dead. The heroes break free and get the map also. Cephalo stole the Elfstones until he totally didn’t because we remember those dice, yes? No one stole the Magic Seed because it never gets stolen, or mentioned, or thought of, ever.
The Trolls finally show up, kill Ty and his second-in-command, and all of Utopia. We don’t see that part, but there’s no reason it wouldn’t happen. The Trolls have decided the bargian is broken, even though Ty offered himself as the sacrifice. Utopia couldn’t fight off a cold, much less a band of Trolls. There’s going to be ten kinds of horror in that village. But let’s not think about that bloody slaughter the writers left behind because we’re on to Safehold, which will probably be San Francisco!
Oh, let’s also also not talk about the demon army that completely disappeared in last week’s episode. Is it on the way to Arborlon? Was it an illusion? Did the Dagda Mor do some cool magic stuff and teleport it elsewhere? No idea. It never comes up. You’d think it would be important, but nah. What demon army?
I keep saying in these recaps that I like this show. I really do. I watch it in real time, not on DVR-delay. I take notes! I want it to be the kind of show we fantasy nerds remember twenty years from now as a show that put fantasy on the television map. That’s not going to happen so long as the writers pull back from giving us a story with real stakes. I get this is MTV. I get there are certain expectations about what kind of show it should be. But “should” ain’t “must”. We thought we knew what an HBO show should be or what an A&E show should be until some brave writers showed us otherwise. Time for the Shannara writers to be brave with their storytelling. We can handle it.
(Photos via Shannara on Twitter)