If you’ve been a faithful reader of my The Shannara Chronicles recaps, you’ll know my opinion of the show has dropped considerably in the past few episodes. I started out not wanting to be “that guy” — the super-geeky critic who compared the show to the book and who agonized over every tiny continuity mistake. I loved the pilot and wanted to love the show. As I’ve written before, I’ve been looking for a show that would put heroic fantasy on the same footing as gritty, filthy, bloody, cussy, junk-intensive A Game of Thrones fantasy. The Shannara Chronicles could have been that show.
It won’t be, not as it exists right now. This season started out with a ton of promise but finished in a horrible rush, as if the writers were in a horrible hurry to get through the source material so they could set up their own super-cool second season stories. I started the season excited but finished bored and just a little bit angry.
So, we’re up to the finale. Might as well get this over with. Let’s roll.
At the end of the last episode, the trio was in a real pickle. They had reached the Bloodfire room, nestled very firmly in Troll Country. Eretria had given her blood and her life to open the way for Amberle to take the Ellcrys’ seed to the Bloodfire. Amberle had entered the Bloodfire and disappeared. Wil had bested the guardians with force of will and..oh dammit. Really, writers? You went there? Okay, fine. FINE! We know using those Elfstones will cost him dearly later because magic has a cost. We have a solid cliffhanger…
…which the writers dismantled with all the grace of a gang of toddlers kicking down a building-block castle. Amberle meets the psychic persona of the Ellcrys, or maybe a dream version of her — no one exactly said who Dreamberle actually was — who tells her she is the Ellcrys seed. Will brings Eretria back to life, and full health, with the Elfstones. Eretria, who died due to lack of blood, promptly jams her hand back onto the blood fountain and re-opens the Bloodfire, like it was a screen door. Amberle steps out and, without a single word of explanation for what just happened in there, gets the gang headed back to Arborlon.
Ah! But they’re in Troll Country, and wouldn’t you just know this is the exact time the trolls choose to wake up and discover they have a mystical Bloodfire chamber right in the middle of their cozy tunnels! Much roaring is heard as the heroes run and run and run and…oops! There’s a steel grate in the way! Better lift that up, enough to get under but probably not enough for those huge Trolls to get under easily. Get to running, guys! The gate probably won’t delay the trolls fore — wait, Eretria’s gone back under the gate to cut the chain. She trapped herself on the Troll side of the gate! Oh noes! A tearful goodbye! Run Wil and Amberle! Eretria has given her life to buy you some time!
Aaaaaaaand this is where I checked out of this episode. More stuff happened, and we’ll get to that in a bit of a lightning run later on, but we need to sit down right here and talk about just how much crap the writers tried to feed us.
1) Amberle is the seed. Well, okay. Fine. We might have guessed that twist. We might also have guessed that Allanon lied through his teeth because that was his modus operandi for at least the first half of this season. Why, though, must the Ellcrys lie as well? The Ellcrys gave Amberle the seed, told her it was important. Yes, it also told her she’d have to be willing to do away with Wil to complete her quest, which was a nice bit of foreshadowing, but why would it think telling her she might have to kill Wil would be a better option than telling her she’d have to heroically give her own life? The latter is part of who she is. The Ellcrys should know that since it’s been in psychic contact with her nearly her whole life.
2) So the Elfstones can bring people back to life now? We were told earlier in the series the stones were of use only against demons. What would ever give Wil the idea that pressing them against the heart of dead Eretria would bring her back to life? I bet that power would be handy in Arborlon where Wil could resurrect King Eventine, Commander Tilton, the Ellcrys-tender dude, that poor mook who got murdered while on Changeling-burning duty, or any of the random Black Watch cannon fodder who bought it in the previous 9 episodes. Oh, and how about the other Chosen? Surely they could use a touch of Elfstone magic.
3) Remember when Wil crawled from the river after no falling to his death outside Pykon’s back door? The Elftstones were almost welded to his hand. We got no explanation for why, but we could assume that was part of the price he paid for almost using the magic against the Reaper. Since then, he’s used the Elfstones to vaporize Bloodfire Guardians and bring Eretria back to life without consequence. Allanon keeps saying magic has a price, but Wil never pays one beyond a temporary icky hand condition.
4) What is the Bloodfire, exactly? Is it deep, old magic that existed even in the times before the apocalypse? Is it some life force from the Earth itself awoken by the apocalypse? It is simply a way to pass from the physical realm to the psychic realm of the Ellcrys? We really don’t know, though we’re given the idea it’s the latter, which doesn’t make a ton of sense. In fact, the entire quest to dunk a seed in the Bloodfire doesn’t make sense. We’re never told why it has to be done that way or why the Bloodfire is important. Now, we’re essentially told the Bloodfire is a thing that can be turned on and off so long as Eretria lives, which is forever thanks to the Elfstones. Why is this an epic quest? Where was the real danger, the sense that this trip cost anyone anything?
5) There is only one reason Eretria trapped herself on the wrong side of that gate: a second season plot line. Even with the gate mostly down, it was a fine obstacle to slow down pursuit since the Trolls are huge and the gap wasn’t. The amount of time they spent saying their tearful, kissy goodbyes erased all the time Eretria’s “heroism” bought them anyhow. And even if it hadn’t, they weren’t moving in a huge hurry even after they hit the surface. Eretria didn’t need to do what she did for them to make it safely out of Safehold. The writers made her do a stupid thing so they’d have an easy story for next season. Ho freaking hum.
Back in Arborlon, King Ander is getting the troops ready to meet the demon army, which outnumbers them 1000 to 1. His plan is sound: the gnomes would harry the army and delay it as much as possible while the elves would fall all the way back to the Ellcrys’ sanctuary and hold it to the last man…err…elf. Too bad not one soldier or commander, including the King, actually carried out that plan.
More on that in a minute. First, we need a travel montage! Amberle and Wil have to get back to Arborlon to return the seed (dun dun dunnn) and restore the Ellcrys. They’re going to make that trip on horseback in roughly a day or so even though they are hundreds of miles from where they need to be. We’ve talked about the travel distance before. The writers need to acknowledge this was a freaking quest, not a weekend jaunt down the coast, but they won’t. We’re going to get lovely images of the pair riding through the woods or along a beach at sunset with the ocean on their right…
…wait. The ocean on their RIGHT?! They’re riding north. Unless they made a sudden detour that took them south, the ocean should be on their left the entire trip. Come on, guys. Get it right. We aren’t idiots. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop treating us like we are.
Amberle and Wil get almost to Arborlon, except there’s a demon army in the way. They decide to go, literally, to ground and have sex. I’m completely serious here. Amberle tells Wil she loves him, but she doesn’t tell him she’s going to become the new Ellcrys and they put the entire fate of the Four Lands on hold so they can have sex. You have to get your groove on whenever you can, despite the thousands of demons within a stone’s throw of your badger burrow.
It doesn’t get better from here. Catania, who is now no more than a battered girlfriend, helps free Bandon, who kills a Black Watchelf. That’s when she realizes he’s really bad, not just sexy-bad. Bandon runs free to be the big threat, I’m guessing, in the next season. The elves all run out of the sanctuary to meet the demon army and are slaughtered like rabbits. There’s a powerful Demon Captain who wields the Warlock Sword. Surprise! It’s Arion, who isn’t dead at all for some reason! He kills Tilton easily and is killed in turn, probably, by Ander. The Dagda Mor gets into the sanctuary but is foiled by Elfstone magic and Allanon’s sword. Amberle goes into the Magic Elf Tree Room and stuff happens. The Ellcrys is restored. Hooray.
Wil is angry at Allanon for lying to him and never wants to see him again, but shakes his hand and thanks him for a wonderful series of life lessons then rides away to rescue Eretria. Allanon sets up the Bandon story line with Catania and learns from Ander that Arion’s body wasn’t there to be recovered and neither was the Warlock Sword. Dun dun dunnnn! Eretria isn’t dead but is in the hands of the Trolls who is apparently led by someone she knows (my bet is on Cephalo, because that’s the lazy and obvious choice here). Fade to “To be Continued”.
I probably won’t come back for the second season of “The Shannara Chronicles”. I’m no great writer, but the past three weeks I found myself taking notes for how I’d have written better episodes and a stronger, more interesting story arc. If that’s my only interest in the show, it isn’t must-see television for me. Heck, it isn’t even must-record television. That’s a shame. I really thought it could have been so much more than the hurried, predictable mess it turned out to be.
Oh! I will give them big credit for one thing. That final outdoor battle between Allanon and the Dagda Mor was very well-done. Heck, the whole forest battle was great, even though it should have happened inside and been more desperate. The way the druid and demon used magic against each other (and how it was color-coded so you knew who had done what) made a lot of sense for high-caliber magic users, though neither one forgot their staves were perfectly useful blunt weapons as well. Perhaps next season the writers will give us more fights and less relationship angst. But don’t bet on it.
(Photos via Shannara on Twitter)