The Shannara Chronicles: Breakline Review

Shannara is equal parts Breakfast Club and Mad Max in its latest outing...

This Shannara Chronicles review contains spoilers

The Shannara Chronicles Season 1, Episode 7

There’s a moment towards the middle of “Breakline” in which Amberle and Eritrea are being chased through a New Zealand woodland by a pack of elf hunters. After successfully dodging their arrows (and rolling down a hill), our favorite slash pairing fall through a trapdoor hidden in the ground and find themselves amongst the disheveled remains of what appears to be a prom in a high school gym—complete with tinsel, lawn chairs, and a stage with a large banner that reads “We Can Be Heroes.”

It’s ironic, yes, and it emphasizes the post-apocalyptic grit that’s slowly but surely overpowering the show’s Dungeons & Dragons flavor. But the symbolism here is absolutely a knowing look from the show’s writers, because, in more ways than one, Shannara Chronicles has become a fantasy show built on top of high school drama. The love triangle between Wil, Amberle, and Eritrea has cooled down considerably, but it quickly dominated the main character’s motivations while she began to undertake the holy quest to save the Ellcrys, which was a moment in which I lost a bit of respect for her. 

So the show goes to high school to figure out what to do next. The girls spend most of their screen time this episode glancing through dusty yearbooks and brandishing torches amongst rusty lockers, making references to a great war that ended the world as we know it and made life into one big LARP game. On an emotional level, these high school halls are the best place for Amberle and Eritrea to work through some of their issues. And it feels like they do for the most part, off-camera somewhere. Most of their time alone is used for bringing the audience up to speed on the trajectory of main Bloodfire story-arc. This Vampire Diaries method of “emotional expositing” is cost-effective, but it sacrifices the storytelling meat of developing an authentic connection between two people by treating them as game avatars in a cutscene.

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Yet we do witness a heart-to-heart moment between the on again/off again rivals. They drop their differences and acknowledge that they have more in common than they initially thought. It’s not easy being a level five bandit, and sometimes being an elven princess sucks. Turns out they’re both orphans, too, so there’s that. Now Amberle won’t feel weird saying hi to her the next time she infiltrates the hallways of Arborlon.

Amberle gets to really hit the nail on the head when she says, “Who’d have thought? The princess and the rover, bound for a tragic fate.”

Yes, that’s something she actually said. With her mouth.

What really stands out to me is how this plays out as a post-apocalyptic remake of The Breakfast Club. In fact, I’d bet you ten bucks that it’s deliberate on behalf of the production. I mean, even the “We Can Be Heroes” banner is probably a nice analogue to the quote from “Changes” that began the ‘80s classic. Great, now I’m craving a Captain Crunch, Pixy Stix, and butter sandwich.

As soon as their sisterhood is officially forged, it’s immediately tested, as the elf hunters invade the high school ruins and turn it into a warzone. I never have any beef with the Shannara’s action. This department is precisely where “Breakline” delivers most of the goods. The Silent Hill-esque school is just such a dynamic setpiece, I’m sure it’s going to be one of the main reasons this episode will be considered one of the more successful attempts from an experimental first season.

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Meanwhile, Wil teams up with a character-of-the-week named Perk, a neurotic elf with a personality somewhere between Steve Buscemi and Topher Grace by way of Golem. He had his ear cut off by one of the bikers. I mean, elf hunters. He’s mad about it, but “facebook-fight” mad, not like real life, “the-side-of-my-head-is-gushing-blood-and-I-can’t-hear-anything-because-of-you-you-evil-bastard” kind of mad. So he takes the situation pretty well, considering.

Like most of Shannara‘s minor characters, Perk is shallow and frantic at best. Even if he may come in handy in the future, our time spent getting to know him here came across as just another digression from more captivating events happening elsewhere. When Perk eventually confronts the hunter who disfigured him, he delivers what may be the greatest line of the series so far: “That’s…my…EAR!!!” He’s also a dragonrider. And makes the greatest exit by giving Wil and Amberle a whistle to summon him by. I’m going to start doing that.

Oh, I suppose I should mention that Arion and Ander pay a visit to the Dagda Mor just to touch base and get disemboweled. This fantastic sequence is another season highlight, evoking the the most captivating scenes from the two-part premiere. Arion is the one who falls on Dagda’s blade, just after Darth Sauron himself reveals that the changeling has been posing as the king for the past few episodes. Allanon saves the day (oh and he’s totally fine now, by the way) by…shouting?

I’ve never been attached either Arion nor Ander. In fact, I mostly zone out whenever the story’s focus shifts to theirs for a minute or two. But at least their subplot culminated in a epic blockbuster sequence that looked cool. That’s all I can really ask for at this point so I’ll take it.

Looks like the Bloodfire’s in San Francisco. When Amberle catches a glimpse of the stained glass window from her vision in a news article hanging on the wall inside the school, she knows that’s where the gang must head. Thankfully, there’s a BART map right next to it, so she also knows how to get to the East Bay if she ever wants to.

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Just as Wil comes to rescue Amberle and Eritrea from the clutches of Zora at the last minute (don’t you love how everyone does that in this show), Zora shoots Eritrea in the abdomen with one of her arrows. Apparently they have a history of some sort and Zora has a problem with being passive aggressive. So Wil and Amberle are lifted out of the high school gym on Perk’s dragon, just as if it were a helicopter, and leave Eritrea for dead. But not on purpose. I think. I’m not sure, I just hope she’s able to make it to the big Bloodfire rave in SF. I hear it’s going to be off the hook. 

Following this twist, the show reaches a new level of unexpected meta-awareness that teeters into self-parody when Wil and Amberle get sentimental over roleplaying dice. “They reminded me of you,” she tells him, eyes swelling with emotion as she hands him the blue polyhedrals. Shannara, if you plan on busting through the fourth wall like that, you need to give me some notice first.

There’s something endearing about the way the show is approaching itself now. It continues to be an all you can eat cliche buffet, but it knows that you know that. And it knows that you don’t want the same old leftovers, so it spices it up with different filters. It’s like a photo filter app for fantasy tropes. It changes their colors and styles to fit any era or occassion. It can be retro sometimes, it can be modern. It can be dark and scary or sunny and light. But it will always be kind of hipstery.


3.5 out of 5