This review contains spoilers.
As The Shannara Chronicles reaches its finale, it’s difficult to know which version of the show will turn up. Will it be the entertaining fantasy romp with a mature edge as demonstrated in Changeling and Pykon or the cheesy and cliché-ridden mess that typified episodes such as week eight’s Utopia? Perhaps fittingly, Ellcrys provides a little bit of both but ultimately delivers more of the former, ensuring an enjoyable, if flawed, ending to a show that has attracted derision and lukewarm praise in mostly equal measure.
The episode kicks things off with a less than stellar quasi-dream sequence featuring Amberle in conversation with a manifestation of the Ellcrys tree. The scene is designed to inform viewers of something book readers will only be too aware of: that Amberle must sacrifice herself in order to stop the Dagda-Mor’s demon army. In theory, the revelation should be one of the most poignant and defining moments in the series but the sequence is rushed in order to fit everything into the pre-opening credits segment and is subsequently a bit underwhelming. Trying to ram a pivotal piece of exposition into sixty seconds is perhaps not the best way to start a series finale.
Another area of concern is the handling of Eretria’s final contribution to the story. The Rover girl has been one of The Shannara Chronicles’ more watchable characters over its ten episode run and although her decision to fight off a gang of angry trolls all by herself completes her development from selfish survivalist to conscientious team player, Eretria’s removal from the narrative so early in the episode (an event that doesn’t occur in the novels) reeks of a transparent attempt to get her out the way so that Wil and Amberle can do the nasty in a cave further down the line.
Happily, Ellcrys only improves from there and the majority of the episode’s second half is a rip-roaring attempt to wrap up a series in the most satisfying way possible. This upturn in form owes no small amount of thanks to a balls-to-the-wall battle sequence between the Elf/Gnome coalition and the Demon horde. Though you can certainly argue that director Brad Turner borrows shots liberally from Peter Jackson’s ‘Big Book of Directing Large-Scale Fantasy Battles’, it’s impossible to deny that the climactic clash is extremely well orchestrated, with fight coordinators Tig Fong and Clint Elvy (no relation to yours truly, as far as I know) seriously earning their salaries this week. By interspersing the generic soldier vs. soldier clashes with moments of significance for our main characters, interest levels are maintained at all times and a deeper level of sentimental relevance is introduced that prevents the episode descending into nameless extras repeatedly hacking limbs of each other.
And it isn’t just the combative elements of Ellcrys that succeed either, with the relationship between Amberle and Wil providing the episode’s emotional core. Whilst the younger cast members have done an admirable job throughout the series given their relative inexperience, the moments of real quality acting have largely come from the show’s elders, however Poppy Drayton and Austin Butler noticeably up their game this week, delivering pathos and maturity previously unseen in their respective characters. The duo portray the last moments of their doomed relationship perfectly with Amberle’s growing acceptance of her fate effectively playing against Wil’s ignorant optimism. Though their relationship has been brief and to be frank, rather irrelevant for the majority of the season, the moments between them this week feel utterly genuine and tug, at least a little, on the heartstrings.
As has become typical of The Shannara Chronicles, the episode contains a few smaller gripes that collude to ensure that Ellcrys can’t quite be considered a total success. Firstly, the use of music is occasionally baffling. Whilst the show’s score as a whole is a decent, if unspectacular, affair, the decision to use Woodkid’s song Run Boy Run to soundtrack the march of the Dagda-Mor’s forces and Wil and Amberle’s journey back to Arborlon makes, quite literally, no sense. The presence of modern music in The Shannara Chronicles in itself hasn’t been an issue (apart from that bloody rave scene) but this choice of song in particular removes viewers from the events on-screen. The visuals are attempting to instil a sense of danger and threat but the music feels jaunty and fun and the contrast falls completely flat.
The script is another of Ellcrys’ weaker points. Ignoring the fact that Wil and Amberle’s return journey back to Elf-land takes all of a few minutes, having spent the best part of five episodes travelling to their destination, this week’s dialogue is especially flimsy and falls into unacceptable realms of predictability. It’s a challenge not to cringe when Eretria drops her “I guess you’re a hero after all” line after being revived with the magic plot-device stones. And as impressive as the acting and chemistry is between Amberle and Wil, they were given absolutely no help from the dialogue which could have been copied and pasted from any romantic film of the last twenty years with gems such as “I love you too, I always have”. Pipe down Romeo, we’ve heard it all before.
But without these blemishes, The Shannara Chronicles wouldn’t be the show we all know and somewhat like and as a final episode, Ellcrys is an entirely decent conclusion to a divisive series. If you’ve enjoyed the show up to this point, there’s absolutely no reason you won’t be pleased with how the story is brought to a close. Well for now at least, as although a second season has yet to be announced by MTV, this week’s episode leaves enough plot threats dangling to tease a potential continuation of the goings-on in The Four Lands.
The most significant of these danglers is Kylo Bandon who appears to be gearing up as the show’s next primary villain. With Wil and Eretria (presumably) still part of the story and Allanon spared the somewhat gloomier fate of his literature counterpart, there are plenty of pieces left on the board for The Shannara Chronicles to play around with, although it would need to deviate further from its source material in order to do so. Don’t completely rule out a return for a powered-up tree dwelling Amberle either. The Shannara Chronicles’ first season may not have been universally well received but has it shown enough promise, quality and guile to warrant a second outing? Arguably yes, but only just.
Read Craig’s review of the previous episode, Safehold, here.