This review contains spoilers.
It would be fair to say that The Shannara Chronicles’ opening double bill was not exactly a watershed moment in the history of must-see television. But given the quality of the books on which the show is based and the strength of the first two episodes’ visual style (far and away its strongest feature), there’s reason to believe The Shannara Chronicles has scope for improvement.
Having said that, things don’t get off to the most promising of starts. If elf princess Amberle was last week’s ‘being in the buff for no real reason’ victim, the opening ten minutes of Fury marked Wil’s (Austin Butler) turn to be ruthlessly ogled. Whilst there’s no room to be prudish in 2016 and gratuitous nudity is, for better or worse, commonplace in fantasy television nowadays, the real problem here is not only the awkward execution of the scenes themselves but that The Shannara Chronicles has yet to properly explore the personalities of these central characters. If you see a character’s abs before their motives, goals and traits then somewhere along the line, priorities have surely been muddled.
Thankfully, with the obligatory ‘topless scene of the week’ out the way, Fury does begin to lift some of the fog hanging over the show’s characterisation. This is largely due to the episode taking a big step back from the accelerator that last week’s offering seemed to have jammed to the floor. With the frenetic pace slowed down some and the narrative focusing solely on the central duo of Wil and Amberle, some substance is added to these previously shallow characters. Wil Ohmsford in particular is beginning to feel like a far more fleshed-out entity. After flitting repeatedly between wanting to learn druid magic with Allanon and travelling to Storlock alone to become a healer, the half-elf (his heritage has been altered from the books) seems to have finally settled on learning the ways of his Shannara ancestors in order to help save the world from the oncoming demons. With his path finally laid out, relating to Wil suddenly becomes a whole lot easier and whilst his ‘reluctant hero’ role is as stereotypical as they come, the character is now at least somewhat likeable.
Amberle (Poppy Drayton) however, doesn’t receive quite the same treatment, her characterisation remaining just a little bit all over the place. The headstrong, determined character seen in the opening sequence of episode one (when The Shannara Chronicles was trying to be The Hunger Games) seems to have been replaced by a flighty, somewhat fragile young woman that needs rescuing as frequently as Princess Zelda. She gets over her boyfriend’s death rather quickly as well; sure, she was planning on giving him the old “it’s not you, it’s me” speech but she really did deal with that news fast. What could have been the perfect opportunity to bring a bit of pathos to Amberle’s character is completely overlooked in favour of marching on with the story.
At odds with her initial depiction, Amberle seems unsure of where to go or what to do and the onus is often on Wil or Allanon to save the day, for example during the Fury attack on the beach. Or later on in the Rover’s tent. And also against the second Fury in the forest. And then again when the Elf council don’t believe her. Considering the episode ends with Amberle walking into the mystical Ellcrys tree in order to face a trial of some description, here’s hoping that episode four establishes a more stable persona for the show’s heroine.
Though the pacing and focus in Fury are indeed more measured when compared to last week’s two-parter, the story still moves with a relentless need to pack as much plot into the forty minute time slot as physically possible. Subsequently, there is no suspense in The Shannara Chronicles, no tension, no build-up and events that most series would take half an episode to cover fly by in five minutes. As such, nothing in Fury carries much weight; any problems or obstacles that may befall our protagonists are resolved before the audience has a chance to empathise with the predicament the characters are in. The best example of this is perhaps when Wil decides to part ways with Allanon and Amberle in order to learn the ways of healing in Storlock, only to return and renege on his decision an embarrassing three and a bit minutes later.
It’s difficult to say whether this lack of depth is the result of spending too much time and money on how the show looks and not focusing enough on the actual content or whether The Shannara Chronicles is guilty of a misguided attempt to dumb-down in order to appeal to a younger audience, a course of action that would do a disservice to teenage viewers who often have a more refined sense of storytelling than television producers give them credit for.
Visually, The Shannara Chronicles remains a thing of beauty and although the CGI doesn’t quite reach Game Of Thrones levels of awe, MTV has clearly thrown money at the show in order to make sure everything looks shiny and pristine. Sadly, as with last week, the same can’t be said for the script which is rife with clichés and devoid of emotion and heart. Perhaps more noticeable in Fury however, is just how seriously The Shannara Chronicles takes itself. There are attempts at humour in the dialogue but this is limited to Wil’s semi-sarcastic quips which have been ripped directly from The Big Book of American Teen Attitude, 2000 edition. These one-liners aside, The Shannara Chronicles is content to peddle a gravely, over-dramatic tone at all times. Anyone who has ever been paintballing or laser-tagging will know that there’s always one guy who takes it more seriously than they should. The Shannara Chronicles is that one guy.
Some of last week’s redeeming features were the occasions when the show wandered into darker territory and viewers who enjoyed that aspect are well catered for in episode three as well. The scene in which our protagonists find Bandon borders on gruesome and although his appearance in this episode is brief, the circumstances surrounding Bandon’s discovery ensure his character, and by proxy, the show, is given some much needed ambiguity in a world where most of the plot is spoon-fed.
Some television shows can transcend their target audience and be enjoyed by groups of people that the series perhaps wasn’t marketed towards but this simply isn’t the case with The Shannara Chronicles. Fury continues the show’s mission to be a young-adult venture with a few gory bits thrown in and is unlikely to find a home on the viewing schedules of fans of the book series or those au fait with more dramatic, emotional television. Nevertheless, the episode is an improvement upon last week in the sense that it does begin to, very slowly, introduce some depth to its characters and is by large, a more entertaining jaunt than its previous outing.
Read Craig’s review of the previous episodes, Chosen, here.