What did I learn about The Shannara Chronicles this week? That it’s the kind of show that likes girls head butting each other during cat fights; That it’s not beyond subjecting its wide audience to lingering shots of disemboweled corpses hanging upside down; That it can be Dawson’s Creek with pointy ears when it wants to. Oh, and Allanon sounds like Sean Connery when he talks sometimes. I’m not saying all the time, just sometimes, during certain lines. That’s all.
Having watched the third episode of MTV’s True Life: I’m an Elf, I’m beginning to realize that it’s not just a fantasy series, it’s more of a horror show dressed up like one. It punctuates the monotony of all that Peter Jackson appropriation with shocking, gory moments that builds up all the dread ever. This, my friends, is Shannara’s real hook. Actually, no. I take that back. The show’s big hook is made up of a bunch of smaller hooks. Each scene of every episode so far is constructed around getting you to wonder what happens next by using the most tried and true storytelling tricks found in the Codex. (And by beating a few dead horses with them.) You want to stick around and see what happens, since you know it’s going to be over-the-top and icky.
Hooks and tricks aside (see what I did there), Shannara’s plot continues to leave its viewers in a perpetual state of genre deja vu. To call it a wild, plagiaristic orgy with no originality or unique identity in sight sounds cruel, but it’s realistic enough. The quick sense of pacing is fun yet questionable, because of how overly convenient it is.
The passage of time is a bizarre thing in the Four Lands by the way. Characters are able to travel great distances by horseback in just a matter of hours in the same day like they were driving SUVs instead. Wil and Amberle have only known each other for three days at the most, and he’s already rushing to her defense in front of a trial of made up of family members because they’re inseparable soul mates all of a sudden. Uh, okay. Mm hmm. Sure you are.
Okay, let’s talk about the performances. Admit it, the first couple episodes weren’t that bad in that department. Stilted, maybe, but that style of acting is an essential part of the MTV brand experience nowadays. “Fury” gives Shannara’s two leads a chance to show off their emoting skills, which ended up being so wooden that I was tempted to knock on them for good luck. Here’s the thing: Austin Butler’s features have good angles, and they match the fantastical nature of the show, but a convincing elven messiah he is not. He has the faraway gaze of someone who’s thinking about tweeting something. But he has perfect abs, and long blonde hair, so why not make him an MTV elf. Meanwhile, Poppy Drayton has this thing she does with her eyes where she makes it look like she’s crying. It’s a neat trick, very effective, but get used to it. We’re going to see that weepy face a lot. Do you think she looks like Jennifer Connelly if you squint hard enough, too?
Major things that happened in“Fury”: Allanon took a magic nap in a druid’s cave after chopping up the demon fury that killed Amberle’s aunt. Wil and Amberle were kidnapped by Eretria and taken to her Rover home camp. Apparently her “father” Cephalo (played by James Remar aka Raiden from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) wants to get his roving hands all over the Elfstones, so he attempts to manipulate Wil into helping him activate them by offering him a place in their grungy family. He’s not that dumb, but he does wind up using the power of the stones to save the Rovers from yet another demon fury by blasting it with a wave of sapphire CGI until passing out. Meanwhile, what are Eretria and Amberle doing? Getting into catfights over Wil that are so sapphic they border on being slash fuel, that’s what. Because they’re girls, and this is MTV, the same network that aired Jersey Shore. Did you forget that? Don’t. Ever again.
Allanon rescues our two heroes from the nomads after waking up from his power nap. He warns them that they need to go back to Arborlon ASAP because the Ellcrys is dying, you guys! So what do they do? They go to some random, out-of-the-way cabin, of course. There they meet an elf named Bandon who was chained up in his house by his dead parents like Leonardo DiCaprio in Man in the Iron Mask. I think he’s a psychic, because he has flashes of Amberle dying in a pool of her own blood when he touches her. Bandon wasn’t a character in the Shannara books, apparently, so this is somewhat of a curveball for all the hardcore fans out there.
After the crew finally returns to Arborlon, Amberle is put on a trial of sorts by her grandfather Eventine and the Elven Council, in a tense yet odd scene that takes as much inspiration from America’s Next Top Model as it does from Lord of the Rings. Wil plays yet another cliche card by almost walking away and leaving the adventure entirely, until Bandon tells him that Amberle will die if he does. Thanks to Wil’s sappy monologue about how cute Amberle is, the Council decides to give her a pass because she’s the final Chosen one left alive. This means that the princess is the only only who can take the sacred seed from the Ellcrys and bring it to the Bloodfire so the tree can begin anew. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, with Amberle walking into a hidden doorway in the giant to pass a test to she is worthy of doing this task or not. Spoiler: she probably is.
If “Fury” serves a purpose, it’s twofold: to build tension and to buy some time. After the plot-devouring monster that “Chosen” was, that’s a nice thing. It’s okay to have a breather episode to help us adjust to the scope and the atmosphere of the story, because we’re still digesting. I was disappointing that Dagda Mor didn’t make an appearance, as his scenes in the pilot were the most thrilling of all. Here’s hoping he’s in the next one.