This The Shannara Chronicles review contains spoilers.
Shannara Chronicles Season 2 Episode 1
Rejoice all you teenagers looking for exciting background noise to zone out to while scrolling through your newsfeeds: The Chronicles of Sha-nay-nay is back! The big question right now is – is it better than ever, or is it “meh”-er than ever? Because let’s be real: it’d be hard to top what this show had accomplished in its first year. I mean, my god. It was just so epic with its uh…sheer…y’know, epicness. Cough.
Alright, fine. I admit it. I remember next to nothing about the first season of The Shannara Chronicles – and I reviewed the damn thing. That came out in, what, 2016? That was two Star Wars movies ago! Great Robert Jordan’s ghost! It’s been an incredibly long time since we’ve seen Katniss, er–whatever Ms. Protagonist’s name was–galavant around Uwe Boll’s rendition of Middle-Earth with her two role-playing partners, one of whom likes to breathe through their mouth a lot (not going to say who it is).
So, I ask the die-hard Shannara fans – all fifteen of you out there – to give me a refresher on season one so I can be reminded of what the heck went down. Anybody? Bueller? Yes, you with the Insurgent T-shirt. Speak up.
What are you talking about?! Elijah Wood has nothing to do with this show. He didn’t even guest star! Obviously you don’t remember much about the Shannara Chronicles, either. You’re just confusing it with Lord of the Rings like everyone else does. So sit back down!
Sigh. I’ll just do what I should have done in the first place. You people…
*Googles own review of the season one finale he wrote ages ago*
Ah, yes! There we go. I feel like Celine Dion in 1996: it’s all coming back to me now. Amberle, Eretria, Isaac Hanson, the guy from Sliders! Cephelo, the master rover who played Rayden once! A really long road trip to San Francisco! Unnecessary post-apocalyptic homages to The Breakfast Club! A forgotten Beck song used as overly distracting diegetic music! Elven love triangles and the magic trees that come between them! That constant, steady flow of Lord of the Rings visual references that made my eyes bleed for days on end! And how could I possibly forget the Dagda Mor? Oh, Dagda. You were supposed to be the Darth Vader of this franchise, but you were more like Darth Maul instead (and your name sounds like it could be the title of one of Enya’s B-sides). Well, guess what? We don’t need you anymore. This is Season 2, baby. That means we have a brand spanking new bad guy that looks 35% more like Darth Maul! Heck yes. This is progress, folks. Especially for The Shannara Chronicles.
After watching the second season premiere, I can assure you that while Shannara maintains most of its regular cast members and is (more or less) tonally consistent with what came before it, it’s clear that this show has become a different beast now. And when I say beast, I mean it.
This time around, Shannara is all about emphasizing the action part of the action/adventure category it works hard to be associated with while distancing itself from the more, shall we say, “romantic” themes the series once capitalized on to attract MTV’s viewership. Screen time that was once devoted to living out the preteen girl fantasy is now spent kicking warlock and/or troll ass in the most efficient and graphic ways possible. Hmm. You think the switch to Spike TV had anything to do with this? (Joking.) I for one am thankful that the forced teen soap opera subplots are left mostly in the past – for this episode, anyway. Right now, Shannara can embrace the B-movie guilty pleasures it has wanted to revel in for so long and not worry about alienating tweens who are jonesing for a fix of Disney princess intrigue between Descendents sequels.
This very slight shift in Shannara‘s tone is especially noticeable the longer we spend getting reacquainted with our two surviving leads. Wil and Eretria’s re-introduction is a somber one, and surprisingly more mature than what we’ve come to expect from Shannara’s school of ADD storytelling – which so far has been perfectly okay with sticking overused tropes found in every fantasy movie from the past thirty years in a microwave and melting them all together. Since “Druid” is contrived like virtually everything else about this series, it’s not going to change the landscape of television in any way, shape, or form. But compared to the Beta version of Shannara Chronicles from 2016 that we hardly remember outside of a few CGI heavy scenes, it’s a breath of – not fresh air, exactly, but breathable, room temperature air that is free from offensive smells. That, Shannara-heads, is an achievement in itself.
So The Shannara Chronicles season 2 premiere does what any season premiere should: act as an entry point for everyone, even the bros whose ex-girlfriends used to watch it who are just now tuning in, to jump on and enjoy the ride. In this respect, the premiere does an excellent job. It gets the general audience up to speed without wasting too much time doing it. It’s obvious “Druid” was designed to hook casual viewers and remind those who came back for more that watching the first year is important to understanding the story, but not necessarily essential in following it.
The script also plays with its awareness of the passage of time, mimicking how we as the audience feel as we gradually re-enter the world of Shannara after being away for what seems like an eternity. This is a clever move on the producers’ part, as it forces “Druid” into soft reboot territory where any retooling that needed to happen because of, say, a network switch could be done discreetly and in a way that was appropriate for the show.
But like I said, these subtle changes are felt the most when we witness how far our heroes have come in the year that has passed in their world. Wil and Eretria are no longer portrayed as the supporting characters in a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of fairy tale. They’re the leads now, and thanks to their newfound prominence, Shannara is free to let it all hang out. At long last, it can take up the mantle of cheesy syndicated action programs from the 1990s like it always wanted to.
Wil is no longer the goofy romantic interest with a hard-to-swallow Skywalker-lite backstory that made our eyes roll from time to time. These days, he has a new, shorter haircut, which means he is more ready to jump into random bar fights at a moment’s notice to make sure someone gets stabbed – like a real man would. Grr! This is Spike TV, goddammit! You gotta have balls to be on this network. Well, only until it rebrands itself as The Paramount Network next year. After that, you can become The Originals with orcs as far as we care. (And you probably will.)
Eretria, on the other hand, has always had a butchy edge to her. She was designed to be the “bad girl” character foil for Amberle, after all. Her demeanor hasn’t changed all that much, but she does have a girlfriend now. So there’s that. They live in an apartment together…kind of…in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, so the rent is probably still sky high. Oh, and her dad? He conveniently rescued her from that cliffhanger last season left us with (which also slipped my mind). Thus, Eretria is blessed with the most stability she’s ever had in her life. Yet her desire to gallop around the New Zealand countryside on a steed while pretending Peter Jackson is radioing her directions just won’t go away. This deep sense of Tolkien wanderlust – and Wil-lust and Amberlust, for that matter – is not so easily shaken off, and is becoming a divisive source of tension in her personal relationships. We feel for her, because we want to resume the adventures we had once shared together. Also, we admire her independent spirit, which is almost bigger than the character herself. Because of this, “Druid” makes us anticipate the day when she is finally reunited with Wil – which will hopefully happen sooner than Episode 8 or 9 of this season’s 10 episode count.
Even if Shannara has officially become The Legends of Wil and Eretria, Amberle’s presence still lingers in a useful Obi-Wan kind of way. She’s a good motivator for our dynamic duo, and a great plot device when you need her to be. (I can just see it now: “Eretria, stop the evil goblin dude from throwing a molotov cocktail at that hut over there.” “Sure thing, ghost of Amberle! You’re so friendly and helpful…and sexy too. Can I have a hug? Can ghosts hug?”) To ignore Shannara’s once and possible future main character would be to refute the short but erratic legacy this program spent a whole season cobbling together – er, “loosely adapting”. Keeping her spirit in the mix is not only convenient for those from her crew that are still around, it may also be an indicator of her theoretical resurrection in the future.
Meanwhile, where the villains at? Creepy psychic Bandon is planning on resurrecting the Warlock Lord. Yeah, that’s still a thing. He has longer hair this time, which indicates…what exactly? Dastardly villainhood? All it does is make him look like Marcus from Babylon 5. You kids don’t even know what this is, so I’ll stop there. Anyway, Bandon summons a new, more Darth Maul-ier looking antagonist that makes the Dagda Mor look like a glorified Ubervamp from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But not before he has a confrontation with Allanon in a decidedly evil castle shaped like a giant skull that rests atop an ominous mountain. Subtle, right? This confrontation in question may or may not have involved swords and sorcery. Hey, I’ve spoiled enough for you as it is. Watch it for yourself to see what happens.
Barbed comments aside, Season 2 will be a make or break year for The Shannara Chronicles. If this leaner, meaner version of the show can coast by on Spike’s target male demographic, it’ll be airing on another totally different network by this time next year. That would be a first for a fantasy TV series of any kind, would it not?
If “Druid” is any indication of what’s to come, we might be in for a more exciting ride this season. One that will actually be – y’know – memorable.