This Shannara Chronicles review contains spoilers.
The Shannara Chronicles Season 2 Episode 2
Okay, seriously: what the **** is up with this show?
Although Shannara has been injected with a considerable boost of testosterone during its downtime this past couple of years, it’s soapier than ever. I know I said I couldn’t remember a lot of the first season in my last review, but it wasn’t because the series drifted into white noise territory like it’s doing now. There’s more yapping than ever before, and significantly less action!
If you told me at the end of last week’s premiere that the next episode would primarily focus on relationship drama, I would have – well, I wouldn’t have cared too much, but I would have been surprised at the very least. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember commenting on the fact that those elements had been sidelined during Shannara‘s retooling. Yet here they are: pronounced, chatty, and unfocused. What gives?
It makes me want to scream. The Michael Jackson feat. Janet Jackson kind of scream – the one you let out when you just can’t take it anymore. And this is only the second episode of the season, folks. The. Second. Episode! For any other television series, “Wraith” might pass as a subpar mid-season entry. But no. This had to be the follow-up to a season premiere that showed flashes of potential, didn’t it? Didn’t it?!
Whatever, Sha-nay-nay. Squander it all away. You do you, boo.
The Amberle/Will/Eretria drama I could take. These new kids on the block, though? I couldn’t care less about what or who they do. (Yes, even Eretria’s saucy new girlfriend with the royal blood.) Why? Because I’m not attached to any of them yet and the show is acting like I am! It bugs me when any TV series does that – which, oddly enough, happens a lot these days. But so far, the actors don’t seem too attached to their roles, either. They’re more or less there to do sexy cosplay. And…that’s about it.
This week, we’re introduced to Garet Jax, a bounty-hunter who – according to the Shannara Wiki – is nothing like his analog from the books whatsoever. Apparently, in the novels, Jax is a “deadly serious man who would never take captives for money, and only fights to test his skill as the Weapons Master.” Interesting. Well, y’see, in The Shannara Chronicles (the TV series), Jax captures Lyria (for money) and fights any old stunt person that comes his way. So that’s not very consistent at all, is it?
What’s more, it seems Jax is also a character first introduced in a book (Wishsong of Shannara) that takes twenty years after Elfstones of Shannara, which was the source material for season one. That means we’re pretty much watching televised fanfiction at this point. Yay?
Jax takes Lyria back to her mother Tamlin, Queen of Leah – a character who is not in the books at all. Her big motivation right now revolves around marrying off Lyria to Elven King Ander (the nicer clone of Mel Gibson). Problem is, Ander wants Catania, his one true Elf maiden. That’s fine, because Lyria is so sprung over Eretria that she can’t think straight. Literally! Obviously, she’s going to run off with bae when she shows up disguised in a leftover costume from The Gods of Egypt.
Speaking of which, that movie appears to be the inspiration behind the look and feel of this episode. It’s like the production design said, “Hey, let’s combine the sword and sandal aesthetic of Gods of Egypt with the gilded sophistication of The Great Gatsby (2012) and use it as the backdrop for an early 2000s R&B music video!” Um, yeah. Great idea, you guys. Glad you moved on from that insatiable fixation on Rivendell you had last year. Sigh. I will never be able to rewatch any Council of Elrond scenes again thanks to you.
But like I said, Eretria breaks into the Leah bordello/strip club and cuts the spontaneous Kelis video shoot short when she puts a knife to Jax’s throat and demands to know where Lyria is. The following exchange pretty much embodies everything that I can’t stand about The Shannara Diaries– er, Chronicles! I mean Chronicles – right now. A veteran Season 1 character dials it in while sussing out information from a wooden, thinly developed supporting character that is supposed to be so cool.
I mean, I want to like Jax. And one day, maybe after he makes some daring sacrifice during a future season finale, I actually will. Until then, he’s just one of the many new hires I’m trying to keep track of – and his line delivery game needs some work. Then again, so does Eretria’s. But Ivana Baquero gets a free pass from me at this point, because I saw her work last season, and she doesn’t have much to play off of here.
Eventually, Eretria locates Lyria and they have a – well, it’s a reunion, I’ll give it that. It’s not an emotional one, nor is it necessarily a happy one. It’s simply just “a reunion”. Not what I would expect from two people in love, but what do I know? Perhaps the Four Lands have unusual cultural restrictions about PDA that I’m not aware of. Regardless, Lyria discloses that her mother Queen Tamlin is trying her best to keep them apart like she always seems to do with all the other sexy Rover girlfriends she brings home for supper. Dammit, mom!
I mentioned that Ander likes Catania somewhere up there, correct? That sucks because she totally dies in this episode. She gets stabbed by the traitorous…what’s his name…
…Edain! That’s it. Oh, would you look at that? Says here that Mr. Edain is Ander’s son in the books. Hmm. It’s times like these I wonder if Terry Brooks feels like Anne Rice did when she first sat through a screening of Queen of the Damned back in 2002 – except stretched out over a much longer period of time. “Sure, I love how they’re butchering the series of novels I’ve spent most of my entire adult life writing!” But in ten years or so, after embargos are lifted…the truth comes out.
Anyway, we have other people to talk about. Like Wil, for example. Maybe it’s the new haircut talking, but I am officially becoming more of a Wil fan with each episode that passes us by. The addition of Mareth (Allanon’s daughter) helps him out with this because Wil’s screen presence is always magnified when he is accompanied by a headstrong female type. (See: all of Season 1.)
But Wil is also more or less the new “main protagonist”, which means his scenes are the ones that I actually want to pay attention to. He has this confrontation with Bandon in a dimly lit barn over the location of the big scary magic skull that Darth Maul wants, right before the credits roll. It seems exciting and all, but It’s an awful lot like that reunion between Eretria and Lyria I talked about earlier. I didn’t feel what I was supposed to feel when I was watching it. In short, it was not intense or as revealing as its presentation is told me it was. I was more preoccupied with seeing how much time was left in the episode by that point…and that’s not a good thing.
In all fairness, I am not here to disparage any of the talents that go into the making of The Shannara Chronicles. And despite all of the flaming balls of snark that I use my metaphorical catapult to hurtle its way, I am not the show’s enemy. I genuinely see the potential of this television series and hope that one day it’s able to strike a nice balance between shallow melodrama and getting kicked in the face, while trying to honor its source material as much as possible.
And I like the cast! You’ve got a nice ensemble going on here that just keeps growing and evolving over time, and the new members this year are off to a promising start. If anything, it’s the writing and direction departments that could stand the most improvement. I’m not a big fan of the new characters yet not because of the performers, but because of how they’re being written and introduced into the mix. It reminds me of the how the second season of Earth: Final Conflict, another troubled sci-fi/fantasy series, was handled. That show moved farther and farther away from its creator’s vision as time went on, until it barely resembled the original product when its fifth and final year hit the air. Could this be Shannara’s ultimate fate if it continues?
My main concern is that the series will slowly be focus-grouped to death. The struggle to find a devoted audience in a stable demographic could very well be it’s undoing. If you’re going to be a knock ’em, sock ’em fantasy/adventure program, embrace it. But don’t bog yourself down with nighttime soap conceits now. If you’re going that route, just pick up the teen drama stuff that’s already in your wheelhouse and make it more, I don’t know, comic book-y. Focus all of your romantic tension into one specific storyline. Don’t spread it all out evenly amongst characters who just showed up to the party. It’s not as interesting.
Rant officially over – for now.
That’s all you’re going to get out of me this time, Shannara Diaries. Can we have Amberle back now? Please? I’ll give you five dollars.
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