The Shannara Chronicles Season 2 Episode 4 Review: Dweller

Shannara recaptures the magic of its first season and pushes the plot forward in the highly eventful episode 4 of season 2.

This The Shannara Chronicles review contains spoilers.

The Shannara Chronicles Season 2 Episode 4

Now that was an episode of The Shannara Chronicles.

Literally. It was an episode of Shannara Chronicles, the only fantasy/action series where it’s okay for elves to wear black leather jackets they bought on sale at the Men’s Warehouse to battle.

To be more specific, it was a really friggin’ satisfying episode of The Shannara Chronicles. One that I will actually remember, in detail, beat for beat, unlike the other episodes from the first half of this darker, grittier, manlier second season.

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It was so good, in fact, that I think it would be a great idea to commemorate its very existence with a curated playlist of chart-topping hits from the 1990s. Because, from my point of view, both share identical thematic elements that complement each other well – like chunky peanut butter and extra tangy Worcestershire sauce. So if and when you ever feel like reliving one of Shannara’s finest hours in the future, you can blast these songs in the background while you do.

The first track in our ‘90s mixtape tribute to Shannara’s “Dweller” is “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman. The song’s subject matter fits well with the opening scenes in which we see those main characters who were reunited in the previous episode split up again to go on random quests across the grassy green fields of New Thundera – or whatever their world is called (yes, I forgot again). Thus, they briefly check-in with one another and hurriedly exchange itemized lists of bullet points which clarify the bouncing plot beats some of us are actually still trying to follow. (Seriously, will someone please give them one goddamn reason to stay there.)

The narrative structure of “Dweller” is one of this show’s more solid attempts at bridging all of its disparate, multi-genre story arcs together in a way that’s unified without feeling forced. There’s a lot of ground to cover and not much time to do it in. So, Wil and Eretria’s reunion must be cut short, not because they want it to be – Wil sure could use the time to recuperate from being drained of his blood by honorary vampire Bandon at Graymark, couldn’t he? – but because the story dictates it. Same can be said for Allanon’s chilly interactions with Mareth, the illegitimate daughter that he didn’t ask for.

We all know Shannara isn’t written as a character based series. If it were, we wouldn’t have much to talk about in the first place, would we? But lately, it’s dawning on me that The Shannara Chronicles is written like a fantasy procedural. By which I mean, the main cast’s personal lives are factored into the mix, but only as a secondary, extra layer of drama that’s added on top of the main action in every episode. They’re still motivations – barely. But again: only when it’s convenient for the story. This partially explains why there’s an emotional disconnect in most scenes that are supposed to leave a big impact on us. But, obviously, it takes two to tango: the performances play a role in this too, no pun intended.

The next track on our Sha-nay-nay inspired ’90s hit megamix goes out to Bandon. Poor diabolical mass-murdering psychic Bandon. You just can’t seem to catch a break, can you? All you want in life is to resurrect the warlock lord and maintain your perfect abs through acts of dark sorcery. (Seriously, how many babies did you have to eat in the name of the evil to get those?) Now you’re stuck with this Flick Ohmsferd, some old dude that Wil is related to, holding him hostage like the badass wizard you are. He’s so boring and old with his corny baby boomer ideals about the supposed good nature of humankind, isn’t he? I feel your pain, man. I know you’d get down to a nice and angry Nine Inch Nails song from the Downward Spiral era. You might even settle for a moody Bush cut because you’ve been taking style advice from Gavin Rossdale these days. 

But no. No, the 1990s song that best fits your personality, Bandon, is “Push” by Matchbox Twenty. (Remember to spell the number part out; it’s important.) Rob Thomas’s wavering bluesy vocals capture your angst-ridden, annoyed male model demeanor quite well. Face it, B. You’re more of a somber adult contemporary hits kind of guy than a hard rock metalhead. Stop fronting. You don’t have to lie to kick it.

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Our next song, “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies, will be played while our two separate teams of heroes go dashing off to handle their super cool campaign missions – Jax and Eretria back to Leah, and Wil and the druid and his daughter to Paranor. Why? Because I’m pretty sure that’s how long it took for them to travel where they needed to be. That’s why.

(This song can also be played during the scenes with Ander and Lyria getting acquainted. You know. Just for giggles.)

Next up: “You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals. This is another one that goes out to our beloved bad guy Bandon as he decides to teach Flick a lesson about human decency – or the lack thereof – by asking a random family to lodge with them for the night in their home. 

Uncle Flick says that people are inherently nice and don’t deserve to be hurt even if they oppress magic users. According to Bandon, they all suck and need to be shanked. Whose point of view will win in the end? Whoever is the most photogenic, duh. Sorry, Uncle Flick. Long story short: Bandon kills the family’s son and teaches them all a lesson…because (plot twist) that’s the house he grew up in! 

Let’s talk about “What a Girl Wants” by Christina Aguilera. This soulful ballad is a testament to Lyria’s state of mind when she has a real talk session with King Ander in the stables back at Leah – especially because her woman Eretria interrupts it with Jax. “Eretria, what are you doing here?” She sounds more annoyed than anything else. Am I still seriously supposed to believe that these two are in love with each other? 

And then…we’re treated to a lot of father/daughter time with Mareth and Allanon while they navigate through a cavern that sports a surprising amount of vegetation for a dark subterranean crack in the earth. Turns out that the Sword of Shannara is buried somewhere deep within it, along with Wil’s father – who was kind of an asshole if flashbacks are to be trusted. Naturally, Mareth’s daddy issues come to the surface to get on the nerves of her own distant-yet-beefy patriarch. (“Teach me magic, daddy! You never loved me!”) She even goes far as to make him promise that he would teach her magic the proper way so she wouldn’t hurt anyone again, which he refuses. Taking all this into account, the next track in our playlist will be Everclear’s “Father of Mine” – for obvious reasons.

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Then, it’s time to party it up with, well, the song “Party Up” by DMX, which externalizes the pent-up aggression that Ander unleashes on Edain when he carries out a successful sting operation against his traitorous friend and his Crimson associates. “Y’all gon’ make me act a fool,” DMX states, “up in here, up in here.” As does the look on Ander’s face as he punches Edain in the jaw. 

The centerpiece of “Dweller” is the sequence in which Allanon faces off with a giant spider that is holding Wil hostage with its, um, venomous tentacle that oozes white goo on the poor boy’s face. (Really hoping that’s a tentacle…) Most of you ’90s music savants would probably choose Blur’s “Song No. 2” to accompany this scene. Not me. That’s too obvious. My pick: “Save Yourself” by Stabbing Westward. Just because I secretly like that song – a lot. I could listen to it while doing laundry. I could even listen to it while I’m putting off doing laundry! It’s that catchy. 

As per her deal with King Ander concerning Crimson activity in the Kingdom of Leah, Queen Tamlin allows her pawn to execute Edain by pushing the little jerk into a waterfall as a sign of good faith. (Gee, thanks.) After sharing a few tense final words, he does. Don’t go chasing waterfalls, Edain. That’s the kind of wisdom the next song on our playlist, “Waterfalls” by TLC, would have taught you if you had the technology to listen to and study the ancient pop music of your ancestors. But you didn’t. Now look where you are. Tsk, tsk Edain. Tsk, tsk.

After Edain falls to his watery grave (we assume), Eretria and Lyria busy themselves in the horse stables by – uh – making out in slow motion. They might as well. Why the hell not? This is the song that fits this moment the best. I don’t want to mention it by name because I spent a decade of my life trying to forget it ever existed.

Finally, we have an iconic sequence where Wil finally claims the legendary Sword of Shannara for his own. “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba is an appropriate musical selection for this moment. Its lyrics summarize the broad strokes of his character journey fairly succinctly. “I get knocked down, but I get up again; You’ll never keep me down!” You hear that, second-rate Darth Maul? You ain’t shit. 

Crap, I wanted to throw a Spin Doctors song in there somewhere. Maybe next time?

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4.5 out of 5