This Shannara Chronicles review contains spoilers.
The Shannara Chronicles Season 2 Episodes 5 & 6
The following paragraph is a public service announcement brought to you by the National Committee To Let Everyone Know Why The Shannara Chronicles Is Getting Double Episode Airings Every Week On Spike TV Now.
Hello out there in TV land! It’s me, the a**hole who covers The Shannara Chronicles for Den of Geek. You may remember me from such scathing reviews as “Wraith”, or as being that one guy who calls it Sha-nay-nay and thinks he’s being clever. Before we get to your regularly scheduled review – which contains 32% less irreverence this time (tell your friends!) – I just wanted to let everyone know that from here on out, Spike TV will air two episodes of our favorite fantasy genre cliche showcase back to back. This is because they want to cater to its audience, who want a more “cinematic” experience because they’re used to binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. So DON’T PANIC. It’s not because they want to burn through the back 5 episodes of this season as quickly as possible because they’re planning on axing it. That would be ridiculous! *laughs nervously* Shannara is here to stay, folks. It’s not going anywhere! Nope. Season 3 is definitely going to happen. Definitely, possibly, probably…maybe. We promise!
Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to sit back, makes sure your hands and arms are inside the vehicle at all times, and enjoy the roast! Oh, and remember to put your phones on silent, please.
For some reason, this phrase has been stuck in my head for the past 24 hours. It might be because I spent the past few weeks dabbling in Doctor Who spinoffs. (Sarah Jane Adventures FTW.) As a side effect, I’ve been developing a new fondness for the Tenth Doctor and all of his wacky non-sexual romantic relationships.
For those of you who don’t know, “Allons-y” is French for “Let’s go”, and it was that iteration’s trademark catchphrase. Turns out this term – and its Whovian associations – have a lot to do with the two-hour epic event that Shannara unleashed upon us without much warning this week. Why? Because it’s all about time travel. And, um, going places.
Wait. I take that back. To say that this feature-length two-parter was only about time travel is an oversimplification. This couplet has more going for it than just the time travel schtick. “Paranor” and “Crimson” host a number of plot twists and infodumps that further realize the world of the Four Lands to keep our interests piqued. And, the best or worst part of it all is, everything is put on the fast track.
Take the marriage of King Ander and Lyria, for example. In “Paranor”, we see both parties finally agree to the arrangement because it’s the only way elves would be safe and the Crimson’s threat to the Four Lands would be neutralized through political alliances – amongst other things. Then, in “Crimson” – which takes place, what, just a day or two later? – the fancy golden couture dress is ready, the decorations are up, and the wedding ceremony itself commences.
Exactly how much time elapsed during this two-hour window into the world of Shannara is anyone’s guess. And, quite frankly, I’m not interested in keeping track of it all. But even though the timeline in which all of these major developments took place during is, shall we say, “fuzzy”, we can still enjoy what is arguably one of the more engaging chapters in Shannara’s epic saga of ever-fluctuating quality.
I say arguably because when compared to the storytelling heights that more established sci-fi/fantasy TV franchises have reached, Shannara continues to play it safe by relying on time-tested tropes that keeps in its magic duffel bag of tricks. So, we’re not getting anything terribly groundbreaking or original. But comparing this series to others is a little unfair at this point, isn’t it? The Shannara Chronicles is, in its purest essence, a metatextual remix of some of the better moments pulled from the fantasy end of our pop culture lexicon. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time around, it definitely works and works well.
So, let’s get this out of the way since I already mentioned it: the Ander/Lyria wedding storyline, which was a barely interesting subplot only a couple of episodes ago, is put in the express lane and unexpectedly becomes more intriguing than the main arc (which we’ll get to in a second). I see now why the slow-paced, Kingdom of Leah-heavy episode “Wraith” was necessary: we needed to have the context in place to set up what may be the series’ most ambitious storylines so far. That it would dovetail into the wrath of General Riga and Jax’s personal history somehow was interesting, as was it’s unexpected conclusion which was more or less an obvious tribute to Game of Thrones‘ infamous Red Wedding sequence. Call it the Crimson Wedding, if you will. (The writers’ room probably did.)
Riga and his soldiers show up during their ceremony and cause havoc, killing Ander in the process. Goodbye Mel Gibson Jr. Just kidding. I know your name is Aaron Jakubenko and you’re one of the more dedicated actors on the program. I hope you come back to life or show up as a ghost like you inevitably will sooner rather than later. If you see Amberle, tell her to make another cameo, will you? Thanks.
The second most interesting part of this pair of episodes is Eretria’s character development. We receive an earful about her past, her present, and her future. Eretria has often been treated as a person Shannara will get around to fully dealing with when it felt good and ready to do so. This was in the spirit of “mystery” and all that, sure, I guess. It felt like Wil and Amberle were given priority when it came to narrative focus and she was just the sexy, saucy sidekick.
Now, we finally find out through Cogline that she is one of Armageddon’s Children and a demon/human hybrid. She will be susceptible to the Warlock Lord’s control when he rises, so Cogline warns her she must learn to control her darkness before then. He takes her to an abandoned police station where he keeps a Black Wraith locked up in a cell for her to practice mental sparring with. When she does, she turns into Evil Willow (or Dark Phoenix, if you want). That’s fine by me, because I think this show could use one of those right now.
But if this part of an elaborate conspiracy to write of Eretria’s character at the end of the season, I don’t want anything to do with it because I cannot fathom nor do I want an Ivana Baquero-less third season of this show. Now that we’re midway through the second, I have a hunch that Shannara is planning to kill off another one of its main characters like it did at the end of its first. Really hoping that doesn’t happen, because I don’t want a Wil Ohmsford-less third year for that matter, either.
Which brings us to the topic of the central storyline of “Paranor”/”Crimson”, which focuses on Wil, Mareth, and Allanon’s struggle with Bandon over the Warlock Lord’s skull at the mythical Paranor. Even though I chose to discuss the other subplots first, Wil and Mareth’s spontaneous journey back in time to visit Shady Vale and retrieve the evil skull to save Uncle Flick was – again – probably the closest Shannara will ever get to a Doctor Who homage. Wil’s character journey so far this season has made him stronger than ever, and that he would pull Back to the Future and go back to help mentor his father Shea and be responsible for directing his destiny was a neat (albeit overly convenient) twist.
Actually, come to think of it, this two-parter reminds me of another two-parter from one of the shows I mentioned earlier – The Sarah Jane Adventures. It’s called the “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith“, which is about its eponymous character going back in time to save her parents at the village where they first met. Hmm. I wonder…
Anyway, the actual getting to know Shea and Heady Ohmsford part was the most contrived, because their characters are so thin. But wait! Shea Ohmsford is played by Jarred Blakiston, who played the Graphite Ranger in Power Rangers Dino Charge. Therefore, I’m going to cut them a wee bit of slack.
Now that Bandon has the skull, Uncle Blick is dead, and Allanon is about to follow suit, I have to wonder what twists and turns will happen in the next two episodes, or if this was just designed to be an exciting midpoint for the season.
Allons-y, Allanon! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)