This Shannara Chronicles review contains spoilers.
The Shannara Chronicles Season 2 Episodes 7 & 8
Brace yourselves, gentle viewers: Shannara mania is sweeping the nation! Young males everywhere between the ages of 18-32 are flooding the streets, carrying huge banners, demanding that there be more Shannara than ever before. “WE WANT SHANNARA!” they scream at the top of their lungs, stray specks of spittle flying everywhere in a rain of manly saliva that’s dedicated to one important cause: the acquisition of more of that Shanarra Chronicles goodness.
And who can blame them? SpikeTV has generated a staggering amount of buzz ever since it made its historic decision to air two episodes a week earlier this month. But doing so created something no one expected – an epidemic of Shannara fever that threatens to overtake the male population every minute of every day. It’s like we’re living in 1977 after Star Wars was released, but instead of kids freaking out, this time it’s a whole bunch of grown ass men.
But how can this be? We only have 10 episodes this season. 10! That means we’re getting dangerously close to the finale. It’s literally right around the corner, breathing heavily, waiting to pounce on one of our main characters and write them off the show for good. Who’s it going to be this time? Most might say Allanon. I could see Manu Bennett wanting to get the heck outta dodge at this point. He’s got better things to do than babysit a bunch of cocky teen models. Like take care of a bunch of adult ones on Arrow, for example.
Who else will say buh-bye? My money’s on Wil, because they have been doing an awful lot of character development for him this season, bending over backward to send him back in time to have a reunion with his parents and the like. What happens to Wil in this pairing of episodes, in particular, seems to foreshadow his bittersweet farewell. It also seems to build up Mareth to be a major player in a third season, if and when that might happen.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s focus on the matter at hand – the two episodes that were dropped into our laps this week. One of them I really enjoyed. The other, I wanted to clean my room during. You can probably guess which is which from their titles, but I’m going to go into detail about both of them anyway.
Hey, it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
AKA “The One Where Everyone Was On Xanax”
After what can be loosely described as a consistency of quality the past few episodes, “Warlock” is much like the performances of our leads this time around: phoned-in, wooden, and distracted.
There’s no beating around the bush this time, folks. Their timing is off, the acting is stilted. When Mareth chases after her dying Druid father in his coma fantasy land with tears in her eyes, begging him to stay, all I can think is – what’s her motivation?
Yes, I have become a Wil defender this season. Not just because of his new hair (which, let’s be honest, has helped a lot). But even I agree that he was portrayed as being pretty – what’s the word – emotionless this time around. I mean, if he had been trapped inside a wet paper bag this episode…forget about it.
I feel terrible saying these things. Granted, I’ve said worse about Shannara before. (At least, I feel like I have.) But this time…I think it’s warranted. Which is a shame, since this episode is an important piece of season 2’s big pizza pie of doom. Huge developments are revealed and discussed in 20 seconds or less like they’ve always been. Since the big takeaways this time, however, are aplenty, not much of it has time to fully sink in.
This, my friends, is the darker side of having a shorter episode count per season, especially for a sprawling fantasy epic TV series. Because so much is happening, the show renounces its right to catharsis in the name of full-speed-ahead storytelling, which is nothing more than a list of genre cliches which is checked off one by one as mechanically and efficiently as possible.
But when Shannara does aim to give its audience a cathartic experience, it relies on montages featuring spacy, echo-y pop/rock songs that were manufactured for a purpose: to be played during movie trailers. When this happens, I feel like I’m watching a teaser of better, more refined moments from a bigger saga. These moments are The Shannara Chronicles‘ bread and butter, but without the MTV association the first season defined itself by, now they seem kind of – what’s the word? – douchey.
I bring this up because “Druid” has quite a few of these sequences. They emphasize the plot twists, create hype for what’s to come, signal that some serious shit is going down – sure, whatever. They’re still forced and a bit obnoxious at times. But you can say that about me too, so…
One of the biggest twists (if you can call it that) is that the Warlock Lord, who gets resurrected by Bandon in one of those emo montages I mentioned up above, is basically Evil Allanon. Brilliant casting choice or a smart way to save some production money? It’s definitely one of those. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which.
Also, Mareth has been summoned to be the next Druid. And apparently, she’s in love with Wil? When did that happen? Have either of them bathed this whole season?
Has anyone, for that matter?!
In other news, General Riga proves once and for all that he is an asshole and sentences Queen Tamlin to death. She…takes this pretty well, actually. But that’s how she is with everything. At least she is spared the wrath of the Warlock Lord that both Bandon and Cogline warned her about. However, since she leapt off into the waterfall herself, who knows what might happen. She could still be alive…
Eh, who cares. Next.
AKA “The One Where We Borrow Poppy Drayton for Twenty Minutes”
“Amberle! You are back here with me, right in front of my face and I just cannot hide it.”
This was what I sang to myself while watching this episode, in the style of “Finally” by CeCe Peniston. (Pronounce her last name as you will.) Actually, I alternated between that and a variation of Steve Winwood’s “Valerie” the whole time. I swapped out the name with – you guessed it – Amberle. (“Call on meeeee! Amberle!”) What can I say? I guess I got excited. And why shouldn’t I? It’s been a minute since we’ve seen our little warrior princess that could. Yeah, she’s made a ghostly cameo here and there, but that doesn’t count. It was high time we got to catch up with our once (perhaps future – nah) main protagonist again.
I’m glad Wil was the one who got to see her, not just because he wanted to, but because it was great to see Austin Butler come alive again after seeing him practically sleepwalk through the previous installment. In fact, the entire time I watched Wil and Eretria have their mystical heart-to-heart in her bougie beach dimension, I couldn’t help but notice about how fresh it was to see two leading actors have a hint of on-screen chemistry together. Then, I tried to think of the last time this happened.
I couldn’t come up with anything.
Although most of the sweeping emotions between this power couple are found in the longing glances they shoot at one another, most of their precious dialogue time is blocked off to discuss his destiny and connection to the Sword of Shannara, which she says broke because he didn’t want to face his truth. This leads him to another phase of the vision quest the Ellcrys has sent him on, where he is forced to have a chat with the young version of his father again. This is all third act pep talk stuff. Nothing too important.
Meanwhile, Eretria tries to save the Arborlonians (?) from the Crimson soldiers and goes Evil Willow in the process, just like we knew she would. Not much time is devoted to her this time around, as this show has officially become Wil Ohmsford: The Legend Continues at this point.
Poor Bandon. His season-long quest to resurrect the Warlock Lord is kind of blowing up in his face, isn’t it? I mean, first he realizes that he is basically Allanon doing his best Pinhead impersonation. Then, he has to kill his love Catania after she is resurrected by the W.L. to teach him a lesson about being evil…or something. (Did anyone else forget that those two had a thing? I sure did.)
Even after Wil confronts his father, the sword is still broken. When he meets with Amberle at her beach resort, he realizes the final truth he must face is that Amberle is gone and he must let her go. He accepts this, and the Sword of Shannara is made whole once more. This is a pointed scene (no pun intended) because we the audience are told directly that this is it: Amberle is never coming back. No matter how hard I try to bribe The Shannara Chronicles with my reviews, it’s not going to happen – even though, technically speaking, it just did. But never again! Why? Because this show might not be renewed for a third season. That’s why!
But seriously, folks. This scene carries extra weight because it’s more of a sentimental goodbye to the quasi-innocent tone and flavor of the first season, a retirement party we never got. If it hasn’t been apparent from the jokes I’ve made in my reviews this season, Amberle’s absence has left a gaping hole in this series that has yet to be filled, and all the Queen Tamlins and General Rigas of the world couldn’t fill them.
Speaking of General Riga, he meets his demise at the hands of the Warlock Lord – and it’s gruesome as shit. Evil Allanon takes his Hellraiser act to the next level and rips off the Crimson leader’s head with his bare hands! Oh, and some magic too, of course. “The Four Lands will never be purged of magic! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!” *Throws severed head across the set.* Aaaand…scene.
At the very end of the “Amberle,” Wil rejoins the dark new world that The Shannara Chronicles has become, running off with Eretria, who may or may not be secretly trying to kill him. And so it goes…
I’m scared to see what happens next, but I’m ready to see what the finale has in store for us. See you next week – same Shannara time, same Shannara channel! (For now, at least.)