[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 1×06: “Pykon”

written by Noel Thingvall


Hey, everybody. Noel here. This is weird. It’s like I just stepped into my teenage bedroom only to find the parents have turned it into an office or a crafts room or a gaming den. It looks nice. They’ve done good things. Still…*wistful sigh*

Anyways, I’m filling in with a guest post on The Shannara Chronicles, because Dayna needs some recovery time (get well soon!), and I’m apparently the only other person in our social circles still watching the show. Which is sad. And reflected by horrendously low ratings numbers. And yet I can’t say as it’s all that surprising anymore given the rather significant stumbles this series is starting to make in what will likely be its only season. I’d love to be proven wrong on that one, but I’m not expecting to.

Without recapping everything, as my take on prior episodes lines up pretty closely with Dayna’s coverage to date, I started off really enjoying the show. My fandom for the novels is nowhere near as expansive as hers as I’ve only ever read the original trilogy, and that was about twenty years ago, so my memory has fogged over with time. Yet that initial trilogy still holds a great deal of importance to me as it was an essential step in me getting into reading as a tween. First was Lloyd Alexander, then Terry, then I tripped into the other side of the sci-fi/fantasy section and started gobbling up Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, etc. I still remember when I first bought Wishsong Of Shannara. I was halfway through my first Prydain novel, The High King (didn’t know it was the last of the set till after I’d started reading it), and while shopping with Mom, there was a re-issue paperback of Wishsong on a drugstore book rack, with the first of many covers which made me a fan of Darrell K. Sweet. I’d only just started reading for fun (previously, just for school assignments), and while the size daunted me and my slow reading abilities, I dove in, found Sword and Elfstones, and spent that school year immersed in the Four Lands.

As I said, I sadly didn’t continue as my curiosity drifted elsewhere (think it was just a year later that I tackled Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, a fantasy epic of an entirely different sort), but I would love to give them a fresh go someday soon. What’s especially weird is I do own 20 of Terry’s novels. They’ve just slowly piled up over the years, waiting for the day I’d start digging in. Maybe soon. I did read Magic Kingdom For Sale SOLD not too long ago. That was fun.

The pilot of the TV series definitely made me hungry to start reading them again. Seeing the elven fantasy set in the far future ruin of our own world, that took me right back to when I was twelve, when I reached the point halfway through Sword Of Shannara where our heroes stumble across ruins and are attacked by a biotech monster. That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that this wasn’t a medieval fantasy, but a post-post-apocalyptic world arising out of the death of our own, written during the time when Vietnam has just crashed to a close and the Cold War was amping to a head. It blew my little mind then, and it’s a blast seeing it brought to life now. I know it was just a dream sequence, but Wil and Amberle bonding as they play on the rusted remains of a playground was a wonderful moment to open this episode on.

Before I get into this episode, I do need to bring up the events of last week which rightfully soured Dayna’s writeup, because they continue to pertain to this installment. Before I do, allow me to echo Dayna’s call for donations to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

I’ve never liked Cephelo in this series, even beyond the fact that we’re not supposed to, because he feels too much like a case of the producers wanting to have their cake and eat it too. On the one hand, they want a rascally scoundrel, who’s fast with gleeful plunders and wisecracks as he “tells it like it is” and will help out when it suits his best interests. They want a Han Solo. A freedom fighter. A man of the land who doesn’t want to live under the tyranny of The Man. Unfortunately, they’ve just made him another Man, as he brutally rules his gang of scoundrels, and is played as such a violent threat that, regardless of the benefits of his skills and knowledge, there’s zero reason to trust having this guy in your guild.

And, yes, he tried to rape Amberle, which is an act of no return for someone they’re trying to paint as an anti-hero. Regarding the act itself, it was completely unnecessary, didn’t add to his character, didn’t add to the conflict, was tonally waaaay off in terms of this adventure story, and it had zero business being here. Yeah, I get that they’re aiming for a bit of the Game Of Thrones and Spartacus crowd. Guess why a lot of people don’t watch Game Of Thrones and Spartacus, and why many who did started drifting away. This is not how to be “adult” and “edgy”. Just don’t. And beyond the act, as Dayna pointed out, there were zero repercussions. He’s beaten by Crispin, but just for being a Rover, nothing else. Amberle hates him, but nothing beyond general distrust, and between that episode and this week, she acts like it never even happened. In the climax of the last episode, he was freed and became the big hero who saved the day. Here, he’s just a part of the fellowship. It’s like the incident was entirely erased. And yet, it did happen. The creators of this show very consciously thought it would be fine to slip that attempted rape in, and then suddenly turn a blind eye as though everything is now hunky dory. That’s some really shitty writing.

And it’s not even an isolated incident by this point as Cephelo has often pawed at Eretria and gone on about how he owns her and wants to marry her off. And the show has been packed with moe fanservice left and right, down to this episode technically qualifying as the contractually required bathhouse episode of most anime series. There’s a cheapness to a lot of it which brings the show down and feels juvenile, like the show is trying to be cool about things it doesn’t fully understand. There’s nothing wrong with being sexy, which the show has done well at times, and there are complicated things I like, such as the Wil/Eretria relationship, but most of the time it feels like they’re sexing things up just because it’s on edgy MTV without really thinking about why they’re doing it or what it’s doing to the show, and it often leads them straying down these wrong roads. It’s frustrating, and after the thrill of the pilot, it has been weighing down my enjoyment week after week.

Let’s focus on Amberle for a second, as she’s yet another case of having their cake and eating it too. Yes, they’ve made her physically stronger as a character, making her a skilled warrior who fought to be one of the Chosen…and yet she’s still often the one in peril who has to be rescued. And lately, that peril has gotten ridiculously, nastily distressing. Last week, she was tied up and about to be raped, and had to be rescued. This week, she’s bolted into a chair straight out of Saw, with her fingernails being extracted and about to receive a lobotomy from a dude who wants to make her his wife and ravish her, and she has to be…you know what, let’s drop the rescuing angle, because what the fuck was that situation she was even placed in? Why is that the story they want to tell here, that she’s going to have her brain scooped out so she can become the sex slave of the witchfinder general? What series are we even watching by this point that this is a thing that went through every stage of approval? How is this suddenly becoming even more Terry Goodkind than the fantasy adventure show which was actually adapted from Terry Goodkind’s novels? He’s the rape/torture fantasy author named Terry, not Brooks. Not from my memory at least. What happened here? What fundamentally went wrong here?

There are many good things about this episode. I like the plot of the Changeling king tricking his son into finding an evil sword and “slaying” Allanon. That’s good stuff. As is the Reaper coming back, as he was a cool image of an unstoppable force of extreme evil. The visuals continue to impress, including the amazing shots of the frozen fortress buried deep in the snowy mountainside. While I detest where it went, I also loved the dinner scene, with everyone terrified to take a bite until Cephelo swaps plates, then the old dude carrying on with his conversation even as everyone’s passed out. Yeah, I saw it coming, but it was nicely delivered, and it was led into by a really touching moment between Wil and Mags. Ah, Mags. Shame she couldn’t stick around with the fellowship. They could use a creepy little kid with a bloody knife. Which suddenly makes me imagine a J-horror themed future-set fantasy series. Must ponder this further. I even like the use of the zipline at the end, how Eretria stays true to her new compatriots, and Cephelo again shows his true colors as he sacrifices them all for his own sake. But again, it comes after an entire episode of him being the wisecracking rogue, and I don’t think even the creators have a clue what approach they want to take with him as a character. It’s a shame, because I’ve been a fan of James Remar for years. He deserves better.

This is a very frustrating episode, continuing a theme of frustration this series has increasingly fallen into over the last few weeks. I want it to be better. I want to like this show. Hell, I did like it for the first handful. A lot. But they’re losing me here, and they need to buckle down and sort out what show they want this to be and who they want it to be for. It’s just plain no longer working in its free-for-all “anything goes” state.

The Shannara Chronicles airs Tuesday nights on MTV at 9 pm Central and can also be viewed online at http://www.mtv.com/shows/shannara.

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