written by Noel Thingvall
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
After two weeks of derailing unpleasantness, where our Princess Amberle is attacked by a rapist, then bolted into a torture chair by a rapist (Jesus, seriously, show), this episode makes her the prime target of an altogether different type of predator. I have to say, I’m okay with it this time around because A) it’s finally not rape anymore, and B) it is a really compelling and disturbing exploration of the horrible shit people can do to one another when their societies collapse, and is something that does sadly continue to be a real thing in certain parts of the world to this day. By which I mean people hunting people, where a group of people of a certain type have been branded unusual in a way tied to superstition as parts of their anatomy are believed to have medicinal properties which others are all too happy to partake of in order to achieve some desired effect. Here, it’s elf ears, which gnomes will pay a fine price for in order to make boner tea. And now that I’ve written that sentence, I’m edging back from having fully said I’m okay with it, because after what Amberle’s been subjected to, they now want to turn part of her head into gnome boner tea. I’m not even joking around with any of this, that’s the actual goal of the hunters in this episode. To make royal elf ear gnome boner tea. My good faith in this episode is falling apart just by typing out a single paragraph. What does that even say about The Shannara Chronicles by this point? I continue to blame the last two episodes for this, as this could be an effectively horrifying concept all on its own, but piled on top of the last two “events”, it’s gotten ridiculously gratuitous and the writers really need to lay off looking to The Perils Of Pauline for inspiration.
Let’s break this down into the three main arcs of the episode. The first follows Wil. He’s the first to wake up after the fall into the river, passing the Reaper, who I doubt is truly dead and will likely come charging after them again, and follows a blood trail not to his friends, but to a distressed elf named Perk, who’s already missing an ear. And it just clicked for me that his ear will be used for boner tea and his name is Perk. What the fuck, writers. That could be an amusing joke, but doesn’t fit the tone of this episode at all. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Perk is in the novel; gnome boner tea is not.] Anyways, I like the bond between him and Wil, that Wil patches up his ear hole with herbs which he jokes are also great for “recreational purposes” (Wil is officially a stoner), and then they find their way to the hunter camp. The hunters are a nice collection of menacing types, exactly the punked-up barbarians these designers have been doing in fantasy shows since the Hercules/Xena days, and I especially like the Rufio-inspired look their leader Zora is sporting. After stuff that I’ll get to happens, I like how Wil makes a plan to wait, to strategize after he hooks up with his friends, but Perk gets one look at his severed ear being waggled around by the remaining guard and flies into a rage and attacks. It’s inconvenient, but very well played and understandable, as he’s been permanently maimed, had part of his body removed, all so someone can make a few bucks selling it as gnome boner tea. He’s pissed, and I genuinely like the moment where he kills the guard and argues down a protesting Wil. Wil is being naïve in this moment as, yes, killing is a reprehensible act and Perk isn’t exactly rising above it in getting revenge, but that’s not the point to Perk. To him, no other elf will ever again lose an ear to this man. I like that they end it on that disagreement and move on, and it never comes up again. Perk becomes an ally, does good things, and fights alongside Wil, even as this was an act they’ll never see eye to eye on.
The next thread follows Amberle and Eretria. After the rover saves the princess from the hunters, they bicker and are chased down until they crash into the buried remains of a high school, where the gym is still decked out for a reunion. While all 20 minutes or so of their material fails the Bechdel Test, as Wil and their mutual feelings for him manage to slip into every single scene in one way or another, there is still some really great bonding time as these two finally bury some hatchets and open up to one another. Eretria doesn’t really know how to forge allegiances because she’s never had stability in her life. She was sold young, knows nothing about her parents, grew up in a community where screwing one another over for personal gain is a daily existence, so having friends and remaining loyal to them is completely against her status quo. But she’s finally willing to try. As for Amberle, with everything she’s gone through, she (understandably) wonders if it wouldn’t just be better to let the world wash itself clean yet again, let another generation take a stab at it, just like the last one did and the one before it. Which is countered by Eretria pointing at the awkwardly smiling faces in a yearbook and wondering if they were happy with the future which came to be after it wiped them clean. This is a really powerful moment, and again highlights the post-post-apocalyptic angle that makes Shannara unique among fantasy. They aren’t the early stages of a world still struggling to build itself, they’re the generations trying to make something new atop a world that’s been lost. This is especially heightened when the Hunters catch up and brutal fantasy action scenes (that crossbow arrow to the eye, holy shit) are playing out in the molded remains of a typical classroom, a typical hall of lockers, and that gym with tacky streamers and disco balls for a likely mediocre party of people halfheartedly saying hello again after 5-10 years of having not missed each other very much.
I dig this, and it all builds to a nice climax, where we learn Zora and Eretria are old flames, with Zora having been yet another person Eretria just left behind one morning, this time while Zora was stranded in the woods, having to fend for herself against some really nasty shit. This gives the episode a sudden shift from exploring the worst humanity can do to those it teaches itself to think of as inhuman, to Eretria’s past catching up with her and now also harming her newfound friends, both of whom she’s also done this very thing to in the recent past. The big cliffhanger is her alone in the clutches of the hunters, on a cart alongside plastic lawn chairs of all things. I’m really curious to see where this is going to go next week. Also, I dig the revelation that the captured partner Perk wanted to save at the camp is a dragon and that he’s a dragon rider, complete with a bomber cap and a special whistle he gives to our heroes to call him with if he’s ever needed again. Which means we absolutely will be seeing him again. Good. Not so good is that the climax once again boils down to Wil swooping in to save a bound Amberle. What is even the point of having made her a warrior if her default status remains “damsel in distress”? And about the warrior part, she even loses her sword to the hunters by tripping. Seriously, she randomly trips like a slasher victim and her sword just slips right off from where it’s tied to her belt. Though swinging back to good, I do like how Amberle sees a blue set of D&D dice on the floor of the high school and hangs onto them because their vague resemblance to the Elfstones reminds her of Wil. I’m absolutely certain they’ll pay off the next time Cephelo tries to steal the stones, but I also like them because it’s sweet, and it’s amusing to think that even in this post-post-apocalyptic fantasy future, an elf princess is rocking her own set of D&D dice.
In our final thread, Prince Ander returns to Aborlon with news of the Dagda Mor’s demon horde, and tries to work out a plan of attack with the demon impersonating his dead father, as well as Prince Smoldering Man-Bun. Which I call him in jest because I continue to find Man-Bun to be the embodiment of his hairstyle because he’s by far the most imbecilic and frustrating character on the show, so full of himself in his pursuit of the throne, but not even in a captivatingly villainous thirst for power way. He’s just a knucklehead who thinks he’s right and labels as a knucklehead anyone who doesn’t agree with him. I’m sure it’s meant to be poignant when he and Ander are sent on a suicide mission by “The King” as they square off against the Dagda Mor all on their own with a magic sword that the demon lord himself is in control of, but I ultimately found it just desserts for a bluntly stupid character to die in such a stupid way. You could almost hear the “King” snicker as he told Man-Bun, “Sure, you can walk right up to him. It’ll be fine. You’ve got this.” Of course he’s dead as a result. Deservedly. As for Ander, he’s also a bit of a knucklehead (as is Amberle at times, with tripping sword-losses and all – it must be a family trait), but at least he’s a more sincere and noble knucklehead, and even though he also went along with this suicide run, I’m glad he survived.
It was hilarious last week seeing the new generation watching the show gasp and wriggle as they thought Allanon had been killed. You don’t kill Allanon. That’s his gift, that’s his curse. Even in this episode, as he’s bleeding on his slab and begging the ghost of his teacher to just let him be, he still heals and has to go out there and guide these primitive screwheads into saving themselves. I like the subtle shift in his costume design – it’s not a full Gandalf the White, but the colors are a softer tone of browns and purples – and I like his new magic scepter. It’s cool seeing Allanon cut loose against the Dagda Mor, but it does also raise the question of why he’s able to if “destiny” doesn’t ultimately want him to be the one to take the Dagda Mor down. There’s still time to explore this, though, as we quickly resolve some cliffhangers. Bandon is freed from the Dagda Mor’s spell. Ander kills the Changeling impersonating his father. Allanon declares Ander king.
This is a good episode. I have my issues with it, but after a hellish couple of weeks, it’s a nice return to form to where this series started. I don’t know if it’s enough yet to recommend another look to Dayna and others who were put off by the needless and sudden rapeiness, because we have yet to see if the creators will fall right back into those traps again. For me at least, I’m no longer dreading what next week will hold. I’m not back to full-on excitement, but I’m definitely intrigued to see how things will pull together for the looming final stretch.
Though I never again want to be given the occasion to type “gnome boner tea”.
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.
Noel can be found on Twitter as @NoelCT.