[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 1×08: “Utopia”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Eretria being in the clutches of the elf hunters ultimately turns out to not be all that much of a cliffhanger as she’s quickly sold off, and Zora and the elf hunters are never seen again. Well, we see Zora, but I’ll get there. Eretria’s new owner is Tye, the leader of Utopia, who promptly frees her and says she can leave whenever she wants as long as she gives him a moment to show her around.

Utopia is an interesting place, a concentrated distillation of the clashing anachronisms of various eras which the show has loosely been playing with up to this point. It’s a rustic western town full of faded paintings, crumbling books and cowboy hats, where Tye and the locals have managed to dig up and preserve much of the human history which was lost by the rise of the elves. With a nice prod at “history is written by the winners”, he reveals humans weren’t always the monsters the elves force us to learn we were, with stories of us having ruined the planet being countered by our advancements in medicine, technology, having reached the moon. In a great scene, Eretria wakes up in a hospital bed on an IV, unaware that the solution she’s been pumped full of is what saved her life by killing the infection in her wound. The anachronisms don’t stop as night falls and she finds herself drawn into the town barn where a full-on rave is held, as old generators are kicked on, lights flash, a DJ lays down the beats, everyone’s making out while swaying to the music, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture is playing on a screen with everyone jeering in unison whenever the pointy-eared Spock appears. Dayna, let me know if there was a Trekkie cowboy barn rave in any of the later books, as I certainly don’t remember one from the original trilogy. [EDITOR’S NOTE #1: No, but man, now I really want one.] Which isn’t to say it’s a bad thing. The anachronisms of an elven fantasy quest amidst the ruins of modern human society have been at the forefront of this adaptation, and this is a nice, natural escalation of it. And to its credit, it’s intentionally played just as odd and bizarre as it sounds.

I’ll admit, it’s not all that hard to see that there’s going to be a dark twist to Tye and his Utopia. It’s something in the eyes as he talks about the way elves keep crushing everyone down and how it’s time for man to rise up again and reclaim power over the other races. Allegory! And of course you know it’s all going the way of Walter Koenig when Tye pulls out a gun and starts teaching Eretria the thrills of projectile weaponry. To her credit, I get the allure. Eretria never fully trusts Tye, but she’s never fully trusted anyone, and this is a neat place full of happy, prospering people where she could thrive and be one of them, much more so than she ever could among the Rovers. And as to her friends, her destiny, I love that Eretria wants to stay true to the mission as she plans to leave, but Tye keeps chipping away at it with questions about why they haven’t returned for her. And besides, aren’t they elves? Wouldn’t she rather be among her own kind?

ALLEGORY!

As for Wil and Amberle, they’ve been busting their butts around the forest, catching and losing Eretria’s trail because these woods are littered with booby traps set by trolls. There’s a great moment where Amberle refuses to abandon Eretria, building on the bonds they started to forge while stuck together in high school in the last episode. And then she apologizes for kissing Wil because she doesn’t want emotions getting in the way. To which he responds that his feelings for her are what keeps him going. To which she responds by taking off his shirt. To which he responds by starting to take off the countless layers and harnesses she’s wearing while they start to make out. They’re taking their relationship to the next level is what I’m getting at, and good for them. I actually don’t have a pair I ship in this triangle, I just want all three cuddling their way through each others’ girdles. Anyways, that’s when Cephelo shows up.

Yeaaaaah, I still love James Remar, but I’m just kinda done with Cephelo at this point as they keep his flipping of sides so constant and dialed to such an obvious level that it’s tiring at this point. Sure enough, after Amberle finally offers to “gut you like the pig you are,” he leads them to Utopia (which he just knows about, of course), then gives Wil a hug and takes off, having very obviously lifted the Elfstones. Which Wil shrugs off because, oh hey, let’s all remember the D&D dice from the last episode! Bet you totally didn’t see that switcheroo coming!

It’s during the cowboy barn rave that our heroes show up, dancing back in and out of Eretria’s life as they try to convince her they really want her along for the journey – between their jealous looks at her making out with Tye – but she’s come to believe they just want the map to Safehold. Have I mentioned Safehold yet, a place in what looks to be Seattle-ish with a stained glass window from one of Amberle’s visions? Yeah, they miraculously found a map in the high school. Anyways, it’s not long before Zora turns up dead, Wil and Amberle are captured and tied to stakes alongside Cephelo, and Eretria gets a cryptic message about her blood being a key from a man with a melted face who once tried to journey to Safehold himself. Here’s where the true colors of the ever hopeful humans again show themselves as Tye reveals he’s able to operate such a prosperous town in woods full of trolls because he struck up a deal to regularly feed sacrificial victims to the hulking, gas mask-clad offshoots.

And this all builds to Eretria using her newly obtained gun to plug a troll in the skull, thus making the contract null and void as trolls swarm into town and swallow up Tye and his flock. But not before a big shootout in which our heroes escape due to the noble sacrifice of the brave and valiant Cephelo. Which is bullshit. No. James Remar or no James Remar, Cephelo in no way deserved to end his journey on a heroic note. He’s telling the elf woman he tried to rape to go and save the world. He’s telling the woman he brutally raised with fear and cruelty to go out and make him proud. No, he does not deserve this. He doesn’t deserve to grab the gun and tell everyone to go, running out into the hail of gunfire and crossbow bolts in triumphant slow motion as he’s cut down like Boromir. CEPHELO ISN’T FUCKING BOROMIR. If there’s any upside to this twist, it’s that Cephelo is dead so we won’t have the bad choices the writers channeled through him continuing to affect things.

Right?…Right?………

Back at Arborlon, we have two threads running. The first is Allanon revealing that Bandon is destined to become the next in the line of druids, and that it’s time for his training to begin. This is an interesting choice, and a bold one to suddenly hinge such a key element of the franchise on a new character created for the show. Dayna, is this something that also hearkens back to later books? [EDITOR’S NOTE #2: Noel, just go read the Heritage Of Shannara series already, damn. :P] It does have me a little worried that Allanon, a central character to much of the franchise, may not be someone they plan to keep around in the long run, and I hope it’s not just because they want someone younger and prettier to ultimately carry on should they follow through on the plan to take massive chronological jumps from novel to novel. That’s not to say Bandon would be a bad choice, and you can even escalate this to a whole chain of druids should the series continue. But dammit, I really, really like Manu Bennett as Allanon and setting up a possibility for him leaving the show as early as episode eight has me worried. Granted, the ratings for this show are still awful, and I notice MTV has already dropped later repeat airings throughout each week, so further seasons are very likely not going to happen and this is a bit moot of a point.

Our second thread is Ander responding to his new role as king by getting hammered on wine and making plans to just abdicate the throne to an elder council. Which Allanon beats down with some Sword Of Shannara lore about King Eventine, Shea Ohmsford, and their fight against the Warlock Lord. Honestly, I’m perfectly fine if they never adapt Sword and just keep referencing back to it now and then like they do here, giving that story a great vibe and weight that an adaptation could lose by showing just how much it was lifted from Tolkien before Brooks really pushed himself in new directions of his own. I do like the book, but it’s a generic fantasy story which ultimately works best as inspiring mythos and backstory. While at the abdication ceremony, Ander has a change of heart, accepts the crown, and shares meaningful glances with the lingering druid over the future they both hope to save.

This is a good episode. It has problems, namely Cephelo and the twist of Utopia being a bit obvious, but I like Utopia itself, I continue to love the way anachronisms are played with, the Amberle/Wil/Eretria relationship continues to build nicely while not shying away from going places most YA triangles don’t, and all the broader plots seem to be building to a genuine head. My question now is, will they actually end the Elfstones arc at the close of this season and make a huge time jump for the (unlikely) next season? Or is this going to be a story they ultimately leave hanging unresolved, hesitant to part ways with their established cast? I’m really curious to see how this plays out in the next two weeks.

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.

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