written by Noel Thingvall
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
I’ll admit to being a little hesitant about climbing back aboard the Shannara Chronicles bus after Season One. There was a lot I enjoyed, but I still can’t shake how their attempts to make the show edgy crossed the line into tasteless territory with the multiple rape attempts. While I liked the world and the characters, it’s hard to drum up enthusiasm with Gough & Millar still at the helm, and sure enough, they penned this season debut as well.
When last we saw Eretria, she had sacrificed herself in the troll tunnels to buy time for the others. I know some presumed she was killed off, but come on. They would never keep that offscreen unless they planned to bring her back for the next arc. Sure enough, we find out that the trolls who dragged her away are in fact her mother’s people, a group living in the ruined skyscrapers of San Francisco. They are slowly relearning technology and lost knowledge under the leadership of the gruff Cogline. Why they roam about the troll tunnels disguised as trolls, I’m not sure, but I’ll bet it has to do with their ravaging ways. As we pick up again with Eretria one year later, she’s digging out circuit boards from the scuttled wreck of a battleship in a scene that’s in no way reminiscent of anything. The fact that Wil never came back for her still sticks with Eretria, even as she’s settled in, become a part of the community, and found someone new in Lyria, a fellow scavenger. Eretria has built a reputation for digging into dangerous places and fending off troll raids, which she does here with her fancy knife skills and one of Cogline’s newfangled hand grenades.
The fight ends with her and a troll plunging off the Golden Gate Bridge, which she somehow survives. While in the water, Eretria has a vision of Amberle telling her to visit Wil. I was wondering if and how Amberle might continue to play a role in the series. Would they pull her back out of the Ellcrys? Would she be reborn in some way? No, she just seems to be a spirit guide of sorts, which could be interesting but feels like they’re dragging Poppy Drayton back in with nothing much to give her. We’ll see how this develops over time.
Cogline tries to convince Eretria that her vision was just a hallucination of a drowning mind, but after she opens up to Lyria about her feelings for her old companions (sadly limiting her feelings to not being “like that” for Amberle, just Wil, thus further negating the poly tease of the last season), Lyria reveals that Cogline has been lying to her all this time. Finding Wil’s pendant in Cogline’s desk and challenging the man, Eretria finds out that Wil spent months searching for her, but was “taken care of” in some way until he disappeared. Cogline of course whips out all the old “protecting you” bullshit and how he was doing it for Eretria’s mother, so I’ll be glad to see Eretria leave this dude behind for a while as she goes in search of Wil. Which doesn’t last long before she and Lyria are captured by Rovers. I’m sure this will end well.
While we still don’t learn what “taken care of” meant, we do find out that Wil is still out there in the world, having taken up residence in a healing town run by gnomes, who look appropriately doctory in their hooded white gowns and rubber gloves, yet do nothing to net their open beards in any way so as to, I don’t know, keep a scraggly hair from drifting into the open chest cavity of the patient they’re currently operating on. Wil has done all he can to bury his past along with his magic, diving deep into his studies to become a doctor. He’s cut his hair (it’s a nice new look for Austin Butler) and has traded the “goofy teen” persona for one that attempts to come off older, harder, and more pensive, especially as he drinks a lot and still digs out the Elfstones at night just so he can use them to see Amberle again in fleeting visions which lead to yet more bitterness and drinking. When he’s given his first opportunity to operate on a patient, despite his spot-on knowledge, he can’t keep his hands from shaking, leading his teacher to pull him aside and question if Wil is on the right path. Unlike most people here, this dude knows Wil, knows what he’s done, and took him on at Allanon’s urgings. And yet, the episode never names this guy as far as I could tell.
Out in the rest of the Four Lands, the partnership continues between the kingdoms of Ander’s elves and Slanter’s gnomes. Rebuilding after the climax of the last season has left everyone in a financial crisis, which is being exacerbated by the recent wave of refugees from villages being burned by the Crimson. Led by the elf general Riga, the Crimson are an extremist group who feel magic itself is to blame for the world’s ills, and are hunting down and brutally executing magic users, leaving their bodies nailed to trees with signs painted in the victims’ own blood. Their main target is Wil Ohmsford, whose image they all carry on individually drawn trading cards, which is adorable. And their logo, a red leather W of sorts, looks oddly like the Wonder Woman insignia of recent years. If this is a pop culture knockoff reference of some sort, I don’t get it. The Crimson pull over a farmer family in a scene which is meant to show how Riga uses his charisma and manipulative compassion even as he’s threatening to kill these folk and has their cart searched, and in a twist on how these scenes usually go, he pays them and sends them on their way after they point him in the direction of Wil’s uncle, Flick.
Back with the medical care gnomes, much of the episode has been spent following around a mysterious woman, played by Malese Jow, a familiar face since she was a regular on Nickelodeon a decade back (Unfabulous rules!). She burned her own hand just so Wil could treat her, though he rebuffs her request to learn his name. After following him around for a while, she finally confronts him in a bar, revealing that she knows he’s Wil Ohmsford, that there’s quite the bounty on his head, and even produces one of those adorable trading cards. No, she isn’t a bounty hunter, but the couple a few tables over are. After planting a kiss on Wil as they attempt to sneak away (because we need yet another love interest for Wil), they end up having to fight the bounty hunters to the death, only getting out after Wil takes a mean slash to the ribs.
Back at Wil’s place, he heals himself with the Elfstones, but passes out. When he wakes up, the woman is gone. Unfortunately, the town is now filled with bleeding and burned refugees from Shady Vale as Wil learns that his uncle Flick has gone into hiding after being targeted by the Crimson. This is good stuff, but my main issue is that nobody else seems to acknowledge Wil. Everyone in town would have known Wil was the target, yet nobody blames him or tells him to run except for the one guy Wil talks to. And what about the bar? He and the woman brutally cut down the bounty hunters in front of everyone, and all anyone did was stand around and watch. It’s a place where Wil’s supposedly a regular patron. Surely the bartender would be all “Really, dude?” or something.
Little does Wil know that the Crimson aren’t the only threat currently on his trail. Allanon has finally tracked down Bandon, who’s gone full Snape by this point in his fashion choices. Bandon currently resides in a mountaintop tomb shaped like a raging, winged skeleton tearing free from the rocks (great design), which holds at its core an ornate table not unlike the one Allanon uses to restore himself. Bandon is there with the decrepit heart of the Warlock Lord and a troop of hooded dweebs who follow Bandon in their own quests to feel better about themselves. Despite the trademark intensity of his glare and some fierce fighting, Allanon can’t stop Bandon from restarting the heart and filling the tabletop runes with blood. He turns one dweeb into a snake thing for purposes yet unrevealed, then the rest drink of the blood and become Mord Wraiths, which are in no way similar to Ringwraiths as they travel about as balls of flaming red smoke, then settle and form into scowling KNB demon masks as they shoot fire at people. Their next mission: find the hero of Shannara so they can recover the skull of the Warlock Lord.
It doesn’t take long for one of the Mord Wraths to break through Wil’s front door and start pounding him with fire before Wil can break out the Elfstones. As Wil hides, he is shocked to suddenly see himself drawing the Wraith’s attention and leading it away. The double turns out to be an illusion cast by the mysterious woman from earlier. Why has she been after Wil? To find Allanon. “Because he’s my father.” *dramatic music sting*
Overall, it’s a good season opener. I am already tired of the “resurrecting the Warlock Lord” threat being dug up once more, and could use a season or two of new baddies to clear the palate before maybe tapping that well again. But the Crimson is promising, as it’s not only personally targeting Wil, but cutting such a swath of destruction through the Four Lands that everyone has to take it seriously. All we see are Riga and a few soldiers on horseback, so the show hasn’t yet sold it as a threat which Ander and Slanter are having difficulty bringing to justice, but there’s still room to show that aforementioned broader influence among the masses.
While I’m still curious to see how the specter of Amberle will continue to play out, I do like where we pick up with Wil and Eretria a year after the last season. Both have settled into new lives, new identities, new purposes, yet each are still left not only traumatized by how last season played out, but also unsatisfied with how events kept them from reconnecting. They never wanted to grow apart, yet the choices of other forced them to. It’ll be interesting to see how Cogline continues to develop (if at all), and I’m especially curious about – and a bit wary of – what might happen to Lyria once Eretria and Wil inevitably find one another. As for the new mystery woman, Allonon’s daughter, we’ll have to wait and see, but she’s well-played, fierce, and bounces off Wil nicely. If his goofy sense of humor ever comes back, the two trading barbs could be a lot of fun. One of the best moments is when after a drunk and wounded Wil uses the Elfstones to heal himself, she scowls down at his sleeping form and says, “How did this guy ever save the world?”
Production-wise, the series continues to be well-made and well-designed, blending contemporary images and designs with the post-post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. The reemergence of surgical practices in the gnome village along with Cogline’s electronics and explosives continue to show an evolving landscape as the old ways come alive once again, and it’ll be interesting to see how this continues to affect the various societies of the Four Lands.
I enjoyed the episode. I didn’t love it. It still doesn’t fix the bridges burned by the last season, but it’s a good start to the next leg of the journey, and I’m tentatively along for the ride. So far.
The Shannara Chronicles airs Wednesday nights on Spike at 9 pm Central and can also be viewed online at http://www.spike.com/shows/the-shannara-chronicles. Noel can be reached on Twitter @NoelCT and his other projects can be found at The Noel Network.
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