[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 2×02: “Wraith”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

I have to open with a quick correction to last week’s post. There, I complained about how we were having yet another story where the main threat is the resurrection of the Warlock Lord. I really had my memories crossed and completely blanked that the Dagda Mor, the resurrected villain of the previous season, was a different character than the Warlock Lord, who was the main villain of The Sword of Shannara, which is from a more recent past than the ancient times of the Dagda Mor. My bad. So yeah, this is a different threat, and here we tap into an interesting sequel to The Sword of Shannara as Flick plays a big role, and we learn the remains of the slain warlock were separated and hidden away by Allanon and Sword‘s fellowship against the fear that such a resurrection would take place.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Wil is still running from the Mord Wraiths with Allanon’s daughter. I’ll just go ahead and call her Mareth (loosely based on the Mareth of First King of Shannara). I tried to see if the character was named in this episode. She’s not, but all the press materials already call her that, and she reveals her backstory here, so let’s go ahead and call her Mareth. Evading the Wraiths by leaping over a waterfall, Wil leads Mareth to the shelter of a partially submerged cave in which he used to hide from bullies as a child. He emphasizes his disinterest in having anything to do with Allanon ever again, even as Mareth opens up with her backstory. Remember way back in the two-parter opening of Season One when the party came across Pyria, King Eventine’s sister who was exiled from Arborlon when she fell in love with Allanon? Yeah, the one who was brutally killed almost immediately after that meeting? That was Mareth’s mother. Mareth is a half-elf with innate natural magic, despite the fact that, as a Druid, all of Allanon’s magic was learned over time. Mareth isn’t sure how she ended up with such power, but she wants to find her father in the hopes that he can help her learn to better control and wield it. Reminding Wil that she did just save his life – twice – Mareth gets him to agree to seek out Allanon. After she helps Wil find his uncle, Flick.

Little do they know that Allanon is with Slanter and King Ander, reporting on Bandon’s actions and giving Ander a push towards an invite from Tamlin, queen of the human kingdom Leah, to enter negotiations for an alliance. This leads us to Leah, and it’s one of my favorite designs of the series so far, a shining kingdom of opulence and excess, gleaming under both sunlight and stars, built atop the still-maintained and operating Hoover Dam. Tamlin’s kingdom is another MTV montage of chic fashion over a pop song, again blurring the lines between designs which are simultaneously contemporary, ancient, and futuristic. Tamlin herself displays the wealth of her kingdom as she’s woven in gold, a sharp contrast to the camps of Ander’s people as his kingdom has fallen into an economic depression. Her offer of an alliance with Ander is just the start of what she hopes will be an new union of the Four Lands against the rising threat of the Crimson. But there’s a catch.

And that’s where Lyria becomes important.

Lyria and Eretria have been strung up by Rovers who are trying to figure out what to do with their captives (rape is thankfully never played as a threat – please let this be the start of them learning from Season One). This is where Garet Jax enters the picture.

As mentioned back when I first joined this project, while I’ve only read the initial trilogy of Shannara novels, the one I started with was actually the last, The Wishsong of Shannara. In it was introduced Garet Jax the Weapons Master, who’d grown bored with his constant victories and was on a quest to find an opponent who could match him in battle. It’s been twenty years since I read the books, so my memory’s fuzzy, but the Garet Jax we’re introduced to here is a bit different. He’s still an extremely skilled Weapons Master, covered in belts adorned with knives and axes and a bladed, collapsible staff. Gentry White plays him well, with a graceful ferocity as he slices through the rovers so smoothly that he has a carefree grin on his face half the time, and I love the added touch of the streak of white running through his frohawk. But instead of a wandering warrior, he’s a mercenary and bounty hunter, and he took out these rovers because they happened across someone he’s been paid to collect. Nope, not Eretria, but Lyria! As he knocks out Eretria and leaves her behind, he returns Lyria to the kingdom of Leah, where it’s revealed she’s Queen Tamlin’s daughter. Lyria has a history of running off with lovers because her mother treats her as little more than a political bargaining chip. This is still the case as Tamlin hinges the entire human-elven alliance on getting Ander to marry her daughter, forging a literal union between their kingdoms. Lyria knows the plan is a sham because Tamlin hates elves, along with all other races, and just wants to consolidate more power for herself.

Which begins the central melodrama of relationships that chain throughout this episode. Eretria is quick to follow her girlfriend and finds and confronts Garet Jax, where he’s chilling in a bordello. Her attempt to threaten him with a blade fails, but he realizes why she’s after Lyria and has a soft spot for hopeless romances. So Eretria confronts Lyria, feels betrayed to have been lied to again, and before they can settle things, Eretria is captured and brought before the queen. Tamlin gives Eretria two choices: die, or take a sack of diamonds as payoff and leave. We never see if she accepts the diamonds, but she certainly believes the stories of the other lovers Lyria ran off with, who are both men and women in a nice continuing acknowledgment of bisexuality from the show. Eretria doesn’t know what to believe, and sure as hell isn’t ready to believe Lyria when she says it’s different with her. Lyria has no desire to be married off to Ander, but also has no hate for him as she wants to warn him of what her mother plans. Which I don’t believe they actually follow up on even though Lyria does meet Ander and gets him to step in on Eretria’s behalf, the former Rover being a recognized hero among his people and all. We’ll get to this more in a second. Anyways, remember Catania? Amberle’s handmaiden who had the unfortunate romance with Bandon in Season One? Well, now she and Ander are suddenly in love, and she’s torn between wanting to be with him and wanting him to accept the sham marriage because of what it might mean for their struggling people.

So yeah, there’s a whole lot of drama going on in this one.

To get back onto the main plot, Eretria is finally reunited with Allanon, and she tells him of the vision of Amberle and her quest to find Wil. Allanon believes her and knows the importance of a message from the Ellcrys, so they set off. While Eretria is momentarily held back to break up with Lyria, Allanon is attacked by General Riga and the Crimson. Riga, despite his hatred of magic, has gotten his hands on a few magical artifacts of his own which counter the druid’s spells. He’s got a nasty pair of knuckles which allow him to punch through shields, and an enchanted collar which will subdue any attempts on Allanon’s part to use magic. As they ride off, Eretria pursues them, but sends Catania to warn Ander. Unfortunately, the soldier Catania first encounters (some dude we see throughout the episode at Ander’s side) is apparently in with the Crimson. He buries a knife in Catania’s chest, bringing her unfortunate arc to an unfortunate end.

Elsewhere, at the gnome medical village, the citizenry has been beset and ravaged by the Crimson. Wil’s mentor, the old gnome surgeon, is tied down and being threatened with his own medical equipment for information. That’s when Bandon shows up, using his power to make the soldiers kill themselves. Like Kylo Ren did to Rey in The Force Awakens, he combs his way through the gnome’s memories, finding exactly where Wil might be. In a twist, he then sets the gnome free, because his fight is with others.

Back in Shady Vale, Wil and Mareth find a badly burned Flick, who just barely managed to survive the Crimson torching his home. Wil patches him up and they set out to evade the continuing pursuit of the Mord Wraiths, with a touching scene where Flick sets Wil straight on his memories of his father. The Elfstones aren’t what drove Shea Ohmsford mad, but his despair and grief and constant unwillingness to embrace who he was. As Wil is processing this, the Mord Wraiths attack. After a great bit where Mareth buys the two time to get away by using her illusion magic to scatter a dozen versions of herself in a dozen different directions, Wil and Flick are finally cornered. The Elfstones only have a limited effect on the Wraiths, who are impervious in their smoke forms.

That’s when Bandon once again enters, holding the Wraiths at ease as we learn he doesn’t want to kill Wil. Yes, he wants to find the Warlock Lord’s skull – the whereabouts of which were entrusted to a descendant of Jerle Shannara – but his endgame is for the power of the Warlock Lord to be what unites the kingdoms and destroys the threat of the Crimson, and he wants Wil to join him in this quest. It goes about as well as Kylo’s attempts to win over Rey, but in another twist, Bandon’s mind probes reveal Wil truly doesn’t know where the skull is. However, Wil isn’t the only scion of Shannara in the room. That’s right, Flick knows where it is, because he was there when the parts were broken up and hidden. However, knowing the vault where the skull is kept is one thing. Bandon still needs the powers of a Druid and a member of the Shannara bloodline to get in. So he tasks Wil with finding Allanon and meeting them at Paranor, the mountaintop Druid’s Keep. For insurance, Bandon and the Wraiths take Flick hostage as they leave.

As I mentioned, there’s a lot going on in this episode. So many twists and turns, and relationship triangles and dynamics. It’s a little silly and soapy at times, quite compelling at others. While I think Eretria was overly harsh with her, I like that Lyria’s character has significantly expanded beyond being just a rebound love interest, and I’m curious to see where they keep building her arc. Tamlin is a nice addition who’s hard to get a read on as to whether she’s a new big bad or just complicated. Ander’s desperation to see his kingdom rebuilt, and strength of leadership following his old playboy days is still nice to see, though Catania sadly gets the shaft in a cheap way. I never understood why Slanter was treated like chopped liver. He’s at Ander’s side the whole episode, even at Leah, yet there’s never any acknowledgement or offer of an alliance with the gnomes. Eretria continues to be my favorite character on the show, with her tracking down and taking on Garet Jax being a highlight, though I’m still trying to get a handle on his anti-hero characterization, as cool as he is for most of it. Wil’s growth continues to impress, and I like how well they develop his reasons for wanting to avoid any future heroics. This is echoed nicely by Allanon’s despair at learning he’ll have to bring Wil back into the game. Mareth is still a good presence, and I did laugh at her “Bring it, bitches!” to the Mord Wraiths, as forced of a line as it was. And it’s great that Flick is getting an expanded role as the events of The Sword of Shannara are rising into sudden relevance. As a fan bonus, while he’s being Kylo-ed by Bandon, we get some quick flickers of scenes from Sword.

I’m still enjoying the new season. The strengths are still on par with last year’s strengths, and it’s thankfully avoided sinking to the levels of its weaknesses. So far. We’ve still got a ways to go.

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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