[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 2×03: “Graymark”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Right from the second scene of this episode, I was worried I might have accidentally skipped ahead somehow. I figured, as I’m sure some of you did, that they’d draw out the reunion of Wil and Eretria a bit, put some more drama in her attempts to track him down. Last we saw of her, she was leaving Leah alone, right after Allanon’s abduction. Here, while Wil is still on the ground recovering from Bandon’s abduction of Flick, Eretria is suddenly there checking on him, telling him it’s really her, and giving him back the pendant Cogline’s people swiped from Wil’s attempts to find her. The reunion is nicely handled, tempering their joy at seeing one another with their frustrations at having been kept apart by outside forces. They share a wariness over the mutual loss of Amberle, and we see the ways in which they’ve swapped attitudes, with Eretria now being more idealistic and Wil more bitter. One of my favorite bits is, after Eretria sees Wil’s scars and calls out his Elfstone habit, he’s all, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have everything you ever wanted, and then watch it all be taken away right before your eyes?” Yes, yes she does know, and turns it right back at him before they settle back into their mutual comfort and how they’ve each struggled to move on. They’re not together together again, and there’s no sense whether they’re headed back that way or not, but they’re a team once more as old friends who went through sweeping life changes, both together and apart – especially as they’re united over having to track down Allanon.

And they’re not alone as, completely offscreen, Eretria has used the payoff diamonds from Tamlin to hire Garet Jax. Garet gets some interesting fleshing out in this episode. He’s constantly deriding the others, saying he doesn’t fight for causes or ideals, just money. But we also find out later on that he was once a border legion commander, the lone survivor among all his men when demons attacked. So instead of being a highly trained Weapons Master in search of the challenge of a worthy opponent, he’s a fighter lashing out with survivor’s guilt, unafraid of death because he’ll ultimately welcome it if it can get the better of him. Yeah, he’s basically Wolverine without the years of teambuilding, failed romances, and plucky teenage sidekicks; Logan from before we first met him, and the Old Man Logan he ultimately returned to as his life came to a close. It’s more revisionist than I like, given that Garet Jax was so strikingly memorable in Wishsong, but I’m okay with it for now. It’s not a bad characterization. Gentry White is still solid in the role, and I like the added revelation that he’s actually here because of the bounty on Wil’s head, which Wil is fully aware of and willing to take advantage of to get Garet to work with him. The only bit I don’t like is that “Weapons Master”, instead of being an official title denoting his years of training, is just something he started calling himself, which the other characters roll their eyes at.

I’ll get to Mareth in a bit, as there’s not a whole lot to her in the first half outside some nice bonding moments with both Garet and Eretria, so let’s go ahead and shift over to the titular Graymark. Built by gnomes long ago (not the mwellrets of the novel, though put a pin in this, too), it was taken over by the Warlock Lord as his base of operations, where countless druids were tortured and killed during his reign of terror. What better place for the Crimson to now call home, as Allanon is chained up by General Riga. Riga, we learn, actually has great respect for magic. He just doesn’t believe intelligent beings have any place trying to wield or manipulate it, and wants to punish any attempt with death. Even as Allanon throws at him that druids have protected the Four Lands from evil for thousands of years, Riga throws right back that both the Dagda Mor and Warlock Lord were themselves druids who went bad. Now Riga wants the Codex of Paranor, which he plans to use to purge magic from the Four Lands.

Pulling that pin on the mwellrets, I don’t know if this series still has them as the large lizard people of the books, but it turns out General Riga’s single pale eye is the lone physical trait that comes with him being an elf/mwellret mix. Riga being impervious to Allanon’s magic in the last episode? It’s not because of the enchanted weapons Riga was using, but because mwellrets are naturally immune to magical attacks. I’m not sure how that works, but okay. They’re also highly vulnerable to sunlight, but Riga’s signature persistence is a deep trait, going back to him pushing himself out into the sun to build a resistance to it. This is a man who never gives up, regardless of the odds and pain he himself will have to endure. With that, they’ve finally sold me on Riga as a force to be reckoned with.

Our hero team of Eretria, Wil, Mareth, and Garet arrive at Graymark, and they’ve got a great plan to get in. Garet turns Wil over to the Crimson and collects his bounty. Once imprisoned, Wil uses a lockpick and explosives given to him by Eretria to free himself, as well as track down and unshackle Allanon. In the ensuing confusion, Eretria and Mareth plan to slip in through the sewers, and they do so joined by Garet who now takes this personally as one of the Crimson commanders humiliated him in the earlier exchange.

And that’s when everything goes sideways. Wil and Allanon are personally captured and shackled by Riga. Riga then slits Wil’s throat, shoves in a tube, and makes Allanon watch as Wil is bled dry by a rusty old pump in the hopes of forcing the druid to give up the Codex. Wil openly says Allanon will never do that, because he’s still burned and feels the Druid cares nothing for individuals in the face of the greater good. Allanon’s pained smolder says it all.

With the sewers flooded with guards who are onto the escape attempt, Eretria, Mareth, and Jax are struggling to find their way when Mareth suddenly feels a magical tingle and knows where Allanon is. Throughout, we see shared senses between her and Allanon, playing on their connection even though Allanon still has no idea what’s going on. When Wil namedropped her earlier in a conversation, Allanon asked “Who’s Mareth?” “I’m gonna let her tell you herself,” Wil replied. Mareth reaches the place where her senses are pulling her: an empty room with a locked vault at the end. Something stirs inside, and Allanon’s scepter suddenly rips loose, going straight into Mareth’s hands. With the scepter as a focus for her natural magic, she’s suddenly blasting through guards and into the cell. When the magic has no effect on Riga, she instead uses it to throw a brazier of flaming coals right in his face.

It’s a rousing sequence as our fellowship is running like hell. Mareth is throwing illusions left and right to confuse the guards, and Eretria and Garet are cutting down foes with maybe a few more closeups of gore squibs than we need. Wil doesn’t get to do much as he’s pretty much dead on his feet after the draining, but even Allanon gets a big damn hero moment as, the scepter once again in his hands, he rips the front gate open, struggling against its gears to hold it long enough for everyone to get through. Despite a few psych-outs where we think he’ll be left behind, everyone escapes and they head off to Paranor, despite Allanon’s warnings against going anywhere near where Bandon wants them to be. Through it all, there are many pointed looks between Allanon and Mareth, and I’m damned curious to see all the revelations finally come out between them. But that’s for another week. Also, Riga still has the Elfstones.

Elsewhere, in the kingdom of Leah, King Ander and Queen Tamlin are still finalizing their alliance, with a meeting set between Ander and Lyria for next week. This thread is pretty brief in this episode. Ander is trying to find out where Catania went, but the elf who killed Catania – now named as Edain – says she returned home over despair at the coming union. Meanwhile, Lyria is threatening to spill the beans to Ander, especially when she learns Tamlin’s ultimate plan is to use the growing Elven civil war to send in troops under the guise of support. In reality, she’ll gain a military foothold in the Westland, which will quickly grow until the whole region falls under Tamlin’s control. Tamlin still hushes her daughter with a threat that Eretria is being watched by someone who can kill her. Fingers crossed it’s not Garet, as flipping allegiances is already such a regular thing for him that it’s almost inevitable he’ll end up a good guy by the end.

Additionally, Tamlin demands from Edain a meeting with Riga, nearly tearing out his throat herself when he says that’s not possible. So not only is Tamlin screwing everyone over, but she’s allied with the Crimson and has been funding their rapid growth just to create a shared enemy to wield before the public for her own ends.

I really dug this episode. I’ve long enjoyed Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s writing, and I lit up when I saw he’d joined the list of producers back when the season premiered. He’s a snappy writer who’s equally great at character work and plots that unfold naturally even as they keep twisting in directions you don’t expect. We get a lot of that here with the heist plans hitting their kinks, revelations about Tamlin, and Garet constantly changing his mind on how he wants to be allied. It all flows well, but still kept me on my toes. Javier’s one weakness is occasional clunky dialogue, and while most of it is fine (“She has a past she can’t explain, magical abilities she can’t control, and potentially the world’s worst dad, so I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.”) there are a few clunkers, the worst of which is when Eretria tries to give Wil a boost by quoting words of wisdom from, yes, really, Cephelo, the thief and rapist from Season One. Why did we need to bring up Cephelo again, and hold him up as some wise mentor whose memory we can now crack out as a fortune cookie as needed?

Otherwise, it’s a really solid episode. The team comes together. The drama and tension is good instead of forced. The action and breakout are exciting. I dig it.

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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