[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 2×04: “Dweller”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Again, we must open with a correction, though not one on my part, as this is totally the show’s fault. In the last post, I made an italicized declaration that Riga still has the Elfstones. Riga does not still have the Elfstones. Last episode, we saw him take the pouch of stones off Wil and lock them in a cabinet, and at no point during the big escape do we ever see them come across the cabinet and retrieve the stones. Yet in this episode, just randomly, Eretria pulls the pouch out of a pocket and hands it to Wil, saying she found them during that escape. Which is bullshit. Eretria was following Mareth, who went straight for the staff, then straight for Allanon, then the party headed for the exit as a group. There’s no point where they could have slipped in sidequests or the party splitting to rummage through drawers. I’m betting the writers never meant for the stones to be left behind and just forgot they didn’t recover them within the episode, but in trying to sweep that gaff away as lazily as they do here, that’s a really poor reflection on both the story editors and showrunners. Seriously, if it was a mistake, just roll with it. Riga could have the stones among the other magical artifacts he’s recovered. That’s not a bad twist to incorporate. And Wil doesn’t need the stones right this moment because this episode is all about him retrieving yet another artifact of magical power. Just let it slide, writers.

Yet the mere scripting of the scene itself is indicative of the writing throughout, as people are dropping exposition and reminders in very clunky, unnatural ways. Scenes that seem to be building towards the same clich├ęd dramatic beats we see in everything else sure enough hit those exact same dramatic beats. You know the joke asking how villains have any loyalty among their henchmen when they keep killing said henchmen at any utterance of bad news? Riga throws off the charismatic leadership he’s used to amass his power as he starts slitting throats and yelling about results. The worst is a bit where the writer needs Garet Jax to leave a scene, and literally has an awkward pause followed by him shrugging and saying “Well, I’ll just go…polish my sword.” This episode was by yet another new addition among the producers this season, Elle Triedman, who has a long and successful career as a writer/producer on the likes of Beverly Hills 90210, Cold Case, and Revenge. Sadly, I’ve often found the writing on what little I’ve seen of those series to be littered with the rushed, lazy scripting which stumbles all over this episode. I’m hoping this doesn’t become a regular thing on Shannara Chronicles, and I really blame the showrunners for not cleaning it up during revisions. That’s literally part of their job.

And remember how I was all gung ho about how our latest fellowship had finally come together and set off together to save the world together? Yeah, no, they go ahead and split the party in this very next episode. Our heroes drag Wil back to the gnomes’ medical town where he gets over massive blood loss and a severed artery by walking them off, and he’s the one to insist the party be split. He wants Eretria and Jax to head back to Leah because a Crimson soldier’s sword is from that kingdom – which shouldn’t be a shocker, given how Allanon’s abduction went down when last they were there – yet Wil still wants them to look into it. This doesn’t sit well with Eretria, who has finally just reconnected with Wil, but in order to unite with her again he needs her to leave so as to set up future reuniting. Her response of “…sure” mirrors my own thoughts on the quality of this plotting.

Back at Leah, they make up for what little happened there in the last episode. First, Bandon shows up! Not only is Queen Tamlin plotting to screw over the elves by supporting the Crimson, but as Bandon cuts down guards who can’t see him, he reminds the Queen of a pact she forged with the Warlock Lord back when she was a young ruler thrust into leading a kingdom surrounded by Mord Wraiths. The Warlock Lord is returning, and plans to collect on his debts. And it somehow all ties into the amulet around her neck, which starts glowing.

King Ander and Lyria finally have their one-on-one, not to be confused with the one-on-one they had in Episode 2×02, in which they failed to relate to each other any of the info they keep saying they want to relate. Here, they seem to be open about how they love other people and how they don’t want this to go down…even as it later seems like it’s still going down. It’s very confusing. More importantly, Eretria and Jax have returned to Leah, which has three results: 1) Eretria and Lyria bury the hatchet and are once again together. 2) Now that Lyria has Ander’s friendship and support, she’s turned her pending marriage to him against her mother as she now holds all the power in this union, and if Tamlin wants any power on the other end of it, she has to agree to Lyria’s terms. 3) Ander learns the Crimson has infiltrated both his and Tamlin’s ranks as he outs Edain and realizes Catania was murdered. This leads to a public accusation and execution as Ander and Tatania personally throw the Crimson spies off the castle balcony and into the roaring Hoover Dam waterfall below. As Edain goes down, it turns out he was Ander’s oldest childhood friend, a fact in no way backed up by the previous episodes of the season in which he played a minor role before the “shocking” twist.

Also, there’s a decent – if, again, clunky – scene straight up ripping off Wolverine where Garet Jax is in the middle of a nightmare about his legion getting slaughtered, and wakes with a fright, almost plunging a knife into Eretria. Again, the whole “I have no shits to give” persona is such an obvious shield for his vulnerabilities, but the professional bond between the two is quite nice as he opens up a bit before breaking off.

Bandon, now shirtless and covered in Allanon-style rune scars, goes off on a subplot with Flick when the old man tries to come to the defense of the “good people” who will be hurt by the Warlock Lord’s return. For giggles, Bandon drags Flick to a nearby elf farmhouse where, posing as a wandering man with his uncle, he asks for a meal and shelter for the night. The farming family kindly takes them in, sets up lodging in the barn, and fills them up on a good, home-cooked meal. They then start talking about the evils of magic, how it’s responsible for society’s ills, and how all magic users should be sentenced to death. Hell, even their own home used to belong to an unfortunate family who had to keep their magically-damned son chained up in the barn, and all his screams about them being eaten by demons came true when they were. And oh look, they still own the boy’s old muzzle.

If you’ve seen Season One, yep, you know where this is going, as Bandon feels he’s proven his point about how good the “good people” are, and reveals himself to the family as that once-imprisoned boy by magically pinning the couple to the wall, then muzzling and strangling their son before them. Which involves huge gouts of blood spraying out of the muzzle for some reason.

Sidetracking from their quest to Paranor, Allanon leads Wil and Mareth into the Wolfsktaag Mountains to retrieve the Sword of Shannara, which was secretly buried with Wil’s father, Shea. While traversing the gorgeous New Zealand landscape, we’re treated to many conversations of people saying the same thing over and over. Mareth wants Allanon to teach her how to control her magic. He doesn’t believe she’s his daughter as his Druid magic should have prevented such things. It’s okay. She doesn’t want a father, just a teacher. But he’s not her father. Rinse and repeat. Wil doesn’t want to save the Four Lands, just his uncle Flick. Allanon says he’ll need this special weapon to do that. Rinse and repeat. There is a nice story where Mareth gets into the first time her powers manifest and how, while she can control her illusions, the other forms of magic are easy to get lost in when she gets angry, but Allanon’s response is the same.

As they get into the caves beneath the mountains, Wil continues to do the very thing you’re never supposed to do as he once again splits the party, and while he’s alone, he sure enough falls victim to a dweller. A dweller isn’t a giant spider. Nor is a dweller a tentacled Cthulhu monster. No, a dweller is a giant spider with Cthulhu tentacles*. Because. It cocoons Wil, then seeps its tentacles into his brain, causing him to relive his saddest memory so as to feed on his pain. That memory is of his father, catching a young Wil playing with a sword in a barn, then beating the boy and telling him such things aren’t to play with. It doesn’t last long before Allanon and Mareth arrive, and the dweller goes up in Elfstone vapor.

They reach Shea’s resting ground and, as a reader of The Sword of Shannara, it’s actually quite a touching image. Magic has prevented him from decay, so he’s just splayed atop an altar, as if asleep, though he’s coated in a thick layer of dust and moss. As Wil retrieves and unsheathes the Sword of Shannara, he’s struck by how simple of a blade it is, deceptively short and inornate. And then the memory hits, as Wil realizes it’s the very same sword he played with as a child, which is what sparked his father’s anger, and is why Shea disappeared that day, never to be seen by his family again. This leads to a somber, tear-laden speech about how Wil now understands his father, why he left, and why the man beat him with a riding crop while he was only a child. Fuck off.

Anyways, Wil now has the Sword and is ready to be a big damn hero. Hooray.

I don’t hate all of this episode. James Marshall continues to be a good director with a fine eye for how to block scenes. While the payoff is completely expected, the lesson quest between Bandon and Flick is nicely done. I like the way the tables turn on Tamlin from multiple directions. Ander continues to be an impressive leader, and he and Lyria have a good rapport as friends and allies instead of lovers. It’s nice to see the Lyria/Eretria romance quickly patched up and moving forward. And hey, they actually remembered to use Mareth’s name in dialogue at least once so people actually know what to call her.

That said, this is a very poorly-written episode, to a degree that I’m legitimately shocked it made it to air as is. The dialogue is clunky, choppy, poorly-worded, and often leaves the actors looking awkward as they have to figure out how best to deliver their lines. Motivations and twists are thrown around so haphazardly that it’s hard to follow what a person is actually doing or saying as it quickly seems to be contradicted a few lines later. Poignant moments comes out of the blue and are quickly deflated by the awkward exchanges which follow. And seriously, there’s no excuse for that Elfstones thing. I’ve been fine with the actual scripting of this series to this point. It’s nothing award-worthy, but it’s been consistently fine. This is a low point, one which never should have snuck through rewrites and rehearsals and filming and editing and ADR. There’s no reason for this script to be as poor on a technical level as it is.

And yet, it is. They filmed it. This season rebuilt my enthusiasm for the series, and now stuck a foot out and tripped it. Not with anything offensive or shocking (though Wil’s childhood beating doesn’t help), but with pure laziness from a writing department which I know can do better.

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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