written by Noel Thingvall
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
In a sudden shift in the release of The Shannara Chronicles, SpikeTV has decided to kick the remainder of the season up to two episodes a week, meaning the remaining six will be out before Thanksgiving. They say they’re doing it as an incentive to viewers, both by making the double-feature evening feel more cinematic, and speeding things up for those who prefer to binge on streaming. I’m leaning more towards the show having been unofficially cancelled by this point, and they’re trying to hurry it out the door while still getting what play they can out of programming they’ve already paid for. Even factoring in a +7 day increase in viewership from TiVo and streaming, recent episodes of The Shannara Chronicles are regularly pulling in just .3 million viewers. That’s a point, as in a decimal. Less than a third of a million. And it’s no surprise, as Spike has less reach in the cable marketplace than MTV, recent episodes aren’t on Hulu, streaming through the Spike website and/or app is only available for paid cable subscribers, and the only alternatives are Google Play or Amazon, where you have to buy it by the episode or spring for a season pass (I went with Amazon’s myself). So yeah, I’m very doubtful we’ll be getting a Season Three.
Without further ado, let’s get to the latest bloated wordcount.
Racing through the woods, the party of Eretria and Garet Jax decides to split. Why do they keep doing this?! He’ll meet up with her again; he just has some business to deal with first, which we’ll get to in a few paragraphs. With Eretria on her own, we finally learn that the people keeping an eye on her were a squad of soldiers from Leah who somehow managed to completely evade detection while following her around for the last couple of episodes. In a pretty brutal and beautifully choreographed sequence, Eretria shows just how far she’s come as a fighter as she cuts through the entire squad’s attack single-handedly. That’s when Cogline shows up, a druid staff in hand and clad in his old battle gear, albeit steampunked up with goggles and some of his trademark reverse-engineered gadgets. I know the Cogline from the novels was a druid, so it’s nice to see that carry over here. Cogline needs Eretria to run some errands with him.
Their first stop: Leah. It turns out Cogline and Tamlin know each other from when she became ruler under the assault of the Warlock Lord. It doesn’t take much prodding for Cogline to uncover that she struck a deal with the Warlock Lord, becoming sole monarch with her husband’s death, and the price she paid was allowing the the Warlock Lord a chance to drink from Heaven’s Well – the source of the magic which flows through the Four Lands – which would make him too powerful to overcome. He was taken out before he could do so, but if he returns, drinking from those waters will still be his goal.
Their second stop: jail. A buried old local police precinct, to be precise, where Cogline finally reveals to us the story behind Eretria’s magically-imbued shoulder tattoo. I haven’t read Armageddon’s Children, the first of Terry’s Genesis of Shannara series, but I certainly recognized the title as it’s revealed Eretria herself is one of Armageddon’s Children, human/demon hybrids who survived the collapse of the old world, and who are deeply infused with dark magic which can be influenced by forces like the Warlock Lord. This is why her mother died trying to keep her hidden during the Warlock Lord’s previous reign and how Eretria first came into Cogline’s care. The druid’s protection only went so far when Eretria rightfully rebelled and ran away, desiring to have an actual life, and he seems to finally be budging in his acceptance that controlling her isn’t the same as protecting her.
Which brings us to this jail, where Cogline has used both electricity and magic to seal away a Mord Wraith, a being of the same dark magic which is buried deep in Eretria. Cogline’s new hope is that he can help Eretria build a tolerance to this magic so that, instead of falling under its sway, she’ll be able to harness it and choose her own path. So yes, the character played by Ivana Baquero, the star of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, is now revealed to be this show’s equivalent of Hellboy. Which I’m amused by and okay with, and it continues to make Eretria my favorite character of the series. As she walks into the cell and feels the Wraith’s magic seeping into her, it doesn’t take much for her to Rey the force back into the creature, ordering it to bow before her. Her only problem: her doubts over how much she enjoyed this new surge of power.
Following Jax on his sidequest, we further learn that all of his boasts about lacking ideals and just being in it for the money are completely bullshit. The money he’s always so eager to raise? Most of it is used to support the families of the soldiers who died under his watch. We see him visiting one such family, where their appreciation of his payments struggle against the pain his appearance always reminds them of. And just because this mother and her son needed more tragedy in their lives, the Crimson show up, killing the boy and attempting to abduct Garet. He of course slays through the lot, with the exception of their leader (put a pin in him for later), but this is still violence which he brought here, that he led to this home. Hands dripping with her dead child’s blood, it’s a haunting scene as the mother rages at Garet, about how he’s a curse to every life he touches. I was wary of the ’90s-comic badass anti-hero Garet Jax we were first introduced to at the beginning of the season, but every episode has peeled back more and more layers, and he’s emerging as one hell of a complicated and struggling character.
Back at Leah, Ander and Slanter say goodbye to Catiana with a funeral, despite having never found where Edain disposed of her body. Slanter finally gets a few lines, even though they’re all about his support for Ander. This show needs to do more with Slanter, as he’s just become a sidekick by this point. Anyways, Lyria is fully on board with them now. I don’t know how much of her mother’s plans she’s revealed to Ander, but they are united against the Queen at the moment, and Lyria finally states that she’s ready to take Ander’s side as the Queen of the Elves. Not out of love, but out of what they could accomplish together. And that’s when Garet shows up, dragging with him the leader of the Crimson squad. I haven’t said much about Valcaa before because he’s been a pretty typical right-hand man to Riga. He’s devout, unafraid to die for his general and his cause. He’s cruel and cunning. He’s a goon. Despite his refusal to help the heroes, he ends up chained in a room with Garet, Ander, Lyria, and Slanter all set to do whatever is needed to get as much info out of him as they can.
On the outskirts of Paranor, both Wil and Mareth are peeved at Allanon; Wil because Allanon won’t tell him what their plan of attack is, which the druid clearly states is because Bandon can read minds, and Mareth because she isn’t allowed to go in with them, which Allanon clearly states is because her out-of-control magic would go further out of her control inside such a powerful place. So Wil and Allanon head in to find Bandon ready and waiting, a sword at Flick’s throat. Allanon initially seems to give in and reveal to Bandon the location of the Warlock Lord’s skull, but surprise! It was all a ruse as the druid had Mareth sneak in and cast some of her illusion magic, a plan which Wil continues to be peeved about having not been let in on. Shut up, Wil. Things go sideways, leaving Allanon and Bandon sealed together in a magical holding cell, and Flick slashed with a contagion-laced blade, the cure for which Bandon will only produce if he’s set free and gets the skull. They have the means to let Allanon out of the cell, but he’s fully willing to let Flick die for the greater good. Wil being Wil, he damns the consequences, and as the situation needs the blood of both a Shannara and a druid, now seems like a good time to see if Mareth really is Allanon’s daughter. Working out a set of runes, they find a chamber with two convenient slots, shove their hands in, and activate the magic.
Wil and Mareth find themselves zapped back to Shady Vale when it was a sunny and innocent shire, hidden away from the world, whose chipper young residents are flocking about the local watering hole and beating the crap out of young Shea Ohmsford for having the gall to be a half-elf who asked out a human woman. So yes, a time travel story is taking us back to the days right before Sword of Shannara, with Wil going through all the temptations to change things and save his father from ruining his life by being dragged off to adventure with Allanon, even though the fate of the world depended on him doing so. Even as Mareth keeps him focused on trying to figure out how all of this will lead them to the skull of the Warlock Lord, Wil sure enough accidentally causes Shea to break up with the young human woman, whom Wil realizes is Heady, his future mother. Before you can shout “McFly!” in your best Biff voice, Wil now needs to get his parents back together with the help of Mareth, who’s having dead people from the past tell her that even they can see her budding feelings for Wil.
And that’s when the Mord Wraith shows up!
I really enjoyed this episode. None of it felt loose or choppy. Both the characters and story took some great leaps forward. The dialogue is a little on the stiff side, but the construction of the sequences is sound, with a lot of great drama and action in there. Cogline finally rises out of the shadows. Eretria learns her history and a destiny she now has to fight succumbing to. Ander and Lyria forge their alliance. Garet reveals the emotional trauma behind his badass exterior. Mareth finally proves she is indeed Allanon’s daughter. Allanon continues to struggle with all these idiots who won’t let him keep the world from blowing up. This is a really strong episode.
Yeah, Wil’s annoying for the first two-thirds, and good lord, do we really need yet another awesome woman falling in love with him? But the whole time travel twist, sending them to the vale of Shady on the edge of forever, is remarkably well-handled. As with Season One, I still feel it was a good choice to skip past Sword of Shannara as it was one of the weaker books, and definitely the most blatantly derivative of Tolkien. But even as this season has pulled in aspects of Wishsong, First King, Heritage, and Genesis, it still holds Sword up as a core element of where so many of these story threads began. Also, the imagery blatantly acknowledging the Tolkienesque simple folk of a shire, the lone figure dreaming of adventure, and the arrival of a shadowy wraith, all contrasted with the new perspective of seeing it through the eyes of a more contemporary, anachronistically-styled hero looking back on the days he never knew of a father he hated and feared…it works. It works as a fun and compelling story. It works as an acknowledgement of the Lord of the Rings roots of the franchise. It works as a spin on the book that started it all. I’m really, really digging where they’re suddenly going with this.
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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