[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 2×06: “Crimson”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

This episode opens hard with a dying Flick, face gray and cracking, eyes milking over, blood coughing up from his lungs, and dragging himself over to the magical cell holding Allanon and Bandon, just so he can curse at the druid for ever setting foot in Shady Vale back in the day and leading the Ohmsford line to nothing but tragedy. Heroics be damned. Destiny be damned. Flick wishes he never pointed out the family farm when he was young to a journeying Allanon. As for the druid, Bandon realizes Allanon is rapidly aging, his beard going gray, his skin getting paler. Allanon is dying, albeit still slowly, as he’s nearing the inevitable end of all druids where not even their magic is enough to continue staving off the years.

Back on ye olden streets of Shady Vale past, Wil is taking out Mord Wraiths with the Elfstones, trying to find that hidden skull, and desperately struggling to get his father, Shea, to stay hidden in a cave instead of putting his life in danger just so he can try to catch first prize at a scarecrow competition and win back Heady’s hand. I’ll be more complimentary later on, but the first half of this episode is more than a bit jumbled and all over the place. Like when they seem to finally reveal the truth of the future to Shea, then don’t. Then they actually do, yet still gloss over it with bullpucks like “You’re the best dad I could have asked for.” All while Shea won’t sit still and keeps running about and stumbling into Mord Wraiths. In a sequence resembling the way Adam West’s Batman put clues together, hearing mention of the scarecrow contest reminds Wil about an old scarecrow his dad kept in the barn, which absolutely must be where the Warlock Lord’s skull is hidden! Except it’s not. Except it’s buried under a different scarecrow out in the corn field, which makes perfect sense because it’s protected by time by this field having flooded by Wil’s era!

By the time our heroes have the skull and Wil is bidding his father adieu, I was ready for this to be done. As Wil and Mareth are leaving, they see Allanon riding into town and meeting Flick on the road. This was enough to inspire me to dig out The Sword of Shannara and give the first chapter a re-read. It’s an exciting piece as Flick comes across this bizarre, towering man as the sun is setting, and they journey into the Vale together, all as Allanon protects Flick from winged creatures which attack from the shadows. Do we get any of that here? No, Allanon just rides up on a horse, and asks the first person he sees to point him in the direction of the Ohmsfords. That happens to be Flick, who points toward a farm, and that’s all we get. I’d also forgotten the Ohmsfords weren’t even farmers in the book. They owned the local inn and tavern.

Returning to the present, Wil and Mareth – in spite of some drawn-out beats and constant warnings from Allanon – are all set to give Bandon the skull in exchange for Flick’s life. Which Flick settles by grabbing Bandon’s blade and plunging it into his own chest. As clunky as some of the plotting has been, writer April Blair (a veteran from Season One) is fantastic at sudden dramatic sweeps, and the way this plays out is a major punch. We’ve traveled back to the past, revisiting the days leading up to The Sword of Shannara, the book where this franchise began. And now here’s Flick, the dedicated brother who fought through that adventure at Shea’s side, leading to a saved land, but personal loss and despair. He doesn’t get a happy ending, spending his last scenes in poisoned agony, cursing Allanon, then throwing himself on a blade to save his nephew from making a choice which would threaten the lives of many for the sake of one. It’s a nicely played emotional bookend, and the look on Wil’s face as his eyes rise from the dead Flick to Bandon, who’s lost all leverage and is standing there, stunned, Flick’s blood dripping from his blade…it’s a powerful sight. The Shannara is back in the fight, and as Mareth uses her illusions to hide the skull among dozens of replicas, Wil draws the Sword of Shannara.

The fight is fierce and engaging, which is a little surprising given how little I’ve liked Wil this season, nor found Bandon all that interesting as a villain. I haven’t mentioned it before – honestly, I forgot – but Bandon is wielding the blade of the Warlock Lord. This leads to a pair of interesting twists to the battle. First, energy flows along the blade into Wil, giving him visions of armageddon, death, people screaming while covered in blood, and Eretria with demon eyes. Secondly, the Sword of Shannara shatters. Yes, not only is the original book in the series revisited only to put it to rest in the form of Flick’s death, but the legendary hero’s blade falls before that of the Warlock Lord. Allanon is freed, but it’s too little, too late as Bandon breaks through the illusions and escapes with the skull. In doing so, he cuts Allanon with the Warlock blade, infecting him with the same poison as Flick. As our heroes bury Flick and Wil finally accepts the hero’s call, they’re hit by the ticking clock as the contagion kicks in for Allanon.

Elsewhere in the Four Lands, we’re back to some messy plotting. Remember in the last episode how Riga’s lieutenant, Valcaa, had been captured and Ander, Lyria, Slanter and Garet all readied themselves to interrogate him for info? Yeah, we never get a payoff as nothing seems to have been learned from him, and he escapes imprisonment completely off-screen. Garet is suddenly hired by Tamlin to ambush Riga, as she feels the general has outlived his usefulness given her daughter’s present arrangements. When Garet confronts the general, sure enough, a bruised Valcaa also shows up. Riga gets away, and Valcaa and Garet have their largely undeserved major fight to the death. Which it might surprise you to learn that Garet wins.

At the ruined police station, Eretria again tests her powers against the imprisoned Mord Wraith. She’s able to burn it away with her Bloodfire magic, but in doing so, experiences similar visions to Wil. Death, screaming, the skull and heart of the Warlock Lord in her hands, her eyes lit with demon fire. Garet suddenly shows up in some more inexplicable plotting, and the two head back to Leah. One interesting note is that we rarely see our heroes on horseback, instead almost always traveling by running long distances at a full sprint. Yeah, good luck with that.

Things get back on track at Leah as Lyria and Ander’s wedding ceremony finally begins. Throughout the episode, we have them cementing their relationship as friends and allies, and totally allowing for Lyria’s relationship with Eretria. They have so many plans, so many ways they can rework their now-united kingdoms for the benefit of the people. Tamlin seems largely resigned to it all, yet as the future King and Queen take hands, the officiant takes his place before them, suddenly throws off his robe and…

Good natural sweeteners, it’s General Riga! Before you can say “Red Wedding”, Crimson soldiers are pouring in and blades are out. Ander fights Riga. Lyria grabs a sword and fights at Slanter’s side. Hell, even Eretria and Garet show up and start cutting Crimson soldiers down. Unfortunately, Riga gets the better of Ander, and as he draws his sword from the king’s chest, the dying eyes of Ander lock with those of Lyria, and all their plans for the future bleed away.

I dug this episode. Yeah, the plotting is a mess, with people constantly appearing where they shouldn’t naturally be, and being way too quick with adding together strings of convoluted ideas. And yet, all of those lead to sequences of emotional impact which are genuinely well-delivered. From Blair’s script to Brad Turner’s consistently good direction to the work of the cast, when this episode punched, it punched hard. Flick locking eyes with Allanon as he blames the druid for decades of misfortune. Wil locking eyes with Bandon over the body of the man neither of them expected to die from their transaction. Ander locking eyes with Lyria as everything they hoped to build came to naught. These are gripping moments, and are again signs of what this show can deliver at its best.

Unfortunately, that best has become all too inconsistent. Again, I don’t know if it’s poor showrunners (I know Gough and Millar are still involved, but don’t know if they’re still in charge), poor story editors, or conflicting producers, but there’re too many obvious signs of a lack of communication behind the scenes. Multiple episodes will keep hitting the same story beats. Threads will be set up only to suddenly be dropped. Worse, threads will suddenly be retconned off-screen. Someone isn’t paying attention to not only how these scripts are coming together, but to how well the various episodes are stringing together as a whole. Instead of too many cooks in the kitchen, it feels like all the assistants are ably completing their parts of the dishes, but the chef ducked out forty minutes ago for a cigarette break, and everyone’s getting anxious about whether they’ll be back in time to pull everything together.

I want to like this show. I really like parts of this show. Why does this show not want me to like it more than I do?

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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