[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 2×08: “Amberle”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Hey, they remembered that Slanter exists! He actually gets a nice little scene with Garet Jax in their cell, where they ponder over how it’s not hard to die, but rather to face how they let so much of their lives slip away. Garet especially knows that nobody will really miss him when he’s gone. Before long, one of Tamlin’s generals, whom we briefly saw somewhere earlier in the season, lets in a squad of Slanter’s gnome assassins, who free their boss and Garet before escaping into the tunnels. It’s not a huge scene, with the focus still primarily on Garet and his promise to protect Lyria, and there’s not much of a performance that anyone could give behind that thick Slanter mask, but it’s still nice that they let the character do something after burying him in the background all this time.

Also, it’s a little underwhelming, but they’re pretty quick to reveal to us why the Warlock Lord has the face and stacked body of Allanon. It really is just because Allanon’s blood was used. Which, okay, fine. I still would have gone with Allanon being the son of the Warlock Lord, whose powers explain why the generational line gave Mareth the magic she has. But that’s why I’m not writing this show.

Bandon offers the Warlock Lord a pledge of loyalty if he will resurrect the slain Catania, whose shrouded body is in the other r– hang on a second. What? How does Bandon know that she was killed? How did he get her body? Yeah, he swung by Leah once, but her death and funeral didn’t overlap that time at all, and I have strong doubts that he’s casually stayed in touch with anyone involved. And why does he need to pledge his loyalty when he’s already been corrupted by the Warlock Blade, which is what drove him to resurrect the Warlock Lord in the first place? None of this makes any sense.

There are two women who receive especially shitty treatment in this episode, treatment which edges us back to the lows of Season One. The first is Catania. The Warlock Lord does in fact resurrect her, but when she reacts to Bandon with fear and disgust, the Warlock Lord puts her under his thrall and orders her to make out with him while Bandon is forced to watch. She then spends the rest of the episode writhing and heavily breathing on the Warlock Lord’s throne while he uses her to teach Bandon that love is an illusion. It doesn’t matter that Bandon loved Catania, he says, because she didn’t love him. Nobody loved him. After Bandon drives the Warlock Blade through Catania, killing her again, the Warlock Lord finally welcomes Bandon to his side. So yes, Catania was resurrected, then had her will removed as she was sexualized and used as an object lesson to make Bandon let go of love. By killing her again. There are aspects of this thread I understand, especially in how it thematically ties to Wil’s story (which I’ll get to), but the way the situation sexualizes Catania is absolutely unnecessary and does a real disservice to the character.

Moving on, Wil and Eretria arrive at Arborlon to find bodies of the Chosen – the guards of the Ellcrys – scattered around the temple with the Crimson eagle splashed in blood on the door. They see signs of Crimson who fled with prisoners, and decide to split up. As Eretria runs off, Wil finally confronts the Ellcrys, and things stop making sense again. So the Crimson have killed everyone and laid claim to the temple, but they haven’t left anyone to actually guard the temple? Nor have they done anything to destroy the Ellcrys in any way, despite Wil having no trouble just pushing the doors open? The tree hasn’t been burned or chopped down or defaced. While it’s carnage outside, everything inside looks the same as it always does. What the hell?

Wil touches the Ellcrys, the door opens, and he’s finally reunited with Amberle on a beach. Upon learning that the Sword of Shannara has been shattered, Amberle says it’s because there are certain truths Wil refuses to accept, both about himself and those in his life. The first is his father. Confronting Shea’s spirit – first in their old family barn, then in Wil’s healer bunker – Wil is made to accept that he doesn’t get to choose his path in life, just make the most of the path he’s been given, and that this same choice is why his father was such a miserable bastard despite loving his son and saving the world. Which we clearly saw a few episodes ago when Shea beat his son with a riding crop for playing. Goddamn it. Wil is finally able to accept that his father was…let’s go with “complicated”, and he lets his struggles with the man go.

The second – and this is where I can see the thematic tie-in with Bandon – is that Wil needs to let Amberle go. Yeah, it sucks that he lost her and never even got to say goodbye. But she’s gone. She isn’t coming back. Hell, he’s not even talking to Amberle. Part of her remains within the Ellcrys, but the Ellcrys is not Amberle. Amberle is dead. Finally accepting this and saying goodbye, Wil looks down to see the Sword of Shannara is once again whole.

During all of this, Eretria finally catches up to the Crimson soldiers, who are in the middle of nowhere, gradually slashing through the throats of their captured Chosen…who couldn’t be killed back at the temple where all of their fellow Chosen were killed, I guess? This is where we meet the second woman to receive especially shitty treatment from this episode and marks a return to Season One’s failings, as one of the Crimson starts fondling her and says he can keep her alive a little longer if she’ll play along. Yes, we officially have our first rape threat of Season Two, and I’m really fucking disappointed in everyone involved as things were going so well this year.

Eretria kills a bunch of the soldiers, cuts the remaining Chosen free and leads them to the tunnels below Arborlon. The remaining soldiers catch up, but they’re dispatched when a Mord Wraith arrives and plows through them all. It’s a neat visual, enveloping around each while in smoke form, searing their hearts before moving on to the next. Eretria tries to use her magic to stop the Wraith, but it keeps going, merging into her as her eyes go black. All of the Chosen have fled, except for the shittily-treated woman. As Eretria reunites with Wil and they head off, we see the woman’s torn body hidden behind some foliage. So yeah, this woman saw her entire city fall, her fellow Chosen slain around her, was sexually threatened by a dude who was openly going to kill her afterwards, then actually was killed by the woman who saved her. Why were parts of this thread necessary? Was killing their way through the Chosen not enough to paint the Crimson as bad guys? Why did you have to throw the rape threat in there? And why did this one woman need to stay behind and die? Is it not enough to just have this scene be left on the ambiguous note of Eretria having a Wraith in her? I’m fine with dark and tragic storytelling, but as with Catania, this was just cruel for the sake of cruel.

Mareth and Allanon are continuing to struggle through bonding time, as he’s the typical dick of a teacher when it comes to sword training. When several more of his rune scars disappear, there’s a lovely scene where she drags him to a bed and he finally opens up about how important she is to him and how much he truly did love her mother. That said, why did his runes not then burn into Mareth’s neck like the one in the last episode? Did the writers this week not know about that rule being established? Is this another sign of a lack of showrunner oversight? WHY CAN’T ANYTHING JUST REMAIN CONSISTENT IN THIS SERIES ANYMORE?

It turns out the Gollum-esque dude from last episode was just a spy who sells out to Riga about having seen the Codex, leading Riga and the Crimson to swoop into the village, capturing both Allanon and Mareth. Father and daughter are forced into two of those Genosha collars as Riga uses Mareth as leverage to get the Codex. Allanon hands it over, and we’re left with the sight of father and daughter tied back-to-back on a stake as it’s lit aflame.

As for Riga, upon learning of the lost contact with his forces in Graymark, he leads a squad there…only to come face-to-face with the Warlock Lord. Who kills all of Riga’s men, binds the general in razor wire and the gates of the fortress itself, then uses his bare hands to rip the general’s head off. It’s a fitting end for the general. Sure, it would have been nice to see Wil or Lyria take on Riga, but seeing the general’s cause and dedication mean absolute squat when pitted against the scourge of magic who every single person warned him about…that’s a nice way for him to go out, too.

There is good stuff in this episode: Wil’s confrontations with the specters of his father and Amberle. Allanon and Mareth finally opening up to one another. Slanter and Garet bonding over their shared impending demises. The final showdown between Riga and the Warlock Lord. These are all powerful sequences which fully pay off many of the personal threads which they’ve built over the course of the season. While I still think April Blair’s plotting is very messy and underdeveloped, as with the episode “Crimson”, she excels at dramatic moments and character work. Unfortunately, that messy plotting really does overwhelm this time. When paired in collaboration with Elle Triedman, whose sloppy work on “Dweller” really annoyed me, this episode further sinks to the cheap shocks and clunky edginess which plagued Season One.

I’ve gone beyond being let down and aggravated by the lack of quality oversight from this season to being straight-up pissed that they threw away what seemed like a lesson learned with regards to the criticisms of Season One. I have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes of this series, but it’s absolutely resulting in a show which deserves to be cancelled. There’s great work here at times, but the lack of consistency – especially from those who are still credited as being in charge – keep squandering what goodwill they’ve gained and make it far less likely that I’m going to regret saying goodbye to this series in just two weeks.

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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