[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episode 2×10: “Blood”

written by Noel Thingvall

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

This episode opens with the death of Allanon. I haven’t read to that point in the novels so I don’t know how Brooks originally played it out. Here, Wil arrives just in time to see Allanon, bloodied and broken, throwing himself on the Warlock Lord to protect Mareth. Before their eyes, the Warlock Blade is driven through the Druid’s heart. There are no more words, no actions our heroes can take, as Allanon burns away to nothing like a freshly-staked vampire. I can’t say enough good things about Manu Bennett’s run as Allanon in this series. Yeah, it’s a different take on the character from the books, who was more gaunt and mysterious and often smirking and joking as things played out according to a plan only he knew, but I like it. Bennett’s Allanon had weight; he had age. He had the exhaustion of constantly awakening into a world in need of his actions, in need of the other heroes who often die because he comes to call, but also a firm determination to see that unending wave of sacrifice through for the greater good. His eyes, especially, always conveyed that pain and sorrow and dedication and awareness of how much every little choice and action mattered in the broader unfolding of history. He’ll be missed, and again, it’s a brilliant choice to have him perish at essentially his own hands, as Bennett’s role as the Warlock Lord is equally impressive. He is cruel but patient, quietly awed by the powers he wields and delighted with the pain he gets to inflict with them.

With his hands on both Lyria and the key to Heaven’s Well, and Eretria still loyally possessed by the red Mord Wraith, the Warlock Lord leaves our heroes broken and grieving. Mareth, for all the pressure of titles and responsibilities everyone keeps heaping upon her, was ultimately powerless against the Warlock Lord. Wil, the chosen hero bearing the Sword of Shannara, wasn’t even there until he arrived too late. The Druid and the Shannara, the saviors of the land, couldn’t even put a dent in this scourge as he walked off with exactly what he wanted. Enter Cogline, who pulls them together and starts them off to Heaven’s Well, even as he takes a moment to mourn the passing of his fallen brother Druid.

The Warlock Lord’s plan is an interesting one, if a bit unevenly edited in terms of effects. Instead of wanting to drink from Heaven’s Well and increase his own magical powers, he wants to poison the Well with his blood, which will flow into the rivers of the Four Lands and corrupt everyone into becoming twisted subjects under his rule. What’s really clever is that Leah being built upon the Hoover Dam isn’t just a lovely visual, it also gives our heroes a wall they can throw up to at least hold back the waters should they be poisoned.

Which is where Eretria comes in as she heads back to Leah and, under the guise of protecting the control room for the dam, convinces Garet to lock her in. She quickly kills the general who’s trying to help her (the same dude who helped Garet and Slanter sneak out of their cells; it was nice seeing him again) and physically snaps off the wheel that would allow anyone to close the spillways. We’ll get to how it happens in a minute, but suffice to say the Warlock Lord poisons the Well, and Eretria allows the poison to spread beyond the dam. Even as Cogline arrives with his hand grenades and reveals to Garet that she’s been turned, they’re too late to stop the waters and have to focus on purging Eretria’s Wraith. There’s a nice bit where we finally get to see the honed skills of both Eretria and Garet as they fight one another, but she’s quickly knocked out, and Cogline returns to his magical roots to purge the Wraith and open a Druid’s Gate Hellmouth type of hole thing. Cogline retrieves his old wooden staff and gives Garet his new “steampunk pulse rifle” one, and the two proceed to proton pack the Wraith into the trap.

Two of my major problems with this episode come as a result of this thread. First, what the hell was the point of rallying the Crimson to defend Leah and forgiving them of their crimes when they end up doing nothing? Seriously, Eretria is the only threat, and Cogline and Garet take her down themselves. Slanter does nothing. The Crimson do nothing. They have literally no part to play in this climax. I’m wondering if they were supposed to be attacking Wraiths or Furies which had to be slashed due to budgetary restrictions. Either way, it’s yet another example of sloppy setups which later episodes fail to pay off. Secondly – and this is more a quibble than an actual problem – Eretria ultimately doesn’t get to do anything but be used as an evil pawn. She never contributes to removing the Wraith from herself. She has no additional battle that comes later. On the one hand, it is a bit poignant that after such a build, one of our main heroes was ultimately forced into being an antagonist in the end instead of a savior. On the other, she’s my favorite character on the show, and it leaves her role in this season ultimately feeling really damned anticlimactic.

Our other main thread takes place at Heaven’s Well, which is another nice piece of production design as these two abstract warrior statues with cubist heads line a waterfall which feeds into the dam reservoir. Our Druid and Shannara arrive, with Mareth a swirling pit of anxiety as everything’s finally come to a head, and Wil back to his grinning, gung-ho hero mode. They come across Lyria, still alive after the Warlock Lord cast her aside once he used her as the key to unlock the Well’s chamber. She’s fine and the two send her to walk back to Leah. And she does. Literally. We catch up with her later and she’s still just walking along. She otherwise has nothing to do.

Our heroes are too late to stop the Warlock Lord from bleeding into the Well, but they still make their stand, with Wil rapid-firing the Elfstones as Mareth…doesn’t get to do much of anything. Brad Turner has been one of the regular directors throughout the series, and there have been plenty of great fights with dynamic choreography, but they really drop the ball here as most of the fight is clashing swords for a few hits, then the Warlock Lord knocks one aside with a blast. Rinse and repeat. Wil gets his hits in, but Mareth spends most of her time getting knocked in the air, and her big hero moment is using the Force to send the fallen Sword of Shannara back to Wil’s hand. Even when it seems like she’s finally conjuring a fireball of her own, the Warlock Lord just casually bounces it right back.

Wil does manage to drive the Sword through the Warlock Lord’s heart, gazing into the twisted mirror of Allanon’s face as the evil sorcerer also goes up in ash, but not before Wil himself takes the Warlock Blade in the gut. It goes all the way through, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, the Warlock Blade is a wide, toothed blade, which the trained healer Wil yanks all the way back out, likely causing even more massive organ damage as a result. But he’s got the Elfstones, right? He can heal himself. Right? RIGHT?

Well, the big twist, playing under echoes from Shea about how Wil’s Shannara blood will save everyone, is that Wil’s blood drips into the Well and starts reversing the Warlock Lord’s poisoning. But only a little bit. It’ll take a lot more to see this through. So instead of healing himself, Wil passes the Elfstones to Mareth, gives her a kiss goodbye, and becomes the big tragic sacrifice of the season as he plunges into the Well, disappearing from sight as the waters clear. The purgation passes along the waterfall, through the dam, and into the branching rivers in a rushed and not particularly great effect, complete with poorly-staged bits of the heroes in Leah cheering it on.

Remember how excited I was in the last episode, how they built that cliffhanger to a nice climax, brought in a sharp outsider director to cleverly stage some nice sequences, and built all of their characters to a great emotional peak? “Blood” is not a bad episode, but it’s a hell of a step down, with plot holes left dangling and effects and direction which feel half-assed and hurried. I doubt the shift in networks would have affected the production this deep in the game, so I again have to fall back on my regular punching bags of the producers and showrunners for their lack of a thorough map to carry the writers from chapter to chapter, and leaving the final installment in the hands of some of the lesser talents involved in the series simply because they’re the ones in supervisory positions who are calling the shots. Alongside the misguided rape threats in their attempts to be “edgy”, I think one of the most damning aspects of The Shannara Chronicles, right to the very end, is a lack of consistency from being overseen by people who don’t seem to give a damn, so every episode feels like it’s left completely at the mercy of whoever drew the straw to be writing and directing it.

After the big climax, we get an epilogue as Lyria finally ascends to the throne of Leah, honoring the heroes and promising to rebuild. Even as Lyria’s settling into the role, Eretria gives her back the engagement ring – not because she doesn’t love Lyria, but because Eretria is terrified of how powerless she was against the dark forces which possessed her and how she nearly killed those closest to her. Lyria understands, telling her to do what she needs to do and that she’ll be waiting. It’s a sad parting, but still built on the love these two share and genuine problems which still need to be sorted out.

Eretria also gets a nice sendoff with Garet Jax, the Weapons Master without a cause who’s now clad in the full uniform of a General, dedicated to protecting people who now mean something to him. And Slanter is there. Just there. Again not saying or doing anything, because why would he by this point? Also, they never said what happened to the Crimson. That’s just swept under the rug.

Eretria joins Cogline and Mareth as they head off, and I like this twist. Cogline ran away from the world, abandoned his role as a Druid, and built for himself a new community dedicated to rediscovering the old sciences. Now he’s been pulled back into the thick of things by a pair of new charges tied to magic, one a half-demon who needs to control the darker side of her nature, the other a newly-assigned Druid with no one else left to teach her the order’s ways. If a third season ever comes (ha!), I would be curious to see how this develops. Cogline is a very different character from Allanon, more cautious and unwilling to make sacrifices, even as his wisdom and unconventional blend of science and magic gives him a richer perspective on things.

You know what doesn’t come up during any of this epilogue? The elves. What about the fucking elves?! We started this season with them already in a financial depression, then watched as they became philosophically polarized with the rise of the Crimson, which increased their percentage of supporters by wiping out a significant amount of their own people, including a full-on sacking of Arborlon. With King Ander’s death, the elf kingdom is in complete collapse, and yet they don’t even mention this dire strait. For so much that’s been built around Mareth being the heir to the throne, they don’t visit the Westland or look into the situation at all. It’s just left completely unexplored. Sure, I’m betting this would also be a significant thread in a hypothetical Season 3, but you have to give me something, because that’s a pretty fucking major thread to just leave dangling.

No, instead the trio of Mareth, Eretria, and Cogline ride off to a plateau in what looks like the Grand Canyon, which has a monument where Mareth can use Allanon’s sword to put him to rest, and hopefully allow him to be conjured from the Hadeshorn in Season Ain’t Happening. That’s when they throw one last twist on us. Pulling out the Elfstones, Mareth is suddenly hit with a strong vibe that’s telling her one thing:

WIL IS STILL ALIVE.

As she tells the others, we see Wil Ohmsford come to on a rocky ground, his shredded guts seemingly healed, the Sword of Shannara still at his side. As he looks to the sky, we see it’s filled with circling Furies, one of which swoops down, screeching at us to the darkness of a “To Be Continued”.

I’m of mixed thoughts about wanting another season. On the one hand, I do like the cast and characters, and the anachronous world blending medieval fantasy with a post-apocalyptic future. There have been many great sequences and moments, and I even love the selection of pop songs peppered throughout. On the other, I’m so tired of being frustrated with this show. They have good stories which break as disjointed writing teams are unable to connect their dots because someone in charge isn’t paying attention. The direction swings from beautiful to mediocre and sloppy. The dialogue goes from flowing and catchy to stiff and melodramatic to just plain awful from week to week. If they were to bring this show back, it would need a change in leadership – not because I want it to veer in a different creative direction, but because I want someone there to make sure whatever direction they go stays consistent and tidy, and keeps all the pieces in place so the flow can carry throughout. It’s likely a moot issue because, like I explained with the basement ratings numbers and rushed release schedule, I highly doubt it’ll be coming back. Which is sad, not only because it could still work, but because this means it’ll be quite some time, likely decades, before Shannara will ever be adapted for the screen again, if ever.

My bet is that this is the end. We won’t get a Season 3. We won’t suddenly get movies or a new TV series as the license will likely be branded with this failed attempt. I’m still holding out hope for the Landover books being adapted at some point, and maybe that’ll give Shannara another kick, but it’s a big maybe as that’s yet another property which has been spinning plates for years with nothing having yet come of it.

Here’s what I’m curious about. Is anyone still reading these posts? Did any of you keep reading all the way to the end? If so, did any of you keep watching along to the finale? If so, chime in below. I want to hear what you thought of the series. Did you have the same frustrations I had? Did it still work for you regardless? Did you hate it even more? And if you’re a reader of the books, what did you think of this take? Let me know.

And if, by some far-off miracle of a chance they manage to wrangle a green light for Season 3 out of some misguided financier’s ass, yes, I absolutely will return to cover it here.

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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