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One of the best things about last week’s episode of The Shannara Chronicles was the contrast of time periods in a high-school gymnasium, how the sword-and-sorcery archetypes of the show’s present found themselves exploring the remnants of a prom from the past (a.k.a. our world). There was something sad and evocative about seeing an armored elf princess sift through dusty teenage relics such as dance decorations, yearbooks, and Dungeons & Dragons dice.

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Historical juxtaposition gets put to far worse use in this week’s “Utopia,” where a band of outlying humans in troll country still utilize a wealth of artifacts from another era. Forget D&D—these teens have access to electricity, a working revolver, a film projector, and even some vintage Star Trek episodes to go with it. They also dress like Amish people trying to dress like cowboys and are prone to throwing EDM parties in a barn. They probably square-dance, too.

This commune, who purchases Eretria from the Elf Hunters then heals her arrow wound, is meant to be both alluring and threatening, but their aesthetic messiness (and goofiness) prevents them from being either. Where “Breakline” depicted Amberle actually connecting to the past by showing how it can be similar to the present (the dice look like Elfstones, the students look like her), “Utopia” never amounts to anything beyond “Look at all the cool shit we have!” And because guns, cowboy hats, and the USS Enterprise aren’t all that compelling to the real-life viewer without proper context, all of it rings hollow and lame.

But hey, why not take up the majority of the episode with Eretria being unrealistically won over by these yahoos? That’s exactly what The Shannara Chronicles does, feeding us the lazy justification that the Rover girl finally has a place where she feels at home. But didn’t the series already do that with last week’s perfunctory game of ”We’re Not So Different, You And I” between her and Amberle? Still, she spends the better part of an hour getting all starry-eyed over the utopians’ Casey Affleck-looking leader, Tye (the show even gives him a douchey name) as she learns how to shoot and let loose to shitty club music, ignoring the obvious hints that he and his followers are bad news: In addition to having Eretria meet a mysteriously burned, one-eyed guy in the infirmary, the series makes sure to play sinister music when Tye (Josh McKenzie) teaches her how to play with guns.

After Amberle and Wil show up at the hoedown-rave to rescue Eretria—who at first insists she doesn’t need saving—it’s revealed that the utopians have been able to survive so long in troll country not because they wiped out the lumbering beasts with their weapons (as Tye originally claims), but because they regularly provide them with human flesh. And guess who’s slated to be next on the menu? Don’t get too excited though; any hopes for some brutally badass troll violence are dashed once the big lugs arrive. MTV keeps them hidden in gas masks the entire time (for budgetary reasons, I’m assuming), so when the creatures turn on Tye after Eretria and her friends escape with the help of the gun—and Cephelo (smacks forehead)!—we see no chomping, no visible roaring, no anything. Doesn’t this show even know how to have the kind of dumb, exploitative fun we’ve come to expect from MTV?

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Oh, I almost forgot. Allanon and Ander are in this, too—not that they do anything. In the grand elven tradition of talking about things instead of actually doing them, Ander bemoans that he’s not worthy of being king. He gripes about it, drinks over it, and spends the entire episode having to be convinced by Allanon that he’s up for the task. Another stalemate in defeating the Dagda Mor and saving the Ellcrys.

While “Breakline” didn’t make much narrative progress in the show’s central quest either, at least it had decent action sequences and visual distinction. But “Utopia” doesn’t even work on an aesthetic level, which makes me question what The Shannara Chronicles is even going for anymore. Is it meant to be entertaining high fantasy? Trashy teen romance? Anachronistic eye candy? The answer seems to change from week to week, and unless the writers figure that out, I can’t picture this season moving towards any kind of satisfying conclusion.

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Stray observations

  • Before he (thankfully) dies, Cephelo tells Eretria “You’re the best thing I ever did.” Huh? Maybe the line has creepier implications than James Remar is letting on in his performance.
  • Good thing Amberle and Wil’s idea of foreplay involves methodically removing each piece of clothing one by one. If they moved with more speed and passion, MTV could kiss that TV-14 rating goodbye.
  • “Your highness. You’re drunk.”

The Spoilers Of Shannara

  • The show has strayed so far from the novels, I’m not sure if this sub-category is even relevant anymore. I guess we get a brief summary from Allanon of his training from Bremen, plus some of the events in The Sword Of Shannara. So there’s that.
  • Also, the one-eyed dude’s prophetic rambling makes me wonder if Eretria and Amberle are going to end up switching their story roles in The Elfstones Of Shannara when (and if) they finally get to Safehold.

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