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The Shannara Chronicles wastes a detour on torture and PG-13 skinny dipping

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Is it me, or does The Shannara Chronicles always seem to be two steps behind its own story? In “Pykon,” for example, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar finally use the Changeling to its full potential. Having taken on the likeness of King Eventine (who I’m presuming is dead now), the creature is able to convince Arion to retrieve a sword from the dungeon, a sword that his father says has the power to defeat the Dagda Mor. After finding the weapon with the help of Catania, the prince is told by Allanon that the sword is actually a talisman of evil, not good, prompting the Changeling to command his son to slay the Druid. One can’t blame Arion for listening to the semblance of his father, especially since Allanon’s been inadvertently harming Bandon with his training, which unveils the elf’s connection with the Dagda Mor himself.

If all of that sounds complicated, it’s meant to be. Thanks to the guise of Eventine, the Changeling has spun an elaborate web of lies that allows its plan to fall into place quite easily. The only question is, why didn’t this happen two weeks ago? You know, in the episode called “Changeling”? Why couldn’t the methodical, intriguingly ugly deceit have taken the place of the title character’s supposed death?

The same could be said of tonight’s second showdown with the Reaper. Fought on a cliff overlooking a snowy chasm after the main characters escape a more forgettable threat (more on that in a bit), it feels like an extension of last week’s battle. You know, the one from the episode called “Reaper”? And that’s because it should have been. It should have taken the place of all the rapey Rover business so there could be a more satisfying encounter with the monster, instead of two minor fights that both get shortchanged.

But that’s the pattern of The Shannara Chronicles in its repetitive first season: get an interesting storyline started, give it a false resolution, interrupt it with several far less interesting storylines, then bring it back when the audience most expects it. Tonight, the detour of the week belongs to the abandoned elven fortress of the title, which, in a move taken directly from The Fellowship Of The Ring, Amberle and Wil’s party are forced to enter when a blizzard rolls across the Four Lands. Terry Brooks already gets enough flak (some of it undeserved, in my opinion) for ripping off Tolkien—does the show really need to crib the Mines of Moria sequence, too?

Then again, I wouldn’t mind it if the journey through Pykon led to a badass orc (I mean gnome) battle, or reintroduced the Reaper a lot earlier for a prolonged chase and duel a la the Balrog. Instead, we meet a creepy Voldemort-looking elf named Remo, who claims to be caretaker of the place, along with his standoffish daughter, Mag. Wil, Amberle, Eretria, Crispin, and Cephelo—chummier than ever with two women he tried to sexually abuse—spend most of the episode sitting around and talking to their hosts, despite not fully trusting them, and rightfully so; by the end, it’s revealed that Remo’s out for revenge because Eventine supposedly had a hand in killing his wife. But before he submits his guests to torture devices straight from a TV edit of a Saw film, Amberle has time to take a royal bath, where she’s soon joined by a nude Eretria. The Rover girl swims towards her for a kiss, explaining that she’s not just into guys.

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Look, I have no problem with Eretria being bisexual. That could make for some palpable tension between her, Amberle, and Wil if it’s treated with any kind of emotional—or even lustful—truth. But that’s a big if. As with turning Cephelo into a rapist, I have to ask, why? Did the bath sequence add anything to the story, beyond pandering to MTV’s teen viewers and providing fodder for gossip-column headlines like this? Absolutely not. It’s not even all that titillating of a scene. By the end of it, the exchange feels pointless and dull, taking up time that could have been better spent elsewhere. Why not focus more on Allanon training Bandon? His direct link to the Dagda Mor seems like a pretty big deal, but it’s rushed through in just a couple of lines.

Or how about Ander’s journey? He’s traveling with Commander Titon (Emilia Burns), who’s had almost nothing to do on the series so far, not to mention the gnome Slanter. Their dynamic actually has the seeds of something interesting: after Slanter escapes the two elves by feigning grief over a band of massacred gnomes, he returns to tell them he’s located the Dagda Mor and his demon horde. Elves and gnomes have an uneasy relationship, especially when one party has killed the other’s brother, but before the show can explore a possible bond any further, Ander lets Slanter go. Once again, what the hell was the point?

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If you’re a Slanter fan though, don’t worry. If history’s taught us anything, he’ll be back, and he and Ander will pick up right where they left off, probably after getting interrupted by a more boring, inconsequential story. That’s just how The Shannara Chronicles rolls.

Stray observations

  • While Eventine is most likely dead, I have a feeling Allanon is not. He’s probably off at Paranor recuperating with a Druid Sleep.
  • To their credit, Poppy Drayton and Ivana Baquero are getting a stronger handle on the heavy-handed dialogue with each week.
  • Upon entering Pykon, someone said “It’s abandoned,” and it sounded like “It’s a Bandon,” which confused me. I really wish that guy had a different name. Even Brandon would be better.
  • Did anyone else think the dead gnomes looked like Ugnaughts with their pig faces and little goggles?
  • “I’m so hungry I could eat a troll’s left nut.” That’s about as good a Stray Observations quote as you’re going to get on The Shannara Chronicles.
  • “Just…die already!” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Wil.

The Spoilers Of Shannara

  • So, part of why I’m bothered by the Slanter thread ending so prematurely (or so we think) is because I’m now on The Wishsong Of Shannara, and he’s one of the more fascinating and complex characters Brooks has created. It would be great to see more of him developing a cautious loyalty to Ander, just as he does in the novel with Jair Ohmsford.
  • Where the Hildebrandt brothers drew the gnomes like impish monsters, Elfstones and Wishsong illustrator Darrell K. Sweet sketches them as more traditional lawn-ornament depictions of the beings, complete with full beards and pointy hats. They’re actually kind of cute.
  • For those of you who have read more of the series than me, are Remo and Mag completely made up, or do they come from the books? At first, I thought they were going to be composites of the Witch Sisters and someone else, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
  • Did anyone else think the sword in the dungeon was going to be the Sword of Shannara? That would have been ballsy on the writers’ part.
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