I noticed Shannara basically had no coverage in the io9 community, but the season just wrapped up, and I need somewhere to organize my thoughts, and maybe even get comments. There will be spoilers from here on out, so it’s probably best to wait until you’ve finished the season, or decided you don’t care, due to excessive MTV-ness of it all.
- No punches were pulled in the ending. And better yet, the show loaded Chekhov’s Gun all the way back in the second half of the pilot.
A: "Magic always comes with a price, Wil. Never forget that."
W: "My ancient Druid’s a little rusty. Maybe you can fill me in."
A: "When the Ellcrys comes to the end of its days, a flower will bloom that will bear a single seed. A member of the Chosen must carry that seed to Safehold and immerse it in the Bloodfire. Only then can the seed be returned to the Sanctuary and the Ellcrys be reborn."
W: "That doesn’t sound so bad. It’s not like you need a human sacrifice or something."
- Allanon is still a jerk. If you’ve never read the books, here’s what you need to know: Allanon is what you get if you cross Dumbledore with an NFL linebacker, and strip out all of the quirky humor. He’s always unquestionably a good-guy, but he keeps all the important secrets to himself, and has no problem sending impressionable youngsters to their death for “the greater good”.
One of themes emphasized in both the show and books is magic has a price: he’s come to terms with this and expects everyone else to do the same. Also, he’s built like a tank, and fuels his magic by being bigger and stronger than everyone else.
- They didn’t make Wil an action hero. Part of what makes Shannara awesome is that unlike so much of other mainstream fantasy, it’s not always the men kicking butt and the women fainting and/or playing sidekicks at best. Wil’s a healer, and there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Amberle and Eretria are the real brains + brawn behind the operation. Eretria even gets a not-so-last stand with an oversized ax, like our other favorite badass whose father sold her out.
My only disappointment here was that we never get to see Wil training at Storlock with the pacifist gnomes. Speaking of which...
- Kept the book’s aversion to racial determinism in favor of complex interracial politics. Okay, so I’m overplaying this a little bit, because the dwarves were a throwaway line in the pilot, and we never got to see any trolls with their masks off, and no indication that they weren’t just mindless predators until the very end of the finale.
On the other hand, I was thrilled to see Slanter showing up a book early as a semi-heroic character.
- Bandon. A completely invented character, who took me by surprise in being fully developed. Most of the other side-elves felt pretty flat/trope-y, but Bandon provided an interesting foil for Allanon’s scheming. Another great use of foreshadowing from the show's writers: from the moment we meet him, you get the sense that he could snap at any moment, and is desperately trying not to.
But then Allanon starts hinting that he wants to take him on as an apprentice, which makes sense, since he has magic, and probably also only having one of the order sworn to protect the
universe Four Lands is probably going to lead to trouble. The narrative tension ebbs and flows from here ("the Dagda Mor has his soul in a box!" "Oh, its literally a soul-box and we chopped it open so he's fine now"). And then just when you think maybe you've been wrong all this time, and nothing bad is going to happen, he snaps. Just like another young apprentice.
- “Sloppy Rover Seconds”. I always knew there was going to be some love-triangling going on, because, well it’s MTV, and also because I’ve read the books. On the one hand, we can be grateful that “You are for me, Wil Ohmsford” didn’t become the new “You know nothing, Jon Snow”. On the other hand, I sort of expected that they would make an effort to have the dialogue sound at least marginally sound like it was from a fantasy novel, and not a frat party.
- The timeline was a mess. Lore-nerdery aside, the timeline still didn’t make any sense, for a number of reasons. 30 years is not enough time to forget a cataclysmic world-war featuring the prominent use of magic. That every main character under the age of 40 appears to have forgotten the “War of the Races”, would be sort of like us forgetting about nukes just because we haven’t used any since WW2. 2000 years is more than enough time to destroy paper, rubber, and light-bulbs. The “Great Wars”, which leveled our civilization were thousands of years ago. The opening shot of Wil’s journey through an overgrown jungle of collapsing superhighways was brilliant.
The rubber boots and gas masks in the scene which immediately follows were not, and like many of the other post apocalyptic elements strewn about, seriously hindered my suspension of disbelief.
Also, this is the Pacific Northwest, not the Dead Sea. Your yearbooks will be moldier than this after 10 years.
And then there were the EDM cowboys... I don't care how long you spend scrounging for lightbulbs, your homebrew generator isn't powering this speaker bank:
Maybe they're just for show? Nope. At least Amberle is as confused by what’s happening as the audience. Also, admittedly, there’s one semi-brilliant payoff, if you can turn the suspension of disbelief meter up to 11.
- There was also one major misfire of Chekhov’s Gun, which was even more puzzling in its lack of resolution, since the books pull the trigger, and then ride the
bulletbird for hot aerial combat. Perhaps you’ve guessed what I’m referring to.
Bam, gun loaded. Good thing we now know how the heroes will manage to rush home in the nick of time, neatly avoiding having to retraverse all those pesky impenetrable mountain ranges, right? Wrong.
As far as I can guess there are two explanations: budget (in which case having Perk and Genewen at all was probably a poor choice), or having to leave room for sexy times in the cave on the way back, which presumably Perk would not be invited to.
- Speaking of which, this season was definitely two episodes too long. Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of stuff which was missing, that I would have loved to have seen (King of Silver River, Storlock, more of the witch sisters, friendly trolls and dwarves and humans coming to help, battles to slow down the demon army, etc), but I can also understand why they may not have been adapted. The problem was this left room for lots and lots of filler to hit the 10 episode mark. What sorts of filler you may ask? Well, there were the EDM Cowboys, the Creepy Rape Dungeon, the “everyone gets captured by Rovers, redux”, the “everyone gets captured by Elf-Hunters, who are completely different from Rovers”, and Allanon getting Daniel Jacksoned a lot.
- Wil had very little internal struggle to use the elfstones. His internal struggle with self-doubt and his human half blocking the elfstones, and the resulting physiological changes when he finally breaks through the mental barrier are a major part of the Shannara mythos. This wasn’t even hinted at, instead, the magic always has a price amounted to “my hand gets burned sometimes”.
- Personal peeve: No druid fire. Sure, Allanon had some magic battles, but let me be clear: throwing people around and shooting fire out of a staff are much much less cool than shooting fire out of your hand.
Also, this is what the show gave us for the final battle between Allanon and the Dagda Mor:
This is what the books gave us:
Why, oh why would you give us a beheading, when you could give us an inside-out-incineration instead?
Everyone involved has been really cagey about whether season 2 will be completely original material, or adapt the next book, Wishsong, in some way. In favor of the Wishsong theory, a few points to consider:
- Bandon looks like he is well on his way to becoming a Mord Wraith.
- Even though Wil didn’t really struggle to use the elfstones, magic has a price was emphasized over and over. Also he zapped Eretria with them as some sort of magical AED. Clearly their kids are going to be inheriting some magic.
- Even though Wishsong is a good 15 years in the future, it’s MTV, so Austin Butler and Ivana Baquero will be right at home as middle-aged parents of two.
- It’s much more budget friendly than other epic fantasy - there are essentially no major battles, just lots of walking in the wilderness.
- After the Elfstones and the Sword of Shannara itself; the Wishsong, the Sword of Leah, and Cogline, all introduced here, are the most iconic aspects of the Shannara universe (well also airships and creepers, but we haven’t laid the groundwork for that at all). They’ll have to be introduced sometime.
- Speaking of which, Cogline is as post-apocalyptic fantasy as post-apocalyptic fantasy gets. He’s a crazy old ex-druid who’s centuries old, and prefers making things explode with chemicals to making them explode with magic.