I foolishly thought that I could do a review for every episode, but since so much happens in every episode, I decided to cop out and just do a review of the season as a whole, like I did with FULLER HOUSE on Netflix.
I got introduced to this show through television. Yeah, go figure. Caught a TV spot for it and thought it looked interesting. Stuck in my head enough to keep an eye out for it, so I guess it was doing something right. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi dressed up in fantasy, it was enough to keep me to watch, obviously. However, it wasn’t until later that I found out this show is based on a VERY long series of novels simply called Shannara written by Terry Brooks, starting as far back as 1977 to as early as 2015. Damn. How have I never heard of these? Because I don’t get out much, that’s why. Shut up! Anyway, this is my honest opinion of THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES Season 1.
(SUMMARY – it’s a long one)
It take place in the future. The United States is now an apocalyptic world. The country is now known as The Four Lands, inhabited by humans, gnomes, and the dominant elves. Technology is mostly gone, replaced by magic, controlled by only a few. In years past, there was a great war waged by the races of The Four Lands and an army of vicious demons, led by the fearsome Dagda Mor (Jed Brophy). Thanks to the all-magical elven tree known as the Ellcrys, the demons were banished to another world called The Forbidden. Since the demons’ banishment, The Four Lands live in relative peace.
Fast forward to the present day, young elven princess Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Dreyton) wants to be the first female to run The Gauntlet, a race through a forest while blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs, and the first ten to finish the race become The Chosen, elite warrior elves charged with safeguarding the Ellcrys. She manages this feat, but as soon as she touches the Ellcrys, she’s plagued by visions of her home destroyed and her people slaughtered, possibly as a result of her doing. In fear of what she saw, she abandons her sacred duties and runs away.
All of this is happening because the Ellcrys is dying, and therefore too weak to contain the Dagda Mor, whom has begun to assemble his army and destroy The Four Lands. This forces the human Druid, a powerful mage, named Allanon (Manu Bennett), to awaken from a deep magical slumber and to warn the elven king Eventine (John Rhys-Davies) of the looming threat.
But with Amberle missing, Allanon must locate a particularly special protector for her; a descendant of an elite protector-mage named Shannara. This descendant is in the form of a young half elf, half human named Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler), who lives out in the country with his mother, away from civilization, learning medicine. Unfortunately, Wil’s mother dies and the young man sets out to hone his craft, but not before his mother gifts him with a set of Elfstones, said to be blessed with powerful magic that once belonged to Wil’s drunken father. But before he reaches his destination, he’s attacked by a troll and saved by a young human woman named Eretria (Ivanna Baquero), who is revealed to be a Rover, an organized band of thieves led by her jerk of a father/owner Cephalo (James Remar).
Essentially, Allanon and the events happening bring these three young people together and have one mission: the save the Ellcrys by taking it’s seed to a faraway land called Safehold. But as the tree dies slowly, the Dagda Mor’s influence grows and sends agents to weave chaos across the land.
DISCLAIMER: I have never read the books. I have read quite a few comments regarding the show on other sites and how this show’s title is the only thing it has in common with the books. My opinion of this show comes purely from a TV-watching perspective with no knowledge of the original source material.
It’s good. Yeah, I’m not sure how to describe it better than that. It does a lot of elements incredibly well, and some other elements incredibly not well.
Well, let’s dive right into it. My instincts tell me to start with the good stuff.
First of all, if you’re a fan of such works like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, then you’re probably good with diving into mythology. While I won’t say this is anywhere in the same ball park, as it is a somewhat knock off of LOTR (ancient evil attacks the land with hideous monster minions, the races band together to stop it, and it’s stopped), it is still an interesting mytho to say the least. It’s not specifically stated when exactly this takes place as the characters do reference “ancient man,” and huge world shaking events are implied between whenever “ancient man” ended and the present day of the story, but it’s still pretty clever to have a very forest-like landscape when there’s no way to maintain the concrete jungles of the past. That sadly doesn’t explain how magic replaced technology or where exactly elves, demons, trolls, and gnomes come from. They’re human sized, so my theory is possible genetic fuckery from radiation or something like that, but who knows? As you can probably tell, I have a lot of fun speculating what the history is and hope the mythology is delved into a little more if another season is announced.
The story itself is also pretty similar. Young people setting out across a vast landscape, evading enemies, all in the name of taking a small object somewhere. While the details may be different, planting a seed in a faraway land as opposed to the One Ring being thrown in a volcano, it still feels very much like a hippie Lord of the Rings story. Thankfully, the characters that embark on this unimaginative story mostly make up for it.
Among my favorite characters include Eretria, King Eventine, Allanon, and Cephelo.
Let’s start with the obvious. Eventine is played by the great Rhys-Davies. One would think that after having such a miserable time filming LOTR that he’d be done with the fantasy genre, but it’s a nice treat to see him in this show, and not even as a cameo, but a regular. And the character himself is very grounded. He understands the gravity of the Dagda Mor’s return and takes everything that Allanon tells him. He’s a smart character, or at least smart enough to listen to good advice, even if he knows the choices he has to make will cost the elves a lot.
For any of you that might be fans of the TV show SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND (or its many other titles), or DC comic’s TV show ARROW, then you’ll happily recognize the great and mighty Bennett. This perfectly genetically created living breathing bad-ass incarnate brings his pure, concentrated awesomeness to this show, and to make things unbearably amazing, he’s the show’s equivalent to Gandalf. You fucking read that right, and yes, it’s as incredible as it sounds. This guy slays demons, he tosses mother fuckers like rag dolls, he says things all sagey and wisely, he casts spells that hand his enemies asses on golden platter, oh my god I’m gushing right now just thinking about it. Every time Bennett is on screen, I will squee like a tween at a Justin Beiber concert, except Allanon would eat Beiber as a stew for lunch, so my squeeing makes sense.
Hey, if you look at Eretria, does she happen to look… familiar at all? Yeah? Can’t quite place your finger on where? Here’s a hint: Guillermo Del Toro. Debatably his most famous film. PAN’S LABYRINTH. Are your eyes widening? Yeah, bitches, little Ofelia’s Ivana Baquero is all grown up and kicking ass like a mother fucker. Eretria is the Han Solo of the group and she’s about ten flavors of fun. Sassing everyone, seducing everyone, punching everyone, she’s probably the best of the core trio.
And finally, Cephelo. Played by Remar who has probably one of the hugest careers I’ve ever seen, and yet I doubt anyone would be able to pinpoint anything he’s been in. Movies like MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, DJANGO UNCHAINED, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and TV shows JERICHO, DEXTER, GREY’S ANATOMY, just to name a few. This man is so great to watch on screen no matter the capacity. He brings a perfect balance of class and bad-assery that I’ve never seen replicated and maintains his hold as one of my favorite actors in Hollywood.
But now let’s get into the not so good characters. Now let me clear, Dreyton and Butler are wonderful actors, so I’m not bashing their talent. I am, however, bashing the characters they play. One of the major downsides of this show is that it feels HEAVILY like a young adult adaptation. While I’ve never read the books, I’m guessing that’s not what the books were. To make matters worse, it has all of the tropes. Chief among them is a love-triangle. Oh yeah, following in the footsteps of TWILIGHT, HUNGER GAMES, and THE IMMORTAL INSTRUMENTS, someone has to fall in love with two of the opposite gender who are jealous of each other and bicker, and all that bullshit that I wish would leave my TV shows and movies. To be fair, unlike movies that only have a couple hours to establish investment into the audience, this show has the luxury of time to delve into their relationships more and it’s handled much better than usual. The only drawback is Wil and Amberle themselves. While not the worst written characters, hell they’re not even that bad by the end of the season, but it’s painful to see Amberle constantly not try to evolve and become a better person. What with so many people counting on her, she manages to find time to get sidetracked by doubt and constantly complains about it. I know not every hero has to face danger with stonewall courage. In fact, those that are most afraid are usually the most interesting of characters. But Amberle constantly comments how she’s afraid to fail. Once in awhile, again, would be fine. She does it almost every episode if she’s not being distracted by something else. Wil is almost the exact same way, though he gets better over time. My issue with him though is that the show thinks it’s such a big decision over whether or not he’ll choose Amberle or Eretria when Eretria is clearly the better written character. It’s a shame to see such imbalance in investment, but they could have definitely been worse.
But if there is any worst offender within the long list of characters would be Arion (Amberle’s uncle), played by Daniel MacPherson. What we have here is a prince who is next in line for the throne and wants it… like, really badly. As in so badly that even Marvel’s Loki is telling this guy, “Bitch, calm the fuck down.” Dear god, this character is so god damn annoying. All he does is argue without knowing facts himself, dismissing threats as idle fantasies or the insane prattling of things he once thought were dead or no longer a thing. Even once the facts are presented and he’s unable to argue, HE STILL FUCKING ARGUES!!! Oh god, I was praying to the TV gods that this fucker would die.
I’d say one of the most intriguing characters by the end of the season is the psychic, Bandon, played by Marcus Vanco. While I sure do think he joins the group rather randomly, and he was quickly shaping up to be the show’s convenience factory (IE: Wil wants to part ways with Amberle? CONVENIENCE! Bandon tells him a psychic vision that keeps him around. Another problem in plot? CONVENIENCE! Bandon’s visions will solve everything). But as the show went on, he is heralded by Allanon as the next druid. That’s pretty cool, being trained by Allanon, the most bad-ass mage in the land. As training progresses, the Dagda Mor starts sewing his influence in the young seer’s mind and ultimately becomes a fascinating villain for the next season. I’m really excited to see where the show takes this character.
While the season ends with a lot of questions, both story-based and behind the scenes, the show it pretty solid. I definitely don’t want this show to end, but if there’s any criticism that I would off to the writers is tighten it up. If romance has to be a key player in the story, please don’t let it interfere with logic. Young characters or no, it’d be nice if they knew that there’s a time and place to bump uglies and when to shape up and grow up. Please don’t write off Bennett. I’m too excited to see him survive this season and want him to carry on into the future. Let’s tackle some more of the mythology that’s been pretty elusive this season. The story being the focus is fine for now, but you can’t have a “post-apocalyptic” backdrop disguised as a fantasy setting without some kind of explanation. But if you get green-lit for a second season, you can count on me to continue watching.
My honest rating: 4/5