You remember when Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin were all sitting in The Green Dragon at the end of Return of the King? That moment when a normal quiet life suddenly felt strange and unfamiliar to them after everything they’ve been through. Sometimes sophomore TV episodes can be like that. After the big adventure of the elaborate premiere episode has drawn you into watching the show, its follow up can sometimes feel like a surreal letdown as the show reveals its more ordinary side. While some manage to dodge this spectacularly (like Daredevil last year: its second episode was its best) others can actually go as far as undoing all their good work from the opening episode. Sadly, Shannara returns this week showing dangerous signs of doing just that as it follows up its impressive debut with a very underwhelming episode.
Fury – While trying to save a wounded Allanon, Wil and Amberle are captured by Eretria and The Rovers so her father, Cephalo, can trick Wil into showing him how to use the Elfstones. An eventual return to Arborlon sees Amberle begin her quest to take the seed of Ellcrys to safehold so the tree may be renewed.
After charging in bows and bolts blazing last week, Shannara hits the brakes to slow things down for less satisfying results. While we return to some lavish sets in Arborlon, the gorgeous visuals of the opening episodes are all but absent, making us wonder if Shannara has merely blown its budget to get our attention. It’s also showing some worrying inconsistencies over its main characters. The Chosen pledged Amberle as strong, brave, and stern resolved. While this side of her returns in the final act as she gains a new entry in her Quest Log, she actually spends most of the episode getting easily ambushed or overpowered purely because the plot requires it, or even cowering behind Wil during the opening demon attack. This is not how a show should treat its lead female. There’s a similarly frustrating writing out of Manu Bennett’s Allanon for half the episode only to make a Poe Dameron-like reappearance when required to do more cool stuff. The opening “slow Manu” shots of demon limb slicing are great but we really could be seeing more of Allanon in action rather than unceremoniously showing him offstage to develop the younger characters. Although that is not without benefit as the main trio of Wil, Amberle and Eretia are developing a nice rigour between them. Eretria continues to be the most interesting as she plays both sides with a hand heavily forced by her unloving father.
Despite being primarily a story stalling element, the Rover capture scenes do have a few things going for them. Even with the overriding facade he’s putting on, Cephalo’s remarks about the Elves appear genuine and cast a good sympathetic light on this band of thieves, “The elves left us no choice, they’re the real thieves; they drove us from our homes”. James Remar is the most enjoyable part of the episode as he feigns a Robin Hood persona to Wil while forcing his daughter into cruelty behind closed tent flaps. It’s just a shame the script is too keen on keeping Wil on the righteous path. He never feels tempted, even for a moment, by Cephalo’s offer which makes it all feel a little but pointless. Although it carries some entertainment, the entire Rover capture section of the episode is almost completely without consequence. Then, by contrast, when the gang returns to Arborlon it does nothing but speed through plot points to reach its conclusion. Though it might be breaking from source material, these events would have played out much better in reverse order;:get back home, set off on the quest then get captured once you’ve embarked only to eventually escape.
The “MTVisms” creep back in a little but thankfully, are still in controlled doses as Wil & Amberle have but a single soft pop accompanied tender moment as the groundwork of their relationship continues to build. The pair as destiny entwined lovers are not yet setting the screen alight but as we learn more about them throughout the series, this will likely improve. Many of the supporting Elven cast have somewhat faded into background, and most will have at least one “who was that again?” moment while watching the final act. If there’s one thing Game of Thrones has taught (...okay, it’s taught us a lot more than one thing but stay with me), it’s that if you’re going to have a larger character base in your narrative, you need to give them regular meaningful screen time or viewers won’t invest in them. Aside from John Rhys-Davies fulfilling his regal and commanding duties, the rest of the royal family and commanders don’t feel like they have any real story right now. Even the featured new character, Brandon, feels dropped in rather than carefully placed.
It’s not uncommon for any new series to struggle with its sophomore episode when pilots/premiers are always designed to be bigger and more eye catching but Shannara has tripped over this tree root harder than most. After looking so promising last week, now, suddenly, episode 4 is already looking like a make or break point for the series. In the last few days, the show has been picked up for broadcast in many international countries, which bodes well for an upturn in quality but this episode alone might see some viewers saying sayÅnara to Shannara.