You remember those scrupulous questions your friends used to ask you? Getting something life-changing but at an unthinkable cost, “Would you come to school naked for a million dollars?” or, “You could live forever but as 70-year-old man.... would you do it?”. We love the idea of finding a line or a price tag on each other’s shame or morality. Or is it the classical idea of balancing out success with failure, that something good must always come at a cost. In this week’s Shannara, the group discovers a paradise like community of Human settlers.... but such a paradise has to come with a catch right?
Utopia – The Elf Hunters trade Eretria at a strange human settlement somehow, surviving within troll country and embracing the ways of the Old World. Amberle and Wil try to rescue her but would she want to leave?
Continuing from the most effective aspect of last week’s Breakline, this episode of Shannara makes its biggest incorporation yet of the former human civilization by showing us a community trying to recreate and rediscover things from that former world. This feels very fitting to the setting. Even if a millennia has passed from the world we know, just as we look to learn and study our ancient and historical societies, so it does make complete sense that at least someone in this world would see value and opportunity in the ruins littering their landscape. It also shows us the value of humans within Shannara’s world. Although we’ve seen that Elves may be superior in skill or sorcery, the real weapon of humans is technology. When Ty shows Eretria his gun, it’s as bigger game changer as 2001's ape that figured out the bone club. The community itself has an enjoyable reverse Amish feel to it, secluded away from the rest of the old but embracing technology that the rest would shun. The salvage and makeshift production design of Utopia is nice and detailed, from the broken computer parts for wall decorations to the scrap metal glitter ball at the party. The episode really uses the setup well to have some fun from the dance party celebration (save a few dodgy hats) to reinforcing Human/Elf distain by showing Star Trek (we can just about forgive them for booing Spock for his pointy ears). The “too good to be true”/”price of paradise” twist isn’t overwhelmingly shocking but at the same time, isn’t heavily dwelled on as a mystery. Early on, Ty mentions they have a shaky truce with their vicious troll neighbours. From the first hint of requiring something bad, it’s a very short leap to the truth which negates the need to spend excessive time pledging the conclusion.
Early on, the romantic and character elements show dangerous signs of slipping back into their MTV'isms as Wil and Amberle go from needing to rest, to starting a rigorous physical work out in under a minute (“ten minutes into adventuring rest and chill, she gives you that look like....”). Thankfully, that is the only dull note as things get much better when examining Eretria’s choices and the welcome reappearance of Cephalo. It has moments of being corny but the script does enough to show the meaning of Eretria’s freedom of choice to her former slave self. From simple little touches like Ty being the first person ever to ask her what she wants to do with her life, to calling back to earlier episodes of Eretria being dragged and ordered along by Amberle. Just as the people of Utopia are trying to make their community a fresh start, so does Eretria see that same chance for herself. As for Cephalo, he’s just the same fun rogue element in the mix. His recent betrayal plays well into Wil and Amberle being forced into trusting him again and despite being an overall minor part of the episode, he gets a good moment of redemption.
The stories elsewhere in the world are more of a scattershot, little points of plot development that are more the aftermath of last week and setup for the final episodes. Allanon telling Bandon he’s destined to be a druid feels very throwaway. Yes, we get some plays on Bandon’s reluctance verses forced destiny but it isn’t overly engaging. Ander’s nerves and fear over donning the crown are far more rewarding and warrant a bit more screen time than their meagre two scenes. His relapse into his former drunk party boy self feels in keeping with his character now faced with an overwhelming responsibility that never wanted. His determination to abdicate against Allanon’s pledges of responsibility work well and Ander’s inevitable acceptance of the crown delivers a worthwhile payoff.
This episode could have been a “deep breath before the plunge” as the trio near their Safehold destination and the Elves Vs Demons war looms. It could have been a solid hour of setup and foreshadowing but instead, its focus on distraction and entertainment makes for a much more enjoyable episode. Shannara may have left itself a lot of ground to cover in its concluding episodes but it’s like attending a party the night before a test; sure, the morning after could turn bad but that takes nothing away from the enjoyment of the night before.
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