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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles: Reaper

There's a fine line between bad and So Bad It's Good. This episode ... did not cross that line. It's just bad.
The impression I have of Terry Brooks is that he's quite an easy-going writer, which is to say I don't think he's precious about his work. He doesn't refer to his books as his children, he doesn't insist on absolute fidelity when it comes to adaptations, and he was probably more than capable of simply accepting the cheque MTV offered and leaving the project in their hands.  
But I do find myself wondering what he thinks of this episode, as it marks a definite tonal shift. Of course, there's already been more blood, gore and sex on display here than there ever was in the books, but now we've seen a marked change in the portrayal of a fairly important supporting character.

Brooks's Cephalo was a wily con artist who couldn't be trusted – but he was human enough to ensure his death was no cause for celebration. Now he maims men so they'll die slowly at the hands claws of hungry marsh wolves, and is on the brink of raping the main female character before he's knocked out.
I mean... jeez. That's a mighty big change, and I'm not even sure why it was made. Later on in the episode, it would appear we're meant to see Cephalo in a different light as he finds a way to outwit the Reaper, saving himself, Wil and everyone else in the process. Um, no. You don't depict a character as a full-blown rapist and then try to redeem him in the eyes of the audience ten minutes later.
Let's just say Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil and leave it at that.
The rest of the episode revolved around a game of Pass the Elfstones and a smattering of superfluous subplots. The whole thing kickstarts with a lengthy flashback to ten years ago, in which Ander and Tilton are a couple and a gang of Gnomes break into the palace to assassinate King Eventine. They only manage to kill his eldest son – Amberle's father – before they're arrested.
I'm not sure we needed to know any of this (if memory serves Aine dies on a raid in the book) though I was marginally interested by the fact that one of the Gnomes is identified as Slanter. They've taken this character from The Wishsong of Shannara and made him more of an antagonist, though that seems set to change as present-day Ander frees him from his cell in a bid to cross the Elf borders and find where the demons are hiding.
For the record, this is nothing like how I imagined Gnomes – though I suppose I was only picturing them as crusty old hunchbacks.
It's official: they chose the absolute worst Elven Guards to accompany Amberle on her quest. First of all, why the heck aren't these guys on horses?
They're just gonna jog the whole way there?
Second of all, though they're all anticipating run-ins with Demons, this elite team of warriors can't even take on a bunch of untrained Rovers with dirt artfully smeared on their faces.

This is approximately 1.5 seconds in.
This one looks like he's about to slice his own throat.
Thirdly, one of their number gallops right into the middle of a barren patch of land that's smouldering with strange gases and acts surprised when it promptly kills him.
Finally, on reaching the fort they notice a lack of guards on the parapets. So what does their wise and cautious leader do? Blow a big bloody horn so that the Demon inside knows they've arrived.
Eretria gets the best mini-arc in this episode, but even "best" is relative. Cephalo rescues her from the Elves and promises her freedom, but knowing what's in store for the people she's left behind, this look lets us know she's returning:
Unfortunately the show never clearly conveys how exactly her freedom is won. Unless there was some sort of guarantee in that pouch Cephalo gave her (some sort of symbolic object denoting Eretria's freedom that can't be withdrawn) then what's to stop him from calling the whole thing off and forcing her back into his service? Especially since she made no attempt to hide herself when she stopped him from raping Amberle?
And of course, she demands the reward Amberle offered her in exchange for the rescue. Look I know she'll end up being a trusted friend and ally eventually, but wouldn't now have been a good time for that process to start? I suppose getting dragged around in chains hasn't exactly warmed her to the princess, but we've now reached the halfway point of the season. There's no time to waste.
Geez, these demons scenes are giving me a headache. I'm pretty sure the whole white noise/smeared visuals are modelled on the effects in The Lord of the Rings whenever Frodo put on the Ring, but I'm not sure what the justification is here.
And only one character manages to be stupider than the Elven Guards in this episode, which is really saying something. The Changeling stabs Eventine to death in a large room and takes the throne while his body cools on the floor – because sure, that's the most important thing to do after you've just killed a king. Dramatic effect trumps hiding the evidence of a murder every time.
Well, we're already halfway to the finish line, so I may as well see this out to the end, but this episode put a real damper on my enjoyment of the show so far. The main story is pretty standard fantasy fare (albeit juiced up with gore and sex) but it was taken to a place as ugly as it was confusing this time around.
Even the new stuff feels predictable and one-note, making it a mystery as to why they're not injecting some originality into the subplots they're expanding on. There at least is some room for innovation, but instead we're getting romantic entanglements between completely superfluous characters. Does anyone at all care about Bandon/Catania?
Miscellaneous Observations:
If nothing else, this show has introduced me to Agnes Obel. Listen to some of her stuff, she's fantastic!
What's with all the griffin symbolism? There are no griffins in the books, so perhaps they're meant to be rocs.

Griffin statue far left.
The Dagda Mor goes right ahead and says You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. It's like he knows he's in a trope-tastic fantasy show.
This was a nice shot: 
The Red Shirts keep their helmets on throughout most of this episode, just to make sure there's never the slightest bit of humanity to make us care about them.

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