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The beginning of a quest gets stalled yet again on The Shannara Chronicles

Illustration for article titled The beginning of a quest gets stalled yet again on The Shannara Chronicles

At 10 episodes, the first season of The Shannara Chronicles is bound to expand (or condense) certain things found in its source novel, The Elfstones Of Shannara. But why oh why did Alfred Gough and Miles Millar decide to expand upon the Changeling?

It’s not that the Changeling—even the unnecessarily sexified one seen on the show—isn’t striking as a creature. A being that has the ability to take on the form of any human or beast, no matter the size, has the potential to cause some Thing-like mayhem amongst Wil, Amberle, and the other heroes of the Four Lands. But because they become aware of its presence while still at Arbolon, the being puts yet another roadblock in the way of actually kicking off the story’s primary quest. Even worse, all of this happens after we’ve seen Amberle pass her test inside the trunk of the Ellcrys. As cool as the tree’s scorched-Earth sequence is, how many preludes do we need before the characters can embark on their central mission? The Shannara Chronicles doesn’t need to follow the novel at every turn, but Brooks’ treatment of the Changeling makes for a faster-moving narrative. And at four episodes in, the next arc simply needs to get started.

At least “Changeling” manages to get most of the main cast in one place, lending the episode a singularity that’s tenser and more focused than the split-party sprawl that drove the first three chapters. With the varying parties all stationed at Arbolon—even Eretria is there after sneaking in to re-steal the Elfstones—the Changeling is free to wreak its havoc, first impersonating a guard to kill that plant-whisperer guy, then transforming into the rover and framing her for attempted murder. The halls of the elf kingdom provide a labyrinthine setting for the cat-and-mouse game, and for a while, it’s thrilling to watch the Changeling take on a new identity as it turns every corner. But after Eretria gets apprehended, we get another dreary scene of elves deciding what to do with someone who’s wronged them, reminding us that, for all the action in this episode (a slight step up from “The Chosen” and “Fury”), things haven’t really begun to move yet.

An affectionate yet manipulative scene between Wil and Eretria fares better, as it finally gives The Shannara Chronicles some much needed humor. Courage and burgeoning demon-slaying abilities aside, the half-elf’s still dim enough to fall for the rover’s tricks one more time, so much that he passes out with a dopily satisfied grin after they have sex. This allows Eretria to easily steal the Elfstones, thus setting off the chain of events that lead to her capture. However, their encounter is also slightly different than their previous one in that she actually seems to care for Wil, even as she swindles him.

Besides leading to a chuckle-worthy scolding from Allanon where the druid might as well channel his inner Red Foreman and call Wil a dumbass, the scene also lays the foundation for some triangular tension between Wil, Amberle, and Eretria. They’re about to hit the road together—albeit with Eretria in chains—along with several other elves to make sure the Ellcrys has a future, and it’s guaranteed that the romantic jealousy will lead to some problems. But they have to start moving first, and that only happens in the episode’s closing moments, after Allanon has (temporarily) dispatched the Changeling with his own version of the Stone Cold Stunner. At the rate The Shannara Chronicles is currently moving, they’ll be lucky to make it past the first clump of trees.

Stray observations

  • So many modern television shows don’t know how to get blood right (see the digitized goop on The Walking Dead), but whoever designs The Shannara Chronicles’ plasma should get some recognition. Not only does its brightness harken back to ‘70s genre effects—it contributes nicely to the show’s otherworldly tone.
  • There’s a strange mixture of serious fantasy talk and contemporary sayings in “Changeling,” which I suppose makes sense given when and where The Shannara Chronicles takes place. But that doesn’t keep lines like “Wow, you’re such a guy” and “Don’t worry. Daddy’s coming” (yuck) from being unwelcome static to the ears.
  • “I have no love for Eretria.” Oh yes you do, Wil!
  • “You should know that the struggle was mutual and lasted about an hour.”

The Spoilers Of Shannara

  • I’m still not done with The Elfstones Of Shannara, but I think the novel’s device of the Changeling mimicking King Eventine’s wolfhound, then getting discovered later on would have been a smart move on the show’s part. It would have allowed there to be a constant threat within the walls of Arbolon, while freeing up Amberle, Wil, and Eretria to begin their journey. Since the Changeling’s still alive, maybe it will happen eventually.
  • Does Crispin get mentioned in The Sword Of Shannara? I just finished reading it, and I remember seeing his name somewhere in the text. I just returned it to the library though, so I can’t double-check.
  • I had forgotten that Eventine plays a minor but important role in Sword. I’ve always loved the scope of Terry Brooks’ work. It’s satisfying to see characters appear across several books and hundreds of years.