It feels incomplete. Decent, entertaining, but incomplete. That’s about as concise a review as I can give for “The Eye Of The World,” the final episode of the first season of The Wheel Of Time, and for the season as a whole. Over the course of eight episodes, the show’s writer’s attempted to introduce its main cast, explain the crisis that was forcing them to act, and provide information about the world they lived in and were desperate to protect. That they succeeded by varying degrees at all of these tasks is impressive, but taken one by one, no individual thread was woven strong enough to support the whole–and as a result, it’s hard not to leave this finale feeling just slightly disappointed. We’re promised that there will be more to come, and that I’ll be excited to see it; but I can’t help wishing the show had taken a few more risks, had leaned harder into some ideas and left some on the cutting room floor entirely. I think The Wheel Of Time has found its voice by now, and it’s speaking clearly. But I could use a little more passion, I think. Or maybe the occasional scream.
Tortured metaphor aside, “World” does what it needs to do for the most part. Rand is the Dragon, he has a fight with someone he thinks is the Dark One (it isn’t), and ultimately chooses the side of the Light, much to Moraine’s relief; the people of Fal Dara band together to fight back an evil army, at great cost to themselves; Egwene and Nyneave get their first taste of just how dangerous channeling can be; and Perrin helps find, and lose, an extremely important horn. All of these events, to varying degrees, inform the direction the show is heading next, sustaining the sense of momentum that’s been an on-going concern for the entire season. At its best, the finale found ways to keep the personal foregrounded in the middle of the epic; at its worst, the epic ended up feeling like echoes of other work, a edges-rounded off remix of movies and shows that can’t quite offer a reason to keep watching beyond “it’s fine.”
Eight episodes is not a lot of time for a sprawling fantasy saga, and it shows; the very competence and briskness with which the writers typically introduced ideas also had the unfortunate side effect of making everything feel roughly the same in terms of importance. The true identity of the Dragon Reborn lands about as hard as a Warder mourning the loss his Aes Sedai, or Nyneave and Lan’s romance, or the clumsy love triangle between Egwene, Perrin, and Rand. In a way, this is a laudable, maybe even worthwhile, goal. In democratizing the focus, the show’s writers have taken an “all the pieces matter” approach in a way which, theoretically at least, should open up the story as it goes. It’s not a spoiler to say the original book series grew exponentially more expansive with time–at a certain point, the narrative got away from Jordan as he became so enamored with the world he created that he seemed to lose track of why he’d created it. But that expansiveness can still be a virtue, and it makes a certain kind of sense to put more emphasis on it early on.
It’s just, well, Rand being the Dragon really ought to be a bigger deal than this. In theory, it’s what the whole season was driving towards, and it was the first question we were introduced to way back in the premiere. But while the actor does some solid work selling the character’s fear and confusion, and while the actual scenes between him and Moraine in the Blight are well done, there’s no real emphasis on any of them, not even when Rand comes face to face with the bad guy who’s been haunting his dreams. None of what happens in the Blight comes across as significantly more meaningful or impactful than anything happening back at Fal Dara, even though confrontation between Rand and the Man is what ultimately decides the outcome of that battle. The titular “Eye of the World” barely even registers as a place beyond just a set of ruins inside another, larger set of ruins.
The result is something that’s never less than watchable, and often quite engaging, but that never makes that extra step to grab us by the shoulders and demand we pay attention. Take the cold open, a perfectly fine teaser about past events which nonetheless fails to really make more of an impression than a curious “...huh.” 3000 years ago, Lews Therin had a plan that would solve everything. Someone disagreed with this plan, but Lews seemed pretty intent on making it happen. He has a baby, and he wanted to protect his baby. Opening credits.
I guessed last week that the cold open would finally adapt the novel’s prologue, and I honestly wish it had. That prologue also featured Lews Therin, but it was at the moment of his utter destruction, the catastrophe that set in motion the events that would make the Dragon’s rebirth a necessity some three millennia later. Obviously it’s not a requirement that the show adapt this particular chapter directly, but I’m baffled as to why they didn’t, especially when what we got instead was so comparatively restrained and dramatically flat. There’s a nice reveal of the past as being technologically advanced compared to the present (flying cars, woo), but while there’s a clear sense of foreboding, given what we already know, there’s no real teeth in it, nothing to really rub our faces in doom.
That reserve has its upsides. The low-key conversations between Rand and the Man, both in his dreams and out of them, are a satisfying counterpoint to the show’s other magic battles, and I love how completely relaxed and chill the Man is throughout, confident in his ability to control the flow of events, and nearly correct in that confidence. I also liked Rand realizing he couldn’t live in his fantasy because it would mean denying Egwene what she actually wanted; their relationship hasn’t really registered as strongly as it should’ve have if it was going to be carrying this much narrative weight, but it’s still a clever end to the fight, one which reinforces Rand’s decency in a specific way.
It’s all the more disappointing, then, that the first time we see Rand channel, using a sa’angreal (a totem that allows him to take on more of the source) that Moraine gave him earlier, it’s a lot of build up to… not much. It’s not even really a fight. Presumably this is became the Man isn’t actually gone for good, but given that Rand is supposed to be incredibly powerful, and he’s using an object that makes him even more powerful to strike down another incredibly powerful channeler, it feels like a wasted opportunity that once again shifts focus away from the Dragon’s importance in the story. If that’s the intent, I’m curious how it works long term; as for right now, it makes the first season feel undercooked, moving swiftly and efficiently to get to a point that it somehow forgot to make matter.
If I’m being harsh here, it’s mostly the frustration of something good missing great by seeming inches. “Eye Of The World” still maintains the strong pacing that’s been a hallmark throughout the season, following various members of the ensemble (and a few extra guests) as they struggle to deal with the army attacking Fal Dara, and a betrayal in the vaults below the city. The best of these side stories has Egwene and Nyneave joining forces with Lady Amalisa, allowing her to control their powers (we learned last week that Amalisa trained with the Aes Sedai but wasn’t powerful enough to become a full sister herself) long enough to push back the charging army. Things go awry from there, fulfilling one of Min’s earlier visions as the power overwhelms Amalisa, killing the other women involved and (briefly) killing Nyneave, before Egwene heals her. It’s the sort of warning that the Rand scenes could’ve used more of, a reminder that power comes at a cost, and that whenever Egwene or Nyneave or Moraine or anyone is channeling, there’s always a danger of going too far.
The finale tries to find something to do with poor Perrin, giving him a chance to rail against the Way of the Leaf as he struggles to find a place in the battle. His frustration doesn’t quite register; clearly, the character was supposed to have an arc where his horror over his wife’s death lead him to be tempted by the pacifism of the Tinkers, only to realize he ultimately can’t stay on the sidelines while people he cares about are being hurt and killed. But while I can see the outlines of that in the season we got, it never connected as strongly as it needed to for any of this to really resonate. Outlines aren’t enough. At this point, I’d say that the show’s main ensemble is developed enough to get a sense of who they’re supposed to be, but not well-developed beyond that point–archetypes in search of souls which only intermittently present themselves.
Perrin is present when a group of soldiers dig up Fal Dara’s greatest treasure, the Horn of Valere, to be used at the Last Battle to call out the legendary heroes of old to fight against the Dark One. Before they can make off with the Horn, Padan Fain shows up with some baddies to steal it. I’m curious how this reveal lands for viewers not familiar with the novels; having read the books, I knew Padan Fain was a bad guy, but wasn’t sure if the show was going to do much with him, given his relatively slight presence in the premiere. Seeing him show up now is fine, but it also underlines how much world-building the show needs to do to really give a sense of its scope, to transcend the illusion that we’re watching a handful of individuals moving through a series of well-appointed sets.
Given that the season ends with the introduction of another major threat, that’s only going to become more important. A fleet of ships arriving at a beach and summoning a massive tidal wave is certainly visually impressive, and, again, knowing the books I know who these folks are (and they are very scary), but we don’t know where the beach is, and in its speed, the show has yet to really create a sense of the whole land being under threat. Geography is hard to convey on a show like this, where you can’t just tell people to keep checking the map at the beginning of the book, but it’s still necessary to make impressive moments add up to more than just moments.
Final scene aside, “World” ends with Rand going off on his own, asking Moraine to tell the others he died; and Moraine telling Lan that she can no longer feel the Source after her fight with the Man earlier. (The visual of her holding a knife to an unconscious Rand’s throat was a good one, by the way.) As they say on Twitter, seems bad! I have my reservations about the next season, but they’re mostly around just to temper my continued excitement that someone (a group of someones) apparently achieved the impossible: a credible adaptation of The Wheel Of Time. Or at least the start of one.
- According to the press materials, “the Man” Rand confronts at the Eye is Ishamael, one of the Forsaken. I’m sure we’ll be learning more about the Forsake next season, but I’m unsure if the episode itself ever actually identified the character, apart from Moraine’s acknowledgement to Lan that this was only the “first” battle, not the last.
- Rand had already started regaining some of Lews Therin’s memories, a really interesting idea that gets barely any attention here.
- The Eye was kind of a let down, wasn’t it? In the books, it’s a big pool of magic that gets obliterated, revealing the Horn and the broken seal underneath. Here, it’s just… I think it was just a room? And the Horn was back at Fal Dara. (The broken seal are the bits and pieces Moraine and Lan examine at the end of the episode, although I think they could’ve done a better job stressing exactly what those pieces used to be.)
- Mat–still exists! I wonder if him getting more or less dropped from the last two episodes of the show has something to do with the role being recast for season two. It’s a bit of a bummer, really; Mat was always one of my favorites in the book series. Here’s hoping they can find more for him to do next season.
- Is Loial dead? That would a twist.
- The army at the end are the Seanchan. They have a very particular approach to people who can use the One Power.
- One last shout0out to Rosamund Pike, easily the season MVP.