The first season of The Shannara Chronicles was a distinctly mixed affair. The production values of the series were magnificent; its costuming, effects work, locations, and (for the most part) acting were all ingredients of a modern epic. But despite the luscious visuals, the series was severely let down by its writing. Although it was based on a highly successful series of novels, being a production of MTV pre-emptively hamstrung the series’ ingrained potential. Forgoing the source novels’ crafting of a fantasy saga, the channel acceded to its YA target demographic and focused far too much on the love triangle between its young and pretty stars, while the save-the-world quest driving its story was poorly portrayed with overly simplistic plotting.
Perhaps realising this, the series has been ported to Spike (home of The Mist and the future home of Red Mars and Heathers), the channel’s more mature content allowing for less watered down violence, and thus more exciting battle sequences and better representation of the brutality inherent in the everyday lives the people of this post-Earth fantasy realm must face. Additionally, the better crafted dialogue presumes enough intelligence on the part of the audience to not require everything spelled out for them, making events more interesting to watch merely by dint of how people speak, imparting information through more naturalistic dialogue.
Picking up a year after the climax of season one, season two’s first episode Druid sees Wil working as a doctor in a community of gnomes, still heartbroken over Amberle’s sacrifice and sleepwalking through an empty existence while the powerful magic of the Elfstones remains dormant at his side. Unaware bounty hunters are on his trail, he encounters new character Mareth, a girl with secrets of her own. Meanwhile, Eretria has found some semblance of peace with a new girlfriend in a community of scavengers living in a decaying weed-choked high-rise of what was once San Francisco, but hidden secrets soon make her question whether she has truly found a home. Allanon, who is far and away the series’ most interesting character, was unfortunately given little to do, but still made an impressive impact facing off with Bandon and his minions as they begin raising a dark power.
The series’ effects work remains as spectacular as ever, particular highlights being a mountain peak in the shape of a glowing-eyed demon skull, and Bandon’s cultists soaring across the sky in balls of crimson smoke and flame like comets spat from the mouth of hell. Unfortunately, not everything has improved for the better. The subtly of the general plotting still has a lot of room for improvement, the scope of the villainy feels too limited, and the sight of some characters blundering into an ambush is a regrettable regression into one of the first season’s most tiresome repetitions. We can only hope that now the series has re-established itself these minor issues can be addressed, and the show’s quality will continue to improve.
While not quite the auspicious rebirth it could have been, Druid is a vast improvement over the narrative meandering that previously plagued the series, and takes a huge leap towards the ultimate realisation of what The Shannara Chronicles should always have been.
THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES SEASON 2, EPISODE 1: “DRUID” / DIRECTOR: BRAD TURNER / SCREENPLAY: ALFRED GOUGH, MILES MILLAR / STARRING: AUSTIN BUTLER, IVANA BAQUERO, MANU BENNETT / AIR DATE: OCTOBER 11TH (USA ON SPIKE), OCTOBER 19TH (UK ON 5STAR).