The Shannara Chronicles is suffering from an identity crisis. It can't tell if it wants to be a teen drama or high fantasy, and any attempts to marry the two thus far have been middling at best. Case in point, Shannara's latest episode, "Pykon."
As always, here's your soulless recounting of the main beats before we really dig in. The episode's 40 minutes are split among three plot threads. SPOILERS AHEAD:
1. Arion gets tricked by Changeling Eventine into finding an incredibly evil-looking sword (seriously, it's black and spikey and might as well have a voice that says, "Look how spooky and evil I am!"), believing that Allanon made a lie of omission by not mentioning said sword, and then (maybe) killing Allanon. With the evil sword of evil. EVIL!
2. Ander accidentally lets Slanter escape, but Slanter comes back to reveal that the demon army is already much larger than everyone thought. Slanter leaves to inform the rest of the gnomes. Ander decides that, despite the slim odds of victory, he needs to assemble an Elf army.
3. Amberle, Wil, Eretria, Cepholo, et al. try to pass through a mountain by visiting the mythical Pykon, a place where elves supposedly used to torture their enemies. Surprise! One sadistic elf is still there and decides he'd like to torture our heroes. They're all about to escape when the Reaper from last episode turns up again (not dead, somehow). The last of Amberle's guards dies, Cepholo gets away, and Amberle, Eretria and Wil all fall down a frozen ravine, but probably not to their deaths.
That's your skeleton. And if we were to judge the episode purely on structure, this one absolutely works, even if it is a little paint-by-numbers. Does it shift the players on the board? Yup. Are there a few twists and turns? Yeah. Are new plot and character beats introduced? Totally.
But, boy howdy do the tendrils binding up the skeleton of this story cause my body to twist into a half yawn/half cringe position. Let's not skip ahead, though. There's some passable-to-good here worth mentioning before we talk bad. And ugly. So much ugly.
The complex relationship between Ander and Slanter is genuinely interesting, even though it doesn't get much screen time. Slanter killed Ander's brother, but Ander knows that he has to learn to trust Slanter if there's any hope of surviving the coming demon onslaught. And Slanter, too, has a lot to learn about trust. But these both feel like adult characters trying to make the least terrible decisions in impossibly treacherous times. Amberle, Wil and Eretria may represent the main storyline, but a lot of the world-building and stakes are being set up here.
Cepholo betrays everyone, thus bringing this time where the audience was supposed to like a serial rapist to a blissful end.
Eretria completely throws her lot in with Amberle and Wil, turning her back on Cepholo and opening herself up to self-sacrifice. That doesn't mean she can't still be a morally ambiguous rogue, but it does make it easier to like and root for her.
It's hard to believe that Arion can't tell that something's up with Big Poppa Eventine. Their relationship goes from "I don't trust you and you'll never be king" to "You're the only one I can trust and that Allanon guy I told you is the best is actually totally evil" virtually overnight. I get wanting daddy's approval, but it's hard to feel attached to characters when you don't believe they would do what they're doing.
The entire Pykon part of this story is just an excuse for some weak-sauce torture porn. I'm not sure Shannara and body horror are a natural fit, but if you're gonna go for that then go big or go home, I say.
A young half-elf girl, Mag, is introduced, and it's really obvious that she's only there so Wil can learn to care about her right before she gets killed off. Plus, it sounds like they got someone else to voice the little girl and the ADR work isn't great. It's a nitpick, maybe, but when you can tell a voice shouldn't be coming out of a particular mouth, it's nearly impossible to stay in the moment.
The episode opens with Amberle having a dream about gooofing off on a playground/making out with Wil, which ... what? What kind of pre-teen fantasy is this? Yes. We get it. The show is on MTV. But this feels completely out of place with the rest of the episode, so please, no more.
Amberle and Eretria have a bath together for absolutely no reason whatsoever. For a second, it seems like they're going to get along, but instead it literally turns into Eretria creeping on Amberle and asking if she wants to make out. I said have two muscly dudes kiss, show! Why are you having this pseudo-gay "I kissed a girl and I liked it" nonsense instead? Oh, right. You're on MTV. STOP IT.
In the same bath scene, Amberle says tha Eretria and Cepholo deserve each other. Really? Eretria deserves old man rapist? Not only is implying Eretria has it coming absolutely detestable, but it's also something I can't believe Amberle would say when she knows what it's like to be trapped in the lecherous hands of Cepholo. We should be finding new reasons for Amberle and Eretria to bond, not ways for the audience to despise both of them.
While Amberle is being tortured, Eretria is freeing herself from the bonds she's in. But instead of having Eretria save Amberle, thus developing them as allies, Wil shows up and saves the day instead. So why show Eretria escaping with the intent to save Amberle? Why, so she can witness Wil and Amberle make out, of course! The Shannara Chronicles -- now available on the MTV App!
They might have killed Allanon. Are you serious? YOU HAD ONE JOB, SHOW. Sexy personal bias aside, haven't we established that Allanon has some psychic abilities? How does he not know that Eventine isn't Eventine? And how does he let Arion very, very, VERY slowly pull out a sword and stab him TWICE? Whatever. He just disappears and TV rules say no body, no deady. So, I'm sure my favorite beefy druid will live to smolder at me another day.
And that's "Pykon." Decent plot, bizarre filler. And poor Allanon! That's what I think, anyway. What did you think? Any coveted MTV youth demo out there? Is this working for you? Or are you as confused as we old folk?