The Shannara Chronicles: “Changeling” changes almost nothing for anyone

“Changeling” is a tough episode to review. On the one hand, it’s a kind of objectively dull hour, with little forward movement, a lot of time spent standing around spouting expository dialogue, and not much actually happening. On the other hand, it’s an episode that is heavily focused on character, and this benefits nearly everyone on the show. It’s also nice to see a good deal more of Arborlon, which now feels much more like a real, living place. So while the episode is certainly flawed, I kind of loved it, and the end of “Changeling,” finally and for real, has our heroes actually setting out on their journey.

Episode four picks up right where the third one left off, with Amberle entering the Ellcrys tree. Once inside, she’s rather predictably subject to a vision and a test wherein she has to overcome her fears and master her emotions in order to prove that she’s capable (at least theoretically) of completing the quest the tree is going to give her. It’s pretty straightforward, standard issue chosen one stuff, but it’s nicely filmed and Poppy Drayton is convincing in her role as Amberle. She’s got an expressive face and isn’t afraid to use it, and this episode is definitely a showcase for her abilities as Amberle has to confront her fears, deal with a trauma, and come to terms with a tragedy before embarking on a journey that is going to change her life even more than it has been already.

The downside of this, though, is that Amberle doesn’t really get a lot to do once she emerges from the Ellcrys besides look very serious and sad and disapproving. This isn’t helped by the fact that she’s also being hunted by a changeling demon that wants to murder her, which keeps Amberle moving around quite a bit through the episode, but always within the palace at Arborlon and mostly with at least a couple of guards in tow. I was happy to see her get a nice quiet moment with her friend Catania. They have a nice chemistry, and it’s obvious that the two young women share a great deal of love and affection. It’s a good counterpoint to Amberle’s contentious relationship with Eretria, though I’m happy to say that the conflict between these two is more substantial than fighting over a boy (even if I suppose that Wil is part of it).

Probably my favorite Amberle scene this week, though, was when her grandfather, Eventine, gifts her with her father’s sword, along with a speech about how like her father she is. This is also a great scene for Eventine, who was kind of a jerk in his other scenes this week. For a guy who no longer plans to abdicate his throne, he sure does a lot of delegating of responsibility. Also, poor Arion! Arion is the worst, but I felt legitimately bad for him when Eventine told him that he’s not ready to be king. Maybe if Eventine had been a better dad, his heir wouldn’t be such a dick.

While Amberle is busy having a very serious coming of age moment as she accepts her sacred responsibility or whatever, Wil is busy banging Eretria and getting his elfstones stolen again. He is seriously so easy, which is cute in a way, but I can definitely understand why Amberle might be very worried about having to maybe kill him, what with his being self-destructively stupid and all.

In any case, Eretria gets caught and is being framed for murder and accused of trying to kill Amberle, but this all ends up with them figuring out that the demon is a shapeshifter. There is some kind of half-baked plot to trick the demon by using Eretria as a decoy, but it doesn’t work. However, Allanon manages to kill the changeling anyway, and by the end of the episode Amberle, Wil, and Eretria are setting out from Arborlon.

I’m curious to see how this works out, mostly because I wonder how long the show is going to make us wait for the inevitable showdown with Cephalo and the Rovers. I’m also not sure what the show is going to do with Bandon and his visions, which seem almost superfluous with Allanon around reading minds and looking stuff up in his magic book that conveniently has all the answers. Also, what is going to happen with Catania? I hope she’s going with them as well; otherwise, it will feel like sort of a waste for her to exist at all.

Mostly, though, I’m just very excited to see the real quest finally getting underway. Hopefully next week will see a lot more forward movement on the main plot—because it’s really the only one. As refreshing as it is to watch a show that is relatively free of subplots, this style of storytelling only really works if there is consistent linear development. Keeping all of the action (if you want to call it that) contained in one small setting (Arborlon) feels claustrophobic and is, ultimately, frustrating, especially when this bit with figuring out the changeling could have been handled in about ten minutes.

Still, I really like that this show seems to be so aware of what it is. It doesn’t put on airs, and it doesn’t try to pretend as if this isn’t a story we’ve seen a thousand times before, but it does seem fairly committed to doing a proper job of it. Though the writing doesn’t often rise above workmanlike and the story is pedestrian at best, The Shannara Chronicles is exactly the sort of gorgeously designed comfort-programming I want to watch these days. “Changeling” and its weird feeling of stasis is somewhat of a hiccup, but if the next six episodes are good, it will be easy to forgive the sins of this one.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The seed prop is cool, but it looks a little too much like metal.
  • Spinning the camera around in a circle doesn’t hide the fact that you’re just filming a group of people standing around spouting exposition.
  • “Accomplishments? What would they be?” BURRRRN.
  • “I’ll never call you short tips again.”
  • “She attacked me in my room.” Oh, Wil. I was a little disappointed when Amberle didn’t point out his red ears.
  • I loved the interior shots of Arborlon. They’re not as nice to look at as the scenery porn in the show’s outside world, but it’s pretty impressive what they’ve done with relatively small sets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s