The Shannara Chronicles: “Breakline” is a solid episode, but in a world that feels very small

After two weeks of Game of Thrones-ing things up, The Shannara Chronicles finally delivers another solid episode with a better balance between the monster of the week and a B-plot back at Arborlon. I’m also happy to report that nothing rape-y happens this week, which is also a nice change of pace.

The opening glosses over exactly how Wil, Amberle, and Eretria survived their fall at the end of “Pykon” as well as what exactly happened to the Reaper that had followed them. We also don’t learn this week what happened to Cephalo after he cut the zipline on the young people, but I feel it’s safe to say we probably haven’t seen the last of him. Normally this kind of narrative shortcutting would irritate me, but I can’t say I was disappointed to have an episode free of sexual predators, especially when it turns out to be a well-conceived, nicely paced, action-packed hour that is probably the best episode of the season so far. In any case, we start the episode with our protagonists separated and trying to find their way back to each other, and this occupies the majority of the episode.

Wil almost immediately has an encounter with a young elf, Perk, who has been attacked by a group of human elf hunters who cut off one of his ears. Because apparently gnomes think that elf ears have “medicinal” properties. This is profoundly silly, but okay. Wil treats Perk’s wound with some kind of herb (marijuana, obv), and they head off to find the elf hunters, who have captured Perk’s partner and who Wil worries may have captured Amberle and Eretria. Meanwhile, Eretria and Amberle do have a run-in with the elf-hunters, but they manage escape. However, Amberle irresponsibly drops her sword, which tips the elf hunters off to who she is and ensures that they will keep hunting the girls, who manage to fall through an ancient rooftop into a remarkably well-preserved, albeit filthy, high school gymnasium still decorated for prom. I absolutely adored these parallel adventures, though for very different reasons.

Wil is kind of a fascinating character to me because he’s not a fighter at all, and this week we get to see more of his real strength, which is healing. One thing that is great about this show as an adaptation of The Elfstones of Shannara is that it mostly leaves Wil alone when it comes to this. It would have been easy to turn him into a more traditionally swashbuckling sort of fantasy hero, but instead the show has pretty consistently portrayed Wil as a character who prefers to solve problems creatively rather than violently and who genuinely wants to help people. So his interactions with Perk this week are excellent and do a nice job of challenging Wil’s ideals of how the world ought to be. It forces some character growth, by making Wil think about things from a different perspective, but I really appreciate that it doesn’t change who Wil is at heart. He might be able to help Perk and accept help from Perk, but Wil isn’t ready to abandon his own personal ethos.

For me, Eretria and Amberle’s journey through the Pompeii-esque ruins of a 21st century high school really stole the show this week. I thought the bath scene in “Pykon” was just a case of boring old queerbaiting, but “Breakline” takes the time to develop the relationship between the two women a little more. I’m not sure if I’m ready to say that Ambertria is real, but it’s close. I only wish the elf hunters had caught up to them about thirty seconds sooner. I loved the scene, but the dialogue turned very clunky and felt as if the writers don’t trust the audience to understand Amberle and Eretria’s relationship without having it spelled out for us. It’s a classic case of telling instead of showing, and nothing spoils an intimate moment like having the intimacy explained to us like we’re two.

The only major criticism I have of the Wil-Amberle-Eretria stuff this week, however, is that the show continues to suffer from a sort of small world syndrome. We’re getting to see some new settings and stuff, which is nice, and I loved the world building power of Amberle and Eretria’s trip through the old school, but what are the odds that the elf hunters are being led by Eretria’s jilted ex-girlfriend? I mean, good job on further confirming that Eretria is canonically bisexual, I guess, but come on. It’s just not reasonable that basically every new character we meet in this fantasy world knows each other, and it really diminishes the feeling that our heroes are on an epic quest. Eretria being captured by her evil ex at the end of the episode means that we’ll still be dealing with this newest diversion for at least part of next week’s episode as well. I’m concerned that this means that all the epic parts of Elfstones are going to be crammed into episodes nine and ten, which could make the ending feel very rushed and even anticlimactic. We’ll see.

The B-plot of “Breakline” deals with Arion and Ander being sent by fake Eventine to try and use the warlock sword against the Dagda Mor. I’m not sure why the princes go along with this obviously terrible idea, but it ends up getting Arion killed and Ander has to be rescued by Allanon. Arion’s death feels really unceremonious and abrupt, in spite of being fairly heavily telegraphed, probably because Ander just leaves him lying there on the ground. While I’m not a stickler for adaptations hewing too closely to their source material, it’s too bad that Arion’s death is treated as such a small, personal event, with no witnesses besides Ander and Allanon. Similarly, the defeat of fake Eventine happens in a room with just a couple of people. Surely crowd scenes can be expensive, but these types of events demand a larger audience if they’re going to feel as epic as they ought.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I wish we got a better look at Perk’s bird thingy. I remember the Wing Riders being pretty cool in the books, and I’d love to see more of them in the show.
  • Bremen looks a lot like Rutger Hauer, and I actually got a little excited for a second thinking it might be him, but it wasn’t. I feel cheated by this.
  • I’ve seen a lot of people making fun of Allanon’s transformer sword, but I actually kind of love that cheesy effect.
  • I loved Amberle’s dice.

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