The Shannara Chronicles: “Utopia” is WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST WATCH?

The Shannara Chronicles is a wild fucking ride, folks. A couple of weeks ago I was ready to ragequit the show. Then last week the show seemed to be improving and getting back on track with the quest to get to Safehold and save the Ellcrys. I knew at least part of “Utopia” would be dedicated to rescuing Eretria, but I didn’t expect it to take the entire episode. And, you guys. I’m not sure I can even put into words what a complete disaster this episode was. There are all kinds of things I expected going into this series, and a few more things got added after I got a good look at the show, but “Utopia” is just mind-blowingly terrible on basically every level.

It starts off more or less how I expected it to, with Eretria being carted off by her evil ex-girlfriend and Wil and Amberle determined to find their friend, although I feel like “friend” is a very generous term for their relationship with the human girl. You know, what with all the subterfuge and thievery and betrayal and stuff. But, okay, they’re friends, and Wil and Amberle are going to find Eretria. But first, they’re going to almost bone, in a very boring and unsexy soft focus scene. Just in case anyone did manage to find Wil and Amberle’s tryst somewhat romantic, it’s interrupted, right when it’s heating up, by the worst possible development: the return of Cephalo.

Listen, I know that there was pretty much no way that Cephalo wasn’t coming back, and I even expected it to be something like this, but it would be nice to be pleasantly surprised once in a while. Sadly, nothing involving Cephalo in this episode is even remotely surprising. Amberle and Wil release him from the troll cage he’s caught in with minimal arguing about it, and Cephalo promptly tries to steal the elfstones again and bails on the party. He doesn’t try to rape anyone, which is good, I suppose, but he is given a completely unearned hero’s death and a touching parting scene where he tells Eretria that she’s “the best thing [he’s] ever done,” because apparently keeping a child as an actual slave and training her to be a thief/murderer and keeping her in line through abuse and by threatening to sell her to your terrifying friends is definitely something to be proud of. I mean, it’s not like Eretria was so desperate for anything resembling safety and love and basic kindness that she fell in with a weird cult this week or anything. Oh, wait. A+ parenting job, Cephalo.

Speaking of the weird cult! So, the elf hunters show up at a weird human settlement that looks less like a fantasy village and more like a hipster farming co-op, and it turns out that’s a pretty accurate description. Somehow, this little village, under the leadership of a guy named Tye, has managed to either save or rediscover quite a lot of pre-apocalypse human technology, everything from anesthetic to electric lights to Star Trek. This makes no sense at all and doesn’t seem to have any thematic purpose. It’s a tempting place for Eretria, but I think that any place where people are nice and she feels secure would be a temptation for her.

The way the citizens of Utopia almost worship the ancient technology is actually creepy, and though this weirdness foreshadows, I guess, the revelation that they sacrifice people to the nearby trolls, it also kind of breaks the fantasy setting. While the world of Shannara was always a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, it wasn’t revealed until much later in the books that it was actually our world, and the reason people didn’t know is because almost nothing survived of it after several thousand years. In the show, they seem to have shortened the timeline, and they’ve certainly been sure to use the detritus of our current world as a backdrop for the fantasy story they’re telling. This has mostly worked, and it’s been a good way for The Shannara Chronicles to set itself apart, visually, from other fantasy worlds. However, it’s definitely a situation where less is more—the dilapidated Space Needle is good for background and world building, but it’s nonsensical to spend most of an episode at a rave on a hipster commune.

It could have been worse, but not by much, and unfortunately this isn’t even so bad it’s good. While I did laugh, often and loudly, at “Utopia,” it was mocking, not mirthful. I will definitely be watching the final two episodes of the season, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back for season two if it happens. I really wanted to like this show, and I think I’ve been a good sport about it and very willing to overlook some of its flaws because it’s nice to look at and a nice break from the darker fantasy fare that is more common these days. “Utopia” is so awful that I want to take back everything nice I ever said about the show, and I’m frankly embarrassed to have defended and recommended it to people.


Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Apparently Bandon is the next druid.
  • Ander decides that maybe he wants to be King after all.
  • This show should spend less money on cream colored dresses from Anthropologie and more money on making their trolls. Having them dressed in rags and gas masks is lazy and cheap.
  • Why is Eretria’s ex-girlfriend killed? Yeah, she wasn’t a nice person, but that seemed kind of random and unnecessary since she’d already been safely written out of things after she sold Eretria to the hipster cult. She wasn’t even a loose end at that point, so there was no reason to revisit her at all, which makes her death truly gratuitous.

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