The Shannara Chronicles: “Safehold” is this show’s most unintentionally hilarious episode yet

This week, as indicated by the episode title, we finally see our heroes make it to Safehold, which is a relief after several weeks of almost no forward progress. Unfortunately, the lack of silly side quests, ridiculous obstructions and unnecessary meandering on the part of Amberle and company doesn’t mean we get an episode free of boring and unimportant nonsense. Indeed, Amberle, Wil and Eretria feel shoved almost to a back burner this week as the show focuses on goings on at Arborlon, where new King Ander is struggling to hold onto his crown and Bandon is being possessed by the Dagda Mor.

Safehold, it turns out, is named for the letters that are left on an ostensibly ancient sign next to the ruins of the Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco and Oakland. I have very mixed feelings about this, to be honest. Remains of something as large as the Bay Bridge might last hundreds of years, but most of the other detritus of human society would not, and the sheer amount of stuff that seems to have survived in the onscreen Shannara world is simply unbelievable. The show should definitely have stuck with a less-is-more approach to this sort of thing, but instead they’ve opted for an unfortunate mash-up of fantasy and post-apocalyptic aesthetics that works less and less well the deeper they delve into the world. This week continued to have some nice porn-y wide shots of scenery, especially of Arborlon (although it does seem like they’ve started to recycle the aerial views of the city), but in close things are a mess.

The biggest problem for Amberle, Wil, and Eretria this week is that for once they don’t really have any problems. After weeks of contrived random encounter bullshit, they’re basically able to just walk right into San Francisco. Eretria’s tattoo is a deus ex machina and a half, and they don’t even disturb the trolls. When they get to the actual Bloodfire, the two banshees or whatever that are guarding it are laughably weak. All they can do is say some mean things to the heroes, and they’re quickly dispatched with Wil’s elfstones. The “cliffhanger” ending, with Amberle disappeared into the Bloodfire and Eretria seemingly dead (but obvs just passed out from blood loss), isn’t actually very cliffhanger-y at all since the show has done a piss poor job of creating a sense of actual danger for the characters.

Even the emotional stakes are remarkably low. Amberle and Eretria are besties now, which leaves Wil feeling henpecked, and there’s no hint of romance for any of them this week which makes one wonder why the show even bothered with the love triangle business in previous weeks. All of their interactions and epiphanies feel hollow and soulless. The only one of the trio who seems to have any real, authentic feelings this week is Eretria, who is exhilarated by the rush of magic when her tattoo turns out to be a map to exactly where they need to go, because fate or something. There are some other things hinted at, such as Eretria’s abandonment issues, and she and Wil almost have a moment of bonding over their desire to find someplace to belong. However, it’s spoiled by the fact that Wil’s claim of outsider status is a glaring case of telling-not-showing and feels insincere.

At Arborlon, Ander’s decision to claim his father’s throne has had some consequences as the head Councilor, Kail, has decided to lead a coup. This storyline actually has a lot of potential, but there’s not enough context for it to work as a single-episode arc. For one thing, Kail hasn’t even had any lines before this week, so it’s uncertain who she is and why we’re supposed to care about her opinion so much. Apparently Ander had promised her that he wasn’t going to take the throne, but that must have happened offscreen, which makes the implied betrayal of trust much less impactful. Without any foreshadowing or setup or seeding of the plot points here—the show didn’t even introduce the major characters involved in this plot before this week—it just feels like a distraction, and the eventual acceptance of Ander as King is aggressively uninteresting.

The other major happening at Arborlon this week is Bandon’s continued druid training under Allanon’s tutelage. Mostly, this amounts to Allanon trying to force Bandon into revealing that he’s possessed by the Dagda Mor, and Manu Bennett gets some of his worst lines yet in a season that is just full of poorly written dialogue. When Allanon is unsuccessful at (I guess?) exorcising the Dagda Mor from Bandon’s mind, Bandon goes to hang out with Catania, who definitely wants to bang him. Unfortunately for her—and for the viewer, because this scene is legitimately unsettling to watch—boners are apparently the thing that really wakes up the Dagda Mor in Bandon, who sexually assaults Catania. She’s able to escape/get rescued by Allanon, but not before being pretty brutally attacked. It’s a super gross scene, and I don’t think there are words to describe how disgusted it makes me that sexual violence is such a cheap way for shows to try and be “dark” and “gritty.”

The episode finally (mercifully) ends with the last leaf falling from the Ellcrys and unleashing the Dagda Mor and his demon army. Earlier in the season, I had rather thought that there would be some kind of epic battle in episode nine, but we’re going to have to wait until the season finale. This episode does seem to promise such a battle, but considering this show’s track record so far I wouldn’t be surprised if Amberle gets back with the Ellcrys seed just in time to stop anything actually interesting from happening. We’ll see.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Holy lens flare, Batman! Enough is enough, show.
  • At one point Eretria exclaims in exasperation, while talking about Cephalo saving her, that “It doesn’t make any sense!” and this made me laugh so hard I almost choked, which was very distracting, but also the funniest thing that has happened on this show to date.
  • “You’re no King; you’re just what was left” is a genuinely excellent line.

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