Tuesday, January 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Shannara Chronicles' - Amberle Enters the Ellcrys to Undergo a Deadly Trial in 'Changeling'

MTV's The Shannara Chronicles - Episode 1.04 "Changeling"

While Amberle embarks on a deadly task to prove her worth to the Ellcrys, the Dagda Mor sends the Changeling, an ancient, shape-shifting Demon, to kill her and anyone in its way.

"Changeling" begins with Amberle entering the Ellcrys tree to undergo a trial to determine whether or not she is worthy of caring its seed. Should she fail this trial, the tree will kill her. It's something she has to take seriously because the fate of the kingdom is resting on her shoulders. It also gives this episode the chance to absolutely push the limits of its storytelling. The end result is a little lackluster. Amberle does face a perilous battle inside the tree. But the show doesn't have enough confidence yet to make that into much of a story. Instead, it mostly plays into the forbidden love story of Amberle and Wil which hasn't really been addressed all that much. The tree declares that Amberle is in love with Wil. That doesn't even track remotely well with anything that has happened on the show so far. And yet, it's her trial nevertheless.

All Amberle has to do to get the seed is to kill Wil in the fantasy world that the tree has created. It has seen into the future. It knows of the destruction that is coming for the kingdom should all of these demons be released into this world once again. Nothing can get in the way of Amberle's mission. She can't have any emotions distract her during this time of crisis. She has already let her fear dictate her actions once - when she left the palace and her duties to protect the tree. She did so to protect her boyfriend from death. But death still came for him. She has accepted that that was the only reason why she is still alive. So, her emotions do have a way of protecting her as well. It's not as simple as this trial would suggest. Furthermore, it's weird that the show is so aggressively pushing the Amberle-Wil dynamic in this sequence. The tree is speaking to her and asking her to fight back. She shouldn't be afraid to kill even if it's the people who've been helping her on this journey. But it's awkward because that fight isn' exactly well done. It never really seems reasonable that Amberle would be able to overpower him with a sword. And yet, it's what happens. She passes the trial and accepts another vision and the seed.

The hour then becomes about the palace's search for the demon lurking within the walls and the King determining where and how Amberle will get the seed to its unknown location. It is thrilling to watch as the changeling continues to wreck havoc in the palace. The main characters don't even know that it's a shapeshifter that they are hunting down. That does put the audience at an advantage though. We understand what's happening while the characters fall into the trap - which then plays out unnecessarily as drama for the next handful of minutes. That trap includes Eretria breaking into the palace to steal back the elf stones from Wil. She seduces him and then flees for her life down the various corridors. The changeling uses her appearance in order to get close to Amberle. It all leads to the rather awkward moment where Eretria is caught and charged with attempted murder when the audience knows she's innocent - of that crime at least. Amberle and Wil should be smarter than that too. They would know that Eretria couldn't have killed the rest of the Chosen because she was out in the woods interacting with them. Plus, she didn't kill them when she had them captured last week. So, it's a misunderstanding that needlessly complicates the story of this episode.

All of this is done because the show continues to suggest that Eretria is an important part of the journey Amberle is on with the seed. Eretria may not know or care about the Ellcrys tree. All she wants is her freedom. And yet, the tree gave Amberle a vision of Eretria. She knows that Eretria needs to be along for this adventure - even though no one really trusts her. It's frustrating when Wil is so easily seduced by her again. That's yet another wrench needlessly thrown into the Amberle-Wil dynamic. A love story is so very unnecessary at this point in the show. Just let the characters be themselves as these incredible things keep happening to them. Amberle and Wil are able to convince Eretria to serve as bait for the changeling. They get confirmation of the creature's existence thanks to Bandon - who is able to see people's deaths (or potential deaths) when they touch him. Eretria is the key to setting a trap. But that trap is very awkwardly staged. Wil and Eretria walk into a room. They fear that one of the guards is actually the changeling. So Wil goes running off to protect the princess. Then, the action cuts to Amberle who is confronted by Wil who is actually the changeling. Allanon promptly intervenes and kills the creature. But it's all a tad too awkward and complicated to make a whole lot of sense. It's just important that the changeling is dead and that Amberle refuses to let Eretria go.

So, Amberle, Wil and Eretria are off to find the place where they need to take the seed to. Allanon isn't going with them because of the visions that Amberle has had. Plus, the palace needs as much protection it can get as the demons keep getting released into this world. Amberle and Wil have proven themselves to be much more capable of protecting themselves than they initially appeared. But it's still dangerous for them to be going on this journey without Allanon. His skills might be better suited at the palace as well considering the changeling isn't as dead as everyone thought. It's a creature that can't be killed so easily. So that means danger will be around every single corner of the show in the next episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Changeling" was written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and directed by James Marshall.
  • Amberle and her grandfather, Eventine, actually share a scene by themselves for the first time. He is no longer mad at her for running the Gauntlet because he has accepted that she is this world's only hope. He is proud of her for following in her father's footsteps. He then gives her the sword that her father carried.
  • So many characters keep talking about Amberle's father. It's either showing just how dysfunctional this family is due to his death. Or it's setting up a twist where he returns but not as the same man he was before.
  • Talk of Amberle's father is also a major point of discussion in Arion and Eventine's latest conversation about the future of the kingdom. Eventine basically says that Arion isn't ready to be king because he continues to refuse that any of this is really happening.
  • Bandon's ability is able to help Allanon confirm the existence of the changeling. It's probably going to be very crucial to the story in the future as well.
  • The most immediate danger on Amberle and Wil's journey is going to come from Eretria's father - who's not really her father, she's his property - who spies her leaving the palace and vows to rescue her.
  • This episode just really loves killing Wil stand-ins - first in the trial by the Ellcrys tree and then when the changeling strikes.