The Shannara Chronicles S01E08 “Utopia” REVIEW

The Shannara Chronicles S01E08 “Utopia” REVIEW

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stars 3

Airing in the UK on 5Star on Thursdays at 9pm

Writer: April Blair
Director: Jesse Warn

 

Essential Plot Points:

  • Eretria’s taken to a human settlement by her Elf Hunter capturers, where things are looking decidedly more ancient than normal. The clothing looks like it’s come straight out of a period drama, juxtaposed with objects like a VHS sitting on a table. Turns out this is where Elf Hunters trade. The human doing the trading – who’s rocking a “hipster Jack Sparrow’” kinda vibe – buys the map of San Francisco (or should that be “Safehold”) from Zora, but only if he gets Eretria along with it. Zora begrudgingly agrees.

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  • Eretria wakes up in an infirmary, complete with IV. She does what any misguided TV rebel would do and rips it straight out of her hand to go exploring her new environment. On the way she encounters Hipster Jack Sparrow, and of course goes to attack him. He reassures her that he bought her to give her freedom, which really does sound too good to be true.
  • Meanwhile, Amberle is frantically running through yet another generic forest, with Wil struggling to keep up. There’s no sign of Perk or his dragon friend, but that’s not mentioned – Amberle has one goal in mind: find Eretria. In her haste, she nearly springs a Troll trap, so Wil tells her to calm the heck down before she gets them both killed. They pause for food, and end up talking about their feelings, and how they can’t get in the way of their quest. And then they end up making out. So much for that. Guys, remember Eretria?
  • Back at Arborlon, Bandon is contemplating everything that happened to him over the past few days. Allanon’s of the opinion that Bandon should train to be the next druid – and he won’t take no for an answer.

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  • Mid-macking, and after Wil’s been de-shirted for what must be the fourth or fifth time already (we should start a tally), the two hear a cry from a short distance away, and go to find the source. Amazingly, it’s Cephalo – he wasn’t quite so lucky in dodging the troll traps. Wil is not keen on releasing him, given his near fatal betrayal back at Pykon, but he says he can lead them to Eretria, and that’s enough for Amberle.
  • Hipster Jack Sparrow (or as he’s actually known, Tye) leads Eretria around Utopia’s grounds, notably introducing her to a piece of technology known as the “gun”. Eretria’s a natural sharp-shooter, of course, but Tye still takes the opportunity to run his hands over her to guide her into a proper shooting position. A tried and true “getting into your pants” trope.

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  • King Ander, as he’s now known, is busy adjusting to his new life by getting hammered. Allanon’s not impressed, but Ander says he’s going to give up the role of King anyway. Allanon’s even less impressed.
  • True to his word, Cephalo leads Amberle and Wil to the human settlement, where Eretria’s in the middle of turning on the Christmas lights. Or whatever the Utopian equivalent is. It’s a pretty sight, but is marred by Tye’s friend Frances hinting at something more sinister going on behind the wings.
  • Eretria’s led inside, changed into a pretty dress, and shown how to par-tay! Apparently Utopia has its own nightclub, complete with a record player, a projector and a reel containing an episode of Star Trek, of all things. Once the screening’s over, the music starts, and Eretria’s dancing with the rest of them before she knows it.

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  • Cephalo having abandoned them, Amberle and Wil have infiltrated Utopia but quickly get found in amongst what’s apparently the costume department. They hide their Elf ears and pretend to be Elf Hunters, which gets them an in.
  • Eretria’s surprised to see them, but doesn’t want to go with them – especially after Tye’s equated them dragging her along on their quest to slavery. For the first time, someone’s asked Eretria what it is she wants.
  • Eretria accuses Amberle of coming to “save” her solely for the map to Safehold, which Amberle staunchly denies. Eretria goes to get it for them, but whilst she’s gone, Wil and Amberle’s Elven status is found out.
  • At Arborlon, Ander nearly gives up his status of King to another during his crowning, but at the last moment he remembers his conversation with Allanon, and accepts his fate.
  • As Eretria makes her way to the map, she’s stopped by a man in a wheelchair. He’s one of the only men to survive travelling near to Safehold, but he’s been left scarred from it. He tells Eretria that her “body is a vessel, and her blood is the key” – and that she cannot trust Tye.
  • Tye discovers Eretria sneaking around the house, but she’s onto him. Turns out he rescued her to serve as a sacrifice to the Trolls who own Utopia’s land, but changed his mind when he fell for her. Guess who’s her replacement?

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  • Yup – Amberle, Wil, and also Cephalo. They’re tied up for the Trolls to find. But just before a Troll can reach them, Eretria comes to shoot it right in the head. They escape, but Cephalo isn’t so lucky, and ends his run on the show as Troll food.

 

Review:

This is going to be a polarising episode for sure. If you thought Shannara was going a little overboard with the high school set last week, then an entire 20th century settlement could be harder to swallow, since the titular Utopia is this episode’s primary location. Are we straying just a bit too far from the “fantasy” genre Shannara supposedly slots into?

This episode is one of the first to give primary focus to Eretria as she discovers that the Rovers aren’t the only remaining humans in the Four Lands; there are also small communities of humans who are trying to bring back the “Age Of Man”, as Tye calls it. They must be pretty underground for nobody to have heard of them before now! But they’re doing a fairly good job of things; they’ve somehow even got electricity. It makes for interesting viewing, watching definitively-fantasy-genre Eretria stalking about Utopia in her steampunky garb. From her experience in the infirmary to wielding a gun, it’s all new territory for her, and Baquero does a great job portraying Eretria’s hesitancy to accept it all.

As far as plausibility goes Shannara’s is walking a very thin line, but it just about swings. There’s no doubt that the entire thing feels incongruous to the rest of the series, but then again the high school was much the same. Where the illusion starts to really fail is when Utopia is – for lack of a better term – “MTV-ised”, and Eretria ends up dancing in what’s essentially a nightclub with music to match. So far, all the modern day music MTV has thrown at Shannara has at least been non-diegetic, but this time we get Eretria and her new friends dancing to songs released in 2015. Exactly what era is all the “ancient” human memorabilia supposed to come from, anyway? On the one hand we have clothes that wouldn’t look all that out of place in the 1800’s, but on the other there’s VHS players, projectors, fancy lighting effects, Star Trek..? (Okay, we’re not gonna lie, the Star Trek reference was pretty cool.) Pick a decade and stick to it!

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Unfortunately, that isn’t the only area this episode suffers: there’s also the repeated storylines factor. Once again, we have a character being kidnapped and separated from the group; once again Wil takes off his shirt; once again Wil loses his damned Elf Stones (well, sort of…). Sometimes this show can feel like a broken record that’s trying to disguise the cracks with different coloured tape every time. We see through it. Although not quite as obvious, there’s also repetition in Ander not getting the screen time he deserves, similar to last week. He had maybe five minutes dedicated to his coronation? Hopefully he’ll get more next episode.

For all its flaws, though, this isn’t actually a bad episode. Utopia is a rich new set that’s been well-crafted, and which really helps in showing viewers more of the relationship between the Four Lands and the “ancient” world of humans. Even with the, let’s face it, probably unnecessary addition of the nightclub, it’s a nice change from forests, forests and more forests. It’s great to see Eretria get more screen time, which allows her to shine through more than usual, and actually enjoy herself for once, even if it’s only fleeting. Plus, Tye is a great addition to Shannara (or maybe “was” – it looks like the Trolls might have got the best of him at the end there); his interactions with Eretria are genuinely fun to watch. Sure, it’s an episode with problems – there’s no doubt about that – but it’s hard to deny that it’s a fun one to watch.

 

The Good:

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  • Eretria gets an episode! Baquero does a fantastic job showing Eretria’s reactions to her new and confusing surroundings, and in letting her have her bad-ass moments, like stealing Tye’s gun right from him.
  • Ander going from drunken mess to crowned King of the Four Lands. It’s clear he doesn’t believe in himself, so pushing through and up despite that shows his bravery, even if it did take a bit of intimidation from Allanon. But hey, that’s what he’s there for – getting other character’s arses into gear.
  • As a set, Utopia looks great. It’s an unexpected but welcome addition to the Shannara’s world.
  • That fact that Amberle is so worried about getting to Eretria and saving her is heart-warming… as long as it really isn’t just for the map! Amberle claims it isn’t, but it isn’t the most convincing of arguments. It’s great progression from their blossoming friendship last episode, and shows that their trio is really solidifying.

 

The Bad:

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  • Utopia is incongruous. There’s no two ways about it. It doesn’t fit in with what we’ve been shown over the rest of the series, especially with the lack of build-up. Why do they have electricity when nobody else does? Plus it can’t seem to decide what era it wants to take its “ancient” technology from, which is just confusing for the viewer. Fantasy’s doesn’t have to be a slave to realism, but when it’s trying to incorporate real-life anachronisms, it should at least try.
  • Once again MTV is determined to shoe-in modern day hits that feel so out of place in Shannara. And now some of it is diagetic which somehow makes it more jarring, not less.
  • Ander didn’t get nearly enough screen time. Now that he’s King, we hope that means he’ll get some badass moments of his own.

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  • Cephalo’s death is a shame. He’s a gigantic bastard, there’s no denying, but he’s a whole lot of fun to watch. At least he can’t betray anyone anymore..!

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  • Why oh why are Wil and Amberle stopping for make-out sessions when they have far more important things to be getting on with? Your friend didn’t suddenly stop being kidnapped, guys.

 

And the Random:

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  • The footage from Star Trek is from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, featuring a conversation between Kirk and Spock.
  • The song that gets the most airtime at the nightclub is “Introspection” by The New Division.

Review by Jessica Anson


Read our other reviews of The Shannara Chronicles

 

 

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