The Shannara Chronicles recap: Safehold
Despite a high-stakes struggle for the throne and a heck of a cliffhanger for Eretria and Amberle, tonight’s episode completely belongs to Marcus Vanco, who kills it this week as a possessed, tormented Bandon.
But let’s start with the Wambertrio. They’ve come to the end of their quest, which is marked by a battered, faded overpass sign that used to point the way to San Francisco and Oakland. The papers they took from the high school seems to be a map of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, and since the bridge is destroyed, they decide to take the tunnels under the water. (By the way, a wise San Franciscan has informed me that this is the Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate Bridge, and this Midwesterner apologizes for getting it wrong in last week’s recap.)
Before they move into the tunnels, Wil gets an idea and picks up a rock. He adds letters to the damaged sign, turning the still-visible SAF of San Francisco and OLD of Oakland into SAFEHOLD.
All right, I’m of two minds with this. On one hand, it’s cool to use references the audience will understand to explain an arcane name from the novel. But at the same time, Safehold is so ancient that its location has disappeared from the elves’ collective memory, and it’s so named because a sign from our time faded, leaving only those letters visible and yet those same letters are coincidentally still visible on the sign after (presumably) many generations have passed? THIS TIMELINE BUSINESS IS GOING TO KILL ME. I get that the show wants to be The Lord of the Rings-meets-The 100, which are both worthy aspirations, but none of the decay in here makes any sense.
Anyhoodle, they enter the tunnels using torches they find at the entrance (which are clearly made of PVC pipe), and Amberle suggests they split up. (Gurl, no, why?) Wil and Eretria head off together, and he apologizes for the unpleasantness in Utopia, but she brushes it off.
“I just wanted to believe that there was a place for me,” she says. Then they bond over their conflicted paternal feelings: Eretria spent her life running away from Cephelo, who died to save her, and Wil grew up embarrassed by his drunk dad, who was ruined when he used the Elfstones to save the Four Lands.
Amberle interrupts the daddy issues chat to point out a room full of sleeping trolls with Eretria’s tattoo painted on the wall. In order to sneak past, they shimmy along a pipe across the ceiling. The women make it fine, but doofus Wil somehow drops his Elfstone pouch directly onto one of the trolls (which, with their gas masks and overall unpleasantness, I’m guessing are what the Dread Doctors will evolve into three millennia from now). Wil grips the pipe with his legs and unfurls himself to snatch the Stones back, and I bet his yoga teacher’s pleased he’s activating his core like that.
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Above ground, they finds a room with lit candles, as if someone was just there. Eretria’s tattoo is printed on a Latin-filled book, and she says the whole room feels strangely familiar to her. Then her eyes go milky, and she flashes back to Hebel’s warnings and the images from Amberle’s visions. Suddenly her tattoo burns what looks like a BART map into her skin, and she feels in her blood where they need to go. That’s all … incredibly unexpected. Who’d’ve thought our Rover had magic in her?
As she leads the way, she asks Wil if this is how he feels when he uses the Elfstones. “I feel invincible,” she says.
“I usually feel like I’ve been set on fire and beaten with a shovel, so no,” Wil replies.
Eretria leads them to the ruins of a church with a pod-shaped statue on the floor that echoes the elf architecture we’ve seen in Arborlon. Amberle directs Wil and Eretria to stand in front of the stained glass as they do in her vision. They comply, looking hopeful that something will happen. Eventually, Eretria’s tattoo shape appears on the floor in lights, but they still don’t know what to do — until two terrifying women calling themselves the guardians of the Bloodfire appear, their beautiful faces morphing into skulls.
NEXT: The “save the Ellcrys” plan hits some snags
The witches immediately start trying to tear the group apart. “What makes you think you’re worthy?” one of the witches taunts Amberle. They gloat that Wil can’t protect Amberle, himself, his dad, his mom, or his heart. One even kisses him because if there’s one thing we’ve learned this season, it’s that everybody loves Wil Ohmsford. Elves. Rovers. Druids. Scary witch ladies. Everybody. “Half human, half elf. Which one will it be?” one of the witches asks, and that’s a fun little bit of writing there. Does Wil want to live like a human or an elf? Does he love the human woman or the elf princess?
Next, it’s Eretria’s turn: It’s unfair that the princess gets the happy ending while Eretria’s treated like a stray dog, the witches insist. Eretria succumbs to their words and advances on Amberle, and Amberle fights back.
Wil, realizing that this is the witches’ plan, steps between his ladies and accidentally cuts Eretria’s hand. Her blood starts to float upward toward the elf-pod, and the witches gasp, “She is a child of the Armageddon!” (“Filii Apocalypsi” was prominently written in the Latin book, and furthermore, Armageddon’s Children is one of the Elfstones of Shannara prequels, so hit your local bookseller if you want to know more.)
Eretria recalls Hebel’s words that her body is the vessel. She impales her hand on the statue, and as her blood runs down the shape just like we see in the credits, it’s clear that her blood is the key.
Then a column of fire shoots from the floor, and Amberle realizes she needs to get inside the Bloodfire. The witches try to stop her, so Wil steps up, killing them both with the Stones as Amberle enter the fire. Then Eretria collapses, presumably from blood loss, and the fire and Amberle disappear. Our final shot of the Wambertrio is Wil, suffering from his use of the Elfstones and frantic because Amberle’s missing and Eretria seems quite dead. That doesn’t bode well for their part in the “save the Four Lands” plan.
Things aren’t much better in Arborlon, where Allanon’s pushing Bandon to relive his visions, telling him that they need to keep going because the Ellcrys is almost bare. But Bandon reads Allanon’s mind and realizes he’s actually pushing to see if Bandon will snap under the pressure. The training session ends badly.
Ander’s struggling, too, as Kael Pindanon has turned the counsel against him, telling him, “You’re no king. You’re what’s left.” Ander doesn’t have her immediately beheaded, which must have been tempting, and instead comes up with a plan: Forge a pact with the gnomes to fight the demons together. He sends Diana to take his message to Slanter.
While he waits for her return, he drills the elf troops in combat. There are like 20 of them; I don’t think the millions of demons will have a hard time winning this war, tbh. Ander asks a reluctant Bandon to help him demonstrate fighting techniques, and as they spar, Bandon starts hearing the Dagda Mor’s voice in his head: “Do it. You are strong. Take your chance. He is weak.”
Ander’s obliviously doing his good guy training routine, but Bandon’s got “He’s no king” and “Slit his throat. Kill him. Do it.” pounding through his brain. He knocks Ander down and is about to finish him when Allanon steps in and block Bandon’s sword. Allanon insists that Bandon’s not himself and tells Ander he’ll take care of it.
Then Ander walks in on yet more plotting among the counsel. Kael smugly says that the castle guards have fallen in with her now that Diana’s gone, and she’ll assume the throne that night while Ander cools his heels in a jail cell. Ugh, I’m SO not thrilled to be getting court intrigue rather than actual battles with demons.
Diana, meanwhile, has found Slanter and his people. They’re shocked to hear that Eventine and Arion are dead and that Ander needs their help. “I wasn’t expecting elven civil war,” Slanter says. “No one was,” Diana replies, valiantly resisting the urge to make a Spanish inquisition joke.
Then we cut to some nice story-telling symmetry as Diana and Slanter free Ander from his cell — the same cell from which Ander freed Slanter earlier in the season. When Ander presents this pact to the counsel, with 5,000 gnome warriors and Allanon backing him up, they’re able to convince the counsel that the only way to win the war is by reviving the Ellcrys and restoring the Forbidding. The guards dramatically kneel before the king, asking for forgiveness.
NEXT: Bandon creeps us all right out
Now, it’s time to praise Marcus Vanco for his stellar performance this week. Bandon and Catania sit together on his bed. Um, who decided it was a good idea to leave those two alone after he TRIED TO MURDER THE KING? Bandon confesses that he’s felt the Dagda Mor’s presence ever since he woke up, making him do things. Catania tells him he can fight it, and Vanco plays this scene with such delicious ambiguity, I honestly wasn’t sure if he was going to kill her or kiss her here.
Thankfully, he settles for kissing her … until he has a vision of the Dagda Mor licking her neck. When she tries to leave, he pulls her back to the bed, and it’s still not totally clear if this is sexy banter or murder talk. Then his eyes glow red, and he starts to choke her. Murder talk it is, then. Okay.
She’s able to fight him off (but not before he explodes a water pitcher with his mind), and Allanon shows up to tell him that if he cares for Catania, he needs to let her go because his feelings for her have made him vulnerable. Man, this show loves to preach about the negative impact of feelings, which is a weird choice for a young adult-skewing show on MTV that features multiple love triangles.
Bandon wavers between anguish and anger and eerie flatness, and Vanco’s acting choices makes it clear when he’s channeling the Dagda Mor and when he’s not under demonic influence. It’s the performance of the night. Heck, it may be the performance of the season. He blames Allanon for using him and tossing him aside, allowing the Dagda Mor to claim him. Bandon magic blasts him into a wall, saying “You’re nothing but an outcast from an order of dead men.” Ouch.
Allanon, who’s been egregiously underused in the back half of the season as a glorified pep talk-giver, tells him that’s the Dagda Mor talking, not Bandon.
“No, Allanon. This is me, stronger than anyone could’ve imagined. Stronger than you, even,” Bandon replies. Then Allanon the Blue uses his staff to knock Bandon out, while apologizing for what he’s done and what’s yet to come. (People really love to apologize on this show.)
At the Elllcrys, the elves and gnomes gather to watch the last leaf fall in what must be the most depressing ceremony in the Four Lands. With the Ellcrys officially dead, the untold hordes of demons howl in glee, as they’re now free to walk the earth. “We will bathe the Four Lands in Elvin blood!” the Dagda Mor bellows.
Sooo … the finale airs next week, and a few teeny, tiny loose ends remain, if they’re hoping to wrap this story line up in season 1. Let’s see, we’ve got to get the Ellcrys seed back to Arborlon to hopefully resurrect the Ellcrys and reactivate the Forbidding and then we’ve got to see the elves fight a massive demon army and also find a resolution for the Wamberle love triangle (assuming Eretria and Amberle are still among the living) and maybe see Diana choose King Ander and then figure out if Allanon can save Bandon and also have a final showdown with the Dagda Mor.
No big deal. Shouldn’t take more than an hour, right?
The Brooks Nook
(Reminder: This section is for those of you who’ve read Terry Brooks’ novel that the show is based on and contains MILD SPOILERS FOR NON-READERS. Be sure to keep the comments safe for the un-Stoned.)
Honestly, the biggest surprise this week was the fact that Kael Pindanon’s a woman. I hadn’t put that together before, but it’s cool. Also, the show proved me wrong by actually having a version of the witch sisters! Different from the book, but still terrifying in their crazy menace.
I am, however, mega-major bummed that we’re not going to see Stee Jans, who was hands-down my favorite book character. I shipped him and Ander hard and thought that romance would’ve been an incredible plot point in the show. Alas, alas. I’m also disappointed that we’re not going to see protracted demon battles this season. Yes, it makes sense from a cost point with all the CGI that would require, but still.
So are we taking bets on how true the ending will stay to the book?