Wheel of Time Episode 5 analysis:
[pretty big spoilers for Episode 5 and previous episodes follow][these are getting far longer but no funnier – sorry about that]
D&D Theme for this episode: I made up this cool adventure for y’all to play, but I see now you’re just going to spend the session talking to random NPCs instead
Five episodes in, the show is actually trying to be cooler than it has been so far. They’ve made up interesting cultural bits, have finally (!) gotten to where the real action might start, and are showing a little bit of character development.
However, they still blew an entire episode doing essentially nothing. The Dark Ones put up a Gone Fishin’ sign, the main Po (Red) Aes Sedai is reduced to commenting ominously about persimmons, and the preening alt-right literal pencil-mustache villain is reduced to wandering around in a muscle shirt making idle threats and half-heartedly flaying people.
Total accomplished by the good guys:
— Losing one (1) Warder because Lan got floor-drunk when he should have been helping
Total accomplished by the bad guys:
This episode, like the last one, focused intensely on a minor character we just met and then completely wrote him out of the show. Last time, it was False Dragon Tim Curry dude, although he got to make an appearance here doing a slow-mo evil laugh. It was interesting that they had a spare iron cage to carry him around in, because he melted the last one, so that means they brought two bulky iron cages. At least two. Also, he melted the last one, so maybe putting him in another one is contraindicated.
In this case, the minor character was Stepin. (Side note: are his siblings named Jumpup and Walkout?) We lost Kerene last time, a Dipsy Aes Sedai we didn’t even know, to the Grand False Dragon Miscalculation, and even though Warders “feel all the wounds of their Aes Sedai” and “rarely outlive their Aes Sedai,” Stepin seems immune to this. We get some half-hearted backstory about his abusive father and belligerent past along with a story of Kerene’s seriously dubious human resources recruiting plan. We discover he’s maybe bi-curious, he hits up Nynaeve for Lunestra, and he gets to huff some incense. But it’s all for totally nothing. He’s a nobody we met last time, and now he’s gone, and no story purpose was served by spending an episode on him. We didn’t know him well enough for it to be tragic. And it’s all told in dialogue, no action, broken up by other people talking about moderately ominous characters we’ve never met in poorly realized castle rooms. There’s even a little Aes Sedai sleepover party thing.
Continuing struggles with physical geography:
— The scene opens with a snowstorm, which is poetically spot-on for a funeral, but a literal week ago we were all dark and ferny in the nearby temperate forest. Now we’re amidst boreal pine with snow. Nearby, people walked from grassland to temperate forest.
— And “a month later” winter’s not worse, and people are just wandering around in woven frat-boy hooded shirts or muscle shirts. Is it spring? Is it fall? Is it winter? Does it snow in the summer here?
— The Tar Valonians founding council apparently found the only volcano around and then built a massive city next to it. And that volcano has sides with slopes of about 45 degrees, which isn’t how volcanos work, unless you’re five and have been asked to draw a mountain.
Continuing struggles with continuity:
— Where’s the gleeman? We last saw him being screeched at by round-mouthed needle-toothed Dark One middle management. Now the gleeman is absent, Mat is saying he’s “lost,” and there’s no other follow up or explanation. Did his tour T-shirt not include Tar Valon? He had to go do a one-song gig in Cleveland instead?
— Speaking of that, where’s the round-mouth needle-teeth guy? Did he kill the farming family so that he could use their place as an AirBNB for a month, taking his four weeks of accumulated leave? “Screech, this is Jenna from HR. You need to use your leave or you’ll just lose it.”
— What have the Trollocs been doing? Scratch that, I know what they’ve been doing. They visited a peninsula and then somebody hauled a shattered city in to the ithsmus behind them, so they were trapped by their own rules.
— “A night at this inn costs the same as a month in Two Rivers.” Sure, buddy. You were totally broke in the mining town, so much so that you had to split wood for a homicidal barmaid for a dirty cot. How are you paying for this? I note you’ve sold your sheepskin coat, but nobody’s paying much for that shit. Also, this city has wicked expensive hotels, but it gives out free bread to anybody who walks by? Is Tar Valon run by Costco?
Cultural insights gained:Each of these had a cool part and also a part that didn’t bear up to further thought.
— Cool: They indicate somebody’s dead by putting their boot backwards in the stirrup. Very cool visual symbolism. Huh?: They do this for an entire month post-mortem. At least. Maybe the horse just goes around like that forever.
— Cool: When there’s a mass fatality event, they bury people in radial spoke graves. Huh?: The graves are five inches deep, plus their cemeteries must be extremely confusing.
— Cool: They have a miniature office-accessory-size Mount Doom with RealLavaTM in case anybody needs to dispose of magic rings. Think how much easier Frodo’s job would have been. Huh?: Lava is hot, and you don’t want to be by it. For more lava bullshit, see the Mandalorian. Also, the Aes Sedai must not have an OSHA.
— Cool: They wear white for funerals. At first, I thought they had just all stolen the bathrobes from the Tar Valon Courtyard by Marriot executive suites, but then everybody had funeral-wear-slash-karate-uniforms. Huh?: Except they don’t wear white for radial funerals in the woods. Instead, while desperately trying to save the known world, they carry along a large supply of bulky funerary candles just in case 20 of them get whacked by a False Dragon. These people do not travel light, but they are prepared for many contingencies. Which they precipitate themselves.
— Cool: They hire Mongolian throat singers for funerals, too, and make them wear bathrobes also. Huh?: The highlight of the funeral is when the best friend gets to scream several times and pull open his shirt, at which point you know it’s thump your chest time. This must be far easier on the grieving parties than writing a eulogy. Ritual is comforting.
[Dave embodies Western cultural ignorance here.] This custom was unfamiliar to me while watching, but I have learned it is modeled on Korean tradition (see link below). Score one for WoT, deduct ten from Dave.
— Cool: Badass Aes Sedai escort False Dragons through town on an exhibition cart with imperious chairs. Huh?: At which point they get pelted by vegetables by the villagers. This means (1) somebody didn’t think this out all the way, and (2) Aes Sedai are much less scary than they think if people are willing to hit them with an onion, and (3) this will likley create a headache for the Tar Valonian Bureau of Tourism.
— Cool: The Tinkers’ grand strategy when confronted by domineering alt-right thugs is to link arms and get punched, which is noble, if ineffective. Huh?: They are like the worst dog owners ever, letting their dogs just up and kill anything that walks by. It’s like they’re some kind of weird Mennonite Michael Vicks.
— If this is Tar Valon, is this like the first city you can build in a computer RPG? Next will be Bronze Valon, once they save enough coins for an upgrade, then Steel Valon, then Diamond Valon, and then in the expansion pack, Uranium Valon?
— Breakbone fever sounds cool, except that Two Rivers folks must have a severe calcium deficiency for that to actually work that way.
— They may have spent ten million dollars per episode, but it was not on CGI. Holy shit. This was the most basic-ass fantasy city I think I’ve ever seen since The Beastmaster (1982). The entire Aes Sedai castle is maybe four textures and ten models and three rooms, most of which don’t even have furniture. Tar Valon is one street with a single polygon and tiled stone texture as the road surface, with a crappy lighting model thrown in for the weird dawn sequence.
— Moiraine fail: “I have eyes and ears watching every gate.” Even if you spot her the idea that ears can watch things, she didn’t spot two obvious magic-infused and demonically-cursed rubes wandering into town scarfing up free bread, renting a room, and then (weirdly) going to the library for no apparent reason. Even after False Dragon guy looked at them for a solid minute cackle-laughing in slo mo. Maybe Moiraine should hire him instead of the earwatchers.
— With all the warnings Nynaeve got, the Aes Sedai internship program is starting to sound a lot like Bob Packwood’s office in Congress.
— The Red (Po) Aes Sedai don’t take Warders, hate all men, and love persimmons. They seem kind of like what Paul Gosar imagines lesbians are like.
— In a castle that houses probably thousands, Lan knew right where to go to find Stepin. There’s apparently an official Stabbing Corner in the White Tower. They should maybe rope that area off.
Ranking the chosen ones from most cool to ones I most wish were dead:
— Egwene – Cool this week. Gets better the more she doesn’t talk about Rand. I liked her resistance to Arsenio. It was actually really funny seeing what happens when you roll a crit fail on your magic attack on a high-level NPC – a great moment. I hope she continues to move the needle away from whiny douche-lover toward badass. She’s got potential.
— Perrin – Still maybe the coolest overall, although points off this week for the crisis of confidence. Confessing about killing your wife to your friend came maybe 29 days too late here, and it was also awkwardly written and acted. You’ve had all this time on the road with the Tinkers eating curry, and this never came up before now?
— Nynaeve – Bonus points for distrusting Aes Sedai, no-nonsense attitude, and general badassery. Points off for completely ignoring the “don’t talk to anybody” warning. If she’d been in the shattered city, she’d have been picking up cursed daggers too. “Show me your tongue” is apparently step three in the Wisdom patient intake protocol, which is weird.
— Rand – Pulling a sword on a racial minority in a library is exactly what I would have expected him to do. Apparently Rand’s an Aielman, because wise minority characters are always insightful and accurate in schlocky movies, but I don’t know what that means, nor do I care. It might be the homicidal red-haired mask-wearing people that the suddenly-absent gleeman was talking about, but I’m too uninspired to try to connect those dots.
— Mat – OMG, I thought you were cool, but now I just want you to hurry up and die already.