[Note: pretty big spoilers for Episode 8 and previous episodes follow]
APOLOGIES: It’s been a huge gap between my review of Episode 7 and Episode 8 here, like seven months. That’s probably a commentary on how little I wanted to finish this thing. Anyway, here goes.
RELATED DISCLAIMER: I have to admit, I didn’t remember what was going on much, because I watched Episode 7 back in February. So, I’m sure part of the WTF I experienced was from that. Maybe 15%.
D&D THEME FOR THIS EPISODE: The DM has taken a new job and is moving out of town, so the campaign is ending, and the DM knows they have only one session to wrap up all these half-baked storylines they’ve been sort of but not really paying attention to over the previous 16 months. Also, they split the party last time, which obviously you should never do, but especially when you’re trying to come to a fun conclusion. There’s no way this will be satisfying, but the players will pretend it was.
OBLIGATORY UNNECESSARY FLASHBACK: The episode started with a flashback to 3000 years ago in some kind of Swedish-decorated apartment with a couple in kind of cool modern-styled evening wear arguing about gender roles and playing with their baby. Relevance was not shown. However, it is clear that fashion in Tar Valon will suffer greatly over the next three milennia. Fun terminology note: This was technically a dragon arguing with a chair, which evokes Clint Eastwood’s Republican Convention speech.
MAIN “PLOT” RECAP:
— Moiraine has decided Rand is the actual chosen one because (I think) a psychic barmaid told her so. Moiraine is not taking the other potentially useful and loyal super-powerful witches and werewolves with her because everybody who comes to the well who’s not the dragon dies*.
*Actually, nobody who comes to the well who’s not the Dragon dies, negating several episodes worth of buildup and decision-making. Nobody dies at the well at all other than my hopes for a more satisfying ending.
— Moiraine’s taken Rand into some weeds called The Blight. If I were the manifestation of evil incarnate, I would try to do something more impressive than grow weeds and entrap local youth. The weeds look a lot like the Bermuda grass in my lawn, which had the unintended effect of me imagining all the characters therein as very, very small.
— The other formerly-chosen-but-now-not-chosen ones are stuck in a city called Fal Dara, where they have basically nothing to do, until the city conveniently comes under attack by an enormous army of bad guys, an army which would maybe have been better deployed in the Bermuda grass killing Rand and Moiraine if the Dark Lord had his act together.
— The climactic event, the one that we’re supposed to have been building up to all season, is a massive, well-choreographed sword and magic fight that you want to watch again in slow motion so as not to miss any of the exciting details and cool moves. Ha, ha, no it wasn’t. Instead, they go into a hole in the weeds, have a domestic dream on a farm, and talk to a low-rent Al Pacino in a dinner jacket, at which point Rand makes some kind of negging choice sort of respecting women while not actually really doing so, and Al Pacino leaves disappointed. Moiraine had a chance to kill Rand, and instead of doing so, to the vast regret of this viewer, she did not.
— Rand then acknowledges that he now knows he will eventually go nuts and destroy the world, and instead of taking his own life to save humanity, he just peaces out through the weeds, asking Moiraine for help in ghosting all his friends.
— Through a tortured sequence of coincidences, deux ex machinae, overacting, under-explaining, and dumbassery, everything and everyone gets saved, except for a few designated tragic side characters (TSC’s), most of whom announce their impending deaths just before they happen. As an author who worries about plot, realism, and continuity, this was very hard to watch.
THE CHARACTERS LEFT BEHIND:
— Mat with one t was left way behind. Apparently the actor left the show after episode 6 and was written out of the rest of the first season, which explains his awkward departure scene where he just looks into the Waze and everybody else shouts “Noooooo!” He’ll be back, recast, in season 2. There goes an opportunity to jettison one of our dumb-as-paint self-involved whiners.
— Perrin has somehow converted to pacifism in the middle of a war, which is inconvenient. This may derive from his time with the bucolic cart people, even though I’m pretty sure he straight-up ate somebody in Episode 7 after his time with the cart Quakers. When the Fal Darans decide to remodel the throne room while a war is going on in order to recover a magic horn they can’t blow (not making that up), Perrin helps, because Loial the Ogier (who, like Moiraine, has far too many i’s in his name) tells him to ask how he can help. He does this in a particularly painful scene reminiscent of a Mister Rogers episode. When Perrin finally gets a chance to bury an axe in an evil dude who’s stealing the magic horn and taunting him about his childhood, which the evil Arsenio Hall guy inexplicably spent selling lanterns in his village, Perrin just grimaces and watches the guy go. Super unsatisfying. Somebody should have buried an axe in somebody, dammit.
— Egwene gets all weepy at being left behind and then accomplishes not much. Eventually, she serves as a backup D-cell battery to the princess of Fal Dara, Amalisa Jagad (named by Robert Jordan through yet another stomping of fingers on the typewriter and then filling in some vowels in the interstices).
— Nynaeve gets subjected to the most pathetic post-one-night-stand declaration of love I think I’ve seen in a show from Lan, who should know better to come on this strong after the first date. Wait a few days and text, dude. You’re going to scare her away like this. After this, she has to teach Lan to find the woman HE’S PSYCHICALLY BONDED WITH FOR LIFE, and then she becomes another backup D-cell.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY AT EMOTIONAL DEPTH:
When the princess exceeds her recommended amperage and starts to blow fuses, Nynaeve seems to do something unexplained to save Egwene from the resulting air fryer cook cycle. This is badass and in character for Nynaeve. As a result, Nynaeve is rendered extra-crispy in what is apparently the unexpected noble death of a major character. Yay! Shortly afterward, Egwene cries and strokes her cheek, returning Nynaeve to medium rare and to life, thereby removing any emotional impact or badassery previously established. This unexplained capability, despite being at least a level 8 spell and exhibiting powers beyond what Jesus reportedly controlled, does not elevate Egwene above a second-rate love-interest character, and it also founds no major new religions. No death should ever appear tragic in this show from now on, because Egwene has control of mortality’s undo button.
— The sa’angreal: Moiraine says a thousand male channelers gave all their energy to this one object, which means I guess it’s just the Aes Sedai version of TwitchTV. Why they would sacrifice all their power so that Rand can carry around a green tchotchke that he doesn’t appear to need, I don’t know. I suspect they all succumbed to some kind of email scam and had their channeling accounts drained through fraud.
— Geography: Moiraine says the Seven Towers of Malkier used to be a few miles from Fal Dara, which statement only makes sense if the Blight has somehow relocated the Seven Towers.
— The bad guy dream: Unless you’re really sure it’s a dream, maybe don’t stab yourself to get out of it. Talking to you, Rand.
— The other bad guy dream: If you’re ever tempted to end a season of a big-budget fantasy show with two guys talking about life choices on a farm, do not, and give up any career you perceive for yourself in entertainment.
— Trollocs: The estimation of trolloc horde sizes was just nuts. At one point, they say “there are 60 fades, which means there are 5,000 to 10,000 trollocs.” That implies a very specific and weirdly non-integer-divisible range of acceptable fade-to-trolloc ratios, which was very confusing. At another point, in the dark, the princess gazes at the big wall and says, it looks like there are 20,000 of them. When there are five of you, the difference between 10,000 and 20,000 trollocs is not very important, I’d think. Perhaps they have prepared the Gap by seeding it with glow-in-the-dark Trolloc-counting indicator markers for easy horde size estimation, but failing that, the numerical precision of these assertions (at night, from far away) was also hard to fathom.
— Chemistry: Moiraine mentions adrenaline, which has only been really known to modern science since about 1900. Apparently the organic biochemistry field in Tar Valon is seriously on point.
— Strategy: If you have five women who can destroy 20,000 trollocs and 60 (perhaps extending to 120) fades with lightning in under 18 seconds, maybe deploy them to the field BEFORE sending every male resident of your kingdom (except those emergency-remodeling the throne room) to their deaths.
— Overhyped danger: Moiraine tells Rand to “touch nothing” in the blight, making it sound as serious as when Mat picked up that obviously evil hissing dagger in the cursed city that one time. After impressing upon Rand the vital importance of this prohibition, she and Rand and Lan touch literally everything from there on out without consequence.
— Worst motivational speech ever: Agelmar Jagad. We’re all going to die, and then everybody we know is going to die, and then everybody else we don’t even know is going to die, so it doesn’t matter which armor I wear.
— Most pathetically obvious allegory ever: Naming dream-Egwene and Rand’s dream baby Joiya, so that when Rand rejects the opportunity to buy into the fake OnlyFans world of dream-Egwene, he has to literally give up Joy.
— Most rotoscoping in a final battle scene: Rand al’Thor, approximately 1800 degrees of rotation.
— Most obvious recreation of Merry and Pippin as a boring and unimportant side-duo: Egwene and Perrin (bonus for nearly matching one of the names).
— When everybody was saying “The Gap will not hold,” within me was birthed a burning desire to see the tragic and pointless sacrifice of the male population of Fal Dara occur not in a modified dam-fort but instead in a denim-filled clothing store. It would have been far more entertaining than watching them shoot crossbows out of poorly-designed arrow slits.
TIMES THE SUBTITLES UNINTENTIONALLY CAPTURED THE SHOW’S ESSENCE:
— “Shallow panting”
— “Distant screaming intensified”
— [Dialog] “Must be an awful feeling”
There you go. Will I watch Season 2? Probably. Will I enjoy it? Probably not.