Wheel of Time Episode 6 analysis:
[pretty big spoilers for Episode 6 and previous episodes follow]
D&D Theme for this episode: This feels like the first ten minutes of campaign backstory where you assemble all the characters to go on the quest, except we’ve already somehow blown six hours on that.
In consistent WoT show fashion, we start off with:
— Two characters we’ve never seen before and have no idea who they are or what their importance is
— Doing this in yet another biome (this time riparian)
They are happy fisherpeople going about fisherperson business. One of them is minus a hand, which is never explained or commented upon, although that level of ambiguity and unremarkableness is actually pretty disability-friendly, and I’m cool with it. The girl has an extensive set of expertly-inked tattoos all over her body, something that my kids definitely would not have sat still for at that age.
We see that the young girl can do magic, which she uses to mend a net. It seems like it might be of more direct benefit to use magic to, you know, just catch a fish, or make food, or short-sell Tar Valonian stocks so that they could afford a better riverside shack.
We are led to believe that the girl would be persecuted for using magic. This is perhaps the shortest-duration foreshadowing ever, because when they get back to the dock, their house is totally burned, and a glowing red symbol is left in the wreckage. This signifies four truths about whoever is persecuting them. This person (or persons):
a) has the time to come and thoroughly burn a riverside shack and then burn a rune into the wreckage
b) has the motivation to come and thoroughly burn a riverside shack and then burn a rune into the wreckage
c) despite (a) and (b), does not stick around to actually kill the people they hate, who are a one-handed dude with a fishing knife and a girl whose magical power is net-mending, i.e., not very fearsome.
d) wildly overestimates the difficulty of rebuilding an open-air riverside shack post-burning
This leads me to believe that perhaps the Westlands bus system has both a limited operating schedule, requiring an early departure by the persecutors, but also a liberal policy on the transport of flammable materials by riders.
The father and daughter seem also to subscribe to (d) above, and he puts her on a boat with a seriously over-the-top number of tearful fishing references, only some of which relate to river fishing rather than coastal fishing (e.g. the tides), suggesting that this guy is not the sharpest fishing knife in the basket. It is not entirely clear whether the reference to “pike” is the fish or Rosamund.
Next, we fast-forward to Tar Valon and the White Tower, where we see that, when the council is assembled, despite being powerful feminist icons, all of the Aes Sedai get makeovers, have their hair done in new ways, and put on fancy dresses to stand in a very tall CGI room sneering at each other. One of them gets a bronze staff to pound on the floor, which she only does when she thinks there are moments of dramatic tension going on. It would be funny if she blew it once or twice.
The surprise reveal here is that fishing girl is actually the Amyrlin Seat. This title, despite being furniture, is what they call the Chief Executive Officer of the Aes Sedai. This seems remarkably stupid until you realize that our president has a cabinet and oversees bureaucracy. Her Royal Seating is dressed to the nines, including a very cool filigree hair ornament (bonus points) and an unfortunate massive bowtie that looks like an overgrown butterfly (points off).
We also see that there are some other colors of Aes Sedai. We finally meet a Laa Laa Aes Sedai and learn that they are gifted in healing, even though nearly every other color of Aes Sedai has already healed people, and we’ve never seen a yellow one do that. In a problematic development, there are three colors of earth-tone Aes Sedai which don’t match Teletubbies, namely, gray, brown, and white. I submit to you that Teletubby Ajah theory still applies: the White Aes Sedai clearly represent the SunBaby, the Gray the elephantine vacuum Noo Noo, and the Brown the ubiquitous bunnies of the Teletubby ecosystem. There is no description of what liberal arts major is represented by these Earth Toners. I’m guessing accounting, literature, and community justice studies, but I could well be wrong.
We see False Dragon Tim Curry guy again. He starts off on a good rant, claiming that even though he lost, the Aes Sedai still suck, and he gloats about killing one. The penal system in Tar Valon obviously has no freaking idea what they’re doing, because they have the guy in really fancy clothing but also in chains. Can’t a guy get an orange jumpsuit there? They have all the other colors of clothing. The chains are silly, too, because he melts steel things. But then we find out he’s “gentled,” which apparently doesn’t include making him unable to mouth off but does cancel his magic, which means chaining him up doesn’t do anything but stop him from writing “False Dragonz Rool, Bench Lady Droolz” on the walls of the White Tower restrooms.
In further evidence of a penal system gone awry, this dude threatens the court and gleefully confesses to murdering one of its members. They condemn him to execution by being drawn and quartered and fed to dogs in a bloody example of feudal power in the central square of Tar Valon. Ha ha, just kidding. His sentence is to be fed and housed for the rest of his life in the most luxurious setting in all the land and occasionally studied by the Aes Sedai, even though they just took all his magic away, which makes him about as interesting as a roll of paper towels. Despite this non-punishment, False Dragon guy immediately loses his shit at the thought of being a pampered and well-fed research subject and screams KILL ME! repeatedly as he’s hauled away, suggesting that the Aes Sedai do not have a well-functioning Institutional Review Board governing their investigative programs.
A hard-to-follow legal and moral argument follows, the upshot of which is that the Amyrlin Garden Bench then chastizes Liandrin for getting somebody killed and not following protocol. Liandrin, who I am now sure is just biding her time before revealing to nobody’s surprise that she’s actually an evil person working for the Dark Lord, pulls a standard 3rd-grade-bully move and tries to get Moiraine in trouble too, pointing out that Nynaeve is the most powerful weaver in 1,000 years and Moiraine, like, didn’t tell anybody. Everybody accepts this assessment of Nynaeve at face value, which is weird, because Nynaeve basically cast nothing more badass than Cure Moderate Wounds, and everybody else was, like, making the ground explode, launching people into trees, and chemically castrating the False Dragon. Also, Liandrin is maybe 40, so her assessment of the Top 10 Greatest Weavers of the previous millenium is suspect. My kids don’t even know many TV shows from the 90’s, people.
At this point, something weird happens, and it becomes far weirder in retrospect later on. The weird thing is that the Amyrlin Barstool asks Moiraine what she was doing for two years, and Moiraine refuses to tell her. Even though everybody knows there’s a prophecy about the return of the dragon, and everybody’s been out hunting for returned dragons, including the 30+ Aes Sedai who found Tim Curry, and Moiraine has already told lots of people that that is what she was doing. Her refusal to say what she was doing is profoundly stupid, because even though the Aes Sedai “always speak truth,” she’s already pointed out that you can say true stuff without saying all the true stuff, and later on, she basically lies to the five potentially chosen ones about what happens to the four not chosen at the end of the show to get them to walk into a magical subway cave. The Amyrlin Adirondack gets all pissy about this, as you’d expect a monarch to do, but THEN WE FIND OUT THEY’RE SECRETLY LOVERS, which makes this public question-asking and fighting and obstinacy profoundly pointless and easily avoided.
The Amyrlin Davenport then goes on an I-Am-The-State despotic rant about how she cannot be disobeyed and will destroy anybody who challenges her, which is massively inconsistent here because (1) she’s threatening her bae, and (2) she literally just said that the people need to be protected from abuse of Aes Sedai power by laws. Apparently the Amyrlin Sofa did not major in political science or philosophy. Elevating assistant fisherpeople to the presidency has predictable drawbacks.
We then return to the one street in Tar Valon. I do not know how big the city is supposed to be, but it has only one street where anybody hangs out. In the matte paintings, it looks bigger, but we’ve only ever seen maybe 20 people here, and the White Tower only has maybe four rooms, all of which look like CGI-decorated soundstages. I suspect Tar Valon may be just a glorified strip mall or truck stop.
Moirane demonstrates some very unorthodox tea pouring and then goes to deal with Mat. At this point, Rand is comically idiotic, asserting that Mat has had the death curse for over a month, maybe more, but it’s not serious, and then he gets all whiny and tries to stand in front of the Aes Sedai trying to heal Mat, waving his sword, at which point he gets his ass handed to him by Lan, which was remarkably satisfying.
Moiraine sucks the evil magic out of Mat and puts it back into the dagger. The unexpected and unexplained part is the middle of this process, when the Shattered City Curse Mold swims over to her face and makes a silly beard-looking thing, like those old magnetic toys with the iron filings, and then retreats back to the dagger. Then, in a fit of brilliance, Moiraine drops the dagger on the floor. Note: this dagger is cursed and would twist anyone who touches it to unspeakable evil, but she doesn’t even pick it up, even though she says Mat would succumb if he touched it again, which you know he would do. If he doesn’t, apparently the maid service for the Tar Valon Red Roof Inn is in for a major surprise when they make up the room, not to mention a good deal of hissing and sweating and growling.
The Blue Tinky Winky Aes Sedai are apparently related to the Russian mob, because they hold their meetings in saunas. Moiraine is castigated for sinking a ferry in the river. Thank you. Finally some accountability. However, Moiraine’s boss says they sent money to compensate. That money must be sitting on the ferry dock, because Moiraine drowned the ferryman, and his son got eaten by Trollocs. Moiraine’s boss says Moirane is now in time out in the White Tower.
Moiraine puts her clothes back on and goes to see our other two Chosen Ones. Perrin seems to be in need of lots of healing for the seriously half-assed flaying inflicted on him by White Robe dude. Egwene says that this guy is no threat now, even though she stabbed him in the shoulder of his muscle tunic and didn’t at all check to see if he was dead. I would bet a lot of money that White Robe Arsenio Guy is not in the least dead. We find out that apparently werewolves are not popular, which is, like, duh, because they eat people.
Lan complains that Moiraine has “masked their bond,” which seems like the Aes Sedai version of not responding to my texts. Moiraine has this discussion while wearing what looks like an actual lab coat, which is a super weird costume choice. Then, with a wink and a nod, Moirane goes through the Sex Mirror to visit the Amyrlin La-Z-Boy for some snu snu. They share one of the more awkward kisses I’ve seen in film and then fade to black.
When they return, we learn an unexpected Westlands custom: You go into snu snu wearing white, but you come out of it wearing red. That must make wearing red clothing out and about remarkably awkward, and it puts a whole different spin on the Po Aes Sedai branch. We hear yet another piscine reference from the Chair, when she calls her main squeeze a pufferfish. Note to the potentially romantically oriented: I would recommend extreme caution in using this as a term of endearment.
They reveal their master plan of the Aes Sedai to defeat the Dark Lord, which is basically to throw all the Chosen Ones they have at it until one sticks. Moiraine asks for exile as her punishiment for not answering the question everybody knew the answer to which her girlfriend-slash-royal-recliner should never have asked.
Liandrin acts out a scene from Mean Girls, and Moiraine threatens her with slut-shaming. The female Chosen Ones have an audience with the Amyrlin Pew which is meant to be cordial but ends up sort of dysfunctional, and then Nynaeve cusses with an awkward late 20th-century idiom derived from smoke enemas. However, we do see developing a significant badassness differential between the male and female chosen ones:
— Egwene: Defeats White Robe guy, returns rings of the fallen Aes Sedai
— Nynaeve: More powerful than you can imagine (I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit)
— Perrin: Gets tied to furniture and flayed, lets wolves lick his wounds.
— Mat: Picks up cursed daggers even when everyone tells him the city is cursed and not to touch anything. Predictably contracts evil tongue herpes.
— Rand: Embarassingly forced to suck blanket by Lan after petulant misguided sword move. Will chop wood for food.
Moiraine gets exiled for no earthly reason. This scene had three standout moments for me:
— Moment 1: Everything in this world has a stupid made-up name. Everything. Yet instead of being the Mighty Token of Zar’eth’al’al’al, the glowstick that Moiraine has to swear on is called… The Sacred Oath Rod. My gratitude for one tiny discordant moment of utilitarian nomenclature.
— Moment 2: Moiraine and the Amyrlin Beanbag have tears rolling down their cheeks. To me, this suggests that everybody knows they go through the Sex Mirror and wear red with each other. Like, everybody. All y’all Aes Sedai are just pretending it’s a secret to be polite, and so as not to be vaporized or exiled or gentled.
— Moment 3: When Moiraine turns around and everybody turns their back on her, she blows a major opportunity to flip off the entire rest of the Aes Sedai sit-in-circles-in-threes Council. I mean, nobody’s watching. She could have hopped from foot to foot displaying the bird to everybody.
Also, the exile lasts until you’re not exiled, which, if the exiler is your red-robe Sex Mirror partner, could reasonably be next Wednesday’s booty call, Glowstick of Truth or no.
Everybody rides to a well-mown grassland, which is odd, unless the Brown Aes Sedai are the mystical school of landscaping. Rand and Egwene are reunited, at which point my gorge rises and Rand utters the cringeworthy line “It feels good to see you.” Like, what does that mean? Who says that? Ugh. Everybody hugs. They even hug the horses.
Loial the Ogier, who seemed like a minor throw-away character in Tar Valon (albeit one of the very few residents of the strip mall), is now revealed to be incredibly important, because he’s apparently the Uber driver to the Eye of the World, which place name does not make any anatomical sense whatsoever.
They arrive at a set of stairs leading up to a platform with walls, which seems like a misguided 1960’s garden sculpture meant to exemplify the futility of the Cold War. They spend a lot of time explaining what this is, but everybody who’s played a video game knows the players have discovered their first fast-travel point on the map. Why they didn’t use one of these to skip the 30+ days of eastwalking before, I don’t know. Maybe the Uber Ogiers were on peak pricing or something.
Moiraine describes the fate of the world if the Dark Lord wins, which is apparently:
(a) Trollocs and Fade eat everybody, and then
(b) Everything burns.
It seems to me that (b) pretty much makes (a) moot, and that the Dark Lord must be playing up (a) and not be telling the Trollocs and Fade about (b). Messaging is very important when you are Dark Lording.
They then send eight perfectly good horses away to wander the wilderness in full saddle. Apparently, the 20 people in Tar Valon do not include stablehands or ostlers. This seems tremendously wasteful and not that cool to the horses.
Mat asks what happens to the Chosen Ones who get voted off the island. Moirane gives him a weaselly half-answer, even though she knows they die. He sees through her bullshit. The party departs into the Ways, which look basically like the Ogier’s basement. However, Mat stays behind. Without any knowledge or precedent, Rand tells him the portal is closing, before it closes, which he’d have no reason to know, but whatever. Moiraine just watches Mat sit there. Maybe she asked him to deal with the horses after all.
Rating the Chosen Ones:
— Nynaeve gets points for cussing out the Amyrlin Wingback. You go.
— Egwene gets points for not being totally annoying, but loses a couple for being still into Rand. Girl, please. You can do better. Find yourself a mirror and a red robe and leave this dude behind.
— Mat is giving off bad-guy vibes, although not going into a dark hole in the air with random cryptic strangers who don’t answer your questions and are abducting your friends is understandable. Commendable, even.
— Perrin just takes up space in this episode. I don’t think he even had a line.
— Rand, OMG. Everything about this guy is annoying, from his stupid hair, his petulance, his bonehead attempt to stop his friend from getting healed, his terrible high-school romance lines. I so hope he gets washed down the Tearduct of the Upper Mantle when they get to the Eye of the World.