[pretty big spoilers for Episode 7 and previous episodes follow]
Sorry for the gap in my series of cutting edge critiques here. Had holiday plans cancelled, then got COVID, then had some family events, then watched better TV than this. But we’re back, with two episodes to go.
D&D Theme for this episode: I can’t even. No D&D game I’ve ever played has been this bad, not even when I was ten and didn’t understand how to play. Nor have any players wanted to be like these people, ever.
In this episode, one thing happened of consequence, and it was barely of any consequence. This was:
— The party came out of a hole.
Most of the rest of it was taken up with emo whining about petty shit.
Like past episodes, we started in a completely different biome with people we’ve never met. If there were a WOT drinking game, this would have to be a sip of beer, not a shot, because otherwise players would be in the emergency room in no time. I fully expect episode eight to begin in the Sahara with a couple of accountants named Ed and Merle.
However, the start of this episode was totally badass, with well-choreographed fights, really cool action and camera angles, and emotional stakes as a pregnant woman fights off many attackers during labor. If they can make a scene this good, why does the rest of the show suck? This is a tantalizing glimpse of what the show could have been.
Then things go downhill.
There is whining about Mat being gone.
There is whining about Moiraine’s leadership.
There is whining about who cares about Mat more.
There is whining about the other people’s whining.
This accomplishes nothing other than the relentless crushing of my will to live. The group is admonished not to use magic for fear of summoning the Machin Shin, which would be REALLY BAD. Of course, they don’t say what the Machin Shin is, because telling vitally important potential Dragons valuable information about the risks you just described would be, you know, strategic.
Loial talks about how the Ways (or is it Waze?) used to be covered with grass and rather pleasant. I had several problems with this:
(1) they’re underground, where grass isn’t, and it’s dark, which grass can’t hack
(2) the Ways are composed of fresh columnar basalt conveniently and improbably arranged into walking paths, and grass doesn’t grow on that
(3) even if somehow the underground volcanic hellscape did have grass, it would still have the bottomless pits, which would tend to ruin any bucolic charm and make picnicking and frisbee hard, although it might make for an interesting golf course
They’re attacked by a Waze Trolloc, which somebody should have flagged on the app for them, and despite being warned not to use magic, they do, and as promised, the Machin Shin, which is not, in fact, a mechanical tibia, arrives. The way this was played up, I expected some disemboweling or plague of boils or fireballs descending from the sky, but instead the Machin Shin seems only to be a combination of a mild affliction of Mean Girls mixed with Impostor Syndrome. Given that the Dragon candidates are all, themselves, petulant teenagers trapped in 20-something bodies, maybe this is the worst opponent they could face, but it’s a bit anticlimactic.
Despite being told not to use magic so as not to empower the Machin Shin, they use magic to defeat the Machin Shin. Despite being lost in the Ways and needing at least a day to figure out where they are due to Trolloc vandalism, they emerge very close to where they wanted to be and completely unscathed. Someone is seriously overselling the perils of the Ways. I think it might be Loial, given that he’s also hawking his invaluable guide services that apparently nobody actually needs.
They emerge to a weird walled town on a desert ridge with no apparent industry or agriculture. Unlike other cities in this series, though, this place seems to have actual people living there and a variety of places to explore, although it’s a little hallway-heavy, and the throne room has the standard Monarch Brooding Balcony (Basic Model) installed. The people here also have their own custom salute which looks like they are giving themselves the Heimlich maneuver. Culture!
Nothing happens in this town. Nothing that advances the plot even one tiny little bit. The only thing of any interest that might matter later is that somebody comes out of the Ways behind them complete with ominous boot tracking shot, but that is just dropped completely, and we never learn who he was or what he was doing.
Otherwise, we just have a ton of brooding.
There is whining about Mat.
There is whining about the whining about Mat.
There is whining about who loves Mat, and who just like doesn’t get Mat and never gave him a chance, man.
There is whining about Egwene dumping Rand (who is eminently dumpable), even though she’s now actively hooking up with him again.
There is whining about the quest.
There is whining about some heretofore completely unhinted romance between Egwene and Perrin, which is put forward by Nynaeve, who didn’t even live in @&$#&$& Two Rivers at the start of the show and would not have any basis to know, and which there’s been no sign of up to now.
There is whining about not apologizing.
There is whining about the manner of apologizing.
There is whine-apologizing.
There is whining about the Amyrlin Barcalounger and the Aes Sedai.
There is whining about how harrrrd saving the world is.
There is whining about the gift of foresight.
Ugh. So bad. Watching Rand try not to cry while firing emo arrows in the torchlight was about the most pukeworthy this series has ever gotten, and that’s a high bar.
There’s a surprise clumsy and lifeless romance between Nynaeve and Lan, because what this show obviously needs is another passion-free lackluster love storyline. The only thing I kept wondering is if Lan keeps his headband on while getting it on, but the jury is still out on that, because we did a fade to black before anything even happened other than gratuitous Lan pectorals. (Dude is ripped – you go, Lan).
We learn shit that I don’t care about that has no bearing on the plot, and what we learn isn’t even spelled out very well. Lan is some kind of king of a dead land (grumble stolen from Aragorn grumble). There’s a seer here in this weird town who’s in some kind of witness protection program as a bartender. (Note: this is the second bartender-with-a-secret-identity, if you’re working on the drinking game.) We learn that Rand will be holding a baby someday, which is terrifying, because I was really hoping he never reproduces or tries to parent anyone.
We also learn that Rand was the baby born at the beginning of this episode, which is disheartening, because his rancid petulance is so far removed from his mom’s utter badassery. I would so much rather watch his mom do stuff for eight hours. This is the strongest presentation of nurture over nature I think modern media has produced.
Then, despite the seer not telling Rand he’s the dragon, he goes and tells Moiraine he is, and she believes him, and they leave without telling anybody, to the consternation of everybody else, who is now stuck in BFE with the self-Heimlich posse. In their final scene, we see Rand and Moiraine heading into an abandoned lot next to Fal Dora, where the HOA should get the landowner to cut back the weeds already. A little RoundUp would work wonders.
My working hypothesis is that Moiraine knows Rand’s not the dragon, and she’s taking him to the Eye of the World where he will be squeezed to a powder by the forces of nature and magic (that’s close to literally what they said would happen, and it is no small comfort to imagine Rand being popped like an Earth-zit). Then she’ll come back and get the others, and nobody will have to deal with his incel bullshit anymore.
Or, maybe, we can just have more flashbacks of his mom killing people. Please.
To wrap up, rating the would-be Dragons (in order of how much I want them to die):
RAND: Another week as the worst of the worst. I really hate this guy.
EGWENE: Pledged never to dump Rand again, which almost makes her worse than Rand. Except Rand is like the absolute zero of suck, and you can’t suck any more than he does.
PERRIN: He had barely anything to do, other than see stuff in the dark that nobody else could and deny scurrilous accusations that he didn’t love his wife.
MAT: Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film, yet gains some points for not accompanying this sorry set of saviors on this trip. Wise move, my evil-dagger-loving friend.
NYNAEVE: Still my favorite, but this was a weird stalkery episode for her, and PlayDoh has more chemistry going on than her love scene.