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'The Wheel of Time' Spins Too Fast

By James Field | TV | September 11, 2023 |

By James Field | TV | September 11, 2023 |


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Last season, I devoted thousands of words to exploring the differences between Prime’s The Wheel of Time and Robert Jordan’s ridiculously long fantasy. I can’t go through that again. My mental health won’t allow it. Throw away everything you remember from The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn. This mash-up of those two epics retains little of the source material beyond character names and locales, opting instead for an original story that works pretty well if you ignore the breakneck pace.

Rand al’Thor’s (Josha Stradowski) journey towards Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle, seemed over. The Dark One was destroyed, Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) stilled, and Rand was free to live his own life until the madness of saidin, the male half of the One Power, drove him insane or killed him outright. Had things worked out that way this would be a very short review, but what actually happened was the physical release of Ishamael, the Dark One’s greatest champion returned from the void outside time itself. Knowing this, Moiraine has devoted herself to gathering as much information about the coming storm as possible. At the same time, Lan (Daniel Henney) struggles to reclaim his footing as a Warder without an Aes Sedai to follow. Meanwhile, Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) take up service as novices in the White Tower, the bastion of Aes Sedai power. Egwene soon encounters Elayne (Ceara Coveney), Daughter-Heir to Andor and novice herself. Nynaeve finds herself under the guidance of Lilandrin (Kate Fleetwood), Red sister and enemy to all men who channel, including the Dragon. Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) travels from Shienar to the peninsula of Toman Head in the company of Loial, Ingtar, Uno, and a few others in search of the fabled Horn of Heroes, stolen by Darkfriends and said to be capable of returning the dead to life. Mat — new Mat, played by Dónal Finn rather than Barney Harris — is rotting away in a cell while his friends face uncertain death. And Rand is shacked up with a mysterious, dark-haired stranger (Natasha O’Keeffe) in Cairhien while he tries to get close to the false Dragon Logain, who he hopes might teach him the secrets of wielding saidin before he goes mad.

Despite being a fan of both book and television series and spending a stupid amount of time watching trailers on YouTube, I had no idea Wheel of Time was back until suddenly its banner was at the top of the Prime home screen. Maybe there was some huge promotional coverage I missed, but compared to how Prime promotes The Boys months before a season premiere, it felt like a huge miss on their part. I get the sense Prime isn’t too confident in the series, and that might be fair. The first 3 episodes are enjoyable but it’s difficult to feel invested in a storyline when it’s delivered in 5-minute bursts, separated by 7 other stories. An example: Nynaeve takes the test to become Accepted. After the test is two-thirds over, the episode focuses on every other perspective for so long I genuinely forgot about her. A struggle for her life became an “oh yeah” moment rather than a dramatic one. Much of the show is beautiful, but the practical effects that turn poor Hammed Animashaun into Loial the Ogier are awful. He’s wearing the same muscle suit they jammed Tom Hopper into on The Umbrella Academy, only Hammed can’t move in his. Gritty looks more alive.

There are good parts too, and reasons to hope the show will improve as it progresses. The Trolloc and Myrddraal effects remain solid, and the Seanchan are appropriately alien in appearance and demeanor. Alanna and her Warders, Elayne Trakand, and several character introductions I won’t spoil for book readers are welcome additions, and the Shienarans traveling with Perrin are a lot of fun. Barney Harris’s replacement, Dónal Finn, fills his shoes without making it a jarring transition. The various storylines are engaging even if I wish they stuck to one longer than a hot minute. Characters are being treated as plot devices with no chance for growth. Given how profoundly Rand, Mat, Perrin, and the rest change over the course of their personal journeys, they deserve better on screen. The later TWoT books suffered the same issue, and I think Rafe Judkins would’ve had better luck focusing on only a few characters per episode. The action, though sparse, is well-coordinated, and I’m looking forward to the introduction of the Aiel and the violence it promises. The sets, outfits, and general production values remain top-notch - again, apart from Loial. This is a world that often feels small despite the dizzying spires of Tar Valon or the forested hills through which Perrin rides. The cramped Cairhien Foregate, where so many peasants fled to during the Aiel War, is so packed as to be claustrophobic, while the White Tower’s nondescript hallways and the surrounding city’s narrow streets make things feel a little non-descript, like an old episode of Xena with budgetary restraints. But there is a variety in the people, clothes, and decorative elements that feel organic in the way a port city would be. My favorite feature, though, might be that when you pause the show, Prime’s X-Ray feature lets viewers know where the scene is located. It’s very handy, given the size of the world map.

If you enjoyed last season and can let go of any expectations from the books, season 2 is worth the investment. I hope for a more cohesive experience as things continue, particularly with season 3 already confirmed.