Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time Continues Its Dull Fantasy Worldbuilding in Season Two

Another season of “The Wheel of Time” seems particularly unnecessary in a world when even Prime Video’s multi-billion dollar “Lord of the Rings” series doesn’t seem to have achieved the level of mass popularity they anticipated. Less than a year before “The Rings of Power,” the first season made its Prime Video debut. This was probably done as an appetizer for the upcoming high-fantasy epic. It appears to be an afterthought, a suggestion the algorithm might display on your screen after you’ve finished your “Lord of the Rings” binge, due to its proximity in terms of both release date and approach. “Viewers also recommended…”

The issue is that “The Wheel of Time” doesn’t have much to offer the discriminating fantasy lover, both last season and this one. In addition to, of course, protracted running lengths, a dictionary of high-fantasy jargon, and storylines as flimsy as the magical waves that “channelers” in Robert Jordan’s fantasy world spin around themselves in a “Last Airbender”-esque manner while exercising their skills.

It’s doubly distressing to see “The Wheel of Time” maintain its sense of aimlessness after a debut season that struggled to get traction. Our five River’s End villagers are dispersed to the four winds at the end of Season One:

While this is happening, their mentor Moiraine (Rosamund Pike, who also produces) is inconsolable over the loss of her magical abilities at the end of the previous season and the deteriorating relationship she has with Lan Mondragon (Daniel Henney), who is no longer bound to her by life and death the way other Warders are to their magical mistresses. They all worry about Rand (Josha Stradowski), who learned last season that he is the chosen one with the power to either save or destroy the world. Most people believe him to be dead, but in truth, he has shaved his head and gone into hiding. He is trying to comprehend his newfound abilities and destiny, and he may seek the help of some darker forces in order to do so.

 

If it seems like there is a lot of plot material to cover, that is because there is. Showrunner Rafe Judkins and his writing staff try their best to condense “The Wheel of Time” for a streaming audience. But it’s still too unwieldy by half, burdened by too many protagonists in too many visually similar fantasy settings—pitch-black forest, majestic castle, humid bar, hay-covered village—to make any of them genuinely stand out.

 

A large portion of “The Wheel of Time,” in both seasons, features young, hot actors repeating samey dialogue sprinkled with funny names with no sense of comedy. This isn’t helped by the lethargic performances and overblown dialogue.

Two older Aes Sedai ladies chuckle among themselves as they watch Lan practice her sword skills while wearing only underwear in the opening episode of Season Two, which makes an attempt at some much-needed humor. But the majority of the time, we only see a constipated smirk as some hapless actor tries to give the thee-and-thou conversation a more significant meaning.

To the show’s credit, the production is still remarkably well-put together. Sharon Gilham’s costumes, in particular, are exquisite, from the flowing robes of the Aes Sedai to the gilded-cage masks of the Seanchan, a new band of villains our heroes must contend with. A few blurry tricks here and there, as well as the brief spurts of action that mark the end of each episode, keep the effects subtle and sparse.

 

But those talks, and the persistent sense that they won’t lead anyplace fascinating, stymie any forward momentum “The Wheel of Time” aspires to achieve. The writers shuffled the characters in a sort of narrative fantasy limbo, and even at the conclusion of the four episodes offered for review, the characters still seemed to be nursing their wounds from the first season. When Lindsay Duncan appears as a king with intriguing ties to both Rand and Moiraine or when the Seanchans invade a recently conquered village and demand devotion at the edge of a spike, like the Persians in “300,” it can be worthwhile. But for most of “Wheel,” these scenes call for our characters to speak louder than a frightened whisper.

When our fellowship truly comes together, which is rare, the performance becomes more animated. “The Wheel of Time” poses a threat of falling off its axle before it has a chance to gain momentum since it insists on sending a dozen heroes on their own illegible hero’s journeys and switching between them for a torturous hour and a half each episode.

For review, four episodes were screened. On September 1st, “The Wheel of Time” season two on Prime Video will debut.

Leave a Comment