The Wheel of Time is back for a disappointedly but predictably middling Season 2
Amazon lusts for a high fantasy cultural juggernaut like Game of Thrones so much that they hedged their bets and poured buckets of money into two franchises (so far) to see what might happen. While neither The Rings of Power nor The Wheel of Time are destined to set the world ablaze, The Wheel of Time is back for its second season to give us its best efforts, with disappointingly middling results.
Season one followed Moiraine Sedai (Rosamund Pike), a magical member of a sisterhood known as the Aes Sedai, as she searched with her loyal, magically bound companion Lan (Daniel Henney) for a hero of ages past, reincarnated just in time to take on The Dark One. Moiraine discovered five young friends from a remote village who all happened to be viable candidates, and together, they set off for the big city while she tried to figure out which one was the true champion she sought. Along the way, the five—Rand (Josha Stradowski), Nynaeve (Zoë Robins), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Egwene (Madeleine Madden), and Mat (Barney Harris)— learned a little something about the world and themselves.
Season two picks up five months after Rand discovered he is The Dragon Reborn, destined to save the world from the nefarious clutches of The Dark One. He freaks out and runs off to the nearby land of Tear, leaving his friends to presume he’s dead. By day, he volunteers at an infirmary, and by night, shacks up with a seductive new lady friend. Perrin is out on the road, agonizing because he sometimes kind of turns into a wolfman and doesn’t know why. Mat (who the show recast in the form of Dònal Finn) dipped out on the previous adventure after an ill-fated encounter with a cursed dagger, and currently finds himself imprisoned in the Aes Sedai’s tower. His next door cellmate, Min (Kae Alexander), is a feisty young woman who sometimes has totally accurate visions of the future.
Like Mat, Egwene and Nynaeve are also in the tower, busy learning to use their magical gifts. Between lessons, they’re busy as servants emptying chamber pots and scouring dishes with the other trainees, including Egwene’s new pal Elayne (Ceara Coveney), a gentle novice who happens to be the heiress to the kingdom. Meanwhile, Moiraine suffers from crippling depression because she lost her power while helping Rand unlock his powers. She bides her time with a few other traveling Aes Sedai who, like all of her sisters, may not be trustworthy. Ever steadfast Lan grows increasingly frustrated with Moiraine’s clandestine attitude, which she chooses to ignore while continuing her personal quest to save the world.
For a story bursting with characters, The Wheel of Time continually fails to gain momentum. The source material, a straightforward tale set in a world with a broken binary magical system, features powerful women doings powerful things, but it ultimately tells the story of Rand vs. The Dark One. Only the chosen one, a man, can fix it all. That’s an odd choice to adapt at this particular cultural juncture while trying to appeal to the broadest audience possible. Secondly, a story about the end of the world, by its very nature, tends to be heavy-handed unless the show executes it with extreme skill and deftness. Sadly, two seasons in, neither skill nor deft are present here, and the more serious it gets, the sillier everything seems.
That’s not to say The Wheel of Time is a total slog. Now that they’ve assembled all the building blocks of the world, there’s theoretically ample room for these characters to distinguish themselves. The sets remain elaborate, and the wardrobe is gorgeous, though totally costumey. The acting is mostly solid, with some exceptions. Even though the material fails to fully serve her, Zoë Robins imbues Nynaeve with the soulfulness she deserves, and two minutes of Kae Alexander’s Min offers a promising glimpse of things to come. As the major name involved, Rosamund Pike still gets to be the star, even though her stiff performance continues to give off major queen of the ren faire vibes.
The new additions to the realm definitely provide The Wheel of Time ample opportunity to continue to improve, while the wild departures from the books creates a fresh adventure for everyone watching, for better or worse. (Adding storylines? Worse. Streamlining thousands of characters? Better.) If the wheel weaves as the wheel wills, it apparently wants to churn out some high fantasy that is mostly fun but entirely forgettable.