If you follow my work here at Major Spoilers you have heard me both praise and criticize ABC’s Legend of the Seeker TV series. Recently Major Spoilers received the complete second season DVD set. What follows is largely a review but also a therapeutic moment of introspection in which I try to reconcile the aspects that I love about the show with the aspects that keep me awake at night as I hear my Film degree wailing in pain.
When I first encountered Legend of the Seeker, the show’s first season was already over. One night I found myself searching Netflix for something new to insta-stream to my computerbox while waiting for the next series of Dr. Who to become available. Legend of the Seeker appeared as a recommendation, I watched the pilot, and it was love! What I liked most about it was its organizations, the D’Harans, The Confessors, The Mord’Sith, and the general lack of “fantasy races” like dwarves and elves. It was dynamic and combined the best aspects of an episodic show with a simple, yet strong ongoing story. But there was always something nagging at me, something that limited my enjoyment of the show from the very beginning.
Dark Times Ahead
It all became very clear for me as the episodes of the second season began to appear on Hulu, and about ten seconds into the first episode The Keeper, The main antagonist’s until-now unseen boss, made his entrance. Suddenly the insurmountable enemy was just a lackey, the tone of the entire previous season changed in seconds, and I was done. I realized at that point that Legend of the Seeker was actually just a thorough repackaging of every plot conceived since comedia dell’arte was a thing. And as I continued to (force myself to) watch the next few episodes of the second season it became obvious that I was in for twenty-one more episodes of melodramatic cliches. And at that point I decided that I didn’t want to have the most overdone plots of the past hundred years regurgitated at me, so I stopped watching.
And then I was asked to review the second season DVD, so I started watching again.
So as I trudged through each episode (I started back from episode one, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything) I began to feel the opposite feeling from before. Rather than being mildly annoyed by a good show, I felt oddly amused by what I considered to be a bad show. It took me the better part of these twenty-two (visually stellar, by the way) episodes to realize what it was that I liked. It wasn’t the characters, Darken Rahl is a stock villain, Richard is a stock do-no-harm hero, and new addition Cara is just a redemption hourglass. What was it?
No, as it turns out it was the setting. All you need to do is look at the descriptions of the first season episodes to realize that a writer could spend the rest of his or her life writing about the confessors; the implications, morality and potential for tragedy, as well as how confession works mystically, its limitations and mysteries. With the addition of a Mord’Sith protagonist now we had someone who could easily bring people back from the dead, which has explosive story potential. Banelings, the evil foot-soldiers of this season are a brilliant twist on otherwise-trite zombie themes. And really that’s the greatest strength of Legend of the Seeker, season 2, when set in the world of the Midlands all these tiresome tropes are new again, like an apple coated in toffee, or a chihuahua wearing a funny hat.
This show has about twelve different forms of mind-control, shape-shifting, and bringing people back from the dead (some spells fit into multiple categories) allowing for infinite complications and plot twists as allies become enemies, only to become allies again, just as they come down with amnesia, then suddenly split into a lawful and chaotic version of themselves, all in time for the rough-and-tumble character to dress up like a princess. The fun of each episode for me became the challenge of figuring out how the writers would get out of the corner they had painted themselves into. Sometimes the results were very amusing and satisfying, sometimes not, but it was no longer the result of the episode that mattered, but rather, the mix of complications in between.
Then came another realization. Yes, each episode is a classic done-in-one stock plot, but that means that now there is a simple and visually appealing catalog of those plots. I recognized that using an old trope is not a crime, especially when I thought about people who are being introduced to these for the first time. Some viewers aren’t old enough to remember that Will and Carlton got stuck together in a cabin during an avalanche once, just like I wasn’t old enough to remember it happening to Lucy and Ricky.
And Finally, Closure
In the end Legend of the Seeker, season 2 is good, solid fun. If you want to watch a groundbreaking series full of twists and unforeseen swerves then this may not be what you want. However if you want an episodic fantasy adventure that comes very close to recapturing that old Xena magic, I recommend that you pick this up. I give it an initially reluctant 3.5 stars.