‘Wheel of Time’ series gets off to a rocky start
I have a rule of thumb with television and streaming series. If a show can’t hook me by the time I get two or three episodes in, I lose interest. That may not seem like much time to give a series to impress you, but I’ve found that two of three episodes is usually enough for a show to convince me to care enough about the characters to keep watching. It’s a rule that’s served me well over the years, giving me enough time to get invested in shows I’ve loved, like “Supernatural,” while saving me from wasting too much time on stuff I can’t get into, like “Arrow.”
And unfortunately, the new Amazon series “Wheel of Time” didn’t hook me in the first three episodes.
Adapted from the popular novel series by Robert Jordan, “Wheel of Time” tells the tale of Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a powerful magic-user known as an Aes Sedai. Moiraine takes a quartet of young people on a cross-country journey to the White Tower because she suspects one of them could be a new incarnation of The Dragon, a being foretold to either destroy the world or save it.
Pursued by an army of trollocs, monsters who resemble something you’d see on the cover of an old-school heavy metal album, Moiraine and the kids encounter multiple obstructions to their progress, both in material and supernatural form. In addition to the arduous journey, our heroes must struggle with personal issues, including guilt and lovesickness.
I haven’t read Robert Jordan’s novels, so I can’t tell you how the series compares but I can tell you that, at least so far, “Wheel of Time” is a mixed blessing. The major flaw so far is that these characters aren’t given much personality beyond one major trait that defines them. Mat (Barney Harris) has the meatiest role, a duplicitous, untrustworthy rogue whose selfishness threatens to derail the whole quest.
The writing also doesn’t do many favors for Moiraine. She’s played as mysterious and ethereal and she’s very concerned but we don’t really get inside of who she is. She also spends a huge amount of screen time in the first three episodes on Death’s doorstep and doesn’t do much beyond quietly lying around.
“Wheel” also doesn’t do much to orient people unfamiliar with its world. It throws all kinds of terminology like “Darkfriend,” “the One Power,” and “Aes Sedai” at viewers without explaining much. Some of these details get filled in as the show progresses and I imagine more will get filled in as the show rolls on into later episodes. But if you don’t know much about the novels and you try to dive into this series, you’re likely to spend a while drowning in unfamiliar terms until the show catches you up.
Those are pretty big obstacles to overcome but “Wheel” also offers some reasons to watch the show. The visuals are pretty epic, especially for a TV series. The landscapes are often breathtaking and the imagery associated with the show’s big bad, The Dark One, is pretty rad.
The acting is a strong point, as well. The youngsters have to carry most of the weight of the show and several of them, including Harris, Madeleine Madden as Egwene and Marcus Rutherford as Perrin, have plenty of moments where they shine.
The action scenes are also tense and well-shot. “Wheel” is a good deal bloodier and more scary and intense than other fantasy fare, like “Lord of the Rings,” so parents may want to take that into consideration before watching it with young children.
I’m sure a lot of the flaws in the first three episodes with be dealt with as “Wheel of Time” progresses but I’m not sure I care enough to watch on and see how. It’s not a bad show at all, in fact, it’s downright engrossing when it’s at its best. But it wasn’t at its best often enough to hook me.
”The Wheel of Time” is available to stream on Amazon Prime. The first three episodes are available now, with new episodes releasing every Friday through Dec. 24.