A Very Dull Epic Indeed: Our Review of ‘Wheel of Time, Season Two’

Posted in Amazon Prime by - September 01, 2023
A Very Dull Epic Indeed: Our Review of ‘Wheel of Time, Season Two’

As of late, Amazon Prime’s approach to streaming seems to be this: go big or go home. While the service made its bones with small, intimate series like Transparent and Fleabag, Prime is now firmly in its “blockbuster projects” era. Unfortunately, this behemoth of a corporation proves that all the money in the world cannot guarantee quality. Wheel of Time’s second season is a compelling case study in how big budgets and big ideas do not guarantee excellence – or even watchability.

Based on a book series by Robert Jordan that many millennials grew up reading, the TV adaptation is set in a world where magic exists but not everyone can harness it. Our protagonist, Moraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike). is one of the lucky ducks who can wield magic. Moraine is part of a sisterhood of powerful sorceresses who can accomplish almost everything with their magic, from heating bath water to curing deadly illnesses. Known as the Aes Sedai, this sisterhood is trained to use their powers with benevolence. But not everyone in this world is so well-intentioned, especially if they’re a dude…

In the Wheel of Time universe, when men channel their magical talents, it often leads to chaos and bloodshed. As we are told in the Season Two premiere, “Men who can channel are cursed by the darkness.” But, as this season explores, the Aes Sedai have their own curse: nearly immortal, these slow-aging wonders must watch their loved ones age and perish as they stay alive to solve the world’s problems.

This season actually attempts some character development for its stoic protagonist Moraine. In the premiere, we get to meet her little sister, Taringail. Because she is not an Aes Sedai and therefore is not immune to the laws of aging, Taringail appears a good three decades older than her older sister. We also learn Moraine is from a family that was wealthy, lost everything, and is now ascendant, thanks to an engagement between her nephew and the queen. Unfortunately, all this character development is rushed – literally unfolding over a cup of tea between the sisters – and does little to make Moraine feel like more than the one-dimensional martyr she appears destined to become.

In terms of the plot, Season Two offers too little of the excitement that usually accompanies big-budget fantasy. Whatever you thought of Game of Thrones, there was never a dull moment in the treacherous world of Westeros, where a choreographed fight scene was always just a few scenes away. In Wheel of Time, the specter of war is everywhere, but the action takes too long to arrive. As the season begins, Moraine fears war will soon break out with the dark forces she fears (read: dudes). She may even have to sacrifice her relationship with the super hot Lan (Daniel Henney), the love of her life and traveling companion, who incidentally receives almost no lines. 

Another plot point in which Wheel of Time is heavily invested is the training of novice Aes Sedai ladies, who wear white and live together in a tower while learning to channel magic. The young actors who portray the novices include the talented Madeleine Madden and Zoe Robbins, but as competent as they are, the awkward, stilted writing doesn’t make me care about the characters they play. Like Moraine, the novices are hyper-dignified, one-dimensional martyrs. Can we please all remember that, just because this show is a drama, that does not mean its characters can’t have personalities?   

Of course, Wheel of Time is not completely without value. Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil has created a visually striking world, full of intriguingly dilapidated villages and chic, medieval-inspired cities. This fictional future looks pretty good (Admittedly, it resembles the IRL past but Season One explains that’s only because there was a massive societal collapse ). Anyway, even Wheel of Time’s sky-high production values aren’t enough to make me truly care about this world. This show may be an epic tale about the battle between good and evil; however, it’s also about as interesting as watching Instagram reels from your most boring cousin’s summer vacation….

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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