The Wheel of Time: Mostly Underwhelming

By | January 12, 2022
The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time Doesn’t Impress Nearly Enough

Watching The Wheel of Time is a real-time game of deciding whether the show will do something cool, or rote and overplayed. The series ping-pongs between these two modes with such regularity it’s almost baffling.

But before we go into that, I must address something: I haven’t read the books. Not even the first one. I’m aware they made changes a lot of fans are unhappy about, but I don’t know what those changes are. I’m also aware this book series is older than I am, and the tropes used were not as tired or stale when the book was published. 

This means I might praise changes readers don’t like. It means I might miss detrimental choices because of a lack of comparison. I can only review this show as a show—and with the parameters I would review any show made for modern television. 

Please remember this.

The Presentation Suffers Regardless Of The Books

Because, as a show, it’s uneven. Let’s start with the premise. Reincarnation is an uncommon plot point, especially in high fantasy, and was delightful to see. The murder mystery element of finding Dragon was also a refreshingly different idea. The gendered aspect of the magic system, though, and how it relates to people in our real world is potentially problematic. It’s not really my place to comment on it beyond that, however.  

Something I can comment on is how rote the story becomes once it’s past those initial aspects. It’s got a rhythm so generic even Star Wars overused it. An idyllic village is destroyed by the villain’s army (this time the “animalistic monsters” variant) and this forces someone into a hero’s journey. There being four instead of one dude is at least a change of pace, but it’s like a garnish on gruel. We’ve got prophecies, a big evil magic villain, and I’m betting an enchanted sword at some point. 

The Wheel of Time

The Wheel Of Time Feels Like A Fantasy Trope List

The place where the plot becomes good is when it gets dark. Perhaps that’s only because it’s so different, but pure horror and tragedy moments spring up randomly. The city of Shadar Logoth, our introduction to White Cloaks, and certain moments during the Trollic attack springboard this series into fascinating, tense energy. The mood becomes coherent, the threats established, and the lore comes across without as much exposition. Maybe later episodes lean even harder into this, and if so, it would make for a much better series.

If we could get better characters as well, that would improve things. I like the Aes Sedai main, but most are one-note. We’ve got a generic pretty boy hero, a stoic big guy defined by one—admittedly affecting—tragedy, a thief with maybe a heart of gold, and then the one good character of the four. Egwene Al’Vere (played by Madeleine Madden) must make hard choices with no easy answers and learn about the wider world. I’m a sucker for a plot where someone learns the magic system from a wise teacher—I just wish the show would let it happen more often.

The Interesting Bits Don’t Get The Narrative Focus

From this, you might think the show is boring. Oddly, it’s not a slog. The good moments come at a decent clip. I wish I’d used a timer because it felt like alternating ten minutes of brilliance and then ten minutes of very standard.

The issue is we get better fantasy shows all the time. We’re not starved for choice. If you like The Wheel of Time books, apparently this show is disappointing anyway, and you should just read them again. If you like fantasy shows, Shadow and Bone has more robust worldbuilding. Arcane is more thematically dense. She-Ra and The Princesses of Power, as controversial as its later seasons are, does generic epic fantasy tropes more interestingly. I can’t recommend The Wheel of Time from what I’ve seen. It’s not good enough.

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