Based on the long running fantasy series by Robert Jordan—15 books in total—Wheel of Time is (one of) Amazon’s big-budget bets on generating “the next Game of Thrones”. I can tell you right now, it’s not going to be that, but maybe, if the rest of the episodes in season one pick up some momentum, Time could end up being a decent fantasy series, maybe even compelling if a core issue gets solved before the first season is out. The first three episodes dropped on Friday, the first two directed by Uta Briesewitz and the third by Wayne Yip (who also directs episode four). It’s a decent if not immediately interesting beginning. Wheel faces a huge hurdle in its first season: the main protagonists are dead boring.
We’re dropping into a world of magic and mystery, where witchy women called the Aes Sedai track down men who “channel”, aka use magic, because a really long time ago, a similarly witchy man “broke the world”. Now, men who channel are susceptible to a kind of madness, so the burden of all the magic stuff falls on the Aes Sedai. Okay! A lot happening here! Sort of sounds like we should be watching a show about that whole world breaking mad magician thing but whatever! Now, the Aes Sedai are seeking a prophesied person called “the dragon reborn” who represents the hope of reuniting the male and female halves of the magic in the world and defeating “the dark one”, who is reemerging into the world, like, well Sauron. (Lots of Lord of the Rings comparisons to be made here.) If I got any of that wrong, fine, but it’s what I could glean from the first three episodes without resorting to Wikipedia.
The key characters are Moraine (Rosamund Pike), an Aes Sedai searching for young people who might be this “dragon reborn”. With her is Lan (Daniel Henney), her “warder”, sort of like her bodyguard. They have Big Time Chemistry, but I am credibly informed that Lan has a different romantic storyline which, fine, but Henney and Pike are GREAT together and the person Lan is supposed to eventually fall for doesn’t have the same level of on-screen spark with him (yet, let’s hope, for the sake of the storytelling, that improves). Then there are the four kids—they’re like fully grown 20-somethings but they’re all such fresh-faced muppets it’s impossible not to think of them as kids—Rand (Josha Stradowksi), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Mat (Barney Harris), and Egwene (Madeleine Madden). I had to look up all of those names because even after three hours, I couldn’t remember any of them. Bad sign!
This is a “chosen one” narrative attempting to play a shell game with who the chosen one is, but it’s CLEARLY Rand. He’s a pouty brat, and this is EXACTLY the kind of narrative where the pouty brat is the chosen one, which is extremely trying to my patience, but your mileage may vary. (And no, I haven’t googled or Wiki’d sh-t, I’ve just read a lot. Pouty brats have been chosen ones all the way back to the ancient Greeks.) So, already knowing this whole entire thing is going to boil down to Rand shooting lightning bolts from his fingertips, what else is there to invest in? Not much. The kids are only slightly identifiable, besides Rand The Pouty Brat, there’s Mat The Asshole, Perrin The Sad Sack, and Egwene The Girl One. This is as distinct as these characters are so far, but Egwene holds some promise as she is a trainee in the magic stuff. At first, it seems like she’s going to become a “Wisdom”, which sounds like some kind of local hedge witch situation, but once she hooks up with Moraine, it’s clear she has greater potential and could become an Aes Sedai.
The most interesting stuff in the first three episodes are basically everything not to do with the kids. At one point, Rand’s dad,
Roose Bolton Tam (Michael McElhatton), pulls out a cool old sword during a fight, seems like there’s a whole story there that might be interesting, but we don’t get to see it. There is also a group of “whitecloaks” hunting and killing the Aes Sedai, and WHEW do they strike a strong impression right off the bat. The scene in which Moraine is confronted by a “questioner”, Eamon (Abdul Solis), is easily the most chilling moment in the first three hours of this series. Wheel needs a lot more of moments like this to maintain its pace and energy, but unfortunately, nothing ever matches Moraine and Eamon’s tense meeting.
But the kids and Moraine are all separated, with Moraine and Lan joined on the road by Nynaeve (Zoe Robins), the local Wisdom who was supposed to train Egwene, while Mat and Rand find themselves held up in a town working at a tavern to get by, and Egwene and Perrin hook up with a group of “tinkers” (obviously Wheel’s version of the Roma people). At the point that the group is separated, the momentum of Wheel suffers because the kids are not compelling and can’t carry their own story threads. Wheel is going to have to solve this problem if it has any hopes of lasting long-term. We need more reasons to invest in these characters beyond the fact that they’re conventionally attractive, but in its first three hours Wheel offers no real reason to care about these kids beyond the basic “chosen one” frame. At least there is Moraine, one intriguing character to hang our hopes on, let’s hope Rosamund Pike can carry this entire series on pure charisma alone, because so far, that’s all Wheel of Time has going for it.
Wheel of Time episodes 1-3 are now streaming on Amazon Prime, with new episodes dropping every Friday.