‘The Wheel of Time’ Spins a Better Second Season While Still Going Nowhere

What could possibly be the reason to keep “The Wheel of Time” spinning over at Amazon Prime Video? The answer probably lies in how anything on streamers carves out a fan base, especially if it’s based on established IP. Like so many other shows of this kind, the only viewers left caring are the ones who’ve read all 14 novels begun by author Robert Jordan, then finished by Brandon Sanderson. Newcomers might be distracted by the expensive production design or, in another typical streaming trend, this show provides decent background chatter while doing homework. That said, however, season two is still a bit stronger than season one, with less meandering even as it continues to drag.

Every one of these fantasy shows begin with the heroes spread out all over the place, because the last outing ended in a few battles, of course. The five key characters from River’s End are on their own, unique journeys. Aes Sedai Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) remains cut off from the One Power, the great source of energy that powers this fantasy land. Her Warder, Lan (Daniel Henney), despite having her life link to Moiraine broken, is still tagging along as they search for Rand al’ Thor (Josha Stradowski), the prophetic “Dragon Reborn” meant to save the world or destroy it. Elsewhere, Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) continue their training at the White Tower. Their goal remains to become Aes Sedai. Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) is still out there seeking the Horn of Valere. Hopefully finding the Horn will help him learn about his own powers and identity. Red Ajah Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) still has Mat (Dónal Finn replacing Barney Harris) has her prisoner, taunting him with small treats. 

Fantasy series like “The Wheel of Time” are becoming denser than nonfiction or political thrillers. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” set a standard none of these shows can reach, except for, ironically, the “House of the Dragon” prequel. By now this show feels precisely like those paperbacks fans would carry around before Peak TV made it possible to binge it all. Dip out of one season and you won’t know what’s going on. The makeup and effects continue to be well-done. Episode one opens with the Dark One (if you know, you know) instructing a child on Trollocs, the snarling monsters of his nefarious army. They look convincing enough, along with the other fortresses and picturesque landscapes. A new rampaging gang of adversaries, the Seanchan, sport gilded-cage masks primed to be cosplay favorites. Visually, to be the cinematographer on one of these shows you just need to master evoking the look of candlelit interiors.

Story-wise it’s all set ups and questions answered with more questions. Rand has shaved his head and is hiding out, terrified of the implications of being the Dragon Reborn. There’s a new trainee at the White Tower, Elayne (Ceara Coveney), who adds extra drama while Nynaeve challenges the secret ways of the Aes Sedai. When she isn’t showing off her powers, she sounds like an overworked college student complaining about all the requirements needed to be an Accepted. This leads to at least one really well-done scene where Nynaeve is led into an underground corridor where she must face “The Archers.” The show then swerves to moments of loud action as when the Seanchan raid villages. Characters say many lines like, “I prefer to sleep under the stars.” Because this is a show based on 14 books, you can make it half-way through this season and nothing receives concrete answers. You have to keep going.

“The Wheel of Time” doesn’t forget some of the essentials of its genre and showrunner Rafe Judkins and staff remember to throw in some light humor, sexual kinks and women swooning over shirtless warriors practicing their fighting skills. It’s necessary when we have to return to Rosamund Pike urgently stating, “You have no idea of the power they wield!” There is an audience for this show that loves all these details. For them, it’s fine if “The Wheel of Time” goes round and round all through the season and a few more. You must be truly invested to care, and the writers know this. But as a series with broader appeal behind its clique, the wheel has already spun far off the road. 

The Wheel of Time” season two begins streaming Aug. 31 with new episodes premiering Thursdays on Amazon Prime Video.