As Legend of the Seeker ended its premiere season, the crew at ABC Studios/Renaissance Pictures found resolution to their initial story arc with a graceful wallop. The excitement over Richard Cypher's quest to defeat Darken Rahl plowed through the extents of what a modern sword-'n-sorcery television show could be, stylishly looking back to the glory days of Sorbo and Lawless with a straight, embattled face, a flourishing sense of creativity, and the essence of Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" novels thrusting them forward. Its successes naturally led into a second season to continue the grand-scaled storytelling, but unfortunately the show couldn't stay buoyant enough among just its loyal fans to muster a third. In the wake of cancellation, Legend of the Seeker -- fully aware of its audience and never one to back down from delivering on promise -- goes out with an unbridled, dark, and aggressive bang with the expanses of its sophomore season, one that's never lacking in exhilaration.
After the anointed Seeker Richard (Craig Horner), his mind-controlling Confessor companion Kahlan (Bridget Regan), and their all-powerful wizard Zedd (Bruce Spence) follow through with an ancient prophecy to end the evil reign of Darken Rahl by way of death (click here for a review of Season One), the fabric that separates the lands (Westlands, Midlands, and D'hara) from the underworld, the "Veil", has been ruptured in the process. Evil beings now spill out from the cracks, much more fierce than Rahl's D'haran soldiers, all under the instructions of The Keeper of the Underworld and his right-hand minion -- who, as one might expect, happens to be Darken Rahl himself. To seal the rift, Zedd informs the other party members that they must locate a mythical stone, The Stone of Tears, though they're uncertain of what to do once they've located it. What they also don't know is that a new prophecy has been written regarding their success, one that doesn't bode well for Richard.
With Darken Rahl dead and no perceptible leader in sight, the world of his pain-dealing, dominatrix-like minions, the Mord'Sith, has turned topsy-turvy as well. A power struggle ensues in their walls; Cara, the oddly-motivated Mord'Sith who aided Richard in his quest to kill Rahl, attempts to take the throne of "queen" in a power move above sister Triana, played in a guest appearance by Charisma Carpenter. It works, at first, until the scheming of her fellow sisters -- driven by an apparition of Rahl -- strips Cara of her place in the family and casts her into the wilderness to be left for dead. By happenstance, she stumbles onto Richard and his party of mixed-allied soldiers, some of which refer to him as "Lord Rahl" because of his familial link to Darken Rahl. Cara then makes the decision to accompany Richard as his servant, much to both Zedd and Kahlan's bemusement.
Thus begins the second season of Legend of the Seeker, giving its audience the drive of a new prophesized quest across Terry Goodkind's beast-infested world and a mysterious face to explore through its weekly storytelling. Though we've seen these dynamics before -- Richard's lack of adherence to prophecy, Zedd knowing the right spell for the right moment, the tug-and-pull of the Seeker-Confessor love that's never meant to be -- the freshness of this new batch of elements still continues to steam-power the first season's exciting momentum. The opening episodes, as a result, go off without a dubious hitch, with swords slinging, Zedd's magic pummeling, and Cara's eerie-sounding batons (called "agiels") furiously packed in between stories of Rahl's crumbling empire and mystical spells tormenting the land. One criticism levied against the first season of Seeker was its familiarity to outside sources, especially in its projection of what a medieval Star Wars might feel like, but that's been eschewed for a more focused, entrenched good vs. evil conflict this time around. The party battles with evil forces as they follow a fabled compass that leads them towards the stone, interrupted far more than they'd like by the outcries of those in need.
Everything that hallmarks the first season's robust New Zealand-shot construction, from the excitingly-choreographed action and whimsical spell-casting effects to the props and costumes, returns in full-force with this second season. Though, it's impossible not to notice that everything's a bit darker, from the photography to the set design. Blasts of color from the first season have been largely eschewed for an earthier, more foreboding palette that adds to the direness of Richard's hunt for the Stone of Tears, while certain scenes employ extremely stylish usages of contrast and cinematographic palettes to invoke more magnitude -- naturally something highly noticeable in the Underworld's engulfing green flames and contorted bodies. In general, it makes Legend of the Seeker feel like a slightly different show, and that's really not a bad thing; the style it imbues through its gritty battles, Kahlan's black-out "confessions", and the bursts of flames that erupt from the Underworld always gravitate towards an enticingly bleak atmosphere.
Much like the first season of Legend of the Seeker, this second season tampers with clever themes and dark moral contemplations that heighten its intelligence level more than expected. Eventually, we're introduced to the concept of "banelings", people sent back from the Underworld after choosing to accept a dark agreement: kill a person to send a soul to The Keeper, earn an extra day of life. Sure, the writers typically use these beasts as evil-doers who simply continue killing for the sake of living, but they also find ways to incorporate more conflicted reasons why these people choose to be banelings -- such as a mother's need to care for her children, or for a person to return to the world to deliver an important message. In addition, the writers also tinker with the moral complexities behind the fragility of a child's mind, the actual process that the Mord'Sith went about breaking their youthful recruits into being deadly torturers, and what both a mind-controlling Confessor and a mighty wizard would do without piousness and compassion to restrain their exertion of power.
So, what about Cara? Typically, when a television series tries to crowbar a new character into the fray to perk up character exchanges, it's to mixed successes that often don't jibe with the formula. Forcing the trio of Richard, Kahlan, and Zedd that worked so well before into a foursome with a Mord'Sith, one of Rahl's supporters, seems like a risky, gimmicky decision that could sincerely muck with Legend of the Seeker's flow. Frankly, the opposite couldn't be truer, as Cara unquestionably stands out as the most compelling character of the lot this time around, perhaps becoming the most intriguing element out of the whole second season. She follows a gradient of maturation where the audience remains unsure of her motives, pivoting on her loyalty to Richard as indentured servitude at first -- then, very fluidly, shifting over into the reality of her character's mannerisms. Pairing sharp writing with Tabrett Bethell's exquisite projection of her saunter, her smirk, her dark brooding and her joyful edge becomes a captivating blend, taking us through the character's history with her family, the Mord'Sith and Darken Rahl to hugely rewarding successes.
All's going along just fine with the rhythm, bumping along from riveting frays and Cara-driven dynamic changes in the party, up until the episode "Light" and the three-episode arc that it ignites with "Dark" and "Perdition". At this point, the story reveals a secret about Richard that requires him to go to a faraway monastery in the "Old World", where he must undergo training with the Sisters of the Light to harness an uncontrolled ability within him for his health's sake. Here, Legend of the Seeker's writing, direction, and overall charm sour as it drops the ball with a potentially absorbing concept, extending into three slapdash episodes filled with hollow attempts to force-feed fantasy-laden exposition and melodrama. It's not what happens that disturbs, but the way that the characters divert from their established personalities.
With photography uninvitingly drenched in sallow coloring to emphasize the other-worldliness of Richard's location, all the components are there for something gripping to occur in this Old World stretch -- potentially naming a new Seeker, the creation of a new villain in the Dacra-hurling Sisters of the Dark, and a slick spell cast on Richard that reminds me of Jack Sparrow's time of island isolation in Pirates: At World's End -- but instead it creaks and crawls across the finish line with very little emotional investment and no authentic, palpable bearing on the characters to show for the chaotic action. People die, magic trades hands, and developments erupt that'll prove to be important later, but all its brashness and overexerted clarifications feel for naught at the chapter's close, and I sincerely wish it were possible to gloss over it.
Thankfully, things get better. Immediately, in fact, and in hearty doses. Following this somewhat infuriating stretch of episodes, Legend of the Seeker comes back with a relatively pragmatic episode, "Torn", which sets just about everything right in one of the series' signature colorful morality plays, as well as offering a chunk of juicy material to the show's more sentimental / romantic fanbase amid a bizarre, imaginative plot arc. The episode showcases a ranged two-sided performance from Bridget Regan that emphasizes the actress' often overshadowed acting capacity as Kahlan, all while cleansing the palette with more restrained interactions between the rest of the characters. And that regained stylish, well-balanced refinement continues from there, almost as if the three episodes didn't happen, though the events that occur in the Old World are, in fact, important and play vital roles in the developments to come. What's interesting is that the writers and directors for subsequent installments must've known that the tone was a bit off-kilter, because they find ways of resurrecting that Old World content in more appealing, show-standard ways later on.
As Legend of the Seeker presses on after rediscovering its rhythm, the last leg of the second season hits a broad spectrum of tonal highpoints and middle-of-the-road moments -- both overtly comedic and dramatic -- that's a bit hard-and-fast and unwieldy with the mythos lying underneath. Nevertheless, it never reveals anything that suggests a lack of constructive polish or a hint of performance weakness. Even when the show hits convenient gaps in logic that might spark a question mark or two, such as the almost infinite number of attacking Sisters of the Dark and the willingness for the party to trust certain individuals, the level of composure and abandon-free rendering of dark images and mild thought-provocation always smooth over any rough storytelling patches. Even Legend of the Seeker's excuse for a clip episode, "Creator", manages to be at least mildly intriguing in what it accomplishes with Richard's insecurities about the prophecy outlined for him. Though, admittedly, I'm probably a bit more forgiving for that episode because Keisha Castle-Hughes of Whale Rider makes an appearance, as well as being forgiving towards the iffy meaningfulness in "Vengeance" for the booming presence of John Rhys-Davies as a curious religious scholar.
Then in April, after a bunch of markets dropped the series, the news came that Legend of the Seeker would be cancelled, much to the disappointment of many a fantasy enthusiast. But they're not left high and dry, in the slightest; the last four episodes of the syndicated show hit a breakneck pace that doesn't slam on the breaks until the massive crowd-pleaser of a finale, a chaotic culmination of the series' fortes that really delivers on all cylinders. Moreover, the series actually reaches a reputable conclusion point that leaves very few threads unsown -- well, aside from a few hints that could be later construed into another season of the series. Will that happen? It's very unlikely at this point, though the series' vocal champions would love to prove otherwise. At least, however, Legend of the Seeker reaches a venerable end, a luxury that many assorted cult gems haven't had the pleasure of over the years. And it's a damn fine send-off, one that delights amid a clever, unrelenting bombardment of suspenseful twists and evocative turns that'll sate just about any loyal Seeker fan.
Presented from Disney in a standard, clear tray-layered keepcase across five discs (just like the first season), Legend of the Seeker: The Complete Second Season comes adorned with fanciful artwork replicated on a shiny slipcover with a few raised elements -- like text and Richard's body. Inside, a few advertisements and an ad for the second season of "Seeker" can be found, along with artwork on the inside that includes an Episode Listing. It's a streamlined, thin packaging that's been attractively and mindfully designed, which spells out a winner both for those who enjoy the series and those conserving space in their collections.
Video and Audio:
As with ABC/Disney's release of the first season, Legend of the Seeker arrives in a series of 1.78:1 16x9-enhanced transfers that work admirably towards making the audience forget they're not in high-definition. Highly-saturated colors, such as the the crisp greens of the Underworld and the ethereal blue of the compass, look striking each and every time they arrive on-screen, while other subtle uses of the palette -- the royal blue in Kahlan's chair in Eidandryll (sp?), the sleek maroon in Cara's Mord'Sith outfit, and the cascades of forest greens and tans in the wilderness -- project both the stylized and natural elements appropriately. Contrast also become a focal style element used to both opulent and severe degrees, latching onto the show's look with grace and showing only a few instances of overblown, detail-encompassing black levels. Fine detail can be tremendously convincing, especially in close-ups, but not without a few instances of aliasing and shimmering (at its worst during "Princess", in Richard and Zedd's costumes). Mostly, this release will suppress the desire for high-definition DVR recordings or a Blu-ray release, but a few instances will give a bit of that knee-jerk feeling that'll make you pine for an HD release of the full series (hint-hint, Disney).
Audio comes in a series of English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that match the style of the show's visual luridness, if sounding a bit erratic and blunt at times. Verbal dialogue never becomes inaudible, but the crispness unquestionably fluctuates between razor-sharp and highly muffled at times, while a few sound effects suffer from similar points. The lower-frequency bass channel exhibits a few robust bursts here and there, such as in Zedd's "silence spell" and in billowing fire, while the clanking of blades and the shrilling of the agiels crisply jolt to the higher-end of the sound design. But the big driver in the sound design comes in the Award-winning musical scoring, which powers the series forward with fierce suspense and romantic yearning with plentiful resonance, and this set of audio tracks preserve every note and percussion element with supreme care. In short, the series sounds extremely good. English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles accompany the episides.
Carrying suit from the previous DVD set, Legend of the Seeker's second season DVD also arrives with only a handful of special features to elucidate the process in crafting the series. Redemption of a Mord'Sith: Meet Cara (10:13, 16x9) introduces us to actress Tabrett Bathell, showing how she obtained some quick fight training before she started filming and how her costume has changed over the season. The piece also offers a few behind-the-scenes bits of her initial script reading and her time with Charisma Carpenter. Under the Underworld (8:41, 16x9) obviously focuses more on the production aspects in creating the lair of the keeper, illustrating how the concept for a high-saturation green "Hell" came about. THey reveal how sixteen (16) dancers were used to create the sea of souls in the pits, while also explaining the concept behind the blue-screened set and how it's much more cost-effective than using just digital effects. Rounding out the features are a set of six (6) Deleted Scenes.
No, the second season of Legend of the Seeker isn't quite as good as the first, but it's still the same enthralling, straight-faced epic fantasy that dares to explore darker aspects for thrills, action, and a pinch of thought-provocation. Even if the caliber of writing doesn't match its premiere run, there are several accomplishments this time around that do -- especially the presence of Cara, one of the most welcome secondary additions to a cast that I can recall. The devil-may-care handling of the series' established mythos might be chaotic in Richard's second preordained quest, but the story's overall momentum still rushes along under the current of great performances, exquisite production design, and a level of raw charm that's undeniable. And, moreover, the entire story has a chance to actually find an ending over the course of two full seasons, a rare fate in the current climate of television's cutthroat antics -- especially among niche audiences. Both the content and Disney's handling of the episodes comes firmly Recommended.