THE WHEEL OF TIME. The Dragon’s Next Entrance
“The Wheel of Time” is based on Robert Jordan’s popular book series. The story is the simplest possible, following the basic RPG game scheme – a druid, warrior, thief, priestess, and sorceress form a team that travels through a fantastical land from quest to quest. There is, of course, an overarching goal, but the action doesn’t deviate excessively from this formula.
Before setting out on the journey...
In a small village, four friends – Egwene, Rand, Perrin, and Mat – grow up. Over time, something more than friendship develops between Egwene and Rand, but just then, dark forces intervene in their youthful love. A powerful sorceress, Moiraine, arrives in the village, seeking the next incarnation of the Dragon Reborn. All signs point to one of the four. Now, all that remains is to assemble the team (reluctantly joined by the priestess Nynaeve) and embark on a perilous journey.
The series, currently with two seasons available on Amazon Prime Video (the book series has 14 parts, with the last three, after Robert Jordan’s death, written by Brian Sanderson based on his notes), doesn’t reinvent the wheel of time or anything else. The plot moves linearly from task to task, with a minimal touch of typical young adult dilemmas like “love, not love.” Contrary to appearances, these are actually strengths of this production.
The adventure begins with another attempt to find the Dragon Reborn. We meet the quartet of inexperienced heroes: the attractive powerhouse Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski), the somber blacksmith Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), the morally fluid gambler Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris), and the crystalline Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden). Each must undergo a trial to determine their roles, powers, and contributions to the team. This trial involves the appearance of the powerful Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike), who will involve them, along with healer Nynaeve al’Meara (Zöe Robins), in a grand mission to save the world from eternal darkness.
The production is executed with undeniable grandeur. Numerous lands, peoples, and factions are presented in rich, distinct details. Although the costume design doesn’t stray far from the cliché warrior princess outfits, The Wheel of Time still manages to captivate with vibrant colors and intricate costumes. The set design is also impressive, primarily because it doesn’t scream artificiality. Watching the adventures of the heroes, the viewer forgets about the green screen, which was undoubtedly in use. All locations and breathtaking landscapes in the Wheel of Time feel almost palpably real. Given the stumbles of some relatively fresh productions, this is commendable.
The spellcasting sequences are also spectacular. Drawing from the One Power, sorcerers perform complex gestures and immerse themselves in a chaos of rays. However, a slight issue arises here. While Rosamund Pike, a talented and experienced actress, handles these sequences excellently, the younger generation struggles a bit, not just in these moments. This is especially noticeable in the case of Zöe Robins in the role of Nynaeve, whose acting is at best on the level of a soap opera. The clichéd set of expressions she presents doesn’t add credibility to her character. However, it’s fair to acknowledge that this character, in its absurdity, is demanding (Nynaeve is a “wise” healer who became “wise” in her early twenties, and at the time of the action, she has only a little more. Apparently, in the Wheel of Time world, mastering the difficult art of healing takes no more than two weeks). A bit better in their roles are Madeleine Madden and Josh Stradowski, although their performances also bear the mark of TV series mannerisms. In contrast, Barney Harris, intriguing in the role of Mat, stands out positively, unfortunately replaced by Dónal Finn in the second season. From a few classes higher, the performances of the forgivingly eyed young cast are positively judged by the aforementioned Rosamund Pike (in a double role – Aes Sedai sorceress and the series’ producer), the well-known Álvaro Morte from Money Heist, the excellent Natasha O’Keeffe (Peaky Blinders), and the long-deserving, finally visible in The Wheel of Time, Kate Fleetwood.
I mentioned that the simplicity of this production is its strength. And that’s true. One should not expect complicated plot twists in the Wheel of Time, nor should one suspiciously seek a hidden meaning. It is a relaxing, well-prepared production that, despite its minor flaws, provides light, enjoyable entertainment on evenings after a challenging day. The young adult touch, which is usually unbearable for the average adult (though for some, I admit, it can be a tasty guilty pleasure), is subtle here and adds color to the action without overshadowing it completely. Yes, the characters are young, and yes, they behave with the typical exuberance of those in their 20s, but in the case of The Wheel of Time, it feels natural and balanced by the presence of older and more experienced characters.
Jordan/Sanderson’s novels number fourteen. The TV series currently has two seasons. I won’t be offended, in fact, I’ll be pleased if Rosamund Pike continues the adventure with this series. Among excellent series, but ones carrying certain emotional burdens, productions like the Wheel of Time provide a moment of respite. Just for pleasure.