The problem is, in both last season and this one, “The Wheel of Time” doesn’t have much to offer the discerning fantasy fan. Besides, of course, lengthy runtimes, a glossary of high-fantasy gobbledygook, and plot threads as gossamer-thin as the magical waves the “channelers” of Robert Jordan’s fantasy world twirl around themselves, “Last Airbender”-like, when using their abilities.
Following a first season that struggled to build momentum, it’s doubly frustrating to see “The Wheel of Time” keep up that go-nowhere sensibility. At the end of Season One, our five villagers from River’s End are scattered to the four winds: Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) struggles to understand his potential abilities as a “wolf brother,” Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden) begin their training as Aes Sedai—the magical female warriors who scheme and set policy in this magical land—and Mat (Dónal Finn, replacing Barney Harris who did not return after the show resumed production after COVID-19 lockdowns) stews in a Sedai prison after being potentially corrupted by the Dark One last season.
Meanwhile, their mentor Moiraine (Rosamund Pike, who also produces) reels at the loss of her powers at the end of last season, and the fracturing bond between her and her Warder, Lan Mondragon (Daniel Henney), who’s no longer tied to her by life and death in the same way other Warders are to their magical mistresses. All of them fret about the fate of Rand (Josha Stradowski), who discovered last season that he’s the chosen one meant to save or destroy the world. He’s presumed dead to most, but in reality, he’s shaved his head and gone into hiding, struggling to understand his newfound powers and destiny … and might consult some darker forces to do so.
If that sounds like a lot of plot ground to cover, that’s because it is; “The Wheel of Time” is as dense a fantasy tome as you’ll find, and showrunner Rafe Judkins and his team of writers do their best to streamline it for a streaming audience. But it’s still too unwieldy by half, burdened by too many protagonists in too many similar-looking fantasy locations—pitch-black forest, stately castle, muggy tavern, hay-covered village—to make any of them truly stand out.
The sleepy performances and overwrought dialogue don’t help; so much of “The Wheel of Time,” in both seasons, involves young, hot actors mumbling samey dialogue peppered with silly names with nary an ounce of humor. Season Two attempts some much-needed levity, particularly in its first episode, as two older Aes Sedai women titter amongst themselves while they watch Lan do some shirtless sword training. But most of the time, we get a constipated smirk as some poor actor tries to elevate the thee-and-thou dialogue with more than grave import.