Willow episode 5 review: “Wildwood”

We’re officially into the second half of the season for Willow, and episode 5 slowed things down to focus more on the characters and set up some of the stakes and emotions that have been simmering.

The episode included some action, but the big developments came by way of reveals and confessions between the characters as they seek refuge in the mysterious forest of Wildwood. Let’s dive in to our review of the episode, and as always, full spoilers are ahead!

SUMMARY:

The heroes are pursued by the Gales, and to get away they escape into the Wildwood, a place filled with perils. There they have a chance to breathe for a moment, and Willow continues teaching Elora while Graydon seeks Boorman for advice on how to get Elora to like him. But Boorman realizes something is amiss, and sure enough the Bone Reavers capture the gang. They take them back to camp, where their leader, Scorpia, reunites with Boorman and questions him about what happened. Turns out Boorman was taken to Skellin, the place of the trolls from which no one escapes, and rather than return to the Bone Reavers, he partied and wound up captured by Tir Asleen and imprisoned by Sorsha.

Scorpia has the others imprisoned while she questions Boorman, with whom she seems to have an intimate, romantic past. Jade is held by the Bone Reavers, Elora and Kit are kept together, and Willow and Graydon are locked up elsewhere. Elora uses magic (having stolen Willow’s wand) to escape, and they try to rescue Jade. They’re captured, but Jade breaks free and engages in a fistfight with Scorpia. She loses, and just as Scorpia is about to kill her she notices a strange marking on Jade’s neck and orders her brought to her tent. There, Scorpia reveals to Jade that they are sisters, the last surviving children of General Kael, the right hand man of the evil Queen Bavmorda. Jade’s father was killed by Madmartigan during the Battle of Nockmaar, and she was taken as an infant by Sorsha.

Meanwhile, Willow discovers that Brownies – including Rool – live where they’re imprisoned. Rool offers some advice before Willow and Graydon break free and head off to find the others… only to discover a massive party underway, being thrown in honor of Jade’s return home. The heroes enjoy the festivities alongside the Bone Reavers, enjoying dancing and drinking – and, importantly, eating truth plums, which prevent the characters from lying. This leads to a series of confessions: Boorman confesses to Scorpia that he’s always in a way been hers; Graydon confesses to Elora that he’s done terrible things but is trying to figure out who he is; Willow confesses to Graydon that he’s a mediocre sorcerer who just lives his whole life in fear of being found out (which is overheard by Elora, who isn’t thrilled about that revelation); and Kit finally confesses her love for Jade, which is reciprocated. Before they kiss, however, Kit is taken, and the rest of the camp is attacked as well – with Boorman saying it’s trolls.

REVIEW:

This episode marks the first one beyond the midseason point (it’s episode 5 of 8 on the season), and fittingly it slows things down considerably and allows us to really focus in on the characters and understand their backstories, their inner motives, and their relationships with each other. This remarkable cast, mostly made up of newcomers, has been without question the strongest part of the show so far, with Ellie Bamber, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolori, and Amar Chadha-Patel making a terrific ensemble alongside the ever-lovable Warwick Davis. Their characters are engaging and easy to root for, and because of that, this episode mostly works. It can be hit-or-miss at times, but it amounts to a solid installment that figures to deepen the emotional stakes for the final three episodes.

There were significant reveals in this episode, particularly surrounding Jade and Boorman. It’s been clear that Boorman has a history with the Bone Reavers, and we continue to peel back the layers on this backstory. He has a history with the trolls, which, well, I’m guessing might come into play next week. But he also has a history with Scorpia, one that’s re-kindled here. Boorman remains a complex character and there’s still much we don’t know about him. He doesn’t tell Scorpia that he actually found the artifact, and even though she asks him what happened to Madmartigan, we still don’t have an answer (that continues to be a key mystery this season). But it turns out that Boorman isn’t the only one with a history with the Bone Reavers; Jade is actually one of them, the sister of Scorpia and the daughter of General Kael. It comes out of nowhere… except for the fact that at Nockmaar in the last episode Jade had a ‘vision’ of facing off with Kael. It makes sense now, because while Kit and Elora and Graydon all had ‘visions’ relating to their families, it turns out that Jade did too. We’ll have to see how this reveal continues to pay off this season, but it does serve to muddy the moral waters a bit. It’s not as simple as “Tir Asleen is good and the Bone Reavers are bad.” And perhaps, though it was originally thought to be Graydon and Kit who would unite two peoples, perhaps it’s actually Jade and Kit instead. Perhaps they’ll be able to unite these longstanding enemies who are all a bit misunderstood.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Bone Reavers are heroes, and they do, after all, kill people and celebrate it. And on that note, it’s a bit strange that upon meeting these people that tried to kill them earlier – and did kill Kase, the old soldier who set out with them as a leader on their quest – that they’re as quick to trust. It’s explained away by the reveal of Jade’s true lineage, but the others seem to immediately become completely comfortable instantly. Which felt a bit odd. Easy enough to overlook, but still strange.

Beyond the reveals were some key confessions, with the most notable seeming to be between Jade and Kit, and between Willow and Graydon (and inadvertently Elora). The one between Jade and Kit has been brewing all season, and both the characters in the show and the audience watching it has seen clearly the feelings they have for one another, and all of that reaches a breaking point in this episode. Which will surely drive things in the final three episodes. I’m guessing that so too will Willow’s confession to Elora; he never intended for her to hear it, but she’s now heard that his biggest fear is being found out for a fraud. But we’ve already seen him use magic, and we’ve seen Elora use it, so there’s some truth to it. But like with many things, once the legend begins it can be hard to reign it in, and in this regard I must once again mention the parallels between Willow Ufgood in this series and Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. Behind an occasional gruff master with his apprentice lies a deeper fear: that the legend everyone has come to believe in isn’t who he really is. It’s no wonder Warwick Davis took some of his inspiration from Mark Hamill’s performance in that film.

But while these confessions were well-done by the actors portraying them, and while they probably very much needed to happen (and to happen around this point in the season), the whole device of using truth plums to get them to happen felt a little… lazy. It felt a little like “hey we need to get some of these conversations to happen, so let’s just have all of the characters eat something that will make them do it.” It worked, but it felt more forced than natural.

And speaking of forced, that’s the way the inclusion of the Brownies felt to me here. They played a big role in the film, so it’s cool to see Rool show up again, but it felt way too convenient. The gang heads into the mysterious Wildwood forest (unplanned), then is taken prisoner by the Bone Reavers (unplanned), then Willow is imprisoned in a cage with Graydon (unplanned), and it just so happens that in that exact spot are the Brownies? Ok, sure. That felt way too convenient and way too forced. Maybe they’ll show up again down the road this season and it’ll make more sense, but if it was just this one-episode cameo it felt very random and out of place.

So really, my only issue with this episode is that there were things that felt a little forced. The developments that happened, and the slowed-down focus on these characters, was really good, and it was enough to carry this episode and make it a good installment of the series. But some of the ways that the show got those characters into the position for these conversations was a bit too convenient. Nevertheless, it was an episode I enjoyed, and an episode that raises the emotional stakes as we prepare for the lead-up to season’s end. These characters continue to be the guiding light of the series, so an episode that slows down enough to sit with them and learn more about them was quite welcome.

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