“That’s what friends do. We help.”
Out of her mother’s ashes, a new antagonist is born, ready to carry forth the will of the Skeksis, as the three Gelfling protagonists (and Hup!) come closer to reaching their appointed destiny; the Circle of the Suns.
A major staple of the fantasy genre is, when the narrative calls for protagonists to be separated—needing to complete their own arcs—that, as the story nears its first steps toward the climax, that these individuals come together. For Brea, Deet, and Rian, “By Gelfling Hands…” is that first step. With the help of Naia, Gurjin, Kylan, and a major assist from the golem Lore, Rian frees the Gelfling set to become fodder for the Skeksis. This includes Brea and Deet (and Hup!).
After the escape, the weary group heads to the Crystal Desert, following the Aughra’s decree to find the Circle of the Suns. After an indeterminable amount of time, the group arrives at the first juncture of their destination. But even before they begin the second leg of their trek—thanks to Dousan clan Sandmaster Rek’yr—Brea’s evolution continues as a series bright spot, particularly in this overall disappointing installment.
With the help of the others, Brea’s able to say goodbye to her mother in a heartfelt ceremony that offers another glimpse at Gelfling culture. But more than that, Brea exhibits the air of command that would make her mother proud. In a relatively short amount of time, her character has shown considerable growth that has been rightfully earned. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for her sister.
From her first appearance, Seladon has been a most unlikeable sort. Arrogant, haughty, and lacking a true sense of self, her character’s inclusion has always felt unnecessary, though this episode gives her a bit more purpose.
Completely throwing aside her mother’s teachings of strength and doing what’s right (though it took the All-Maudra time to recognize the latter), she fully embraces the Skeksim pogrom toward her fellow Gelfling. Worse still, her transformation to this goddess of a death-like cult doesn’t feel earned, rather it’s a step required by the story that was never given time to develop. That may be a harsh criticism and, with a narrative that’s juggling so many characters, it can be difficult to provide legitimate arcs for everyone. But a turn like Seladon’s requires a better foundation to gain viewers buy-in. It’s unfortunate then that this antagonist offers nothing but the need for her to get her comeuppance but for all the wrong reasons.
Issues with Seladon aside, “By Gelfling Hands…” just doesn’t work. Other than the admittedly strong moments with the series’ protagonists (including Rian and Deet’s rising attraction, much to Hup’s chagrin), the other side of the coin is a messy rush of unnecessary and unclear development. The abject destruction of the castle guards is mentioned in only passing as the Skeksis throw all pretense of maintaining a beneficial relationship between the Gelfling out the window. Granted, glossing over this major change may have been due to the series’ inability to maintain the dramatic integrity of action sequences between characters (though I am intrigued by the coming confrontation between the Archer and the Skeksis Hunter), it still leaves an ugly hole in the narrative. This also goes for Tavra’s unexpected capture and adding into this a tiresome rehash of Skeksis gluttony weighs down many of the positives the story provided in our heroes’ journey.
At its core, “By Gelfling Hands…” provides a decent bridge towards the back half of Season One. It’s just a shame it’s a rickety structure littered with planks of rotting timber and a decided lack of stability.