“Wildwood” goes heavy on the exposition in a meandering chapter that feels a bit disconnected from the main plot, but its heart is in the right place and there’s some fun to be had.
This recap of Willow season 1, episode 5, “Wildwood” contains spoilers.
“Wildwood” begins with a direct continuation from the cliffhanger ending of Episode 4, in which the Gales, dark, creepily-designed servants of the Withered Crone, set about our mismatched Scooby gang. It’s an interesting way to kick things off – the action is typically reserved for later in the episodes – but it’s mostly just a way to get the fellowship into the titular Wildwood, a mysterious forest that magically compels you to remain forever, which is so Tolkien-inspired it almost borders on outright plagiarism.
Willow season 1, episode 5 recap
As it happens, though, this idea is never really followed up on, because instead, the episode conspires to re-introduce the Bone Reavers, a group integral to Jade and Boorman’s backstories who have thus far been characterized exclusively as marauding villains. With the help of a lot of exposition, this notion is challenged in “Wildwood”, and the idea is presented that perhaps the so-called “good guys” aren’t as great as people think.
The leader of the Bone Reavers is a woman named Scorpia who looks suspiciously like Jade, which – at least for me – gives a later twist away pretty early on. And it’s interesting because I’m not sure we necessarily needed the twist in the first place. I must confess not to have given much thought to Jade’s backstory. I suspected her parents being killed by a group called Bone Reavers was probably pretty cut-and-dry. Not quite, as things turn out, and we’ll have to see how – and indeed if – all of this comes to matter as things progress.
But this is the general idea. Jade and Scorpia are sisters, and both daughters of General Kael, the first Bone Reaver and a loyal servant of Bavmorda who was killed by Madmartigan in the Battle of Nockmaar. Sorsha had Jade raised in the castle and essentially brainwashed her into hating her own people, which is a kind of sinister thing to do, and Jade must reckon with the implications of this and what they mean for her relationship with Kit (very little, it turns out, but more on this in a minute.)
It must be said that everyone takes to the Bone Reavers rather quickly – a drunk Willow even points it out. “Wildwood” is rather obviously about redemption for them, explaining – but not exploring – their backstory as slaves who were manipulated and betrayed by Bavmorda. “They’re misunderstood”, is essentially what the episode seems to be saying, which is a fair point but, as far as I can tell, irrelevant to the story of this season. If you put aside some of what “Wildwood” does for the characters in terms of development, from Boorman’s backstory to Jade and Kit’s relationship, then nothing that happens here seems to have any bearing on the overarching plot.
It is quite fun on its own terms, though. Boorman narrates his own adventures since he last saw Scorpia while flashbacks prove he’s greatly exaggerating his exploits. Willow and Graydon and Kit and Elora form nice odd-couple pairings. Rool has a cameo! Elora learns how to use Chalindria’s wand. And once Jade’s real backstory is revealed, everyone unknowingly ingests “truth plums” which make them unflinchingly honest – quite a problem given that basically everyone is hiding things about each other or themselves.
What this is, essentially, is an excuse to put the character dynamics on fast-forward and have everyone say all the things they’ve been holding onto throughout the season. We speed very rapidly over Elora’s vision from last week that revealed Graydon killed his beloved brother; he simply says he was possessed as a kid, and while she points out it’s a bit odd how susceptible he seems to be to this, it’s mostly left there. Willow also admits to Graydon, and is overheard by Elora, that he actually isn’t a great sorcerer and has built his entire reputation on luck and happenstance. And Kit and Jade finally confess their feelings for one another, building to a big scene when they’re about to kiss… and Kit is then kidnapped by trolls.
It all feels, on balance, pretty functional, and as I say, there are a few things to enjoy here. But it also feels slavishly devoted to the legacy of the film in a way that prior episodes haven’t, and it’s hard to imagine how any of this is really going to matter in the long term. I’m really not a fan of how the show speeds over what you’d think would be important subplots, and a cynical man would point out that the whole truth plums thing seems to be a writer’s trick to get everything out in the open without having to reveal and reckon with it organically. But I’m starting to suspect that Willow isn’t the kind of show that really fixates on logic or internal consistency, or really wants to use its fantasy trappings as a way to ask and answer big human questions. Instead, I think it’s content to simply be an entertaining, sometimes overtly silly, and somewhat self-referential little adventure with old and new friends – and at that, at least, it’s pretty much succeeding.
You can stream Willow season 1, episode 5, “Wildwood”, exclusively on Disney+.