The new season is solid, and has some incredible moments, but it’s clear the staff weren’t sure if this would be their last season.
While this review isn’t spoiler heavy, it’s not spoiler free either. If you want to go in fresh, I’d recommend coming back to this review once you’ve seen the season.
“Is this the end?” That’s probably the thought you’ll have when you hit the end of the most recent season of Wonderstorm’s The Dragon Prince. The most recent season has some impressive moments (including an on-screen gay kiss between named characters), some odd ones (the fart jokes were surprisingly juvenile and felt tonally off), but the underlying feeling is this season isn’t sure what it is. Is it a final season, meant to resolve the primary conflict and story arcs, or is it a false climax, serving as a ramp for the true final battle?
I’m not sure, and unfortunately neither is the show.
In its defense, I can guess why this is the case. The staff at Wonderstorm probably didn’t know if they would be renewed for another season, so they created a season that could work as either a series finale, or as a middle season. However, the result of that duality is some arcs feel rushed to conclusion, while others are clearly left open so they could continue if they wished.
Nothing feels more rushed than Callum and Rayla. I’ve always liked our main characters. However, because this season needed to serve as a conclusion, they develop in ways that, while expected, feel rushed compared to the slow, thoughtful progress they’ve previously had. And it’s disappointing because, while I can see what the writers were going for, I honestly think keeping the previous pacing would have been better. While that means the viewers wouldn’t get the same sense of closure from the season finale, you’d know where their arcs were heading (even if it wasn’t completely spelled out), and I’d consider that an acceptable trade.
Having said that, there were other characters who fared much better – Soren, for example, gets some amazing development. His speech toward the end of the season (you’ll know it when you see it) about what makes someone good or evil was well surprisingly poignant and well executed.
This season also showed the world of The Dragon Prince is a much grayer place then we’ve been led to believe. The dragons aren’t inherently good (there are some rather nasty ones), the humans aren’t inherently bad, and the elves are mixed bag. The fact the show was willing and able to show a world that isn’t as much defined by good group A versus bad group B, but as a constellation of people and creatures who are flawed (some more than others), was impressive, and contributed to the entire season feeling like the show was interested in tackling topics at a more advanced level than many “kids” shows.
That’s also true in how the show handles mortality – people die. And while I think the deaths make sense with plot, there was definitely a moment where I went “oh… kind of surprised that happened.”
So, in a season that does feel more mature than the others, the number of fart jokes and cheap juvenile humor caught me off guard. It wasn’t terrible – in all cases it was over quickly – but it felt tonally jarring compared to the overall feel of the season.
Note: The next three paragraphs have minor spoilers. Skip to after the nice picture of Aavaros if you want to avoid them.
Since I suspect many of you are wondering about that gay kiss I mentioned – I’ll say now that I was happy with it. Two male characters, who have names and roles within the story, kiss clearly on screen, and the show is very direct about it. One character is even referred to as the other character’s husband. This is exceedingly rare in animation, and seeing two male characters that clearly love each other who have defined story roles on screen was nice.
That said, I suspect this might not work for everyone. The circumstances affecting the two aren’t exactly happy, and while the show very clearly indicates “there is hope here,” that arc is unfortunately one of the ones that is left open for a conclusion in a possible later season, so it’s not entirely satisfying. Also, while these are named characters, they are secondary characters; if you’re reading this before seeing the show, manage your expectations accordingly.
But this worked for me. Their relationship is handled with as much care as an equivalent straight relationship would be (there’s another straight couple that faces a similar fate), and they’re depicted as characters that happen to be queer, rather than “the gay ones.” So, for me, as a gay man, I’m willing to say this was positive. However, I will fully understand if others are more mixed on it.
Their arc isn’t the only one left dangling – Aaravos continued to steal the show whenever he was on screen, and his story is also deferred. However, if I’m honest, his story makes the most sense to push to another season.
Overall, despite the season’s flaws, I enjoyed it. I don’t necessarily fault the show for trying to make this season serve as a finale, nor do I think the arcs they chose to conclude versus those left open were mistakes. But this all comes back to the fact that this would have been so much better if they knew what they were going for. Which really is a shame, because this world is fascinating, and it’s clear there’s more to explore.
As a note – Donya Abramo and I will be interviewing showrunners Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond at Wonderstorm about diversity and inclusion in The Dragon Prince, as well as at Wonderstorm, as part of our series ‘Now You See Me,’ about diversity in the animation industry. That interview should be ready next month.
The Dragon Prince’s third season will be available on Netflix on November 22nd.
[Editor’s Note: Several days after the interview with Wonderstorm was scheduled, Dragon Prince Showrunner Aaron Ehasz was accused of mental and emotional workplace abuse, both in his current role at Wonderstorm, and in his previous position at Riot Games. We made the decision to go forward with the interview after the allegations, with the intent to discuss them and make them part of the interview, and reached out to several of the victims to hear their stories.
Unfortunately, and while they were able to promote the interview on Twitter, our reporters were unable to respond to any questions about specific interview topics, and could not commit publically to asking about the allegations, even though that was always planned. Wonderstorm, in December, acknowledged questions about harassment would be fair game for the interview, and our reporters announced in January that questions about harassment would be included. Wonderstorm terminated the interview within 24 hours of that announcement.
We are disappointed we will not be able to cover this story in more depth, and are frustrated that Wonderstorm chose to abruptly terminate the interview instead of working with us – our reporters have worked extensively to prepare for this story, and we are saddened we will not be able to move forward.]