If you haven’t been watching 3Below, the Trollhunters spinoff series that’s part of Guillermo del Toro‘s “Tales of Arcadia”, now’s a great time to start. The first 13 episodes of DreamWorks Animation’s Netflix show continued the adventures of the newest arrivals in Arcadia Oaks: Aja, Krel, and Vex. Unbeknownst to most of the citizens of the small California town, this trio is from far, far away; they’re royals on the run after a military coup overthrew their family’s rule on the advanced alien planet of Akiridion-5. Now in disguise, they’re trying to fit in among the humans while attempting to fix their spaceship and make it back home to save their people and salvage what’s left of their home planet.
The subtext here, which is hard to miss even for younger viewers, is that Aja, Krel, and Vex are stand-ins for immigrants, refugees, and “illegal aliens” alike; they check all three boxes in various ways. The story itself derives a lot of dramatic tension from how local townsfolk and bureaucratic government agents respond to them; Rafael Motomayor wrote about this very subject following Season 1. I’m happy to say that Season 2 honors this immigration angle and even doubles down on it, re-examining the actions of the anti-immigrant government agents and the aliens’ allies alike. There are plenty of hilarious exchanges and action-packed sequences throughout this second run of 13 episodes, but in the context of modern news here in America, that subtext is more important than ever.
Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off: Aja and Krel are picking up the pieces after their battle against General Morando’s bounty hunters and the reveal of the unexpected betrayal by their very own bodyguard, Varvatos Vex. Old and new foes alike pop up this season, forcing Aja and Krel to team up with some surprising allies that will unite the human, alien, and troll heroes from all across Arcadia Oaks (and beyond). Trollhunters fans won’t have to wait long to see some of their favorite characters return to fight the good fight, but there are some grand surprises in store throughout the season.
On a character focus, 3Below makes good on the tension between the royal siblings and their treacherous bodyguard, Varvatos Vex. One of the main arcs of this season is a redemption story for Vex who not only gets to plead his case, he manages to get back into battle and even experience a brush with romance. Nick Offerman dials back his over-the-top delivery for Vex just a hair this season and he gets to explore a broader range of emotions as the character begins to acclimate to the “hoo-man” world. Vex really has the best arc this season and I hope his fans appreciate it.
As for Aja and Krel, they also get to further explore their character strengths as a talented fighter and a creative tinkerer respectively, but their own weaknesses bubble up to the surface this season to further complicate things. They’ve obviously and understandably got issues to work out with Vex, but they also have lingering parental drama hanging over their heads as well as the impending defeat of the rebel resistance movement by the tyrannical General Morando. That’s a lot to handle for the royals. Luckily, their android parents, human friends, and troll allies will be more than happy to land a hand (and a fist, and a hammer).
The animated adventures are grand this season, but it’s the anti-immigration sentiment that Aja and Krel face that is really the selling point. Colonel Kubritz (Uzo Aduba) is the face of government oppression and military might. She commands an alien-hunting unit that will do just about anything within its power to put a stop to “illegals” of all kinds. This means upgrading their enforcement equipment to included deadly force, allying with questionable characters who have similar nefarious goals in mind, and even becoming more dangerous than the perceived threat of those aliens they seek to hunt down. 3Below doesn’t drop too heavy a hand on this storyline but the subtext is clear. Optimistically, however, characters who figure out almost too late that they’re on the wrong side of things get a chance to redeem themselves, something that happens far too rarely in the real world.
3Below delivers another solid season packed with lots of laughs, big surprises for Trollhunters fans, and even a nice closing teaser for the other spinoff series to come, Wizards. (The Season 2 finale also feels like a series finale for the 3Below title, even if the characters may be continuing on in other adventures in the new series. Stay tuned for more on that front as we hear about it.) In the end, the real strength of 3Below is its willingness to tackle the cold-hearted and inhumane treatment of immigrants and refugees by showing how powerful an alliance of marginalized and mainstream people can be.
★★★★ Very good
Featuring the returning voices of Diego Luna, Tatiana Maslany and Nick Offerman with Nick Frost, Alon Aboutboul, Chris Obi, Uzo Aduba, Cheryl Hines, Tom Kenny, Haley Atwell, and Glenn Close, along with returning talent from Trollhunters including Emile Hirsch, Charlie Saxton, Steven Yeun, and Cole Sand. 3Below: Tales of Arcadia Season 2 is streaming on Netflix now.