On Friday, December 15th, Guillermo del Toro‘s animated fantasy series Trollhunters will return to Netflix for its second season, totaling 13 episodes. Trollhunters Season 2, under the shared-universe/franchise moniker of Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia now that spin-off series 3 Below and Wizards have been announced, continues the other-worldly adventures of Jim, Claire, Toby, and their troll allies against the evils of Gunmar and other atrocities yet to be unearthed.
Season 2 is more than just a return to the magic and mythology of the series’ previous 26 episodes; it expands the show’s fantasy elements, allows the relationships to mature, and takes bold chances with the story’s narrative structure. With only half the episodes compared to Season 1, some minor plots and characters are sidelined in favor of pushing others into the spotlight, but the fast pace and brilliant breakdown of this season’s story arcs make Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia an incredibly enjoyable binge-watching experience that will leave you wanting more. (Keep an eye out for my interview with executive producer Marc Guggenheim following Season 2’s debut tomorrow.)
Before I get into my full review, be sure to check out this exclusive clip from Season 2 of Trollhunters; it should serve as your final spoiler warning:
Now that you’ve had sufficient warning about spoilers, let’s get into it. Season 2 of Trollhunters wastes no time picking up from where the previous season left off. If you need a refresher, basically Jim the Trollhunter (the late Anton Yelchin) traveled through the Killahead Bridge into the Darklands, Gunmar the Black’s domain, in search of Enrique Nuñez, the infant brother/”stolen child” of Claire (Lexi Medrano). But since only the Trollhunter and his amulet could activate the bridge, once Jim passed through it, Claire, Toby (Charlie Saxton), and Blinky (Kelsey Grammer) were left on the other side with no way to contact him. That’s where Season 2 picks up, and the conflict serves as the focal point of the first five episodes.
One of the strengths of this season is its breakdown into three distinct arcs. Episodes 1-5 form up around the paired journeys of Jim’s attempt to locate and rescue Enrique in the vast and dangerous maze that is the Darklands, and his friends’ attempt to restore contact with Jim from the outside world. Complicating these efforts are both the machinations of Gunmar’s cronies within the Darklands–led by Mark Hamill‘s character, a new and clever addition to the cast of characters–and the paranoid, reactionary decisions of the trolls’ tribunal–their council of elders, led by Vendel (Victor Raider-Wexler) and newcomer Queen Usurna, wonderfully voiced by Anjelica Huston–which aim to destroy Killahead Bridge once and for all, trapping their allies and enemies within the Darklands. (Oh and let’s not forget about AAARRRGGHH!!! (Fred Tatasciore), whose stony status might not be so permanent after all…)
This arc is a fantastic start to the season. It resolves the questions fans have had for the past year or so while subtly sliding in new, nebulous, and increasingly nefarious threats like the Janus Order and the mysterious Pale Lady. The early episodes also make good on the spectre of Gunmar (Clancy Brown), bringing him into the flesh substantially for the first time. Fans also get to spend some time with old friends Nomura and Kanjigar, learn more mythology about Gunmar’s own considerable past and powers, and bring the Season 1 journey to a satisfying conclusion.
But once that conclusion hits, hold onto your butts because Season 2 takes off in new and interesting ways. I’ll neither confirm nor deny Jim’s return from the Darklands, but I’ll say that the events of those first five episodes heavily impact what comes afterwards. The middle section of this season, Episodes 5 – 11, are where the creative team really hit their stride; their confidence in the material (and in their fanbase) is clear since they take increasingly bold chances with the storytelling style. The basics are covered here: The conflict between the Trollhunters and Gunmar’s forces simmers in the background while we get new hits of mythology and weaponcraft for each of our heroes along with increasingly mature relationships developing among them; we even get bits of backstory explaining their home life, upbringing, and parental problems a bit more. But it’s in episodes like “Just Add Water” and “Creepslayerz”, the eighth and ninth episodes respectively, that Trollhunters Season 2 shines. These are companion episodes that are built around the same plot–the high schoolers pair up to care for their own “flour babies” in health class–but are told from wildly different perspectives from some unexpected characters. They’re an absolute delight; they might even hold some clues as to what’s to come in the spin-off series…