‘Trollhunters’ Season 2 Review: Magic and Mythology Return to Arcadia in Bold New Ways
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…
Other standout episodes include Episode 10, “The Reckless Club”, which is a very fun homage to 80s John Hughes movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as well as the time-turning eleventh episode, “Unbecoming”, which acts as a sort of It’s a Wonderful Life take on Jim’s original decision to become the Trollhunter. And while the storytellers are clearly having a blast in the middle of this season, the hard-hitting emotional moments and action-packed adventures mostly live at both the beginning and the end of this season. Some of the toughest choices and decisions are made in the final two episodes, which will change everything for Trollhunters going forward. There’s not a weak episode in the bunch and I’ll be amazed if you’re able to stop mid-binge session without saying, “Just one more.”
And speaking of emotional moments, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the late Yelchin’s work in this season, of which he had provided the entirety of his performance before his untimely passing. He knocks it out of the Troll Market in this season. Jim is better developed in these 13 episodes than he was in the previous 26 and Yelchin’s performance reflects that. Jim himself is divided at times by the various powers of his amulet, but never moreso than in Episode 7, “Hero with a Thousand Faces” which lets Yelchin try out roughly a half-dozen various personalities of Jim. It’s a blast. But the undercurrent of such fun, carefree episodes, and such moments of heartbreaking loss and uplifting victory for Jim and his pals, is that Yelchin is no longer with us and never even got to see his performance and character become so beloved by fans around the world. It truly is bittersweet. The best we can do is enjoy the time we get to share with him.
Now despite all the strengths of Trollhunters Season 2, there are a couple of weaknesses and oversights that I’ll chalk up to “not enough time” or “too many characters already.” For existing characters, we get next to nothing between Jim and his mom Barbara (Amy Landecker) this season, so if you were hoping for a little more resolution from last season’s drama, you might be disappointed. About all you’ll get is a very funny breakfast scene and little more mother/son interaction. When it comes to new characters, and I hate to bring up this old, old wooden ship again, Trollhunters could do with a bit more diversity. Straight, White males rule the roost for the most part, even in a show about an underworld populated by trolls. So while the lack of diversity isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s a noticeable choice made by the creative team. Perhaps 3 Below and Wizards will give the franchise an opportunity to embrace a wider range of representation that better reflects the show’s fanbase and real-world reality.
Quibbles aside, Trollhunters Season 2 is a solid return for the magical adventure series that makes good on Season 1 promises, matures along with its audience, and deepens the mythology in an enchanting way, all while making bold storytelling decisions through non-traditional narrative structures. It’s everything an animated series should be, and more.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent — Awards-worthy
If you’re not spoiler-phobic and want to see some more of the highlights from this season, read along with my miscellanea below:
- I absolutely love Jim’s Eclipse armor set and the upgraded weaponry is a really nice touch. This is the kind of character that just begs for some high-quality toys.
- Toby’s warhammer gets a fun-size modification and still exerts control over gravity, even letting Toby fly (like the mighty Thor and mjolnir); Claire’s Shadow Staff and its emotionally charged abilities get put to the test in this season, as well.
- Scorch beetles are delightful, so keep an eye out for them.
Del Toro’s dentist returns (without an assistant this time, of course) and comes with some new dental torture for poor Toby, whose radio-tuned headgear allows for some funny musical moments during action scenes.
- Not Enrique’s “lock-picking” skills are top notch; he has some of the best comedic moments in the season.
- Toby: “I’ll talk! I have loose lips! I’m a chatty fatty!”
- Welcome back, Gnome Chompsky!
- Make sure you stick around through the credits of Episode 9 “Creepslayerz”! There’s a bonus “commentary” track that’s worth watching. In fact, watch the opening/closing credits for each episode if you can because Trollhunters either shifts these around a bit (sometimes there are cold opens or continuations from a previous episode) or adds some fun bits to the end.