Netflix has released the second season of 3Below, a sci-fi Dreamworks CGI animated series overseen by fantasy maestro Guillermo del Toro. 3Below is the second series installment of del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia animated trilogy, following the critically acclaimed Trollhunters. Season two concludes the 3Below saga, but is it a worthwhile finale?
What is 3Below about?
After an attack on their home planet of Akiridion-5, two royal extraterrestrial siblings Aja and Krel (Tatiana Maslany and Diego Luna, sharing a strong rapport) and their glory-obsessed bodyguard (Nick Offerman) are exiled to a planet so obscure that nobody would will find them: Earth. The Akiridions land in a small town known as Arcadia, where they’re not the only weird thing that has happened recently. Their ship AI (Glenn Close) gives the siblings and their bodyguard human appearances to blend in while their king and queen parents are recuperating. Unfortunately, intergalactic bounty hunters are after them and the evil General Morando is closing in.
What is Trollhunters?
To know the world of this show, you need to first know another series. Trollhunters is a “Chosen One” fantasy story about young Jim, the first human Trollhunter, who wields a magical gizmo that gives him magical armor and a sword to hunt evil trolls while protecting humanity and the good trolls of the underground Trollmarket – all while he balances out school obligations.
In fact, Aja and Krel (in their human disguises) debuted in Trollhunters season 3 as oddball exchange students – from “Cantaloupia” – who help the Trollhunter gang catch lightning in a bottle for magical purposes. Their extraterrestrial heritage is only hinted at and isn’t fully explored until their own show.
Do you have to watch Trollhunters to understand 3Below?
In short: yeah. There will be less confusion if you get familiar with the Trollhunters fantasy universe and its carrying-over cast members. If you choose not to watch Trollhunters, go into 3Below knowing that previous weirdness has affected Arcadia already and does heavily factor into a few episodes.
Let’s sum it up: there are good and evil trolls in Arcadia – and changelings too. By the Trollhunters finale, Arcadia humans have become aware of (and welcome) the presence of friendly non-human entities. The titular Trollhunter and his troll brethren left at the end of Trollhunters, which meshed with the first season finale of 3Below. Some cameos and Easter eggs are to be expected.
Back in season one, in a Groundhog Day-style time loop episode, Aja and Krel learn about the Trollhunter gang’s secret magical duties and lose their memories in the process…but not without a pledge that they might become close friends in another time. This season, Aja and Krel re-befriend the remaining Trollhunter alumni Toby (Charlie Saxton) – who, unfortunately, is one of the most grating characters on the show even if he is a hyper-competent ally.
How does 3Below season two stand by itself?
Much like the first season, 3Below is like a dip in a cool pool during summer. It’s a trope-y and tech-y butt-kicking pulp for young viewers with intergalactic seriousness, fish-out-of-water comedy, and lots of silliness, like bunny-like extraterrestrial bounty hunters with names like Foo Foo the Destroyer. Amid tech hijinks and bounty hunter fights, it passes along life lessons about family, adjusting to a new home, preserving heritage, and how to unconditionally defend your neighbors from xenophobia with a subtextual immigration narrative. The show doesn’t seek to be overtly challenging, but it doesn’t need to be. The fight scenes are stellar and the gizmos and gadgeteering catch the eye.
Aja and Krel undergo a few arcs of their own, with Aja growing as a warrior/ruler type and Krel appreciating his earthly environment. Hayley Atwell is an enjoyable no-nonsense warrior and Varvatox Vex is bombastically fun as usual. But the biggest emotional surprise is the character development for the Mother, the A.I. who mainly existed as a vessel for gags and one-liners. In season 2, Mother acquires a life and personality of her own. For a character manifested as an expressionless hovering holographic symbol, Close pours out a ton of pathos as an A.I. with burgeoning emotional awareness. We also have more of the deliciously extremist human militant Colonel Kubritz (a hammy Uzo Aduba) factoring into the proceedings, a favorable contrast to General Morando’s bland villainy. However, for a kids’ show that acknowledges that racism exists in the world, it has the funny optics of a megalomaniacal black woman being viciously intolerant of “invaders” while her white male subordinate calls her out, not to mention her opponent being a white-coded female hero.
I did find this season, particularly as a final season, to be somewhat partially baked. It seems difficult for the show to set up plausible Chekhov’s Guns to make tech reveals more organic. Also, Aja learns that her royal parents may have been less-than-perfect rulers and makes an educated decision to pacify and ally with one of her parents’ haters. However, the background on her parents’ imperfections goes unaddressed after the episode where she learns it. Plus, there is one easily solvable plot hole that is completely ignored due to the obliviousness of a few characters. You’ll know when you’ll see it.
The show is quickly paced to both its advantage and disadvantage. There are some reveals that feel appropriate, and some reveals that feel random. This season kills off major characters, but rarely finds the time to mourn them properly.
While it ends with appropriate send-offs and unexpected gut-punchers, I was miffed the series ended on a cliffhanger for its announced follow-up show, Wizards, which will wrap up del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia trilogy. The cliffhanger, with mislaid focus on Trollhunters alumni, was better saved for the end credits rather than to cap off Aja and Krel’s story. Otherwise, despite feeling not fully rendered at times, 3Below has a lot to offer.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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