The Media Man Reviews: The Dragon Prince Season 4
This has been a LOOOOOOOOONG time coming.
Released in 2018, The Dragon Prince has become one of Netflix's biggest hits on the streaming service and remains one of its popular original works that can be viewed there. Released to critical acclaim for its multi-layered story, strong character writing, quirky humour and themes that remain relevant in this day and age, the series has spawned another two seasons, a series of spin-off graphic novels, a bunch of short stories that you can read on the official website and even has a video game upcoming as of this post. Especially noteworthy is that this show is created by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond. Aaron is especially notable for being the head-writer behind the critically beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender so it's easy to see why there was a lot of hype for this show when it came out. Due to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-2021, the series ended up in a three-year hiatus that has left us waiting until now for Season 4 to finally be released. What's more is that the show still has another three seasons coming after this one, which will take the show to 7 seasons overall.
For me, I was introduced to this series by a close friend of mine. I was hooked immediately and have become a Dragon Prince fan like any other. I too love the show for its incredible writing, memorable characters and fascinating world-building and I've been hyped for Season 4 since it was announced to finally be coming out.
So after a three year wait, does The Dragon Prince return on a high note? Or is the mystery less about Aaravos and how this season ever got made? Let's find out. March into Xadia with me as we explore The Dragon Prince Season 4: The Mystery of Aaravos...
Section 1: The Story
Two years have passed since the Battle of Xadia at the end of Season 3. In that time, Callum has become the new High Mage, Ezran has fully settled into his role as king, Claudia has brought Viren back from the dead (but it's only for 30 days), Janai proposes marriage to General Amaya and our heroes have to band together to stop the return of the mysterious Aaravos while the villains have banded together to try and release him so that Viren's return can be permanent.
Season 4 had a lot of promise going into it and admittedly, it starts off promising with the first episode delving into how things are in Katolis with the new status quo we're in and setting up the plot pieces going forward with Viren's resurrection and Claudia's desperate desire to release Aaravos so he can make Viren's return permanent. Unfortunately...the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
The best way (or rather worst way) to describe this season is that it feels like it was written by Chris Chibnall. And by that, I don't mean good Chris Chibnall when he writes stories that are simple, straightforward and easy to follow, I mean bad Chris Chibnall where his stories are over-stuffed with plot and characters, ill-paced and have very strange story-telling priorities. This season proper feels like it bit off more than it could chew by trying to tell at least three different plots at once and with these plots all fighting for space, the story suffers as a result. We have Callum and Rayla's awkward tensions after the latter left for two years, we have the villains trying to find Aaravos, we have the heroes also trying to find Aaravos so they can prevent his release and we also have Janai and Amaya's wedding. That's A LOT of plot for a nine episode season and it's just too much as a result. They either should've picked two of these plots and save the others for later or just not done them at all and focused entirely on the search for Aaravos. I mean was it really that important we saw how things are going with Janai and Aamya despite the fact their plot doesn't connect to the main plot in ANY way whatsoever? Every time that plot came up, I was constantly saying "I don't care what's going on with these characters! Can we focus on the main plot, please?!" Also because of the over-stuffed plot, we end up having to miss out or overlook important conversations and interactions between the cast that SHOULD be happening, but don't in the end. I mean one episode ends with Soren being horrified to see that his dad is alive. What do we get from it? NOTHING! Soren and Viren don't exchange a single word with each other throughout the season! You see why I say this season has strange story-telling priorities? I mean you'd think Soren and his dad having some kind of exchange would take priority over wasting time on a pointless subplot with Amaya and Janai...
It also doesn't help that this season also feels padded out, which further breaks the story. Like did the search for Rex Igneous really need to be stretched out to three episodes when the whole thing could've been over and done with in just one? Zubeia could've knocked down the pile of rocks blocking the entrance and got the gang inside that way but no, they need to take the long way around because the plot demands that they do. And then we have that scene where Rayla holds Terry hostage but Claudia gets out the bag of coins containing Runaan and her parents inside and throws it towards the lava so Rayla will dive for it...only for it to be nothing but rocks and Claudia has the coins. That entire scene literally only exists to pad the episode out as Terry just guilt-trips Claudia into giving Rayla the coins anyway, thus we wasted about five minutes on something that ultimately didn't matter in the end. What was even the point of that bait-and-switch if Claudia just gives Rayla the coins anyway? It's padding, plain and simple, and this season didn't need any of it! Hell, in the second episode Viren has a (justified) panic attack and blacks out, which also feels like they did it just to pad the episode out! Granted, it makes sense why he had the panic attack as going up the mountain is bringing back bad memories of when he died back in the Battle of Xadia but it's not like the episode would've missed anything if they left it out. Same goes to that moment where we see Zubeia's painting as been vandalized. They draw so much attention to it...but nothing comes of it. Why is it even here if it doesn't mean anything in the end?
And then we have the biggest problem with the story as a whole: the two-year time skip. The time skip was largely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things and I question why it even had to happen in the first place. You could've set this story one year or even one month after Season 3 and nothing would change all that much. This plot can still happen without the time skip. It really does feel like it only exists so we could get the marriage with Janai and Amaya and also create unnecessary tension between Callum and Rayla that only ended up feeling flat and underdeveloped because it's struggling for space among the other subplots in this season. Rayla's return after two years especially felt so surface-level and flatly executed that they may as well not have bothered with the time skip at all. It also ends up leaving us with relationships that are more told than shown to us like Terry and Claudia and Janai and Amaya. Imagine how much better it would've been if we saw these couples developing instead of just giving a time skip and being like "They love each other". And people say Callum and Rayla's relationship was rushed? Get outta here! =P
And finally, this season is one of those stories where things only happen or the villains only succeed in what they do because the characters make dumb decisions or act idiotic so this plot can happen. I already mentioned how the journey to Rex Igneous could've been solved if Zubeia just knocked down the rocks blocking the entrance but she just flies away and leaves the gang to go the long way around...because. In Episode 8, Claudia knocks everyone out with a sleeping spell and she only succeeds at this because everyone stands there like an idiot and makes no attempt to stop her. Even Rayla, who knows how to get around sleep spells, doesn't do anything about it and just allows herself to be knocked out. Then there's the climax in where Rayla tries to stop Claudia from getting the map to Aaravos by stabbing Rex Igneous to wake him up...when the smarter thing to do would've been SNEAKING UP ON CLAUDIA AND STABBING HER IN THE BACK WITH HER BUTTERFLY BLADES!!!! How the hell did that NEVER occur to her?! She's a trained assassin for Christ's sake! She could've easily snuck up on Claudia and just stabbed her to death, thus stopping her from getting the map and avoiding Rex Igneous going on a rampage later on! She acts even dumber later on when Claudia pulls the bait-and-switch with the coins. Like, she finds out Claudia tricked her and just...sits there and cries about it instead of chasing after her and trying to cut her to pieces. I know if I was in Rayla's shoes, I would've been chomping at the bit to impale her numerous times instead of doing nothing about it. It's so weird how so many dumb things happen here because this show is much smarter than this. Just see the previous three seasons for example.
And also this season really ramps up the comedy to the point we're approaching MCU-levels of being overly jokey and not knowing when to stop. This show definitely has a lot of humour in it, yes, but Season 4 just goes too far with it to the point it feels more annoying than funny. I mean did we need to devote a whole minute or two to a joke about how Terry's farts smell for instance? Or did we really need a joke about the Crow Lord soiling himself because he saw a Xadian bird? Or another joke about Soren interrupting an emotional moment with Callum and Rayla? Who among the writers seriously thought these were funny? They weren't, they were juvenile and annoying! This overly jokey nature didn't work in the MCU and it doesn't work here! Only use humour when its necessary, not all the time!
So yeah...this season was not very good. After three excellent seasons, this one feels massively underwhelming by comparison. It was said that apparently, Season 4 was rewritten and thus that might explain why the story-telling feels so unfocused and why several of the dumb decisions happen here. It feels like this season could've done with another re-write to iron out the creases as the story here really does have a lot of problems. That being said, it does still have some good points to it, it's not all bad. I liked Ezran's speech about peace, love and hate. That was some powerful stuff and an example of The Dragon Prince at its best. I also like how they're keeping up the mystery behind Aaravos for now. With his return hanging over the show, it just keeps the tension up and really has us fearing for when he'll eventually return. And while the show does give us some more information on him, it's still vague enough to keep the mystery going for Aaravos. I still want to know more about this guy and the show's really doing a good job on making me feel that way. Sadly, this season makes Aaravos come off as pretty stupid here as he possessed Callum in one episode and just used him as a mouthpiece and did nothing more and he also remarks on Rayla being an assassin who hasn't killed anyone...when Rayla was the one who killed Viren and his Star Caterpillar was there plummeting off the tower with him so how he forgot about that is anyone's guess. Still, I'm interested to see there the mystery behind him goes from here.
Still, this season is going to stand as a black mark on this show and I hope it won't taint the series going forward as we have three more seasons after this one left to come...
Section 2: The Characters
They went with quantity over quality in this season so I might be a while talking about them here.
Let's start with our main characters. The gang is back with Callum (voiced by Jack De Sena), Ezran (voiced by Sasha Rojen), Rayla (voiced by Paula Burrows), Zym, Bait and Soren (voiced by Jesse Incolla). Callum is the new High Mage and has clearly gotten more skilled with his magic during the time skip. He is also hurting from Rayla leaving him for two years and after she comes back, he's VERY conflicted with his emotions and it leads to things being awkward between the two. It also doesn't help that he actually ends up being possessed by Aaravos at one point and he's left shaken by the experience. Callum had some good things in store for him this season but again, the lacklustre execution leaves him high and dry and he would've benefitted from getting more screen time to delve into his emotional state. A big missed opportunity especially was for Aaravos to try and use him to kill Zubeia and his friends but he fights it off at the last second and is left shaken by the fact he nearly killed all his loved ones because he became somebody's puppet. THAT would've really rocked Callum to his emotional core and would've paved the way for things to come but no, Aaravos just uses him to gloat at everyone's faces and then he just leaves. What a waste! And as mentioned before, the conflict with him and Rayla was so unnecessary and forced and the fact the time skip only exists to make this happen only makes it worse.
Ezran and Soren were pretty good at least. Ezran has proven himself worthy of the title he now carries and that he's matured a lot in the last two years. Soren may still have a lot of bad jokes at his expense but he's also shown to be more mature as well and he clearly embraces his new life without Viren in it and how he now gets to befriend the elves and dragons he once tried to kill. The only downside to his story here is that he gets the shocking revelation that Viren is alive and nothing comes of it, not even an emotional breakdown over the fact his abusive father is back alive.
Rayla on the other hand feels like an afterthought in this season. Given Season 4 was rewritten, I can totally imagine that in a previous draft she was absent entirely and they hastily rewrote this season just to include her. The story barely affects her in anyway (it feels like the bit with the coins was included just so Rayla can get something out of this), she's often quiet a lot of the time and it feels like she's just there. Maybe they'll rectify this in later seasons but here, Rayla really got hung up to dry and it feels like they could've just not included her at all. Also is it just me or did Paula Burrows just not feel like it when voicing her this season? I dunno, her performance sounded really off to me and that she's lacking the enthusiasm and energy she had in the previous three seasons. Oh and Rayla now has a cute animal sidekick named Stella...don't ask me why, she just does now.
We have Janai (voiced by Rena Anakwe) and General Amaya who exist purely to have a subplot that goes nowhere and only ends up causing many of this show's problems because it takes time away from the more important plot points and characters. The subplot itself is quite sweet as we have the two proposing and getting engaged to one another and they really make their relationship feel genuine and loving. The problem is this subplot doesn't connect to the main plot in any way, thus making these two feel like they're taking attention away from the stuff that really matters and they're here just to remind us that they exist. This subplot should've been dropped entirely or re-written to better tie-in to the main plot of stopping Aaravos.
We have our villains of the season including a resurrected Lord Viren (voiced by Jason Simpson), his daughter Claudia (voiced by Racquel Belmonte), her boyfriend Terry (voiced by Benjamin Callens), Karim (voiced by Luc Roderique) and the mysterious Aaravos (voiced by Erik Todd Dellums). Viren is back to being interesting again after Season 3 devolved him into a generic power-hungry villain and his speech about wanting to enjoy life against was one of the best moments in the season. Too bad Claudia ruined it by making it all about her and what SHE wants and I have a feeling with how the season ended, Viren's gonna fall back on old habits and he won't develop. I do like how he was with Terry though. That defied all expectations as I expected him to be really harsh and cruel to him but instead, he seems to be developing some kind of respect for the Earthblood Elf.
Claudia on the other hand, I have NOTHING nice to say about. She's continuing to be the delusional idiot that she's become in Season 3 and again, she ruins a wonderful moment with Viren so that makes me resent her even more. Then she pulled that cruel bait-and-switch on Rayla in the last episode and that just killed whatever chance she had of ever getting better or redeeming herself. I mean Terry had to guilt-trip her into giving Rayla the coins in the end, thus meaning if he hadn't been there she would've gotten away with just stabbing Rayla in the heart like that. And no, I don't care that Rayla killed her dad so she feels justified in what she did, her dad is evil and it winds me up to no end that she can't clearly see that! Or maybe it just tells me she's as evil as he is and that she's been a lost cause since day one. Nevertheless, this season just makes me want to grab Rayla's butterfly blades and stick them into her numerous times until she bleeds to death because as of now I AM SO DAMN SICK OF THIS DUMB B**** AND I WANT HER TO DIE ALREADY!!!!
So...yeah, I don't like her very much. :/
Terry was nice enough I guess but the fact we have that time skip means we don't even see him and Claudia fall in love and develop their relationship. We're just supposed to except that they're in love now. His awkward behaviour does get a little annoying at times and he has that moment where he kills Ibis (when he didn't have to, he could've just knocked him out instead) and while it does emotionally affect him, Viren tells him to just "get a grip" and suddenly that arc is over and he's no longer bothered by it. Makes me wonder why they did it in the end.
Karim is completely pointless and shouldn't have been an antagonist. It feels like he only exists just so Janai and Amaya's plot can have a villain for them to fight and everything around him could've been dropped entirely without effecting the story. He's THAT pointless.
Ibis returns from Season 3 but he literally only exists just so he can die, and it was a pointless, meaningless death because his death didn't need to happen in order for the plot to get going.
We also have Zubeia the Dragon Queen (voiced by Nicole Oliver). It's great to see more of her and I like how she's portrayed as this dignified, compassionate ruler who isn't afraid to get serious and can be intimidating when she wants to be. They also manage to be restrained with her by making it so she can be funny but not overly so to the point she feels goofy and still keeps her dignified stature. It does annoy me that they kick her out of the plot just so we can force the heroes to take longer to get to Rex Igneous for no reason but otherwise I liked her here and I hope we see more of her.
For other new characters, we get Rex Igneous (voiced by Ben Cotton) and N'Than (voiced by Dylan Schombing). Rex Igneous is a giant Earth Dragon who desires gifts but they pull a neat twist on the hoarding dragon trope by making it so he desires something more than mere possessions and they managed to make him more than just a big brute when he expresses sympathy over Avizandum's death. N'Than was OK. He was a helpful little kid and was able to guide everyone to Rex Igneous though again, they really could've left all that out and just gone straight to him to cut out on so much padding so N'Than could've been dropped out of this season and you'd miss nothing at all.
So yeah, the characters also feel like they got a massive downgrade here. There's barely an arc for any of them, some like Claudia have only gotten worse over time and a lot of them could've been dropped without changing anything. Not a great handling of such great characters we came to love in the previous seasons...
Section 3: The Animation
Now time to talk about something that doesn't suck about this season: the animation. The Dragon Prince has often got a lot of flack for its choppy frame-rate that makes for some awkward looking animation but it has been getting better over time and it really does feel like that Season 4 finally ironed out all the creases here for the animation is at its smoothest and looks better than ever as a result. The framerate has been improved a lot and thus the animation looks much crisp and smoother whenever the characters move as a result. Some moments even get an animation bump and it looks really cool whenever that happens.
The art-style and character designs still look as solid as before, although not all the character designs here look great. A lot of the new characters have new designs with Callum, Ezran, Corvus and Zym looking great with their new costumes and more aged appearances while Amaya has that haircut that just doesn't do it for me, Soren also has a weird hairdo and Rayla just doesn't look right with her new outfit and her hair looks better down than up in a bun like so. But the characters still look well-designed for the most part with the new ones especially making a big impression with their looks. We have Rayla's new companion Stella who's really striking looking as this four-armed lemur like creature, the Earthblood elves get to appear for the first time and we see how they differ from other elves with their more nature inspired designs and colour schemes. Their dark skin could be considered evocative of tree bark or earth and them having leaves around their ankles is a nice touch. We also have Rex Igneous in where he's an Earth Dragon and they really bring that out with his mostly brown colour scheme and the large amount of rough, bumpy spikes on his back and tail, it almost makes him look like he's covered in rocks, kind of like he's a living mountain or something. He just looks amazing onscreen and is cool to watch.
As for the character animation, that too looks great when in motion too. Like before, the characters are VERY expressive and show their emotions greatly whenever they're feeling happy, sad, angry or distressed. They even manage to make the animals and creatures of this world expressive too with even Zubeia showing her emotions flawlessly. The crowning moment of great character animation for me is whenever Viren gets panicky in Episode 2 as they climb the mountain. It was a great touch especially to have the camera spin around with him as he faints and the episode cuts to black as he blacks out. That's a great way to animate a panic attack in my eyes. The expressive animation fits the show's comical and serious moments very well and the body language of the characters is well-animated to the performances of the voice-actors. They also get creative with some of the abilities of the characters and what they can do whether it's Claudia using dark magic, Callum using magic, Terry using his Earthblood powers and much more. The moment where Aaravos possessed Callum was especially creepy with him literally using him like a puppet and Callum's body is even animated like one as he uses him. Once again, it makes us really wonder what is this guy capable of if he can do that despite being imprisoned somewhere...
I also applaud the animators for giving some creative visuals during the fight scenes too. One example especially is the fight with Ibis and Claudia. Sometimes they'll sweep across the camera and transition us to the next scene and when Ezran's giving his passionate speech, it's sometimes intercut between the speech and the battle with Ezran sometimes appearing during the battle as Ibis and Claudia fight. It's a fitting visual metaphor for how words can fall on death ears during a conflict and that in times like this, people can be deaf to all reasoning. They could've just given us a plain old fight scene but they decided to at least depict it creatively.
We also get some great background details with this animation. Katolis looks as great as ever, the Sunfire Elves camp looks appropriately rustic and unimpressive to suit their less than desirable situation, the Tower Spire is just as unnerving to go up as before with how dizzyingly high it is and the new locations look as fascinating to explore as they old ones. The Earthblood Village looks very colourful and pretty to visit, which is suitable for a race of elves with a connection to the earth, and while we didn't need to spend so much time getting to Rex Igneous, I'll at least appreciate getting to see the Crystal Labyrinth. That place looked absolutely GORGEOUS to explore and it was so pretty to look at with all the colourful crystals everywhere. I can iamgine the animators were very proud of their work on this place and how beautiful they made it look. No wonder N'Than seems to love it too.
There's not much to criticize about the animation honestly. It's really good and improves on what they did before. There is one thing that bothered me though, and that's when our heroes had to make their way across a bridge in pitch darkness. The animators took that WAY too literally and we end up staring at a black screen for a minute or so. It feels like they did that just to save up on their animation budget and we really didn't need for it to literally be in pitch darkness.
All-in-all, I say the animation is this show's saving grace. The story might've suffered but at least they made it nice to look at and I have a feeling the next three seasons are going to really give us a visual treat...
I can only describe this season as disappointing. We waited three years for this? The Dragon Prince Season 4 is a well-meaning misfire with an overstuffed plot that didn't handle all its ideas very well, characters that are either pointless or poorly developed, too many attempts at being comical and a lot of dumb moments. The season isn't completely terrible thanks to some nice moments here and there and some wonderful animation, but by the standards of this show it really is underwhelming. I was hyped for this season and I went into it expecting to like it and really thinking it was going to be great...and it just wasn't. Now to be fair, this isn't necessarily the writer's fault. You see, the crew weren't even sure if the show was going to continue at all so when Netflix informed them it was, they had to re-write Season 4 accordingly (which also meant having to match up with some of the extended universe material like Through The Moon) and this season also got a new director after the original one quit so all that could explain the dip in quality we have here.
This was not a great comeback for The Dragon Prince and I can only hope that the next three seasons will be an improvement. It'll take a lot of magic to repair the damage this season has done for this show...
And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I ask you to share your thoughts down below. Did you like Season 4? Did you not like it? Do you think it's the best season or the worst season? I'd love to know what you think. Next time, I'll be taking a look at some writers and imagining how they'd write for Doctor Who. But I'll be having a friend to join me for this one. See you then everyone.