The third and fourth episodes of Rings of Power have aired as of September 16th. Thousands of reviews have fountained across the internet over the last couple of weeks, some from rankled fans, others from satisfied enthusiasts, and others with both good and bad things to report. The show, as we all anticipated, has not gone without its fair share of controversy and pushback, but for this review, I want to lay those conversations aside and instead focus on some pros and cons of the recent episodes from my own perspective.
To begin on a positive note, I enjoyed these last couple of episodes much more than the first two. The storyline seems to be getting somewhere. Galadriel is being kept on the island against her will, where strange signs of evil press her to demand her release so she can continue her military campaign against Sauron. She must try to learn how to negotiate with the Númenórians, but her stubborn, quick-tempered personality still gets in the way. Númenor is beautifully done, matching the glories of Peter Jackson’s depictions of Minas Tirith in the original trilogy.
We also find that the Elf Arondir is taken captive by a clan of Orcs who are tunneling through the Southlands and pillaging whole towns as they go. He meets a strange villain the Orcs call “father” who appears to be an Elf himself, though he is scarred and distorted. This evil ruler releases Arondir (for some reason) with a message: the forces of evil are coming.
We get a bit of the Harfoots in the third episode. The mysterious “Stranger,” who many fans believe to be Gandalf, is discovered by the broader Harfoot community just as the nomadic tribe is setting out in a caravan. The Stranger ends up helping Nori, the main Harfoot character, and her family move their wagon to keep up with the rest of the group. (Strangely, the Harfoot storyline is totally absent in episode four. Did they forget about them?)
I’m enjoying this fantastical world more with each episode and am excited to see where it goes, but remain hung up on a few things. The dialogue still feels forced and shallow in many places, and even contemporary at times. If you read through The Lord of the Rings, you’ll find a wealth of not only narrative but pages of rich poetry and song. The characters’ speech in Rings of Power falls flat and makes me wish the writers put more poetic and original Tolkien material into the script.
The characters in the show also have a lot of intense psychological conflicts. The enemy isn’t just Sauron—it’s also their own doubts, confusions, and fears. Galadriel is a “tempest” of emotion. Halbrand the Southlander, who is imprisoned in Númenor alongside Galadriel, has an anger issue, too. Arondir is conflicted about his feelings for the Southlander woman, Bronwyn, and so on. I assume the writers did this to make the characters more relatable to modern audiences. However, was Tolkien focused on the internal conflicts of his characters, or is their adversity often more external, forcing them to choose “what they will do with the time that is given to them”? This approach is relatable to modern audiences, too, since we all must choose whether to side with good or evil and weigh the consequences of our actions. Donald Williams, Ph.D., author of Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, wrote about this issue in Peter Jackson’s trilogy:
“Jackson apparently thinks the characters Tolkien gave us are too simply good to be fully believable to modern audiences, and so he feels obligated to ‘complicate’ them, to give them internal conflicts other than the ones they actually have, in the hopes that we will better be able to relate to them….Tolkien, on the other hand, understood that we need to be able to imagine such things as real virtue and uncompromising integrity. And Tolkien could imagine such things.”Donald Williams, “The World of the Rings: Why Peter Jackson was Unable to Film Tolkien’s Moral Tale.”
If Peter Jackson gave the LOTR cast unnecessary internal conflicts, then the Rings of Power writers have done it on steroids. This isn’t to say that the protagonists in the show aren’t inspiring at times, but it does seem like we’re getting characters who are a bit preoccupied with their own issues, and that might be a distraction from the bigger story in the long run. Internal conflict has an important place, I think, but maybe we also need characters who are undivided in their quest and moral virtue, especially if Tolkien was aiming for such portrayals in his fiction. Galadriel is the best we get in that sense with her vow to protect Middle Earth, but even she is often too quick-tempered to have a clear vision of what she needs to do and do it wisely. It will be interesting, in any case, to see how these characters grow over the course of the show.
Rings of Power is entertaining, and I look forward to future episodes, but a piece of this world still lacks depth for me and deviates a bit from Tolkien’s moral imagination.
Here are my reflections on the two episodes: Amazon’s Rings of Power: Some warning signs but still hope. Peter Biles: The screenwriters had to create dialogue from Tolkien’s notes about the world in which Lord of the Rings is set. However the writers fare with inventing “Tolkien” dialogue, the challenge is to stay faithful to his reality, where good and evil are not Marvel cartoons.