The Rings of Power, Season One (2022)


The Rings of Power plays fast and loose with Tolkien's canon, alters major characters' personalities, and suffers from a serious case of woke re-framing, but still has occasional moments that shine.


It's been a long time since Sauron, enemy of the Elves, fell in battle, but Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) alone believes he is still alive and somewhere in Middle-earth. Determined to hunt him down, she leads a band of tired Elves through the mountains in pursuit of the last sighted suspicion of his presence. But her companions weary of this fruitless search, and after yet another dead end, she is recalled to the Elven kingdom. Their king wants to reward her for her service, and puts her on a ship to Valinor (their home land across the sea), saying that she has earned her right to return to the land of light. Galadriel receives this honor with mixed feelings, but halfway across the sea, senses that she must remain in Middle-earth--and leaps off the ship with no plan of what to do next. Before long, the survivors of a shipwreck stumble across her and pull her up onto their floating wreckage, among them a man named Halbrand (Charlie Vickers). After mutual distrust and suspicion, but by banding together to survive a storm, they are pulled aboard a ship helmed by the cautious Captain Elendil (Lloyd Owen).


Meanwhile in Middle-earth, Elrond (Robert Aramayo) has traveled to the Kingdom of Moria to be reunited with his old friend, Prince Durin (Owain Arthur). The dwarves, never entirely enthusiastic about a visit from the Elves, seem even more hostile than usual, and he discovers through a series of small mishaps and healing conversations with his former friend, that they are mining mithril, a new and precious metal that shines like the sun. Durin gives him a small piece as a farewell gift, but when Elrond returns to the Elven kingdom, the king informs him that a darkness is spreading through Middle-earth and poisoning their sacred tree. Unless they can amass mithril in great quantities, it will perish, remove its protective light from them, and force the Elves to relocate across the sea.


Elsewhere, a band of nomadic Harfoots (the precursor to Hobbits) are startled when a blazing light falls from the sky and lands in a fiery heap. While the others want to run away in fear, the courageous Nori (Markella Kavenagh) believes the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) is "good." She just knows it in her soul. His arrival coincides with the decision of the Elves to remove themselves from a fortress in the midlands, and leave the humans to weather whatever storm is rising in the mountains. But one intrepid Elf named Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) decides to explore a series of discovered tunnels beneath the city, and what he finds is horrifying.


If this all sounds complicated, it is. And these characters are only introduced in the first several episodes, and by the end of the season, there's about eight more. So the problems with this series are twofold--first, there's the utter dismemberment of Tolkien's characters and all of them acting in ways they shouldn't be, and then there's the problem with having so many people running around, few of which get enough screen time for us to invest emotionally in them. By the end of the fifth episode, we have Isildur and his sister, who has zero influence over the plot. There's also various Harfoots and humans, which means the plot lines are fractured and going in all directions. If you like one or two plots but not the rest, you're stuck waiting for those characters to return. It's what I call Game of Thrones sprawl -- where filmmakers feel like to be epic, they have to have 20 main characters and events happening in nine places all at once. The problem is, it doesn't work most of the time, and it just leads to a bunch of empty characterizations. It's a shame, because if you tore the series apart and structured one episode per plot, it would move a lot better. Instead of ten minutes of Nori once in awhile, she'd get a full episode. The scenes between Durin and Elrond are the only things that feel truly Tolkien-esque, and there's not enough of them. Many of the plots don't go anywhere significant, or things are resolved too quickly, even though there are some fun fan service moments along the way (such as the Balrog, the creation of Mordor, and other winks at The Lord of the Rings).


Some characters, like Elrond and Galadriel, have enough history (in the future) for us to invest in them--but Galadriel is nothing like Tolkien's Galadriel. She's a deeply unlikable "She Boss" trope--emotionless, selfish, obnoxious, and burning bridges wherever she goes, who has to be told by a man that she will make friends better if she's nicer. At one point, she stares dumbly into the heart of an erupting volcano while human beings are dying everywhere around her, without lifting a finger to help anyone. And that's where the woke agenda starts to creep in--all the heroes are women. Strong women. Women who are smarter than all the men. Nori embraces the Stranger where others do not; Galadriel tells everyone what to do and has to teach the greatest human fighting force in the world how to kill orcs; instead of a king across the sea, his daughter is a warrior queen; Durin's wife has more ambition and intelligence than him; and Arondir's girlfriend has more courage than any of the men in the village. It's one-sided and a bit patronizing toward men, which doesn't do the screenplay any favors. Worse, by writing the finale the way they did, they make Galadriel indirectly responsible for Sauron's rise for absolutely no reason. She finds out the identity of Sauron and then tells no one about it, which makes no sense. They also forge the three Elven Rings first, while Sauron leaves the kingdom for the newly created Mordor, which causes a bunch more problems for them in season two, because now the timeline is screwed up (he deceived the Elves into forging the nine rings, which he took and gave to the kings of men, which creates the Nazgul, and seven for the dwarf-lords... and then the Elves created the three Rings of Power on their own).


Lastly, there's the real problem behind this screenplay. It has no depth and no heart. The reason The Lord of the Rings worked was because it closely aligned with what Tolkien believed and what he wrote. He came at the story with a rich wealth not only of his religious beliefs, but also as someone who suffered and experienced loss through a world war. He put depth, conviction, and his soul into what he wrote, he was a master linguist, and a lot of his dialogue sounds unique and like poetry. "Dark have been my dreams of late." "You are like a pale spring clinging to a cold winter." Characters can only be as intelligent and as deep as their authors--and this is not Tolkien. It's not even close. If it were a generic fantasy series, it would be good, but it's trying to be Tolkien. And it's not. It's beautiful to look at, and it's well acted in certain places, but it's soulless.

Sexual Content:
Random and spread across the entire season, but occasionally brutal--people are stabbed, shot with arrows, have their throats cut, beaten and chained, almost drown, and fall under a volcanic eruption. Main characters almost die in a variety of ways; women stab and kill orcs and bring severed heads back to show people that they exist. Galadriel threatens to torture an Elf for information. Sauron priestesses set fire to Harfoots' wagons and threaten them in similar ways. Harfoots are almost attacked by wolves, or crushed by falling trees.

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