TV Review – The Rings of Power Season 1

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 1 (Amazon Prime)
Written by J. D. Payne & Patrick McKay, Gennifer Hutchison, Jason Cahill and Justin Doble, Stephany Folsom, and Nicholas Adams
Directed by J.A. Bayona, Wayne Che Yip, and Charlotte Brändström

When Amazon announced they would make a prequel series set in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, my first thought was, “Why?” I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies when they came out, but I couldn’t stand The Hobbit trilogy and was perfectly happy to let that cinematic world be as it is. But that’s the thing with capitalism; why let a story or I.P. just be when you could keep mining it for more content and eventually result in the public hating everything about it? How could we skip that opportunity? So, with some fragments of stories & unfinished tales plus a hell of a lot of creative agency to change things, we were finally given the billion-dollar bloat that is The Rings of Power.

Thousands of years before the events of the stories we actually enjoy, we find the world in a state of tentative peace, the Second Age of Middle-Earth. Though, we go far beyond Middle-Earth in this series. There’s the island kingdom of Numenor that gets a lot of screen time, as well as some bits in Valinor that showcases the elves in their natural environment. In the original supplemental writings that Tolkien did, these events play out over thousands of years but have been compressed into happening simultaneously for the series. The result is Lord of the Rings, but it feels like the structure of Game of Thrones, isolated stories that sometimes or not at all crossover with each other. 

The closest we have to the main character is Galadriel (Morfyyd Clark), who is searching Middle-Earth for Sauron. Sauron served as lieutenant to the dark god Morgoth who was defeated in a great war. This minion got away, but Galadriel knows Sauron’s return to power will devastate the world. The rest of the Elves want to move on, and part of that is sending Galadriel and her soldiers back to Valinor. Using a single line where Tolkien referred to her as having an “Amazonian disposition,” the elven lady is reframed as a fierce warrior, probably the best recontextualizing of something familiar the series does. Galadriel can be the most interesting character when the script doesn’t have her spinning her wheels to reach the ten-episode order.

There are the Harfoots, cousins of a sort to the Hobbits. Where the latter are homesteaders, the former are nomadic, moving from site to site with the seasons, so food is always enough to sustain them. Nori (Markella Kavenagh) is a curious Harfoot, far more interested in adventure than gathering resources. It is her luck that a mysterious Stranger (Daniel Weyman) seemingly falls from the stars yards away from their camp. Nori attempts to keep him a secret, but a big person like that is pretty hard to stay hidden. Is this bearded man Sauron? Is he Gandalf? Some other person we’ve never heard of? Most viewers will immediately know who this is despite the writer lazily trying to throw us off the trail.

Half-Elf Elrond (Robert Aramayo) is working as a liaison between Elven smith Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) and Durin IV (Owain Arthur), the prince of the Dwarven city Khazad-dûm. Celebrimbor wants to create an art piece that honors the connection the Elves have now with Middle-Earth. He needs Mithril, and the dwarves sit on a massive vein. There’s also the chaos in the Southlands as Arondir, a Sylvan Elf ranger, becomes aware of the return of the orcs and a potential sundering of the land. And then there’s the human drama of the Numenorians, including young Isildur’s desire to explore Middle-Earth, unaware of the tragic fate that awaits him in the great war to come. 

Part of the problem in The Rings of Powers’ extremely blatant lack of a story to tell stems from Amazon’s inability to even purchase the rights to The Silmarillion, instead the source material for the series comes from the assortment of appendices in the back of LOTR, not the most fruitful of stories to tell. If you approach this from wanting the most creative freedom, this makes sense because the writers’ room works with some genuinely skeletal narratives. There’s much to be fleshed in. However, if you are a devoted Tolkien fan, I can’t imagine you are happy with The Rings of Power because, oh boy, the creative liberties. As someone who isn’t diehard but probably knows slightly more than the average person on the street due to nerd osmosis, I ended the season with zero desire to watch the second. I do not care what happens to any of these characters; the showrunner failed spectacularly to get me invested. 

There are quite a few silly twists and plot contrivances that just stink of the most effortless writing. Characters don’t consistently make logical choices based on what we’ve learned about them; things will be done entirely out of left field because the show needs them to do it, so a plot thing happens. The way these characters are written is also done without any sense of charm or charisma. I don’t particularly hate any of them, but I certainly don’t like any of them. Someone new like Nori just plays as “girl Frodo” because that is all the writers really had in mind when they imagined her. “We need a character like Frodo because that is a thing people want to see in LOTR media.”

The Rings of Power makes The Book of Boba Fett look compelling by comparison. There are no characters here worth giving a damn about; the writing certainly doesn’t work hard to make you care. The showrunners clearly crib their notes from J.J. Abrams and toss mystery boxes at us while stupidly drawing out mystery around characters we’re all smart enough to know have more going on. Dangling a secret over the audience’s head will never be as gratifying to watch as having complex characters taking action and coming into conflict with each other, a fundamental element of storytelling this show experiences a dearth of. 

I don’t even have a problem if you dramatically shift away from the source material as long as it’s enjoyable to watch. I don’t remember half the names of any book characters, but if those figures are engaged in an exciting storyline, it won’t matter. This isn’t a failure to capture the essence of Tolkien’s stories but a failure to deliver a television series of merit. The Rings of Power commits the worst crime by being utterly dull. 


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