SPOILERS AHEAD … AND GOOD GIANTS, DISGUISED EVIL AND FALLIBLE BEINGS …
In our modern world where many, thought not all, have been quite used to the fact that humanity comes in all shades of complicated greys, and not just glaring black and white, the world of Tolkien is one where the idea of staunchly opposed good and evil is very much at home.
In his beautifully drawn and exquisitely well-detailed world, its myth and lore laid down in countless novels and reference books which remained uncompleted at his death, good is good and evil is evil, and while we know life is not so finely or simply drawn as that, there is something strangely comforting about watching his grand, sprawling morality tale play out in all its epic glory.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is, like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies before it, writ large in all kinds of immersively gargantuan ways, with visuals that match the evocatively big themes of sin and redemption, of good intention and flawed execution, of broken humanity and self-sacrificial spirit.
Every last one of those themes, and much more besides, is evident in the final three episodes of The Rings of Power which amps up the pace and the devastating nature of the battle to come in ways expansively aww-inspiring while simultaneously, and with a deft understating of the often simultaneous frailties and strengths of the human condition, being impactfully, emotionally intimate.
While The Rings of Power has been unfairly accused of being too sedate an affair, content to spend far too long setting the scene and letting us get to know the characters in slow and meaningful ways – that are, it must be noted, already paying off even now, something that will likely be all the more pronounced in coming seasons – the slow build-up has given us something few shows in our narratively frenetic age seem capable of delivering – a nuanced and thoughtful rumination on what it means to be a living, sentient being (this covers the human, elves, dwarves, and, rather surprisingly, the orcs aka Uruks), capable of great beauty and good, and terrible evil and destruction.
They have always been the two sides of the same coin when it comes to humanity and both were on display in the final three episodes of season 1 which saw the revealing of Sauron — SPOILER ALERT!!! — who was hiding behind the very human visage of Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), the slow knowing of The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) as someone “GOOD” (likely Gandalf but no one has said that out loud yet) in a showdown with the scarily white-garbed Mystics, and the searing revelation for a good many people, most notably Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) that they may have good hearts but flawed insight and thus less than stellar execution.
It was a LOT, but, and here is the magic of The Rings of Power, it didn’t feel like a LOT with the show seamlessly fitting some massive reveals and portentous moments into some very quietly nuanced moments where truth hit home, souls were rent in two and destinies substantially altered such as when Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) decided, with her parents’ blessing, to accompany the Stranger a hopeful journey of self-exploration to Rhûn, the fate of which very much lies with Sauron.
Most striking, after all the talk about starkly-written morality at the start of this review was the nuanced way in which Sauron (who claimed to be not so evil after all) was unmasked in a tense confrontation with Galadriel who realises, to her sorrowful horror, that the man who rescued her and who rode into battle with her, is actually the very enemy she has sworn with every last breath to vanquish from Middle-Earth.
Awkward much? Awkward a LOT.
Galadriel is shaken that her militant self-righteousness, driven partly by a need to stand against evil and partly, mostly really, by the loss of her brother Finrod (Will Fletcher), is not as pure, noble and unflawed in judgement as she had supposed.
It’s a stark revelation, and a moment of bitter self-recrimination, only leavened by the fact that she partakes in the creation of the first three rings of the twenty that will eventually be forged – three for the Elves, seven for the Dwarves, nine for men and yep, the famous One Ring for the man previously known as Halbrand – with Celebimbor (Charles Edwards) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo), a moment of beauty and salvation for the Elves who face oblivion without the healing power of the mithril-alloyed jewelery.
It’s a moment that would’ve been bigger and bolder if only Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), heir apparent (or he was, anyway; big things went down that changed the succession in the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm), friend/brother in spirit to Elrond, had managed to get away with mining more of the mithril.
As it is, his father, the King won’t mine the mithril, he won’t help the Elves, and he won’t do anything to stop the world of Middle-Earth from going to Sauron-powered crap, something he may live (or not) to regret when the camera follows a fluttering leaf down to the depths of the Dwarves’ mines where a flaming Balrog is revealed.
So much for a firm isolationist policy huh? It could well meet a fiery end.
Talking about fiery, the big ticket item of the three episodes is the big battle between the people of the Southlands and the Orcs led by Adar (Joseph Mawle) who it turns out, surprise, surprise is no fan of Sauron.
In fact, as he admits to Galadriel after humanity appears to have won the battle against the Orcs – not so fast people … NOT … SO … FAST – he actually rebelled against Sauron and – ta-dah! Killed him … obviously not very well because … Halbrand – and his creation of Mordo, which happens despite the best efforts of Galadriel and the 500 men of Númenór (which is facing its own time of disurption and possible decline with the death of King Tar-Palantir who sees visions of bad things a-coming before he shuffles off this mortal coil) who end up in a volcanic mess.
Isildur (Maxim Baldry) is possibly dead – though unlikely since he founds the later human kingdom of Gondor, peopled in part by Southlands refugees – Elendil (LLoyd Owen), his dad is grieving and now hates Elves, and all the optimism that they could hold the tide against evil has vanished like the green of the Southlands which is now all smoky, burnt and … well, Mordor.
The great fight to hold back the darkness has resulted in Mordor’s creation, the slaughter of many people, Sauron’s duplicity and proclamations, like so many fascistic dictators before him that he wants to rule everyone with an iron fist for their own good, ructions in and likely ruination for Númenór, and a general sense that the battle may be lost.
The war however? Well, we shall what happens there come the second season but given Middle-Earth’s Second Age is mostly a great big dumpster fire for the good and the great, bank on things being far, FAR worse before they get any better.
For all the criticism made of The Rings of Power that it is slow and not much happens, an opinion manifestly not shared by this reviewer, it has done a masterfully beguiling job of setting scene, of crafting fulsomely and pleasingly well-realised characters and of slowly but surely, and with mounting meaning and menace, delivered up a narrative which is full, rich, thoughtful and emotionally impactful, everything you need in fact for what is sure to be a long-running fantasy series that may overly simplify what good and evil look like (with some notable exceptions) but which really drives how dark things can get and yet how, by standing against, great good can still flourish (all evidence, at the end of season 1, to the contrary notwithstanding).
With production on season two just commenced – thank you Digital Spy for that info – look for it to drop most likely in the northern Spring of 2024.