Found episode 5 of this session shakier than previous ones, for issues I’ll get into after the fold–because I’m finding my ability to not get cranky about Tolkien canon being broken challenged hard by this episode. (But there are also several high points I’ll talk about too!)
What the hell is up with the mithril plotline anyway?
First off, I want to link to a couple of interesting articles with commentary!
Jeff LaSala is somebody whose Tolkien commentary I’ve enjoyed immensely on Tor.com, and he doesn’t disappoint either when it comes to commentary on The Rings of Power.
So here’s his commentary on episodes 4 and 5:
And I gotta say, I’m kind of feeling his commentary here. I’m kind of in the same headspace he is about the big plot threads of this episode, because they’re riding the line really hard for me between “what Tolkien wrote” and “what we’re getting in this story”.
There are two big concerns I have with this episode, which LaSala went into pretty well in this article, so I’ll simply say that yeah, I pretty much agree with him in regards to:
- The idea of mithril here being infused with the light of the Silmarils, and
- The urgency of “all the elves are going to diminish by spring if they don’t get connected back to the light OHNOEZ”
I hope that LaSala is right and that this plotline is going to wind up having some element of Sauron’s deceit in it, because otherwise, I’m side-eying it hard. In no small part because it feels the most kludged in of any non-canon aspect of this story so far.
This is why: the big deal with the Silmarils was that those jewels were infused with the light of the Two Trees. That’s why they were so holy and why so much war and strife centered around them happened all over the First Age. So this plotline is essentially telling me that all the elves in Middle-Earth have to be reconnected with the light of the Two Trees?
I’m sorry, the Moriquendi called. They want Gil-Galad to know they’re doing just fine thank you very much without having ever laid eyes on the Two Trees ONCE.
And for that matter, to have the elves all being threatened with “diminishing” basically feels like they’re equating that with dying, and… no, not exactly? As I understand it, the Tolkien concept of “diminishing” here basically means the elf’s body burns away because it can no longer stand to carry the spirit. At which point the spirit goes to the Halls of Mandos. On Valinor. So it’s not exactly like the elf is wiped out of existence.
It’s also known that it’s possible for an elf to even be resurrected: i.e., Glorfindel.
All of which basically adds up to this, for me: this plotline feels forced and I don’t like that feeling, in a show where the first four episodes still pretty much had me on board.
And it’s also reminding me hard that I really need to treat this entire show as AU/fanfic. Because that’s really what it is. And AUs can be great, as long as they’re well-written and still maintain consistency within themselves.
Still, though, I’m side-eying this plotline. Here’s hoping it won’t disappoint me.
Elrond and Durin IV
Now all that said, even given my side-eying the mithril plot super hard, there was one good part of it I need to give praise to. That was, the whole side thread involving Durin IV swearing Elrond to secrecy about the dwarves’ discovery of mithril, and then Gil-Galad forcing Elrond to have to choose between the oath he made to his friend, and saving his people.
Dara, Paul, and I were all very concerned about whether Elrond was going to break his oath literally right on the heels of making it. But then the show surprised and pleased us by not going there.
Instead, Elrond went right back to Durin, told him up front what was going on, and got Durin on board with helping the elves. Which was the exact correct thing for Elrond to do.
Not only on general principles of “goddammit, plot, this character just literally swore an oath to his friend, are you going to make him break it this fast?”, but also not upholding his oath would have been unworthy of Elrond as a character. And I say that in the sense of both canon Elrond and this specific iteration of him.
This Elrond in particular has been well established in the first four episodes as someone who can smoothly navigate his way through difficult diplomatic situations. So it is absolutely appropriate for him to do the right thing, and do the hard work of going to tell his friend what’s going on and to ask Durin point-blank for his help.
So we were all very, very pleased that that happened.
And even more pleasing in some ways was Durin’s response to Elrond coming back to him with this news. How much he visibly savored having the fate of the elves in his hands was really delightful–as was how he only allowed himself a few moments to savor it, before getting right back to the business at hand, and going with Elrond to go and present the situation to his father.
And we adored how Durin completely and utterly bullshat Gil-Galad on the matter of the table. And how casually and offhandedly that was revealed, when Elrond called him on it. HA! :D
I must now also really consider whether Gil-Galad was aware that Durin was completely bullshitting him, too. I would certainly like to hope that Gil-Galad at least suspected, because it’s too delicious to imagine him thinking “this dwarf is bullshitting me, and there is absolutely fuck all I can do about it, because we need access to the mithril! Shit, I guess we have to take him that table.”
This is going to be my headcanon until the show tells me otherwise. :D
The Harfoots and the Stranger
In other news, let me say right now that yeah, that wandering days song was beautiful. <3
But really not sure what to think of where they’re going with the Stranger at this point? Because now we have another example of what seems to be an ongoing trend with him, that he clearly does not know the strength of his own power, and he is clearly capable of causing harm.
And now Nori has run from him in fear. Going to be real interesting to see where they’re going with this.
Meanwhile, we have those three mysterious figures who were checking out the site where the Stranger fell to earth. Real curious about who they are, too.
Dara proposed an interesting theory: that the Stranger might not be Gandalf, but instead, Saruman. He would arguably fit the profile of what we’re seeing here–very powerful, and not necessarily benevolent.
On the other hand, I noted that the primary mysterious figure did appear to be very pale all over. Perhaps even, arguably, white. And Saruman was Saruman the White.
I’m not ruling out that the Stranger could be Sauron, but that’s starting to feel less plausible to me. Just because at this stage of the game, Sauron should in theory already be well familiar with how to control his power and his physical forms, I’d think. (Though see above commentary re: this being fanfic–all bets could still be off here.)
Arondir, Bronwyn, and the humans
I found the ongoing situation with Bronwyn’s group of humans one of the most compelling bits of this episode, honestly, just because it gives some interesting nuance to the humans. Not just Bronwyn in particular, and not just her specific group of humans, but the overall history of humans in this particular section of Middle-Earth.
That half of Bronwyn’s group left was not necessarily the interesting part for me here. What I found more compelling was Bronwyn’s despair, and how she was on the verge of going “fuck it, is this the only choice before us? Do we have to pledge fealty to this commander if we want to survive?”
Which, if you think about it, raises interesting similar questions about any humans that pledged fealty to Morgoth in the past. Were they doing it because they were legitimately loyal to him? Or did they pledge to him out of fear, and the desire to keep their families alive, same as Bronwyn?
I liked that Arondir was there to talk her back from the brink, too. Which gives their relationship more depth, I feel.
The forces of Númenor, and Halbrand
It looks like at this point that Halbrand may actually be the legit heir of the Southlands–because of that last little bit at the end, where he went back to grab the sigil after trying to deliberately reject it.
And from what this episode reveals about him, it’s starting to seem more likely he may be running from some shady, shady things in his past. Real curious as to what choices he’s made about his loyalties–and whether he had to face making a choice similar to Bronwyn’s people, and how poorly he chose. And who may have died as a result of his choice.
Did he try to make a stand against Adar’s forces (or a similar force), only to have his people killed?
EDITING TO ADD: Forgot to mention Adar!
Oh yes, forgot to mention one other critical thing when I wrote this episode post up last night: i.e., highly interesting how Adar reacted to being asked if he was Sauron.
He was actively pissed off about that. Which was a really intriguing reaction.
If he is Sauron, why would he be pissed off about it? Did he not want to blow his cover that quickly?
It’s definitely starting to feel plausible to me here that he is not Sauron. I am still liking Dara’s theory that this guy could be the last elf survivor of Morgoth’s making of orcs. And likewise, Shanti was telling me on my Discord that her theory was that he was pissed off to be mistaken for his enslaver–which would fit in well with Dara’s theory.
We also have an open question here of whether the human guy (I haven’t memorized that character’s name yet, the old dude who’s clearly a Sauron supporter) actually killed the kid when Adar demanded it. We did not see the kid actually die on camera. We’ll have to see with tonight’s episode if he survived!
And one more bit of commentary
Here’s the other interesting article I read, this one on TheOneRing.net:
Now, I can respect the overall point this article is making. And certainly, I respect the knowledge and experience of Ursula K. LeGuin, who it name-checks.
But that said, I’m not sure how onboard I am with the overall point. It kind of hits me as “this show doesn’t have elves sounding like how I should think they should sound, so it’s clearly not fantasy!”
And I’m not sure I buy that, completely. My instinct here is that just because the language may not be formal, that doesn’t mean it’s not fantasy.
On the other hand… heh. Yeah. In the scene the article riffs on, Gil-Galad really does sound more like a CEO than a king, doesn’t he?
I would concur though that the overall flavor of the dialogue is not quite up to Tolkien’s masterful level. It’s not bad. But it’s not got that timeless quality alluded to in this article.
Something I expect I’ll be thinking about as the show progresses.
More with the next episode!