This post is many days after the fact, but I didn’t want to leave the finale of Season 1 of The Rings of Power unremarked upon! I’ve been taking the time to sit with the episode for a while in my head, as well as the season as a whole, before finally writing up my thoughts about it.
So here are those thoughts.
First, some commentary from Tor.com:
Their episode recap/review post
Additional commentary from Jeff LaSala
Both of these posts give a good overview of what happened in the episode in general. But keep these in mind as I get into my own commentary, and the latter one in particular, as LaSala’s commentary lines up pretty well with my own thoughts.
Now then, in no particular order:
Dammit, show, please stop cribbing Tolkien’s lines
I really, really wish that the show didn’t lean so hard on copying Tolkien’s own known dialogue. This was particularly evident with the sorta-kinda reveal of who the Stranger is–though he was never outright identified as “Gandalf”, or even Olórin, his original name. In his final commentary with Nori, he had multiple lines that were pretty much direct Gandalf quotes.
And I found that annoying. The show was trying way too hard to go “do you get who he is now? How about now? Did we not make it obvious enough three lines ago?”
Nor was this the only place the show did this. It’s happened all over the season. And it’s essentially let the dialogue writers lean way too much on the crutch of Tolkien’s own dialogue, rather than trusting in their ability to write dialogue on their own that can stand shoulder to shoulder with what Tolkien wrote.
It can happen. Look at Aragorn’s speech in the movie version of Return of the King–when he’s inspiring the army for their last run against Sauron, shortly before Mount Doom goes up. The “this is not that day” speech, which is iconic. And not Tolkien’s original dialogue, either.
You cannot tell me, with the fleets of truckloads of money that Amazon has poured into this show, that they can’t afford to hire dialogue writers that are capable of delivering stirring lines that feel like Tolkien, without having to copy Tolkien’s own words outright.
This story is not the Lord of the Rings. It should not be lifting Tolkien’s own lines wholesale all over its scripts. Had Tolkien been writing this story, he would not have been copying himself so blatantly.
Please stop doing this, show. Or at least dial it back hard. Tolkien fans understand the material. We will recognize the lines if you want to sprinkle the occasional callback into otherwise original dialogue. But multiple consecutive lines in one conversation is way, way too damned much.
Happened as well in the big confrontation between Galadriel and Halbrand/Sauron, with way too many callbacks to Galadriel’s later conversation with Frodo, when she turns down his offer of the Ring. More on this below.
Identity of the Stranger in general
I feel really ambivalent about the show basically making it plain that this guy is Gandalf, even though it didn’t ever come right out and say he’s Gandalf.
For one thing: his being Gandalf means that this new guy playing him has the utterly unenviable task of having to fill Ian McKellan’s mighty boots. This is not the new guy’s fault in any way. But Sir Ian’s Gandalf is so absolutely masterful, and so much one of the major driving forces of Jackson’s movies, that anybody else trying to play the same role is going to inevitably suffer by comparison.
Which is part of why his final conversation with Nori vexed me so–explicitly because he was reciting several of the lines previously uttered by McKellan. Show, if you want me to recognize this guy as Gandalf on his own merits, please don’t make him come across as Gandalf just because he’s saying the exact same lines McKellan did. That’s a disservice to your viewers, your plot, the source material, and the character.
Give him better lines, lines that feel like Gandalf and Tolkien without making the new guy have to parrot McKellan. It’ll help us all accept this guy as Gandalf a lot better if he doesn’t have to explicitly be a pale shadow of McKellan’s greatness.
That said: I’ve written before that I’m ambivalent about Gandalf being wedged into a Second Age plot when canonically, the wizards didn’t show up in Middle Earth until the Third Age. But I’m accepting this on the grounds that this show is an AU, and I do like the idea of Gandalf’s origins as a wizard being heavily tied in with the Harfoots, just because it helps establish his deep love of the hobbits in general.
I don’t know what to think yet of those three Mystics clearly having mistaken him for Sauron, but also cluing in that he is one of the Istari. The implication here is that they clearly already knew about the Istari–which raises questions of whether Saruman is already supposed to be at large in this plot yet, or Radagast. (I don’t think the Blue Wizards Pallando and Alatar can be used in this story, since they don’t get mentioned in the Appendices.)
And I’m admittedly curious as to where exactly this portion of the plot is going to go, since so far this entire branch of the storyline doesn’t have an obvious intersection point with everything else that’s going on.
Anyone who’s got a history in genre TV at all is going to be familiar with the trope of “if you introduce a new character into an established cast, the new character’s going to be the villain of the episode.” Happens all the time in Star Trek, or in my beloved Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The new character’s going to be the one who’ll sabotage the ship, or try to murder the captain, or what have you.
Which is a big reason why I was suspicious of Halbrand, the Stranger, and Adar when each of them was introduced, as they were prominent OCs–or at least in the Stranger’s case, a presumed OC.
And I’ll give the show this: as vexing as I’ve found their over-reliance on Tolkien’s dialogue, the actual storyline this season did a grand job of keeping me guessing. I was legit uncertain, until Halbrand finally reached the elves and we had the Mystics explicitly identify the Stranger as a wizard, who was going to turn out to be Sauron.
All things considered, Halbrand was the best fit of the various new characters introduced. They did telegraph it early on! Because he was shady as fuck in the opening couple of episodes, what with his abandonment of the humans on the wreckage, and with that pronounced interest in the forge in Númenor.
I share the concerns LaSala expresses about this version of Sauron, though.
And I’m not sure what I think about the show dropping romantic subtext all over his confrontation with Galadriel. I have a documented history of being a romantic sucker. And I can get that having Galadriel reject Sauron here, as a tie-in to her rejection of his Ring much, much later, makes a kind of continuity sense. It also adds some support for why the show has apparently decided to make Galadriel think Celeborn is dead–because if she had a present, living husband, she arguably would not have been vulnerable to Sauron’s influence at all.
I’m even partial to the charismatic bad boy trope. C.f. Elessir.
And given that this is an AU, it’s arguably even expected, really, for romantic confrontation to show up in this plot. And yes, the fandom has noticed.
But for me as a viewer… hrmph. The final confrontation played out badly for me, in no small part because of the over-reliance on Tolkien’s previous dialogue.
Plus, we got another instance of really weird editing in this episode making me rather confused as to what the hell was going on–with that bit with Elrond finding the scroll and then coming back into the smithy and giving Galadriel that Long, Significant Look.
There wasn’t any dialogue involved there, so I’m really not sure what we were supposed to pull from that interaction. Had Elrond clued in about Halbrand’s identity? Was he suspicious of Galadriel? Hell, for a few moments there I was concerned that Sauron might have taken on Galadriel’s own form in an attempt to influence the ring-making. (And I was very relieved that the show didn’t do that.)
I feel like it was very weird and last-minute of Galadriel, though, to be suspicious of Halbrand only at this late stage of the game. She seemed rock-solid sure of him in the earlier episodes, to the point of convincing Míriel to take an entire force to Middle-Earth to support him. I don’t feel quite convinced enough that the show gave her enough to justify that hard pivot to doublecheck him.
I’m also scratching my head a little over why she kept it to herself that the guy was, in fact, Sauron. Though even as I typed that sentence, I think I answered it to my satisfaction. This story has already set up that Gil-Galad and most of Gil-Galad’s people haven’t trusted Galadriel’s judgment in her quest to take Sauron down, and arguably only Elrond has really ever supported her. So I can buy that she’d be a tad reluctant to admit to her people that not only had she brought Sauron himself to their home turf, she’d failed to realize what she’d done until it was almost too late.
And I gotta feel sorry for Bronwyn and Theo’s people. Who’s going to be the one to tell them that the guy that claimed to be their king was, in fact, the Dark Lord that half of them ran off to try to pledge fealty to? That’s going to be an extremely awkward conversation.
But on the upside
Now I can get into a few things I did like about this finale, though.
I did like the final making of the rings, and Galadriel urging the making of three of them for balance. I also liked her having to give up her brother’s dagger to provide the gold and silver of Valinor for the alloy-making. This was excellent symbolism, without being heavy-handed, of Galadriel having to abandon her last concrete tie to her brother for the good of her people. And in the process, giving up her last habitual physical weapon, because she’ll be taking up the weaponry of magic when she takes on one of these rings.
I liked the return of Míriel’s forces to Númenor, and how she realized something was very, very wrong as they sailed into the harbor–and that Elendil was the one who saw all the ships flying black banners. And speaking of romantic connections, we certainly seem to be going in a direction of Míriel and Elendil being drawn to one another.
Which has tragedy written all over it. I expect Season Two is going to start off with Pharazon forcing Míriel to marry him, because she’s coming home blinded and therefore weakened in the eyes of her people. Which means, no matter how drawn she may be to Elendil, it’s not like he can be her husband. And we know Míriel’s eventual fate, as well as Elendil’s.
All in all
Now that we’ve reached the end of Season One, I stand by my assessment of this as a fanfic AU, and therefore not really canonical Tolkien. That helps me a lot in remembering not to nitpick every last little detail of it, and to try to judge the show on its own merits and its consistency with itself.
And so far, I’ve definitely enjoyed what I’ve seen even if I have issues. I will be coming back for Season Two. I do want to see where this plotline is going. Well, I know where it’s going, i.e., that island is totally going to sink and Sauron is going to have his ass handed to him by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. But I want to see how this show gets there.
But boy howdy, they need to back off cribbing Tolkien’s dialogue and imagery from Jackson’s movies.