The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Season 1

Rings of Power
Rings of Power
Genre: Fantasy Drama
Service: Prime Video
Season Year: 2022
Watch: Prime Video

I am not normally a “fantasy” guy. Especially “hard” fantasy. Which I suppose is splitting hairs. But when you have elves and orcs and general D&D characters who tend to talk like bards in an olde English tome, I would categorize it as “hard.” Of course Rings of Power is part of The Lord of the Rings universe, which I suppose is kind of the quintessential example of this type of fantasy. Because, while something like Game of Thrones is definitely also fantasy — what with their dragons and shit — there will be no graphic incestuous sex, cussing or “modern” commentary on gender power dynamics in this series. No, this is more PG-rated ren faire viewing. Complete with flute-led songs, chaste relationships and the aforementioned high-minded, poetic dialog.

Let’s just get this out of the way: they lose me when they go to the Harfoots. Harfoots are a type of Hobbit, but apparently smaller and dirtier than the ones we saw in the films. They’re gentile and childlike, unshowered and, frankly, kind of boring. I equate them with the Ewoks. You know, something for the kids. I just don’t like cutesy. And I know not everything can be dark and world-busting, but I just didn’t need to spend as much time as the show dedicated hanging out with a bunch of goofy forest nomads collecting fruit. I suppose I could use that time to change out my laundry or get a snack or just fast forward. Nothing of substance really seemed to happen when they were on screen. Unless you’re really into foraging, pulling a cart or listening to lovely renaissance songs. But, hey, maybe I’m alone in my thoughts.

I am not a book reader. I’ve never read anything by Tolkien. I’m not sure if that makes me a better or worse watcher of this series. But, as a non-book-reader, I certainly have some mixed feelings about what I watched. I just don’t know if some of the holes are a matter of the text either being spotty, incomplete or vague, or if the creators of the show just went too wide too fast and kind of let storylines and characters that seemed critical drop off. Because it seemed that some characters, like Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova), are super-important. But he just kind of disappears from the narrative as the season draws to an end. Same with the dwarf prince, Durin IV (Owain Arthur), whose humor, daddy issues, complicated friendship with his elf buddy, Elrond (Robert Aramayo), and great relationship with his wife, Disa (Sophia Nomvete), crackle certainly more than any other character in the series. The actor is great, and at least one of the writers really dug in and figured out how to humanize him in a way that cuts through some of the stilted nature of the high fantasy standoffishness. But he too kind of gets backgrounded as the series heads to its conclusion. In favor of those stupid Harfoots.

There were also some choices that I found confusing in terms of what they show and what they don’t. One character, for instance, whom we’ve been tracking the whole time, suddenly shows up with a near-mortal wound. We’ve watched him pontificate and have in-depth conversations with other characters, but we don’t see or get any sense of how he is nearly killed? Nope, we’re just dropped into a scene where he’s on the edge of death. Weird. There is also another oddball young character who happens to have this terrible haircut that covers the tops of his ears, leaving us wondering about his parentage. You know, since his mom won’t tell him who his dad is, and there is this, uh, lovelorn elf, who is seen skulking around his house, having hushed conversations with his mother. Is the mystery here really just a semi-stiff puff of breeze away from blowing that mop away from his ears and exposing this poorly covered-up mystery? And in a meta way, the actress who plays the mother is Iranian, the actor who plays the elf is Puerto Rican and the son is… well, he’s Indonesian. But it’s clear they cast a character that could, theoretically, be the offspring of these two actors. Or cast ambiguously enough that you have to ask the question. The point is, they hint hard at all these connections all over the place, but frustratingly hide the ball just enough to inject some doubt so they can pivot away later. Or presumably just pull away from the storyline all together if they think something else is hitting better.

Because of the timing and the subject matter, it’s really tough not to compare this series with House of the Dragon. The advantage that series has is that it knows what it is. It’s an adult series for adults that can lean into sex, violence and the gray area that all people inhabit in these types of tales. That gray area being the kind of blueprint for modern peak TV. Everything from Mad Men to Breaking Bad to Loki. We’re constantly challenged to hold the idea of good and bad in one character in our heads simultaneously. It tests our mettle. It seems in Rings of Power, however, that there is good. And there is bad. And the “good” people are kind of screw-ups. They make incredibly stupid decisions. They trust people they shouldn’t. They’re easily fooled. They’re easily tricked. Because, you know, bad people are really good at fooling and tricking people. It seems to be a pretty consistent theme in all of The Lord of the Rings texts. But the characters here — presumed to be pretty smart — are annoyingly dumb. They take peoples’ words for things with absolutely no checking. A dude is literally like “Yeah, man, I’m totally the king.” Nobody even Googles it until it’s way too late. Same said guy flatters another dude into crafting some stuff that will pretty much end the world. That dude is supposedly like thee smartest elf there is. But is clearly dumb as hell. Even these evil death cultists literally act on a really wild assumption. Which turns out to be 180 degrees wrong. There are just constant miscalculations and boneheaded decisions that seem to play against type of all these “wise” characters. I don’t get it. And, unlike most peak TV, we know who we’re supposed to be rooting for. But it’s just difficult when they keep shooting themselves in the foot in the stupidest of ways. Do better, elves.