Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead!
The third episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power pulls us deeper into the darkness, as characters are captured, enslaved, and questioned from every side. Though “Adar” is significantly more focused than the first two episodes, it still struggles to find its footing, and worst of all, it fails to prove itself as a Tolkien adaptation. There can be no doubt as to the skill of the artists behind this show; the sets are spectacular, the music is epic, and the details of each costume continue to amaze. However, none of that truly matters without good characters and storytelling, and this is where the cracks in the shiny facade of Rings of Power continue to show.
When Galadriel and Halbrand are rescued—or captured?—by a Númenorian captain we later find out is Elendil, we are led to the island kingdom of Númenor. For years. I looked forward to seeing this kingdom depicted on screen in all its glory, and it does not disappoint. The city is breathtaking; giant statues and lush gardens adorn the streets and a glittering palace towers in the distance. Unfortunately, we do not get to see as much of the city as I had hoped, and we learn even less about its inhabitants.
Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle) are underwhelming as the rulers of Númenor, not because the actors are unconvincing (Míriel is elegant and imposing from her first appearance), but because once again, we are not given enough time to get to know them properly. The same can be said of Isildur (Max Baldry) and his sister Eärien (Ema Horvath). Isildur will play a highly significant role in the Second Age, but so far he is nothing more than a spoiled teenager who is not nearly compelling enough, while Eärien gets so little screen time that she may as well be an extra.
The scenes focused on Arondir’s enslavement by Orcs suffer most from the same issue. Throughout the episode, Arondir and his companions seek to escape, but when they put their plan in motion, it quickly backfires. What ensues is an overly long fight scene that is completely flat and devoid of tension. Revion, Arondir’s captain, is killed by an arrow in a slow-motion moment that is meant to be tragic, but it took me the entirety of the scene to recall when I had seen this character before, so the scene lost its intended emotional impact. But perhaps that is an inevitable issue in a show that tries to cover so much material.
However, the show’s character issues do not merely stem from the surfeit of subplots. Galadriel gets plenty of screen time, yet she is by far the most poorly written character. She may be younger than she was in The Lord of the Rings, but at the time of Rings of Power, she is still thousands of years old. Why, then, does she act like a spoiled and rash teenager? I have no issue with seeing Galadriel as a warrior, but how could she have become commander of the Northern Armies with such poor judgment? And that is nothing compared to how the men around her—even those who are inferior to her in rank—constantly talk down to her in an insultingly patronizing way. Sure, the show might be trying to depict how a woman can become empowered by fighting against adversity, but this is Galadriel we are talking about; not only would she never stand for this, but no one would dare talk to her in that manner. I admire the show’s dedication to addressing the lack of active female characters in Tolkien’s works, but the quality of female characters is much more important than the quantity, and Amazon has completely butchered one of the most complex figures in all of Tolkien’s legendarium.
In truth, the majority of the Elves in Rings of Power are mere parodies of what they are in Tolkien’s books (and Jackson’s adaptations, of course). They have none of the poise and majesty we associate with Tolkien’s elves; they look no different than the human characters, apart from the fact that they are less dirty, speak with a high-class accent, and have pointy ears. And the show itself seems to recognize this; at one point in the episode, Galadriel sneaks through the streets of Númenor, and to avoid being seen … she hides her ears with her hair (something she also did in the previous episode), as if that was the only thing that marked her as an Elf? I do not think I need to mention that Tolkien never described his elves as having pointy ears to prove how ridiculous this scene is.
It is truly unfortunate how poorly written these characters are because the majority of the actors shine in their roles, and there is no doubt that with better scripts every single performance would be memorable. Markella Kavenagh’s Nori especially stood out in this episode, as did Ismael Cruz Córdova’s Arrondir (by far the most striking and convincing elf on the show). The talent and dedication of each actor is what keeps me from turning off the show forever, and if Rings of Power is to succeed, it must grant greater attention to its characters and take the time to develop them properly. In any case, what truly matters in Tolkien’s books are not the battles, but the people in them and how they find love and friendship amid the darkness. Rings of Power will never truly feel like Tolkien if it does not accept this.
Feel free to let us know your thoughts on the lates episode of Rings of Power! Look out for weekly coverage of upcoming episodes.