Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead!
Almost anything would be an improvement after the clunky, unsatisfying mess that was Rings of Powers’ fifth episode “Partings”. Thankfully, “Udûn” is not only better than its predecessor, it is the most watchable episode of the show yet. Though the episode is not without some crucial flaws, it is packed with action and stunning visual sequences, giving viewers (and reviewers) markedly less character and plot inconsistencies to be annoyed at.
The Númenorian ships have finally arrived in Middle-Earth to aid the Southlanders against Adar’s army, and the collision of these two central storylines culminates in a much-anticipated epic battle. Each of Rings of Powers’ episodes usually flip flop across multiple storylines for better or for worse (oftentimes for worse), but here the narrative is much more focused. The episode sharply centers on the battle and its immediate consequences, giving it a succinct and powerful momentum which is sustained all the way through its memorable and visually breathtaking final moments.
The battle itself—although essentially devoid of tension, since I don’t particularly care for any of the characters apart from Arondir, and Galadriel remains boringly indestructible as ever—feels surprisingly elaborate and well-thought-out. Military strategy is mostly highlighted in clever, subtle ways from both sides, and there are some genuinely unexpected twists in what turns out to be a pretty predictable outcome.
In the wake of this surprisingly entertaining action sequence, we are finally given some more hints in regards to Adar’s true identity. It’s fascinating to see glimpses into the perspective of one of the corrupted “Moriondor” elves of the Elder Days, who sees a buried humanity in Orcs and longs to find them a “home”. The conversation between Adar and Galadriel brings about a fundamental and refreshing shift in perspective to both of these characters’ motivations—through it, Adar emerges as the much more humane force of “good”, in contrast to Galadriel’s revenge-fuelled bloodlust.
However, even with improved pacing, Rings of Power’s writing remains woefully lazy. Notably Bronwyn, the series’ most prominent female human character, has still not been given her due. Though she briefly saves Arondir during the initial skirmish, in another entirely predictable scene, she is reduced to a bargaining chip used by the Orcs to force Arondir into giving them Sauron’s sword hilt—a tedious scenario that will almost assuredly be repeated in a future episode. Other than being Theo’s mother and Arondir’s lover, Bronwyn’s character so far is flat and totally uninspired.
Payne and Mckay’s version of Galadriel remains the bane of this show—and more than halfway through, her horrible characterization shows no signs of letting up. In the span of a single episode, she flits from being a noble leader preaching about humility (her hilarious lack of self-consciousness is again on display) to the inexperienced Isildur, to being a vindictive, cruel, and genocidal psychopath while interrogating Adar. Even worse, a post-battle moment of reflection between her and her companion Halbrand—who has been immediately embraced by the Southlanders as their newfound king in a weird and unrealistic way—reveals hints at a charged and possibly romantic tension. If this relationship is actualized in the show’s final episodes, this will confirm that not only does Lord Celeborn (poor Celeborn)—Galadriel’s lifelong partner and co-ruler of Lothlorien—not exist in this show at all, but that according to the creative geniuses behind Rings of Power, Elves and Men fall in love with each other at the drop of a hat—a ridiculous and profoundly uncreative notion, to say the least.
Seeing as to how thoroughly the screenwriters are butchering the beloved established characters of the Tolkien canon, the only way Rings of Power is to redeem itself will have to be through developing its more well-written original characters—namely, Arondir and Adar, whose distinctive and complexe storylines chafe against the show’s otherwise generic constraints. Hopefully, the writers of this series will at least manage that.
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