This Rings of Power review contains spoilers.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 4
There’s a loose theme around the subject of parents and children running through this week’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. And also themes of risk and safety. We see that clearly in Míriel’s dream during the opening where she greets a roomful of babies before the titular Great Wave comes and destroys the city. The dream of “The Great Wave” is a recurring one Tolkien himself had. He gave it to Faramir in The Two Towers, so it’s very appropriate that it appears here first.
It is Míriel’s fear of this dream coming true that has her in conflict with her ailing father and unwilling to trust Galadriel. Meanwhile, Prince Durin is taking risks that bring both reward and danger, and which his father does not think are worth it. Theo is taking risks that nearly get him and his mother killed, and Isildur is allowing himself to be distracted and letting down those around him, including Elendil.
All of these storylines involve the difficult balance between risking something or not. As Míriel’s problem demonstrates, even knowing the (possible) future cannot always help with decision-making in the present, but there’s a suggestion that listening to the wisdom of your forebears is usually a good idea. The parents, meanwhile, are motivated almost entirely by the desire to protect both their own and others’ children, with poor Míriel experiencing both sides at once, unwilling to listen to her sick father, and desperately trying to protect the children (and adults) of Númenor.
We also get references to Elrond and Galadriel’s fathers. Galadriel is referred to as “daughter of Finarfin” by the Númenoreans, while Elrond talks about his father Eärendil with Celebrimbor and with Durin. In these cases, the great deeds of the parents over-shadow their children, providing both inspiration and an impossibly high standard to live up to, something that obviously weighs on Elrond in particular.
We get a little more movement in some of the major plot threads in this episode. It’s looking like the mysterious object the Orcs are searching for might be a palantír. These have been changed a bit from Tolkien’s source material. In the books, there are a number of palantíri around during the Second Age, one belonging to Elendil’s father, and it is Elendil who brings seven of them to Middle-earth. They are used for telepathy and communication, though Sauron also uses them to show only selective truths to Saruman and to Denethor to corrupt them in The Lord of the Rings.
Here, the palantír seems to function more like the Mirror of Galadriel from The Fellowship of the Ring, showing “many visions” that Galadriel says “may never come to pass”. We’re also told that there were only seven of them, and that the other six have already been “lost or hidden”. That being the case, it seems likely that it’s a palantír that the Orcs are looking for.
As was the case in previous episodes, this hour is incredibly beautiful to look at, but moves at the pace of your average glacier. The series is still suffering from a chronic lack of anything actually happening. We meet the mysterious Adar and then he disappears again for most of the episode. Theo is still toying with turning to the Dark Side. Prince Durin is going to go to Lindon but he hasn’t left yet. The Númenoreans have decided to accompany Galadriel to go and help the Southlands, but they haven’t left yet. The Harfoots and Probably-Gandalf didn’t even appear in this episode.
To take the Elrond/Dwarves story as an example of the problem here, for Tolkien fans who know the source material, there’s a major character who doesn’t seem to have shown up yet (unless he is in disguise) and who is central to that storyline. Four episodes in, where is he? For those not familiar with the source material, barely anything seems to be happening. If mithril means nothing to you and you don’t know the basic outline of the plot or what will happen when the Dwarves “delve too greedily and too deep” (to quote The Fellowship of the Ring), then this storyline so far is about Elrond working with some Dwarves who are mining in a mine. This is not the stuff of high drama!
The slow pacing really starts to move into the realm of the ridiculous in the action sequence in which Theo, Arondir, and Bronwyn escape an army of Orcs, which is literally presented in slow motion. Slow motion battle sequences can be a really effective way of focusing on the tragedy of war, showing a character dying (like Haldir in The Two Towers) or making a general statement about the violence and loss of battle (like the opening sequence of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator). But a scene in which three main characters all just barely escape with their lives should be an exciting adrenaline rush, and it started out that way with the fake-out over Theo possibly losing an arm. Slowing it down achieves nothing other than to slow down the story.
We can only presume that this technique was inspired by the Peter Jackson movies, as Jackson did use it a lot, especially when other characters thought a main character might be dead (Frodo being stabbed by the cave-troll springs to mind). But if we’re being totally honest, as fantastic as those movies are, Jackson overused it a tiny bit. It definitely doesn’t need to be used in a TV series that’s already made copious use of slow motion for the Númenor sequences and that is suffering from a pacing issue.
Slow pace aside, even though the series has avoided covering all four major storylines in any one episode, it still feels like there are a few too many characters and plots to keep track of, and the focus is sometimes on the less interesting storylines. This is particularly an issue in the Númenor story, as we spend some time with new series character Eärien and her slightly flirtatious relationship with Pharazôn’s son, but very little time with Pharazôn himself. This is a character we desperately need to know more about. We see him standing around parroting real world anti-immigration rhetoric, but we need to know more about what he wants in his own world. So far, we know he doesn’t like Elves, and that’s about it. The show could really do with cutting Eärien and giving a bit more time to Pharazôn.
There were some lovely little touches in this episode, small things that are just fun to see, like Elrond using his excellent Elvish eyesight to lip-read Durin and Disa’s conversation. Isildur’s friend Ontamo and especially Princess Disa also provide some badly needed levity when they are onscreen. Disa’s humour as the long-suffering wife is pretty well-worn, but it’s well delivered and it’s a refreshing change from grand speeches and grim situations.
But we desperately need some movement on the major storylines of this season. Who is the Stranger? Who or what is Adar? What is Pharazôn up to? What are Elrond and Celebrimbor doing and where is the character we’re waiting to see working with them? And when is anyone going to start talking about the titular Rings? We’re already halfway through season 1 – the show needs to start providing some answers to at least some of these questions soon.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is out now on Prime Video.