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Stories set in worlds where some kind of magic is a key element.

The Rings of Power Could Use a Boost

(Spoilers ahead) Season one of the The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power from Amazon Prime has finished. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it could use some improvement. I’m looking forward to season two, and hope they are able to address some of the shortcomings I see in their storytelling.

Spoiler Alert: The following contains descriptions that are likely to spoil key plot points for people who have not yet watched the series. Read at your own risk.

The Challenge

There are complaints that the series isn’t hewing close enough to the original storylines, derived from a combination of The Silmarillion and various notes Tolkien made over the years. I get the complaints, but as the showrunners pointed out, the various stories in the original written work take place over thousands of years. While the elven characters would be continuous, the humans, dwarves, and other characters would be replaced virtually every episode. Either that, or the story would drag out so long that only die-hard Tolkien fans would likely pay attention. And unfortunately, we aren’t a big enough group to sustain a TV show whose estimated costs run close to $1 billion dollars.

As a result, the story has to be compressed. That means finding a balance between telling the stories that make up the foundation for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but keeping them in a timeframe that a large enough audience will want to pay attention. It’s a challenge to be sure.

Overall, Not Bad

Overall, I think the season was reasonably good. The sets, the visual effects, and the costumes are very impressive. They have captured the same sort of essence that we see in the Peter Jackson movies, which is a good thing. It is different enough so we know this isn’t the Third Age from the core books. But it is similar enough that we can trace the lineage and not wonder “well, where did that come from, and then where did it go?” (I’m looking at you Star Trek: Discovery).

The performers are quite good in their roles, and that we (again) get a host of largely unknown actors means we see the characters, not the actors. The only suggestion I would have is for Morfydd Clark is if she could please unclench her teeth when she speaks. Enunciation is very much appreciated by the audience.

Lameness Isn’t Pleasant

The first glaring bit of lameness is the opening credits. Frankly, the dancing sand is horribly lame. After a couple of episodes, I now skip that part entirely. Yes, we get the right music with the right tone to impart the sense of gravity and importance of the events we will see. But the dancing sand takes away from all of that, ruining the mood. It’s as if that sand is trying terribly, terribly hard to look serious and important, and falls short in that regard.

Okay, so we can skip that part each episode. But then the season finale ends with an even more lame, verging on horrible, “song” where they attempt to set the explanatory poem about the rings (“three rings for the elven kings under the sky…”) to music. It doesn’t work. It’s bad. What makes it worse is it sounds like a feeble attempt to mimic a Shirley Bassey version of a James Bond theme. And it fails on every front. The bit of verse Tolkien wrote is structured in an odd way. It works when just read or is spoken aloud. It does not lend itself to be lyrics for a song. Fortunately, in the future I can stop the last episode before that travesty of a tune assaults my ears.

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

The episodes themselves are very unevenly paced. There are many sections where the dialog just isn’t that interesting, isn’t telling us anything new, at times is beating us about the head on something we’ve already figured out, and seems to be long for the sake of being long. I’ve found myself a few times asking “could we just please get on with it”. Yeah, I get that Nori is taking a big step in going with the Istari that will be known as Gandalf (the “follow your nose” line was an amusing way to make that clear). It’s a parallel to both Bilbo’s journey in The Hobbit, and the one the four hobbits take in The Lord of the Rings. But Nori doesn’t need to spend what seems like an eternity explaining how hard it is for her emotionally to go.

The fact that the penultimate episode felt like the season finale, but nope, there’s one more to go, says something. Here we have things wrapped up in a bit of a bow, with a bunch of open story lines to be continued next season. The Southlands become Mordor, the Numenorians return home to regroup, and Galadriel is going to take Halbrand to get some healing. A potential new hero, in the young man Tyroe Muhafidin, is ready for his own story arc. We know that the mystery man from the sky has more to unveil, and the Harfoots (Harfeet?) are settled for a bit.

Apparently they felt the need for a “just one more thing” moment, as if they didn’t trust that we would be back for another season. The first three rings, for the elves, are made. Halbrand is revealed to be Sauron. The stranger from the sky is revealed to be Gandalf (after briefly and poorly flirting with him actually being Sauron). And a hobbit predecessor is “going on an adventure”. Really? This could have waited until season two? It’s not like there isn’t a lot more to come, because we know there is. There are still 17 more rings to be made and handed out. Gandalf needs to develop his powers, and there are four more wizards (Saruman, Radagast, the two unnamed blue wizards) still to arrive (or be found). The Greenwood needs to transform to Mirkwood. The harfoot need to evolve to become hobbits. That’s a lot to cover.

The last episode felt more like a filler, a need to make sure they had an even eight episodes. It contains nothing that couldn’t have waited to season two. But since they had a requirement to make eight episodes (and filling them was apparently already a challenge, given the pacing), we get eight. Plus so much is wrapped up in a bow in the episode that if they cancelled the series, we wouldn’t be left hanging all that much. It was almost as if they were afraid to leave things too open-ended.

Definitely More To Come

There is a lot more to come in the story. The question will be how many seasons have they planned, and how far do they take the story. Will it go as far as the war where Sauron is defeated (leading into Third Age)? Will it only go as far as the forging and distribution of the remaining rings? There is so much that can be covered. What happens to the dwarves after they get their rings, and how are they lost? What about the nine rings given to the nine human kings? We’ve seen nothing of those kingdoms at all at this point. The founding of Osgiliath, Minas Anor (which will become Minas Tirith). and Minas Ithil (which became Minas Morgul). The appearance of the Rohirrim. The construction of Orthanc and the Ring of Isengard. There is so much yet to be covered.

Part of the question is how much will be included in the next seasons of The Rings of Power. There is a lot, and even leaving out big chunks will make for a substantial story. Hopefully they can improve on some of the issues the first season has, and continue to tell a compelling story.