I stumbled up on this video on YouTube by the Professor of Rock, and learned something about one of my all-time favourite songs, California Dreamin’ by the Mommas & the Poppas. Watch the details about the history of the song, and the consequences first. Then come back and read my thoughts on the subject, because I have some opinions of my own. None of them, though, will necessary conflict or contrast with those in the video.
Warning: the contains spoilers regarding Succession, specifically regarding the series finale. I discuss events in the show that will spoil key plot points, so continue reading at your own risk.
That Was Disappointing
Almost all the critics are raving about the Succession finale, and how the show wrapped up. I found it disappointing. It wasn’t nearly as big a twist as it could have been, and it was, in some ways, a rather conventional way to end the show. The ending also was a bit nonsensical in my mind.
The show was brilliantly written, and the performances were stunning. Its production values were impeccable, and it did a fantastic job of poking fun at the ultra-wealthy. There is no question that these people are completely out of touch with life in the real world. Even Logan, who at least knew a simpler life, has lost any connection to life for ordinary people.
However, for a show purporting to be a dark comedy, I didn’t find it particularly funny. The characters were cruel and selfish. Okay, I won’t discount that it’s just how I’m wired. But I never saw any real comedy, unless you count the fact that the technical business elements were beyond ludicrous. Sure, rich people get away with a lot, but nowhere near what happened in the show. They would have been doing it to other very rich, very well connected people. Those other wealthy people would not have put up with it, and would have the means to make them pay for those transgressions.
At least the showrunners were honest about it. They made it clear they were making no effort to be accurate on the business side of things. Knowing that helped, because then I could focus on the rest of the show.
The show was also one season too long. Season 3 felt like rehash of Season 2, and we could have done without it in some ways. It would have made for a tighter overall story arc: Season 1 is setup and we see the first positioning of each of the players; Season 2 we get knives going in and out of various backs, with shifting alliances, while adding in Matsson and the Gojo deal; Season 3 we wrap it all up.
But that’s not what happened. We have the show as it is. It’s the final episode, and how it resolved, that left me underwhelmed. The choice of Tom wasn’t nearly as big a twist as far as I’m concerned. Before exploring why, and where I think the show could have gone, let’s examine things a bit, and take some things off the table.
The Mind of Matsson
There were two outcomes to the Gojo deal: the board accepts it or rejects it. For the “accepts it” outcome, we need to try to delve into the Mind of Matsson. All we have to go on, of course, is what he said and what he did.
The first thing we know is that he needs an American CEO to fend off the regulators. This does not have to be permanent, but it has to be long enough that the regulators lose interest and move on to other targets. There are plenty of options in the cast for that role.
The second thing we know is that he isn’t looking for a partner. Matsson was blunt with Tom about that. What Matsson wants is a caretaker and a puppet. The CEO’s job is to run the day to day. In some ways, it’s more “COO” than “CEO”. But Matsson is the brains, and he will make all the important decisions. The CEO is there to do is bidding, nothing more.
These two things inform who could be a potential CEO under Matsson. Before exploring the boring, obvious choices, let’s take a few outliers off the table. Hugo, Kerry, and Peter (Caroline’s lapdog) were never going to make sense, from a business point of view or a plot point of view. Picking any of them would have been a silly ending to an otherwise serious show. It would have been a farce, not a comedy. A show with Shakespearian aspirations wouldn’t have allowed itself to go there.
Conner was also obviously out. That, too, would have been a devolution into farce, neither comedy nor tragedy. Don’t even pretend that Willa was in the picture.
The Obvious, Boring Picks
Karl, Frank, Gerri. From a conventional point of view, any of them would make sense. All are perfectly capable of filling the Puppet CEO role. As a “real world” pick, any of them would be the most conventional choices. They are American, they are familiar with the organization, and they would be fine as minions working for Matsson until the regulatory heat subsided.
Gerri might have chafed under the yoke of Matsson. The guy is a bit of a misogynist, treating women badly. I also think the character had greater ambitions, and actually wanted the job in a real sense, not just on paper. That seemed clear from the earliest episodes of the show.
Karl and Frank would probably have been content with taking the job, collecting their salary and bonus, and retiring when putting in a “real CEO” became an option. Both were nearing retirement age, and the Waystar/Royco CEO job was temporary in nature.
Tom Was Uninspired
Tom getting the job was the boring choice. I don’t find that much of a “twist” in the way that other twists have unfolded in the past four seasons. It also didn’t make logical sense, when examining Matsson and what he said and did.
First, Matsson didn’t like Tom. That was clear from the very first time they met. Matsson seemed to find him annoying, verging on obnoxious, and utterly forgettable. That all of a sudden Tom was someone he could work with, when he clearly didn’t like the guy, seemed silly. Matsson was going to fire him. He didn’t really want him running ATN. And now it’s okay he’s the CEO?
Second, Tom comes with baggage, in the form of a wife who is from the family Matsson is replacing. Does Matsson really want to have to deal with that drama? Tom is not going to end it with Shiv. His actions have been of a man who is desperately trying to avoid a divorce. Sure, Tom poisoned the lawyer pool, but that seems more an attempt to keep Shiv from successfully ending things. How long before Shiv tries to worm her way back into the organization in some way? Marionettes don’t work very well when someone else is trying to pull on the strings.
Third, we know that Tom has ambitions. He made that clear from the moment we met him. Sure, he was more than happy to get his skull neck deep into whatever ass needed to be placated. But Tom wants more, and that is the opposite of what you want in a puppet. Successful puppets don’t have agency or ambition.
It just wasn’t that big of a twist, at least to me. Logically he makes no sense. Emotionally he is a goofy choice. Not an odd or “out in left field” choice, but one that just doesn’t work. This outcome isn’t consistent with how the show has gone for the past four seasons.
Before I get to my pick (and you can see where I’m going), let’s examine the plot had Shiv not turned on her brothers. This would have been the conventional ending. It’s the one most of us probably expected during the opening episodes. It was one that is anything but a plot twist, and would have been inconsistent with the rest of the show.
Ken was in the best position from the outset to take over. It looked at the start that Ken was the “favourite son” of Logan, as much as he could be. While the effort was half-assed, Ken was sort of being groomed for the job. At least about as much as a self-absorbed egotist like Logan would have groomed someone. In some ways, the “groomed but not really groomed” makes sense as an approach for someone not willing to leave capable assassins lurking about.
It was also clear that Ken was an abysmal choice. For a guy who was going to run a communications company, he couldn’t communicate. Ken couldn’t string more than three words together at a time without someone writing them down for him. He was hopelessly bad at expressing himself, and he spoke in tongues most of the time. Ken was a horrible person, unclear on what he really wanted, and ill-suited to the job.
So were Shiv and Roman. Shiv is a flake, and Roman is a playboy gadabout who wilts in the face of any serious heat. Picking any of the three would have been the boring, uninspired story choice. Worse, picking a Roy sibling would have been a good “studio” decision because it would open the potential to make a sequel series. A sequel is unnecessary. The social commentary has been made, and there’s no point in belabouring it.
The Real Twist
The real plot twist would have been picking cousin Greg. We first see him as a doped up, lazy, uninspired young man puking in a mascot costume. He makes his entry into the family by using his grandfather, Logan’s older brother Ewan. Tom sees what he believes is a kindred spirit, an “outsider” trying to climb a ladder using richer, well-connected people. Tom also sees what he thinks is a convenient underling, someone he can “punch down” on knowing they aren’t going to walk away. And Tom gets to push around a family member, one he believes can’t or won’t fight back.
Greg, though, is both a twist and logically consistent. He doesn’t come with the family baggage like Tom, who is still married to Shiv and is unlikely to change that situation. Ewan will never be a problem, because he’s disowned Greg. With his payout, Ewan will never get involved in Waystar/Royco again.
Matsson likes Greg, and he has figured out that Greg doesn’t really have any real ambition. Greg would make the ideal puppet. He knows his way around the company, he’s not going to get out of line, and he’s just happy to be there. Of the main characters outside of Logan, it is Greg that is the only one who’s shown a real spine when it comes to dirty work.
Greg has had to deliver all manner of bad news, including firing people en masse. He’s more than willing to swing the axe, which would take heat off of Matsson, since big changes will be needed. It was also Greg who had the sense to keep all that incriminating evidence from the cruise line. It never occurred to Tom to do something with it.
Tom is completely incapable of anything truly underhanded, let alone messy or dirty. The man also folds under any kind of pressure. The only person Tom has ever been able to push around is Greg, and as the series has unfolded, it looks more like Greg is allowing it to keep Tom in the dark. Greg was manipulating Tom far more than the other way around. Greg could have been the show’s Keyser Söze.
The best twist on top of all this would have been that Matsson was actually working with Greg to make sure the deal happened. And Matsson would be doing it without his own people knowing, so they play their part properly. That would have been brilliant in my mind. Finding out that Greg, looking like a mole for the Roy children, was really working for Matsson all this time would have been a twist within a twist.
Glad I Watched It, But…
Even though the ending is less than satisfying to me, I’m not completely disappointed, either. I wasn’t sure about the show at first, but I’m glad I did see it. The writing, the performances, and the larger social commentary was incredibly well done.
But is it worth a re-watch? There I’m not sure. I’m glad I didn’t buy it to add to my library. As good as the individual elements are, I don’t see this as something I want to watch again. It also may not age particularly well. It’s a product of its time, and a lot of the themes may feel a bit tired in a few years.
Would I recommend it to others? I would have to know the person in question. I have friends that I think would find it very entertaining. There are others that I believe would find it a bit vacuous and shallow, even with the brilliant performances behind it. Still others would find it frustrating, and possibly even incomprehensible.
Succession isn’t for everyone. You have to be comfortable with a show with absolutely no good guys. There is no one to root for. If you’re hoping for something like Billions, where at least they get the financial aspects pretty close, you will be very disappointed.
To wrap up: it is brilliantly written, with incredible performances, and stunning production quality. It earned every award it has received, and may have deserved some it didn’t get. But it is an acquired taste. I’m glad I watched, but I probably won’t watch it again.
Warning, this contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Mandalorian. Continue reading at your risk.
That’s it? All that build up to end in Mando and Grogu hanging out in a cabin in the countryside? Seriously? The ending of this season was entirely underwhelming. It’s hard to know where to begin on this mess.
Too Many Loose Threads
Nothing got resolved about the Mythosaur, it’s as if it was never part of the story. IG-11 is “miraculously” put back together to be the new Marshall. The Darksabre is destroyed, which implies it was never that important. Who the hell knows what’s happening back on Coruscant, even though it was important enough to dedicate 1/8th of the season’s story to it (seriously, it could have been a 10-second sequence). Oh, and what ever happened to those giant chicks they got? Did they become dinner in some subsequent episode? And where’s the pirate gone? Is Moff Gideon really ash, or did his super-duper armour protect him?
Yeah, yeah, stuff for Season 4. If there is one. If Disney decides to end it here, I’d be fine with that. The only good season was the first. The second was okay, although the “let’s set up another spinoff” thing was getting a bit wearisome. This third season was a pointless mess.
It all wraps up so Mando and Grogu can go off on new adventures. Yeah, this is such a satisfying end (spoiler alert: it isn’t).
All Filler, Little Content
There was, at best, 2-3 hours of actual story in this season, and 5-6 hours of useless filler. All the stupid side quests did nothing to advance the overall plot, and weren’t a way to introduce any new meaningful characters. As cool as it was to see Uppa back in his X-Wing, and as amusing as it was to see him show just how incompetent the New Republic is, again, it added nothing overall. This whole season could have been a movie, and then it might have been more satisfying.
If there is a Season 4, maybe getting back to a more episodic form might be better. Although a different title might be in order (maybe The New Adventures of Mando and Grogu?). It might be entertaining. But part of Star Wars is that there is a grand arc, a bigger story that the stuff we watch (or read) is part of. The entire franchise is premised around it. And as bad as Lucas might have been at dialog, he had a knack for telling stories within stories. Season One of The Mandalorian fit within that. The next two started to drift somewhat.
All I can say now is thank goodness for Andor and The Bad Batch. Maybe we can get some stories about the Adelphi Rangers?
Warning, this contains spoilers for Chapter 23 of Season 4 of The Mandalorian. Read at your own risk.
Took Long Enough
So it took us 7 episodes (and about 7 hours) to finally get to the point of this thing. Seriously? Take away all the side-quests and distractions, and this should have been the third episode of this season, not the seventh. It could have even been the second episode. We didn’t need to know what was happening with Dr. Pershing. They could have left it as mysterious. A two-minute holo comms sequence with Moff Gideon and Kane, the “His research is lost” line in the holo-Zoom staff meeting, and leave it at that. The “let’s fight pirates” bit. The useless “have to fix IG-11” and it turns out it wasn’t necessary. The rescue, the droid behaviour mystery. Seriously, none of this advanced the narrative.
Too much of this season feels like padding, like fan service and not story telling. It’s like they don’t actually know what story they want to tell, or maybe don’t have a story to tell. I mean, cool, we get some great cameos from some great performers. But we don’t have to try to jam every character the series has presented (that’s still alive) into the season. That’s just not necessary.
Grogu’s New Toy
I was so worried they had pulled a deus ex machine with IG-11 when he came strolling in. But when it was clear he’s just a mech, okay, maybe that’s something that can work. At least Grogu has a bit more mobility, and can do more than make baby noises and Force Grip stuff. It was funny watching him stumble around a bit while he figured the machine out, and pounding away on the “yes” and “no” buttons.
The only concern I would have might be budget. It’s way cheaper to digitally composite a floating egg (which can be closed, reducing detail and fidelity requirements) than an intricate machine. But whatever, not my problem. At least Grogu can be a more active participant in things.
Expect It To Feel Rushed Or Incomplete
There’s only one episode left in the season. That can mean one of two things. First, that they’re going to rush the final conflict between the Mandalorians and Gideon. Don’t be surprised if the New Republic just happens to show up, riding to the rescue. Given how sloppy the story telling as been so far, that wouldn’t be surprising at all. But it would also be a massive disappointment.
The other alternative is that the Mandalorians are chased off “for now” in a lame attempt to set up the next season. Assuming there is one. I have not seen a lot of positive comments or reviews so far, and I see a lot more “glad I skipped this season” instead.
And that leads to the question: will there be a fourth season? With poor reviews, what appears to be a disappointed (and possibly shrinking) audience, this could very well be it for this story line. It could live on in comics and novels. But these aren’t cheap to make, and Disney’s pockets aren’t infinitely deep. I’d rather see the budget put toward ensuring Andor retains it’s high standards and quality. Money spent making another disappointing season like this would be a waste.
Warning: This contains spoilers from episode 3 of season 4 of Succession. Major plot points will be discussed, so read at your own discretion. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, don’t read any further. Seriously. Just stop now, watch it, then come back.
A Brilliantly Simple Plot Twist
It is amazing when a show’s team decides to take the story in a new and radical direction. This happened on Succession, in the most recent episode of the final season of the show. Episode 3 of the 4th season, Conner’s Wedding, starts off as expected. We see the first stages of a ludicrous and over-the-top wedding. Logan is plotting and scheming, testing his youngest son. Tom is trying to find more ways to stay useful and be important. The early scenes are basically a carry-over from the previous episode. The closest to a ‘surprise’ we get is that Logan tells Roman, his youngest, to let Gerri know she’s on the way out.
And while the plotting and scheming continue, we get the twist. Not the “Gerri is fired” twist. The “Logan is dead” twist. At some point, we knew that Logan would have to either retire or die. The show is named “Succession”, not “Game of Org Charts”. Someone has to succeed the old man. And for most of the second and third season, it didn’t look like Logan was going anywhere any time soon.
The whole thing plays out while the main characters are basically in no control of where they are going, physically. The children and Cousin Greg are on a boat, leaving dock and sailing toward the Statue of Liberty. Logan and his team, along with Tom, are in a plane in the air. There’s no hopping into a luxury SUV or limo to meet at some office, apartment, restaurant, or karaoke bar. Boats don’t turn on a dime. Planes can’t just park where they are.
The brilliance was, after a few minutes of “perhaps he’s faking it to test the kids”, it was clear that Logan really was going. There’s a body on the floor of a plane. A flight attendant is giving CPR. We hear the distinct sound of a defibrillator being fired. Doors are closed. He doesn’t just pop up, and there would be little point of playing out a lifesaving routine since nobody is using Facetime or Zoom for this. A visual performance wasn’t required. It was all done without the grabbing of chests, shortness of breath, or all the other trappings of an “old man death scene”. We see him get on a plane. We get to hear phone calls.
It’s Par For The Show
Really, this fits with how Succession has played out from the start. There is plenty of absurdity, over-the-top behaviour, a sense of entitlement, and basically no boundaries or limits. There are also virtually no consequences except those imposed by the limits of physics and what the universe allows, which does track for the most part with the real world. The ultra-wealthy are largely immune to the artificial consequences imposed by society. They only thing they can’t ignore is things like gravity and mortality.
I’ve been watching the show regularly from the start, but I’m still not certain I’m a “fan” in the conventional sense. All of the characters are irritating, there are no good guys here, and none rise to the level of anti-hero. Even Cousin Greg is, frankly, obnoxious. The writing and acting, though, are absolutely brilliant. Everyone in the show is scheming and plotting, and most of them actually aren’t very good at it. Having a real curveball thrown at them from time to time is how the showrunners keep the characters off-balance. This curveball, though is a doozy. While it looked like we would get more of the usual plotting and changing allegiances, the story takes a hard right turn, knocking over the crockery and spilling everyone’s drinks.
It Isn’t What I Thought
It wasn’t until I was reading some summaries during season two that I learned the show is meant to be a dark comedy. There was little I found “funny” in a sense that you’d laugh at it. The business elements are entirely fictional, and a complete and utter mess. Unlike Billions, where they actually get a lot of the technical aspects around markets and trading right (or at least close), Succession makes no effort to do so. And that is, apparently, by design. It’s meant to be absurd, not just in how the characters play our their parts, but in how their weird and twisted world works. And if anyone thinks “well, rich people get away with lots”, even rich people aren’t that stupid, and there are limits. You don’t get to be rich without at least a modicum of intelligence.
When I first started watching, I was sort-of expecting something like Billions, just focussed more on the family and business dynamics of who takes over when the old man is gone. It was clear after a few episodes that all the business jargon was used more or less at random, meant to sound “business-y” without worrying about details. Once I got a handle on that, it was then only about the characters and their interactions. The plots and schemes and twists and turns. And the sheer ineptitude of the of all these people.
Which is how the show is brilliant on multiple levels. That ineptitude isn’t necessarily that far from the truth. It’s further demonstrating that being rich doesn’t mean you’re smart. And it isn’t unusual to see ultra-wealthy people somehow believe that they are smarter than everyone else, when the truth is that they are just luckier. They were in the right place at the right time and stumbled onto something that let them build insane levels of wealth. But they succeeded in part because they were at least surrounded by smart (or smarter) people who could actually do the work. If you want to see a so-called “genius” at work, without the supporting talent, just watch the implosion of Twitter.
In For A Bumpier Ride
The ever-changing landscape of who is working with whom in Succession is now in new territory. The first half of season one was off-balance, in part because we’re still learning who the characters are. Things settled down into a pattern in the latter half, plus for the next two seasons. Sure, there were lots of small twists and turns. Characters would be loyal to some faction at one point, only to betray them when it looked like things were better on “the other side”. None of what we were seeing for the past two seasons was particularly surprising. It was, for me, getting a little stale.
They could have gone on like this for some time. At some point, though, they were either going to have to do something more radical. Of course, the showrunners could have simply introduced new characters to add a different dynamic to the show. It could have chugged along while we all waited for it to jump the shark.
But instead, they blew the shark up, and I’m thankful they did it. Not having Brian Cox on the screen is going to be unfortunate, since the man is a brilliant performer. The show, however, needed to get to the point. It was losing its focus for the past two seasons, becoming more of a soap opera (albeit with writing and acting that were several orders of magnitude better, and characters that weren’t glorified cardboard cutouts). In some ways, Logan’s death gets the train back on track. We’ve had too many side-trips that didn’t really advance the plot. Hopefully we’re done with those. We have seven more episodes to find out.
(Warning this contains spoilers on Season 1 of Andor, proceed at your own risk)
Season 1 of Andor wrapped up on Wednesday, and I am almost speechless. The consistency and quality over 12 episodes was breathtaking. It’s interesting because it’s Star Wars, but not Star Wars in the conventional sense. It’s like Star Wars, but with a real edge. I am keeping fingers, toes, eyes and whatever else I can cross crossed because I hope they can maintain it into season 2. And I hope beyond hope they don’t use the second season to hype up more spin-offs they way they did with season 2 of The Mandalorian.
The depth of the characters, the dialog, the pacing, the dialog (again), and THE DIALOG. Holy crap, it’s nice to see someone who can write high-quality dialog that is expository and exhilarating, and doesn’t leave you thinking “c’mon, just get to the point”. Luthen’s (Stellan Skarsgård) speech at the end of episode 11, and Maarva’s (Fiona Shaw) speech via hologram on Rix Road were both poignant, powerful, but still to the point. There was very little wasted dialog.
The dialog was further bolstered by the sets. Those that should be pristine were pristine. But not everything was neat and clean and orderly, and the disorderly or well-worn looked the part naturally. None of the settings felt contrived or fake. They looked and felt like real places that you could visit. You felt the depth and history for those sets that were old. Niamos (aka Space Florida) looked as it should, sorta-new but sorta-tired at the same time. Few resorts are as nice as the brochure, and this was no exception.
The acting for every single character was incredible. I didn’t see a single flat or phoned-in performance, and even the truly minor characters that had a few seconds of screen time felt real. But the main characters were each able to shine, even when you had groups of them together. Their energy and their performances seemed to feed off each other.
There was a single, brief space battle. And as short as it was, it felt special, it was exhilarating. I suspect its because we weren’t immersed in action, so it stands out. It’s uniqueness in the story makes it more dramatic, and it’s pacing and composition as a small story was incredible.
Syril Karn’s (Kyle Soller) arc in the story was incredible, not because it was so compelling necessarily, but because it was so well done. His narcissism having his rent-a-cop uniform tailored. Every scene where he is eating at his mother’s home is him eating a children’s cereal, never “grown up food”. His demeanour around Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) and his uncertainty when dealing with other people in general was so well portrayed. I was sure he was going to kiss her after rescuing her from the street battle, and was impressed the writers had the courage to stay away from that trope. Syril had just enough growth to be plausible, but wasn’t entirely transformed, which is a good thing. People don’t change as much as we think in a short period of time, so why would he?
Watching Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) switch between clean and coifed and grubby and ready for action was impressive. The first time, I wasn’t sure I was watching the same performer. Seeing a character that wavers between confident and tentative, from certain to uncertain, made that character more believable, more real, to me.
The droid B2EMO (voice by Dave Chapman) was made important, and had a personality. Watching the little guy reacting to Maarva’s death was truly emotional.
There are so many characters with limited time in the story, but that are still important to the story. You’d be hard pressed to remove any one of them and have the thing hang together. And every one of their performances left an impression. Kino Loy, Ruescott Melshi, Saw Guerrera. The list just goes on.
And Then There’s Cassian Andor
Diego Luna’s portrayal of Cassian Andor is simply spectacular. We can see someone who is still growing, still learning, becoming the character we eventually see in Rogue One. The man is an incredibly talented performer. He takes the amazing material at his disposal and creates a masterpiece on the screen.
The character’s strengths and flaws are there for us to see. Luna’s performance brings both the good and bad in Andor to the fore. And the storytellers never resort to cliche or stereotypes to get their tale told. It’s incredible.
Don’t Forget The Soundtrack
The music for the show is it’s own strength. The opening theme is the same melody, but a different performance each time. There are very few repeated musical cues, and none of the grand symphonic music from the rest of the Star Wars universe.
What’s equally impressive is the diversity of musical styles throughout the show. You have classical, synth, basic rock, and a host of other styles, sometimes all within one episode. I read an article (I’ve lost the link) that interviewed the composer, and he spent as much time making the music as they spent filming and editing. He spent hours on a piece that would only be heard for a few seconds in one case, but wanted to write the entire song to it felt complete. There is one song that they decided would be a “galactic hit”, so it appears in its original form, and in various forms including muzak throughout the rest of the show. Brilliance.
Hopes for Season Two
I have high hopes for season two. My wish is for them to put the same care and attention into it, and to avoid a sophomore slump. I hope beyond hope that Disney leaves them alone (and with Iger at the helm again, that may just happen). Don’t use it as a vehicle to push other products. Stick to the story.
If the producers, cast, and crew can make season two with the same stunning quality as season one, I will be thoroughly impressed. It can be hard to carry on something at that high level. At some point, there will be stumbles. That it never happened, at all, in 12 1-hour episodes is truly impressive. If they can repeat that in season two, then they deserve all the accolades possible.
(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.
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.
[Spoiler Alert!] I have been a Trekkie since I was a child, having watched the Original Series shortly after it entered syndication in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. It was a Saturday evening tradition at my grandparent’s house (along with The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour and Land of the Giants). But I haven’t always liked everything made in the franchise, and lately it has been less than enjoyable for me. But I have renewed faith with Strange New Worlds.
The BBC and AppleTV+ released their 5-part series on dinosaurs called Prehistoric Planet this week, featuring the voice of Sir David Attenborough. It focuses on 5 different general biomes at varying times in the cretaceous. It’s visually stunning for the most part, but it has some rough spots. Before you begin this, please note that this review is NOT spoiler-free, so proceed at your own risk.
AppleTV+, in association with Sony Pictures, released Greyhound last Friday. While some might assume the setting, a US Navy destroyer escorting a convoy to England in World War II, might not be the most gripping, the movie tells a tense, suspenseful story, packed into 90 minutes of tension. This is meant to be a spoiler-free review.