While I am consumed by writing projects over here and unable to have coherent new thoughts, let me repost these from Facebook – presented without comment and as I wrote them while the show was going on. Including my biggest ever prophetic fail, as you will see…
One: A Shadow of the Past
It looks gorgeous and it looks like Tolkien. Wonderful maps. Lindon was breathtaking and easily believable as something that Lothlórien would later echo in a minor key. Moria was amazing. The scenery was beautiful in general. (The Tor dot com review commented that apparently you can’t recast Middle Earth.) Nori Brandyfoot is a treat, especially in the bit with the fireflies. (But WHY do the Harfoots have to sound Irish?) After expecting to hate Elrond from his picture, I completely fell for him. He has a marvelous conversation with Galadriel about the Undying Lands, and his exchanges with the dwarves are great. The dwarves are great overall, in fact. Loved Princess Disa, even beardless. The Southrons brought across quite forcefully Tolkien’s statement that the Second Age was the dark years for Men of Middle-earth.
The negatives so far: it doesn’t always feel like Tolkien. Way too much standard-issue fantasy dialogue, especially whenever Galadriel is on screen, except that one conversation with Elrond. The actress does a good job with what she has to work with, and I liked the portrayal of her conceptually – Tolkien himself said she was “Amazonian” in her youth and her headstrong nature here very much deepens her rejection of the ring later for me – but the dialogue very much weakened the pretty decent plot, and she spends way too much time on that raft talking to a really boring guy. The dialogue between the new character Bronwyn and other folks was also pretty bad, until the last scene. There’s a great parallel between Galadriel and Bronwyn in this as rejected whistleblowers about the growth of evil, and it gets hidden rather than revealed by the conversation.
Definitely coming back next week, though. I much prefer mistakes of over-earnestness in adapting Tolkien to mistakes of snark. I’m eager to see how they get us where we know the story will end up.
– Númenor. Holy cow. The budget spent on this was worth it. It looked like Gondor cubed.
-Two important Tolkien themes came through clearly: trees have as much right to be here as people do, and sometimes the smallest folks do the most heroic things because they must.
-Morfydd Clark is amazing and I completely believe she would grow into someone wise and powerful yet tempted by the desire for all to love her and despair. Now can we get the woman some better dialogue.
-Several of the Numénórean characters were just perfect. (It would be a spoiler to say who.)
-Next week I would like Durin and Disa and Elrond back please. Especially Disa.
Four: The Great Wave
-The show continues to look amazing. (More Khazad-dûm this time! It makes me cry.)
-Disa can come over and sing to my house any time. Also, having glimpsed another dwarf woman in this one, I think they are definitely leaning into Tolkien’s statement that female dwarves look and walk so much like male dwarves they confuse humans, even without the beards.
-Generally I am a big fan of the dwarves. I think they get the balance between comedy and gravitas better than the movies.
-I continue to get big Kylo Ren energy from Celebrimbor, which is completely genealogicaly legit from the canon. I’d be disappointed if he went full on Bad, of course, but I think they are well setting up his being further tempted in the ways Fëanor was.
-Too many orcs, but I also thought that about the Jackson movies. I mean, there are a ton of orcs in the books, but I don’t have to look at them.
-I keep playing spot-the-Nazgûl and I think I have someone else to put on the list.
-There was a moment in the mines of Moria where I completely believed this Elrond would grow up into Hugo Weaving.
-Still struggling with the condensation of the Numénórean timeline, but willing to keep trusting for the moment. If you read Tolkien’s own chronology of the Second Age, it is kind of repetitive, so I can see why they’re doing what they’re doing, but it’s the most jarring bit lore-wise for me.
-I thought they made up the term Southlands, but it’s actually in Tolkien.
-Love Arondir but still kind of meh on Bronwyn.
-Anyone know whether the image behind Isildur and Ëarien when they are talking in the restaurant is a First Age legend that can’t be explicitly mentioned? I think it is but haven’t pinned down what yet.
-The dialogue is still the weak point. Mostly it doesn’t quite keep up with the plot. I did like Elrond talking about his dad, though.
-The dialogue and pacing was the best of any episode yet, though it still remains uneven and could still admit of plenty of improvements.
-Poppy’s mother’s walking song is everything. If you heard it, you know what I mean.
-Lindon is pretty gorgeous.
-I hope they are not setting Halbrand up just to repeat Aragorn’s arc. I still have strong “I don’t trust him” vibes. Edwin and I still hope he becomes the King of the Dead.
-Pretty nice compression of 1500 years of Numénórean history into the speech Pharazôn makes about his goals for Middle Earth. I’m more sold on the new Numénórean timeline at this point than other lore alterations (see below.)
-Couple of sudden things that seem very insufficiently motivated: Ëarien’s pacifism and Bronwyn’s despair.
-I can handle Gil-galad better if I pretend he’s Fëanor. As I said in my blog post, they don’t have the rights to Fëanor’s story, nor those of any other particularly disdainful First Age folk (Turgon, anyone)? so if they want to lean into the self-centered nature of the Fae they have to displace that onto a character they are allowed to use. (PS Gil-galad’s insult of Elrond by calling him “Peredhel” was a nice touch.)
– The Numénórean war helms are indeed, as they should be, those which descended to be the crown of Gondor. Nice touch. Also, pretty sure that mural I was trying to figure out last week is Túrin and Glaurung. And while we’re on Easter eggs, the names of Isildur’s friends are the later names of his sons; and Finrod’s death, which originally was implied to just be in battle, does from the way Galadriel talked about it seem to be as in canon. They came as close to saying so as they could without Silmarillion rights.
-Durin and Elrond remain friendship goals.
– Now, the elephant in the room: the (lampshaded as “apocryphal”) origin story for mithril was kind of cool, actually, but I’m very much not a fan of where they are going with its connection to the fate of the Elves. Tying Arwen’s fate to the ring was one of the dumber moves Peter Jackson made and I don’t like to see the show repeating the same mistake.
Things I liked:
-Tolkien repeatedly wrestled with the theological nature of the Orcs. The show is leaning into that in some pretty profound ways.
-Galadriel on the boat has all the gravitas I wanted from her earlier. Also, can we just take a moment and admire how beautiful the boats are?
-There continue to be interesting tragic resonances around the idea of Halbrand being King of the Dead. (If he isn’t, I’ll be very disappointed.)
-In the “invented rituals which make total Tolkien sense” department I love the idea of elves planting seeds before they go into battle.
-On the whole, the dialogue was better.
-The (first) moment when the villagers figured out how they had been fooled was really tragic.
-In canon, Galadriel went through this arc from young and impetuous fighter to wise and magical leader in the First Age, but I like the questions they’re making her ask herself.
-Elendil and Isildur are exactly the way I want to see them living out the real people they were and the real histories they had before the point when they became kings.
-This is not about this episode, because he wasn’t in it (see below), but I believe the Hobbit book description of Elrond about Robert Aramayo’s Elrond more than I believed it about Hugo Weaving’s: “noble and as fair in face as an elf lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves and as kind as summer.”
Things I didn’t like:
-WAY too many orcs. Again, not at all a departure from the source, but it’s different when you look at them.
-If I, who has never studied military history for a day, can tell that your military and logistical manoeuvres are completely Because Plot, you need to do better.
-I realize why there was no Harfoot or Eregion/Moria stuff in this episode but I missed it.
-I don’t like Míriel being on the expedition. I get that there’s a particular plot reason why it was good to have her there, but it just seems weird when the relief force is so small that she would go with it herself.
-Cut the slo-mo. All of it.
-Nobody else needs to get rescued in the nick of time in the entire show. They used it all up in this episode. I know, I know, it set up the last minute and thirty seconds, but still.
My overall reaction still goes back and forth between “Why did they do THAT?” and “Wow, that was a deep dive into the lore.” I can see why people disagree on whether the result feels like Tolkien, but it seems really clear to me that the showrunners are trying (and, I would argue, batting about .650.) I still think that a show that is basically about battling for the good against impossible odds, building friendships between (fantasy) races, getting destroyed largely because you lean into self-confidence and pride, and respecting and living in harmony with the natural landscape basically gets at what the man was about.
Seven: The Eye
– Still feel this is very Tolkienesque in theme and approach, probably feel that more than I did a couple episodes ago.
– It is because I think they get some of those themes right (specifically: the idea that you can tell which side a person is on by how they treat the natural world) that I continue to not think the Stranger is evil.
-On that same topic, “Envinyata” means “Renew” in Quenya. (I know this because Envinyatar is one of Aragorn’s titles).
-There was a moment when I realized that Nori and Galadriel were on very parallel journeys.
-There was another moment when Largo did a very hobbitish thing. It was probably foolish, but it made me smile.
-Why is Poppy obsessed with snails?
-Celeborn namechecked! Now we just have to wait for Galadriel to turn out to be wrong that he’s gone. I liked the nod to the Beren and Lúthien story. Tolkien wrote so many versions of C and G’s meeting, and ROP can’t actually use the word Doriath, so why not?
-Elrond, Durin, and Disa are all just wonderful in this episode (not always right, but wonderful). I have to say that there was a moment when I wondered if Disa will be a candidate for a Ring of Power.
-Kind of frustrated about Halbrand. My best hope at this point is that one of Edwin’s crazier theories about him turns out to be true.
-Waldreg for Mouth of Sauron, anyone?
-You either are going to think the last 10 seconds are cheesy or effective. I loved what they did, but everyone else in the house thought it was cheesy.
-It had some flaws, but was my favorite episode so far as a whole.
-Some of the most Tolkienesque bits yet. Themes of hope in dark times, the dangers of power, the price that has to be paid for commitment to the good, and the small and insignificant doing what the wise and great cannot (there is a scene where apples get thrown out of a tree at a particularly important moment.)
-Some particularly judicial quotes from the book at crucial moments. If you haven’t already figured things out, or one thing in particular anyway, you will when you hear them.
-I don’t know how they would have worked the dwarves into this episode but I missed them. ROP has done so incredibly well by the dwarves that when I was listening to “Far over the misty mountains cold” and the “Song of Durin” on Spotify yesterday it made me want to weep for the Khazad-dûm we see in these episodes (not this one, but in general) that was lost.
-While we’re weeping for things that are lost, boy howdy Numénor and Eregion are still so gorgeous.
-Elendil. Just Elendil. And that conversation with Míriel. Also, a beautiful short shot of Valandil mourning. The show isn’t always good at subtle, but that moment was.
-Galadriel was largely better served by her dialogue. Also, there’s a speech Elrond made to her that I just loved.
-I feel that someone should have been instructed to play a certain character differently in earlier episodes. The way the character was played in this episode even before any reveals was perfect, but a bit more of that approach earlier would have helped.
– The elves fading as fast as they are said to be is still stupid, though this episode somewhat redeemed it. (The elves do fade in the book. But not in a matter of weeks!) I still keep hoping we’ll find out Sauron was somehow behind the dying leaves, though not quite sure how that would have worked. Also, at least they mentioned this time that the elves won’t fade if they go to Valinor, so what’s sad is giving up what they have built in Middle-earth. Previous episodes sort of gave the impression that they were just going to keel over.
-There is a goodbye that goes on WAY too long and there was a slo-mo moment. I said no more slo-mo, people!
Still watching. See you in 2023.
In 2023 I want Celeborn. I want to find out what happened, not only to Isildur (obvs) but Anárion (who was so briefly referenced in dialogue in the first Númenor episode that several reviewers have missed him or thought he was being replaced by Ëarien). I want Theo as King of the Dead. I want to see those doors of Moria. And I want to hear the name Incánus.