Two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power—the new Tolkien-based adventure upon which Amazon has bet a tremendous amount of money—have aired as of this writing.
I wanted to bail 20 minutes into the first episode. It was boring, with a bunch of preachy, slow-moving dialogue, made to look and feel like Tolkien thanks to a lot of robes and pointy elf ears. I was ready to write it off. The first episode STINKS.
Remarkably, the show rallies in the second episode to become something in which I’m at least mildly interested. The action picks up; dwarves show up—and things start to really click. There are still some unlikable things, but the show has a chance of being a worthy time investment.
This is a prequel to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the one Peter Jackson eventually won an Oscar for with his film take. It’s also a prequel to The Hobbit trilogy, the one that totally sucked and put some kind of hex on Jackson’s narrative film-directing career. (He’s only directed documentaries since 2014.)
Tolkien purists will bristle at some of what Amazon is dishing here, which bends the rules of the timeline. I, for one, just want to be sufficiently entertained an hour at a time, and I couldn’t care less if a certain kind of humanoid or a specific character is showing up in the wrong “age.” Just make it all fun to watch.
Episode one fails to do that, as we are introduced to Galadriel (Morfydd Clark; the character is played by Cate Blanchett in the films) and her persistent search for the evil Sauron. Elves live for many years, so their characters help tie everything through the ages together. (This show, as it stands, is set centuries before Lord of the Rings, so it will have to air for quite some time for you to see Frodo and Samwise.)
Power has characters that are precursors to hobbits, and their plot line is the one that grinded on me the most in the first episode. It’s as if the showrunners said, “Have them talk slow and wear wigs, and put some leaves and shit in their hair; the Tolkien fanboys will buy it.” However, a plot development at the very end of episode one makes their portion of the enterprise a little more interesting.
The show really lights up during the second episode, with the interaction between elf Elrond (Robert Aramayo, played by Hugo Weaving in Rings) and an old dwarf friend, Prince Durin (Owain Arthur). The show takes on a surprising and funny charm, one that makes it easier to be patient and let the show breathe a bit. The action scenes in episode two are also better. Yes, there are still some plot threads that fail to captivate, but “the stranger” who fell from the sky at the end of episode one gets some more screen time, and he’s definitely an interesting prospect (even if he does bend the rules of the Tolkien timeline and piss off the purists).
While I’m curious enough to stick with it and see where things are going, I have to think Amazon is a little worried at this point. While critics have been relatively warm to the show, audiences are offering up scorching reviews, probably because so many quit during episode one. The show has a record-breaking budget, and a second season is already filming, so I’d assume Amazon was probably looking for a happier start then the one they’ve gotten.
If you are trying to keep score, the Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, is off to a much more interesting beginning through its first three episodes. But Power has its strengths, too, meaning geeks of all ages have two fantasy-adventure series (mostly) worth their time airing simultaneously.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now streaming on Amazon Prime, with new episodes released on Fridays through Oct. 14.