In “Partings,” I found myself at an internal parting of the ways with The Rings of Power. In one direction is the story it becomes when it treats its characters with grace and gives them opportunities to connect with the grandeur of the world around them. When it does that, it captures the most powerful element of Tolkien’s stories. In another direction is a show that refuses to do basic character work before springboarding those characters into a conflict in which Bear McCreary’s score has to do extra lifting because the script simply refuses to do the work in the first place.
There are plenty of logistical questions in this episode, like how the Númenorian are going to go to war without cavalry because it doesn’t look like there is any room for horses on their ships. Or why Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) is training Númenorian soldiers in the middle of a small public plaza where there were civilians mulling about. Or whether the shopkeeper whose wares were destroyed with reckless abandon would ever be compensated for their losses. But while none of these questions truly matter, they stick out like sore thumbs when a viewer has no emotional connection to the action.
The opening scene of “Partings” is The Rings of Power at its best. There are quibbles to make here as well, like how the Brandyfoots fit into the larger group of Harfoots, but the script has done some really good work with Nori (Markella Kavenaugh) and Poppy (Megan Richards). Nori desires to go beyond the small world she knows, while Poppy fears that same world combats her desire to be included. Everything with those works. Nori’s hunger to see the larger world helps her be more compassionate towards The Stranger (Daniel Weyman). The scene starts with the intimate, grounds us with these characters, and then slowly shifts to revel in the grandeur and some fear of the much, much larger world around them.
The narrative there isn’t as hefty, but the plot is not as relevant when a viewer relates to the emotional core of the characters. Take the example of the other character pairing that works in the show: Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Durin (Owain Arthur). Is it hilarious that the tree symbolizing the decay of the elves is, like, a couple feet away from where Elrond and the Elven High King (Benjamin Walker) were talking? Absolutely. But the more important thing is that it puts Elrond into a real conflict based on his respect for honor and his friendship with Durin.
That conflict has the additional benefit of putting Durin into battles of his own. He makes a difficult choice more easily than many people would, which speaks highly to who he is and how much he values his friendship with Elrond. He knows that this will put him in a difficult position with his father (Peter Mullan) and while that antagonism isn’t well fleshed-out, this is an opportunity to explore that. Durin knows he has to overcome the historical animosity between the dwarves and the elves, and some of his kin think that Elrond is taking advantage of him. And, of course, there’s no doubt that he is also thinking about the possibility that even if Elrond stays true to his word, the other elves might not.
All of this lands because The Rings of Power put in the work to make it matter. It is therefore truly baffling that the show seems unwilling to do this for other characters when it has all the space and literally money to do so. The previous episode had done some excellent character work between Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and Galadriel, but here the Númenor narrative falls completely flat. The saboteurs who are opposed to Númenor go off to fight in Middle Earth, but the show doesn’t develop these characters. Their sense of injustice and horror therefore comes across as a last minute reprieve to try to make this story more thrilling in all the wrong ways.
The prickly relationship between Isildur (Maxim Baldry) and his father (Lloyd Owen), similarly, is so thinly drawn that his efforts to try and be a part of the force that protects the Queen Regent in this voyage effectectively means nothing. Isildur is a typical brat who’s charming and roguish but doesn’t actually take anything seriously. His father is very disapproving and takes his responsibilities very seriously. Raise your hand if you’ve seen this dynamic before, or have even lived it.
A lot of relationship strifes can be boiled down to basic dynamics. What makes them click is the richness of the characters and the context that fuels their dynamic. There is no richness here and no such context.
+ “Give me the meat and give it to me raw!” I didn’t think Durin and I had any life experiences in common, but there you have it.
+ Evil elf Sauron just looks like a gamer incel who was at the Capitol on January 6th and I can’t take him seriously.
+ Durin is the best character on this show, right? Him tricking the elves into giving away their fabulous stone table was an episode highlight.
+ The dinner set design between the elves and dwarves was beautiful – just a truly stunning piece interior design and something I definitely want recreated if I ever marry a sugar daddy who gives me some property with plenty of backyard space.
+ Why is Pharazôn’s entire characterization “diet Machiavelli”? I hesitate to sound so repetitive, but a simple scene between him and Míriel would have gone a long way to establish the intricacies of their character dynamic. To boot, we would have gained some real insight into Númenor politics, but oh well.