The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power - Episode 4 Review
Warning: The below contains full spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 4, which is now streaming on Prime Video. If you're not caught up yet, read a spoiler-free review of the two-episode premiere here.
When an episode of an hour-long serialized show ends and the plot has just barely pushed forward and you haven’t even learned much more about the characters or world, that’s an indication that something’s gone wrong in the writers room. The Lord of the Rings has always been a series that takes its time, but Episode 4 of The Rings of Power is frustratingly slow.
Harfoots are out this week so we’re back to Khazad-dûm, where Elrond has grown suspicious that Prince Durin and Princess Disa are hiding something from him. The scene does a bit more to develop Disa as Durin’s equal, quick with a bluff even if it doesn’t quite work on Elrond, who spies out the truth with a bit of lip reading and his uncanny elf eyes.
Turns out what they’re hiding is the discovery of mithril, the remarkable metal that will later be used to forge the armor Bilbo and Frodo wear. It’s the same stuff that will prove so precious that the dwarves will dig too deep in pursuit of more, turning Khazad-dûm in Moria. The Rings of Power feels like it’s falling into the same prequel trap as Solo by trying to explain the origins of everything we’ve already heard of at the expense of just telling a fun new story. Disa’s song to the stone was beautiful but it feels like the focus of the scene leading up to it should have been on the miners and not on a mineralogy lesson.
Will the difficulties Elrond has throughout the rest of his life actually be caused by him breaking his vow to Durin? Maybe, but for now they keep being sweet strange besties that feel like what would happen if Gimli and Legolas got to just hang out after sharing their adventures. The scene where Durin complains about his father and Elrond explains what it’s like to live up to a dad who’s become a mythological figure lifted up by the gods is particularly charming. It’s a bonding moment not unlike the scene in Avatar: The Last Airbender where Sokka tells Zuko that his girlfriend turned into the moon — he’s sharing something genuine and formative that also demonstrates how deeply strange this world is.
The Númenor plot has a few strong moments but spends too much time on Isildur’s sister, Eärien, and the show hasn’t given us much reason to care about her yet. Isildur getting cut from naval training because he’s got his eyes on the west could have just happened last week and saved some time. Nothing is really gained by demonstrating he’s still hearing weird whispers and doesn’t really want to follow his dad’s plan.
As for Galadriel, the hard cut of her going from calling out the queen regent to getting tossed in jail next to Halbrand is hilarious. Their relationship continues to be charming, driven by just how bad Galadriel is at politics. Speaking of politics, Tar-Míriel’s advisor Pharazôn shows just how competent he is by turning the mob assembled by the guy Halbrand beat up into a nationalist rally with some strong words and wine. He’s supporting Tar-Míriel’s decision to go to war because the trees cried — a portent of the doom she saw in her palantír — but the show seems to be setting him up for the dark future he has in The Silmarillion.
Adar's cryptic talk about lies, rebuilding the world, and becoming a god feel like pretty boilerplate villainy.“
By far the weakest part of this episode is the events in the Southlands. Adar seems to be an elf that’s gone through some hard times, but his cryptic talk about lies, rebuilding the world, and becoming a god feel like pretty boilerplate villainy, and so does his cliche decision to free the highly competent Arondir just to tell the humans to stand down. If Arondir hadn’t arrived in the nick of time to save Theo, Adar would already have the hilt he’s searching for! He could have just sent a message by having a bunch of orcs show up around the tower at night and demanding the humans surrender.
It’s an odd, but prevalent problem: The Lord of the Rings, and all of Tolkien’s Middle-earth work, has been so influential that even adaptations based on his ideas start to feel derivative of the fantasy landscape as a whole. The Lord of the Rings inspired Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which received its own highly expensive Prime Video adaptation last year. The ruby-hilted dagger Mat takes from Shadar Logoth corrupts him in the same way Sauron’s rings corrupt all who wield them and Theo’s hilt feels very much like a new version of the dagger. It’s hard to ask a show based on the books that founded the tropes of Western medieval fantasy to use them in a more original fashion, but the result is that there’s almost nothing in Episode 4 that actually feels fresh.
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This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Samantha Nelson