The Rings of Power finale has all the show's strengths (and its weaknesses)

2022-10-15 02:56:09 By : Ms. Polinna Cheung

At last, we have arrived at the season finale of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. This season has given us the best of times and the worst of times, and now it must draw to a close. Much of The Rings of Power’s first season has involved drawing out several persistent mysteries, such as the true identities of Sauron and the Stranger. With “Alloyed,” the answers to these secrets and more are finally revealed. However, the show still can’t quite get out of its own way enough to let these big twists hit as well as they should.

As always, there will be SPOILERS for this week’s episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power below.

One thing I’ll say for the season finale of The Rings of Power: it was at least entertaining. “Alloyed” is all about revealing the identity of Sauron. Some beats work better than others, but overall, it was an intriguing episode and far from the series’ worst.

It does lay things on rather thick though, and at times it was just way too much. The episode opens with the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) wandering through the forest trying to get an apple which is snatched away from him by Nori…except it’s not Nori, it’s the Dweller (Bridie Sisson), one of the white-robed figures who’s been ominously trailing him all season. Once the Dweller reveals themself, the other two white-robed figures emerge from the woods, kneel, and proclaim the Stranger Lord Sauron.

I’ll just say it now: the Stranger is not Sauron, though we do get a good idea who he actually is by the end of the episode. But boy does The Rings of Power try hard to mislead us, with the white-robes calling him Sauron repeatedly throughout the episode, even when it feels unnatural.

We finally learn a little more about these enigmatic white-robed people: they’re Sauron worshippers from the eastern land of Rhûn, and have come in search of the Stranger because they saw him fall from the sky and believe he is their long-awaited dark lord. I was afraid that the season finale wouldn’t do enough with these white-robed figures, but I’m glad to say that I do think it paid off their appearance well enough.

Nori (Markella Kavenagh), Poppy (Megan Richards), Marigold (Sara Zwangobani) and Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) eventually arrive and instigate a chaotic rescue of the Stranger. We get a spectacular magical battle filled with very cool special effects. A few of the big moments fall flat, such as when Saddoc is mortally wounded and something jogs the Stranger’s mind enough that he’s suddenly able to speak in complete sentences, but overall I think it stands out as one of the best set pieces from this season.

Markella Kavenagh (Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot), Megan Richards (Poppy Proudfellow)

When the dust settles, Sadoc dies surrounded by his companions as the sun rises over Middle-earth, the Stranger obliterates the white-robed figures with his magic, and Nori sets out with him to the land of Rhûn, which is the one place on the map where you can see that constellation he’s been looking for all season. Nori and Poppy’s farewell is the single most emotional moment of the episode, and might be one of the only times all season that I’ve misted up. It’s a little baffling that Nori and the Stranger are just now setting out on a journey as the season ends — that’s a plot development I expected to happen in the literal second or third episode, so they really stretched things out — but at least it’s an exciting step forward.

Despite the harfoot scenes being solid overall, the reveal of the Stranger’s identity was groanworthy. He’s Gandalf. We’ve all been guessing it since basically the season premiere, and now we know it’s true…not because the show outright named him (which was a good call), but because he drops a slew of famous Gandalf lines from The Lord of the Rings. Some of them make basically no sense in context, like when he tells Nori to follow her nose and that the air smells fresher and sweeter in the direction they need to go. That is a very logical line when Gandalf is trying to navigate the underground Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring, but makes no sense at all when he’s sitting in the middle of a fruit-filled orchard.

It’s a great example of The Rings of Power leaning too hard on non-sensical fan service and undermining what would otherwise be a fine moment. (Deviations from Tolkien’s lore notwithstanding; Gandalf doesn’t show up until the Third Age in the books so this is a huge change, but that’s another story for another day.)

The majority of “Alloyed” focuses on events at Celebrimbor’s workshop, which I think was a really good choice. It’s here we get the actual reveal of Sauron’s identity: it was Halbrand all along. There are some cool little nods to this throughout that hardcore Tolkien fans will pick up on, such as when he tells Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) that his smithing suggestion is “a gift,” which references Sauron’s book alias as Annatar, the Lord of Gifts. Some of the episode’s best moments involve the slow reveal that Halbrand is Sauron, aided by an excellent performance from Charlie Vickers.

As the elves reel from the dwarves’ refusal to supply them with mithril, they plan to make several smaller objects using mithril as an alloy with other metals, which could stave off the elves’ decline. The exact details of how that all works are a little weird, but they get us to the point where Celebrimbor starts crafting the elven rings of power, with Halbrand’s help, of course.

It’s pretty fun to spend time in Celebrimbor’s workshop as various experiments fail and new ideas are put forth. It’s during this time that Galadriel gets suspicious of Halbrand…and my qualms begin.

In many ways, Galadriel had to get suspicious of Halbrand, because that’s what leads to the reveal about his identity. The problem is that it feels absurdly forced; last episode Galadriel is ready to ride halfway across Middle-earth to help Halbrand, and then as soon as they arrive at their destination she is suddenly very suspicious of him.

For all the time they’ve spent together, The Rings of Power didn’t set up Galadriel’s distrust of Halbrand very well. It’s yet another example of the show moving characters and events along because it’s what the plot demands, rather than what the story needs. And that’s not even getting into the fact that Galadriel never once thought to check on Halbrand’s lineage as King of the Southlands until now. The last Southlands king died over a thousand years ago and had no children, which makes her insistence that Halbrand is heir to the throne all season feel totally ridiculous.

These frustrations are compounded by the fact that after the grand reveal happens and Galadriel discovers Halbrand’s true identity, she doesn’t tell anyone. Instead, she insists they must make a third ring, to help balance things since only two rings would divide people. Why wouldn’t we talk about the fact that this whole ring crafting business is happening at Sauron’s behest? We’ve seen all season that Galadriel wants to destroy Sauron, and her actions here feel completely at odds with that for no real reason, other than that the rings had to be made because this is The Rings of Power.

Morfydd Clark (Galadriel), Charles Edwards (Celebrimbor)

Ultimately, The Rings of Power season 1 finale is pretty consistent with the rest of the season. The visuals are breathtaking, the acting is overall quite good, and the music is for the most part wonderful. But the characters are erratic and the twists don’t work. The show leans hard on shamelessly dumb fan service; it feels like The Rings of Power doesn’t trust itself to tell a compelling story on its own.

There’s enough good in there that I’m hopeful The Rings of Power will grow and get better in future seasons. But “Alloyed” was a middling finale to a middling season of television, which is not the reaction you want from the most expensive TV show ever made. We’ll see where the path leads from here, but for now I won’t be rewatching anytime soon.

I can’t say that I’ll miss The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and it’ll certainly take quite a lot to get me invested again in season 2. There were some good ideas as well as some absolutely stunning work by the cast and crew. It’s just a shame that the writing is so scattered that pretty much every crucial moment in the finale was undermined.

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