“All that is gold does not glitter,” Gandalf wrote, and “Not all those who wander are lost.” The wizard was trying to convince Frodo not to heed appearances and to trust in Aragorn despite looking like a mere Ranger. Ironically, the first part of this sentence sums up perfectly The Rings of Power series, which recently wrapped up its first season on Amazon. It’s a series that at a visual level certainly shines with brilliance, especially the landscapes of Middle-earth, which spring to life and shimmer with a halo of warm magic. However, gold is just as rare in this series as mithril itself is. It started promisingly, seeking out a style in keeping with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (both start with a voiceover explaining the context and Sauron appears in each as the main force to be reckoned with). But from the very start, problems with the pacing were apparent and the overly long dialogues only worsened with every episode, adding to other flaws simply inexcusable for a series that should be – and aims to be – gold for its audience.

The main issue with this series is it lacks a driving force to give it direction. In both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the protagonists had made a decision and had a quest to achieve, thus propelling them through an adventure. This mission provided both stories with direction, no matter how many stops were made along the way. There was a goal. Reach Mordor and destroy the One Ring. Obtain Smaug’s treasure. But the literary text on which The Rings of Power series is based is not constructed in the same way. The epilogues Tolkien wrote for “The Lord of the Rings” mainly provide additional context, so the writers of this series had to themselves devise some kind of overarching direction to inject some oomph into the set of stories. Initially, Galadriel’s search for Sauron does the trick. But then this objective falls by the wayside with the arrival in Númenor. It’s no coincidence that the series picks up steam again in the final stretch of the first season, which is when it resumes the storyline involving the search for Sauron.

‘The Rings of Power’. Amazon Prime Video.

In-between these episodes, the worst moments of the series also take place, with implausible and poorly directed scenes (such as Galadriel’s escape from prison), rigid interpretations (especially Ismael Cruz Córdova in the role of Arondir) and somewhat absurd characterizations (like the appearance of the sailors of Númenor). But above all there is a problem of literary quality. The dialogues and phrasing are obviously intended to be Tolkien-esque but fall short of that goal, with the result being often artificial constructions that don’t quite work. The dialogues between Elrond and Durin, with their humorous tone, are an exception to this, however, as are some scenes where the actor involved manages to make the script their own and transmit genuine emotions. The various storylines remain disconnected from each other for too long, but that wouldn’t be such a problem if they were interesting in themselves or if they had been combined in such a way as to strengthen the whole. However, even an apparently very Tolkienian storyline, like that of the Harfoots, which could have served to periodically dial down the intensity of the other storylines, instead ends up being disappointing and counterproductive because it interrupts the action too often.

‘The Rings of Power’. Amazon Prime Video.

The reveals in the series, which take place in the final episode, are the worst of this first season. Not only because they are predictable (probably even more so for Tolkien readers) but above all because they are poorly executed, especially in the case of Sauron. The series seeks the most roundabout way to reveal the truth and along the way it contradicts Galadriel (failing to say something to Elrond is inconsistent with this character) and results in all the previous storyline involving Halbrand and all the decisions he has made now making no sense. Without a doubt, the solution chosen by Tolkien himself through the character of Annatar was the better one. It was simpler, more coherent and emphasized the central theme of the story, namely the ease with which evil can corrupt us. This is, without a doubt, the biggest mistake of The Rings of Power, which has made use of the original work in a similar way to Celebrimbor with mithril. It has taken a wonderful work of literature, loved by readers across generations, and mixed it with inferior material, the kind that can be found in practically any series. The result is a ring that shines brightly thanks to the millions invested in it by Amazon, but when it comes to power, comes up lacking.

Toni de la Torre
Toni de la Torre. TV series critic. Toni works in ‘El Matí de Catalunya Ràdio’, El Temps, Què fem, Ara Criatures, Sàpiens and he also collaborates in TV3 magazine show ‘Tot es mou’. Author of several books on television series and a lecturer at the Barcelona Screenwriters and Showrunners school and in his free time, he likes to give conference on series. Highlights include Premi Bloc de Catalunya 2014.