War is brewing on Middle-earth. “Partings” pushes us into the back half of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s first season, where Galadriel and her Númenorean allies plan their campaign to help the people of the Southlands, Nori Brandyfoot learns a bit more about her mysterious celestial friend, and Elrond and Durin have some difficult conversations.
After last week’s episode slowed things down to a crawl, the show had some ground to make up. Alas, The Rings of Power doesn’t quite the hit the mark for a second week in a row, and makes some decisions that feel strangely at odds with Tolkien’s legendarium.
As always, SPOILERS for this week’s episode after the break.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 5 review: “Partings”
After really enjoying the first three episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, I found my interest inexplicably waning during Episode 4. “Partings,” the fifth installment, didn’t quite turn around those feelings. It’s a slight step up from last week, but overall this just felt like another okay installment.
Nearly all of my issues with the show come down to its writing. The visuals, environments, costuming, and special effects remain as stunnin as ever. The music is great. The actors are all doing a truly admirable job with the material they’re given. But at the end of the day, writing often ends up being a make or break factor for television series. At this point we’re more than halfway through the show’s first season, so it’s safe to say that its writing has been consistently middling at best. Even more baffling, this episode makes some weird choices that feel like strange deviations from Tolkien’s work. And try though I might, I just can’t understand them.
Let’s start with the harfoots. After being absent entirely from “The Great Wave,” Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and the gang are back. They’re as fun to watch as ever, migrating across Middle-earth with typical good cheer. Out of the gate, we get one of our first hints that something is a little off in terms of how the show is honoring Tolkien’s work: at the urging of her fellows, Poppy (Megan Richards) sings a song that plays off the classic “not all those who wander are lost” line from The Fellowship of the Ring.
It’s a cute little nod, and the song itself is wonderful, as is Richards’ performance…but it also doesn’t make a ton of sense, considering that this line is from an actual in-world poem written by Gandalf, which is meant to help Frodo identify Strider in Bree. Now, one way this could make sense is if the mysterious Stranger is Gandalf, who then internalizes this line and uses it himself centuries later…but the Stranger being Gandalf would raise other inconsistencies with Tolkien’s mythology. It’s a relatively small thing and not worth getting too hung up on, but it does foreshadow some issues to come.
After Nori teaches the Stranger (Daniel Weyman) some new words so they can better communicate, the harfoots are eventually attacked by wolves. This, again, is a weird choice because the show foreshadowed these wolves during its premiere, when the harfoots were presumably hundreds of miles away from where they are now. These must be different wolves, and that premiere wolf just meant to show that wolves are a threat to harfoots. It works, but it isn’t very tight storytelling.
The Stranger leaps to Nori’s rescue, using magic to fight off the wolves. A short while later, he tries to heal his own arm by freezing it, and nearly injures Nori in the process. There’s a running theme that this Stranger is potentially connected to Sauron in some way — his magic has killed things, like the fireflies, and there are several flashes to the image of him lying in the fiery eye-shaped he made when he fell from the sky, with sound effects very reminiscent of the Eye of Sauron from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. And this week we learn that a group of white-robed, very evil-looking acolytes are revealed to be searching for the Stranger; it’s looking more and more likely that he could be tied to the forces of darkness.
Dissent in Númenor
A big chunk of “Partings” focuses once again on the island kingdom of Númenor, and it hits a lot of the same highs and lows as the same sections from the past few episodes. The politicking between those who wish to support the elves and those who believe Númenor should be more insular is a big focus, and it’s here that the writing starts to stumble. Halbrand’s (Charlie Vickers) discomfort over returning to Middle-earth is portrayed well, as is Elendil’s (Lloyd Owen) disappointment with his son Isildur (Maxim Baldry). But the motives for characters like Isildur’s sister Eärien (Ema Horvath) and Pharazon’s son Kemen (Leon Wadham) are unclear; why does one of Elendil’s children have such a strong aversion to helping the elves when it’s been made very clear the family supports them still?
In many ways, it feels a bit like The Rings of Power is forcing tension for tension’s sake. Pharazon (Trystan Gravelle) is playing both sides; he’s one of the main people the anti-elf faction is looking to, but he’s also not stopping the Númenoreans from going to Middle-earth with Galadriel because he has a plot to end up elevating his own people over the elves. His son Kemen doesn’t get this and instead would rather just burn ships to keep his people from leaving the island, in spite of Pharazon explaining it pretty darn clearly. Isildur is pigheaded and selfish, with the tiniest streak of nobility that crops up from time to time.
As a viewer, a lot of these plot points feel like the show is forcing things from point A to B rather than taking us on the journey. As a Tolkien fan, it also feels like the show is seriously jumping the gun on some of these characterizations. Isildur does quite a lot of good in The Silmarillion before he eventually decides to keep the One Ring; it’s part of what make his turn so tragic. Pharazon undergoes a similar turn thanks to the influence of Sauron, as does Númenor as a whole. But The Rings of Power wants to skip right to those points, and in the process misses part of what made them so compelling in Tolkien’s books.
Next, we check in with Elrond, Durin, and the Southlands: