The Shadow of the Shadow: Isildur as Amazon’s Main Character

Yay. Some more leakages.

About the upcoming Amazon Second Age series, that is. Fellowship of Fans can reveal that, as of episode 3 of Season 1, we will see Isildur as a focal point character:

My first thought?

I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not think the show is doomed. I regard the fandom’s professional doom-merchants with a fair bit of contempt, especially since most of their material tends to be Culture War potshots and/or clickbaity nonsense. On the whole, I am actually something of a cautious optimist about this project, at least until I actually see the finished product. It’s just that this is one of those occasions where my excitement is dampened by an uneasy foreboding that “yeah, they’re making a mistake here.”

Now, if they are introducing Isildur in episode 3 of the first season, that means we are skipping from what appears to be a two-episode Prologue (the Two Trees, Finrod, et al), into the last few centuries of the Second Age. Which inherently begs the question – what the hell happened to the material from the mid-Second Age? The Forging of the Rings, Celebrimbor, and Company? The War of the Elves and Sauron? The corruption of the Nine? It’s all a bit head-scratching.

But that isn’t really my major concern. Not yet anyway. They – surely – will have to cover that Ring material too, since we’ve literally seen Ost-in-Edhil on the initial map, with all the implicit promises that stem from that. Combining Isildur with Celebrimbor in the same season just means a meshing or compression of timelines, or some form of non-linear storytelling (think the Witcher, only less confusing). Eru only knows what they plan to do there, though I suppose we must wait and see. But I will throw things if I don’t get to see Celebrimbor’s corpse as a battle-standard.

No, my bigger immediate worry from this update is that we are jumping straight into the profoundly screwed-up era of Númenor, without having built up a genuine affection for the place. I had visualised a first season starting off with Númenor being portrayed as fair and beautiful, its people wise and benevolent… only for the corruption to seep in, season by season, until we wind up with human sacrifices to Melkor.

Show the poison at work, before Sauron even sets foot on the island, but most importantly, show us what we are losing, and make us care about it. By jumping straight into the early fourth millennium, we merely see Númenor as another Westeros, full of backstabbing and scheming, and going from bad to worse. Sure, that’s fun and all, and consistent with Tolkien’s own material, but starting off the show with that – rather than ending with it – lessens the stakes. Darkness-induced apathy, and all that… enough to make the eventual Downfall a matter of putting a bunch of irredeemable arseholes out of their misery, rather than as the culmination of a millennia-old tragedy.

(Speaking of which, they surely aren’t mad enough to put the Downfall – the most visually spectacular event in the history of fantasy television – in the early or middle part of the show? This climax needs to wait until the fourth season, and the notion of having it any earlier, as was discussed by Fellowship of Fans, makes me seriously uncomfortable).

The counter to all of these objections would be “well, if they start with Tar-Palantir, we can still show ‘good’ Númenor turn to evil under his successor.” The problem is that that would be a gross misrepresentation of what Tar-Palantir actually is. He’s not some Marcus Aurelius figure from Gladiator, the personification of the good old days before all went to custard and worse. He’s basically a sort of Old Testament Prophet, a Jeremiah wailing at his people to repent their wicked ways before it’s too late. You don’t use a character like that for creating the impression of a stable status quo. You use him to ratchet up the emotional stakes – this is Númenor’s last chance, people! Will they listen, or will they continue their slide…? In short, you put Tar-Palantir in the late middle of the Númenorean tragedy, not at the beginning.

Phew. I’m sounding like quite the Jeremiah myself today. But it gets worse. Fellowship of Fans play up the similarities between the casting description of Isildur and the portrayal of Aragorn in Jackson’s film trilogy. It might just be my phobia of this series excessively tying itself into Jackson, but that is not a good thing in my mind. I would have thought that the script-writers could do more with Isildur than “let’s put Young Aragorn in Númenor! Only this time he fails!” Again, we shall have to wait and see, but I really hope this show does not go there.

Now, Fellowship of Fans is right in one important sense. The structure of the Second Age source material does not make for easy storytelling. The time-gaps are vast and late Númenor is indeed much more action-packed than earlier eras (as an aside, I think this update is probably the nail in the coffin of seeing Aldarion and Erendis). But to my mind, the solution would have been to allow the Forging of the Rings (and the aftermath) to supply the meaty plot narrative for the first couple of seasons, while the show takes some time to develop Númenor as it was before things went wrong. Then shift the story to Númenor for seasons three and four, before we finish with the Last Alliance in season five. I’d have zero problems with Isildur being the focal character for the last half of the show, but having him from the first season feels off.

We’re clearly getting an extended Akallabêth, plus prologue Elves, plus Dwarves, plus Hobbits… but Eru only knows how they’re fitting the Rings in. In a project that started out with the Ring-verse, dropping clues 3,7,9, and 1 days apart, the Rings are clearly a cornerstone, and we will presumably see Isildur have his run-in with the One Ring at some point in season five… but to get to that, we need to see the Forging first. And how any of this gels with a Prologue that gives us Finrod and the Two Trees is a real head-scratcher. So many questions, so few answers…

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