An Idle Ode to Adar the Elda: A Review and Analysis of The Rings of Power, Episode 4

Half-way through the first season of The Rings of Power, we have run into our first unapologetically good episode. Not merely one to feel positive about, whilst grumbling about perceived flaws real or imagined. No, I think the fourth episode is sufficiently good that hunting around for flaws to comment upon becomes a matter of hunting, rather than sitting and commenting. We have some more character-introductions, fleshing out the remaining major cast members in an interesting fashion, while the plot generally comes across as less awkwardly forced. So yay.

This week, there were either three or four plotlines, depending on how one counts the action on Númenor. For ease of commentary, I am putting them as four:

  • Galadriel and Miriel on Númenor
  • Elendil’s Family and Associates
  • Adar and the Southlands
  • Elrond and the Dwarves

While I think the short scenes with a certain mysterious corrupted Elf steal the show, it was an episode dominated by the affairs of the Island Kingdom. No Harfoots this week, and to be horribly honest, I did not miss them.

(i) Galadriel and Miriel on Númenor

The chief conflict of this storyline, as personified by Galadriel and Queen-Regent Miriel, is over Númenorean military involvement in the Southlands. Galadriel is in favour, Miriel opposed. But once again, while the notion of Let’s Fight Sauron ought to be a straightforward sell at the moral level, the show does its level best to introduce complexities. Rather than isolationism being portrayed in the Jackson fashion, with isolationism being the mark of Quislings (Wormtongue), the short-sighted (Jackson’s Treebeard), or insane incompetents (Jackson’s Denethor), here Miriel’s reluctance to get involved is rooted in something much more interesting and sympathetic.

Via dreams and palantiri visions – a clever reference to Tolkien’s own famous Atlantis dream, and to the Notion Club Papers – Miriel believes that the destruction of Númenor is nigh. For her, to borrow a phrase, Galadriel’s coming is as the footsteps of doom. Prudence, then, would dictate that Miriel keep her realm out of trouble… which is what she does. Show-Galadriel being show-Galadriel proceeds to throw a reference to Miriel’s Elf-friendly father, Tar-Palantir, at her, complete with “there is a tempest in me,” which is one of those lines that sounded clunky in the trailer, but much better here. Alas, it is only enough for our Elf to wind up in prison – an amusing conclusion, were it not for the slight question of whether Galadriel would actually allow herself to be detained, given her subsequent prison-break. But I’ll overlook that. It is a rare bit of humour in what is otherwise a serious plotline.

Halbrand, her prison colleague, points out that Galadriel’s driven obsessiveness has gotten her nowhere, and that she ought to try a different tack. Namely that she ought to identify what the other person fears. This, incidentally, is one of the episode’s two big pointers towards the “Halbrand is Sauron” theory, since that is exactly what Sauron does to the Elves and Men in the Second Age – identify the former as fearing time and the latter death. The other pointer is that Halbrand is able to manipulate Pharazôn (of all people) from a prison cell. If that isn’t a grim piece of foreshadowing, I do not know what is.

And speaking of such Machiavellian antics, it is perhaps worth remembering that one of Niccolo Machiavelli’s maxims is that a ruler ought to be both a lion and a fox. He cites the example of Roman Emperor Pertinax, who refused to play corrupt games, and got himself murdered by the Praetorian Guard for his troubles, while he goes on to praise Septimus Severus, one of Rome’s more magnificent bastards. Show-Galadriel will never stoop to such levels – The Rings of Power has a quite different underlying morality to Game of Thrones – but there is a case for her military-derived habits being a poor fit thus far for political interaction. “I command soldiers, not appease them” is a trap Show-Galadriel would be inclined to fall into, whereas we shall see Pharazôn play the political game much more astutely.

(On the subject of Roman comparisons, it is also very clear that the show’s representation of Miriel is modelled off the famous Zenobia painting shown above. There’s also the additional comparison that Zenobia – ruler of a Near-Eastern Empire – was a powerful woman acting on behalf of her son, whereas Miriel – ruler of an Empire showing its share of Near-Eastern trappings – is a powerful woman acting on behalf of her father. Better yet, Zenobia was ousted by Emperor Aurelian, whose name means “the Golden” whereas Miriel will be ousted by Pharazôn the Golden. This is a very, very clever show sometimes).

Galadriel breaks out of prison, and has another encounter with Miriel at Tar-Palantir’s bedside. Ailing or not, Tar-Palantir brought a massive smile to my face – file this under something I never thought to see on television. Miriel forces Galadriel into a promise to keep the King’s health a secret, paralleling Elrond’s own sacred promise to Prince Durin, before showing her the vision of the palantir. The vision of the impending Downfall.

As noted, Miriel is portrayed highly sympathetically here, coming across as eminently reasonable in her opposition to Galadriel. Not something one would see in the Jackson movies, outside the tormented and unfortunate Boromir. But what brings Miriel around to a military intervention is not Jacksonian “Stand and Fight” rhetoric, nor threats of what Sauron will do if left unopposed. No, what brings Miriel around is an appeal to Providence. The falling petals of the White Tree, and the notion that Galadriel arrived on the island for a reason. Miriel ultimately agrees to go along with Galadriel’s plan because she realises that this is not simply Galadriel’s plan… if one catches my drift. An excellent portrayal of Tolkienian themes here – I just wish the manner of getting Galadriel to the island had been less ham-fisted.

(I would also note that Miriel shows enough political sense to market this to the public as an intervention on behalf of Men).

(ii) Elendil’s Family and Associates

Elendil himself takes more of a backseat this episode, but his family still have their own little developments. We also now have confirmation that Elendil is a Widower.

Isildur the Daydreamer – he has a whiff of the slightly mad about him – screws up his admission to the sea-cadets, and manages to get two of his friends expelled too. Aforementioned friends ultimately opt to join in the impending military intervention, and Isildur signs up too, much to his father’s evident discomfort.

Anarion remains off-screen, but there are some hints that he might actually be the most traditionally Faithful of the family, opting to remain in the ancestral Quendiphilic West.

Eärien, the invented daughter… she starts off at the bottom of the builder’s guild (though I dare say she has ambition), and gets involved with Kemen, Pharazôn’s invented son. In light of later events, this carries with it an air of Montague-Capulet tragedy, but thus far the show is downplaying the political problems of the relationship. Structurally, of course, it would suggest that Eärien is the most King’s Mannish of her Faithful family, whereas Kemen is the more Faithful of his King’s Man family… assuming Kemen is actually sincere, which is something of a question mark at this point.

(Kemen himself actually comes across as quite the charming Casanova, perhaps the only such character ever seen in a Tolkien adaptation, and while we have no reason to suspect that he is truly a philanderer, the premium he puts on “cleverness” is noticeable. A cynic would also note that on first meeting Eärien, he tries to give her wine. Almost as though he were more interested in her bed than her family’s politics).

And then there is Pharazôn himself, brought into this little social grouping via the connection of his son and Elendil’s daughter. If the show presents Miriel as reasonable and sympathetic, it presents Pharazôn as competent and an extremely gifted politician. Book-Pharazôn might be a charismatic charmer who wows the crowds with his good looks, riches, and military victories, but Show-Pharazôn is a retail politician, who makes a point of paying attention to every little issue affecting his people (“statecraft is about caring as much about small matters as great ones,” or some such – a sentiment more closely associated with modern democratic politics than a traditional monarchy). We also see him cleverly harness Quendiphobic populism, while dampening its potential threat to public order – albeit, the fact that Pharazôn has free drinks ready to hand might suggest that this entire thing was cynically staged for the Chancellor’s own advantage.

(One objection to this scene: while it does emphasise that Quendiphobia is tied-up with mortal envy about the Elves not growing old or dying… tying it to concern about Númenorean jobs is a tad weird. Almost as though they were trying too hard to compare Pharazôn to real-life populism. Sure, Pharazôn does harness popular support to his own advantage – it is the basis of his eventual coup, after all – so portraying such things in a vaguely sinister light is decent foreshadowing. It’s just that one can be a bit too on-the-nose about such things.

On the other hand, among the shout-outs to Elros Tar-Minyatur and the naming of Armenelos, I am not too bothered).

Addendum: More thoughts on that particular scene – https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2022/09/18/of-guilty-guilds-addressing-anti-immigration-populism-in-the-rings-of-power-episode-4/

(iii) Adar and the Southlands

We get our first look at the only named on-screen villain of the series thus far, Adar, the corrupted Elf. For me, it was the high-point of the entire episode – short though the scenes with him were, they successfully conjured up mystery, tragedy, and yet more Silmarillion allusion.

I have noted previously the show’s tendency to give us The Silmarillion without giving us The Silmarillion. Certain events or things from Tolkien’s First Age stories have been repurposed for the Second Age show, and inserted into a different context while preserving the allusion. The most clear-cut example of this is Forodwaith being a stand-in for the Helcaraxe, though there are various other examples scattered around these episodes… a way of evading the limitations of rights issues.

Adar, for rights reasons, will almost certainly have to be treated as an original character, but he is quite clearly channeling two First Age Elves in particular. Thankfully, leaks notwithstanding, neither are Galadriel’s brother:

  • Maglor. I have previously expressed extreme annoyance at the “Adar is Maglor” theory, on the basis that Maglor would never be associated with Orcs, and he has frankly suffered enough. But in seeing the performance of Adar… yes, I can see the Maglor in him, and it is not just the long, dark hair, which gives him a more conventional Elven look than the other show Elves. Adar clearly carries with him the weight of long torment and bitter memories. Never mind Galadriel’s PTSD, she has nothing on this character, who has quite clearly seen things no Elf was meant to see, and who now carries with him a strange sort of madness. In short, what Maglor might have looked like after a few centuries wandering the shores of Middle-earth, being trapped in a cruel limbo of loathing, pain, and regret. The allusions to Beleriand and the mouth of the river are just nightmare icing on a very dark cake, what with Maglor’s role in sacking the Havens.
  • Maeglin. Also fits the long, dark hair criteria, while having much more reason than Maglor to associate with Orcs. The Orcs – who adore him – are his only family now, and one cannot help but think that in his reference to the lies of Middle-earth, he could just as easily be alluding to the published Silmarillion, which presents Maeglin as the great villain of Gondolin. One rather gets the feeling that Adar wants to put the world out of his misery. Bonus points in that Maeglin, unlike Maglor, was explicitly tortured by Morgoth, and apparently “died” amid the fires of the Fall of Gondolin, which makes the burn scar on Adar’s face more reasonable. On the other hand, Maeglin would not have reason to refer to the Mouth of the Sirion.

So all very mysterious and exciting, and honestly, one character whom I think everyone wants to see more of. Sharp-eyed internet commentators have also pointed out the second figure from the right in the Elros-Elrond tapestry:

Of course, if Adar were already a Maeglin or a Dark Maglor, one wonders about why the tapestry would actually portray him…

Adar’s strange fatherly relationship with the Orcs under his command is also worthy of note – we see him euthanise an injured Orc in what does actually pass for a curious bout of compassion. The show is clearly putting quite a unique spin on the Orcs, by not only making them far more formidable in a combat situation, but also by giving them a sense that they have a community and a culture beyond being mere killing machines. These are not the faceless, easily-fought foe of the Jackson movies, a fleshing-out we also see with the Dwarves, though the show is definitely playing up the importance of their sunlight aversion. Definitely interesting adaptational choices.

While Adar does overshadow the Southlands storyline, we also see the return of Theo, who bravely ventures back to the village to recover food. His arrival at the village is played for the horror-angle, with the sense that one has stumbled into a sort of zombie apocalypse – empty houses, with the fear the foe might appear at any moment. Bonus points for the evident terror the characters feel when the sun vanishes, because that’s when the Orcs come out to play…

We get confirmation that the Orcs were (unsurprisingly) looking for Theo’s sword, though, more surprisingly, Theo is actually keen on using this sword as his go-to weapon. While one might quibble about the Orcs attacking Arondir when Adar supposedly sent him back to the tower with a message, they are only attacking Arondir because they want to get at Theo. Arondir has rather taken the risk upon himself at this point.

And then there is the revelation that the Old Guy from the tavern is really a Creepy Old Dude who knows far more about Sauron than he had been letting on. We have not yet seen the cultists yet, but this storyline – the darkest of the plots so far – is definitely veering into The New Shadow territory.

(iv) Elrond and the Dwarves

I noted previously that one of the nice things about this episode was that the plotting felt less forced. Less about shunting the characters from point A to point B with little regard to organic motivation, and more about having a plot that made sense on its own terms. Well, alas, there was an element of that dreaded forced plotting in the Dwarven plotline. A shame, because I really like the show Dwarves, and continue to like them.

Specifically, the problem is that Elrond – isn’t he also technically supposed to be banished – proves excessively nosy about delving into Durin’s delving. Rather than politely hanging around with Disa, like a good respectful diplomat, he ventures down into places he really shouldn’t. Sure, he’s following up Celebrimbor’s query, and he clearly knows his way around underground, even after twenty years, but given Durin getting upset with him earlier, it would have been safest to wait. They can talk about Hill Trolls or something in the meantime.

But Elrond ventures down to the places below. And there he discovers that the Dwarves have found mithril. Durin makes him swear an Oath on the Mountain – poor Elrond – to never reveal this to outsiders. Which Elrond indeed swears, on the memory of his father (we get several references to Eärendil in this episode, including one from Celebrimbor, who might be alluding to the eventual War of the Elves and Sauron). One might, of course, joke about what Elrond’s foster-fathers would have said on the subject of Oaths, though it is clearly being set up as a character-test for Elrond. His duty to Gil-galad, versus his duty to Durin. It really ought to be no contest, but we shall see.

The Dwarven secrecy about mithril proves something of a headscratcher, to the extent that Elrond himself brings it up, though it is clear there are some dark forebodings about where this new discovery could lead. Forebodings that even casual viewers ought to realise are justified. Disa has previously alluded to places the Mountain ought to be left alone. Durin III appears to be suspicious on two levels – the sense that there are places they really shouldn’t be mining (c.f. Balrog allusions), as well as a more innately Dwarven suspicion that outsiders (in this case, the Elves) are trying to take advantage. Tolkien’s Dwarves are a secretive people, which is not something that ever came through particularly well in the Jackson adaptations. Again, I really like the Show-Dwarves.

*

Such are my thoughts on the fourth episode of The Rings of Power, which again I would emphasise is the best episode to date. Not perfect, of course, but far fewer things to complain about, and we now have a clear direction lined up for the remaining four episodes of the first season, specifically a Númenorean intervention against the mysterious Adar in the Southlands. While this is going on, we have the prospect of Elf-Dwarf shenanigans in Lindon and Eregion too. Overall, I appreciated the Silmarillion allusions – either explicit or implicit – and I think the establishment of the various characters continues to be well-done. I would prefer Halbrand not to be Sauron, however, even if the show keeps teasing us in that direction. As it currently stands, I do not think we have seen Sauron yet.

One thought on “An Idle Ode to Adar the Elda: A Review and Analysis of The Rings of Power, Episode 4

  1. So far I think the main issues with this show are that its plotting could be better (it’ll take a long time to live down Galadriel trying to swim the ocean) and their writing is currently an inconsistent quality: so far we have a show with some strong writing (Adar’s speech, Khazad-Dum, Celebrimbor) alongside rather rubbish stuff like “the sea is always right!” and it really jars.

    I thought this episode was fine. I agree with others the Numenorean jobs bit was a bit weird, but I do credit the script for referencing immortality in their protestors woes. So far, what I’m getting is that thematically McKay & Payne are doing a solid job representing the ideas of the second age. We’ve had a number of scenes about immortality & mortality, this episode showed Pharazon has a popular charm that will likely turn deadly later on, the faithful vs the unfaithful is being set-up, and the corrupting power of evil is there too.

    Adar is probably the highlight this episode. Good acting, and an interesting character. I kinda hoped he’d be one of the tormented Avari. But his speech was interesting and, indeed, it has echoes of what Sauro will be whispering into Numenorean ears later on – Middle-Earth’s history is full of lies. Khazad-Dum’s stuff was also pretty good this week – I liked Disa’s song to the rocks. I think they could smooth out the timeline better. The construction of Celebrimbor’s forge threw me; how much time has actually passed?

    Good job with the Orcs too. They’ve kept them threatening and not reduced them to goofy video game enemies as the Jackson films ultimately did. The relationship between Adar and the Orcs is itself interesting – it offers them a depth. I could easily see a Book Grishnak amongst these orcs: one as clever as he is cruel, well-regarded by non-Orcs in Sauron’s armies enough to get important intel. We’re miles away from the “om nom wanna eat hobbit limbs” of Jackson.

    Not entirely sold on the Isildur family drama. It does feel a bit… generic in terms of characterisation.

    Liked by 1 person

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