‘The Rings of Power’ Season 1, Episode 3: Island Time

Season 1, Episode 3: ‘Adar’

The audience reactions to last week’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” premiere ran the gamut from a warm reception to the show’s expensive-looking special effects and old-fashioned adventure-fantasy sprawl to a dispiriting campaign of social media bile, aimed in part at the diverse casting and the balance of male and female heroes. What is especially vexing about the race- and gender-focused gripes is that the story this series is telling — similar to the one J.R.R. Tolkien told in his books — is largely concerned with how different groups overcome their biases and superstitions for a higher cause. In other words: The various ways these multihued creatures look and act is kind of the point.

None of these characters are overcoming their biases or superstitions in this week’s Episode 3, to be clear. At this point, so early in Season 1, the writers are still mapping out how deeply in trouble Middle-earth is. This world that seemed mostly at peace is starting — very, very gradually — to see that the roots of the old alliances are rotting, allowing something foul to seep up from below.

The action in “Adar” is mostly spread between three locations: the Harfoots’ camp, a dreadful orc lair, and a grand island kingdom that could prove pivotal to the future of Middle-earth. Here are some takeaways and observations from the episode.

New realm just dropped.

Last week we met a handful of humans, including the cranky peasants of the Southlands — who long ago were allied with the Dark Lord Morgoth, though most of them seem to have forgotten — and a handful of shipwreck survivors. Most of those survivors were killed, save Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a wandering Southlander who helped rescue Galadriel, before the two of them were in turn be rescued by a shadowy sea captain. This week we met that captain: Elendil (Lloyd Owen), who delivered the castaways to his homeland.

That homeland? Númenor, a large and imposing island featuring giant statues, a glittering palace, a thriving city and lush grasslands. As they sail into port, a stunned Halbrand mutters, “Since when did men like me build realms like this?” Galadriel’s reply: “These men are not like you.”

Explore the World of the ‘Lord of the Rings’

The literary universe built by J.R.R. Tolkien, now adapted into a new series for Amazon Prime Video, has inspired generations of readers and viewers.

  • Artist and Scholar: Tolkien did more than write books. He invented an alternate reality, complete with its own geography, languages and history.
  • Being Frodo: The actor Elijah Wood explains why he’ll never be upset at being associated with the “Lord of the Rings” movie series.
  •  A Soviet Take: A 1991 production based on Tolkien’s novels, recently digitized by a Russian broadcaster, is a time capsule of a bygone era.
  •  From the Archives: Read what W.H. Auden wrote about “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first volume of Tolkien’s trilogy, in 1954.

There are two big reveals that accompany the introduction of Númenor, both of which are relevant to the central themes of “The Rings of Power.” The first is that the people of Númenor very much hold themselves apart from their poorer relations in the Southlands, who stood with Morgoth while the ancestors of the islanders allied with the elves to vanquish — for now — the great evil of their time. Even the charming Halbrand, who thinks of Númenor as “a paradise, ripe with opportunity,” has a hard time convincing his smug hosts he is worthy of their favor.

Even more alarming though is how hostile Númenor is to Galadriel. The Queen Regent, Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), berates Elendil for allowing an elf onto their land — even though, according to Galadriel, Númenor was a gift from the elves to the humans who fought alongside them. There are signs of that largess around the city, including in a tree whose white petals are a reminder of elves’ eyes, always watching from afar. In other words: Count this magnificent kingdom as another place where the residents are tired of being judged by elves.

Morfydd Clark and Charlie Vickers in “The Rings of Power.”Credit…Prime Video

‘There is no harsher master than the sea.’

Before we leave Númenor — which, by the way, is the most visually dazzling location of the series to date, which is saying something — we should check in one last time with Elendil, a formerly undistinguished officer of the island’s sea-guard who now has Míriel’s full attention whether he wants it or not. Elendil insists to her that he saved Galadriel and Halbrand because the sea brought them to him and, “The sea is always right.” But Míriel isn’t so sure, given that Elendil’s name can mean “elf-friend” in some dialects, and given that the man has a noble background that he seems to be trying to downplay.

We only get hints about Elendil’s past in this episode. We find out he has a daughter named Eärien (Ema Horvath). He also has a son, Isildur (Maxim Baldry), who is in training for the sea guard, but who would rather defer his commission to pursue the call he feels toward their ancestral lands. “There is nothing for us on the western shores,” Elendil replies, mysteriously. “The past is dead.” Put a pin in that. For now, just note that this family, for whatever reason, is trying very hard to rebrand themselves as sea folk.

The orcs are back, and scarier than ever.

Last week, a stray orc terrorized Bronwyn and her son in the Southlands; and while the beast was suitably imposing, it was nowhere near as muscular or fearsome as the other orcs we have seen in “The Lord of the Rings” movies. I wouldn’t say the same about the orcs that kidnapped the Silvan elf Arondir at the end of Episode 2, and who at the start of this episode carry him off to their prison pit, “For Adar.” (This explains the episode’s title, although we don’t see the actual Adar until the very end, in silhouette.)

The prison sequences are equal parts horrifying and thrilling, as Arondir and his fellow elf captives plot an escape that seems downright impossible, given the size and viciousness of the orc guards. This week is light on blockbuster-quality action, until Arondir turns his shackles into weapons, whipping the chains around and leaping through the air. His gusto only makes it all the sadder when the escaping elves get pierced by arrows as they try to crawl out of the pit.

The Harfoots may look friendly, but they have a flinty side.

At the start of the series, we are told that the life of a Harfoot is superior to other Middle-earth races, because the halflings have no responsibilities. They just eat and play, enjoying what the land provides. But it is never quite that simple, is it? The Harfoots have to do a lot of work to hide their existence, for one thing. Also, during their regular migrations — which they are preparing for at the beginning of this episode — they leave friends and family members behind if they can’t keep up.

One of the more haunting scenes this week involves the Harfoots paying tribute to their fallen, in a ceremony led by the elder Sadoc (Lenny Henry), who talks about how, “In life, we could not wait for them,” before leading his people in the call “We wait for you!” as he reads the departed’s names.

This is all very troubling to Nori Brandyfoot, whose father Largo (Dylan Smith) has a busted foot — and whose hulking new magical acquaintance, still called “the Stranger,” is supposed to be abandoned when the migration starts. “Without friends, what are we surviving for?” Nori indignantly asks Sadoc. Then she proceeds to ignore his edict and let the Stranger help the Brandyfoot cart keep pace at the rear of the migrating party.

The story is (mostly) unfolding like a novel.

“Adar” has no dwarves, no Elrond, and no Bronwyn. Instead, for about two-thirds of this episode we spend extended stretches in each of the three main locations, in sequences that play out at length, like chapters in a book.

The episode becomes more TV-like in its final third, with more crosscutting between the story lines, building up to a few big, dramatic cliffhangers. The big one happens back in Númenor, where Galadriel has taken advantage of the island’s archives to learn that Sauron’s sigil is actually a kind of map, and that it reveals the new Dark Lord’s intentions to establish a full-on evil realm. Galadriel’s research also exposes her Southlander companion Halbrand as a fugitive king.

As the episode ends, Halbrand confesses his reluctance to join Galadriel’s cause. (“It was my family who lost the war,” he says. “And it was mine who started it,” she replies.) But she is ready to start mounting an attack against Sauron regardless. According to Míriel, this is the long-expected, crucially momentous “moment we feared.” Númenor is about to face some life or death choices, all because, “The elf has arrived.”

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