Friday, September 2, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' - Galadriel Chooses Between the Light and the Dark in 'Shadow of the Past'

Amazon's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power - Episode 1.01 "Shadow of the Past"

Galadriel is disturbed by signs of an ancient evil's return. Arondir makes an unsettling discovery. Elrond is presented with an intriguing new venture. Nori breaks the Harfoot community's most deeply-held rule.

"Shadow of the Past" was written by J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay and directed by J.A. Bayona

Amazon spent hundreds of millions of dollars just for the rights to develop a series set in the Lord of the Rings universe. That was before a single concept was written down on the page. It was a property developed for the sole purpose of extending on a brand audiences already have a close attachment with. It's no longer an atypical way to develop programming. It's still odd and potentially costly. The streamer was more than willing to keep spending tons of money though as evidenced in the production values of this premiere. It is absolutely gorgeous to watch in every single frame. The direction and cinematography capture images that have never been seen on television before. That's so impressive. The various outlets are always trying to one-up each other in that regard. Amazon will now carry the torch as the new champion. However, fantastic visuals can only go so far. The show needs a story at its core that can hook the audience. It needs to be compelling enough to provide a reason for the viewer to come back every week. As a prequel to the films and novels, the show has the benefit of creating its own unique circumstances. Much of the lore is familiar. Some characters are as well. And yet, it all takes place in a drastically different time. For centuries, elves have been at war with the forces of evil that cast them from their home. They want to believe they've emerged victorious over every threat that exists throughout this universe. That's simply not true. Galadriel has a sneaking suspicion that these devious forces are simply in hiding. They are waiting for the right moment to strike once more. That's how this conflict began. Galadriel lost her brother in service to this war. As such, she feels it's her honor to avenge his death. She can't let go of this conflict no matter how many people are telling her to do just that. Moreover, it would be silly to believe the show would start as an era of peace begins. That's the proclamation the king makes. The word spreads across the land. The elves no longer have reason to monitor Middle-earth in fear that evil will emerge once more. It's confirmed for the majority of the ensemble that it's too early for any such declaration. They see a meteor flying across the sky. Galadriel doesn't receive that message before she makes her choice. She is told to accept the light that provided comfort in her childhood. She struggles to let go of her sword and stop the fight. Elrond tells her she will always remain a friend. He will maintain watch over the realm. That's not good enough. And so, she makes another choice. Seeing the darkness provides clarity for her just like her brother said it would all those years ago. It may come too late as the poison is already spreading. Galadriel will remain a focal point of the narrative even though her fellow elves are reluctant to encourage her instincts.

Gil-galad sees how Galadriel's pursuit of evil will actually unleash it once more. As such, he wants to deceive her in the hopes of keeping her from that destined path. He has an entire kingdom to protect. He can't risk their safety in the name of appeasing her. She is eager to travel further north. She has received the first clue that the enemy she seeks is still alive. She needs to find clarity in the mysterious symbol left behind on her brother's body. She finds it once more in the abandoned ice palace. Creatures still lurk in that environment. Galadriel proves herself as the most capable warrior amongst this army. And yet, she was still called upon to lay down her sword and rest. She doesn't know how to do that. All she has known is war. She fights so hard because she knows what life was like before the light was cast out. She hopes to reclaim that one day. She refuses to accept that that day has arrived. She is right to question the advice given to her. She can't forge ahead on this journey alone. That's how she is left though. She makes her choice while her fellow soldiers travel to whatever awaits them next. They receive that peace and glory. She is greeted with the cold despair of the sea. She's still at peace. Moreover, Middle-earth has to recognize the danger it's still in. The various kingdoms have found their own little places to exist. It's dangerous for any of the Harfoots to break from the pact. They must remain hidden. They are forever curious about what the presence of a changing world means for them. Danger lurks nearby too. They can't ignore the signs of their fates also being tied up in this war. Nori is the only one willing to ask the questions. She wants to explore the world believing there has to be more out there. That overwhelming yearning provides solid connective tissue throughout the various plot developments. It applies to both Galadriel and Nori's stories. It extends to Arondir as well. He has a crush on a human healer named Bronwyn. He is told his time keeping watch is over. He can resign from the post he's carried for decades. Recognizing her humanity though allows him to notice the trouble on the horizon. Of course, it's not limited to the village plagued with poison nearby. Bronwyn's son also finds himself tempted by the mysterious symbol of the evil forces. This premiere highlights the many ways in which these stories are connected. So much of it is purely expositional. The narrative has a lot it needs to handle in order for the audience to understand the stakes of everything. That's a heavy burden. Again, it's helped immensely by the vivid direction. Morfydd Clark carries every scene she's in as well. Galadriel balances stillness with determination. She remains steadfast on her path as a warrior while recognizing the many ways in which her ideals clash with the political order she must work within. It's complicated yet agonizing and potentially rewarding. That central conceit creates more than enough reason to remain invested to see how the world and story develops this season.