Rings of Power episode 4 review: “The Great Wave”
Imagine the most vivid nightmare. A threat, beast or otherwise, is fast approaching, inexorably heading your way.
You cannot do anything about it. Your time is up.
Such is the inescapable aura that looms over the characters in the fourth episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (ROP), directed by Wayne Yip, as was the previous installment. Titled “The Great Wave”, its name is both metaphorical and literal. As Arondir (Ismael Cruz) comes face to face with the mysterious Adar (Joseph Mawle), Galadriel (Morffyd Clark) confronts Queen Regent Miriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) about Númenor’s place in Middle Earth’s fate, and Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Durin (Owain Arthur) continue to work on an architectural project of great magnitude, there is a growing sense of foreboding.
Miriel’s administration as Queen Regent of Númenor is proving testier than she probably bargained for. “Adar” concluded with her arriving at the bedside of the state’s king to worryingly announce that “the Elf” had arrived. Why that should be of any concern is further developed in this fourth episode, starting with a recurring nightmare she lives through whenever seeking visions from her Palantir. The mystical orb uploads in her mind’s eye a vision of titanic waves crashing down on Númenor, ripping apart its stunning architecture until it arrives at Miriel’s window and envelopes her. It’s a terrifying visual. Viewers are certainly given a shocking preview of what might come to pass if the cultures of Middle Earth don’t do something about the incessantly referenced Sauron, wherever he is currently ensconced.
At this point in the show’s first season, it is fair to evaluate with greater sobriety what the showrunners and its creative team have concocted. The first couple of episodes were lavish, feasts for the eyes, with some really good action set pieces, terrific visual effects, and plenty of introductions with characters that looked intriguing and are played by strong actors. Sooner or later, the honeymoon effect of seeing something cool and new can wear off.
For all the plaudits our weekly reviews have awarded ROP up until now, the show needs to get to the point. Or any point. Last week’s “Adar” introduced more people and places (the Numenoreans) and teased who could be a significant baddie. The viewers and critics who sharpened their swords because of what they perceived as poor pacing (among other things) may start to be proven correct. “The Great Wave” starts off with a bang but ends up being the episode in the initial quartet that drags the most. Had the 3 previous ones been rollicking good times with a series of awe-inspiring events, a slower-paced “The Great Wave” may be welcomed as a reprieve of sorts. A breather for the plot to catch up and develop.
The truth is it’s been a lot of hinting, suggestion, and tiny morsels of information laid out like breadcrumbs. The Peter Jackson movies knew when it was time to show off some awesome swordplay. There were moments when it was time to set aside the talking. 50% of ROP’s first season is behind us and not that much has happened. 2 entire episodes have been required to get Miriel to finally side with Galadriel and heed her warnings about Sauron’s inevitable return. The negative comparisons to Game of Thrones are slowly but surely beginning to feel more apt. Fans of GOT love those characters and enjoy the back stabbing (both figurative and literal) and politicking. Those elements are not exactly what LOTR fans want, certainly not in great amounts. Maybe some of it (even the Jackson films featured a little and it was fine), but ROP is truly taking its time setting the pawns into their places. To be fair, there is still an entire second half to this first season. The next four episodes may blow everyone away. We’ll see. Unfortunately, “The Great Wave” is the first time where even the most positively minded fans can start quizzically wondering “what is the point of this story?”
Of course, some bad is countered with good. The Elrond-Durin relationship is one of the more entertaining and intriguing the show has to offer. Their absence last week was certainly felt. Both actors are stellar, among the best in the entire cast. Each lends his respective role with great depth and nuance. The best part is the viewers get to witness a strong friendship that could potentially tear at the seams at any moment. As chummy as they are, the fact is each is an important figure for their respective races and, ultimately, may not have long-term objectives that align. Something has got to give. We know Elves and Dwarves do not get along at the start of the Third Age.
Arondir is turning into ROP’s Legolas. Rather stoic but with those good looks that make heads turn. He performs one act during “The Great Wave” while escaping the Orcs that harkens back to some of the more ludicrous but highly amusing feats Legolas would pull out of his hat.
Suffice it to say, this week’s installment is the slowest of the bunch thus far. Therein lies the tricky part of reviewing a streaming show not merely episode by episode, but a show that comes out weekly. We don’t know what’s going to happen next and can only review what the producers have given us this week.
A thought has occurred to the author. Who knows if it is a good one, or even passable, but here goes. What if, instead of jumping from location to location, and group to group every week, ROP spent an entire episode, or a couple of episodes only with Harfoots, or Elves, or Numénor? At the very least, entire subplots could be developed in single swoops. A quasi-anthological season, if you will. Then, by episode 5 or 6, the threads came together for whatever big finale awaits the viewer. As it stands, it feels like everything is taking longer than necessary to develop. Tolkien himself did something similar in his “Lord of the Rings” books when he split “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King.”
But one must review the film or show we have, not the one playing in our minds.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power returns next week!
-The Harfoots are the ones who take a break this week, and their absence is sorely felt. Much like their descendant Hobbits, they provide a joie de vivre that most of the other cultures lack. “The Great Wave” could have used some of their mirth and moxie.
-We now have met Adar, who appears to be some sort of father figure to the cavern-digging Orcs. He looks like a creature halfway between an Orc and an Elf. The villain alludes to something about the context of Middle Earth, its history, that most have misunderstood, including the Elves. Interesting…
Tolkien geek alert:
-Two iconic objects from Tolkien lore make appearances in “The Great Wave”: a Palantir and Mithril. Of note, Miriel, who possesses a Palantir, explains to Galadriel that the others are believed to be lost. We know that down the road Saruman has one.
-The horrific vision the Palantir relates to Miriel may be more than just a possible future event. Tolkien’s Appendices reveal that Númenor’s fate in the Second Age is not a pleasant one.
-We get one quick look at the early stages of what the Dwarves are building for Elrond. It isn’t much, but it means a lot.