‘Rings of Power’ Episode 3 Recap: Be Wary of Adar, Middle-earth’s Latest Mystery

·6-min read

It was a good run, but after many pleasantly uneventful decades it would appear we need to add “Lord of the Rings” to the ever-growing list of toxic fandoms. What sent some “Rings of Power” viewers over the edge? Why, the inclusion of a few nonwhite characters, of course — what else? Just as “Star Wars” had to do earlier this year, the “Rings of Power” folks felt compelled to clarify that “Our world has never been all white, fantasy has never been all white, Middle-earth is not all white” in a message sent across the show’s social channels yesterday. The statement was Amazon’s response to the “relentless racism, threats, harassment, and abuse some of our castmates of color are being subjected to on a daily basis. We refuse to ignore it or tolerate it.”

That this was necessary is shameful in and of itself, of course, but it’s also unfortunate in that it’s distracting from discussion of the show itself — which, while not on the level of Peter Jackson’s trilogy (what is?) is proving to be a welcome return to Middle-earth. Yes, Jeff Bezos sucks, and yes, there are departures from the source material (when aren’t there?), but if you view getting to hang out in one of the most beautiful fictional worlds ever created for a few more hours as anything less than a blissful distraction from daily life in a crumbling empire, then what are we even doing here?

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Not that ours is the only world with problems. Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) has been captured by orcs, dear reader, and taken to a labor camp run by his captors — “for Adar,” one of them says, referring to this episode’s namesake. He and his fellow elf prisoners are being made to dig a path through scorched wilderness for reasons unknown by their sunlight-averse enemies, with one of them theorizing that Adar is the successor to Morgoth and possibly another a name for Sauron himself. The elves’ situation deteriorates when they’re commanded to chop down a very old, very beautiful tree, prompting an unsuccessful prison break — and Arondir being taken to Adar as the episode ends.

Galadriel, meanwhile, remains at sea with her rescuer Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) as the group of men who picked them up sail them to an unknown port. Said safe harbor turns out to be the fabled island Númenor, by far the most majestic location we’ve yet seen in “The Rings of Power.” It’s grand in a way that evokes the ancient world, the kind of place that could only be found in fiction or the past; our own world is surely too harsh, too cruel, for such a place to exist here.

“Since when did men like me build kingdoms such as this?” asks Halbrand; Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) responds that “These men are not like you.” It’s true: The Númenorians allied with the elves long ago and were well rewarded for it, though the alliance wore thin generations ago. That’s evident enough from their reception by Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), who’s none too pleased by Galadriel’s arrival — and disinclined to grant her request of a ship to sail herself back to Middle-earth.

Halbrand, whose persuasion skills are more refined than those of his new companion, convinces Míriel to allow them to remain in Númenor for a few days while the Queen Regent considers their request. Free spirit that she is, Galadriel naturally considers being asked to stay on the palace grounds a kind of prison sentence — at least until she meets Elendil (Lloyd Owen), ancestor of none other than Aragorn, whose name just happens to mean “The Elf-friend.” He’s sympathetic to her plight, and seems destined to disobey his orders the moment he gazes into her piercing eyes (relatable), wasting little time before taking her to the nearby Hall of Laws; once there, she realizes that what she thought was merely Sauron’s sigil is actually a map of the Southlands. This appears to be part of a contingency plan in the event of Morgoth’s defeat, a plan that Galadriel fears Sauron himself might be the one to enact.

Across the Sundering Sea, the Harwood migration is about to take place. This would appear to be a fraught affair, doubly so because Nori’s (Markella Kavenagh) father Largo (Dylan Smith) is nursing an ankle injury, and Nori herself continues to harbor Comet Dude (note: also not his real name) in secret. The hobbitses remain a lighthearted delight nevertheless, reminding us that Middle-earth’s smaller, more earthbound creatures are no less important than its sword-bearing heroes. The night before they’re to leave, Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) recites the names of fellow Harwoods who did not survive previous migrations, with each name answered by a chant of “We wait for you.” It’s a lovely moment, the kind that Merry and Pippin might have provided between battle sequences. Middle-earth is a land of grand confrontations and all-powerful beings, but it’s also a place of songs, ale and good food. The former may draw us in, but the latter make us want to stay there.

That idyll isn’t to last, though, as The Stranger (Daniel Weyman) (as he’s actually credited) interrupts the proceedings — the hobbitses’ ways frighten and confuse him! — and almost gets Nori and the rest of her family de-caravaned. They’re moved to the back of the line instead, a punishment Nori’s mother Marigold (Sara Zwangobani) suggests is akin to death. If only the Brandyfoots had recently made a friend of a tall, able-bodied fellow who owes them a debt of gratitude, eh?

Wayne Che Yip directed “Adar,” as he will the next three installments, and succeeded in doling out new pieces of crucial information (such as the fact that Halbrand may be a kind of rogue royal à la Aragorn) while also hinting at future developments (Adar’s identity is obviously a huge deal). “The Rings of Power” is thus far more notable for its production values — it’s a genuinely gorgeous show, one that brings previously unseen areas of Middle-earth to life as strikingly as you could possibly hope — and performances than it is for its standalone plot, but it is moving in the right narrative direction. “Adar” feels more like a stepping stone than a destination unto itself, but you have to walk before you can stride.

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