Welcome to the second episode of my Very Tolkien Nerd’s recap of The Rings of Power. I laid out a lot of the groundwork for my approach to this in the first part so hopefully this one won’t be as long.
Episode 2, entitled “Adrift” finds our 3 1/2 storylines moving forward – and some powerful mysteries being set up. If Amazon was aiming to prove that releasing episodes weekly is the way to build up intense interest – take that Netflix! – they have succeeded with Rings of Power, perhaps most acutely for those who are familiar with the legendarium.
The internet is awash with theories and wonderings about who certain characters may turn out to be. If you read the Appendices to Return of the King upon which this eight episode series is based, you know that the big bad is Sauron, but in a very different form than the incorporeal (and unforgettable) Eye of Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Sauron will have several disguises in the Second Age, wreaking unbelievable havoc by getting people to trust him in his fairer forms.
But who is Sauron here? In what guise has he entered the chat? We’ll end up with several candidates as the storylines unfold.
Let’s start with Elrond’s excellent adventures with Celebrimbor and Durin. Elrond is a young half-elf of 2000 or so, and quite the diplomat – to the point he’s been appointed herald to the king! High King Gil-Galad has sent him off to hang out with Celebrimbor the greatest Elven smith of the Age – and someone who will have a lot to do with the forging of those rings.
Celebrimbor is also the lord of Eregion, the land of the Elven smiths, and we get a brief glimpse of the city in its glory. All recapping aside, I live for these moments when places long vanished of Middle Earth suddenly come to life.
When Elrond arrives at Celebrimbor’s crib, the smith can’t help but show off his prize possession: the hammer of Fëanor! C and E throw out some exposition about how Fëanor wrought the Silmarils, the great gems of Valinor with this very hammer, and they were so beautiful that Morgoth stole them – the inciting act for the entire Silmarillion and the start of much woe for elves (Eldar) and humans (Edain) alike.
Because of the “Silmarillion Paradox” – the makers of RoP don’t have the rights to The Silmarillion which speaks more fully of all these matters – they can’t come right out and say something that fans will know: Celebrimbor is Fëanor’s grandson! Fëanor had seven sons and they all had various parts to play in the Great War of the First Age – some of them quite tragic, and not all of them were nice guys. Like their father, they all swore an oath to regain the Silmarils after Morgoth stole them….and this led to all kinds of horrific bloodshed and betrayal. Celebrimbor’s dad was known as Curufin the Crafty.
So, if you get the feeling Celebrimbor is a bit crafty – and not just in the “I like to make ashtrays out of bits of scrap metal” sense – perhaps it is this lineage.
For the purpose of the episode, however, Celebrimbor has come up with a pretty huge scheme: he’s going to make a giant tower to house an enormous forge with the power to burn hotter than any that has even burned before! Hot as dragons! How can he build this immense tower when time is short? Elrond has a plan! But it involves a trip to nearby Khazad-Dum to
borrow a cup of sugar raise a squad of Dwarven builders.
Khazad-Dum is the Moria of The Lord of the Rings films, and it’s great to see here it in its glory, filled with light and laughter. Very loud laughter. These are Dwarves we’re talking about and they like boisterous play, loud bellows, and rock smashing.
Elrond has to smash some rocks to impress Durin IV, son of Durin III – there were eventually seven kings named Durin, and they all are reincarnations. This Durin has two kids, Gamli and Gerda, and a wonderful wife name Disa, but rest assured Durin V is out there somewhere.
Elrond was expcting a warm welcome, but Durin is mad at his former friend because he’s been ghosting him for 20 years or so, and missed Durin’s wedding to Disa. This exchange hits a note that gives all these relations some depth: “Only 20 years?” muses Elrond of the time he’s been absent from Moria – to the all but immortal Elves that’s a snap of the fingers. To Durin it was an important part of his life. Elrond and his strong communication skills manage to win back Durin’s trust and it looks like the Dwarf lord is going to put in a bid on the Celebrimbor tower project as this sequence ends!
MEANWHILE, Galadriel is still trying to swim back to Middle Earth which is, frankly the dumbest thing ever. Fortunately for her, other people have also stupidly ventured out into the Sundering Sea: a ramshackle raft of soon to be vanished supporting character fodder and our first Hot Edain: Halbrand! Who is Halbrand? Bring on the fan theories – this is going to be one of the major topics of discussion for the next few weeks.
Also…why are there all these people out in these waters? The only place they could possibly be going is Númenor. After a giant sea serpent wrecks the raft and kills off all the superfluous characters, Galadriel and Halbrand are left to get to know each other better, and bond over their mutual hatred of Orcs.
Halbrand claims to come from the South, where his people were driven out by Orcs. This gets Galadriel in a lather because she is finna kill these Orcs! Let’s get over there and track them right now, she demands. Alas they are floating on a few scraps of wood with no means of navigation. Soon, a storm at sea nearly kills them and they are floating on even fewer scraps in the blasting sun, near death…looks bad for our attractive leads but…a ship finds them. Who? That’s for the next episode.
MEANWHILE, back in the southlands, Bronwyn and Arondir discover yet more convincing evidence that Orcs have infiltrated their region. Arondir investigates a tunnel and things don’t seem to be going well for him. Bronwyn returns to her son, Theo, but they are soon trapped in their cottage with a horrible Orc in what is actually a very scary and well done sequence. In a fit of sassiness, Bronwyn drops a decapitated orc head on the desk of the village elders and persuades them to take shelter at the abandoned Elf guard tower. Meanwhile, Theo has found a Morgul knife under the floor and is entranced with it. This is not going to end well.
Finally, this episode’s greatest mystery: the Stranger, aka Meteor Man! Discovered in his blazing yet cool to the touch crater, Nori’s best savior complex is awoken by this giant Gandalf-esque man, while Poppy pleads for her to consider that a giant man who arrived in a meteor is probably not a normal thing and should best be left alone.
Nori of course is having no such thing, and is soon merrily feeding Meteor Man raw snails, pushing him about in a cart and trying to figure out just who and what he is.
Although Meteor Man seems to understand that Nori is a friend, he has mysterious powers that are quite sinister! Is he Sauron? Well, here are the facts.
- He arrived in a meteor that was fiery but the flames didn’t burn him or Nori. This harkens back to Episode 1 when Galadriel is investigating Sauron’s abandoned lair and notes that it’s so evil the flames give off no warmth.
- The Stranger starts drawing a map with a stick and when the stick snaps…so does the ankle of Nori’s dad, Largo Brandybuck! Sympathetic magic at its worst. The map looks like a bunch of lines but some on the internet have theorizes it was the gates of Valinor. Or maybe a rune. Or…well it’s some lines. Open to interpretation.
- The Stranger takes the fireflies out of Poppy’s lantern and uses them to make a strange constellation in the sky! Stars they have never seen, notes Nori. Is this where Meteor Man is from? Allusions to strange stars are rife in Tolkien’s work.
- The Stranger’s powers includes loud shouting like Banshee from the X-men, strength… and killing fireflies – after he uses them for his show and tell…they drop dead.
- Although unable to talk, The Stranger does know a few words and he keeps repeating them! Turning on the subtitles on Amazon Prime helped here: “Mana…üré! Mana…üré!” he mutters over and over.
Okay let’s add this all up. Who is Meteor Man? Let’s look at the options.
Is he Sauron? We’re going to end up with several candidates for The Lord of Gifts, but I think The Stranger is a red herring. A popular Reddit post lays out a theory involving the gates of Valinor opening as cover for Sauron’s arrival in Middle Earth, but I don’t think it’s him. Sauron was not a Gandalf-esque wizard-y type and the part he has to play in the Second Age doesn’t involve a sleepover in Rhovanion as far as we know.
Is he one of the Blue Wizards? This theory is by far my favorite, but we need to dig a little into Tolkien lore here. In one random passage in LoTR Gandalf mentions the Five Wizards – just one random passage. And he only managed to name three in the books, Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast. Who were the other two is a question that burned through Tolkien fandom for generations (it wasn’t answered until Unfinished Tales) and Tolkien was often asked this in letters, as he was about many peripherals. But nothing gave him more trouble than those other two wizards.
My guess is that “Five Wizards” was just a random thing he wrote, and then he had to retcon it into the books, but his heart was definitely not in it. He just did not want to bring these other two wizards into the story and every time he mentions them, it’s to essentially write them out of it! In a letter to a fan he wrote:
“I think that they went as emissaries to distant regions, east and south… Missionaries to enemy occupied lands as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and “magic” traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.“
The Blue Wizards were QAnon before the internet even! In Unfinished Tales he gave them the very very non Elvish names Alatar and Pallando (sounds like the name of a popular Lower East Side Italian brunch spot) and said “others of the Istari who went into the east of Middle-earth, and do not come into these tales.”
As desperate as he was to not include these two in the story, in some of his final writings, he gave them a separate origin story entirely, as noted in The Peoples of Middle Earth:
The ‘other two’ came much earlier, at the same time probably as Glorfindel, when matters became very dangerous in the Second Age. Glorfindel was sent to aid Elrond and was (though not yet said) pre-eminent in the war in Eriador. But the other two Istari were sent for a different purpose. Morinehtar and Romestamo. Darkness-slayer and East-helper. Their task was to circumvent Sauron: to bring help to the few tribes of Men that had rebelled from Melkor-worship, to stir up rebellion … and after his first fall to search out his hiding (in which they failed) and to cause [? dissension and disarray] among the dark East … They must have had very great influence on the history of the Second Age and Third Age in weakening and dis- arraying the forces of East … who would both in the Second Age and Third Age otherwise have … outnumbered the West.
Landing in the northeast of Eriador, Meteor Man is in the right place to be a Blue Wizard. As far as evidence that The Stranger is one of these Blue Wizards goes, this is pretty persuasive but there is one problem: \once again, the showrunners of Rings of Power do not have the rights to anything but Lord of the Rings which mentions none of this. The Stranger could still possibly be a kind of Istari sent to help the Hobbits, inspired by the passage, as with many other elements of the show. Not having Gandalf would be a loss, but the trope of the cranky old wizard could be filled by another fellow this time out.
But there is one more candidate…perhaps the most persuasive of all.
Is he The Man in the Moon? A lot of Tolkienistas suspect The Stranger is Tilion, a Maiar who was basically the Moon God. In The Silmarillion he is said to be entranced with Arien, the sun goddess, and pursue her across the sky resulting in his erratic appearances. Tilion appears in LoTR as “The Man in The Moon” the hero of several bits of doggerel, including this:
At plenilune in his argent moon
in his heart he longed for Fire:
Not the limpid lights of wan selenites;
for red was his desire,
For crimson and rose and ember-glows,
for flame with burning tongue,
For the scarlet skies in a swift sunrise
when a stormy day is young.
In addition, this poem, “The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon” (from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil) also mentions Middle Earth locations Dol Amroth and the Bay of Befalas – not that close to Rhovanion but at least on the same continent.
As far as all these Stranger theories go, this one has the strongest evidence, because remember The Stranger’s mutterings: “Mana…üre.” That translates as “Where is the fire.” A clear reference to Tillion’s pursuit of Arien…and the poem above!
BAM! Case closed…..maybe. The showrunners seems to have made up lots of elements of the show, and The Stranger could turn out to be a variety of all of the above…or just a cranky old snail eating wizard.
And what about other dark lords and Galadriel’s fate? More on that in Episode 3.
- The raw snail eating scene was really disgusting.
- Celebrimbor love of building and technology (which Tolkien hated) is reminiscent of Saruman’s obsession with the same.
- Tolkien hated tech but loved trees. Hence the two white trees. That said, The Dwarves having a sapling of Telperion, one of the Great Trees of Valinor is a break from canon that is truly shocking! Don’t know why everyone on Twitter isn’t aghast at this.
- Galadriel and Halbrand have some serious chemistry, but honestly, Morfydd Clark is killing this role, tying together some of the more manic ways that Galadriel is written and showing the extreme charisma that the Queen of Lothlorian possesses. But what about poor old Celeborn, Galadriel’s future husband? Hopefully he’ll never hear about this boat adventure.
- This episode was written by Gennifer Hutchison, a Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul veteran, and I think I’m going to like the episodes she contributes to.
- Fan theories about the canon identities of Halbrand and Theo among others are running buck wild. But more about that in our part 3 recap.