We’ve been watching The Rings of Power, the new, half-billion-dollar Lord of the Rings spinoff that Jeff Bezos bought for Amazon Prime, hoping to replicate the success of Game of Thrones. I’m afraid to say, it’s bad. But... good-bad?
The storyline is ridiculous, reliant on the non-existence of a postal system, an absence of news-relaying networks, and some ridiculous failures of operational intelligence. The elves have short hair. The camera always feels like it’s zooming in on people’s faces when they say fancy place-name words like, “Numinor.” The acting is often wooden (not the actors’ faults necessarily; the characters are impossibly broadly written). There are no hobbits, but instead an insufferable proto-hobbit species called Har-Foots, who are always putting shit in their hair. And to top it off, the world-building, the one thing that a fantasy show can’t live without, is atrocious.
Nonetheless, each episode is packed with little pleasures. Some of these are due to the insane budget, which means that the CGI is often excellent. But often it’s due to the ridiculousness of the directorial decisions. For instance, I can’t get enough of this orc:
He’s garbed in ridiculous couture: a white alligator-skin shawl, an eggshell helment, and a battle axe that he’s apparently using to excavate the trench wall. (Why he’s helping the elf-slaves is left unexplained.) But within a moment of appearing on-screen, the sun comes out, and he recoils in pain, the light burning his skin. He holds his shawl up against the sky and does a prissy, shuffling scamper back to the part of the trench covered in awnings.
There’s something alive to this character, some irrepressible messiness and humanity. We never see the specific orc again, but for the four seconds he’s onscreen—what a king! Look at him as he goes by:
Watching the episode, we had to rewind the tape to make sure we’d seen it right. And then we rewound the tape again and again, laughing until we were crying.
At some point I want to write a longer essay about what I call “Fucked Up Taste”—the idea that part of developing an aesthetic sensibility is coming to love things that are un-beautiful and “bad” and even ridiculous. It’s not the newest of ideas, but it’s one that I enjoy contemplating. There’s nothing quite like running into something as wild and precious and lovably ridiculous as this orc, in an otherwise self-serious mess of a show. I love this guy. Give him his own spin-off!