Wednesday, 30 September 2009

MERLIN 2.2 - "The Once And Future Queen"

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

[SPOILERS] The title doesn't really make much sense, and it initially felt like The Prince & The Pauper-meets-A Knight's Tale, but then the story began to curry favour with its excellent jousting sequences and some fine performances from Bradley James and the hitherto wasted Angel Coulby...

Prince Arthur (James) is fed up with being treated as someone special during his regular jousting tournament, which he suspects he always wins because his opponents let him. Eager to prove his worth as an equal, Arthur pretends to leave Camelot on an important mission, while actually staying behind to compete in a jousting tournament. With the help of Merlin (Colin Morgan), a gormless peasant enters the competition posing as a knight, whom Arthur can replace during the actual jousts because of the obscuring armour.

Their plan results in Arthur getting a taste of a "normal" life in other ways, as he's forced to stay at Gwen's (Coulby) house and is finds it difficult to change his superior attitude as easily as he changed his clothing. Arthur's inability to lower himself to the level of his servants later provokes an uncharacteristic outburst from Gwen, who chastises Arthur's behaviour as a guest in her house, leading to an apology from the arrogant royal, reconciliation, and a kiss...

Concurrently, King Uther (Anthony Head) is informed that an assassin called Myror (Adrian Lester) has targeted Arthur, intending the kill the prince as revenge for the death of his own sovereign's son. When the hitman discovers Arthur's missing from the posse he left Camelot with, his investigation into the prince's whereabouts leads him to discover Arthur's jousting ruse, and gives him the ideal opportunity to set a fatal trap.

While the Myror subplot was slightly undercooked, it fed into the jousting storyline very nicely towards the end, and provided entertaining breathing space beforehand. The subterfuge at the tournament could have become a little tedious, but the action sequences were effectively handled and Howard Overman's script balanced the drama and comedy with greater skill than is usual for Merlin. Indeed, this episode featured some of the show's best character moments, by finally introducing the Arthur/Gwen romance fans of the Arthurian legend have been waiting for...

From the start, Merlin's greatest asset has been its cast (who have steered the show away from disaster on more than one occasion), and it was great to see James and Coulby play with material that rose to the challenge of making their relationship sing. Coulby, usually ignored or palmed off with weak material last year, was superb throughout this episode and her character has been turned around 180-degrees as a result.

The way Gwen is able to stand up to Arthur, speak her mind in front of him when pushed, and make him see things from a more humble perspective, felt like an early glimpse at how their relationship as husband and wife will work. I like James and Coulby's chemistry together, I love how their mutual attraction is complicated by the fact Arthur knows his father would never allow him to date a servant girl, and I'm glad the show has found itself another human dynamic that's more enjoyable than any amount of CGI they can throw at the screen. Hopefullt they'll keep the Arthur/Gwen love story going as successfully as the thorny Merlin/Arthur friendship.

Merlin's pushed into the background a little bit because of the Arthur/Gwen emphasis, but I liked how the episode reminded us of the similarities between Arthur and Merlin's situations here: Arthur has been born "special", sometimes dreams of being "normal", but can't ever escape his birthright; whereas Merlin has been born "special" but is forced to deny his magical nature, so every day is a struggle to maintain his disguise as a "normal" person.

Overall, "The Once And Future Queen" (seriously, is that inferring Gwen has royal blood?) was an excellent episode, only slightly let down because the Myror storyline flapped about in the wind too much (wasting Adrian Lester in the process), and the story was slightly predictable at times. And if another episode ends with Merlin saving the day by surreptitious telekinesis, I'll tear my hair out. But the exciting jousts and, more importantly, the fine performances from James and Coulby, compensated magnificently.

Even better, after seeing the preview for next week's episode, featuring the return of the boy Mordred and an emphasis on Morgana's own supernatural abilities, I'm hopeful this series is starting to find its mojo.

26 September 2009
BBC1, 6.40pm

written by: Howard Overman directed by: Jeremy Webb starring: Colin Morgan (Merlin), Bradley James (Prince Arthur), Anthony Head (King Uther), Richard Wilson (Gaius), Angel Coulby (Gwen), Katie McGrath (Morgana) & Adrian Lester (Myror)