I'm losing my patience. Merlin demonstrated growth throughout series 2, and this year started quite promisingly (a darker tone, Morgana as an undoubted villain), but "Gwaine" was another mediocre episode that lazily combined elements of previous stories (a dashing knight, a climactic tournament, Arthur's life imperiled by enemies posing as friends, a magical murder weapon), to create an hour that gave us absolutely nothing new, or of lasting value.
After a successful day's hunting, Arthur (Bradley James) and Merlin (Colin Morgan) found themselves embroiled in a brawl at a tavern, with Arthur saved from the imbroglio by dashing Gwaine (Eoin Macken), a nobleman who's turned his back on his family's heritage and believes all nobility are corrupt and selfish. Taken back to Camelot a hero, Gwen (Angel Coulby) catches the eye of Gwaine in the courtyard, who becomes immediately smitten with the handmaiden...
Philip Brodie) and Sir Oswald (John Hopkins). Arriving in Camelot for the annual melee (a mass fight on horseback, with Arthur participating), the imposters abuse their noble identities by overworking Merlin, plotting to kill Arthur during the event using magical swords that appear blunt but are actually razor sharp.
If that had aired in season 1, it may have been a minor highlight of the series back then, but the fact is nothing in "Gwaine" hasn't been done before, and much better. Gwaine himself isn't so far removed from Sir Lancelot, if played by a more captivating actor in Eoin Macken, and the script exacerbates this similarity by letting Gwaine also flirt with Gwen to the quiet dismay of Arthur. Was it really so difficult to create a character noticeably different to Lancelot, or all knights cut from the same cloth -- even if they renounce their aristocracy? Why not have Gwaine take a shine to the underused Morgana (Katie McGrath) instead?
The fact the episode ended with Gwaine having saved Arthur's life, but leaving Camelot behind, was another parallel to Lancelot's appearances I could have done without. And seeing as "Gwaine" is to Gawaine as "Gwen" is to Guinevere, in Merlin's take on Arthurian legend, I'm becoming irritated by how this show is moving its pieces around the table but failing to let us sense its long-term goals. Are Lancelot and Gwaine future Knights Of The Round Table that Arthur will call upon when he's crowned king, or can't the show think that far ahead -- meaning their appearances are just winks for older fans? I wish there was a clearer arc to Merlin as a whole, really, because I'm seriously worried the show will be cancelled (for a variety of reasons beyond anyone's control) and they won’t have progressed very far down whatever path they're inching down.
Indeed, Merlin and Gaius seem unwilling to bring any of their findings to the king or prince this series, when doing so would prevent a lot of problems down the line. I see why they can't from a storytelling standpoint, but that's just bad writing. The characters should act plausibly, not keep knowledge to themselves just to keep a plot chugging along.
WRITER: Julian Jones
DIRECTOR: David Moore
GUEST CAST: Eoin Macken, Philip Brodie, John Hopkins, Andrew Vincent, Rupert Young, Bill Thomas, Sarah Counsell & Jonathan Emmett
TRANSMISSION: 2 October 2010 – BBC1, 7.05PM