The pendulum swings back to the mytharc, for a story that felt fresher because the situation was atypical. However, "The Castle Of Fyrien" eventually proved to be only an enjoyable distraction that, in the cold light of day, didn't offer any significant changes or breakthroughs. Merlin is a TV show that loves teasing its audience with the possibility of exciting changes (secrets revealed, nefarious plots exposed), but by the time the credits scroll the status quo is usually intact. In this week's story, the whole adventure and outcome was even kept hidden from King Uther (Anthony Head), while Arthur (Bradley James) continued to remain blissfully unaware of most things under his nose...
Fortunately, Arthur's chivalrous enough to want to save Gwen's sibling, so he mounts a rescue with Merlin and Morgana, while telling his father he's going on a two-day trip to purchase rare silk dresses to honour a gambling debt. Of course, Merlin suspects that Morgana's in league with Cenred (telling him about Arthur and Gwen's relationship, to inspire this trap), but he's unable to speak openly in front of Arthur, so instead has to keep a watchful eye on Morgana's movements during their journey. That said, Morgana's still able to meeting Morgause in the woods one night, informing her sister that Arthur's planning to attack Cenred from beneath the castle, via secret underground tunnels...
Structurally shaky and requiring suspension of disbelief, "The Castle Of Fyrien" was nevertheless an enjoyable hour. As an excuse for Arthur/Gwen scenes to promote their bond, it wasn't half bad. A camp fire between the "lovebirds", interrupted when they're about to kiss, was perhaps the emotional highlight of series 3, but it's still maddening there's no firm development in how Merlin is developing Arthur and Gwen as love interests. We're still just seeing mutual affection, with neither prepared to make things official because of their class difference, and I can't see that changing anytime soon. As I suggested last week, it would make sense for them to at least start seeing each other behind Uther's back, with their rendezvous kept secret by Merlin. Something definitely needs to happen that's of more significance, because their relationship's becoming quite tedious in its current form.
Having debuted in the two-part premiere, "The Castle Of Fyrien" gave us a clearer look at Cenred, but he was unfortunately as dull as I suspected: just another leather-clad baddie with a deep voice, with actor Tom Ellis and the costume department doing a tepid impression of Richard Armitage's Guy of Gisborne from Robin Hood. Emilia Fox's return as Morgause was more nuanced, although she's clearly accepted this role should be treated like a pantomime, and actually has a point. Meanwhile, McGrath was once again forced to punctuate every scene with knowing smirks for the camera, which is becoming very irritating and could form the basis of a drinking game.
Overall, "The Castle Of Fyrien" didn't have a very logical setup and wasted more chances to invigorate this show regarding Gwen and Morgana's roles in the series, but it was otherwise an enjoyable episode with a good performance from Angel Coulby. At the very least we're getting some nice chemistry between Coulby and James, which bodes well for the time when this show grows bored of teasing its audience and starts delivering tangible developments.
- I couldn't help wondering if a better plan would have been to kidnap Gwen, leave a clue to her location, then just wait for Arthur to turn up to rescue her at Fyrien. But clearly writer Jake Michie wanted an episode where Gwen and Arthur could interact throughout -– which is understandable, even if it meant Cenred's plan therefore felt a little strange.
- Elyan was a pure plot-device here (a "damsel" in distress without distressing the actual damsel) but the character survived and is now living in Camelot, so hopefully he won't be forgotten about. It might help the show if Gwen has someone to talk to other than Merlin, particularly about her feelings for Arthur, and in general the show could do with a fresh face.
- In a series where magic is usually reduced to levitating pots and pans, Morgause's "wall of fire" spell got the blood pumping, however briefly.
WRITER: Jake Michie
DIRECTOR: David Moore
GUEST CAST: Emilia Fox, Tom Ellis, Adetomiwa Edun & Jody Halse TRANSMISSION: 23 October 2010 – BBC1, 7.45PM