Sunday, 28 November 2010

'MERLIN' 3.12 - "The Coming Of Arthur" (Part One)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

More fool me. I was really looking forward to the first half of this finale, as Merlin usually does a good job with episodes requiring straightforward action and development of its core mythology, but "The Coming Of Arthur – Part One" disappointed me in too many ways. It was reasonably entertaining and ended on a provocative note (spoiled by promotional material, nevertheless -- see above), but it was largely another example of how repetitive Merlin is.

This week, all of Camelot's knights were ambushed and killed by Cenred's (Tom Ellis) forces, although the mortally wounded Sir Leon (Rupert Young) was revived after being taken to a cave by a group of kindly Druids and given water from the Holy Grail Cup Of Life; a mythical goblet that can cure the sick, but also be used to turn people immortal. After King Uther (Anthony Head) heard of the Cup's presence in Cenred's territory, he dispatched Arthur (Bradley James) to retrieve it, lest it fall into enemy hands and be used to turn Cenred's troops into an undefeatable force. Unfortunately, Morgana (Katie McGrath) passed all of this information to sister Morgause (Emilia Fox), beginning a race to find the Cup Of Life between the forces of Good and Evil. During their secret quest, Arthur and Merlin (Colin Morgan) were captured by Jarl (Ralph Ineson), a slave trader loyal to Cenred, and found themselves once again reunited with Gwaine (Eoin Macken) to plan an escape...

It seems the crackerjack two-part premiere spent half the budget this year, as many action sequences occurred off-screen here; from the opening murder of Uther's knights, to the invasion of Camelot by a torch-wielding militia. While I can understand neither was necessary to see, strictly speaking, I couldn't help feeling shortchanged considering this is the finale. But there were other, bigger annoyances to contend with -- like the baffling emptiness of Camelot after its storming, the ridiculousness that Gaius (Richard Wilson) survived the ordeal by hiding in a pantry, and proof that Cenred's character has been a colossal waste of time when he was offhandedly killed. Uther and Cenred (sworn enemies we were constantly told) didn't even get to share a scene together.

The chronic frustration of "The Coming Of Arthur", like many other episodes, is that it didn't give us anything we haven't seen before (slave traders, the Cup Of Life, CGI hordes marching on Camelot, the fortunate arrival of Gwaine), until the long overdue reveal to Uther that Morgana knows she's his daughter and is usurping his sovereignty. That final scene was the clear highlight for impatient fans like myself, although only McGrath seemed to relish the magnitude of the moment (her coronation demanded a signature smirk, for sure), while Head's understated reaction felt deflating, given the weeks of build-up. I trust he'll deliver a better response to Morgana's treachery in Part Two, and at least this is a turning point Merlin can't reverse or dance around, which is most welcome. If there's one thing Merlin should have realized long ago, it's that pussyfooting around the Arthurian legend and failing to take decisive steps forward with the characters is damaging the goodwill fans gave the show.

So where does this leave us going into next week's conclusion? Arthur, Merlin, Gwaine and Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun) will most likely rescue the imprisoned Uther, Merlin will summon the Great Dragon to help, I'm guessing there'll be a fun role reversal with servant Gwen (Angel Coulby) as the "mole" in Morgana's new regime, Merlin's vial of water from Avalon will probably defeat Morgause, and Part Two's trailer (see below) confirms the return of Excalibur (to defeat the immortal army?), together with the introduction of the Round Table. Sounds fun, but hopefully everything won't unfold as predictably as I'm fearing it will. Or is that too much to ask with Merlin?

  • Can you imagine the look on actor Rupert Young's face when he opened his script and read that his character, Sir Leon, is dead on the first page? I hope he read on without immediately calling the producers to complain that his longstanding supporting role came to such an abrupt end!
  • If Star Trek has "redshirts" (nameless members of the crew that usually die on away missions), does Merlin have "redcapes"?
  • Did anyone else notice how chubby the stuntman playing Merlin was, in that shot where Merlin and Arthur are riding horses on their quest? They tried to obscure Colin Morgan's double with trees, but you could tell. Are there no stuntmen thin enough?
  • I keep intending to post a Merlin Drinking Game every year, but maybe it's too late for that now -- again. But, for what it's worth, take a drink whenever Morgause says "sister" and you'll be pie-eyed after her first scene of every episode.
  • If you're sniggering at the episode title, are you too old to be watching Merlin? Let's be honest here.
  • I can't help feeling series 3's finale lacks the human touch of series 2's, with Merlin meeting his father. There's nothing comparable to that here.
  • Tom Ellis looks so uncomfortable in that black leather. Seeing him reminds me of a time I saw my history teacher wearing motorbike leathers. It's just not right.

Next time...

WRITER: Jake Michie
DIRECTOR: Jeremy Webb
TRANSMISSION: 27 November 2010, BBC1/HD, 7.45PM