Sunday, 5 December 2010

'MERLIN' 3.13 - "The Coming Of Arthur" (Part Two)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Merlin's finale was as mixed as the third series has been. It would be wrong to say it wasn't entertaining and occasionally stirring, but "The Coming Of Arthur - Part Two" was damaged by the year's unstable foundation, together with the fact it had little emotional nuance. It was a story that merrily danced along (packing more Arthurian minutiae into an hour than Merlin's previously delivered in three years), but when you stopped to consider the human drama informing everything... well, it was lacking.

Events began a week into Morgana's (Katie McGrath) reign as Queen, with evil sister Morgause (Emilia Fox) as her aide. A disconsolate Uther (Anthony Head) is languishing in the dungeon, while the righteous Knights of Camelot are refusing to accept Morgana as their new monarch, even after Morgana starts killing random townsfolk to force their obedience. Regarding that moment, it's worth remarking that the writers have done such a poor job transforming Morgana into an evil villainess that it just felt uncharacteristic for her to kill innocent people. We know she's turned bad, but that bad? Certainly it's a problem that Merlin sometimes wants to cover more grownup content, but it's built from the ingredients of a children's show.

Meanwhile, Arthur (Bradley James), Merlin (Colin Morgan), Gaius (Richard Wilson), Gwaine (Eoin Macken) and Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun) are all hiding in a nearby forest cave, plotting to reclaim Camelot -- although the situation appears hopeless because Morgana has an immortal army at her command. However, after spilling the Water of Avalon he was given by the fabled Fisher King, Merlin sees a vision of water spirit Freya (Laura Donnelly) in the resulting puddle, who suggest he retrieve her legendary sword Excalibur to defeat Morgana's militia. Later, after the successful summoning of Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera) and his friend Percival (Tom Hopper) to help storm Camelot, a daring rescue was scheduled for the next morning... with Arthur unaware that success depends on Merlin destroying the immortal soldiers by spilling the blood in the Cup of Life that's the source of their power...

On paper, that all sounds like great fun and a decent springboard for thrilling action and excitement. Sadly, there were emotional hole throughout this episode, with the story unable to provide enough satisfying emotional content. To be positive, enough time was spent on the rousing moment when Arthur knighted his loyal friends, after first speaking to them about equality while sitting around the famous Round Table. It was a strong scene that became the episode's highpoint, simply because it hard some heart and humour. Sadly, the rest of the episode struggled to find anything of equal merit.

Arthur's recent discovery that Morgana's his sister was mentioned, but the Pendragon siblings never actually got to share a scene together. That felt like a dreadful shame, as there was huge potential in having James and McGrath get a really meaty scene together, fighting over their father's fate and their birthright, but it was avoided entirely.

What we did get was a small scene where Morgana poured scorn over the imprisoned Uther, but because Uther is suddenly being written as a broken man, it was a one-sided conversation that became a let-down. Even Uther's eventual rescue carried no sense of triumph, although this might be a suggestion that the king's now ready to abdicate and let his son take over. However, there are many times when I've given Merlin the benefit of the doubt, excusing its various problems through faith of a masterplan to it all, and I've usually been proven wrong. I wouldn't be surprised if Uther's back on the throne in series 4, with everything largely the same -- although Arthur's new knights won't be so easy to dismiss.

What we did get was an action sequence between Merlin, Morgause and Gaius, but it once again exhibited a paucity of imagination. For a show revolving around magic, it's depressing that a climactic duel between two powerful sorcerers is reduced to flinging people through the air -- and not for the first time (or the tenth if we're being honest). Morgause has been a fun addition to the show, but I've been disappointed by McGrath this year, although the weak material she's been given hasn't helped. The writers insist on having Morgana stare out of castle windows and smirk behind people's back almost constantly, which has inspired laughter more than creeping dread. Here, after discovering her dead sister, Morgana's final moment was to destroy the chamber she's in by screaming crazily, and apparently disappearing during the collapse. She'll be back, undoubtedly. But how will the show cope with Morgana beyond Camelot's walls, plotting Uther and Arthur's downfall just as Morgause was doing in series 2?

Hanging onto positives, at least this finale ended with a handful of changes and developments that series 4 can't ignore. The Knights of the Round Table have been created; Morgana's been exposed as a villain in everyone's eyes; Arthur knows she's his sister; Arthur appears to be more open about his feelings for Gwen (Angel Coulby), which is a relationship his father must surely accept as reward for his son's triumph here; and the denouement saw Merlin embed Excalibur into its famous rock for safekeeping.

"Who knows what the future will bring," Arthur offered to Merlin in a later scene. Well, we can guess what it'll bring easy enough, actually –- it's up to the writers to surprise us, for once.

  • It'll be interesting to see what the ratings are for this big finale, considering it was up against the X Factor semi-final. The show's performed amazingly well against its ITV rival this year (which is half the reason the BBC are bringing it back for another series), but it'll be a shame if the finale gets a drubbing. Then again, I can understand people preferring to watch X Factor live, then catching up with Merlin afterwards.
  • Okay, so... The Fisher King's mysterious advice to "save her" in "The Eye Of The Phoenix" turned out to be nonsense, right? Save who? Silly old man.
  • Why wasn't Morgana wearing her crown all the time, as Uther does? Does it mess with your hair? A bad fit?
  • The Fisher King should have left instructions on the bottom of that vial: "In an emergency, break glass and talk to the puddle."
  • How about using the giant dragon to retake Camelot, Merlin? Idiot.
  • Sir Leon in drag. Sir Leona?
  • I have to admit, the scene where Lancelot and Merlin defeated a group of guards to gain access to a room that's revealed to have even more guards inside made me laugh. An oldie but a goodie.
  • The Arthurian legend has Arthur pulling Excalibur from its stone to prove he's king, but that can't happen in this show because everyone knows he's next in line for the throne. I guess Arthur will just need the sword again one day, and Merlin will undo his spell to show Arthur in an impressive light for managing to extract it?
  • Still no moment where Arthur is told about Merlin's magic, and Morgana didn't even get to find out. These things had better happen in series 4, that's all I can say. I understand the reasoning behind still keeping it a secret (it's been a backbone to the show and a key element of Arthur and Merlin's relationship), but we have to start moving towards that reveal now –- surely.
WRITER: Julian Jones
DIRECTOR: Jeremy Webb
TRANSMISSION: 4 December 2010, BBC1/HD, 7.40PM