Saturday, 30 April 2011

'CAMELOT' 1.5 - "Justice"

Saturday, 30 April 2011

I didn't have much faith in this episode to begin with, but it slowly came together in a surprisingly pleasurable way that crystallized several things about Camelot and provided some much-needed glimpses at what the show's really all about. In particular, through the prism of justice, we learn that Morgan (Eva Green) is a shining example of the "old ways" (making allies by demonstrating she has the zero tolerance for criminals), while Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) is promoting a very modern judicial system that involves patience, investigation and fair-mindedness. Now more than ever it's easy to see them as two sides of the same coin, which heightens Camelot's drama as these half-siblings fight for the hearts and minds of their countrymen...

This week, Arthur and his men came to the aide of a villager called Colfur (Outcasts' Liam Cunningham) after hearing his daughter's cries for help while riding through a rainy forest. It appears that Colfur had murdered his village's leader by bludgeoning him with a rock, and is in the process of being lynched by his victim's brother Ewan (Luther's Steven Mackintosh), but Arthur calls a halt to the capital punishment and orders a proper trial at Camelot to ascertain Colfur's guilt or innocence. An event that a vengeful Ewan has no faith in, but Arthur believes Colfur's predicament is a great way to demonstrate his progressive attitude to lawfulness.

Over at the Castle Pendragon, Sybil (Sinéad Cusack) proved her usefulness to Morgan by summoning the locals to complain about the lack of protection from Camelot, and manipulate them into believing the true source of power in the land comes from Morgan, not the half-brother they've taken to their hearts on principle of his bloodline. This involved Sybil paying a mercenary to cause her physical harm, so the locals perceive Morgan as someone who knows their own suffering through personal experience. I said last time that Sybil's effectively Morgan's version of Merlin (a surrogate parent and mentor figure), and the parallels are fun to see play out. It was a particularly effective moment when Morgan seized on Sybil's plan and then embellished it to make converts of everyone gathered at her castle, by ruthlessly cutting the throat of Sybil's "attacker" and earning everyone's respect and admiration through a theatrical, grisly show of power and the kind of intolerance that speaks to the people of the day. She's the trusted right-wing politician to Arthur's uncommon left-wing approach to peacekeeping. Two people wanting to rule; one through hope, the other through fear.

And in a small subplot, Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) wrestled with his demons many days of self-imposed isolation in the bowls of the castle, driven to a near-manic state by the fact he caused the drowning of an innocent girl over a sword. I'm still unsure if Fiennes' twitchy performance is a masterstroke of tangled frustrations and mental toil, or simply a ludicrous case of overacting, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt again. It helped that there was a surprisingly good scene between him and Queen Igraine (Claire Forlani), who discovered the sorcerer's whereabouts and shared a touching moment with him that almost turned passionate, until Merlin broke the sexual tension. He's an isolated man who believes anyone who gets close to him becomes tarnished, as he's effectively playing on the outskirts of a magical world that gives him great power at the price of a normal existence. This unexpected will-they/won't-they between Merlin and Igraine is likely to return, as Merlin's the perfect example of a damaged man a kindly woman like Igraine would want to fix.

Overall, "Justice" was probably the best episode of Camelot to date, simply because it seemed to have some intelligence to it. Previous episodes have been enjoyable because of the violence, nudity and magic on display, but this story worked because the characters and ideas behind the series began to take clearer shape. Arthur's interactions with Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton) even felt more enjoyable this week, as it wasn't totally driven by mutual lust. If Camelot can keep this up, then bring the magic in to compliment things without looking too silly, I have hope the series may actually become something to look forward to each week.


  • A very good performance from Liam Cunningham as the man on trial, who has his private reasons for desiring the death of a fellow villager. Cunningham was one of the main reasons to keep watching the recent BBC series Outcasts and it was great to see him give a very different performance here, in his natural Irish accent.
  • I'm a little confused that people have so quickly taken Arthur to their hearts and descended on Camelot in droves. Word spreads a lot quicker than I would have thought, but we know the show likes to get a move on with things. It was also interesting to get a feeling that some villages aren't so willing to accept Arthur's new regime and may fight against change. In many ways, the big challenge to Arthur is going to be changing people's longstanding beliefs and preconceptions of what being a good King actually means, while his sister Morgan sticks to what's worked in the past: prove to people you're the biggest bad-ass in town and that they should come to YOU for protection from enemies.
written by Sarah Phelps & Terry Cafolla / directed by Stefan Schwartz / 29 April 2011 / Starz