The finale of Camelot's inaugural year was enjoyable, if only because a lot of big things happened with increasing regularity after a fairly uninteresting start. A continuation of last week's "The Battle Of Bardon Pass", we caught up with Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) protecting the outpost alone, as his knights beat a hasty retreat, while sister Morgan (Eva Green) plotted to succeed Arthur on Camelot's throne once proof of his death (his sword Excalibur, not his corpse?) was delivered to court. Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) spent the majority of the episode either gagged or in stocks, which denied us his usual scene-chewing, although once released there was a rather amusing sequence where the bald sorcerer tried to use his powers to heal a fatally-wounded Igraine (Claire Forlani)—which was both moving and unintentionally hilarious.
The actual storyline wasn't much to get excited about, but it allowed for a handful of surprising moments, and most worked well. Leontes (Philip Winchester) put aside the fact Arthur slept with his wife Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton) on their wedding day, to return and help the King fight off the Bardon Pass horde, only to receive an arrow through his chest after their surprise victory—dying moments later, but not before his final words ("treasure her") effectively gave Arthur permission to pursue Guinevere after he's gone. What a guy. It's a little too easy how Leontes has been removed from the picture, if you ask me, but we'll see how it impacts Arthur and Guinevere next season—if Starz renew the show.
Igraine's murder, stabbed in the abdomen by stepdaughter Morgan, was in many ways better than Leontes' demise, especially because it came shortly after the reveal that Igraine (always perceived as a nasty stepmother by Morgan) actually saved Morgan's life by sending her away to a convent, as her father King Uther was going to have her killed. Claire Forlani's been very good in a sadly underwritten role, so in some ways it's a shame her character won't be back. Igraine's burgeoning relationship with the defensive Merlin was a great deal more interesting and adult than the woolly Arthur/Guinevere/Leontes love-triangle.
Corrupt nun Sybil (Sinead Cusick) also met a sticky end after weeks of deviousness, by taking the blame for the Bardon Pass treachery, thus ensuring that Morgan couldn't be punished by Arthur because there's no proof she'd arranged to have her brother killed in battle. Cusick's been one of the best elements of Camelot, and I was pleased her execution was suitably grim (decapitated by Gawaine at the edge of an open grave, watched from a distance by Merlin, who uttered "there is no God" as her body fell into the soil). Morgan's later arrival at Sybil's gravesite appeared to show that the devious nun may now become the voice of whatever "dark forces" Morgan's been lured into utilizing, so perhaps Cusick will return in spirit form and pick up where she left off? Sybil already instigated the episode's final twist, by suggesting Morgan (now stripped of her title by Arthur) can become a Queen by giving birth to a King, prompting her to shape-shift into Guinevere's physical form and sleep with Arthur. Having previously theorized that Morgan (when posing as Igraine) would become pregnant with Merlin's child, it's even creepier that her baby, as the offspring of an incestuous union, will also be her nephew! "Mordred" sounds like a good name for such a child, doesn't it...
"Reckoning" was the kind of finale that succeeded because it managed to cram plenty of juicy and conclusive moments into an otherwise thin and unremarkable plot. It also primed season 2 with some fun possibilities (a pregnant Morgan, a self-exiled Merlin, Arthur's new resolve to become a great king to make his dead mother proud), and even found time to show the birth of another key part of Arthurian myth: the building of Camelot's famous Round Table. It didn't all come together well, as the first quarter-hour was quite boring, and there remains issues with the strength and consistency of characterization. Arthur appeared to finally mature after his friend and mother died because of his sister's machinations, but then he agreed to sleep with Guinevere hours after her husband was burned on a pyre? His character is too easily yanked around, asked to do things simply because it would be handy for the plot, and not because it's something Arthur himself would definitely do in any given situation.
Overall, Camelot is still very much a show trying to discover itself and accrue enough successes to realize what it's good at. It has a few good idea, an engaging sexy/grimy tone, and a smattering of performances that are charming or delectably bonkers (Green, Fiennes), but it's also quite stupid and seems to fluctuate in quality rather sharply. I think a second season, if one's forthcoming, should spend time really nailing the characters and planning the emotional arcs of the season more succinctly. When you look back at these ten episodes, you get the impression the story could actually have concluded three or four weeks ago, and there were many early developments that felt rushed and could have been better distributed over the run.
written by Terry Cafolla & Chris Chibnall / directed by Mikael Salomon & Stefan Schwartz / 10 June 2011 / Starz