Sunday, 5 June 2011

CAMELOT, 1.9 - "The Battle Of Bardon Pass"

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The penultimate hour of Camelot was a disappointing dud, which felt all the more painful because Starz decided to keep us waiting two weeks after "Igraine". To be honest, it's getting increasingly difficult to review this show's episodes without just repeating myself, so part of the reason I'm persevering is because it's a relatively brief season of 10 episodes. Eva Green remains beautifully bizarre as Morgan, Joseph Fiennes tiptoes around so-bad-he's-good territory, and there are occasional flashes of a ridiculously enjoyable show struggling to find cohesion and, more importantly, consistency. Some weeks I find myself surprisingly interested in what's happening, other weeks my notes are full of nitpicks I scribble down in-between rolling my eyes. "The Battle Of Bardon Pass" was one such week...

The titular Bardon Pass came under siege from marauders who've actually been sent by Morgan (Green) to ensure her brother King Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) decides to get involved defending this vital trade route to Camelot—giving her an opportunity to focus on disrupting his rule by turning the people against their king. Simultaneously, Igraine (Claire Forlani) escaped from Castle Pendragon and returned to Camelot, with Merlin (Fiennes) quickly realizing that the Igraine he'd slept with was actually Morgan in disguise; and Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton) confessed to Leontes (Philip Winchester) that she slept with Arthur on their wedding day, which put Arthur in a tough predicament as the possibility of losing his people's respect became a very real possibility.

On the surface of it, there was a fair amount going on in this episode, but it was frustrating how little of it caught fire. A key problem is that the Leontes/Arthur/Guinevere love-triangle hasn't been given enough time to breathe, grow and develop plausibly over the course of this season—feeling so rushed and simplistic that it's hard to care for any of the characters involved. The actors are individually likable screen presences, but you don't feel much attachment to their interactions. A scene where Guinevere broke down in anguish, beating her husband's chest and begging for forgiveness, should have been an emotional highlight of the episode—but it just hasn't come together enough in the writing. It's like writers Chris Chibnall and Louise Fox know what they want audiences to feel, but lack the skill to have that appear because nothing's really been allowed to grow and mature over time. I'd personally have spent the entirety of this season playing with the idea that Arthur and Guinevere have a soft spot for each other, and only have them act on it later in the season—but Camelot as a whole made a creative decision very early on to rush through the legend, somewhat.

It felt a little strange to me that Igraine didn't react very much to the news Merlin slept with "Morgraine" by mistake, as she could have been either overjoyed (it proves Merlin has feelings for her) or upset because Merlin was fooled so easily. Likewise, there was no big ramifications over the fact Merlin's effectively slept with Morgan now, although I'm still predicting Morgan will announce she's pregnant with Merlin's child in next week's finale. Still, it's also amusing whenever Fiennes and Green share the screen, as they've both decided to chew on the cheesy material like feral dogs. On a similar note, Fiennes seemed to relish being able to clench his jaw and sneer his lines at Sinéad Cusick's devious nun Sybil this week, which was fun.

Overall, "The Battle Of Bardon Pass" wasn't much to get excited about because the writing hasn't been strong or consistent enough this season. It quickly regressed into an hour where you were just keeping a mental tally of all the weirdness—like the titular battle being a rather weird standoff between about 20 people, or the laughable inaccuracy of those archers when Guinevere rode onto the battlefield, which made Star Wars' Stormtrooper look like crack shots. It's entertaining on the level of a dumb Syfy miniseries, but as the setup for a big finale next week it rang very hollow. Which is a shame, because a handful of episodes this year, that embraced the ludicrous side of Camelot's nature, were at least entertaining.

written by Louise Fox & Chris Chibnall / directed by Mikael Salomon / 3 June 2011 / Starz