Sunday, 23 October 2011

MERLIN, 4.4 – "Aithusa"

Sunday, 23 October 2011
This was another episode that went through the motions. After an amusing riff on Raiders Of The Lost Ark's opening sequence, with a dashing thief called Borden (James Callis) stealing one third of Druidic artifact called a Triskelion, "Aithusa" quickly stagnated and turned in a very unremarkable hour of television. Borden rode to Camelot, where it became clear he was once the protégé of Gaius (Richard Wilson) until they parted on bad terms, but any hope of exploring their back-story was ignored. Instead, Merlin (Colin Morgan) helped Borden steal the final third of the Triskelion from the castle's vaults, so he can use it to find the world's last remaining dragon's egg...

The big problem I had with this episode was very simple: it just wasn't anything to get excited about. The show has a few templates it likes to use, and this one contentedly went about its business and delivered no major surprises. It's quite dispiriting when a show squanders its potential like this, as there writers out there who'd love the opportunity to see their imaginations come to life on-screen, so why isn't every episode trying to do something fresh and interesting?

The character of Borden wasn't explored, meaning it was a terrible waste of a good guest-star in Battlestar Galactica's Callis, and the story arc just didn't go anywhere unexpected. Worse, it was one of those episodes where it became more pleasurable to idly list all the annoyances and disappointments being chalked up: like how the show seems to be recycling locations suddenly (that spooky cave was the same one Merlin found his father living in, right?) Or how about the fact the wondrous Triskelion turned out to be nothing but a key to a very unimpressive wooden door, making you wonder why someone hasn't just knocked it down in 400 years. And the mistreatment of Merlin, comical though it may be, is beginning to grate on me. We expect some affectionate teasing from Arthur (Bradley James), but why are the Knights now joining in with bullying Merlin? Sure, they smile and make a joke of it, and Merlin grins back at them like their kid brother, but it's getting a little tedious now. Shouldn't Merlin be a trusted member of the team, instead of the slave who cooks their food, washes their dishes, and gets to ride the least impressive horse?

The one highlight of the episode was the last scene, with Merlin hatching the retrieved egg and finding a White Dragon inside—perhaps to be voiced by Dame Judi Dench next year, who knows. The creature's an omen of a positive future, claims the Great Dragon (John Hurt), so at least there's a sign this story is heading towards some kind of victory. It's a sign Merlin's destiny is on the right path just now, but something tells me that White Dragon's existence will be short-lived and its death will signify a swing of power to Morgana.

Overall, "Aithusa" just wasn't very gripping or thrilling, and it's almost unforgivable that the show doesn't reference recent events, considering how most of every series is written by co-creator Julian Jones. Last week Uther died and Arthur was crowned king, but you really wouldn't know from how everyone behaved throughout this episode. UK shows of this nature often struggle to provide a sense of cohesion between its episodes, by virtue of how they're written, and this was a particularly glaring instance of an episode that needlessly seemed to exist in a bubble. Plus, I just didn't really accept Merlin would be so quick to help a total stranger like Borden, who never once looked like anything other than a scoundrel looking to wield a dragon for person gain.

A weak episode of what, for me, has been a fairly unremarkable start to this fourth series. Maybe I've just about had my fill of what Merlin offers; perhaps because it has made significant changes in recent years, but these changes never seem to take the show out of its comfort zone for long. Or the writers themselves forget what's gone before, because it's easier just to write these self-contained little adventures where Merlin's the grinning fool who secretly saves the day, Arthur's the uppity master who gets K.O'd when his manservant's doing so, and Gwen (Angel Coulby) is safely nudged aside.


  • Here's a fact everyone knows: James Callis played a character called Gaius on Battlestar Galactica. But did you know the horse he rides in this episode is called "Galactico"?
  • If dragon's eggs can only hatch with the help of a Dragonlord (which makes no biological sense, incidentally), then why was there such a concern about Borden finding one? He'd have been left with a totally useless egg, even if he succeeded.
  • Anyone else think the farcical scenes of Merlin snooping around Arthur's bedroom chamber, pretending to be looking for woodworm, was a medieval homage to Fawlty Towers?
  • Since when was the Dragon called Kilgharrah?
  • Scholars will note that a Red Dragon symbolizes Arthur usually, and a White Dragon symbolizes the Saxons. When the two beasts fought, the red dragon was victorious and is used on the Welsh flag to this day. So either Merlin's writers have bent the legend to their own ends, or that White Dragon's indeed going to be killed by another soon.
written by Julian Jones / directed by Alex Pillai / 22 October 2011 / BBC One