Sunday, 30 October 2011

MERLIN, 4.5 – "His Father's Son"

Sunday, 30 October 2011
This was more like it. It may have all come down to yet another duel (secretly manipulated by magic), but for the most part "His Father's Son" gave us a story I don't recall being done before on Merlin. Some of its ingredients were familiar, I suppose, but it was just great to have a story with something weighty on its mind. This episode was all about Arthur (Bradley James) growing into a king, as duplicitous Agravaine (Nathaniel Parker) believes he must assert his new power by commanding respect and fear across the Five Kingdoms. But after Arthur follows his uncle's advice, by executing a trespassing monarch, he triggered a potentially devastating war with a neighbouring kingdom, led by the widowed Queen Annis (Lindsay Duncan)...

"His Father's Son" was a simple story at heart, but by focusing on the characters and exploring ideas it felt much more complex than most other episodes. It also delivered the best use of Agravaine and Morgana (Katie McGrath) so far this series; the former doing his utmost to set Arthur up for a nasty fall, and the latter seizing an opportunity to ally herself with Annis and use the queen's grief to ensure the swift defeat of Arthur's army so she can claim Camelot's throne. A plan that actually made some sense for a change.

And before the battle itself could commence (with impressive vistas of CGI knights preparing for battle), Arthur eventually came to realize that he shouldn't just do what's expected of him, or blindly follow his father Uther's footsteps, but must stay true to his own beliefs. It was actually a rather moving moment when Queen Annis realized Arthur's a more empathetic and honourable person than she initially gave him credit... although it was perhaps a stretch to believe she'd be quite so forgiving of the man who recently killed her husband. The peace he secured here felt very much like the first building block of the chivalrous age King Arthur and Merlin are destined to preside over, with Camelot at its centre, and it's always great when Merlin takes a definite step forward in this manner.

The way Morgana was foiled also worked nicely, as she ingratiated herself on Queen Annis by revealing she was raised by the respected Gorlois, not her tyrannical biological father King Uther, but her devious acts were clearly something she's inherited from the latter... whereas her brother Arthur's assumedly taken more heritage from his peaceful mother. It was overall a nice reminder of the familial bond these characters share, and the ways in which both are influenced and driven by their histories. But while Morgana is blinkered by a lust for power, it's only Arthur who's coming to truly understand the responsibilities of sitting on a throne. He's a pain to be around at times (often depending on who's writing him any given week), but I'm hopeful that Merlin will continue to treat Arthur as an adult.

Overall, I thought this was the best episode series 4's given us thus far, because it just felt more mature than usual. The show tends to have episodes that cater for different demographics, and this one felt aimed more at the grownups. Merlin's never going to compete with adult fantasies like Game Of Thrones in terms of plotting, of course, but this episode proves it doesn't have to rely on storybook simplicity and can dig a little deeper when necessary.


  • Ratings for this episode rose by 400,000 to 5.9 million, making this the most-watched overnight episode of series 4. As the BBC discovered last year, it's extraordinarily effective counter-programming for The X Factor over on ITV1 (which nevertheless will always win the timeslot). By the by, poor X Factor was finally beaten this weekend by Strictly Come Dancing, which managed an impressive 10.2m to X Factor's 9.9m.
  • It never fails to amuse me when the writers slyly reference the fact many fans of Merlin see a homoerotic relationship in Merlin and Arthur's behaviour around each other. Here, Jack Michie delivered a moment when Arthur thinks Merlin's suggesting they share a bed together. And, sorry slash fiction writers, but he didn't look too happy about the idea!
  • Loved the look of the giant warrior Arthur had to fight to spare his men. Such an imposing figure and a face carved from granite.
written by Jake Michie / directed by Alex Pillai / 29 October 2011 / BBC One