I'm not excited by Merlin these days (was I ever?), because I find it hard to keep faith the show's going to end in spectacular fashion. Or rather, I can already imagine how it's going to end, and I don't see the show giving us too many surprises. In many ways, Merlin should be ending this year before it risks becoming one of those shows where the only interesting thing left to do is to finish. But I don't see that happening anytime soon, considering its healthy ratings (even in direct competition with X Factor), and no sense that any of the actors are itching to pursue other jobs.
"A Servant Of Two Masters" was a good episode with the usual caveats, contrivances and annoyances. I just wasn't enthralled by it, although it was certainly one of series 4's better installments. Here, Merlin (Colin Morgan) was injured during a forest attack by mercenaries sent by Agravaine (Nathaniel Parker) and Morgana (Katie McGrath), then separated from Arthur (Bradley James) before being captured and taken to Morgana's secret underground hovel. Once there, Morgana's Star Trek II-inspired plot became clear: to turn Arthur's loyal manservant into a brainwashed assassin, by placing the head of an enchanted "fomorroh" creature into Merlin's neck to control his behaviour.
There followed an unexpectedly comical episode, for the most part, asa bewitched Merlin returned to Camelot to try and kill Arthur in various ways (poison, crossbow, etc.) In some ways this reminded me of last year's "Goblin's Gold" when Gaius (Richard Wilson) was possessed by a naughty goblin, as it enabled us to see a very different side to Merlin; a strong-willed version of the character who was uncharacteristically blunt and rude. It also afforded the show some farcical humour as Merlin's attempts to kill the king kept failing, before Gaius and Gwen (Angel Coulby) realized what's going on and rushed to help. It's here that the episode ran into a big problem it didn't even attempt to answer: why didn't Gaius and Gwen simply tell Arthur that Merlin's under the control of magic, likely the work of Morgana? It makes little sense that they didn't, beyond the fact it would have meant a swift end to the story with Arthur and his knights attacking Morgana's hovel and, one would assume, throwing her into a dungeon for witchcraft.
Instead, once Merlin was made aware of his own situation, the story took a different path whereby Merlin himself had to return to Morgana's hovel to kill the "motherbeast" of the fomorroh creature in his neck, and opted to go in disguise as the Older Merlin. I'm no fan of Morgan's hammy portrayal of this doddery old sorcerer, which strays too far into Steptoe territory for my liking, but this was probably the most successful use of that character so far. It helped that Older Merlin was written as someone more dynamic when it comes to using magic, as he effortlessly defeated all of Arthur's knights, and the episode ended with a fun battle between Older Merlin and Morgana. A battle that's still over reliant on tedious "air pushes", but at least tried to shake things up by having Merlin summon a miniature tornado. (Although said twister resulted in just another way to send Morgana flying through the air.) I can understand why Merlin prefers using the "air pushes" to keep his cover around people who don't know his secret, but these characters had no such reason to be so cautious.
Still, I liked this episode despite its flaws, as it gave us a good balance of light and dark storytelling. There were funny moments (loved the arrival of missing Merlin's super-efficient replacement George), some good stunts (a sequence with warriors falling off their galloping horses was great), moments of decent dialogue (Arthur's admission to an injured Merlin that he's a hero was quite touching), and the welcome development that Agravaine's planted a seed of doubt in Arthur's mind that Gaius might be leaking information to the enemy. Although you have to wonder why Arthur would eve believe his slimy uncle over Gaius, who's proven his loyalty to Camelot time and time again.
Overall, "A Servant Of Two Masters" was a good outing for Merlin as it reached the halfway point of series 4, although it does frustrate me how the characters don't always do logical things in order to keep the story rattling along. If Merlin doesn't alert Arthur to the whereabouts of Morgana's lair next week, I'll scream.
- How did Merlin know where Morgana's hovel was? He couldn't remember anything of his time there, yet could find his way back.