A strong installment in many ways, but sometimes I wonder if episodes that sell the significance of Merlin the "all-powerful sorcerer" just feel more important than they really are. Still, I can't deny "The Secret Sharer" provided some forward progression for the mytharc. This week, Morgana (Katie McGrath) allied herself with warrior-wizard Alator (Gary Lewis), with the intention of having him kidnap and torture Gaius (Richard Wilson) for information about the whereabouts of her apparent nemesis Emrys—unaware the old wizard who fought her last week is Merlin (Colin Morgan) in disguise.
It was a rather straightforward episode, but this is often the way with a show like Merlin. Simplicity is often for the best because plotting has never been the show's strong suit, so uncomplicated stories can be bolstered by good performances and character moments. I'm really enjoying slimy Agravaine (Nathaniel Parker) this series, and seeing him interrogate Gaius about his feelings towards sorcery, as a means to have Arthur doubt his physician's lifelong loyalty, was a terrific moment. Richard Wilson gets increasingly little to do (no doubt partly because of his age), and I'm still rarely interested in Gaius as a character, but occasionally he gets an episode that uses him quite well... and this was one.
It was especially good when Gaius endured Alator's torture technique of being heated in the middle a ring of fire (this is a family show, did you really expect red-hot branding?), because I never expected him to eventually crack and give up Merlin's true identity. Luckily, Gaius managed to parcel the truth inside a touching speech about how Merlin's destined to create a glorious future where the Old Religion will co-exist harmoniously with the currently secular order. A dream that the persecuted Alator believes in deep down; enough to side with Merlin to help him defeat Morgana, before effectively giving the boy wizard his first steadfast disciple. I hope the show will build on this idea of Merlin amassing followers, too, rather than forget all about it.
What I appreciated about "Secret Sharer" was the sense that the show's starting to remember it has to sustain a feeling that we're on big journey with a clear destination, and how the episode looks to have made Arthur reassess the circumstances of his father's dead. Gaius insists he wasn't murdered by the geriatric wizard known as Emrys, and now Arthur's inclined to believe him because his allegiance to the crown's been tested and proven unshakable. The next time Arthur meets with the aged Merlin should be rather interesting, and that's likely to happen because the show appears to be using "Emrys" as a way to let Merlin be more like the character from legend without spoiling this show's conceit that Merlin's magic is a secret he must keep from the king.
Overall, I wasn't really that impressed by the specifics of this episode, but it managed to deliver appreciable developments and its ending wasn't as predictable as usual. Gaius and Merlin know Agravaine's in cahoots with Morgana, Agravaine has seen Merlin sneaking around his bed chamber, and Arthur's hatred of Emrys has been softened. All are good steps forward for the show.
- The writers have really forgotten about Gwen (Angel Coulby) this year, haven't they. In contrast, at least Gwaine (Eoin Macken) got more to do in this episode.