Sunday, 27 November 2011

MERLIN, 4.9 - "Lancelot du Lac"

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The decision to kill Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera) in the premiere came as a surprise in a show where that's a rare commodity , but my enduring thought was how it prematurely ended a love-triangle that's always been a crucial part of the Arthurian legend. Thankfully, the writers were just toying with us and dashing Lancelot makes his return in "Lancelot du Lac"—albeit resurrected by Morgana (Katie McGrath) as a brainwashed slave to cause problems for King Arthur (Bradley James) now he's decided to get hitched to servant Gwen (Angel Coulby). Considering he's a royal with untold resources at his disposal, was anyone else underwhelmed by the extent of Arthur's quixotic streak when popping the question? Lighting too many candles in your girlfriend's own house, how romantic...

This episode couldn't escape many of Merlin's problems regarding originality (this featured another bewitched character, enchanted jewelry, and a jousting tournament as a big set-piece), but it managed to develop into something that gave fans some closure with Lancelot. I'm just a little disappointed such a huge event like Arthur deciding to marry a lowly servant girl didn't feel more special. It's perhaps because you don't really get a feel for what the everyday folk of Camelot think about their king, because the show is so focused on its core cast who have speaking parts. The more everyday characters are reduced to standing guard or applauding in crowd scenes. I'd love Merlin to develop some semi-recurring peasants and nobleman (like that Geoffrey of Monmouth character in the library), but it doesn't really work that way here. As a result, I think the magnitude of someone like Gwen becoming queen is lost because the only characters permitted to react do so in a way we've already predicted (i.e. slimy Agravaine (Nathaniel Parker) will be opposed, matchmaker Merlin (Colin Morgan) will be supportive.)

Angel Coulby's been horribly marginalized throughout series 4,, but she finally got a chance to shine here and remind us she's one of the show's better actors. (Or she can blub the most convincingly, perhaps.) I think the moment when Arthur and Gwen were seen a compelling couple has dimmed somewhat (especially now any troublesome disapproval's been removed after Uther's death), but hopefully now things are moving forward the writers will find ways to turn them into a credible and appealing couple.

Perhaps the best thing about "Lancelot du Lac" was how it wasn't so reliant on magic and monsters to sell itself, but was instead just a decent story about love and loss. In some ways it was a shame Lancelot was under a spell, because that kind of robbed his character of a chance to be himself instead of Morgana's undead puppet. If he simply hadn't died in the premiere (which necessitated some kind of magical comeback), we could have easily reached this same situation with Gwen pulled between the two macho men in her life. And that would have helped build a stronger story, in my opinion. Still, at least Lancelot wasn't treated like a totally clueless zombie, and for the most part felt like the character we've known for so long (albeit without any memory Merlin has magic, strangely).

It was also refreshing to have an episode end without tying up every single loose end, which is the best way of doing serialized stories. Having caught Lancelot and Gwen kissing on the eve of their nuptials, Arthur banished his cheating fiancé from Camelot and Lancelot later committed suicide (it's the honourably thing, apparently!) This truly is the end of the road for Lancelot, last seen being cast adrift on a flaming boat, with only Merlin attending his funeral. Did all of Sir Lancelot's alleged friends not go on principle? They must really look down on love rats in Camelot. And Gwen's still out there all alone, pulling her wagon of possessions, as we await the inevitable moment when Arthur realizes Lancelot was doing Morgana's bidding and he's exiled Gwen without knowing all the facts. This kind of thing happens so often you wonder why anyone acting uncharacteristically isn't immediately presumed to be under the influence of sorcery.

Overall, there was much to enjoy about the character-led "Lancelot du Lac" and I'm glad the show gave us a better conclusion to the Gwen/Lancelot storyline than felt likely nine weeks ago. I still think the whole love-triangle could have been done much better, but I suppose this was a unique way handling this particular part of the legend. Unique but slightly underwhelming.


  • I took more notice of the visual quality of this episode and it was indeed noticeably better than previous years because of the 35mm film. Deeper blacks, richer colours. The show never looked bad before, but I think when you're filming on expensive film you probably take more time to ensure the lighting and sets are at their best.
  • Lancelot wore black, just so you know he's a baddie. I'm surprised he didn't grow a goatee.
  • She was only in one brief scene, but that wizened old hag with no eyes lurking in a cave was brilliant. Bring her back!
  • Did anyone else think Merlin was a little creepy to be hanging around Gwen's window, eavesdropping on Arthur's proposal of marriage?
written by Lucy Watkins / directed by Julian Molotnikov / 26 November 2011 / BBC One