Essentially a season 3 finale redux, only with less magic, "The Sword In The Stone: Part Two" was at least a better redo, if tarnished by a feeling of déjà vu. Thankfully, I no longer expect Merlin do something totally original, as the show's been recycling its own ideas for the past few years, albeit with more eagerness to push forward with the Arthurian myth it's re-imagining.
Most of the story was a case of moving us to some obvious goals, and there was only one scene that stood out from the crowd before Camelot was retaken by force: Merlin boosting Arthur's flagging self-confidence by telling him a false "Sword In The Stone" legend, then getting him to extract Excalibur from a rock he'd embedded it in last year, while watched by many subjects in a woodland clearing. It made for a genuinely spine-tingling moment, mainly because of its significance in the legend, although I was a little concerned it was ultimately a trick by Merlin—who allowed Arthur to withdraw the sword using magic. In some ways that deflated the scene, as it would have been preferable if Merlin had simply cast a spell on the rock to only give up its prize to a wielder was of pure heart.
Overall, this wasn't a scintillating end to series 4, but it was an enjoyable one that has me intrigued to see where series 5 takes things. Despite some misgivings here and there, this year was an improvement over series 3 in many ways, and certainly gave us the show's best hours in terms of production quality. The 35mm film stock, cleaner-looking CGI, extra location shooting, and better lighting really gave the show a cinematic look it's never come close to before. So on a visual level, Merlin was a lovely treat this year. And considering where we started in the premiere, enough big things happened to leave me happy with the direction the show's taking (from King Uther's death to Arthur's marriage). I think the problem is how Merlin feels somewhat condemned to retell this myth in broad strokes, so it's largely very predictable and few of its unique wrinkles are better than the traditional legend. It's done a fairly poor job with the Lady Of The Lake and Mordred, if you ask me, and the approach taken with the Lancelot/Gwen/Arthur love-triangle didn't work too well either. The Sword In The Stone setup and pay-off has felt much better, perhaps because it's notably closer to the traditional story.
Still, Merlin will definitely return next year (most likely September) and I'm not against that fact.
- Merlin has another magical power: the ability to find a handy dragon-sized clearing wherever he goes.
- I don't often commend the directing on Merlin, but I really loved the transitional cut Alice Troughton did going from the straw crucifix under Morgana's bed to Arthur snapping his fingers in front of Merlin's face the next morning. The way the ominous music was cut by the quick finger snap worked really nicely.
- It's Gwen vs Morgana! In a sword fight to the death using the choreography of a primary school Peter Pan production.
- I told you Tristan and Isolde wouldn't amount to much, beyond vocalise how wonderful Arthur is for a king, and inspire the reunion of Arthur and Gwen in a tragic way, while presenting a bountiful amount of cleavage in Miranda Raison's case.
- I'm getting very fed up with Arthur refusing to admit Merlin's his best friend. That's one aspect of the show it's been a real puzzle to understand. On the one hand it wants to develop, but it very rarely has Arthur interacting with Merlin the way he really should be after four years together. Why is it so hard for the writers to start writing them as more of an obvious double-act who really get on. The squabbling brothers vibe was cute, but it's getting stale now.