Sunday, 28 October 2012

MERLIN, 5.4 – 'Another's Sorrow'

Sunday, 28 October 2012

written by Jake Michie / directed by Ashley Way

I have to confess, I'd completely forgotten the background to the relationships this episode built on, and I'm probably not alone in struggling to remember that Princess Mithian (Janet Montgomery) was once engaged to King Arthur (Bradley James), and that Uther's death was ordered by a man called Odin (Fintan McKeown) as revenge for Arthur killing his son in a duel. Or maybe I am? Thankfully, "Another's Sorrow" wasn't impenetrable if you haven't seen, or can't remember, the episodes it acted as a quasi-sequel to. I'm not convinced I'd have enjoyed this if the same story had been done in series 2 or 3, but now that Merlin's developed a moodier aesthetic and glossier filming style, it somehow feels easier to give yourself over to the show. Maybe that's because there's less of a feeling you're 20 years older than the target audience, as they're clearly making an effort to appeal to older viewers this year—and, to be honest, original fans who are five years older and now more demanding teenagers.

I'm a little bored by how often Merlin returns to the same well for ideas, and this episode was unfortunately guilty of that. Morgana (Katie McGrath) forming an off-screen allegiance with a powerful King, to help him kill Arthur in exchange for the throne of Camelot... it feels like it's been done before, with various tweaks, a handful of times already. It's Morgana's default plan for everything she does, really—so that's a little frustrating. Still, the specifics of the plan had some merit this time, as Morgana and Odin kidnapped King Rodor (James Fox) and blackmailed his daughter Princess Mithian into leading Arthur and his Knights into a death trap. Having Morgana use a spell to age herself considerably, to pose as the Princess's handmaiden Hilda and keep the deception on-track, was an idea that also worked quite well. McGrath was certainly less amusing playing a geriatric than Colin Morgan's been whenever Merlin casts the same spell—although there's seemingly no escaping pantomime-y croaky voices.

For the majority of this episode, it was enjoyable but fairly unremarkable stuff—albeit with a smattering of good moments; like Merlin (Morgan) being alerted to Morgana's trickery after Mithian sent him to collect water from a stream where she's written a warning on a nearby rock. But there were also some of Merlin's usual irritations, particularly regarding characters being supremely stupid: like when Gaius (Richard Wilson) examined "Hilda" and noticed her circulation is as strong as a woman half her age, but didn't immediately suspect magic. Instead, both he and Merlin turned into dullards and stood around wondering what the answer can be, when such oddities are always proof magic's being used. Or how about Morgana not tying the Princess to her bed, as that would have prevented her escaping, or later killing Merlin instead of just choking him unconscious? And why does Arthur keep risking his own life by accompanying his Knights into dangerous situations like this? Okay, so there just isn't a TV show if some flaws aren't allowed to exist, but a few could be tidied up with minimal fuss.

That said, "Another's Sorrow" grew into itself during the climax, with a few noteworthy developments lodging in your memory. It was appreciated seeing Arthur and Gwen (Angel Coulby) actually share scenes as husband and wife behind closed doors, and this episode finally gave us an insight into how Arthur's slowly uniting the entire country—with a scene where he's merciful with Odin and forms an alliance between their kingdoms. It also helped that Merlin was instrumental in making Arthur realise there's a way to resolve things without bloodshed, which feels like an overdue development for Merlin if he's going to eventually become the King's trusted advisor (if Merlin indeed sticks to what we expect from Arthurian legend). All of those things were great to see and helped elevate an otherwise decent but otherwise forgettable episode.


  • There were lots of famous faces this week: the return of Janet Montgomery (Human Target) as Princess Mithia from "The Hunter's Heart", screen legend James Fox, and Fintan McKeow (this year's second Game of Thrones alumni after Liam Cunningham's appearance a few weeks ago).
27 October 2012 / BBC1