written by Julian Jones / directed by Justin Molotnikov
Last week's premiere was an unexpectedly mature and compelling opener for Merlin, and I was astonished to find the concluding part of "Arthur's Bane" was equally as good with added revelations. In terms of the actual plot, it was a simple case of keeping the inertia of Part 1's storylines going until a satisfying end. Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur (Bradley James) were taken prisoner by Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) and transported across a tundra to Morgana's (Katie McGrath) snowbound castle; the injured Sir Gwaine (Eoin Macken) made friends with a spindly translucent cave creature; Queen Gwen (Angel Coulby) was unwavering in her decision to execute traitorous handmaiden Sefa (Sophie Rundle), although her resolve was later revealed to be a plan to entice Sefa's sorcerer father Ruadan (Liam Cunningham) to Camelot; and Morgana was revealed to own white baby dragon Aithusa (who hatched from an egg in series 4), although she's having a strange nightmare about being stuck at the bottom of a well with the winged beast.
There were aspects of this episode that didn't quite work, such as Morgana's plan to find the Diamair—which was touted as something much bigger than it was, instead leaving us with an unsurprising twist that the glowing being in the cave is the "artifact" she's been digging for. The Diamair character itself was a pretty striking visual effect for the show (digital characters don't come cheap, and this one could have been done far worse), but I'm not it was very necessary. If the Diamair had been a jewel or trinket, nothing would have been lost from the story, because the Diamair's conversation with Gwaine and Merlin were circular and pointless.
Far better was the genuinely surprising twist with sullen Mordred, who was setup as the "bane" of the title—mainly because of the character's reputation in the Arthurian legend, which inspired last week's premonition from a Druid showing Arthur being slain on a battlefield by Mordred. Here, things were flipped completely on their head, with Mordred choosing to stab Morgana just when she was about to kill arch-nemesis Arthur—and later being rewarded with a knighthood back at Camelot. So now we have a benign Mordred who knows Merlin's magical secret and has powers of his own, so that will be interesting to see develop. However, I have serious doubts Mordred's position is going to last, and suspect he'll somehow come to hate Arthur over the course of series 5 and eventually go crawling back to Morgana, ready to commit regicide come the finale.
The character that's benefiting most from recent changes appears to be Gwen, even if her tough stance on traitors was revealed to be part of a long con. Coulby's spent years in a rather thankless role, so you can tell she's relishing being the centre of attention at Camelot when Arthur's away; wearing beautiful clothes and being given a storyline that's worth getting up for in the morning. I hope this continues, and not only when Arthur/Merlin are away on a quest and the show simply needs someone for Gaius (Richard Wilson) to talk to now Uther's dead.
Overall, considering most two-parters fizzle out once they're required to resolve things, "Arthur's Bane: Part 2" wasn't too shabby. The only real problem was the rather pointless Diamair macguffin, and a certain unlikelihood that Mordred would become a Knight of the Round Table so quickly, but otherwise this was a very entertaining start to series 5. I just hope it continues to take advantage of the darker tone the Merlin's getting better at balancing with its more light-hearted character dynamics, and some of the setups (Morgana's nightmare with Aithusa, the Druid's prophecy about Mordred, the escape of Sefa) get developed well over the next few months.