written by Julian Jones / directed by Declan O'Dwyer
This was more like it. Merlin is unfortunately a poor show when it comes to developing ideas over a series, but when it's backed into a corner it often comes up with the goods. Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) was re-introduced as a significant character for this final series in the premiere, but beyond a few cursory moments to remind us of his presence, he's done nothing much of interest until now. It's all coming very late in the game, but "The Drawing of the Dark" managed to progress things significantly as set-up to the two-part finale.
We've spent series 5 knowing that Merlin (Colin Morgan) mistrusts Mordred because of a prophecy that he's destined to kill Arthur (Bradley James), but it hasn't really amounted to anything but mutual glaring. Mordred never had a compelling reason to hate Arthur, so this episode sought to rectify that. And it did so in a way that wasn't particularly original and reminded me of similar stories Merlin's done before, but it was still a solid enough idea to have Mordred's loyalty to Arthur tested by his love for a Druid girl called Kara (Alexandra Dowling) he's known since childhood and who's sentenced to death for sorcery and sedition. I would have preferred something more personal between Mordred and Merlin themselves as the catalyst, but Kara worked okay.
What sold me on this episode for me was the feeling that Merlin's actions are actually fulfilling the prophecy of Arthur's death, because if he'd shown more faith in Mordred none of this would have happened. It was also a story that gave the actors dramatic material that didn't constantly break for an action sequence, but instead was committed to exploring the strained relationship between Arthur, Mordred and Merlin. Arthur having blind faith in his most loyal knight; Mordred having doubts the king's the honourable man he believed him to be; and Merlin trying to keep Arthur safe from harm, yet unwittingly steering fate closer to a situation where Mordred has a clear reason to reunite with Morgana (Katie McGrath).
Also, considering the general feeling that Merlin rarely makes big changes to develop its mythology, it was a genuinely spine-tingling moment when Mordred left Camelot for an audience with Morgana and told her Emrys (the sorcerer prophesied to defeat her) is Merlin. It's a shame this is happening so close to the end of the entire show, but at least it's finally happened... and it helped take the sting out of the moment when the show almost promised something even more revelatory, with Mordred about to reveal he has magic to dispose of his fellow knights, perhaps forcing Merlin to take urgent defensive action and likewise reveal his secret.
A dark, character-based episode with some good performances (Vlahos simmering with anger throughout), this felt like a good appetiser for the big finale. Let's hope the sad realisation we'll never spend a whole series with Merlin as Arthur's trusted sorcerer doesn't put a dampener on things. There's still a chance Merlin can end with a suitably rousing and emotional way that will satisfy fans, and this was a promising step.