Sunday, 23 December 2012

MERLIN, 5.12 – 'The Diamond of the Day: Part 1'


written by Jake Michie / directed by Justin Molotnikov

I'm surprised Merlin hasn't done a story where the eponymous hero loses his magic before now, but it was a good idea to explore in the show's penultimate episode. However, it was something of an eye-roller that Merlin (Colin Morgan) could easily regain his abilities by believing, very hard, that he still has his magic. Even an appearance by the brilliant Eric Cantona John Lynch as Merlin's ghostly father didn't quite work for me; perhaps because we've had no sense that Merlin misses his father since he died. So in essence, Merlin's attempt at a Superman II-style storyline didn't quite work for me. There should have been more instances when Merlin's loss of magic was felt by the people around him; like having a knight die because Merlin was unable to protect him as usual. Such as it was, Merlin simply got a bit grouchy because he can't move cups using telekinesis, and wandered off to a Crystal Cave to be given a spiritual pep talk by his luminescent dad.

The rest of the episode was pretty good, although we've had so many iterations of Camelot being besieged or threatened with attack that the umpteenth version of this idea struggled to capture my imagination. But I did enjoy the union of Morgana (Katie McGrath) and Mordred (Alexander Vlahos), which is clearly a partnership the show desperately needed but has arrived very late. However, it was disappointing Morgana knowing Merlin has magic didn't feel like big deal this week, and that's a worrying sign when we still have the prospect of Arthur (Bradley James) discovering this fact to look forward to. The quality of writing lets Merlin down sometimes, as there's a much better version of events running through my head in-between episodes. Only occasionally do you get flashes of something really good struggling to pull itself out of the mire; like the scene when Arthur admitted he thinks Merlin is the bravest man he knows... but believes he was mistaken after Merlin made an excuse to avoid going to battle.

I did like "The Diamond of the Day" for the most part, but mainly because it's promising bigger things in the concluding part. I don't have faith Merlin will do a good job finishing its story, although I sincerely hope I'm proved wrong, but when you're faced with a conclusion that sees Merlin being "reborn" as Old Merlin, striding out of the Crystal Cave with a look of determination on his face, you just have to worry. After five series, we'll have the insufferable version of Merlin in the big finale instead of the actual character we've come to know and love? Why is being prematurely aged a direct sign of power? Can't Merlin be "recharged" without the burden of arthritis and bad eyesight?

Overall, there was enough here to like, but nothing particularly fresh. More could have been done with the idea of a magic-less Merlin, but the episode did maintain a strong sense of Arthur marching to his unavoidable doom without Merlin around to save him, and I loved the moment when Merlin sobbed in the cave after being trapped inside by Morgana. The effects were also pretty good for a BBC drama; especially in the 300-influenced shot of Arthur fighting enemy soldiers. I just wish "The Diamond of the Day" wasn't littered with so many daft moments that dragged it down; like the mention that a slug-creature that can remove people's magic was hunted to near-extinction when magic was first outlawed. What sense does that make? Those creatures would have been invaluable when it comes to purging the kingdom of magical doers!

The stage is set for the series finale on Christmas Eve, which I'm hoping pulls something special out of the bag. If I'm honest, I just want a perfect scene where Arthur realises his humble manservant is a great wizard and has been responsible for saving his life on numerous occasions. Give me that and a lot of sins can be forgiven elsewhere.

22 December 2012 / BBC1
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