Merlin series 5 episode 5 review: The Disir

Review Dave Adamson 3 Nov 2012 - 21:00

A slightly lacklustre episode this week; Dave reckons it could have been better. Here's his review...

This review contains spoilers

5.5 The Disir

Three soothsayers, the Disir, declare the judgement of the Old Gods on Arthur and Camelot, despatching Osgar, a druid warrior, to deliver their message and bring a return to the old ways. If Arthur doesn't agree to their judgement, Camelot will lay in ruins and Arthur will lose all that he holds dear.

Unaware of what is happening, the King is taking the opportunity to sharpen his sword skills. He spars with the recently knighted Mordred and is impressed with the knight's own skills and progress as a member of the King's retinue.

Merlin, of course, knows who Mordred is and is cautious around the avuncular young knight. The closeness between Arthur and Mordred is causing a bit of resentment and Merlin is decidedly chilly when Arthur gushingly discusses Mordred's capabilities.

Such concerns are quickly thrown aside when new of an attack and the death of a knight reaches Camelot. Osgar, it seems, is to blame for the attack and Arthur sets out to apprehend the druid, taking his knights, including Mordred, and Merlin with him.

With Mordred in tow and manfully being teased by the other knights, Arthur and Merlin track Osgar down to the forest, only to discover that he's a tricky fellow with skills of his own. Even when fatally wounded, Osgar manages to dispense justice, under the authority of the Disir, upon the Once and Future King, leaving Mordred wounded and close to death.

With no choice but to protect his kingdom, Arthur must confront the Disir. Refusing their offer of peace if he returns to the old ways, Arthur returns to Camelot to find Mordred alive... a punishment from the Gods.

Richard McBrien has previously contributed the script for the well-received episode The Hunter's Heart as well as scripts for Spooks, The Bill and Wallander. He certainly knows how to tell an emotional story and there was the potential to spread this story out as a two-parter to give us time to see more of the dilemmas faced by Merlin and Arthur, along with more of an exploration of the Old Gods. Instead, what we have is a story that never feels like it is truly fulfilling its potential.

That's the thing odd thing with this episode - it's not a bad story, it just could have been much better. After all, for the first time in some time, we have Merlin in a moral dilemma with far reaching consequences (not just “should he tell Arthur about magic?”). Should he save the man who would kill Arthur? As Merlin says, he's grown up and he cannot allow Arthur's reign to be cut short. How convincing are his beliefs? Is it possible that, instead of saving Mordred, Gaius sides with Merlin and, despite his reservations, would let Mordred die? A chilling thought, indeed.

Once more, five episodes in, we get a sense of Arthur's moral foundations being shaken by circumstances beyond his control. Despite his initial reluctance to accept the judgement of the Disir, commentary from Gaius and concerns of Merlin shake him to the core. He may have his faith disturbed, but his courage still remains the core of the character and Bradley James continues to demonstrate his range as he slips effortlessly from humour to humility, before he steps forward full of resolve.

Colin Morgan's moment comes in the last ten minutes of the episode as he betrays his own character, declaring that magic has no place in the kingdom. He is torn apart by the guilt of his decision and the weight of his responsibility and there doesn't seem any way out of this particular dilemma.

John Hurt returns as the voice of the Dragon with his own words of his wisdom for Merlin, whilst Katie McGrath is absent from this tale. Elsewhere, Angel Coulby and Richard Wilson gets more screen time, acting as Arthur's counsel. All strong performances that drive forward the story and add substance to characters that are, occasionally, relegated to the background... very much like the knights who, once again, have very little to do and stand around in the background.

Talking of backgrounds, wooded areas and caves have always been a common backdrop for Merlin and this episode is no exception. The darkness of the caves, as the home of the Disir, give us a temple that is an oppressive and cold place, with the three actresses playing the Disir (Frances Tomelty, Sian Thomas and Helen Schlesinger) clothed in dark robes and looking as if they'd stepped out of MacBeth.

"There can be no place for magic in Camelot," states Merlin. He may be expecting it to bring the end of Mordred, but the Disir have other plans for the would-be killer. With Merlin forcing Arthur's hand, the King makes it clear that he will not allow the old times to return. How can Merlin possibly make this right?

Read Dave's review of the previous episode, Another's Sorrow, here.

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oh dear what has happened to this programme. we were supposed to be seeing merlin become the great sorcerer we know him to be. he betrays himself by declaring there is no place for magic in Camelot even though he is a magic user himself. it looks like the magic reveal is becoming even further and further away

Colin Morgan did an amazing work during the whole episode, showing dilemma since the first minutes of the episode, not just during the last ten minutes. These ten minutes were just so very more intense. Colin Morgan is the most brilliant actor of this show and his Merlin is the most complex character.

I think you have misunderstood the entire point of the episode - Merlin had no choice but to say that - it was either reject magic and save the king or reveal it and consign him to his doom - as it turned out the decision was taken out of Merlin's hands and now magic is closer than ever, bubbling just beneath the service.

The point of the episode is to showcase a love-struck Merlin, so blinded by devotion to his Arthur that he opted to forsake his people and deny his being.

As an advisor, ain't he not supposed to make the final position for the king to make? Why not attempt to present the king with the good/bad scenario and let the latter discern it for himself? Why not bother reminding the king to see the good thing about magic inspite of it all, and counterpoint it the evil that non-magic people can also bring about themselves?

Why not even attempt to be discerning and find out what might cause Mordred to make that fatal blow (so then he can explore non-fatal ways to turn it around) rather taking it just a factual youtube viewing then just willing for Mordred to die?

The point of the episode is showing that MERLIN actually caused for Mordred to do what he was youtubed to do, and that the supposedly wise Merlin is actually the epitome of a one-track-minded, selfish, and cowardly all-for-Arthur fool.

It was a slow episode truth be told but it was still interesting the plot twist at the end was very well done but I have a interesting guess at how the series may go.
Since Merlin has to kill Mordred or let him live (most likely resulting in Arthur's death). So they should focus on Merlin's sanity and how he is torn between letting the kingdom flourish through murder or letting it crumble through doing nothing. He is still quite young and it's even hinted right at the end that he might have to use 'direct' methods to get Mordred out of the way. Overall it's a 7/10.

As an advisor, ain't he not supposed to make the final position for the king to make?

Oh dear. You may make a better point if you use correct grammer. I'm not even sure what that sentence is suppose to mean, the double negitive is so bad.

I have to agree that this would have been better as a two parter. Also, am I the only one who thought the dialouge was noticably more... formal than the rest of the series. A lot of 'my Lords' in my opinion, which really stuck out from the usally informal tone.

Other than that, really enjoyable, as per usual. Colin Morgan was on top form as always, the moral dilema was brilliantly played, and I actually let out an audable gasp when he was forced to turn Arthur so harshly against magic. I have a feeling this is going to turn into a real heart wrenching plotline. Not least because I'm genuinly starting to warm to Mordred. Come on, the shot of him riding the horse backwards was quite endeering. I'm going to be quite upset at the inevitable conflict now.

Apologies for my non-perfect English. I could not pretend to be one as I'm not local. Here's hoping though for most to get past the elitism and either take heed what was being asked or just ignore it if it's not of their liking.

Just for the sake of clarification, the question is along the line of: Was it supposed to be more credible for the advisers to share what he considered as pro's and con's and not right away took a position? Then, leave it to the one's seeking for the advise to discern and decide for themselves?

Given the outright dismissive-ness, I won't be expecting of your elitist blinders to ever take the bother to reconsider anyways.

thanks ganesha33... much appreciated. It was such a low-brow reply from Ms English-Perfect Jessica Patton, that she even resorted to mockery with deliberate misspellings. Nonetheless, bygones now.

"Judge men by what they do, not how they do it. Those who use magic for evil must face the judgement of the crown and if necessary punishement". This should have been Merlin's advice to his king, before returning to Camelot and murdering Mordred in his sleep. Still I suppose that would have been a bit hypocritical.

Whoa! Easy! Don't take it so personally, she was just pointing something out...and how could she have known that English isn't your first language?

and so the agony of endurance that is merlin drags on for another episode.... a perfect time for the (long overdue) reveal of merlins magic (such that it is,as it mainly consists of diverting things out of the way and shouting at dragons) and yet we now have the baffling situation of merlin having to hide his magic even further and its only episode 5 of 12 i think. i really am fed up of this crap now and can't even be bothered to type anymore...

Yes indeed. I cant believe people are still watching this anymore. I have not watched a single episode of this season, in protest over two things.

1 - Its going to be the same as the last series and nothing will change, on and on and on the same as the same but a bit different here and there but the same. Looks like I was not wrong, judging by the comments on here, the write ups and reviews I have read.

2 - This should be a full season of Doctor Who we were watching and not Muddling. If the BBC can make 13 more episodes of this guff why not Doctor Who? We have been short changed and shafted and they are using the 50th aniversey as an excuse to get round it. Along the lines of "Oh there will be the rest next year plus lots of stuff for the 50th" When what we will get is the episodes we should have had this year, and a couple of specials and some documentaries on BBC2 / 3 / 4. It stinks.

Cap it off with no new Top Gear and the Jimmy Savile perv a thon and I am about ready to send the BBC my licence back wrapped round a letter bomb. Utter Utter UTTER B******S. Said in a Rik Mayall voice.

I just cent believe this crap is still on. I cant. YAWWWWNNNNNNN....see my post reply below. Anyone know if they are going to do another series after this? Its like Groundhog Day, but not as funny. The way they are going Merlin will be grey and with a long beard and no one will still know about his magic, apart from people with lots of unexplained bruises and bumps. Its like listening to a Kylie Minogue CD, over priced, derivative, boring, and every thing is the same, and just keeps repeating in a slightly different order. ARGgghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

I enjoyed the episode for the explication of the internal/external conflict Merlin has. There have been other episodes when he could have steered Arthur towards acceptance of magic ("Herald of a New Age" is one). However, if there is one thing this show does, it presents the major concerns of the relationships, issues of the kingdom, and values of all of the characters, with some desperate sacrifice that counters their true desires. Then, in a follow-up episode, resolution is found in eliminating obstacles, forgiveness of others, and bearing new value perspectives to the young at heart.

Arthur has a lot to consider as he redesigns his father's old kingdom. With Gwen, Gaius, and Merlin all counseling him, he must feel torn and uncertain. And, I don't think he actually held strong conviction in Merlin's self-sacrificing statement, "There is no place for Magic in Camelot." I think Arthur has experienced Magic, even though evil most times, in ways that he recognizes, even if slightly, that Magic is present and is not going away, and that there is some purpose for its existence.

And so, Merlin's denial of himself and his freedom is impermanent, I believe. He only said it because he feared the future vision of Mordred, which was further solidified by Kilgara's words that Arthur's fate is bound to Mordred's. But, Merlin's sacrifice comes down to a matter of semantics. As of now, ...there is no place for Magic in Camelot..., but someday, and maybe soon, there will be.

The Old Religion included both Dark and Light Magic, and so the development of showing Arthur that Magic can be used for good might be all that's needed to counter Merlin's mournful admission. And, it might take the threat of loss of what Arthur love's most, Gwen, for him to be willing to claim the uses of Light Magic, which might be the only means to save her. I expect in the next episode Arthur will be forced to accept the Old Religion and retract his rejection of it to the Disir, and Merlin's hope for his true freedom will be restored.

One final note: Colin Morgan was magnificent in this episode. He played his internal turmoil of jealousy, resistance/acceptance of fate, and the sacrifice of his own morality and values with perfection. I truly felt deep sorrow for Merlin when he had to reject Magic for Arthur's and Albion's sake. Whenever this show fails in some minor or major way; plot, action, repetitiveness, etc, Colin's performances make it worthwhile in the end.

Horrible episode. The directors of this show think that having "twists" like that is cool but it really isnt. All they are doing is frustrating fans. We get it, Mordred is going to kill Arthur and there is nothing Merlin can do about it!

I might as well stop watching the show now that Arthur's death is pretty much in sight.

I am really getting sick of these ridiculous "twists" the directors of the show are using. They think they are interesting but all they do is alienate and frustrate the fans. I wanted Mordred to die. I wish Merlin just killed him while he was asleep. I get it, Mordred is going to kill Arthur and there is nothing Merlin can do about it!

I dont even know why I am still watching this show.

don't be so hypocritical, and that mistake you just made is the perfect irony.

He wasn't being selfish or cowardly. He made a decision to himself in danger and suffers personally in order to try to save the happiness of his friends and being about the Albion golden age for everyone. That is the opposite of selfish. He was warned about Morgana by the dragon and ignored it to his lasting regret, of course he doesn't want to ignore the dragon this time especially when it is backed up by his own vision. He just made a mistake. He thought Mordred's death would be achieved by getting Arthur to reject the Disir's offer while it actually would have been achieved (along with Merlin's own dear wish of magic's acceptance) by getting Arthur to accept the Disir's offer. Perhaps it was inevitable that Merlin would make a mistake and fail in his attempt to interfere - after all Gaius said only the gods can alter a person's fate.
Merlin is becoming wiser, but he is still young and he cannot know everything especially when it comes to tricky things like prophesy and fate. Gaius still makes mistakes too, even wise people are not absolutely perfect.

Merlin was unbelievably stupid in this episode and more than a little evil. The warnings from the three Disir were clear. His loyalty to Arthur is becoming unreflexive, unthinking and sychophantic to the point where it is empty of meaning. Mordred will of course go on to kill Arthur and yes it is Merlin's fault. Once again he's missed a tremendous opportunity but this time he doesn't have the excuse of youth to fall back on in order to gain our sympathy. He's become a very dark and very flawed character. At the bottom of his untruths probably lies his own fear and under the pretense of putting Arthur's life first his deeply flawed personality is bringing about the King's death and that of thousands on the bloody battle field of the future. What a shame !

I waited for 5 episode to say this (because I thought it will get better) but after the last episode I can definitely say Merlin is loosing it's charm in this season. I can't say I hate Merlin but definitely I hate this season !. The makers are making the main character 'Merlin' look like a fool in this season :( . All he is doing is obsessing with Mordred ! Colin Morgan is a very good actor and he doesn't deserve this !!! Nothing in this season is like the Merlin we saw . I can't say what exactly it is but may be they want to make Merlin in GOT style or something or may be they are giving too much credit to Mordred. This is not the serial I loved so far :( I am nothing but dissapointed with the how things are going this season.

'grammer' is spelt grammar, best proof read your posts from now on, if you're gonna (going to be) a snob. Major fail! lmao

I would not blame Merlin for doing something most of us (whether we admit it or not) would have done. Merlin knew that Mordred must die at all costs for Arthur to flourish. He did what he did so that Arthur can live long and fulfill the destiny of uniting Albion (even if its an Albion free of magic). Unfortunately he was tricked by the crafty disir.

I am sure Merlin will have the chance to eventually reveal his magic.

Well said! Merlin could only go by what he knew - on the one hand he was ill advised by Kilgarrah, on the other hand the choice he had was really no choice.
TBH I think most of us would have done the same.
Nobody could have predicted that the disir let Mordred live despite Arthur renouncing magic. Merlin had really no chance.
As for Colin - surely someone will give him an award?!!

1. Believe it - people do watch it and enjoy it. Why are you even bothering to comment if you have not watched any of this season? Have you just been waiting for one negative review (the rest of the season has been getting great reviews) to then jump at the chance to say "I told you so"? It makes you look like the kid who acts tough but in reality hides behind the school bully.
2. Everyone knows that the BBC only make shows just for you so they ought to know better than to put something on you don't like. Tut tut. Naughty BBC.

Yep . I did watch it and enjoy it once. Its just not really moved on enough and it feels more like by the numbers than ever. I KNOW the BBC dont make programs just for me! However the cost of the licence fee is high, and value for money for me personally is zero. Hence my anger towards it. The trouble is, if you want a TV to watch any other channel, Sky, Virgin, ITV or your media center etc . YOU HAVE TO PAY THE LICENCE FEE AS WELL. There is no choice, If you dont you get fined / jailed etc and they are very heavy handed about it. I have a friend who has no Tv at all, and they constantly get pestered by the BBC for a licence and have had their home checked by the detector van people / nazis because the BBC does not believe that anyone in this county could possible do without a TV. It stinks. The whole setup stinks and after the corruption and scandle revealed by the Jimmy Savile afair, its now hight time that the fee was scraped and the whole thing re thought. But because they have power , and are rich as an organisation, they think they can do what they want, because no matter what happens the money from the fee will always be there. I used to love the BBC, but its got so dumbed down and corrupt its time things were changed. But thats just my opinion, maybe one day things will change but I doubt it. I am sure lots of people enjoy Merlin still, but I am angry for the above reasons and because we should have got a whole season of Doctor Who this year. I hope you can understand my point and reasons for my views, if not, well...shrugs. Have a good day anyway. If I were to buy the DvDs of Doctor Who for this years season, and the series of Top gear, it would cost me about £50 I am setting fire to another £100 I cant afford to loose, to fund a corrupt organisation, they cover up for paedo pervs, have left wing politics, and churn out endless cookery programs, antique shows, how to sell or do up your house shows, strictly come dancing, police dramas, medical dramas and endless repeats across 4 channels when two channels would be enough. I am a Den of Geek fan, hence I like shows like Doctor Who, Homeland, 24, Game of Thrones, Falling Skies etc and films like Starwars, Looper, Judge Dredd and so on. The BBC puts on only two shows I watch. Thats it. So me wasting my money on it makes me mad. I am married and my wife watches the soaps so I am stuck with it. That makes me mad too! lol...oh Well. Peace thanks for reading and Stop the War.....

i loved the dillemma moment, collin morgan did a great job on the scenes which displayed his facial features, so serious and determined. Arthur was good too, especially on the part where he wanted merlin's advice on the desicion and was looking at him. I just wish he could have made the other choice. I was yelling at the screen literally, telling merlin to please, make magic users free again for his own freedom. And then when he did the opposite, i nearly toppled from the chair.
well, of course its not that surprising that people that have secrets would do the opposite of what they believe in order to hide them, in almost every secret identity that leads to the mortal danger of anyone who knows.
Obvoiusly arthur wouldn't do it for one man....... or would he?
The twist at the end was great. How could I have ben so stupid, merlins thought, hehe
awesome episode

i agree completely, I wanted merlin to embrace magic because it would lead to what arthurs destined to do (make a fair and just kingdom for both non-magic and magic users) AND let arthur warm up to magic, plus the reveal.
damn it. darn, omg, this is really *@*# annoying me. plus merlin seemed very cruel and seemed to think he knows wat hes doing. oh well, cant always be right can he, hes human too.

I thought this episode was absolutely brilliant as I knew that Mordred had to survive somehow but that twist at the end that he survived to be Arthur's doom as punishment, I didn't see it coming - it was extremely clever. Merlin's been a bit sidelined and petulant recently but he's still wonderful and I love his dilemma, Colin Morgan played it very well!

I am seriously getting frustrated with the show. Instead of Merlin actually talking like an adult with a brain, he now simpers and praises like an idiot. It's gotten so old, I have to agree with some of the other reviewers in that this is getting tired. With Merlin having been through as much as Arthur and Merlin have together, yeah, I think he should be able to talk to him straight, instead of an opinion-less halfwit, and tell Arthur he has magic. I mean, they are best friends. This is turning into a ridiculously long after-school special about being true to yourself and what happens when you aren't. ugh. the writers seriously can't move the story to save their life.

This season of Merlin is really boring! The relationship between Arthur and Gwen is dull. The focus on Morgana is also dull, there's not enough magic, additional characters and supernatural's and the story arc is too slow. Not impressed!

I think that Merlin's character is not as intimidating or powerful as he should be. He seems quite weak. But I do understand that he has to look this way in front of Arthur, but what about when he is actually doing his job outside of the king's walls?

I disagree completely. In five seasons, he's trying to show that Colin is more an Adult and more Wiser, but yet he constantly does stupid thing like he was in the first couple seasons. He takes the character one step forward than several step back by acting exactly as the child he's trying to out grow. And according to the Timeline in Show More than 7 years has passed. Yet Colin and Bradley are written exactly the same. Only Angel & Katie's characters has actually changed noticeably from where she used to be in the beginning

Then you have the relationship between Merlin and Arthur, which given the fact that Merlin really has saved him and vice versa so often they should know each other a lot better. Literally Arthur has acknowledged Merlin's wisdom in every season in several episodes then somehow seems to forgets it the very next episode. And Merlin somehow keeps forgetting that Arthur will go through any lengths to rescue his people... What we covered this in the first couple seasons too. Come on it's just really lazy writing. They are really dragging the series for no real reason at all.

And i know Arthur is suppose to be a little slow about somethings but he should of figured out by now that Merlin has magic, it's just all ridiculous.

This episode really pissed me off due to exactly what you stated. It was clear to me from the first thing the Disir said that Arthur would die and Camelot would be destroyed if magic wasn't permitted. After hearing that, I have no idea what the hell Merlin thought he was saving. It annoyed me to no end to watch this episode because I don't understand how the writers could allow Merlins character to be SO oblivious, and now Im just waiting to see the doomed and incredibly senseless end. I love this show dearly but I feel as if they failed with the mapping out of this season, the reveals, everything. I just wish it couldve been more clever and less obvious to me (the viewers) at least.

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