Merlin series 5 episode 6 review: The Dark Tower

Review Dave Adamson 10 Nov 2012 - 16:55

The Dark Tower was an episode with huge potential and great performances, despite feeling a little rushed. Here's Dave's review...

This review contains spoilers.

5.6 The Dark Tower

Remember how Sir Elyan and Gwen are brother and sister? I know, it's an easy fact to forget as it's so rarely mentioned. We're given a quick reminder here as the pair mourn their father, returning to his grave and sharing their thoughts. 

Of course, this momentary break from Camelot gives Morgana the perfect opportunity to return and kidnap the Queen, whilst her magical snakes leave Percival and Leon poisoned by dark magic. Furious that Gwen has been kidnapped, Arthur sets out to rescue her, with Merlin and the knights at his side (including the recently recovered Percival and Leon who return to active duty with nary a thought for the dark magic-induced illness that Gaius has diagnosed). 

Morgana, meanwhile, plans to use Gwen as bait in her trap... a trap that takes them all to The Dark Tower, an ominous-sounding place that haunts the dreams of men. It's renowned amongst the knights of old as a dangerous place the very name of which can bring doom upon an army. This isn't going to be a history lesson for Gwen however, as she finds herself trapped in a room encountering visions and strange noises that slowly erode her sanity. It's all part of Morgana's most nefarious plot yet, and she's being as sweet as apple pie to Gwen. 

Their quest to the tower takes the knights through an overgrown forest, bringing its own challenges as they realise they've been travelling in a circle, robbing Arthur of his hope. Merlin, however, is confident that they will succeed and encounters Queen Mab, ruler of the forest. She provides Merlin with a way out and warns him of what is to come, giving the wizard renewed vigour as he guides the party from danger with his newly-discovered magical GPS. 

As Arthur storms to the rescue and Gwen becomes more fragile, Morgana enacts her cruellest trick - extending the hand of friendship to the Queen and robbing Arthur of one of his closest friends. 

The Dark Tower is the first episode of series five that feels a tad disappointing. It's not a bad instalment and has strong ideas that develop Morgana and Gwen's characters, but suffers from a rushed ending. Considering the loss of a knight and the kidnapping of Gwen, you'd think Arthur would want to confront Morgana, destroy the tower or commit some other act of masculinity – however, we get nothing of the sort; Gwen is found, a body is burned and we get a rather chilling ending. It feels like there's something missing from this narrative. 

Allowing the cold-hearted Morgana and the helpless yet determined Gwen to share screen time gives Katie McGrath and Angel Coulby to shine. When Gwen reveals her torment, there's a tender moment between Coulby and McGrath with a shard of emotion from the former and coldness from the latter. McGrath really does paint Morgana as a spurned would-be Queen, robbed of her rightful position whilst Coulby performs well as the damsel-in-distress, particularly shining when she gets to deliver actual dialogue instead of look fearful. 

Arthur's singleminded dedication plays a strong part in this story, as it has in all episodes of series five so far. His love of Gwen and faith in his knights drive Bradley James' mature performance, whilst he still maintains the petulant edge, allowing Colin Morgan's Merlin to step forward as the voice of reason, refocusing Arthur's mind and carrying the story forward once again. 

The Dark Tower itself, with its winding staircase, traps, litter of skeletons and detritus of fallen knights, is like something from Hammer Horror, whilst the traps themselves will be familiar to anyone who has seen a dungeon in a film before. It's an interesting, if somewhat unoriginal premise, that feels underdeveloped, mainly as we get to see so little of it. 

It's a story with huge potential and some wonderful performances, though there's not enough time to tell the tale effectively which robs it of some of its drama, especially in the final act. It does, however, change Gwen's trajectory as Morgana's dark magic takes hold, and - as has been the case with all the episodes of series five thus far - gives us a tantalising taste of what is to come.

Read Dave's review of the previous episode, The Disir, here.

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omg really hope anymore knights don't get killed.
this was definitely the best episode of the series. morgana is ten times the villian mordred will ever be.
really hope gwen doesn't betray arthur and that was just morganas magic.
can't wait for next week and the return of DRAGOON THE GREAT.
bring on old merlin.

I was really shocked when Gwen went to Morgana at the end of the episode and I can't believe that she would turn against Camelot. It was bad enough when Morgana turned into an evil bitch but Gwen turning evil is even worse, especially since we had absolutely no warning about it; no prophecies from Kilgharrah, Queen Mab didn't mention it, there was no warning at all. I really hope that Gwen comes to her senses; I don't think I could take it if there was yet another traitor in Camelot, unless its Mordred of course. I also find it rather unbelievable in addition to shocking. Morgana showed signs of a dark side in series 1 and series 2 but the darkest thing Gwen has ever done was sentence Sefa to death and that was only so that she could get rid of Ruadan. I hope I don't start hating Gwen as much as I hate Morgana. I loved Morgana when she was good and now I despise her, despite her beauty. Gwen is very beautiful too, but I hope that she manages to keep or get back her inner beauty in addition to her physical beauty.

The death of Elyan was also a suprise, although it would have been more shocking if we hadn't gotten any warning. Then again two massive shocks in one episode might have been too much, especially since it's not the finale. If Gwen really has become like Morgana then she's dishonouring both her brother and her fathers memories, just like Morgana dishonours Gorlois' memory. Bloody hell they're starting to sound so alike it's almost frightening!

Great twist, but I hope Gwen comes to her senses. I like her too much.

Am I the only one thinking that this was pretty scary for a family show? Mentally torturing someone seems a little intense when 8-year-olds will be watching, especially when so well acted.

Such a great ending to this Merlin episode but i'm not sure if I like the idea of Gwen turning against Arthur. I guess we'll have to see till future episodes.

I don't agree. I can't stand Sir Leon. I'd celebrate if he died, presumably by accidentally falling over or something similarly unimpressive.

Just remember. Male: legitimate holders of power and good. Female: no more than eves in different forms and always to be distrusted. The essence of this kind of fairy tale. It's interesting that such a strong iteration of the power of the patriarchy is being dramatised in the supposedly no longer sexist West of the 21st century. This one must be popular with Fathers for Justice, at least!

Gwen hasn't turned evil. She's just suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome. This is where someone who has been made captive begins to see their captors as friends. It's a kind of brainwashing ;-)

Colin Morgan's acting is really what makes me love this show. His loveable and sympathetic but also stronger Merlin is what makes this story interesting to me as it's his own evolution towards the powerful sorcerer that we're witnessing and Colin Morgan plays that excellentely. Everything else is deja vu. That's why the show should refocus more on Merlin's own story arc to show how the young warlock is becoming the powerful sorcerer of the Merlinian legend. Colin Morgan is the lead actor here and his Merlin is the main character.

Loved the twist at the end - I had an inkling that Gwen might be enchanted when I saw her strange blank expression as she watched Elyan's funeral. This provided a welcome change to all the episodes where Morgana hatches a plot and is foiled by Merlin by the end of the 45 minutes. I hope this storyline continues for a few more episodes -perhaps Gwen will ally herself to Mordred and thus set in motion Arthur's downfall.
I agree about the subtle change in the relationship between Merlin and Arthur - this is the first time that Arthur openly allows Merlin to take the lead.
I'm sorry that Elyan had to be killed off, but then I would have been sorry to see any of the main characters go. Don't understand why Matt dislikes Leon so much - he's exactly the sort of person I'd like to have as a friend or brother. Percival is probably the one I'd miss least because the writers haven't yet given him any personality.

I have to say i am so tired of the same stories every season Morgana brainwashes someone all the time. i love this show then other times i scream and just cant finish the ep. the whole twist at the end is just lame. i enjoyed last weeks episode this week just a rerun in my book. hope they can move past this stuff give us new stories. finish off Morgana sooner than later move on. like i said i still love the show just very frustrating.

Dan Kirkman

Bellingham wa

I gave a little cheer when Elyan died, horrible I know but I just don't like him. Same with Leon. Percival, Gwaine, Arthur and Mordred all have real personality, but Leon and Elyan are just...bland.

Yeah, I am not a fan of Leon either. He always strikes me as totally boring. Give me Gwaine any time! Elyan could have been far more interesting (like in ep. 'A Herald of the New Age') if he had been given proper character development.

Yep definitely agree with you. i don't consider him a proper knight anyway. he wasn't knighted at the round table and probably still likes uther. the writers of the show actually didn't mean for him to stay in.

Now I love Merlin. Like its getting a tad obsessive and unhealthy at this point but I have to admit i was very dissapointed with last nights episode.

Right, Gwen getting kidnapped. Fine. Arthur going after her. Naturally. But i personally felt that the whole storyline wasnt well told at all and by the last scene with Gwen and Morgana I was completly lost. There was a big, fairly dreary build up to a face slap of a climax with a twist that made me a bit dizzy.....

I think the writers are losing their will to write a script at the moment. Its not the first time iv been shouting at the screen saying BUT THEY WOULDNT DO THAT!! For example, When Merlin randomly declares he knows the way out of the scary forrest by really obviously staring at the gound for ages, everybody just accepts this. WHAT!? Im sorry and some people will disagree with me and i know Arthur and Elyon wanted to find Gwen yadda yadda but you think somebody would have gone "now hang on a sec! You know where were going?" Like i know Arthur trusts him completly but thats pushing it just a tad and made it lose some of its finess.

Also with Morgana and Gwen? What actually happened at the end?? Because in the tower Gwen was trusting Morgana but she always backed off and caught herself. I know she began to feel sorry for her but i didnt sense any allegiance shifts. And as far as I could see there was no enchantment put on Gwen. So at the end when she declares she hates them all and want them all dead?? Did that seem a bit Out Of The Blue to anybody else?? I dont think the writers explained it enough. Maybe itll become clear in future episodes?

I personally think that the story is becoming a bit "forced". And the lack of light humour to break the tention every so often is making the episodes twice as long and harder to follow. I miss Happy go Lucky Merlin from previous series. Yes Sire, No Sire Three Bags Full Sire is getting a bit depressing. (And i know the whole "well he has his destiny to fulfill" yadda dont shoot me!!) I can only hope and pray that the storyline evolves a bit more and the writing improves. The actors are brilliant as usual. Its just the writing.

(in my opinion.....)

I enjoyed the episode, but with reservations. I too feel the season seems to be rushing through stories, as if they are leaving too much on the editing floor. Had there been a scene where we saw Gwen fully brainwashed and on Morgana's side, the ending might have made sense. And, if there was just one moment in the Elyan death scene where she turned and showed some hatred before Arthur and the others arrived, that would have connected the dots. However, I still enjoyed the episode for creating an unexpected antagonist for Merthur. Although, I think this will be resolved in the next episode (at least, I hope it will) and given they are rushing through storytelling like an olympic sprint, they just might. The moment where Merlin was easily trusted in choosing the new direction was a bit too easy. His idea should have been presented earlier and rejected, then it would make sense for them to go along with him a second time. Bradley James was fab in this episode; I truly believed his despair at the thought of losing Gwen. Angle Coulby also did a fine job a 'going bananas'.

As far as Morgana still being the primary villain, I am definitely tired of it all. It's time for her to take a back or side-seat. I want Mordred to show his villanous self, and his magic antagonist.

At this point, I'm ready for a reveal from Merlin to Arthur. That will significantly improve the rushed through series, and give us all some new storyline territory to dig into.

haha this is brilliant. when morgana talked about her torture for two years it just broke my heart. i truly think (asides from her obsession of ruling Camelot) that morgana wanted gwen as a friend again. amazing acting from katie. she (morgana) is my favourite in the show this season. i don't like how merlin is turning out, ready to kill or worse just for some destiny. i liked it when he tried to see the good in people.
and to you who say the whole brain washing thing doesn't make sense. if they had shown her be brainwashed it wouldn't have been a twist at the end! i do wonder though how they will bring her back to being good, as its not like Morgana has just cast a spell on her... exciting episodes to come i think :)

Ambiguous dilemma happens outside of camelot.
The king makes the decision to ride out and meet it.
"But your people need you!"
"But I must do this."
The king rides out, Merlin at his side, and they defeat ambiguous dilemma.

Now, I'm a huge fan and have been for a long time (Merlin was my way of escaping that god awful Robin Hood show they did.) but I'm getting tired of these identical scripts! Though I must say, I could easily deal with the lacklustre writing if it wasn't for one other detail, which is my confusion towards who is supposed to be the good guy these days?
In the past, it was obvious Uther was the big baddie. He hunted magic users down until there were barely enough left for his ritual public executions, and over the course of 4 series we grew to obviously pity magic and hope for the day when its users would be free. Even the title character, the main lead, is possibly the most important magic user in the entire show! Now let's face it, not much has changed since Uther died. Magic is still outlawed, and it's implied that even with Arthur's trial among peers system, that magic users are still unfit for life and should be executed. So, we've just established that not much has changed since Uther's death.. Why, then, are we supposed to LIKE Arthur as a character? He's essentially the same character as Uther as far as anyone of the old religion is concerned! It's bloody confusing, is what it is. They portray Uther in a bad light but Arthur in a good light, when the only difference between the two is the laws put in place to govern the regular, non-magic users. I'm ranting, I know. There's 6 episodes worth of utter confusion pouring from my fingertips right now.

Arthur is still an inherently evil character, yet we're supposed to like him because things will eventually change. It's not his actions that make him evil, it's his inaction, and, in the nature of inaction, you do not see it happening. Bradley's pretty face and excellent acting doesn't change the fact that the writers need a serious kick. They teach us to hate a character for a certain act, then love a character for the same act in the next series. Bah, rant over, rant over. I just went all aspergers over this comment section. RANT OVER.

Arthur smells.

Very good episode from a very good series. Perhaps the darkest one yet. Merlin has taken the 'Behind the Sofa' mantle from insipid Doctor Who.

How long can the producers string out the 'sorcery is forbidden' theme though? The threats to Camelot by sorcery are becoming so severe that Arthur will have to accept he requires similar firepower soon enough, surely?

Not going to lie; there were a few small things in this episode which didn't really make sense, such as when Arthur came rushing in when Percival and Gawaine got injured and everyone exchanged awkward glances as he questions "Where's Gwen?" Seriously, we're supposed to believe that THE QUEEN OF CAMELOT gets kidnapped and it's no one's first port-of-call to go inform the king that his beloved wife is missing? "Gwen's missing...didn't anyone both to come and tell you? Damn, sorry, slipped our dedicated minds."

The ending was a little rushed I guess. I felt the ending made little sense at first because it confused me that Morgana enchanted a sword to defend her which put little fight and then after Elyan had died Arthur rushed in and saved her... Morgana just let her leave? But then the ending made it clear Morgana had brain-washed her in the tower and I accepted it as an okay ending. I'll admit I'm slightly fed up of the whole "Arthur is betrayed by a traitor in the castle- is it Morgana, his beloved sister or is it Agravaine his beloved uncle? No, this time it's Gwen, his beloved wife! However, it may be interesting to see how this pans out as I can't see this storyline lasting more than a few episodes.

Regardless, I'll stick with Merlin until the end- I would LOVE at this point, for either Merlin's magic to be found out, or even for Arthur to allow magic in the kingdom, but I sense these are both unlikely developments and so I don't hold my breath. It's best to just enjoy this program for what it is...and anyway, it's hot guys and arthurian legend, there's only so far it can go wrong for me anyway.

I'm sorry - I love Merlin as a series and rate it perhaps second only to Dr. Who. However, when Arthur and the knights left their horses behind and trampled on foot through the Enchanted Woodland and across the Plain of Desolation in search of the Dark Tower, all I could keep thinking of was Monty Python and the Holy Grail! I expected the knights to either suddenly break out into a clumsy song and dance, or else to be suddenly attacked by a smalll white flesh-eating bunny rabbit. Am I alone.........?

See now if we have to Google Stockholm Syndrome just to make sense of the storyline, dont you think that thats bad writing on their part!? they should have explained that or shown more of Gwen siding with Morgana. It was careless in my opinion. Thanks for clearing it up! =)

If Gwen really join with Morgana, am never watching Merlin again.

I think it's stupid to make Gwen such an easy target for manipulation. Granted the loss of her brother would make her angry but she is angry at the wrong person. I mean why team up with the very person who killed her sibling it's inconsistent with her character thus far.. really dissapointing

I hope she recovers and quickly

The writers are recycling. Please evolve the storylines. This show is called Merlin, but Merlin can't really do anything new if you continuously keep him in the same blasted position he has been in for five blasted years.

Oh the tears I shed for Sir Elyn. I literally, cried and cried again, and when the episode ended, I stared blankly at the ceiling, wondering why?! I had thought that Gwen was going to be meeting someone else (anyone, but morgana) and talk about how she wants her head.....and when she hugged Morgana, my heart just kind of twisted in on itself. I need a break before going into the next episode to sort out my emotions.

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