Merlin series 5 episode 7 review: A Lesson In Vengeance

Review Dave Adamson 17 Nov 2012 - 20:45

A slow build-up in this week's Merlin leads to a story of deception, disguise and betrayal. Here's Dave's review...

This review contains spoilers.

5.7 A Lesson In Vengeance

As ever, let's begin with a short recap of this week's action. Whilst celebrating Arthur and Gwen's first anniversary, the pair's hopes of a quiet, romantic picnic (with Merlin following behind) are scuppered when a roadside IED throws Arthur from his horse, injuring him and scaring away his steed. A couple of mercenaries hope to murder the King, but he's a capable swordsman and makes short work of this inconvenience – with a bit of help from Merlin. 

Who could possibly be behind this attack? Well, the evidence at hand – a restitched saddle and red twine, lead us to Tyr Seward, the King's stable hand. With Seward sentenced to death, Merlin sets out to prove the young man's innocence, discovering that Seward was fearful of revealing the truth; a well justified fear, as it turns out. 

There's something wrong with Guinevere, and Merlin knows it. She's under the crafty enchantment of everyone's favourite villain, Morgana. Having failed to kill the King, she manages to silence Seward, before meeting Morgana and reporting her activities, nearly being caught by Sir Gawaine. 

Morgana isn't happy that the King is still alive. A quick to the local, unscrupulous apothecary gives Morgana what she needs in order to furnish Gwen with a potion that will certainly do the job. All she has to do is administer a couple of drops and then find another scapegoat. 

Merlin, however, discovers Gwen's treachery whilst he's washing clothes, thanks to a piece of finely embroidered cloth.  However, it comes too late as he discovers the King very much unconscious and Gwen nowhere to be seen. 

As Gaius delivers his diagnosis, Gwen casts aspersions on Merlin's character, deploying the knights to find the servant.  She's distraught that Merlin, the most trusted of all the King's men, should be the betrayer, but she is sure in her actions and the wizard is thrown into the dungeons to await his fate.

With the King close to death, discussion turns to who will be the next ruler of Camelot. Step forward Gwen, thanks to the suggestion of Sir Leon. All she now needs is for the King to die, and it looks like it's going to happen very soon. 

Realising that he is the only one that can save Arthur, Merlin effects an escape from the dungeons, with a little help from Gaius and magic. He could blow open the cell doors and render the guards unconscious, but instead we get... Old Merlin, who is full of bile and sarcasm, but doesn't outstay his welcome as he returns to his youthful state and leads the knights on a merry chase through the castle. 

With Gwen safely in the protection of the knights, Gaius convinces Merlin to use his magic to heal the King, though the wizard is unsure. Thankfully, he is powerful enough and Camelot, once again, is saved. 

As Arthur recovers and a new day dawns, Merlin is released. The King is happy to see his servant, though Merlin isn't able to reveal the truth as the Queen has found the supplier of the poisons who implicates Morgana, leaving Gwen free to betray again. 

A Lesson of Vengeance is an odd episode. It's a good story that seems to spend too long before actually going anywhere. It's well written and entertaining, with plenty happening; but there seems to be a lot of build-up, before a far-too-rushed resolution. What could have been a labyrinthine story, with plot twists and red herrings galore, delivers a few dramatic punches but seems to lack a knock-out blow. 

On the plus side, the dark-Gwen storyline isn't resolved in the forty-two minute runtime and it'll definitely be worth tuning in to see how this one is going to be resolved. It's also going to be great to see Angel Coulby tear up the scenery again as the puppet Queen. 

Coulby is wonderfully wicked in this episode; not reduced to a pantomime parody, but deliciously evil. There are a couple of moments where she gives a Morgana-esque smirk, but it is quite an effective performance that doesn't seem too out of character, at first, for someone who has recently lost a brother and been tortured! Alongside the always-wonderful Katie McGrath, the pair make a wonderful duo and it's going to be exciting to see what the writers have planned. 

This week's guest star John Bradley, familiar to Game of Thrones fans as Samwell Tarly, doesn't stray far from type as Tyr Seward, the unsure young man, lacking in confidence and wanting to do the right thing. His character is short lived, which is a shame as it would have been given Seward more purpose had he been able to redeem himself. 

Old Merlin makes a reappearance. Yes, we get to see Colin Morgan in the Old Merlin make up, full of crotchety impatience and sarcasm. However, we don't have to experience this for too long, which is only a good thing. 

Also making a reappearance is innuendo-based humour. In particular, a moment where Arthur catches Merlin going through Gwen's wardrobe raises a smile and reminds us of past seasons of Merlin. As with Old Merlin, the humour doesn't outstay its welcome; though unlike Old Merlin, it sits more comfortably within this episode. 

Only a handful of episodes remain and we've got Morgana still playing a part, an enchanted Gwen, a suspicious Merlin, Mordred close to the King, and a King who is in for the ultimate betrayal. So many threads, so little time. Despite its flaws, this episode continues the sterling work that has been the reinvention of a series that, in the past, was too fluffy in places to be taken too seriously.

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

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wtf merlin used magic right in front of arthur and he still doesn't come round? dear dear.
mind can't wait for episode 10. in episode 9 merlin will break the enchantment on gwen. this means that in episode 10 morgana will lead a search for alator of the catha. i really hope he tells him who emrys really is. it would really spice up the show if morgana knew who merlin was. (sorry spoilers) :)

A good ep. Colin Morgan was bloody brilliant, not that that needs to be said at this point ;) Merlin's anguish when he thought he'd failed to save Arthur, then his relief when it became clear he had...that scene choked me up just a teeny bit. Also loved the 'happy to see you' moment between the boys at the end, very sweet. And nice that Arthur doesn't seem to have entertained for a moment the thought that Merlin was guilty.

I thought it was odd that none of the knights seemed to question it...I know they could hardly argue with the queen, but a shot of Gwaine looking a bit disbelieving would have filled the gap! Or Mordred going - 'magic's being used? That's probably Merlin...' Something...

LOVE old Merlin. Just love him. You're right that's it's good we don't see him for too long, I think that would feel a bit out of place, especially with the the dark tone of this year. But he's just wonderful every now and again!

I did enjoy the episode, Angel Coulby is wonderful as Evil Gwen, and it was good to see more of Gaius too. But ultimately, when it ended, my overall feeling was 'It's happening again!!!!' For the third series in a row, someone Arthur completely trusts is betraying him, only Merlin & Gaius know, and they can't/won't tell him. I was really hoping they were going to do something different with it this time round. It was even referenced in Arthur's dialogue, when he said that he thought he should have learned from experience by now! I love this show, but it is a bit frustrating.

Stupid episode. Why the hell didn't Arthur put two and two together and realise that Gwen poisoned him. They were in the room alone together when Arthur passed out and the apothecary told him about the poison being administered to the ear so... rubbish writing for the excuse to draw out these plots. Where the Grail plot could have easily come in and made this an exciting 2-parter we instead get the memory wipe laziness.

I've often read your reviews on Merlin episodes and though generally I tend to agree with most things you say, there's one thing that really strikes me as odd in them.
You never fail to (rightly) praise Angel Coulby and Bradley James when they are acting their socks off, but it feels like you never do that for Colin Morgan.
In fact, I can recall you mentioning at one point in the 5x05 campfire scene that "Colin Morgan betrays his own character", like it was him writing the script, playing Merlin off character or something.
This time once again, you fail to note the examplary imo piece of acting from C M in the Merlin-heals-Arthur scene. Instead, you point out how nice it was that, though they had Dragoon appear they got rid of him fairly soon. If you meant it that its good they didn't overuse him I agree, but to me it felt more like "oh God, here's another Colin Morgan scene. Bummer"...
I dunno... It really stands out when I read the other online reviews .
I may be completely wrong about this but... Do you dislike Colin Morgan as an actor? Or is it Merlin as a character that you don't like?
I'm genuinely curious.

Mr Adamson, I sense a lot of low subjectivity in your reviews of Merlin. Colin Morgan is wonderful in this episode again, making the best performances amongst all the actors as Merlin and as old Merlin, like he always does... but once again, you fail to recognize it. You only see Katie Mcgrath who did a 3 minutes appearence with the same boring acting she always shows. Your reviews aren't relevant at all. Not gonna read them in the future.

I think Den of geek should change their reviewer of Merlin. he doesn't like this show apparently since he doesn't like the hero and the main actor himself. he is just here to watch the ladies Katie Mcgrath and Angel Coulby that he always praises even when they don't appear...

Your Merlin reviews are extremely badly written and so partial! Each week you swoon over McGrath and forget that Merlin is the hero excellently played by Colin Morgan, the main actor of the show who inevitably will appear much more than any other actor. Can't you write once a good review about Colin Morgan and recognize his great work and acting? Swooning week after week over absent Morgana is ridiculous. We know she's gorgeous but that's not what makes an actor good; she's not the great actress you think she is. Colin Morgan is the best of all of them. Be professional.

Yes! Thank you! I knew I couldn't be the only one who noticed that! Seriously... It's so unprofessional. I thought they were supposed to be unbiased.

Exactly! I'm sure if you take all of his reviews and gather what he has written about every actor the one he's written less about is Colin Morgan. And that is just ridiculous since it's supposed to be Merlin's show first and is considered by all one of the greatest assets of the show.

I thought reviewers were supposed to be objective... He certainly isn't. And he singles out Colin Morgan like he has a grudge or something...

Exacty and he seems to have a grudge against ColinMorgan. That's so ridiculous since Colin Morgan is like the nicest man ever and the most talented too! You can't watch Merlin and don't see the spectacular work he does.

I really love this show and am an avid follower. Actually, I've watched some of the episodes many times (my guilty pleasure--like a Sunday morning bon bon for me). But this season, I'm afraid, is getting a bit tiring. I liked the first couple of episodes, but come one. The writers appear to be really stuck in a stale formula and bring up situations we've seen 3 or 4 times (example--Arthur has to do something risky and asks his knights "who will stand with me" and Merlin says yes too--uggg, again?). I also feel like they are making episodic story choices based on loyalty to their actors rather than what is most important to the furtherance of the story line. OK, I think the dazzling Ms. Coulby is wonderful, but I do not see how this story pushes the primary story along--that is the story of Merlin and Arthur--fighting evil, gone-awry dragons, and just about anything else that could be imagined, instead, we're getting a soap opera every week. I just feel like the writers have lost their way and need to let go and not base the stories on "oh, let's feature Ms. Coulby for 4 episodes and show how she can really act" type of story decision making. But instead, just write a magnificent and well-crafted story and then get the actors needed to tell it. That all being said, I'll still watch it since I've been watching it all along, but I'm afraid that the writers are killing the show--hubris really. OH, and.... LET MERLIN REVEAL HIS MAGIC. Poof, lots of new story lines to be written as well as getting rid of the limitations they have created for themselves!

Here's a review I took from a great Merlin reviewer regarding Colin Morgan's work in this episode: "Colin Morgan is this phenomenal actor with so much talent that you can’t help but love him more and more as the episodes go by. Every little thing he does, his mannerisms, his actions and gestures and the emotions he portrays are perfect. From little emotions from waking up from a sleep to the more serious emotions where he’s crying and is upset is just done so beautifully that when he’s on the screen, there is nothing in the world that matters more. Because when Colin acts and when Colin does whatever he does best, nothing can compare. No one can be like him, no one can copy him because he’s precious and you can’t do anything but just admire, respect and just sit in awe because he’s so beautifully talented.
He’s phenomenal.
He makes you believe in his character which makes you believe in HIM as a person and there is no one…absolutely NO ONE with talent like his."

The sense of powerful magic and an evolving magician, has been very poor throughout Merlin, with one or two exceptions. I get the tensions as to why the writers don't push that forward, but I still think they're being quite cowardly in not wanting to develop that story of Emrys, who seems revered and feared, and yet mostly blows out candles and throws people and stuff across the room.

But here, he returns the king from near death, and its believable. He breaks down immediately after, brilliantly and unexpectedly, then quickly composes himself. A magician, uncertain, wielding great power and learning - we should have been seeing this stuff two or three seasons back, and by now, the show should firmly be about Merlin, the great magician. Whether there's a season 6 or not, I hope season 5 continues to develop this, because I'd like to see it end with Merlin openly becoming what we all know he is.

So Morgana just doesn't get Gwen to suffocate or stab Arthur in his sleep... nowhere near convoluted enough...

I'm pleased someone said it.

I don't understand why there hasn't been a definite announcement about whether or not season 5 is the last. All the episodes have been made, so either Arthur dies in the last one (in which case I don't see how there can be a season 6) or he doesn't (in which case we can hope).

But if it does end with this season, it's going to be very rushed. We haven't really seen much of the flowering of Camelot and why Arthur was such a great king; we haven't seen much of the knights and their great deeds; and we haven't seen enough of Merlin as the great and powerful magician.
Sadly, though, I fear this IS going to be the last season. In the legend, it was Guinevere's betrayal of Arthur with Lancelot that set in motion the destruction of Camelot. That story was covered in a different way by the writers of "Merlin", but, to replace it, I think maybe they still wanted Gwen to be the traitor, so they've teamed her up with Morgana. I'm not expecting her to come out of the enchantment any time soon.

How on earth can you praise Katie McGrath's acting with a straight face? Or is this meant to be satire? This is a well written episode? Perhaps if you are a mentally challenged sixteen year old.

Am I meant to take you seriously when you don't even know that 3 years have passed since Arthur and Gwen were married? It's certainly NOT their first anniversary.

You praise Katie McGrath & Angel Coulby and put down Colin Morgan? That makes it pretty clear to me you are letting your little head write your reviews.

Seriously, denofgeek? Get a new reviewer for this show.

Couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I didn't. I wasn't nearly so kind or eloquent about it.

I suspect the reviewer is more impressed by Katie McGrath's breasts than he is by any real acting skill that anyone displays on the show. And of course, Angel's breasts are almost as impressive, aren't they? They certainly have made a recent move to make them as prominently featured as Katie's have been since the beginning of the series.

Getting frustrated with this season now,

Traitor in Camelot that Merlin knows about but Arthur doesn't - check

Arthur unconscious so Merlin can get on and save the day - check

Merlin predictably saving the day without Arthur's knowledge and for some contrived reason being unable to reveal the above - check

Colin Morgan is again excellent, but if this is going to progress it needs the reveal finally happen so Merlin can take his place by Arthur's side, and the scope widened to include a series long Grail quest or at least the feel that there is progress made.
Its all starting to feel a bit stagnant.

It's sad that this show is now basically Wile E. Coyote VS the Road Runner. Morgana has become villain with Coyote's like "master plans" to kill Arthur. Merlin has become Road Runner level flat character with only one activity (being Arthur's bodyguard).

I read the review again. Nowhere does the reviewer reveal antipathy to Morgan. He doesn't praise the actors playing Arthur or Gaius or anyone (other than McGrath and Coulby) anymore than he waxes lyrical about Morgan. This doesn't suggest animus against Morgan, nor any failure to understand that Merlin Is The One Hero. Indeed, most of this review tells us about the Heroic Deeds of the One Hero. Now I might think reviews should be less concerned with retelling the story of what was done and more concerned with the effectiveness of what was done and how well it was done, but that's another matter. The fact that this is not a sixteen paragraph paean to the gorgeousness of Colin Morgan is not grounds for critising the reviewer. Maybe he thinks it is pretty obvious anyway.

I suggest you read his older reviews as well then. Its a recurent thing for him. He never says anything good about Colin Morgan. (take his review on 5x05. He only mentions CM's acting to say that he betrays his character, something that most people are bound to take as negative about the actor, and not the story) Instead, he spends paragraphs on Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath, even when they are in only a few scenes or perhaps completely absent from an episode.
And if his 5x03 review isn't a "sixteen paragraph paean" about Bradley james I don't know what is.

To be objective means to review an entire episode, not only mention the characters/actors he likes.

Katie McGrath is OK Morgana is Stale i am so Bored anymore when she is on screen this whole matching her with Gwen for me is a Train Wreck. Sorry i love the Show just seems some is Dead at the Stick. its coasting to a end no one wants to see. i will stay with the show always just very hard to keep watching when i feel its Groundhogs Day all over again and again. the Writers seem to lost their Direction also. well have to wait and see where it all leads i hope there is a season 6 and its with out Morgana give us a new villain

Dan Kirkman Bellingham Wa

Have you read the end of this review and the other reviews before this one. This reviewer criticizes Colin Morgan and Merlin for no reason at all. Colin is obviously the best actor on this show and beyond, and the reviewer just dismisses him. In the other reviews and in this one, the reviewer praises Katie, Angel and Bradley without reason because their work was average and Coulby did the famous Morgana smirk/evil smile at numerous occasions.

I've watched merlin from season 1 up to season 5.05 and couldn't wait what will happen in the next episode. A great disappointment and most viewers were right, the dark tower and now this episode 7 are taking the whole story to the graveyard. Gwen isn't fit to be antagonist even she's only being used by morgana as her puppet. They better stick to the white dragon mystery, or mordred's plan or how about time for merlin's to be known as the great young wizard boy.

The problem with this show isn't so much the actors but the writers. It is horrible! I believe that all the actors do the best that they can with the terrible plot lines and the choices that the characters are forced to make. The sideshow of merlin hiding his powers from Arthur has been old since season 3 and it has become dreadfully predictable. This show could be great and I want it to be but someone needs to get there head out of there ass and start telling a decent story instead of making circles around the same plot.

I totally agree. It is my guilty pleasure, too. However, I have started to find this season tiring after 4 episodes. I hate that they made Gwen into a killer. How can she be redeemed from that?
I hope the next episodes will improve.

Colin Morgan in my opinion is actually the best actor in this show and one of my favourite actors in general.

Sad that the serious had to end, it was fantastic 5 years winter journey just before Xmas! We want more of the story please! Make the serious continue

Superb fantasy drama...we need to see more story's like that

Honestly, I am sick of seeing Angel's/Gwen's "Twins". I honestly caught myself trying to pull her dress up for her, before "The Girls"
spilled out completely. Now, I just fast forward when Gwen appears
Thank you, Netflix.

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