This review contains spoilers.
4. Lady Of The Lake
After last week’s teenage histrionics and the soap opera drama of Guinevere marrying another man, it was refreshing this week to not only get back to what made Camelot appealing in the first place, but also get an insight into the magical world of Merlin and Morgan.
Traditionally, Merlin has always acted as a guide to King Arthur and has always be a pillar of good, a wizard who’s simply there to keep the king on the straight and narrow. But in this new series, Merlin is a much more ambiguous character. Not only does he seem determined to mould Arthur to his own personal desires and ambitions (such as quickly shutting down his adolescent pining), but it seems he’ll do anything to get his way, including manslaughter.
While magic has been hinted at in Camelot, it has thus far been restricted to Morgan shape-shifting into a young girl and Merlin warning her that ‘the price will be too high’ for her abuse of the Dark Arts. This week, we get to see the price for those who overindulge themselves on such things.
Unlike the BBC’s Merlin, where magic is done, literally, in the blink of an eye and without any consequence to the user, in Camelot any such sorcery requires a large amount of physical effort on the part of the character, exhausting them, and at the same time, giving them an incredible high.
In fact, the use of magic in Camelot is akin to drug addiction. When asked why he doesn’t do much sorcery anymore, Merlin says “It was like having another emotion”, but hints that he enjoyed it too much, and as a result, something terrible occurred.
Later on in the episode, when he clashes with blacksmith, Caliburn (300 and Troy‘s Vincent Regan), it is mentioned that Merlin once had a family, but something happened to them. I’m sure we’ll find out more about that later. Merlin’s anger at their mention causes a nearby fire to explode, burning the poor sword smith to a cinder. Sure, Merlin had a dream that Caliburn might kill Arthur, but the man that created Excalibur didn’t deserve that.
As a result of Merlin’s magical outburst, another innocent person ends up losing their life, causing Merlin to enact a penance upon himself by getting his ass kicked in a bar brawl. Like I said, a more ambiguous Merlin than we are used to seeing, and that’s great.
Morgan, meanwhile, is going through ‘magic withdrawal’ as her misuse of the Dark Arts causes her to bleed out of her eyes. Luckily, Morgan’s old teacher, a former nun, who appears to know about magic, comes to help her through it. Cue a Trainspotting-esque withdrawal scene where Morgan is confronted by the ghosts of her past.
This, along with the ‘Excalibur’ storyline, reminded me why I enjoyed Camelot in the first place. Sure, there were a few scenes with Arthur moping around and generally complaining that he can’t sleep with his friend’s wife, but on the whole, this episode was a return to form.
It also did another good job of skewering the Arthurian legend. Here, Excalibur was Caliburn’s daughter who, through a tragic misuse of magic, also ends up being the lady in the lake. It was a scene that not only let us see what happens when Merlin uses magic, but sets up his interpretation of events, which becomes the Legend of the Lady of the Lake. Of course, as we all know, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. However, I digress.
This episode also saw Gawain begin the training of Camelot’s knights. On the whole, this subplot could have been cut out, as it really only gave Arthur an opportunity to unleash his sexual frustration by defeating Leontes at a swordfight, which he did by cheating. Of course, it had a point, something about never giving up. But, really, it only served to underline how much of a prat Arthur is, and personally, I can’t really see why his followers are supporting him. Sure, he gives a good speech about ‘providing freedom for all his people’, but when he seems to be putting his emotional feelings over the good of the kingdom, his words just ring hollow.
Still, we did learn a few dirty tricks about how to use your shield in combat.
On the whole, the episode was much better than last week’s. However the whole, Arthur/Guinevere story has to be resolved pretty quickly, because if the rest of the season is them sulking in corridors moaning about honour, duty and love, I foresee a large portion of the audience switching off. And you don’t have to be a wizard to know what that’ll mean for the series.
Read our review of episode 3, Guinevere, here.