Merlin episode 2 review

Mark wishes he could wave a magic wand at Merlin and turn it into Saturday evening entertainment…

I waited for episode 2 of Merlin like a kid who’d broken something around the house and expected his parents home any minute. It probably wasn’t going to be pleasant, but it would be over soon enough.

Since last week’s review, a few people have tried to explain that some of what was presented there with the dragon related to the oldest Merlin tales, Myrddin Wyllt, and Myrddin Emrys. I’d have accepted that if those stories fitted this show, but they don’t in any substantive detail. But I care less about that and more about the idea that Merlin and Arthur are the same age. To my mind they’re not meant to be buddies like Spock and Kirk (yes, Spock is older….but they’re contemporaries), so this change seems entirely inappropriate.

As if to underline my concerns about the dog’s dinner of mythology that this weeks episode revolved around, an unscrupulous knight and a magical shield come to fight in a tournament held by King Uther. His name is Valiant, as per the 1937 comicbook ‘Prince Valiant’.

Half this story is taken up with reminding us that Arthur is a prat and Merlin can do magic, the latter in a twee ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’-type fashion. The rest is about Valiant, and a CGI snake-infested shield (holding a deadly surprise for anyone challenging) that he encounters in tournament combat. It was obvious from the first five minutes that he would meet Arthur in the tournament finale, and that Merlin would stop the devious Valiant’s plan using his magic. Yawn.

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The places it falls down this week are much the same as in the pilot episode; namely, making any sense. We’re asked to believe that medieval physicians could fashion antidotes from snake venom, and that when Arthur has something important to tell his father, he does so in public!

Arthur accuses Valiant of using magic on Merlin’s word, and it all goes predictably wrong before resolving itself in the final act.

The positive aspects of the second Merlin are that they avoid the ‘comedy’ segments of the first, but in most other respects, this show is flatlining. The CGI snakes were poor, and seem to explain why – unlike Robin Hood – there is no BBC HD screening of these. But what are really beginning to grind is Merlin’s visits to John Hurt’s obtuse Dragon. He just warbles on about destiny. Frankly if it’s predestined, what’s the point in going on about it? It will all happen irrespective of what Merlin thinks.

The trailer for episode three sees him heading down there for more cryptic musing, as if it had any bearing on what’s happened so far. But it does hold out the hope of introducing a nemesis; it could be Morgause or the Lady of the Lake. But given the track record so far, it might well be the Wicked Witch of the North.

Check out Mark’s review of episode 1.