Merlin episode 4 review

Not even the spell Michelle Ryan casts on Mark can charm many kind words from him for this episode...

Meet Merlin...

This week’s medieval malarkey was called “The Poisoned Chalice”, and involved the lovely blue contact lens-wearing Michelle Ryan as Nimueh, a nasty sorceress trying to get revenge on Merlin for getting in the way in the previous story.

To do this, she infiltrates the castle as a servant from another Kingdom come to celebrate a union with an exchange of gifts. There’s no real back-story here as such: Camelot wears red, they wear blue, it’s a 3.30 kick-off and each bench looks relatively injury-free.

After getting Merlin’s attention with an excessive cleavage deployment, she then executes a McGuffin on him that made some of the more extreme Mission Impossible episodes look entirely credible. She tells him that the chalice from which Arthur is about to drink is poisoned, and off he goes to warn his master.

Uther’s reaction to this is to make Merlin drink from it – as if that made any sense. If you could predict so brilliantly how people might react in any given situation, then Nimueh’s plan would entirely work – though the story goes on to prove that it doesn’t!

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Merlin is dying, and the only way to save him is to use the leaves of the plant employed to poison him, and this turns out to be yet another ‘Arthur-is-a-fairytale’ scenario: ignoring the entirely irrational Uther, Arthur sets off to get the plant and save Merlin (who’d actually just saved his life, if anyone was counting).

When Merlin gets to the cave where the plant grows (we’re all familiar with the concept that flowers grow underground, obviously) he’s confronted by a reject from Walking With Dinosaurs and the alluring Nimueh doing her damsel-in-this-dress routine. He kills the whatever-creature and then goes into to the cave where he’s set on by giant spiders. In the meantime Nimueh muses about ‘destiny’, since John Hurt’s CGI ‘Dragon’ – who usually performs this task – is apparently having a week off.

Arthur’s goose is effectively cooked until the now-delirious Merlin sends a magical ball of light to guide him to safety. He gets back to the castle and is thrown into the dungeons by mad-as-a-box-of-snakes Uther, before Gwen gets the flower from him and Merlin makes a miraculous recovery from the death that was shown in the trailer. What a pile of manure.

Initially I though the appearance of Michelle Ryan in this show was a shot in the arm, but after this episode I’m now less convinced. The way her character’s name is pronounced sounds rather like the chorus of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, making me think they’re about to break into song every time she’s mentioned. But actually her character is indicative of so many characters in this show, in that they’ve got no back-story whatsoever.

We’re four episodes in and I know no more about Gaius, Morgana, Nimueh or Merlin himself than I knew when they first appeared. Telling stories is fine, but these characters aren’t actually established in any meaningful way yet.

It’s painfully obvious that Nimueh’s origin is a reveal for later in the season; maybe she’s Arthur’s mother…? I find it hard to give a damn. There is also this ‘destiny’ guff that keeps being spouted by everyone. Uther, Nimueh and the Dragon all know Arthur’s ‘destiny’, but none of them seem to think it worth revealing to anyone – especially not Arthur. If he’s destined to do these things, telling him won’t actually alter anything will it? But no, this is one of those special ‘secret squirrel’ destinies. Please!

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My first reaction to this series was that it had some way to go to be as entertaining as Robin Hood. Four episodes in, it’s actually heading in the opposite direction.

The closing trailer reveals that next week Arthur and Merlin have to fight some mystical creature made redundant after the credit crunch hit the Harry Potter productions. Be still my beating heart!

Check out Mark’s review of last week’s episode here.