Please comment if you disagree, but I think a significant part of the problem with Merlin so far has been underlined by the tagline “Keep the magic secret!” That means we’ve seen very little sorcery from a character that’s known for his magical capabilities. That’s a bit like a Hulk that doesn’t go green, or Rapunzel installed in a ground floor maisonette. It’s only five episodes in, but this sign outside Camelot that reads ‘You’re entering a magic free zone’, is beginning to ranker. So I was slightly pleased that in this week’s outing Merlin actually does some ‘big’ magic at some point. About bloody time. too.
The story starts with Merlin mushroom picking (magic mushrooms?) in the forest when he’s attacked by a very average CGI griffin, as usually happens. Then a stranger, Lancelot, turns up and saves Merlin. Although I should point out that the griffin leaves for no obvious reason, as it’s impervious to their weapons and unperturbed by their childish taunts. Perhaps it had a round of golf booked or was late for vet’s appointment.
Lancelot is played by Santiago Cabrera, previously seen as the psychic painter Isaac in the first season of Heroes, before Sylar gave him a flip-top head. He’s engaging enough as Arthur’s home-boy to be, even if in the BBC’s drive to see this mythology in a new light he’s made out to be a charlatan, who claims to be a noble without actually being one. Actually, to be fair it’s Merlin who concocts that piss poor plan, showing he might be magic, but he’s stupid with it.
While Lancelot proves to be a good knight, only Nobles can be knighted, and the deception unravels. But before that we get a nod-and-wink scene where Merlin asks Guinevere out of Arthur and Lancelot which hunk she prefers. However, I’d suggest the possibility is incredibly small that we’ll every get to that plot point in this show, so I’m not sure what the point was. And so far ‘Gwen’ hasn’t exhibited the slightest interest in Arthur, or him in her. Given that his father has an aneurism at the very idea of a common man becoming a knight, the idea of his son marrying someone from a multi-ethnic background who isn’t a noble doesn’t seem to be one he’d obviously support. But we’ll never go there, so I see little point in mulling that scenario.
Lancelot is chucked in the jail, where mad King Uther puts everyone each week it seems. But Arthur lets him out so he can slay the BBC budget CGI griffin with Merlin’s magical help. He casts an enchantment on Lancelot’s lance, which is his obvious weapon of choice – being Lance-a-lot. But as polished an actor as Santiago Cabrera is, he costs far too much to stick around. Therefore the plot has him leave to start afresh, and earn his knighthood elsewhere. I didn’t see that coming!
There is no explanation gives as to where the griffin came from, why it attacked people, or why it would idiotically give away its massive flight advantage to fight people on the ground. Like all of the Merlin episodes so far, ‘Lancelot’ doesn’t care for much thinking too hard about the plot or deeper understanding of events. But I’m almost used to its shoddy narrative and telegraphed twists now.
Five episodes in I’ve pretty much given up on the idea that a magical flame will engulf this show and that phoenix-like it will rise to deliver some classic Saturday night entertainment. There’s more inherent magic in Paul Daniel’s toupee than we’ve seen in this show so far.
Next week we’re to be blessed with a melted make-up-adorned Julian Rhind-Tutt, who’s shrugged off being Mr Pimms in Tomb Raider and decided now he’s a character actor. The upside of that looks like a bit more magic, the downside is that depressingly the season still has another seven more parts to follow that one.
Before it then returns as for its second season with an archaeological leaning, renamed Merlin & the Bonekickers. Okay, I made that last bit up…
Read Mark’s last review of Merlin here…