Until Saturday I lacked confidence that I’d ever write these words. But episode 7 of Merlin was actually quite entertaining in parts. For once the concept actually clicked, and presented an adventure that was ‘magical’ at last.
But before I get overly enthusiastic, it should be pointed out that any reference to the Lady of the Lake inferred by the title and imagery of the trailer is oblique at best. This game of appearing to drive towards a known piece of Arthurian lore only to swerve at the last moment is becoming rather infantile, but it’s what they enjoy doing on Merlin it seems.
That said, “The Gates of Avalon” did address some of my complaints about the lack of magical atmosphere that’s been the hallmark of this production so far.
Morgana has a dream of Arthur being drowned by a flaxen haired young woman, and a day later Sophia and her father Aulfric turn up at the castle. She’s suspicious of them, and so it Gaius. I had mine too, because they’re carrying obviously magical staffs with them. A strange fact that everyone but Gaius, including magically-paranoid King Uther, fails to notice.
Soon Sophia has cast a spell on Arthur, who she intends to sacrifice to her brethren, the Sidhe (pronounced ‘She’, but sadly not accompanied by the Charles Aznavour classic). For this she’ll be allowed back into their magical kingdom, Avalon.
This is all revealed when Merlin follows her father Aulfric to the lake where he summons the Sidhe Elders, who resemble nasty blue fairies. This sequence is really nice and they even supported the mystical mood by providing some suitably super-natural music.
Back at the castle, Merlin confronts Arthur, Sophia and Aulfric, but they use their magical staffs on him and escape with the now entirely-entranced Arthur. Merlin comes around in time to run after them (he’s not allowed a horse it seems) and rescue Arthur from a watery grave. He achieves this by getting hold of one of their staffs, and using it on them. Unfortunately he’s never used one before and can’t find the ‘stun’ setting, so they both get blown to pieces. There’s then an epilogue ending where they convince dim Arthur that Merlin hit him over the head, and none of what happened, err…happened. Which amazingly he buys.
What worked in this adventure was that the story was relatively straightforward, and had magic at its heart. They also made good use of the Morgana character for once, and her ‘Seer’ ability is clearly a plot hook they’re going to use from this point onwards. At the end there appears to be some progression in the greater narrative, which was in desperate need of attention.
Where it didn’t work is in the delusion that Merlin is a source of humour, with a running gag about his lies for Arthur resulting in him being thrown in the stocks. It was dumb the first time, and bloody annoying on the third cycle. As a pointer for script writers of medieval set dramas, Lycopersicon, lycopersicum or the tomato wasn’t common in the UK until the 1700s, and it didn’t arrive before the late 1500s.
It might seem less anachronistic if they started talking about America and the Crusades. Besides, given that it’s meant to be a punishment, being struck by a high velocity root vegetable might knock some sense into the terminally stupid Merlin.
Anyway, next week the plot rotates around a moral dilemma, when a boy must die so that Arthur’s destiny can be fulfilled. Or so the trailer suggests.
Read Mark’s review of last week’s episode here.