Last week’s cliffhanger saw the Great Dragon finally freed from the catacombs below Camelot, with Merlin being the instigator of his release. As you would think, being cramped up below a castle for decades has made the Dragon unhappy. And we meet him this week exacting his revenge on Uther and Camelot as he brings aerial flaming death from above to the kingdom.
Wow, what an opener – an entire episode mirroring the finale siege in Return of the King. This should be good, I figured. We haven’t seen a good Dragon battle on television in my memory, and the idea of a huge military siege, knights, horses, catapults and all manner of medieval weaponry bought on screen to be thrown against a huge fire breathing monster sounds epic. It could have been one of the television highlights of the year.
Alas this was not to be, as after the first assault, Uther is all for giving up, knowing full well that the knights and especially Arthur would be throwing their lives away in trying to tackle the Dragon. All it seems is lost.
Well, it seems to be anyway, until Gaius mentions that all the there is one last Dragon-Lord left, a character called Balinor who Gaius just seems to know a little too much about. Is it me or has Gaius not told Uther a lot of things? He knew Morgause was related to Morganna a few weeks back and forgot to mention it. And this week? He knows there is Dragon-Lord left and knows where to find him. There’s a surprise.
What is even more surprising – or should that be predictable – is that Balinor has a secret relating to Merlin, and it will come as no surprise or spoiler that yup, Belinor is Merlin’s father.
Right – I know this is a kid’s show and I know it’s aimed for an early Saturday evening television for all the family to watch, but good grief. The writing of this show would make primary childrens’ stories penned in their very best orange crayon look strong at times. The stories would be less predictable, that’s for sure.
For I can sum up the rest of the episode in one sentence – Arthur and Merlin go to find Balinor in a rival kingdom asking for help, he says no, then Merlin says he he is as bad as Uther and ‘oh, I’m your son too’, then he agrees, comes with them and dies in an ambush. A long sentence, granted, but a sentence nonetheless. Let’s not forget too that on his deathbed Balinor says that Merlin is also a Dragon-Lord too, and has ‘the power’. Merlin, Arthur and some knights then face the Dragon, knights die, Arthur is knocked out and Merlin tells the Dragon in a Dragon voice to go away. The end. Rubbish. Really rubbish.
The episode spends half of its run time with Arthur and Merlin taking cracks at each other and persuading Balinor to come with them, leaving only five minutes left to face the dragon, which then rolls over easier than a boxer in a rigged boxing match.
The entire season has been leading up to this quest, and the myths surrounding dragons and the whole notion of Dragon-Lords and the magic of the kingdom are all just hinted at. It’s so rushed, you wonder if it should have been a two-parter. Instead, Merlin and Arthur find Balinor at the first attempt, and even before you get to the Empire Strikes Back father/son moment, Balinor is worm food, and Merlin shows all the emotion of a plank at the reunion with his father, and his sudden death.
Even the finale and final showdown with the Dragon is underwhelming, apart from making KFC out of some unnamed Knights which is quite fun to see. It’s not helped that it’s only Merlin’s grown up voice that he has had all along that tames and controls the dragon, making the entire quest for Balinor and his eventual death pointless and unnecessary. Whether the writers ran out of time, the effects guys ran out of budget or the editors thought it would be a good idea to have a battle that lasts only a minute against the main protagonist for the entire show would be a good idea I don’t know.
Think about it, it’s like watching Doctor Who with the Daleks being scuppered at the end by a Chinese burn as the credits roll, Mr Fantastic getting Dr Doom in a headlock with added noogies until he submits or Luke Skywalker defeating Darth Vader after three films by telling him off and sending him to bed with no tea.
Surely the golden rule is that you don’t ever, ever scrimp on the finale of anything? This is what people have been waiting for, the ‘money shot’ if you will, the bit where good defeats evil and gives it s damn good spanking and such. After 13 weeks of Merlin, we get just a damp squib of an ending, leaving the series on a low.
Its been noted that there is a third season of Merlin to come next year. Please BBC (and more specifically Shine, the production company behind it) look at what you have. You are re-writing British legends for a new audience, playing about with the myths and legends that has been instilled through generations, using classical characters and stories that are part of our heritage.
Please stop writing for the lowest common denominator – people aren’t daft, kids are a lot more intelligent then you think, they can follow more well rounded characters and more than one basic plot line. Go on, add bit of depth to the show as really another series having to endure these wafer thin plots, two dimensional characters and cop-out ridiculous endings will be just too much for this reviewer, and many others, to endure…
Last week’s review is here