Now those of you who have read my reviews of Merlin know that so far, after two episodes of series two, there isn’t much in the way of positives that can be said to recommend the show. From weak scripts to dull and tedious ideas to a cast that really just cannot be bothered, – with even Anthony Head and Richard Wilson not even really trying, it seems – the whole concept on Merlin just seems to misfire on all cylinders. It comes across as really a bit of a dud and an expensive dud at that.
The BBC has put a great deal of money, time and commitment into the show and, as it is airing at the usual Doctor Who slot, the intentions are alike. However, just like Robin Hood, bad casting choices and flawed ideas make for a show that is at times just unwatchable.
So then onto this weeks’ show and for those expecting another round of abuse and contempt from me, be in for a shock, as really this week’s episode wasn’t actually too bad. For a show that is at times the visual equivalent to root canal surgery, this episode was the equivalent of the dentist stopping to change drill bits. You know the pain is coming back but for a few fleeting moments the terror and agony stops.
Moving away from the Merlin/Arthur relationship and the usual by the numbers Merlin saves Arthur with a bit of magic on the sly plot device that has been used week on week, we instead focus on the other members of the cast. Specifically Morgana who, as a character has, until his episode anyway, had little to no screen time this season.
Touched upon last season, it seems that, like Merlin, Morgana has magical powers which are latent in her and a bit uncontrollable. More wild and chaotic than Merlin’s powers, Morgana has little control over what she can do, which is evident in her growing pyrokenetic powers that nearly burn down her own sleeping quarters. Unlike Merlin, Morgana’s powers come from lucid dreams and portents of the future, with visions and seer-like abilities combined with an offensive set of Carrie-like skills.
Confiding in Gaius about her powers, Morgana is given medication to try and stop them, and to also stop Uther from finding out. Having another ‘good’ magic user within court, however, is too much for Merlin, who wants to confide in her and to assist her in using her skills, which, much to Merlin’s disapproval, Gaius decides is a bad idea.
So, as with every episode, when Merlin cannot make up his own mind or deduce a very simple plot device, it’s off to the Great Dragon for a bit of a chat. But for a change the Dragon does not come up with the Macguffin, telling Merlin to do something himself, which in this case is to track down the druids (first seen last series) to see if they can help Morgana out.
With a crackdown in Camelot by Uther, Merlin’s search is made a lot harder (well, when I say a lot harder, there is a bit of sneaking and hiding behind stuff). And when, eventually, Morgana meets with the druids there is an obvious miscommunication and Uther orders an attack on the druids, whom he think has kidnapped his step-daughter.
With quite a vicious ultimatum, Uther wants Morgana back, not understanding that his wayward ward might have voluntarily disappeared, and via the power of plot exposition it’s revealed that Morgana might, indeed, be a druid and that ‘her people’ have had to flee due to Uther’s degree about magic.
With a showdown between Arthur’s troops and the druid leader Aglain, who is killed in the attack, the battle lines are drawn between magic and non-magic users, while at the same time Mordred is lurking around with the potential to cause a lot of problems in the future.
With a slight adjustment to the status quo, this episode moves things along plot-wise quite considerably, which after the past two weeks’ worth of treading water is a blessing. Morgana is now a fully fledged magic user with both Gaius and Merlin aware of her power, and for the first time it seems that there is actually an overall arc to the season, with some potentially good ideas and plot threads to look forward to if the season pans out well.
Overall, this is not a bad episode, with a few plot twists and the line blurring about who really are the bad guys and good guys. Throw in an unnecessary fight with some giant scorpions for good measure and the usual tedium of the show is lifted to be quite good rather than the usual dire.
The best of the season so far and probably the only episode worth catching up with on iPlayer if you missed it.
Read our review of episode 2 here.