I don’t think it’s unfair to say Merlin is rubbish. Yes, I know it’s for kids. I know I am not the demographic any more and that Saturday night TV is not aimed at a mid-30s male who should be in the pub or out with his wife. But it is still rubbish and while I could spend the next 600 words telling you how rubbish it is, I will resign to the fact that it is and try, for the first time, to give a review not filled with sarcastic comments and berating every aspect of the show.
Again going with the cheap option (i.e. no special effects) this episode does actually succeed as a 45 minute action adventure show, digging a little deeper into the characters and, for maybe the first time, actually having some movement forward character and plot-wise.
Dipping into the legends of Arthur for inspiration, the episode focuses on the classic love triangle of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere and plays out as a cross between Mission Impossible and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves aimed at a Twilight audience, if such things are possible.
In all honesty, Merlin takes a back seat this week as Lancelot’s presence is felt on a greater scale and Arthur’s hot-headed nature and growing affection for Gwen take centre stage. Lancelot is being treated with a bit of respect, a slow build character whose fate from legend we all know, but it seems that instead of rushing headlong into the romance, tragedy and the fall of Camelot, the teen aspects of blossoming love, anger and jealousy takes their place. And, for a show such as this, the greatest literary betrayal, this tweaking fits surprisingly well.
The episode features a standard mistaken identity story with outlaws Kendrick and Hengist kidnapping both Morgana and Gwen while they are on a pilgrimage to Morgana’s father’s grave, and mistakenly taking Gwen – who they think is worth more than Morgana – captive as a bargaining chip.
What follows is a standard seek and rescue mission by Arthur, whose troubles are increased by once again meeting up with Lancelot, who has spent his time away from Camelot as a fighter in the medieval equivalent of UFC.
After a frosty reunion, the team of Merlin, Arthur and Lancelot sneak into Hengist Castle for a daring rescue and while the budget and time constraints of the show can be seen, the actual rescue is played out pretty well with everyone getting their chance to shine.
With the bad guys defeated, damsels rescued and honour restored, the team return to Camelot with emotions on the edge of spilling over and for the first time an actual bit of acting is required. And, to my surprise, the usually wooden Arthur pulls off a good performance of a king in waiting whose love for Gwen is maybe taking priority over his duties. That, and the formal veneer of prince is slipping slightly at the signs of the closeness of Gwen and Lancelot.
While the show is not really firing on all cylinders overall, this makes a refreshing change to the usual cookie cutter bad guy of the week formula, and while the story is a little contrived and basic, it is essential to move things along, setting up aspects for future stories if the show is commissioned for further series.
While not in the same league as other adaptations of the Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere story (as, say, in the classic Excalibur) everyone takes a good stab at the material here and gives a performance that is balanced closely to what could actually be called ‘quite good’. For a show that week on week fails to live up to expectations. this is saying a lot.
Read our review of episode 3 here.