Over-arcing stories are not something that Merlin has done successfully. With the suspicion that the average Merlin viewer has the attention span of a goldfish, the writers in the first season, basically, knocked out episode after episode with little in the way of plot development or changing the established status quo. However, with this season, subtle hints, undercurrents of tension and a real aim to deliver a deeper story have all been evident, with the main theme being the breakup of Camelot and a growing tension between Uther and Arthur.
We have seen the tension brewing through the most recent of stories, with Arthur initially disagreeing with some of Uther’s decisions and going as far as to downright refuse to do what he is told. This is not a child being impudent, but rather a growing king questioning a leader who, it seems, is losing the grip on his control of his kingdom.
From the wrong decisions constantly being made by Uther such as his enchantment by the Troll a few weeks ago to the need to bring in a Witch finder, everything he touches turns into the proverbial ‘brown stuff’, and while this is not a pot-shot at own leaders, the similarities to the current leaders are pretty apparent.
With this week’s show, then, we finally see what has been hinted upon over the past few weeks as finally Arthur confronts, and soundly beats, Uther as the father/son relationship climaxes in a duel to the death. And while there are outside factors once again controlling events, really all it takes this week is an emotional nudge to get the tension racked up to boiling point as a beautiful seer, Morgause, plays her hand in an attempt to take out the rulers of Camelot.
It seems that everyone is in the duelling mood this week, as the climax of the episode is triggered by an appearance of a helmeted knight and, taking a nod at the strong female characters in Lord Of The Rings, most notably Miranda Otto’s portrayal of Eowyn. We see that this skilled knight is the seer Morgause whom we saw in the introduction.
Played by the guest starring Emila Fox, the challenging Morgause proves a lot more than she seems, knowing a great deal about Uther, Camelot and the mystery surrounding Arthur’s mother and her disappearance (which is something that has been mentioned in previous episodes but cleverly side-stepped). And by beating Arthur in combat she will seek to gain some control over the affairs of Camelot.
In a bit of a nod to classical Arthurian lore, this episode also lets us get to know Geoffrey of Monmouth, who, for the most part, plays as a scribe and chief administrator to the laws and events unfolding in Camelot. Stating that there are no regulations to say a female knight cannot challenge a male to a duel, Arthur accepts the challenge laid before him. However, for once it is Uther who is cautious, warning his son there might be a lot more going on.
Attending the duel with his renowned cockiness, Arthur actually loses and by sword point is given a reprieve by Morgause, who states that, to live, Arthur must accept any challenge she puts in his way.
With Merlin trailing, Arthur keeps his promise and meets with Morgause outside of Camelot to accept his fate, while back in the castle, Gaius probes a little deeper into Morgause’s past, finding that an enchanted gift she bestows on Morgana is from the House of Gorlois, the same ancient house that Morgana herself is from. That makes Morgause (surprise!) her sister. Well, actually, half-sister
Gaius then reveals (like he has just remembered) that many years ago he smuggled Morgause out of Camelot as a baby and gave her to the High Priestess of the ‘Old Religion’ for being potentially a magic user.
While this back story is, actually, quite compelling, the way all this info is provided is just daft. ‘Oh sorry, I forgot this really important bit of my life story and only remember it now when it’s needed’ is just lazy writing and very trite. Giving us this info in a clichéd soliloquy is just insulting and undoes all the good aspects, plots and ideas the writers have given us over the past few weeks, which is very disappointing.
Following on from this bit of bad scripting, Arthur conveniently let slip that he has never seen and knows nothing about his mother. Again, this is just plain lazy. Why talk to an unknown character you have just met about your deepest darkest secrets? Please, Merlin writers, come up with something a little better.
Still, this out of character bit of soul baring helps the plot out no end, as Morgause tests Arthur’s word and honour, rewarding him with a visitation from his mother, who, thinly disguised, is I guess supposed to be the ‘lady of the lake’.
Shadowed by Merlin, Arthur finds out that his mother Ygraine was a magic user and that he himself was born of magic. Imbued with this knowledge, Arthur returns to Camelot to confront Uther, leading to the inevitable showdown mentioned before. It is only with the calming influence of Merlin and Gaius that Arthur regains his composure, but more importantly, Merlin lies to his friend, stating that Morgause is a liar, and that the vision of Ygraine was an illusion. A lie backed up by Uther, whose hypocrisy and downright deception is plain to see.
Ironically, we finish the episode with Uther thanking Merlin, stating that in the young man he has found a kindred spirit in the fight against magic. And while Gaius and Merlin discuss that, if events had not been stopped and lies had not been told, Uther would not be alive, much to the dismay of Morgause. She, through her crystal spies, plans to take control of Camelot. For magic has been foiled…
Read our review of episode 7 here.