I know I face accusations that I don’t give this show a fair hearing, as week after week I try and find something nice to say which, more often than not, ends up as a tirade of how lazy the writing is and how low-brow the show is. Admittedly, I enjoyed the last few weeks with mystical ladies of the lakes, warrior women and trolls, but this week’s episode is a huge step backwards in quality, feeling more like a cheap filler episode rather than anything groundbreaking, interesting or, indeed, fun.
While walking home for the evening, Gaius and Merlin walk past a cart on which a large cage is set containing a girl in rags. Much to Merlin’s protest that they should find out about her and why she is in that predicament, Gaius suggests they shouldn’t get involved and that there must be a good reason why she is in the predicament she is in.
And, indeed, he is right. We find that the girl, whom we later learn is called Freya, is a ‘cursed’ magic user who has been exiled from her druid home and caught on the orders of Uther by a bounty hunter who is the polar opposite of everyone’s favourite hired gun, the Fett, being a fat, slovenly pig-like character and, really, not very cool at all. (He hadn’t even got a jet-pack, pah!)
Not wanting Freya to be handed over and executed by Uther, Merlin sneaks out and releases her, and while this is a noble gesture, I am sure that there are other things on his mind as he helps the half dressed nubile young druid escape and hides her in the tunnels below Camelot.
Sensing a kindred spirit, Merlin opens up to Freya about who he is, and the power of magic, showing off a clever trick with some candle flames. Besotted with the young druid, Merlin lies to Gaius about knowing how she escaped and also steals food and belongings from Arthur and Gwen to assist his new friend.
Ignoring all warnings about her and even going as far as to nearly be tortured by the angry bounty hunter, Merlin doesn’t heed anything. Even when Freya herself states she is cursed, Merlin ignores everyone as he falls for her in a romance which is nearly as clumsy as the Padme/Anakin courtship in Star Wars, being as badly written and cringe-worthy as that classic mismatch.
Still lying outright to Gaius, and being all petulant around everyone, Merlin’s teen romance soon comes to an end as Freya does eventually show her true form, and the curse which she describes manifests itself, leaving a trail of dead bodies in its wake as we find that the young magician is actually a shape-changer with the ability to morph into a rather cool looking black panther with wings.
In a pretty impressive piece of CG we see Freya’s bones crack and body change before our eyes into a impressive looking creature. And, while not as hideous as, say, the classic werewolf transformation in American Werewolf, the shape-shift is the most impressive part of the show with the design team using every pixel at their disposal to make a rather good looking creation.
Attacking Arthur and his guards, the were-panther is eventually trapped and injured and it’s only with a quick use of magic from Merlin that the beast escapes. However, mortally wounded and dying, the creature reverts back to Freya, and is eventually found by Merlin as he helps her with her last wish and takes her back to her homeland to lay her to rest in an inappropriate Viking funeral, which is ironic, as she is a druid.
While the visual effects of the creature are impressive, they are used scarcely, with the majority of the episode spent watching Merlin moodily mope around all forlorn and love-sick, being a right moany teenager. And while an adolescent crush is obviously what the writers were trying to achieve, the emotion just isn’t there, as neither Merlin or Freya seem to have any spark or pizzazz in their budding relationship.
As said at the beginning of the review, this seems to be a filler episode with most of the cast having very little to do, with the majority being cameos and replaced by vapid scenes of teen love in tunnels.
Whether this episode was released to coincide with the releases this week of New Moon, or whether it was just lucky that a werewolf-based show happened to be on to appease the tween audience, I don’t know and, frankly, don’t care. It screamed of cheap filler with little or nothing to push the story of Merlin and co forward, with everyone from the screen writers to actors just treading water until the finale of the series.
Read our review of episode 8 here.