The episode begins with Merlin and Arthur out on a hard day’s hunt when they come across a peasant’s tavern. And, despite Merlin’s annoyingly prescient protestations, Arthur, obnoxious fool that he is, unwisely ignores the boy wizard for the millionth time. When will that nobleman learn that Merlin is consistently on the button about bad things about to happen?
It isn’t long after they’ve sat down to have drinks in the tavern that a thug, Dagr, and his greasy cohorts demanding their cut of the takings barge in, prompting Arthur to come to the rescue. Even though the odds stacked against them are ludicrous, and he is without any weapons. The silliest bar brawl I have ever seen ensues.
Merlin sneakily uses magic to keep the thugs at bay (and nobody notices the telekinetic stools and jugs lifting themselves up and sailing through the air!). And just when Arthur is about to meet his maker, in steps Gwaine, a rogue nomadic warrior, who easily defeats the marauding goons, but is injured and brought back to Camelot.
Gwaine is somewhat angered when he later discovers that he saved a knight and refuses to meet Uther, telling Merlin, “Once you’ve met one king, you’ve met them all.”
Gwaine’s arrival coincides with a Knights’ Tournament, and Dagr and one of his goons also arrive to exact revenge on Arthur by murdering two other knights and taking on the form (with a little help from some magic crystals) of Sir Oswald and Sir Ethan. (Honestly, this episode looked and felt so much like last year’s The Once And Future Queen that I was nearly convinced I was watching a repeat.)
Pretty soon they are subjecting Merlin to horrific servitude and humiliating him, when he discovers their secrets. They nearly kill him before Gwaine intervenes and rescues the boy, and is shackled when Sir Oswald demands an audience with the king. Of course, Uther is unconvinced of Gwaine’s innocence and banishes him from Camelot (when will Uther ever learn?), but warns him, should he ever return, he will pay with his life.
It transpires that only blunt swords can be used during the tournament, but Dagr’s swords are razor sharp, so Merlin must find a way (cue magic) to prevent them from skewering Arthur. The rather dull event happens and, after all but Arthur is left standing and at the mercy of Dagr, another knight materialises and saves him (again). Said Knight is revealed as Gwaine. Uther has him seized and immediately wants to see him executed until Gaius conveniently reveals Sir Oswald and Sir Ethan are, of course, imposters! But Uther is stubborn, refusing to rescind his former ruling and Gwaine is still banished.
A number of things about this episode bothered me. The plot seemed like a redraft of a previous episode. Apart from one bonding scene between Merlin and Gwaine when they both talk of their dead fathers, there was little to no drama. The action sequences where dull and the character of Gwaine was little more than the poor man’s Lancelot.
Arthur continues to be a rude, arrogant bore and why exactly did Morgana seem concerned when Merlin was about to be killed? Doesn’t she want to see Camelot destroyed? And Uther, that man is so stupid he pretty much deserves everything he gets!
The scriptwriters could’ve done so much more and it was no fault of the actors that they had to work with such weak material. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a recurring problem.
Read our review of episode 3, The Goblin’s Gold, here.