Merlin series 3 episode 5 review: The Crystal Cave

The latest Merlin episode, The Crystal Cave, revives Alan's interest in standalone instalments of the show...

3.5 The Crystal Cave

After last week’s Gwaine, I wasn’t overly eager to watch another standalone episode of Merlin. But The Crystal Cave, although light on action, more than makes up for this failing with a character-driven episode chock full of revelations, and the reappearance of the delectable Emilia Fox.

While being pursued through the woods by murderous bandits, Arthur and Merlin take refuge in The Valley of the Fallen Kings. But Arthur is fatally wounded with an arrow. After several attempts at reviving the prince using magic, Merlin is at a loss to what to do, until an ancient seer called Taliesin emerges from the woods and tells the boy wizard that their meeting at this point in time is destiny. Thus, he leads Merlin to the crystal cave, in which he is a witness to several visions involving Morgana, none of which are good.

Let’s just say it right here, then: this episode is a precursor of what’s to come during the rest of the series, and I have a feeling the witch could inherit the throne. It feels very much like Xena‘s fourth season opener, Adventures In The Sin Trade, when she was subjected to shamanic visions by Alti (this run, albeit darker in tone, will never be as nasty as Xena at her darkest though.)

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After the prince recovers, Merlin wastes no time in getting back to Camelot and warning Gaius about the visions, who tells him that crystals aren’t always accurate. But Merlin won’t be swayed, convinced that Morgana is about to act and will kill Uther unless he stops her, by whatever means necessary.

Morgana’s birthday approaches and Arthur buys her a dagger, much to Merlin’s dismay (a dagger featured in one of the crystal’s portent messages). And he later sees her struggling with a horse, which was also another sign.

After the birthday banquet, Morgana receives a message from Morgause to meet her in the darkling woods. Merlin, who has been spying on her, panics and subsequently makes a mistake, which leaves Morgana close to death. Uther breaks one of his own rules and demands Gaius heal her, even implying that he use magic. When Gaius insists that there is very little which can be done, Uther reveals that the witch is, in fact, his daughter.

A distraught Merlin summons the Dragon who seems quite pleased that Morgana is about to die. But, of course, the Dragon must obey Merlin and imbues him with powerful magic that will restore her.

The kingdom is overjoyed that their darling ward has made a full recovery, but Morgana is livid when she discovers the secrets of her parentage and despite Morgause’s warnings not to act quickly now that she has a legitimate claim to the throne, Morgana ignores her and plots to kill Uther immediately.

This was, by far, the strongest episode since the two-parter earlier in the series, and Anthony Stewart Head’s grief-stricken turn as Uther is brilliantly conveyed. Emilia Fox is woefully underused, appearing for all of two minutes, but both Colin Morgan and Katie McGrath again steal the show.

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The boy being morally conflicted and forced to make a decision he may well regret, and McGrath’s cold-blooded performance, raises a lot of questions that I can’t wait to see answered in future episodes. Let’s hope the standard can be kept up.

Read our review of episode 4, Gwaine, here.