Merlin series 3 episode 8 review: The Eye Of The Phoenix

Merlin's third series hits a hight point, with the intriguing The Eye Of The Phoenix...

3.8 The Eye of The Phoenix

This week’s instalment of Merlin is a rollicking good adventure, steeped in Arthurian lore, black magic, Gywverns and Destiny, and is bolstered by some fantastic performances from the cast.

Following a night of transcendental meditation, Arthur comes to the decision to go on a quest to The Perilous Lands, a decimated and dangerous wasteland presided over by an ancient sorcerer called The Fisher King. At first, Merlin attempts to discourage the Prince from carrying out such a potentially fatal mission, but Arthur is determined to do it, and no heckling from Merlin is about to stop him.

Of course, the vile Morgana soon learns of Arthur’s decision, and meets with a heavily disguised Morgause in the market square (who has obviously taken some tips from The Queen in Snow White), who gives Morgana The Eye of The Phoenix. That just happens to be an enchanted bracelet which, if worn too long, will drain and eventually kill the person who is wearing it. She wastes no time in delivering this gift to Arthur with kind wishes, but Gwen, who caught Morgause’s reflection in a mirror earlier (mirrors are apparently immune to he trickery of magic), is growing more and more suspicious of Morgana.

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When Arthur is about to embark on his quest, Merlin spots the bracelet and wonders where it’s came from, Arthur proudly declares that it was a gift from the witch. Merlin discovers exactly what this ‘gift’ will do, and decides to follow Arthur, allying himself with the warrior Gwaine. The triumvirate are described later in the episode as “courage, magic and strength” by a magic dwarf, who guards the bridge to The Dark Tower.

Back in The Citadel, Gwen comes to Morgana’s room and almost catches her using magic. A furious Morgana screams at her maid to get out, momentarily letting the mask slip. The following day, Morgana is back to her usual sweet self, and offers Gwen some time off. Gwen plays along and hides in her room until she returns, and discovers that Morgana means none of them any good. It’s an interesting decision by the creators: Morgana is getting sloppy and finding it hard to paper over the cracks in her façade. Meanwhile, Gaius, Merlin and Gwen are all aware of her true nature, but who will be the one to stop her?

A foreboding, atmospheric and beautifully shot episode in all here, which leaves me in no doubt that the battle ahead for Merlin is going to be a difficult one. There are some superb set-pieces, most notably the King Fisher’s throne room, and a wonderful and poignant scene between Merlin and the ancient king (it’s a marvellous choice to cast genre favourite Donald Sumpter), who tells the boy wizard that this is not Arthur’s quest, but his. Their exchange is heartfelt, and ultimately raises many questions as we hurtle towards the season finale.

The Fisher King tells Merlin that at a pivotal moment he will “…save her…” So could he bring Morgana back from the dark side, or has she become too infected with bloodlust? Personally I’m with the latter. I doubt she’ll ever be the same again. Unless she is under one of Morgause’s spells, which to be honest would make me crazy.

In my humble opinion this has been the strongest line of the series to date, with the creators utilising location, story and characterisation to magnificient effect. And all of this is seamlessly tied in with the overall narrative arc of the season. This stands out as the strongest episode of this run.

As the mood of the show becomes bleaker, I can’t wait to see what devastation comes out of Morgana’s frustration at constantly being bested by Merlin. Will she discover The Boy Wizard’s true identity, and if so, what will happen? Onwards…

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Read our review of episodes 6 & 7, here