Merlin series 3 episodes 6 & 7 review: The Changeling and The Castle of Fyrien

Alan catches up with the last two episodes of Merlin in one go, and finds that one is distinctly better than the other...

3.6 The Changeling  The cyclical nature of Merlin and some of the laziness in the storylines, specifically Gwen and Arthur tip-toeing around one another and not declaring their true feelings, is sometimes enough to drive you to distraction. And it’s fair to say that The Changeling is an episode with problems.

This is an episode full of flatulent gags, bad CGI, an annoyingly idiotic villain called Grunhilda and another rehashed plot, with several scenes which would not be out of place on CBBC. I realise Merlin’s target demographic is young-ish children, but half a dozen times throughout this episode I felt like I was viewing a show aimed at six-year olds! The episode opens with a sleeping baby being possessed by a Sidhe, a mythical, pixie-like creature who plants one of their own inside a child to eventually infiltrate a kingdom. Cue Lord Godwyn and his daughter, Elena, arriving in Camelot, with Uther announcing Arthur is to be married to unite both kingdoms. Along for the ride is Nurse Grunhilda, who is determined that Elena will marry the prince so her race can overthrow Uther and take control of Camelot.

See, we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Merlin quickly uncovers Grunhilda’s plot and, after too many wince-inducing moments where poor Gaius becomes the object of the pixie’s lust, they both consult a grimoire with a potion that will expel the Sidhe from Elena, so they can defeat it.

Some of the themes which have been prevalent this season are touched on (most notably family), only to be abandoned almost immediately. Morgana’s manipulation of everybody around her continues, while Gwen and Arthur share another one or two moments, and of course this goes nowhere and Uther remains a tyrant. Still, credit where credit is due. You can’t help but feel sympathy for Gwen, and Angel Coulby manages to express anger, grief and finally resignation without uttering a word of dialogue. Colin Morgan is consistently likeable, and Richard Wilson’s attempts at fending off Grunhilda do raise a chuckle.

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But the show’s creators can do so much better than this. 

3.7 The Castle of Fyrien

Just when you thought Morgana couldn’t sink any lower, she does so here. But she also does so spectacularly.

Morgana arranges for Gwen and her brother, Elyan, to both be abducted by King Cenred and Morgause in a ruthless, calculated attempt to lure Arthur to his death at The Castle of Fyrien. Angel Coulby delivers a fantastic performance as the conflicted servant, reunited with her selfish brother and forced to make a decision between him and the man she loves.

We also are given a glimpse of just how Machiavellian Morgana has become, and left wondering just how much Morgause has corrupted her in her pursuit of power. Emilia Fox oozes menace as the wicked sorceress, and one wonders if she cares at all for her half-sister, or is simply manipulating her so she can claim the throne herself. I suspect there will be a battle between these two at some point, but that is just wishful thinking on my part.

When Gwen is sent back to Camelot, Merlin quickly spots how distressed she is and, along with Arthur, who unwittingly lets Morgana know of their plans, takes decisive action and they all set off together to rescue Elyan. Only Merlin is aware that Morgana is making sure Morgause knows everything, and thwarting their quest at every opportunity.

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When Merlin confronts her in the woods, she shows no remorse whatsoever that she had Gwen and Elyan abducted, or that Arthur is certain to die trying to break in King Cenred’s castle. She reminds him that she had a friend who poisoned her, so why should she care about the others.

This was when I was beginning to sympathise with the witch, but her actions later in the episode left me in no doubt that she is cold and heartless.

Morgana and Morgause conspire to capture the group once they’ve entered the caves beneath the castle, and when they are outnumbered, are left with no choice but to surrender. Gwen and Elyan argue over his lack of empathy regarding his father’s death and you realise just how lonely this young woman really is. Morgana insists Cenred execute the prisoners immediately (see, how can you sympathise with her when she is so despicable?) but Cenred and Morgause want to extract information from the Prince through torture.

With a little help from Merlin, Arthur escapes, rescuing Gwen and Elyan, but heads back to find Morgana. When he does find her, Cenred pretends to hold her hostage until Morgeuse materialises and casts a spell which creates a cyclone of fire. Merlin, watching from behind a pillar, casts a spell of his own, throwing the flames back at all three of them and knocking them unconscious. Arthur goes to Morgana’s aid, much to Merlin’s chagrin. She feigns an injury so she can check whether Morgeuse has survived or not, but Arthur throws her over his shoulder and they escape.

This season so far has been uneven, if we’re being honest. The Castle of Fyrien worked because the episode focused on the themes of secrecy and family, and was far more satisfying than the previous episode because it gave all the cast something to really sink their teeth into. Especially Angel Coulby and Bradley James, who have great screen chemistry. But their story – although engaging – is secondary to the Morgana/Morgause plot and with Emilia Fox returning next week, it looks like their nefarious schemes are far from over…

Read our review of episode 5, The Crystal Cave, here

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