This review contains spoilers.
4.2 The Darkest Hour Part 2
Following the darker tones of episode one, we’re thrown straight into the thick of things in The Darkest Hour Part 2, with Merlin facing death following a Darocha attack and the collective confidence of the knights confidence shattered by the devastating event. Arthur decides that they must return Merlin to Gaius back in Camelot, despite the pressing urgency of the mission to close the veil between the world of the living and the dead. Why not leave the sarcastic servant to die in the wilderness? Because he’s just saved Arthur’s life, of course.
Arthur can’t really abandon his quest to close the rift and sends brave Sir Lancelot back to Camelot with Merlin slung over the back of a horse, through the spooky woods, whilst the others go to fight the good fight, and heal the veil that has unleashed evil spirits upon the world.
Whilst Lancelot encounters the river dwelling Villea, good spirits that help Merlin heal, Arthur and crew encounter the giant, hairless rats called Wilderin that occupy the caves and pretty much want to eat our heroes. Thankfully, they’ve covered themselves in slime in a combined effort to baffle the noses of the Wilderin and look mildly comical. Avoiding being eaten, the knights bound forth.
Meanwhile, Agravaine is up to his tricks, shutting the gates to the city and preventing the unfortunate souls that live beyond the walls of Camelot from seeking solace. Gaius’ protestations are cast aside with nary a second thought, leaving Gwen to stand up for the poor and defenseless. Thankfully, for a serving girl, she’s a compelling speaker able to overcome the opposition and convince Agravaine that his decision is the wrong one. Before too long, he has no choice but to tell Morgana what’s happening and she’s not too happy at Gwen.
Having made a swift recovery, Merlin is back on his feet, all healed and full of sarcasm. Together, Lancelot and the wizard set out to meet up with Arthur again, though have to stop for the night at a ramshackle dwelling where Merlin gets a chance to work his magic for the first time this episode.
As if that’s not enough, Merlin and Lancelot get to spend more time together doing what knights and servants do best: bonding. We discover, once again, that Lancelot may love Gwen, but he’s willing to stand aside for Arthur. Before we can have too much saccharin, the pair fall asleep and nearly become prey for the Dorocha before bolting from the hut.
As all appears lost, we get the reappearance of the dragon, resplendent in its CGI glory and voiced by the legendary tones of John Hurt. Dispensing with the Dorocha in swift fashion, he’s able to shed some light on the situation with the veil, and offers warnings and predictions of the future, whilst leaving Merlin to make his own choice.
Morgana still travels through the castle as she pleases, using her magic to render guards unconscious. It’s a bit worrying that it’s so easy to get into the castle, but that’s not what really makes us uneasy. Agravaine is at his slimiest when he’s speaking to Gwen. Thankfully, she leaves without incident, only to fall foul of Morgana’s magic.
Arthur’s having serious doubts about sharing with the new knights, but that’s brought to a head with a quick pep talk. There’s a chance that Arthur’s new knights are buffoons, as one sets his own socks on fire and the others tease him mercilessly. Percival manages one line this week, whilst still wearing his sleeveless chainmail. Surely this is the fashion accessory of the autumn season.
Enough of this tomfoolery, however, because Lancelot has returned. The knights are momentarily worried, however, all they are all more than happy to see Merlin alive and well. With Merlin and Arthur back together, there’s more bonding as the two exchange thoughts on sacrifice and just how useful Merlin is as a servant. Not too much of the bromance this time, as there’s evil to fight and a split between worlds to heal.
With the knights charging forth, Merlin is becoming more blatant with his magic, though the others don’t notice as they’re too busy being attacked by wyverns. Whilst the other knights stay back to fend off the attack, Merlin and Arthur race forward to close the veil and confronting the Cailleach.
Of course, we know that Arthur isn’t likely to die anytime soon and Merlin steps forward to take his place. The Cailleach knows Merlin’s place, though a sacrifice must be offered and a knight will fall.
The two part story comes to an emotional climax as the funeral fire dies down. It’s not overly action oriented, but definitely shows the heart of the series. Morgana is left unhappy and plans to destroy the Emrys, though she doesn’t know who this is and sets Agravaine out to discover his identity.
As with last week’s instalment, the episode may continue with the darker tones, but it definitely isn’t without humour, mostly focused on Merlin and the clumsy Sir Gwaine. There’s also some understated moments of near farce with a beehive, grime and an overly close encounter with the rat-like Wilderin.
CGI has a bigger role in this episode with the dragon continuing to be the most impressive example of effects in the series. It may have a slightly comical face, but it still looks really impressive in flight, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t feature more. Perhaps they’re saving up for the series finale.
Aside from the dragon, we’ve still got the Dorocha this week along with the wyvern and Wilderin. If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, the latter will probably remind you of the giant rat in the story The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but executed with far more effect. It doesn’t look too hideous, but is the type of thing that might scare very young children. The wyvern are quite impressive but, very much like the dragon, get little screen time. Considering that the knights were meant to be holding them back, a bit more of a battle would have been appreciated. Once again, the episode belongs to our three central characters – Merlin, Arthur and Morgana. Gaius finally gets something else to do aside of offer advice as he deflects questions for Agravaine and spends some time finding Gwen and fighting off a Doracha. Gwen’s role seems to be improving too, though her audience in front of the council did seem a bit unlikely, even within the confines of the world of Merlin. It may have worked had it been Uther or Arthur, but Agravaine seemed to back down far too easily.
Katie McGrath seems to be relishing the newly evil and incredibly pale Morgana. Aside from showing her new mad side, she seems to be plotting the death of a fair few fellows these days. Let’s hope she doesn’t lose track of all the names on her list. Her control over Agravaine is something that hopefully will develop throughout the series as he seems to be there simply to do her bidding, regardless of what she asks.
Julian Jones has set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the season with this two part story. Action is balanced with emotion as the stall is laid out for what could be a hugely satisfying battle between good and evil, with the delicious madness of Morgana going up against the virtue of Arthur and the Knights of Camelot.
It’s been an impressive opening for series four of Merlin. More like this, please.
Read our review of episode one, here.