This review contains spoilers.
4.3 The Wicked Day
After the darker two-parter, the opening of episode three of Merlin‘s fourth series offered the chance that this may be a light hearted romp through familiar territory for the show. After all, there’s a traveling circus, led by The Gleeman (Phil Davis, in an incredibly short role), arriving in Camelot to celebrate the birthday of everyone’s favourite prince and king-in-the-making, Arthur Pendragon.
Arthur, however, isn’t too happy on this day of celebration, with the prince feeling the weight of the kingdom on his shoulders, despite Merlin’s attempt to show him that the circus, and this day, are a good thing for Camelot. Things are made somewhat better when Uther decides to join him in the banquet room, refusing to be left out of the celebrations.
Of course, things never go well when someone visits Camelot, and it turns out The Gleeman is actually an assassin who just so happens to have a circus in tow. His attempt to kill Arthur is thwarted by Uther, though the King is wounded and his life hangs in the balance.
Gaius pronounces that the King is close to death and nothing can be done to revive him, leaving Arthur distraught and turning to magic in order to save his father, despite knowing what Uther thought about the very thing that led to the death of Arthur’s mother.
Merlin leaps on the opportunity to save the day, despite Gaius’ protestations, and plans to use his famed aging spell to once again impersonate an old wizard, deceive Arthur, revive Uther and save the day. Nothing can possibly go wrong, despite the raised eyebrow that Gaius gives him.
Morgana, however, has other plans and, thanks to Agravaine keeping her posted on all the happenings in Camelot, she plans to attack the kingdom after she has sealed the fate of the King. Enchanting an amulet that will reverse any life-saving magic that may be used, she sends Agravaine to ensure that the plan works. There are no raised eyebrows in sight, so there’s every chance that Morgana’s plan may just work.
Once again, we get the 80-year old Merlin and some over-the-top, comic acting from Colin Morgan, and an opportunity for Merlin to say the stuff he can’t say out loud to the prince. Bartering the freedom of wizards for Uther’s life, Arthur promises that, when he is the king, things will be different. All Arthur has to do is wait until nightfall, when old-Merlin will work his magic and save the King.
With Arthur back in Camelot, the time comes to save the King and old-Merlin is there, as promised. Arthur chooses this moment to have second thoughts, suddenly remembering his father’s opinion on the matter. Merlin, however, wants to convince him otherwise, unaware of the impending peril thanks to the meddling Morgana.
With Arthur broken and Merlin distraught, Arthur’s mindset towards magic is solidified and it appears the young prince may be ready to become King.
There are a few moments of the traditional Merlin silliness here, and they’re quite welcome, with Arthur clumsily breaking things in a potter’s shack and the aged Merlin getting Arthur to piggyback him through the castle. The banter between Arthur and Merlin is, once again, sharp as a tack, with Arthur reminding Merlin that he’s a scared and useless servant who he would be better without, and Merlin insulting the prince’s intelligence and attitude. It’s the bromance with which we’re all familiar and, if Twitter is anything to go by, it’s a popular part of the series.
Sadly, this episode has no dragon, Gwen limited to one or two lines and mopping the King’s brow and hardly anything from the new knights who seem to be relegated to standing in the background and not doing much.
Talking of not doing much, Katie McGrath doesn’t get a lot to do in this episode, aside from making a few threats and enchanting an amulet. She is, however, wonderfully lit in a scene late on in the episode, rising from her bed and speaking to Agravaine. Perhaps they’re saving up all her screen time and dialogue for a showdown at the end of the season.
Bradley James continues to sparkle as the more responsible Arthur, delivering lines with decent comic timing and showing palpable emotion during the scenes with Uther. His banter with Merlin raises a smile, as it always tends to, though there are times when the scripted dialogue does seem a bit forced as the writer tries to get to the point or set up a witty comeback. Thankfully, James and Morgan remain a charming double act and it’s hard not to like them both.
So, it wasn’t a jolly episode of Merlin after all. The ending suggests that the game has changed and, as Arthur states, it is a new day. With Arthur’s position firmly established, Merlin unable to reveal his true nature to his best friend, Agravaine plotting against Arthur and Morgana ready to attack the kingdom in its darkest hour, Camelot may be in more danger than ever before…