This review contains spoilers.
4.6 A Servant Of Two Masters
Arthur’s knights are a-riding, a-riding they go. They’re off to the lovely sounding Valley of the Fallen Kings where, moments after Merlin’s warning, they’re suddenly ambushed and, for the first time this series, the knights get into a proper sword fight that leaves Merlin wounded.
As Arthur drags Merlin through the forest, he keeps Merlin’s spirits up by telling him he’ll be fine in the morning and ready to polish his armour (not a euphemism.) Merlin, it turns out, is seriously wounded and Arthur plans to save him, finally confessing that Merlin isn’t a coward and is a great servant, quite brave and all the other stuff that we’ve known all along. Together, they’re going to battle through a night in the forest, avoiding the mercenaries.
Running into the mercenaries again, Merlin realises that Arthur is about to be overwhelmed and uses the last of his energy to protect the King, causing a rock fall that separates them and leaves the young wizard in the hands of said mercenaries.
These, however, are no ordinary mercenaries; they’re mercenaries in the employ of Agravaine and Morgana. Stopping Agravaine from executing the unconscious wizard, Morgana sees the opportunity before her to get her revenge of the man who left her sister to a painful death, thwarted her plans and has left her living in a hovel. She’s going to do bad things to Merlin… and not bad things in ‘good’ things way.
With Arthur and the knights returning to Camelot, he plans to send out a patrol to find the servant (and nobody questions this use of resources.) Unable to track down the wizard, the knights come to the only possible conclusion; that there is a traitor in their midst.
Meanwhile, in Morgana’s hovel, Merlin and the witch are catching up on their shared past. Morgana wants to know why Merlin is so loyal, and Merlin isn’t the most forthcoming on the topic. She doesn’t understand how anyone can be this close to the King, given her hatred of him, and Merlin’s silence is enough to make her a bit annoyed. She’s got wicked things to do, and casts a spell to bring forth a tiny hydra-like Fomorroh, a creature used to control minds. She’s using it to drain Merlin’s life-force and replace it with a simple thought – the death of Arthur Pendragon.
Even being the King isn’t enough to stop Arthur from going to find Merlin. He’s unimpressed to awaken and find a strange man standing over him when it really should be Merlin. He doesn’t need any old servant, enthusiastic as the new guy may be: he needs Merlin. So, he sets out to find his faithful manservant and finds him, covered in mud. Together, they’re reunited and everyone is happy.
Newly enchanted Merlin is evasive and inquisitive, a bit obnoxious and far too enthusiastic in his plans to knock off Arthur. Gaius doesn’t seem too concerned, even when Merlin walks off with a deadly potion. Little does he know that Merlin is going to drizzle it all over the King’s food, insult the cook and a knight, before delivering it to the King. As Merlin walks through the castle, nobody seems to realise he’s changed temperament, even when he turns into Sebastian from Little Britain as he sees Gwen serving food for the King.
Gwen, clearly the brightest of the residents in Camelot, is suspicious of Merlin’s behaviour and the discovery of two dead pigs leads her to Gaius. Together they hunt down Merlin and stop him from killing the King. Really there’s nothing to worry about as it turns out that Merlin’s plans to kill Arthur are going as well as Wile E. Coyote’s plans to stop the Road Runner.
Whilst this is all going on, Arthur confronts Agravaine over the whole mercenary fiasco. Agravaine manages to push aside Arthur’s suspicions that he may be the traitor in the midst, passing blame onto everyone’s favourite doctor, Gaius. You’d think Morgana would be happy that nobody suspects Agravaine and that Gaius is now implicated, but she’s not. Top that off with Merlin discovering, through his craftiness, that Agravaine and Morgana are in cahoots and time has to be short for the sly Lord and his evil ways.
Thwarting yet another of Merlin’s plans to kill the King, Gaius manages to neutralise the Fomorroh temporarily, allowing the wizard time to track down Morgana and kill the rest of the creature once and for all. He’s not going to do it in his normal guise, fearing Morgana would recognise him, so we get a return of the 80 year old Merlin.
Morgana and old-Merlin, whom she considers to be Emrys, confront each other, Morgana showing a crack in her usually steely outlook when she sees someone she had thought imaginary. She realises that the Emrys is real and knows the threat must be destroyed. Together they engage in a short magic battle (mainly throwing each other about), before Merlin is able to unleash a magical vortex that even Morgana cannot stop (again, she’s thrown about a bit) before Merlin is finally able to break the spell once and for all.
The episode gives Colin Morgan a fine turn as the manic, king-killing obsessive Merlin. It’s a comic role that sees him at his pantomime best. Angel Coulby and Richard Wilson spend most of the episode tracking down and thwarting Merlin’s increasingly more bizarre schemes and coming up with excuses for his behaviour, whilst Bradley James plays the King as the fool, spending much of the episode either armoured up or semi-clothed and far too buff for comic effect.
Practically mid-season, it’s the first episode that has really had this much of the story played for laughs. Definitely with tongue firmly in cheek, Lucy Watkins’ script takes an interesting premise and gives it a quite silly twist, with plenty of comedic performances all round. Touchingly acted, the scene where Arthur confesses that Merlin isn’t useless is well played without being overly-saccharin and it’s good to see Gaius getting more to do. After the jollity has finished, there’s a moment that will leave us wondering just how close Agravaine is to Morgana as he carries her off.
Filled with lashings of silliness, it doesn’t have the impact of the previous five episodes, however it does allow a break in the overall darkness of the series so far. As a story, it’s not going to please fans who want their Saturday early evening viewing to be doom-laden, but it doesn’t disappoint those who want to see a programme that isn’t afraid to be a bit silly whilst still driving the story forward.
Next week, we’ve got a script by the series creator (well, one of them), Julian Jones, so it’s probably going to be back to business as usual in Camelot.
Read our review of episode 5, here.