This review contains spoilers.
5.2 Arthur’s Bane (Part 2)
As ever, let’s begin with a recap of the action. Last week, Merlin and Arthur were in peril, a retinue of knights were being put to work in the mines, and Mordred had unexpectedly returned much to Merlin’s consternation.
This week, Morgana is having nightmares. She’s trapped with her dragon and spends a number of scenes in bed looking ravishing, and out of it unleashing fury upon one and all.
Still in the hands of their captors, Merlin and Arthur are planning their escape, whilst the Saxons are portrayed as a classless, brutal people, led by Ragnor (Stephen McCole.) He has no love for the King and plans to sell him to Morgana, thanks to the suggestion of Mordred.
Mordred (now played by Alexander Vlahos) has grown into a young man teetering on the precipice of compassion and fury. Merlin, of course, knows who the mage is and Mordred knows Morgana’s plans. His intentions aren’t clear and by the end of the episode we’re still left with a character that has many shades of grey.
Back in Camelot, Sefa is to be executed as per Guinevere’s instructions. The Queen cannot defy the law, though she confides in Gaius, revealing her plan that Sefa is to be used to draw out her father, Ruadan, who, despite a valiant effort, falls into the trap, dying close to his daughter but not before he manages to get word to Morgana.
Meanwhile, Mordred arrives in Ismere, little realising that Merlin and Arthur are planning the same and encounters Morgana. She is as surprised as Merlin that the young mage has returned and instantly conspires with him to bring down Camelot. After all, they have a shared fury towards those who persecuted their people.
Finally arriving in the mines, our heroes mount their escape plan, ably assisted by Percival. Unwittingly coming face-to-face with Morgana’s dragon and the mystical saviour of Gwaine – the Euchdag – Merlin and Arthur discover that there is more to the dangers that they face and that Mordred isn’t the man they thought he was.
As with part one, part two continues to deliver a cracking script, exceptional performances, great camera work and some fantastic scenery. It may sound like hyperbole, but the truth is Merlin has really set the bar high with this opening salvo.
Effective use of camera work makes the frozen landscape seem vast and dangerous, whilst the caves and forests also make a reappearance. Ruadan’s one-man siege on the castle gives us some fantastic shots, though there is a moment where it does look as if they’re using day-for-night.
The script is once again heavy with drama, mixed with action and magic. The confrontations between Arthur and Morgana, Merlin and the dragon, and Guinevere and Cefa are all emotional for their own reasons. Merlin’s mistrust of Mordred puts him at loggerheads with the King, whilst Morgana’s trust of Mordred leads to her greatest betrayal to date.
Of the performances, Angel Coulby really stands out with her calm and serene countenance. Guinevere isn’t cold, she’s calculating. “Wars cannot be won without taking risks,” she says to Gaius, and there’s a sense that Guinevere will be a valuable ally to Arthur.
On the other side of things, as the other powerful woman in Arthur’s life, McGrath is stunning as Morgana. Her confrontation with Arthur reveals the fury of Uther’s daughter and her hatred of her brother. When she doesn’t speak, her emotions are plain to see; she doesn’t overact, nor is she reduced to smirking. Her performance is nuanced and controlled, yet full of rage.
The other knights make their presence felt again, with Eoin Macken’s Gwaine spending time in the presence of The Euchdag before being rescued by Arthur. His colleague in the caves, Percival, having spent far too long smashing up rocks, flexes his impressive physique as Tom Hopper strikes an imposing figure. With Sir Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun) being instrumental in the defeat of Ruadan, it’s Rupert Young’s Sir Leon who has very little to do this week.
New to the series, Mordred has been recast as an older character of almost Shakespearean melodrama – full of fury, yet with a distinct morality and a calm, yet dangerous, facade. Vlahos certainly isn’t playing the role of a pantomime villain; it’s not clear, as yet, what his intentions are and, hopefully, this character is going to play an important role in series five. Just where do his allegiances lie? And with a new knight revealed and Merlin’s cautious relationship with Mordred and Morgana surviving to fight another day, where will series five take us next?
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