This review contains spoilers.
5.7 A Lesson In Vengeance
As ever, let’s begin with a short recap of this week’s action. Whilst celebrating Arthur and Gwen’s first anniversary, the pair’s hopes of a quiet, romantic picnic (with Merlin following behind) are scuppered when a roadside IED throws Arthur from his horse, injuring him and scaring away his steed. A couple of mercenaries hope to murder the King, but he’s a capable swordsman and makes short work of this inconvenience – with a bit of help from Merlin.
Who could possibly be behind this attack? Well, the evidence at hand – a restitched saddle and red twine, lead us to Tyr Seward, the King’s stable hand. With Seward sentenced to death, Merlin sets out to prove the young man’s innocence, discovering that Seward was fearful of revealing the truth; a well justified fear, as it turns out.
There’s something wrong with Guinevere, and Merlin knows it. She’s under the crafty enchantment of everyone’s favourite villain, Morgana. Having failed to kill the King, she manages to silence Seward, before meeting Morgana and reporting her activities, nearly being caught by Sir Gawaine.
Morgana isn’t happy that the King is still alive. A quick to the local, unscrupulous apothecary gives Morgana what she needs in order to furnish Gwen with a potion that will certainly do the job. All she has to do is administer a couple of drops and then find another scapegoat.
Merlin, however, discovers Gwen’s treachery whilst he’s washing clothes, thanks to a piece of finely embroidered cloth. However, it comes too late as he discovers the King very much unconscious and Gwen nowhere to be seen.
As Gaius delivers his diagnosis, Gwen casts aspersions on Merlin’s character, deploying the knights to find the servant. She’s distraught that Merlin, the most trusted of all the King’s men, should be the betrayer, but she is sure in her actions and the wizard is thrown into the dungeons to await his fate.
With the King close to death, discussion turns to who will be the next ruler of Camelot. Step forward Gwen, thanks to the suggestion of Sir Leon. All she now needs is for the King to die, and it looks like it’s going to happen very soon.
Realising that he is the only one that can save Arthur, Merlin effects an escape from the dungeons, with a little help from Gaius and magic. He could blow open the cell doors and render the guards unconscious, but instead we get… Old Merlin, who is full of bile and sarcasm, but doesn’t outstay his welcome as he returns to his youthful state and leads the knights on a merry chase through the castle.
With Gwen safely in the protection of the knights, Gaius convinces Merlin to use his magic to heal the King, though the wizard is unsure. Thankfully, he is powerful enough and Camelot, once again, is saved.
As Arthur recovers and a new day dawns, Merlin is released. The King is happy to see his servant, though Merlin isn’t able to reveal the truth as the Queen has found the supplier of the poisons who implicates Morgana, leaving Gwen free to betray again.
A Lesson of Vengeance is an odd episode. It’s a good story that seems to spend too long before actually going anywhere. It’s well written and entertaining, with plenty happening; but there seems to be a lot of build-up, before a far-too-rushed resolution. What could have been a labyrinthine story, with plot twists and red herrings galore, delivers a few dramatic punches but seems to lack a knock-out blow.
On the plus side, the dark-Gwen storyline isn’t resolved in the forty-two minute runtime and it’ll definitely be worth tuning in to see how this one is going to be resolved. It’s also going to be great to see Angel Coulby tear up the scenery again as the puppet Queen.
Coulby is wonderfully wicked in this episode; not reduced to a pantomime parody, but deliciously evil. There are a couple of moments where she gives a Morgana-esque smirk, but it is quite an effective performance that doesn’t seem too out of character, at first, for someone who has recently lost a brother and been tortured! Alongside the always-wonderful Katie McGrath, the pair make a wonderful duo and it’s going to be exciting to see what the writers have planned.
This week’s guest star John Bradley, familiar to Game of Thrones fans as Samwell Tarly, doesn’t stray far from type as Tyr Seward, the unsure young man, lacking in confidence and wanting to do the right thing. His character is short lived, which is a shame as it would have been given Seward more purpose had he been able to redeem himself.
Old Merlin makes a reappearance. Yes, we get to see Colin Morgan in the Old Merlin make up, full of crotchety impatience and sarcasm. However, we don’t have to experience this for too long, which is only a good thing.
Also making a reappearance is innuendo-based humour. In particular, a moment where Arthur catches Merlin going through Gwen’s wardrobe raises a smile and reminds us of past seasons of Merlin. As with Old Merlin, the humour doesn’t outstay its welcome; though unlike Old Merlin, it sits more comfortably within this episode.
Only a handful of episodes remain and we’ve got Morgana still playing a part, an enchanted Gwen, a suspicious Merlin, Mordred close to the King, and a King who is in for the ultimate betrayal. So many threads, so little time. Despite its flaws, this episode continues the sterling work that has been the reinvention of a series that, in the past, was too fluffy in places to be taken too seriously.
Read Dave’s review of the previous episode, The Dark Tower, here.
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