And now, viewers, prepare to enter The Crystal Cave:
- Pursued by random bandits, Arthur and Merlin and stumble into a local dilapidated theme park, the Valley of the Fallen Kings, which features a couple of BIG wood carvings and several smaller ones, and, um, that's it. Family entertainment was in short supply in the cod-Middle Ages, it seems. Look, kids, some rocks! And another rock! And a leaf!
- Oh no, Arthur has an arrow in the back and not even being called a dollophead or a clotpoll will wake him up. Merlin tries all the healing spells he knows (all two of them) and ends up sobbing into a pond, remembering the days when rolling Arthur over and over on the ground used to be fun. Poor baby.
- Oh look, it's Taliesin, yet another envoy from the Mystical Old Geezers society (Lark Rise branch). "Do not waste your tears", he says. "Of course Arthur's not going to die. You're only five episodes into the bloody series. Pull yourself together, Emrys!"
- Predictably, Arthur is healed by Taliesin and falls into the Sleep of Plot Convenience, which means that magical stuff can happen. Distressingly, however, this also meant that he sleeps right through the magical ten-minute mark at which he ought to be engaging in a gratuitous shirtless scene. I protested loudly at the screen at this appalling omission, but it was no use; Arthur didn't stir. Sorry, viewers. I tried my best.
- "What is this place?" asks Merlin, gawping at the Cave of Crystals. Is it a gift shop that sells only novelty paperweights? No, it's more like YouTube for wizards. Unfortunately, it's a slightly crappy version that only shows the same trailer over and over again, and includes no footage at all of cats playing the piano.
- Now, there's was one interesting bit here, when Merlin saw stuff that is NOT in the rest of this episode - Morgana on the throne in Camelot with a crown on her head, and Merlin himself wearing not-very-convincing old-man make-up and a wig. Hmm, I suppose that could mean anything. Maybe there'll be a big fancy dress party, and Morgana will go as a princess and Merlin will go as Saruman from Lord of the Rings?
- Viewers of this show can surely empathize with Merlin at this point, because he finds himself stuck watching the same clips over and over again. "Waaaah!" he cries. "Why must I stop another half-baked plot on Uther's life? Why? He doesn't even like me!" Oh, pull yourself together, the audience says. Your mission if you choose to accept it is to stop Morgana from stabbing Uther. Now go forth and stomp prettily through a field, weighed down by your lonely mission.
- I did giggle at Merlin mumbling that Arthur the toad might turn into a handsome prince one day, "...only magic's outlawed so that'll probably never happen". I like to think that what he really meant was "...but I'd probably have to kiss you first, that's what's usually required. Fancy trying it?"
- Predictably, Merlin's predictable predictions soon start coming true, and all Gaius's cynicism and Arthur's laundry-tossing can't stop them. Amid this hubbub, Merlin does at least manage to prove that he has better personal shopping skills than Arthur, although in comparison with Prince "Whaddya mean, girls don't like stabby things?", that's not saying much.
For the first time ever, Merlin was pleased to see that Arthur only had a small one.
- It's time for Morgana's party, and it's also time to call the Camelot fashion police. Oh Arthur, where did you get that blingy headband crown? Does your second present to Morgana involve standing on the table and giving your own interpretation of "My Name Is Tallulah" from Bugsy Malone?
- Still, at least Morgana got some nice gifts, including a) several hundred hairbrushes (ha ha), b) a very pretty and practical dagger that she'll be needing later this episode (hem hem), and c) a hand mirror with cod-medieval text-messaging attachment! See, it pays to have a half-sister who's a witch, you get great anachronistic prezzies. Meanwhile, Merlin is hiding in a cupboard, on the off-chance that Morgana will come storming down the corridor in slow motion wearing a not-very-subtle cloak. I mean, how likely is that...
- It's all fun and games, until someone gets magically knocked down the stairs and cracks their head open. Whoops. And then the whole thing turns into EastEnders, with everyone weeping, wailing and staring moodily into the middle distance. Gwen gets a bit of let-me-cling-to-your-manly-chest comfort from Arthur, Arthur does a bit of "I'd give up my place on the throne" foreshadowing, and Gaius is really bad at taking a hint from Uther. Do anything to save her, Gaius. Anything. Nudge nudge, wink wink, bit of the old religion. Know what I mean?
- And now folks, it's soap-tastic revelation time. "Gaius, I AM Morgana's daddy!" declares Uther. Crikey. Actually sticking to Arthurian legend, whatever will this show do next? And Arthur, what a good thing you never copped off with Morgana back in series 1, eh? For a terrible moment there, we nearly had a Skywalker situation on our hands. No wonder Gaius has to rush straight into Merlin's room so that they can make "NO WAI" / "YES WAI!" faces at each other.
- The bedside sobfest has now reached epic proportions, and Merlin realizes that his only option is to call Dragonline. Eager to spread his fabulous piece of gossip, he's highly peeved to find out that the Dragon already knows that Uther is Morgana's daddy. Maybe he saw it on Jerry Springer, or perhaps he read some spoilers on ONTD (Old News To Dragons). Anyway, after a bit of bitch-fighting of the "you can't tell me what to do! Oh, sorry. Actually you CAN tell me what to do" variety, Merlin wins himself a dragon-breath power-up. I don't know how that's meant to work. Perhaps the smell is so bad that it wakes Morgana up.
- When Morgana was professing her daughterly love to Uther, for one startled minute, I thought she was going to go down the "if you REALLY loved me, you would let me be the queen and therefore you must let me marry Arthur!" route, and that Uther would have to tell her why that was an incestuously Bad Idea (TM).
- Morgause turns up to find out why Morgana didn't answer her last magic-mirror text message, and ends up hearing the startling news that their mutual mother apparently put it about a bit. But she takes it quite well, and even very sensibly tells Morgana not to go stomping around stabbing anyone in a fit of pique. But Morgana will not be stopped. After her unexpected coma, she's WAY behind on this week's evil smirk quota, and honour must be satisfied. On with the red cloak! Let the apocalyptic choral singing commence!
- Despite the big build-up, however, the climax is a bit of a damp squib. Morgana sets fire to the curtains, Merlin breaks a window, end of story. Suddenly it's all over bar the throne-challenging. But yes, there shall surely be throne-challenging. Gaius knows it, you know it, I know it. Do you hear the sound of foreshadowing clanging in the night?
"You know I'm happy to support your hobbies, Merlin, but I draw the line at playing the nose-flute after midnight."
- Overall: a bit of a mess, to be honest, with a big slump in pacing in the middle and a distinct (albeit deliberate) lack of the usual laughs. Still, we're clearly getting more continuity than usual this season, and ye olde REVELATION could potentially have interesting repercussions for the future. Alternatively, they could just ignore those in favour of lots of men in tight leather. Frankly, I'd be quite happy either way...
- Next time: Arthur acquires a dippy love interest with a magical henchperson. Haven't we had this exact storyline before? (And don't I say that every week?)