- "Tell me, Sir Leon. How have you enjoyed the first week of my reign?" asks Queen Morgana, in a rather topical attempt to measure her nation's happiness. Well, on one hand, Leon's speaking part is now bigger than EVER, so yay him. On the other hand, he's being hideously oppressed and so is everybody else. I think you'd better put him down as a "don't know", Morgana.
- Has everyone else noticed that Morgause is secretly up the duff? More precisely, Emilia Fox was pregnant at the time of filming (she's now had a baby girl), and this explains why Morgause has been spending most of the season wearing a long cloak and standing behind bits of furniture. It's terribly unobservant of me to have missed this until now, but I'm afraid my eye tends to be distracted by
the prime crumpetother important plot points (hem hem).
- Meanwhile, the less smirky portion of the cast are holed up in what Camelot estate agents probably call "a spacious rustic dwelling with excellent access to countryside amenities", but which everyone else would call a cave with some hot guys (and a non-hot Gaius) in it. There's not much drinking water and no anachronistic vegetables left, but on the plus side, there's plenty of organic free-range vermin to nibble on.
- Alas, Sir Leon and friends face the firing squad, giving them one last heroic chance to actually shout an audible line! My first thought was that the people standing behind the firing line were trusting rather heavily in the aiming skills of the soldiers (I know they were only a few feet away, but accidents happen, don't they?). Then Morgana must have picked up on my thought because she turned the crossbows on the crowd, shock horror! Thankfully it was a before-the-watershed massacre, i.e. all you got to see is a bit of scuttling and Leon making the most of his slow-mo Big No.
- Morgana drops in to see her dad, and gives him the old "I must keep you alive to
fulfil your contract for the next seriesmake you suffer more!" speech. I'm glad the Pendragons are sort-of pagans, because Christmas dinners in that household would be terrible.
- Back in the cave, Arthur is moping about his leadership abilities, so Merlin gives Arthur the full "Your Country Needs You" speech, seasoned with a tasty dish of barbecued rat. In the process, Merlin admits to having served Arthur things that he wouldn't have put in his own mouth. Riiight. So I guess we now know who's on top in this relationship, AND that Arthur always swallows...
- Oh dear, Morgana's only been queen for a week and she's already whining to Gwen about what a hard life she's got. You think you've got it tough now, Morgana -- wait until Wikileaks get their hands on your dry-cleaning bill. You're getting through a different frock in every scene, it's positively decadent.
- Oooh, it turns out that Merlin has sent a letter to Lancelot, possibly reading "Party in the woods, plz bring a sword (and Pringles)". He also suspects that his magic bottle of water will be helpful, but like many men when faced with a recalcitrant gadget, he spends a long time swearing at it and hunting for the on-switch.
- Ha, if ever a Merlin character was likely to suddenly go outside for a piss at a dramatic moment, I'd have put money on Gwaine being the one. And there he goes! Obviously we don't see him do it, but we do see the knock-on effect as he causes Merlin to make a large puddle of his own...
- Fortuantely, it's a convenient magic puddle that allows Merlin to chat to his dead girlfriend Freya. You remember Freya, don't you, from that not-very-good episode last season? Nice girl, no chemistry whatsoever, but she makes Merlin go all misty-eyed and tear-choked, so we'll forgive her. She seems a bit less wet than last time we saw her, which is ironic since she's speaking live from the bottom of a lake. She's also got a new job distributing important plot advice: namely, the immortal army are basically just zombies, and Excalibur is the best zombie-killing weapon in the land, so Merlin needs to scoot over to her place and pick it up a.s.a.p. Easy peasy, eh?
- So Merlin rushes out to hail a passing Dragon, which complains mightily about having to go 20 leagues south of Camelot after closing time. The Dragon also makes him promise to keep the sword until the end of the episode and then "place it where none can wield it" Hmm, is that the echo of legendary foreshadowing I hear clanging through the forest?
- Then Merlin sails out onto the Avalon boating lake for the classic Excalibur moment. "Aaaaahhhh!!!" the portentous choirs intone. I, meanwhile, was wondering how he actually took the sword from her, since we didn't get the see that bit. Did she throw it? Did he sail up to her arm and see the rest of her standing under the water? Did he take advantage of the few romantic opportunities afforded by being in love with a disembodied hand? I fear we may never know, but perhaps we don't want to.
- Meanwhile, Gwen has been quite busy, using her inherited blacksmithing skills to make a key, her acting abilities to fall over "accidentally" in the courtyard, and her comedy contrivance talents to lure Sir Leon into a spot of strategic crossdressing!
Leon is caught in a terrible dilemma. On one hand, the wrath of Queen Morgana's Fashion Police is legendary. On the other hand, lavender is SO last season.
- Still, Leon copes relatively well with this sitcom turn of events, and even uses it to launch an unexpected bid for the final shirtless scene of the season! Well done, that man. Had I been given a free choice, I'd probably have opted for another flash of Gwaine's deliciousness, but I can't help but admire the way that this marks Leon's graduation to the ranks of the Merlin main men.
- Okay folks, it's time for action, and Arthur is now charged and ready to go. He does his usual praise-Merlin-with-very-faint-praise trick, which will never not be adorable. Merlin, meanwhile, has discovered that Excalibur makes zombie-soldiers explode like cheap fireworks, luckily leaving no messy residue that needs to be cleaned up afterwards.
- Hoorah, it's Lancelot! And he's brought his new
boyfriendchum Percival who, in the words of the classical philosopher Phoebe Buffet, is "burly, so very burly", and very good at pushing rocks off cliffs. He display more biceps than he does personality, but it hardly matters: the new Camelot motto seems to be "Another hottie never hurts". (Note to readers of a certain age: the concept of Lance/Percival shipping has nothing to do with Lance Percival.)
- Anyway, people's reaction to Lance's arrival is generally positive: Merlin is glad he kept in touch with him on Facebook, and even Arthur is gracious and grateful for once in his bratty life. Gwen's immediate reaction is "swoon!" but then she sees Lance and Arthur having a moment of a manly rapprochement, and decides to restrict her interaction with him to the occasional wistful stare. A sensible if undramatic choice, but I suppose they're saving the love triangling for the day that Camelot runs out of cheap CGI beasties.
- "Arthur has but a handful of men," declares Morgana. Yeah, but WHAT a handful. And Percival must be a couple of handfuls all by himself.
- The gang find a picturesque castle to hide out in, and oh look, it just so happens to contain a round table. That looks like a cue for a Rousing Speech! Arthur rises admirably to the occasion and taps into his inner Picard, telling everyone that they're all lovely and special and honorable and fabulous, even the guy he only met ten minutes ago. He also explains how he's all in favour of equality, as long as he gets to be a teensy bit more equal than everyone else (hem hem), and everyone else gets to tell him why he's fabulous too. This part was gloriously cheesy, and yet at the same time I found it remarkably touching -- I felt such a huge surge of love for these characters and I'm pretty sure it wasn't all caused by gin and tonic. Special hugs for Gwaine's typically Gwainey response and Merlin and Arthur's tongue-in-cheek bickering, coupled by their shared look at the end. Bless, bless, bless.
- "I'll do something my father won't approve of." - You know what that means, don't you?
ORGY!Oh, false alarm: it's just a mass knighting. But it involves lots of men kneeling down and Arthur getting his phallic symbol out, so it's surely a symbolic orgy on some level... or is that just me?
- His hopes for Gwen-centric romance fading into non-existence, Lancelot mopes that he's unlikely to have anything to do in this episode. Then somebody remembers that he has ANOTHER plot skill as well as mooning over Gwen -- yes,
flirting with Merlinknowing about Merlin's magic! So the two of them get to do a bit of husky whispering on the floor in the dark, and Lance tells Merlin that he's fabulous and special and that Arthur TOTALLY sucks for not noticing him. And then they make a lovely plan to run off together and have adventures. (My only quibble with this plot is that they forget to invite Gwaine along too, because Gwaine makes all lovely adventures even lovelier.)
- Arthur breaks the news to Gwen that while the boys are out swashbuckling, her important role in proceedings is to... stay indoors and make bandages. Why? They aren't going to be much use if the wounded are miles away in a totally different castle, are they? However, she does get a rather nice public kiss-up as compensation, and a voucher for another one later, if and when Arthur heroically survives.
- Okay kids, it's time for the action part. Unsubtle sneaking around the castle! Swordfighting galore! Arthur rescuing a traumatized Uther! And Lancelot and Merlin bonding with a bit of Freudian swordplay, focused primarily around Merlin's startling impressive weapon.
When he gets an eyeful of Merlin wielding Excalibur, Lancelot simply can't hide his sword-on.
- At last, Lancelot and Merlin find the bonus level they have to beat to get the magic cup. But just as Merlin beats the final zombie knight and makes a dash for the cup, and... Morgause appears! And she's just about to blow Merlin into glowy-eyed oblivion when... OMG, it's bad-ass Gaius, getting his sorcery on, and flinging Morgause around as easily as a peasant throws an anachronistic tomato! Now Merlin, run for it.... YES! SCORE! The cup's on the floor, there's blood everywhere. They think it's all over. It is... well, almost.
Everyone is absolutely delighted...
...to see Gwaine finally come out of the closet.
- Oh dear, Morgana's not a happy bunny. Of course, anyone could have a major league hissy fit upon learning that their sister's (possibly) dead and their own smirking days have been abruptly curtailed, but not everyone could use it to bring down the polystyrene scenery on everyone's heads. I also note that Morgana and Morgause have swapped roles since the end of the last series: in that one, Morgause transported her ailing sister away, and now their positions are reversed. Interesting. I'm also glad we didn't get the Morgana-claims-she-was-enchanted defence that I predicted last week, but given Uther's current post-traumatic state, I can't rule out the possibility that she'll play that card at the start of next series.
- Aww, look at Merlin's big grin as Gwen rides in with her guard of honour. Either he's happy to see his friend get her prince, or he REALLY likes men in uniform. Possibly both.
- Suddenly Merlin remembers a bit of foreshadowing that hasn't been resolved yet. Now, where can he stash Excalibur so that the Dragon won't be on his case? Oh look, here's an tastefully lit boulder in the woods, this'll do for sword storage. And it'll make a nice atmospheric scene when someone comes back to fetch it, the next time there's a season finale in the offing.
- Let's end this bumper trawl with a few unanswered questions. For a start, what happened to Arthur's terrible leg wound? Did Gaius just heal it quietly in the cave between episodes? And is it true that both Uther and Arthur STILL have no idea that Morgana has magic? And Morgana and Morgause STILL don't know that Merlin has magic? Bloody hell. "Keep the magic secret" is one thing, "Drag every plot reveal out to the point of actual physical pain" is quite another. But undoubtedly the most crucial question posed by this episode is "Do all the lovely knights get to stay in Camelot now, do they, do they, do they, PLEASE say that they do?" But I fear that only time will tell.
- Overall: a solid and action-packed conclusion to the two-parter and to the series. Again, I was hoping for a little more humour and a teensy bit more gratuitous man-flirting, but instead I got a rather rousing sense of myth and a surprisingly moving love-letter to Arthur and Merlin and their friends (and by extension, the fabulous cast), and how far they've all come. Shame that Morgana is still the most hopeless villain in the history of anything, but you can't have it all, I guess. Sure, it's not always great, but it's often fun, and funny, and sexy, and silly, and sometimes -- just sometimes -- it's a little bit more. Season 4 may seem a long way off, but I'm already looking forward to it.
I know Gaius thinks he's the only one who'll ever say this to you, Merlin, but WELL DONE.
"How's your father?" asks Merlin. "Don't mind if I do," says Arthur.
THE END (for now)
As a postscript, I'm aware that my Merlin mini-icons are now in dire need of an update, and the requisite scribbling is already underway. Watch this space, viewers.
* In this case, GPS stands for Gratuitous Princely Shirtlessness.