It's noble and it's brutal, it distorts and deranges
Only 3 more episodes of Merlin to left after this one, viewers. But before I go and sit under my duvet and make wibbling noises, here are some thoughts on The Kindness of Strangers. And since we all know that foreshadowing is your clue to quality drama, I shall be pointing out Ominous Signs of Doom along the way:
Oh look, Morgana's found herself yet another bunch of henchblokes from Rent-A-Mob, or possibly UninformedGrunting.com. This week, they're chasing a guest star from last series, Alator of the Catha, better known as the bald Scottish guy who tortured Gaius then unexpectedly turned out to be an Emrys fanboy. His mission this week is to tell Morgana where Emrys is. If he refuses, she's going to make loads of tedious speeches in an attempt to bore him into submission. And he thought he knew the horrors of torture.
Meanwhile, Arthur's celebrating the fact that his wife's not trying to murder him any more by taking her out on a traditional romantic date... with Merlin, obviously. Sadly Arthur doesn't have any shirtless scenes this week but the shirt he IS wearing is pretty much transparent and displays a generous quantity of cleavage that's clearly meant to compensate for the overexposure of Gwen's heaving bosoms of evil in recent weeks. Merlin also notes Ominous Sign of Doom 1: Arthur's really happy. I'm guessing that won't last...
"I think my dog can catch better than you." - Um, Arthur? You don't HAVE a dog. Not unless it's an invisible dog, anyway. That cute thing with the big ears and puppy eyes that fetches things on your command? That's not a dog, that's Merlin.
Merlin finds a burnt tree and a dropped trinket, and correctly identifies them as important plot points for the week. Meanwhile, Camelot's full of people sitting on the ground and moaning. No, it's not a protest against austerity cuts OR a really cheap rock festival. Luckily Sir Leon is on hand to explain that it's all that nasty Morgana's fault, using his stunning powers of exposition. What would we do without him? We'd just have to make up our own ridiculous back stories for everything. (Come to think of it, I do that anyway.)
"It's not your body I'm interested in." - Good news for Alator: Morgana's torture techniques don't entirely revolve around acting at him. Bad news for Alator: she's using a crappy CGI snake in a box AGAIN. Why is Morgana so obsessed with little snakey creatures? I mean, I'm not knocking her love of animals, but when it comes to getting the job done, surely the threat of a massive mallet to the crotch area would be SO much more effective?
Questions I thought this season was never going to answer: does Merlin still wander into Arthur's room at all hours, now that he sleeps with Gwen? It seems that the answer is yes, but that Arthur has now had a Curtain of Discretion installed halfway across the room, so the fruit bowls can be refilled without disturbing any royal hanky-panky. This week, however, Merlin rips it open without so much as yelling "CEASE ANY HETEROSEXUAL BEHAVIOUR NOW, THERE'S A SERVANT IN THE CLOSET ROOM!" so I fear that some sort of extra warning signal is needed. Maybe they should go with the Eleventh Doctor's idea and put up a balloon?
When Arthur sent Merlin out to fetch some flowers, I half-expected him to pop down to the nearest anachronistic all-night garage. Instead, he heads for the Usual Woods and meets a mysterious tattooed lady who wants to see him later that night for some hot druidic chat. This wouldn't usually be Merlin's thing, but she mentions that Arthur could be danger and suddenly he's hot to trot, despite Gaius's well-intentioned but inaccurate warnings.
If you were wondering what the knights get up to when nobody's around, the answer is that they play Touch Gwaine's Helmet. The first rule of Touch Gwaine's Helmet is: you don't talk about Touch Gwaine's Helmet. The second rule of Touch Gwaine's Helmet is: you just touch Gwaine's helmet. Well, unless you're Gwaine, that is. (You know, I'm sure I've read a fanfic like this somewhere. Although on second thoughts, I don't think that was about a helmet...)
Oh dear, it's Ominous Sign of Doom 2: Gaius apologizes for his mistrust of Merlin and they share a Meaningful Hug. I think that this Ominous Sign made me sadder than all the other Ominous Signs, because it made me worried that Bad Things might happen to Gaius. And I don't want that to happen, because Gaius is lovely. Aww.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Finna and Alator are friends on Ravenbook. But tragically he forgets to delete (or just eat) his personal messages, and thus becomes the unfortunate recipient of Ominous Sign of Doom 3: Morgana's startlingly effective new spell: Makus Peepul DED. Ooops.
Finna's still wandering the forest, engaging in low-level tree vandalism in the hope that it'll speed up this slow stretch of plot. Merlin's in hot pursuit until...ouch! What's that sudden poke from the rear? No worries, it's just Percival and his Lovely Knight chums, out hunting for evil sorcery folk.
Merlin's known for ages that Percival's got a long one, but somehow it always comes as a surprise.
So the Lovely Knights are all "Why??" and Merlin's all "Herbs!" and they're all "No, but why?" and Merlin's all "Hey guys, did you know Percival had an STD?" and oddly enough, this distracts everyone's attention for a while. Nonetheless, it's rather ironic to see Merlin desperately hunting for a reason to run off and meet a woman, instead of hanging out with the lads at the height of rutting season. When he does sneak off to "relieve himself" with his boots on, the even sneakier Mordred catches him. Hmm. Is Mordred good or evil now? Even the background music can't decide.
As well as her non-speaking minions, Morgana's blown the rest of her henchbudget for the week on a hench-fund manager with a speaking part, who tells her that the hounds have found Finna's trail. Sadly, the budget couldn't stretch to ACTUAL hounds, because there are none to be seen, only a few howling noises in the background. Either that's her henchblokes doing doggie impressions OR she's got invisible dogs, just like Arthur!
The alliterative good news is that Merlin finally finds Finna. The alliterative bad news is that Morgana's men manage to maim Merlin with a marrow. Sorry, I mean, an ARROW. My alliteration got the better of me there. Anyway, poor little Merlin! When he imagined getting a good length of wood in him before the end of the series, this wasn't what he had in mind.
Merlin and Finna drag themselves up a phallic tower for a big finale and Ominous Sign of Doom 4: Finna hands over a magic Plot Box (TM) to help Merlin "in the dark days to come" AND gives him a very specific bit of advice "DO NOT TRUST THE DRUID BOY." Merlin mentally crosses Mordred off his Saturnalia card list and swears never to flirt with him again, even if he bats his eyelashes really seductively. Then Finna grabs a sword and nobly sacrifices herself, aww. Shame really; she was an admirably hardy old bird and I was ready to set her up on a date with Gaius.
Up on the roof, Merlin manages to squeak out a message to the Slash Dragon emergency services and gets rescued. I notice they don't bother to show the part where Dragon flies around for ages looking for an all-night apothecary, so it cuts to the next day when Merlin's fine and doesn't have a big hole in him anymore. The Dragon, however, is less than fine. Oh no, it's Ominous Sign of Doom 5! I foresee a Twagic Dwagon Death in the near future! Mind you, the Dragon doesn't particularly bothered: "It is the cycle of life, no more, no less." Now that sounds like the cue for a song. "It's the Cycle of Liiiiife! And it spins us aaaaaaallll!" (Please don't sue us, Sir Elton. We've spent all our remaining cash on wonky CGI wings and invisible dogs.)
And now, over to the Camelot edition of Deal Or No Deal. Shall we open the magic plot box, Gaius? Well, with only three episodes to go, there's no sense in hanging around, is there. Sure enough, the box contains a Useful Prophetic Note, and here are its mystic mutterings in full, annotated with my own interpretative attempts:
Let loose the hounds of war (please don't sue us, Shakespeare!) Let the dread fire of the last priestess (= Morgana, obviously) rain down from angry skies (someone's been looking at heavy metal album covers again) For brother will slaughter brother (Mordred isn't Merlin's brother now, is he? Or do they mean figurative brothers?) For friend will murder friend (well, someone will have to kill Mordred, and technically both Arthur and Merlin are his friends...) as the great horn (HORN, geddit? Sounds a bit RUDE. Sounds a bit like... HORNY!) sounds a cold dawn at Camlann (the traditional place of Arthur's death in legend. Woe!) The prophets do not lie (although they often speak in handwavingly vague waffle that could mean anything...) There Arthur will meet his end upon that mighty plain.
Well, we could creatively interpret "his end" as "his bottom" so Arthur might not die, he might just learn to bend ALL the way backwards... yeah, I know I am clutching at straws here. But Gaius also says "You will not fail", and little bits of mystic paper may lie and cheat, but Gaius is a right-on dude and knows what he's talking about. So I'm going to predict that... Arthur Won't Actually Die! There, I said it. You can all point at me and laugh in two weeks' time if I end up being wrong and sobbing into my gin and tonic...
Morgana declares war on Camelot by showing off a nasty face-melting spell. Urgh. Is this her way of saying "I don't care HOW pretty you all are, you won't be pretty when I've finished with you"?
Overall: Well, it kept my interest the first time around because I couldn't really guess where any of it was going, although on a rewatch it felt rather slow. Not a lot happened apart from a change of mood, but since the change of mood means that everything is now grim and overshadowed by Death and anyone/everyone could DIE HORRIBLY, it actually left me worried for everyone's fate, which I suppose means that it must have worked rather well. Gosh. Who'd have thought it?
Next week: Mordred gets a strop on, which we were all expecting at this point. But it seems to be over a GIRL, which frankly... well, nobody's going to believe THAT, are they??