It's Merlin time again, predictably. So here are some thoughts about The Tears of Uther Pendragon, Part II:
After a hell of a night, Merlin wakes up in the Slash Dragon's cave, with a terrible hangover and a big scaly face gazing at him in adoration. "Merlin, I could not resist a Dragonlord, even if I wanted to..." murmurs the Dragon. Merlin groans painfully, and realizes that when it comes to affecting your sense of romantic judgment, scorpion stings are even worse than snakebite.
Meanwhile, back at Camelot, Arthur is having a hissy fit because Merlin's absence has delayed this week's session of gratuitous homoeroticism. "No socks, no breeches and an archery session to go to!" I note that Arthur IS wearing trousers in the scene, so does the "no breeches" part mean that he's going commando? Meanwhile, Gaius had blithely assumed that Merlin hadn't come home because he was sleeping with Arthur, and seems actively surprised to find out that this isn't the case...
And meanwhile elsewhere, Morgana, a.k.a. Little Red Smirking Hood, is sneaking around the castle and strangling Uther's dripping mandrake. No, that's not a euphemism for something pervy, but it does look a bit painful.
Obliged by the extent of his hangover to hang around and listen to the Dragon's morning-after chit-chat, Merlin is told that he's just like Morgana, and yet at the same time, he's not like Morgana at all. Apparently she's the darkness to his light, the hatred to his love, the Robbie Williams to his Gary Barlow. Perhaps in a couple of seasons' time they can reconcile and record a duet, but until then, destiny demands that's it's mutual bitchery all the way. Bored with this unsubtle foreshadowing, Merlin decides to use his Dragonlord card to score a lift back to Camelot, with a free Leonardo de Caprio impersonation thrown in. He resists the temptation to yell that he's the king of the world, perhaps because the line "I'm the manservant of the once and future king of the world!" has rather less of a ring to it.
After they've saved Uther from some invisible wet orphans (again), Gaius explains to Merlin why they're absolutely not allowed to speed up the plot by telling Uther that Morgana's gone to the dark side. Apparently, Uther would be "blind to Morgana's faults" and this would definitively trump his overwhelming desire to messily destroy anyone even the teensiest bit magical, AND blatantly ignores the fact that he'd have happily burned her at the stake in the previous series if the Witchfinder had told him to do it. Oookay. Glad we've got that sorted out.
And now, slightly later than scheduled, Merlin wakes up Arthur for his obligatory shirtless scene, a whole 10 minutes into the episode. Merlin neglects to point out that last week's shirtlessness happened at the 11 minute mark, so at least they are improving their batting average.
Sir Leon Regular-Speaking-Part stands on a hill and is shocked by what he sees. OMG, the bad guys are coming, and they've brought CGI! How can the two-dozen strong Camelot massive possibly compete with all those tiny little indistinct moving blobs, eh? There's only one thing for it: serious!Arthur is obliged to put on his best serious face and tells everyone to get ready for some serious sieging.
Morgause rides out for a spot of windblown smirky flirtation with Cenred von Leather-Trousers plus the only three actual human members of his CGI army of zillions. "I will give you a feast you will never forget!" she promises him, but fails to mention who'll be eating whom. I fear that Morgause's major issue will be getting those pants off him. Maybe some sort of industrial-strength potato peeler would do the trick?
Oh look, it's the much-neglected Gwen, dropping in to see Arthur for a spot of how's-your-father. And I'm not exaggerating: the first thing she says to him is "How's your father?" Anyway, last week she was flower-arranging, so this week she gets to do the other of her two specialities, i.e. giving Arthur a doe-eyed pep talk about how super, brave and noble he is. Next week, I fear she'll be back to fondling the chrysanthemums again.
Speaking of peeved women, Morgana complains to Morgause that their Evil (TM) plans are going terribly wrong. Morgause isn't worried, however, because she has a Spiky Stick of Indeterminate Power and she's willing to lend it to Morgana in exchange for a bit of self-satisfied smirking. Morgana smirks. Morgause hands over the stick. Job done.
Back at Camelot, the clean-cut yet artfully dishevelled peasantry have begun to turn up in their droves, gamely hoping for shelter, screentime and perhaps a mournful singalong in the background. But never fear, because Merlin has remembered to pack a picnic.
When Arthur mentioned that he'd like to get his mouth around something big, round and tangy first thing in the morning, pickled eggs weren't what he'd had in mind.
Oh no, the massed CGI hordes of evil are right outside the castle, and they've brought the Latin chanting soundtrack and the great balls of fire (goodness gracious)! Meanwhile, the principal weapons that Arthur's army possesses are: a) walking in slow motion, b) phallic sword polishing, and c) the occasional manly nod and pat on the arm. Good luck, lads. I think you're going to need it.
Aw, it's time for Arthur and Merlin to have their obligatory pre-battle bonding moment, which this time involves Merlin giving Arthur's personal shiny phallic object a special polish, and culminates in Arthur calling Merlin an idiot, for the four hundredth time. It's still rather sweet, though.
All the commotion wakes up Uther and he charges outside, terribly afraid that something exciting is happening without him. Hell, even Sir Regular Speaking-Part is out there, waving his sword around and revelling in the fact that he's now a semi-regular and thus possesses enough Plot Armour to keep him safe from deadness until... well, the next season finale, at the very least.
Decked out in her metal corset of Evil (TM), Morgana runs off to retrieve her magic stick. She then scurries down to the very bottom of the castle and rams it into the ground, giving Merlin a vicarious thrill in the process. (Bottoms? Ramming? Vicarious thrills? Phallic objects? Is that you, Dr Freud?) But this is all just a side effect of Morgana's main event: a one-woman remake of the most famous scene from Jason and the Argonauts!
When Merlin rushes down to the cellar, he catches Morgana in the shiny corseted act and forces himself to keep schtum when she blatantly plays the "no one understands my magical angst, boo hoo" card. After a bit of girlie swordplay, in which Merlin plays the role of the girlie, he resorts to dropping some polystyrene bricks on her and hacks down the phallic rod of wooden destiny. Faster than you can say "dodgy castration symbolism", all the skeletons fall to pieces, and the tide of the battle turns. Yes, apparently the absence of half a dozen skeletons makes all the difference when you're fighting a horde of two thousand savage warriors. No, I don't really get why that is.
Cenred and Morgause have been watching the entire battle from underneath a distant tree, but they now realize that things are going a bit pear-shaped, perhaps because Morgause can feel the magic vibrations, or maybe because they know it's five minutes from the end of the episode. Cheesed off with this damp squib of a plotline, Cenred gallops away in a huff, but at least he lives to smoulder another day. (My fingers are still crossed for an episode revolving around the All-Albion Man-on-Man Jelly-Wrestling Competition later in the series. Look, if I were an evil sorceress, that'd be my first major management project. I'm sure Morgause would agree with me.)
Oh noes, Evil (TM) Morgana has won everyone over and convinced Uther that she's the hero of the hour. Of course, she's still smirking like a champion, and openly engages in a fabulous staring match with Merlin, during which she manages to say "You think you're so clever, but you're so not, scum-boy!" and he manages to reply "I've got your number, sweetheart, just you wait and see", without actually saying any words at all.
And at the very very end, Arthur dashes in at the end to mention Merlin's backside, because there hasn't been enough talk about bottoms this week. Ah, I love a BBC quota.
Overall: quite entertaining overall, with some rousing action scenes, Morgana getting her swordwielding mojo on in a manner that was at least semi-convincing, and even a smidge of proper acting in the Merlin/Arthur scenes. On the downside, Morgause and Cenred were wasted, and a lot of it doesn't stand up to the teensiest bit of scrutiny (Merlin, why don't you just tell Arthur that Morgana is evil? Because then there'd be no story for the rest of the series, that's why!) but on the whole, I don't really mind. I want a gung-ho cod-medieval action series with a few laughs in it, they gave me one. The question is, can they keep up the good work?
Next week: Gaius is possessed by Dobby the house-elf! The words "oh dear" spring to mind, but I'll try to reserve judgment until I've actually seen it...