It's Merlin time again, so here are some thoughts about The Changeling:
Somewhere far away, there stands a pointy castle that isn't Camelot but does have anachronistic feathery mobiles for babies, apparently supplied by that well-known medieval peddler Bargains von Ikea. Someone carelessly leaves a window open and a small baby catches a nasty case of BLUE FAIRY. But this being the cod-Middle Ages, nobody calls the local social services, or even Supernanny.
Twenty years later and what have we got? Another episode based on fart jokes and falling over, apparently. Hooray for sophisticated humour! Nonetheless, Princess Elena is quite amusingly grumpy when she's stomping around, pulls some excellent faces and looks like much more fun to be with than Morgana, for example. She's also got a total legend playing her nanny Grunhilda, which can't be bad.
"Beautiful, charming, witty, strategic..." - much giggling from me at Uther and Arthur's man-to-man chat about "not love... the other bit". Oh Arthur, you're so strategic when you're annoyed.
Tragically, Arthur is so pissed off by people trying to control his love life that he chooses to wear a shirt for bed. The sighs of disappointment across my living room the nation are palpable. He then tries to make up for this with a bit of pillow-biting fighting with Merlin, but Uther manages to interrupt that before it gets nekkid interesting.
Elena does a lot of squealing and wriggling in the night, until Grunhilda gives her a sprinkling of the good stuff, which makes her go all blue and fangy for a moment. Ooookay. Is the moral of this episode going to be "don't do pixie dust, kids"? Grunhilda certainly isn't much of an advertisement for it, being copiously warty with a nose that looks rather phallic even by the high standards of this show and its obsession with Freudian pointy items.
As a resolutely ungirly girl myself, I felt a bit sorry for Elena and her social faux pas. There were also other moments at which I empathized strongly with her actions. Well, at least one.
"And then redscharlach is planning to hug you like this and call you Prince Squishypants. Do you think you'll be able to cope with that?"
Goodness gracious, Grunhilda is giving Gaius the glad eye. Steady on there, Gaius. I fear she only wants you for your "brawn" (nudge nudge, wink wink, suggestive hip-pumping action).
Clearly unimpressed by the anachronistic vegetables on offer at the banquet, Elena chooses to munch on a yummy bedtime snack of live frog. Or as the restaurant menu probably called it, cuisse de grenouille, en sauce de pondslime, served en wrigglant. Heston Blumenthal's probably taking notes as we speak.
"Purple, and long... like this long." - it's a good job that Merlin is talking about Grunhilda's prehensile tongue, because otherwise, people might start wondering what else he's been spying on lately...
This week, Gaius gets the best offer he's had all season.
Gaius goes sneaking around a lady's room, accidentally spills Grunhilda's stash down the floorboards and has to flirt with her again as a cover-up. I note that a veil of discretion was drawn over whether Gaius and Grunhilda really DID "make sweet perfume together" in that scene. However, I also predict that this is NOT one of those gaps that's ever going to be filled with speculative fanfic, so let's move along swiftly...
"Inhabited by a fairy at birth" - no, Gaius, that's not what a changeling is. A changeling is when the baby gets exchanged for a fairy, hence the name changeling. If your explanation was correct, they'd be called inhabitlings or squatlings or fairyhouses or something slightly more appropriate.
Morgana does a bit of gratuitous manipulation of Gwen's feelings so that a) she can have an Evil (TM) sneer on the sly, and b) she'll have something to write in her Evil (TM) diary to show Morgause and prove her commitment to gratuitous wrongdoing. Her reasoning is a little shaky, however. "Arthur can't change more than two hundred years of history, no matter how much he may want to," she claims, but has apparently forgotten the fact that in Camelot, history changes every time someone orders a side-salad and nobody bats an eyelid.
"You can't always have what you want" says Gwen, slightly misquoting a local minstrel she heard singing outside the window. (I believe his name was Michael von Jaggerstones.) I certainly can't get anything I want out of Arthur and Gwen's scenes this week, which is a bit of a shame. I have no qualms with their relationship generally, and it can often be sweet and funny (as in the donkey-ears stuff in episode 3.03) but this was just wet mooning on both sides with no wit or spirit there at all. If this is human drama, I say bring back the animal noises!
"Let him feel the power of the mighty Sidhe. RARRRGH!" - Ha ha, poor little fairy man, it's very hard to sound tough when you're tiny, blue and sparkly. It's also very hard to act tough, especially when Merlin's just conveniently remembered that he's still got a magic fairy staff under the bed, left over from series 1. Come to think of it, that episode also had a plot about a fairy princess trying to con Arthur into marrying her. Are they running out of ideas this season, or is Arthur just canonically irresistible to fairies? (It's like Xander and demons all over again.)
Okay, the good news is, Gaius has managed to salvage enough magic potion for a denouement. The bad news is, he has to get his studly on, and act as a honey trap for Grunhilda, in a scene that's too awkward to be funny. However, Gaius's little chat with Elena was a much more amusing scene, if only for its crash-bang soundtrack of Merlin and Grunhilda blasting seven bells out of each other in the corridor. (Big tick in the "save money on battle scenes" box, there. Well done, BBC!)
Arthur and Merlin have yet another Meaningful (TM) chat about Destiny (TM) and as usual, Merlin passes Arthur his phallic object and symbolically helps him to strap on a pair. "I think you're mad, I think you're all mad, and people should marry for love." says Merlin, gazing at Arthur in his usual fashion (i.e. adoringly), and giving the slashers something to cling to.
Who'd have guessed that having the fairies blasted out of you was an excellent hair conditioning treatment? Did Gaius slip Elena a bottle of Pantene Pro V along with the magic potion?
Once again, Geoffrey of Bulletbaxter gets to dust off his pagan handfasting speech, and once again it all goes horribly wrong. Has he ever orchestrated a wedding that lasted longer than two weeks and in which one of the participants did not turn out to be some evil plotting creature in disguise? (Yeah, I know it's not his fault, but people tend to get a bit superstitious about weddings, don't they?)
"Maybe it's time things changed..." - is it just me, or do I spy a hint of Uther/Godwyn shipping at the end? Their mutual views on relationships certainly seem to have become a lot more tolerant. Have they been cementing "what has long been an unofficial alliance between our kingdoms" all this time?
Overall: a rather rubbish outing all around, sadly. The plot had no imagination and wasn't even milked for many laughs, Miriam Margolyes was wasted in a rather underwritten part, Arthur showed only flashes of personality and Gwen had nothing to do but mope. The only respites from dullness were Georgia King's unexpectedly charming turn as Elena (I like a lass who can pull off a nice big belch) and a bit of jolly buddy-buddy work from Gaius and Merlin. Come on, people. I know you can do better than this.
Next week: Gwen's brother, action all round and the return of Cenred von Leather Trousers! Most importantly, it's also my birthday next Saturday, so I am expecting something pretty darn spectacular to make up for the last two weeks' disappointing lack of shirtlessness. If I don't get hot semi-naked guys wrestling in jelly, I'm going to be SO disappointed. Perhaps you should all write to the BBC now to check that they've planned ahead...