Merlin time again. Containing an extra dose of screencap silliness, here are some thoughts about Love in the Time of Dragons:
First of all, a bonus for regular readers who are aware of my serious academic interest in the use of shirtlessness as a dramatic device (hem hem). Now, Arthur may have set himself an unbeatable record last week, by whipping his kit off at the five seconds mark, but in the absence of any semi-nudity this week, I thought I'd have a go at envisaging a way that Arthur COULD beat himself at his own game:
And now, on to this week's episode as it actually happened. I must say, this one has a particularly cheesy title, even by the generally poor standard of Merlin episode names. I don't have any sensible suggestions for alternatives, but given the guest star, I'd have found it terribly tempting to go for "Merlie Valentine".
Like many ladies of a certain age, Alice is fond of pets, perhaps a little TOO fond. But instead of the usual furry companions, she's gone for the "slightly dodgy CGI gargoyle in a box" option. You can still make cutesy snooky-wooky noises at it, of course, but even the most temperamental of cats is unlikely to demand that you commit regicide on demand.
Now listen carefully, because it's Uther's turn to explain the plot this week. People are recovering from serious illnesses and injuries. It must be WITCHCRAFT. Oh, don't be so narrow-minded, Uther. Maybe someone let some bread go mouldy and accidentally invented penicillin? Anyway, he orders Gaius and Merlin to go to the pub (hoorah, a royal command that's actually worth obeying!) to check out the landlord (alive and well) and the new hip-and-happening interior decor (which is all feathery bits and crystals on a mobile, and makes the place look like a den of middle-class hippies).
Merlin sneaks out and finds Gaius paying a nocturnal visit to a lady! Nothing too racy happens, but some VERY hardcore hugging goes on. Merlin's sweetly curious about his chum's sudden interest in the chicks, and finds out that Alice is in fact Gaius's ex-fiancée, AND she's magic, AND he used to be magic too. My ears pricked up at this part, because although Gaius's magical background has been vaguely mentioned before, I'd almost forgotten about it. He doesn't seem to miss it much, though: perhaps he was one of those magic practitioners who never inhaled?
As if annoyed by his lack of involvement in the plot this week, Arthur feels obliged to do something to grab the audience's attention. So he decides to shove his huge lance through Merlin's tiny ring. Oooookay.
The Camelot Committee for Unsubtle Freudian Symbolism rest easy in the knowledge that their funding is safe for another year.
After all this unexpected stimulation, Merlin comes home rather dazed and finds that Gaius has moved Alice into their flat. He also wants Alice to have Merlin's room, probably because it's so internationally renowned as a shag palace for passing bits of totty. ("Four stars. I can recommend the breakfast options!" - Gwaine Monthly.)
Merlin is awoken by strange noises in the night. But never fear, it's nots Alice and Gaius doing a spot of horizontal jousting - it's just Alice's little pet coming out for a chat. Rather worryingly, the manticore seems to find having its venom milked to be a rather stimulating experience, yick.
Merlin tells Gaius he saw a creature with "the body of a lion and the tail of a scorpion", thus revealing that he can't tell the difference between a lion and a balding pug with tooth rot and neck ruffles. Someone really needs to buy him the Spotter's Guide To Animals for Christmas Saturnalia.
Because Gaius is too busy mooning around being in LURVE, Merlin is obliged to visit Sir Geoffrey of Bulletbaxter for his weekly dose of exposition. Alas, the Camelot library is so underfunded that Sir Geoffrey can't afford his own bedroom and has to sleep at his desk. We can only hope that the same isn't true of his toilet facilities.
Gaius and Merlin have a typical adult/teenager argument, only this time Gaius is the teenager who's upset because Merlin doesn't understand him and doesn't want him to be happy, yah boo sucks. And then he stomps away to pick some REALLY strong herbs and listen to some REALLY loud minstrels.
Meanwhile back on the training grounds, Arthur's still battering Merlin with phallic objects, and somewhat hilariously, trying to cheer him up by punching him very hard. Hey, it works on the knights! But either they're thick (or thick-skinned), or they're all a teensy bit kinky for Arthur's dominant side. Which do we think it is, viewers?
A mildly interesting fact about Alice and Gaius's relationship is that it was never a fresh-faced teenage thing - they were in their 40s/50s the first time around, and now they're in their 70s and still quite keen. Admittedly, there's no evidence of actual hanky-panky, but there's a lot of handholding and mixing of fluids, albeit of the non-bodily variety. It's only a shame that Alice keeps practising her Gleeful Stare of Evil Potion-Making (TM) whenever Gaius's back is turned. However, her years of experience are obvious when she shows she can do a Stare in one direction and maintain a normal conversation in another direction at the same time. Watch and learn, Morgana!
Dong! Dong! Ring the bell of predictability to announce that Uther's downed Alice's evil potion and it's his turn to lie unconscious this week! Arthur is so shocked at being left awake that he actually figures out some of the plot all on his own, and Merlin is so shocked at Arthur's use of his own brain that he immediately turns informant and grasses up Gaius's girlfriend to save his best bud.
Call the discrimination police, Alice is being arrested for a height reason! No, hold on a minute, it's for high treason. Feel free to bung her in the dungeon and make any Alice in Chains jokes you feel are necessary.
As a surprise to nobody, Merlin and Gaius resolve their differences and set out to kill the manticore together. Gaius brings his glowing-eyed magical mojo, while Merlin practises his manticore-wrangling powers. Note to any fearsome magical demons reading this: if you can be defeated by methods usually used by people trying to handle an angry tabby, you may wish to rethink your plans for world domination.
Alice gets sentenced to death, but of course Gaius sneakily helps her escape. But before that happens, they have a nice little scene in prison which actually manages to be a tiny bit moving, and says more about their relationship than their so-so interactions throughout the rest of this episode have managed to do.
So where were Gwen and Morgana this week? I like to think that Gwen's gone on a maidservant training course on "How To Cope When Your Mistress Is A User (Of Magic)", while Morgana's probably having her smirk lines Botoxed.
Overall: Possibly meant to be a low-key money-saving episode, given the reduced cast, but a very limp example of its kind. Revisiting Gaius's magical past could have been quite interesting, but Alice felt underwritten and despite the appearance of the (sometimes) estimable Pauline Collins, didn't really bring a great deal of charisma to the party. And why do Gaius-centric episodes always have to involve half-arsed CGI creatures? The manticore was so hopeless that it almost made me miss Dobby the goblin. (Almost.) Thank heavens for Arthur and his phallic symbols, that's all I can say.
Next week: Flowers, sparkling sunlight and rampant heterosexuality! Oh, and a spot of potential witchburning. The course of true romance never did run smooth...