Rather later than usual, it's time for my opinions on the penultimate episode of Merlin. And since the episode titling department has excelled itself this week, I'm pleased to introduce some thoughts (and a few very predictable jokes) about The Coming of Arthur, Part I:
We begin with the Camelot posse stoically listening to the news of a massacre in the forest. The dead include Sir Anonymous, Sir Non-Speaking, Sir Who-The-Hell-Knows, Sir Redshirt... and Sir Leon Regular-Speaking-Part! Crikey, it's a tragedy after all. (BTW, I know Leon always gets mentioned by name in the end credits, but was this the first time he's ever been name-checked in the script, or am I forgetting something?)
However, all the sadfacing is for nought since Sir Leon is Not Yet Dead (TM). In fact, he's been saved by druids with terrible blond dye-jobs (reminiscent of Bucks Fizz circa 1982) and a magic cup. But Leon doesn't care: not only is he still alive but this is the most lines he's been given EVER. So he's not even offended when Uther gets suspicious about the role of magic in his recovery and is clearly giving serious thought to stabbing Leon where he stands, just to avoid an embarrassing public relations incident.
Merlin is confused: "I thought the Cup of Life was destroyed when I blew up Nimueh at the end of series 1?" But no, Gaius explains that it's still around, AND that it can also do other plotlines, such as making entire armies immortal, just to mention one completely random example that probably isn't related to the rest of this episode at all. Thanks for that, Gaius. We'd never guess the plot if it wasn't for you.
Uther sends Arthur off in search of the Holy Grail Cup of Life, but insists that he must go alone, absolutely alone, nobody with him at all. So of course he takes Merlin. (I strongly suspect that Arthur has secretly changed the laws of Camelot so that Merlin is now officially classified as one of his own limbs.)
Meanwhile, Morgana dons the most evil eyeliner she can find and trots downstairs to tell Morgause the plot and share a sisterly smirk-in. As usual, Morgause delegates the boring stuff to King Leather-Trousers and his scouts. Sadly I don't think they are the singing-around-the-campfire kind of scouts, but they're camp and firey in a rather different way.
"Maybe just this once we'll have no trouble..." - And with the resounding thwack that only comes from tempting fate so carelessly, Arthur eyerolls his way into his first Bout of Convenient Unconsciousness (BCU) of the episode. For once he's not alone, since Merlin gets knocked out too. But hey, he wakes up in a pit with loads of blokes and oooh, look, it's the lovely Gwaine! Now THAT's what I call a slave pit.
Here comes Evil Slavemaster Guy to drool into his pit of hotties and get them to fight each other for my his perverted entertainment. I liked the classic way that Arthur stepped in to save Merlin AND insulted him at the same time. And then OOH, what a delicious frisson of tension when it transpired that Gwaine was the champion and he and Arthur had to fight. As in, to the death. As in, over Merlin. Oh yeah. And the boys certainly go at it hammer and tongs. Sexy, sexy hammer and sexy, sexy tongs, that is. (Your Arthur/Gwaine shipping manifesto starts here, folks.)
Is Arthur coming now?
Of course, there's only one solution to this fight. Threesome! Magic fireball! Foolishly, Arthur has given away his identity to their captors by leaving some Camelot novelty stationery in his man-bag, but when the flirting macho bickering in the woods is as delicious as this was, I really can't complain at all.
Rather meanly, Arthur threatens to kill a small child if the druids don't give him the Cup. The head druid hands it over and says "You could have just asked, you know." Then he whispers into Merlin's brain and tell him to look after it. Sadly, Merlin is quite poor at looking after things that aren't Arthur, and promptly loses the Cup in a forest-based slapstick routine with Cenred's goons. Whoops-a-daisy.
Oh Gwaine, why did you have to mention having a nice hot bath? Now I'm having mental images of you that are very distracting indeed. (The queue for people to scrub his back starts here, folks.)
Cenred calls an extraordinary general meeting of his distant CGI army, but forgets to provide adequate tea-making facilities: there's only one cup! Fortunately, due to Morgause's magic, it makes all the soldiers immortal, but I note that they didn't show the REALLY bored expression on Morgause's face by the time the 7000th soldier stepped up to bleed on demand.
Ouch, Arthur gets a nasty shot in the leg, forcing Merlin and Gwaine to have one of their patented bromance-in-the-woods evenings. At this point, I shouted at the screen: "Come on Merlin, tell Gwaine you're magic! Tell him! Tell him!" but it was not to be. Arthur had quite literally come between them.
Alas, poor Cenred! Let this be a lesson to you. When your girlfriend makes ten thousand men immortal but doesn't include you in the total, she's definitely got second thoughts about commitment. Still, your terrible hair may be gone but your ridiculous leather pants will probably linger on, if only because they're probably not bio-degradable. (Those saddened by this loss can take comfort in the fact that Tom Ellis can currently be seen in Miranda, and with much better hair as a bonus.)
"Oh shit," thinks Sir Leon, as he spots the oncoming tiny CGI army. "Oh shit," he thinks again when he finds out that they're unkillable. And then he runs away to avoid getting killed twice in one episode. As Oscar Wilde said, once would be a misfortune, but twice looks like carelessness.
Arthur wakes up from his second BCU of the episode and is annoyed that Gwaine and Merlin have been flirting in his absence AND have lost his souvenir cup. But bromance is about to be shoved on to the back-burner. Camelot's on fire! Loads of people are dead! Arthur is working a limp and a stoic scowl! It's SRS BZNS time! Oh, okay, just a quick homoerotic grapple for the road....
Is Arthur coming now?
Conspicuous by her absence thus far, Gwen finally turns up, mainly to proclaim that all is LOST and that everyone is going to DIE. But Morgana sneakily promises her that she can remain conveniently alive as long as she pretends to be Morgana's BFF again. Gwen unconvincingly agrees (perhaps thinking primarily of the tongue-sandwich potential of the next episode) and Morgana unconvincingly decides to believe her anyway.
Oh look, it's Gwen's brother Elyan, who turns out to have been in Camelot all along, despite nobody having seen him for weeks. "I hear you're having an impromptu convention for sword-wielding royalist hotties," he says. "Can I join in?" The more the merrier, I say.
Arthur feels his third BCU of the episode coming on, but in view of his earlier promiscuous hugging and groping sessions, he elects to send the others away and spend this one alone with Merlin (awww). Well, at least until Gaius comes out of the closet (hugs all round!).
Is Arthur coming now?
Gaius offers to re-dress Arthur's wounds properly, but no, Arthur demands a potion that will allow him to run around normally for a while and then fall over very suddenly later, probably at the most dramatic possible moment. Good choice, Arthur. (I'm guessing that he'll presumably be healed next week by the Cup of Life, just as he was at the end of series 1. Or will he?)
"I am the king!" cries Uther as he is led from the dungeons, just in case any secondary characters who don't know him all that well happen to be listening in. Plot convenience runs strong in that family.
Merlin packs for the finale, prioritizing his magic book and a useful souvenir from a previous episode. Trust Merlin to leave an important plot coupon under his bed, languishing among the anachronistic vegetable peelings and love-notes from previous sleepover guests ("Baby, you're the best - Lancelot xxx", etc.).
Arthur sends Gwaine, Elyan and Gaius off to the woods to rehearse a remake of Robin Hood wait for the next episode. Touchingly, he tries to send Merlin off too, but Merlin reminds him that he's basically a human blankie and Arthur shouldn't leave him behind.
Blimey, it hasn't taken long for Morgause to redecorate Camelot (I guess magic is MUCH quicker than an interior designer). Being an avant-garde kind of lady, she's opted for the red-trees-everywhere range from Designer Sorceresses at Debenhams. Maybe next week we'll find out whether she also bought the matching dinner service and novelty printed toilet roll.
In the throne room, the assembled extras get to watch a pervy bit of Morgause dominatrixing it over Uther. (She does have a thing for men in leather, doesn't she?) "You have no right to legally rule Camelot!", he declares. "Who gives a toss, I have an army of immortals!" is what she SHOULD have said. But no: instead she wheels on Morgana to play the EastEnders Christmas Cliffhanger defence: "I am your daughter!"
The noted pagan celebrant Geoffrey of Bushybrows is forced into collaborating with the oppressive forces of the Morgana/Morgause coalition and crowns Morgana Queen of Camelot. However, I note that he attempts a bit of rebellion by putting her crown on slightly off-centre. Morgana's VERY into aesthetics so she'll probably be very annoyed when she sees the photos afterwards...
While we're on this topic, I REALLY hope that the following is not the conclusion of next week's episode, but I fear that it will be:
MORGANA: Oh Uther, I was under an evil enchantment and had no idea what I was doing!" *unconvincing weeping* UTHER: Of course you were, you innocent little lamb, and anyone who calls me gullible and stupid will be immediately executed! MORGANA: *SMIRKYFACE*
Come on, writers, change that status quo a bit. Please? Pretty please with Gwaine on top?
So what's the climax of this hysterical family drama? Why, it's Morgana's ultimate smirk, set off with the Lipstick of Evil (now available from Fae-belline, shade 101, Semi-Incestuous Seduction). GAWP! goes Arthur. BROOD! goes Merlin. CRIKEY! goes the viewing population. OH YES! goes me.
Oh yeah, Arthur's coming NOW...
Overall: action-packed all the way, baby! So many events were squeezed in, however, that a few characters fell by the wayside (Gwen especially, but Gaius too). The Arthur/Merlin bickering at the beginning felt a tad forced, but it soon warmed up, and Gwaine (or as I now call him, Guh!waine) is a continual source of delight. I can only hope that the conclusion is as much fun as this was.
BTW, I watched this week's episode with some non-fans, and their reactions varied from "Why are they all dressed like the cast of Blake's Seven?" (answer: well, it's more that the cast of Blake's Seven dressed like cod-medieval bandits, isn't it?) to "What IS going on between Merlin and Arthur, then?" (answer: it's a VERY long story but I'm pretty sure Gwaine's in it).
Next week: Sneaking! Soldiers! Slash Dragon! Smirking! Stoicism! Swordfighting! Snogging! Stone furniture! Lancelot! And Excalibur! Can't wait...