- Who's this running over a hillside, red cape a-flapping, pursued by hordes of long-haired brutes? Why, it's Unexpectedly Chain-Mailed Merlin, engaging in a cunning plot to lead the enemy into the Canyon of Convenience. (So-called by me because it gets trotted out a couple of times per series as a handy battle location, and NOT because the peasants of Camelot use it as an outdoor toilet facility. At least, I hope they don't.)
- If Merlin's in mail, does that mean that there's a naked knight somewhere, just out of shot? Sadly we don't get to find out, but we do get to watch Arthur making a flying leap on top of the nearest muscle-bound hunk. Always a great start to a Saturday evening, in my book.
- It turns out that one of the random hairy men is actually King Caerleon of Somewhere, and Agravaine spots a chance to stir up some trouble. Come on Arthur, you know your dad would want you to do something right-wing and unpopular! You need to be tough on hairy men, tough on the causes of hairy men! Not to mention that it'll give you a reason to sit brooding by the campfire all night, and you KNOW how much
Merlinthe audience loves you when you're angsty.
- Sure enough, hairy King Yorkshirebloke chooses death before dishonour and everyone has to stand around awkwardly and watch him do it. Merlin soon begins to prod Arthur to see whether any angst has started to form. Nope, says Arthur, I'm perfectly fine, it was the right thing to do, I don't need anyone, my uncle gives GREAT advice, and by the way, did I tell you I'm fine? But Merlin realizes they've got forty minutes left to fill and so keeps prodding, while doing his heartbroken little "Arthur needs me, he really really does, honest" face. Bless, the boy can certainly multitask.
- Unfortunately, Arthur has failed to realize that it may be okay to go chopping off the head of a former member of the cast of EastEnders but you do not mess with his wife, especially when she's the mighty Lindsay Duncan. Didn't you see her in Rome? Or when she rolled her eyes at David Tennant and strode off to shoot herself in the head because he'd broken the universe? See those dead furry things around her shoulders? She probably killed those with her sheer acting talent! And you're going to mess with her? Foolish child, you deserve everything you get.
- Meanwhile, Agravaine has noticed Arthur canoodling with Gwen and starts plotting his next evil piece of advice. Your people don't want to see you with a blacksmith's daughter, Arthur, they want to see you with
your manservant your knightssomebody else! This wise counsel goes down rather less well than the first tip, and results in Arthur accidentally using Merlin as a punching bag, due to sexual frustration"controlled aggression". Whoopsadaisy.
- Over at Queen Lindsay's place, Morgana turns up to grovel unconvincingly and talk about her daddy (not Uther, the other one) and revenge and stuff. But secretly, she's either come to see how being bad-ass is done or she's in search of hair-care help: after all, she got tangles and braidy bits all over, while Queen Annis has everything smoothly under control.
- "Merlin, I'm prepared to face all manner of horrors in this world, but if you think I'm sharing this bed with you..." - ...then you've probably been reading those stories on the internet again, haven't you? The writers certainly have, hence the momentary hilarity of this scene. It can't last, however, since Arthur's got to rush over to Gwen's house and dump her because she's "not appropriate". Good job she knows he's a spineless flibbertigibbet who will have changed his mind again by the end of the episode.
- Okay boys, it's Serious Battle Time, so brush up your Serious Pouts. Arthur rounds up every red cape in the castle and manages to gather a relatively impressive army, even if only six of them have got speaking parts. Unfortunately, when he gets to the Ridge of OMG-Look-At-That, he sees that Queen Annis has got primitive CGI on her side and has got ZILLIONS of little men and flags and shit. Oh, bollocks. "Ensure the men have everything they need", he tells Agravaine. Plenty of toilet paper would be a good start...
- Arthur wishes he could join in the traditional campfire flirting with Merlin and the lads, but no, he must stay in his tent and take a long hot soak in a metaphorical bath filled with pure ANGST. So they all decide to go into the tent with him and tell him that they all love him and will fight for freedom and justice and all that uplifting stuff. Awww. (Obviously, when they get home and Elyan finds out that his sister's feelings have been hurt for no reason, he'll have to chop Arthur's crown jewels off, but that's perfectly reasonable in the circumstances, so no hard feelings, eh?)
- In the night, Arthur creeps out of his tent for a visit to the enemy camp, which now resembles the world's neatest rock festival. Wonder if Arthur got a chance to check out their catering facilities while he was there? I doubt it, since he was too busy being slapped by Queen Annis (see, Arthur? Even the guest stars know you're a dollophead!) and groaning at the unsubtle arrival of Merlin, who's still the unsneakiest sneaky person in the land.
- Topically, Arthur's come up with a recession-friendly solution to the dispute. Let's save money on huge CGI battles and just have two blokes hitting each other with swords instead! Hundreds of lives and thousands of pounds will be saved! And if Annis's champion wins, half of all Camelot shall be hers. Let's hope it's the shirtless half, eh?
- As Arthur's next trick, he will now pick a champion. He picks... well, can you guess? "Why would he choose himself as champion?" asks Annis. "Because he's Arthur" says Morgana, in the most sensible statement she's made all season. Yep, Arthur firmly believes that HE is the handsomest and the noblest and the bestest, is anyone surprised by this? And besides, you can't expect him to pick a favourite out of Gwaine, Leon, Elyan and Percival, can you? They've all got fangirls, you'd be disappointing somebody.
- Queen Annis tells Morgana to stop hanging aimlessly around her tent and do something useful for once. So she gets Agravaine to nick Arthur's sword and does a spell on it. I was really hoping it would make his sword go floppy or turn into a marshmallow at an awkward moment, but 'twas not to be. What DOES go all floppy is Merlin's stiff upper lip (awww), but at least Arthur's hug-substitute handshake is still firm and manly.
- This episode's comedy quotient, which has been disappointingly low up to this point, takes a huge upswing with the arrival of Queen Annis's champion. To borrow a great line from John le Carré, he's "about eight foot tall, and built by the same firm that did Stonehenge". He also wears a leather crop-top, says "Grrrr" a lot, and probably holds some kind of All-Albion gurning record. Something for everyone, then.
- And so the massed CGI hordes gather to watch the championship bout. Or at least, the good guys on the clifftop do, but alas, nobody thought to bring along an anachronistic Jumbotron screen for the poor folks at the back.
- It's now time for some excellent facial acting, as the Lovely Knights try out various flavours of worried, Arthur gives us "Oh bugger, I am about to have the shit kicked out of me by the gigantic offspring of Bruce Campbell and Jimmy Nail", and Gurnybloke serves up something best described as "You cut my lovely cheek slightly! I'm really not happy about this!" with an extra-large side of GRRRR.
- Knowing that her own limited repertoire of smirks are not going to get her far in this esteemed company, Morgana decides to play out her magic card as smugly as she can. Arthur's sword now "holds the weight of a thousand ages", whoop-di-doo. Admittedly, this makes him drop the sword, but surely the weight of a thousand cupcakes would have had the same effect? And most importantly, Merlin can play the sword-dropping game too. Weight of a thousand hamsters! See, easy-peasy.
- That anticlimactic climax in full: Arthur is poised to strike the killing blow, but then he spots Merlin being all teary-eyed and decides to pick the merciful option this time. Cheers all around! Arthur regains his tree-hugging leftie credentials; Gurnybloke lives to gurn another day; Queen Annis says fair's fair to Arthur and tells Morgana to bugger off and grow up; Morgana flounces off in a huff, having learned precisely nothing about gravitas in the face of poor scripting; Merlin still loves Arthur, even though he's a cabbagehead. Did I miss anything out?
- Oh yes, there's one more loose end to be tied up. Namely, the restoration of Gwen and Arthur's relationship, which is achieved by means of extreme patience on her part and the cod-medieval equivalent of garage flowers on his. Oh well. At least their final snog had a bit of heat to it, even if the dialogue was as clunky as the furniture.
- So, the moral of this story is that Arthur, who wants to be like his dad (well, sort of), isn't much like him at all, whereas Morgana, who wants NOT to be like her dad, IS like him. Did everyone get that? We'll explain it again for you if you missed it. The other, marginally more subtle moral is "Arthur, your Uncle Agravaine is full of it", but since nobody in the show has even noticed that one yet, we'll just skip over it lightly.
- In conclusion: a distinctly unsparkling script this week, with a lot of waiting around for Arthur to do the right thing and not a lot of wit, but enlivened by a typically classy turn from Lindsay Duncan (see what wonders can be wrought from mediocre lines by great actors?), some classic face-pulling and a heartwarming helping of man-love to make a relatively palatable dish.
- Next week: Morgana cooks up a kooky plot to make Merlin murder Arthur! And it involves bondage! Well, that's all right, then.
This is also a suitable juncture to warn you that next week's Merlin review will be a couple of days late. Not because I'm having another birthday (sadly, I am not the Queen... yet), but because I am spending next weekend in Berlin, visiting allemande and doing my bit to boost the European cake industry. It's a dirty job, but I think I'm the woman to do it.