But first things first: slightly later than scheduled, I shall endeavour to find something to say about this week's Merlin that nobody has said yet. Gulp. Here are my collected thoughts about A Servant of Two Masters:
- Another episode, another knightly outing to the Canyon of Convenience. The birds are tweeting, Percival's got his biceps out, random mercenaries are attacking, Merlin's got his mind entirely on protecting
his boyfriendArthur, all pretty standard stuff so far. But oops, what's this? Merlin's a second too slow with his sparkly eyes and… SLASH! But not the good kind; the nasty sharp weapon-swinging kind. Ouch.
- Fortunately, this leads directly into the good kind of slash, as Arthur gets all protective and supportive and brave-joking-in-the-face-of-distress about Merlin's welfare for once in his life. It's all terribly sweet, so it's a shame that their tender woodland wake-up scene is spoilt by more random mercenaries and a load of polystyrene rocks. Not so much slash potential as squish potential.
- "You lost how many men? And you bring me how many men?" - oh Morgana, don't you understand the cod-medieval dramatic exchange rate mechanism? One main character is worth at least thirty henchpersons with no lines! She's also getting irritated by her chief henchperson, Agravaine the Increasingly Unsubtle. "If your true nature's revealed, I really don't know what use I'll have for you", she snarks, foreseeing his future as a novelty hatstand or a member of the cast of Holby City.
- "Arthur's strangely fond of the boy." - yep, Morgana's on fire this week, winning the Stating the Bleeding Obvious Award and Understatement of the Century. But having got her hands on this object of fondness, she does exactly what Arthur would do, i.e. takes Merlin home for some kinky bondage-based fun with added water-throwing, while posing in her best push-up bra. (Well, Arthur might give the bra a miss but the rest is a dead cert.)
- Meanwhile, Arthur goes home to angst a bit more about the lack of Merlin and to explain to Gaius that they haven't been out all night shagging
as usual. He also concludes that they must have a troll in the dungeontraitor in their midst, because nobody could POSSIBLY know that they'd be riding through the same bit of forest that they ride through every week.
- Morgana's decided that all single girls need a pet, but instead of choosing a common-or-garden kitty-cat or handbag chihuahua, she's opted for a Fomorroh, a handful of wriggly fun with seven replaceable heads. For Merlin's benefit, she makes up some waffle about dark magic and the old religion but the truth is that she's been watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on DVD and has decided that parasitic mind control can be fun. I'm guessing her version will be called "Snakes in a Brain"...
- Cock-a-doodle-doo, it's your morning dose of sleepy shirtless Arthur, gazing blearily at his large-eared trusty manservant… George!! The destiny of a great kingdom does not rest on the shoulders of George, but at least he is hilariously well equipped with polite smalltalk and anachronistic tomatoes.
Top trivia: apparently the bloke who plays George played the weedy body of before-he-was-Captainized Steve Rogers in the Captain America movie. But never fear, he is amusing even when he hasn't got Chris Evans's head pasted on, yay.
- "Do you know what I like about Merlin?" - no, but I certainly know what I like about Gwaine. It's his charming tendency to monologue about how lovely Merlin is, which gives added support to the
canonwhimsical theory of mine that Gwaine lurves Merlin very, very much but hangs back because Merlin's obviously utterly in love with Arthur and he doesn't want to rock the boat. Aww, I really want Gwaine to be Merlin's special friend again. And by special friend, I mean comfort shag and all-round snugglebuddy. Remember all that puppy-eyed confessional stuff in the woods from last series? Can we have a bit of that again, writers? Can we, can we, can we? (Sadly, I fear that we can't, but a girl can still dream.)
- At long bloody last, Merlin actually gets a hug from Arthur! But of course, it's not REAL Merlin, it's Assassin!Merlin, who won't even remember the moment, turning this into one of those "kissing in an alternate universe doesn't really count" moments. The REAL manhugs are still all to play for, boys. I hope you're still in the game.
- There's tons of fun to be had from the possessed evilness of Assassin!Merlin, from the total lack of modesty ("With great skill!") to the sudden interest in killing people, via the kind of brutal honesty that would make him a shoo-in as a reality-show judge ("You stink worse than your food!") AND a hilarious dose of possessiveness about Arthur ("You'll be pouring his bathwater next!" - bonus points for the comedy foreshadowing there). I'm surprised he didn't set up an exclusion zone around Arthur's crotch, if only to prop up his cover story.
Merlin explores the neglected symbolic middle ground between "dark angel of vengeance" and "I feel like Chicken Tonight".
- Goodness, Sir Leon, that's an enthusiastic weaponry fetish you've got going on there. Still, I notice that you don't object to Merlin getting his hands on your "thing of beauty". I do like a man who's willing to share.
- Alas, poor piggy! Still, you died in the cause of letting Gaius and Gwen figure out the plot - not very quickly by normal standards, but positively Sherlockily when measured in Camelot time.
- "What do you think about Percival?" / "Very big." - Hee hee, judging by Merlin's grumpy expression as he delivers this line, it IS possible to have too much of a good thing.
- The strange wormy stirrings that are motivating Merlin are clearly the wrong kind since he's surprisingly keen for Arthur to get dressed. Fortunately, Arthur exercises his royal prerogative and stays half-naked as long as humanly possible. Hurrah!
- In an hilarious reversal of the usual Bout of Convenient Unconsciousness, Merlin gets his hands on Arthur's ceremonial sword and promptly knocks himself out. Oopsadaisy. And for good luck he gets an extra enthusiastic clang around the bonce from Gwen. I think that's her revenge for my joke about her hitting Arthur with silverware from last week.
- Gaius sets up a cod-medieval version of ER and extracts the wormy thing from Merlin's neck, thus allowing Gwen to practise her "urgh, yucky stuff" expressions and the sound effects people to get full use from that jar of Ecto-Slime they bought for Christmas. Unfortunately, everything Gaius chopped out of Merlin grows back in the night. Don't you just hate it when that happens?
- Arthur pops in to see Agravaine for a spot of shadowy brooding. "Do you happen to be a nasty traitor, Uncle?" Arthur asks, in an unexpected attack of good sense. Cunningly, Agravaine plays the "remember your poor dead mother!" card, to which Arthur is particularly vulnerable, and the attack wears off as quickly as it began. Here's an idea, Arthur; how about taking your shirt off again? It always makes ME feel better, and I hear Merlin's got a surprise spa treatment that will melt away your cares (and your limbs)...
- "You're not Merlin…" - so it's confirmed canon that Merlin sees Arthur's equipment on a regular basis, is it? Good, just checking. Anyway, everything about the bathwater scene was pure gold, except the jug that Gwen clonked Merlin over the head with and Arthur's red velvet modesty cushion. Gwen's expressions were classic and even Gaius probably has some great info to add to the thesis he's secretly writing ("The Pendragon Inheritance: Royal Genitalia, Past and Present").
Even in times of great crisis, Arthur can still hold his own.
- Turns out there's only one cure for all this slapstick: popping round to Morgana's place and killing her little snakey friend. Time for another swig of Old!Juice, Merlin. And there's more hilarity as the Lovely Knights find a hairy old geezer stealing their chum Merlin's horse and decide to use this as an excuse for a spot of delightful macho posturing, and Merlin in turn decides to use this as an excuse for a good old-fashioned homoerotic pile-up in the woods. I can't imagine it's the first time that the knights have woken up in a dazed but happy heap...
- "Hardly information of an enticing kind, is it?" - oh dear, Morgana's not very impressed with Agravaine's spoilers this week. Be more enticing next week, Aggie old boy! Perhaps some sort of shirtless-scene prediction graph would do the trick? At least Merlin has now spotted Agravaine's sideline in treachery (at long bloody last!) but he hasn't yet mentioned it to anyone. Got to save something for the second half of the season, I suppose.
- Morgana reacts to the arrival of "Emrys" in her kitchen like I react to finding a giant spider in the bath. Leave room in a hurry, deep breath, try to work out what the flip you're going to do next. Unlike me, she doesn't come back into the room with gritted teeth, carrying a massive slipper.
- Now, how do powerful magic people resolve their differences before the watershed? Ah yes, by throwing each other backwards through the air! Tragically, it's Morgana's kitchenware that suffers most, although Merlin's eighty-year-old joints don't have a brilliant time of it either. But just when it looks like Morgana's retrieved her pickled pet snake, Merlin conjures up a big wind machine to do his tossing for him. Bad luck, Morgana! And especially bad luck for the Fomorroh, who becomes the main course in an impromptu snake barbecue.
- Another bout of squelchy snake removal from Gaius and we're almost done. There's just time for a bit more fun with George and his new training course: Seven Habits of Highly Effective Manservants. Rule number one: don't make jokes about brass. (And anyway, I suspect this shop has probably made them all already.)
- Agravaine gets a bit tearful about Morgana's undignified sprawling in the woods and carries her off to get tidied up before next week. I'm not sure where their somewhat perverse relationship is going, but let's hope it's somewhere with cleaning products that can get leaf stains out of lace gowns.
- In conclusion: rollicking good entertainment with something for everyone. Colin Morgan has tons of fun playing three parts -- Assassin!Merlin, Normal!Merlin and Old!Merlin -- while Arthur breaks this season's record for gratuitous semi-nudity (hurrah!), Gwen gets some feisty stuff to do (yay), Morgana essays a bit of actual acting rather than just smirking and scowling (will wonders never cease?), and everyone else chips in with some classic comedy face-pulling. Masses of fun for all the family (well, except mean old uncle Agravaine, ya boo hiss).
- Next week: bad things happen to Gaius! Morgana wants to know who Emrys is! And Gwaine swings his sword at a shirtless hottie! Calm down, Gwaine, I'm sure they'll give you your own shirtless scene if you ask nicely enough...