I also received a rather unlikely birthday surprise in the form of this week's episode of 30 Rock, which featured a scene involving celebrity otter lookalikes. I wonder what gave them that idea?
And now, on the scheduled cod-medieval business of the day. It's time for some hastily formed opinions on the latest instalment of Merlin, so here's what I thought about Another's Sorrow:
- The kingdom of Nemeth is not having a good week. We can tell this because of some tiny CGI fires in the distance and a raven perched squawking on a dead extra. Predictably, the cause of this low-budget devastation is Morgana and her latest dodgy partner-in-crime, King Odin (who is often mentioned but has only ever turned up once before). How does she find these guys? Online dating? evilHarmony? PlentyOfScum.com? Anyway, it seems she's figured out a new hair-colouring spell (Auburnus Loreal!) but her detangling conditioner charm still needs work.
- You know, I feel a bit sorry for Morgana. No friends, no servants, a massive sense of entitlement. She must spend ages doing up her own corsets and faffing with her hair, and she never gets a chance to chill out because there's always some half-arsed plan for vengeance that she's got to take care of. This time, it involves borrowing Odin's armies and threatening the nice Princess Mithian from the previous series, and her dad Rodor. In return, Odin wins a date with Arthur, albeit the kind of date that involves a sharp sword and stabby stabby death.
- Mithian turns up at Camelot, where she immediately starts to display signs of that dreaded illness, Slight Wobbliness, all the better to get hoisted in the manly arms of Sir Leon (designated Exposition Knight of the week!) and call dibs on one of the best guestrooms. Less fortunately, she has to share with Morgana who's magically disguised as an old maid and is therefore the kind of room-mate who spends a large chunk of every evening groaning in pain and emitting nasty-squelchy-fleshy noises as her eyebrows grow back. Yuk.
- Ooh, hello there, Arthur's white linen shirt. We haven't seen much of you this series, but you're always a slightly pervy pleasure.
By the way, what's that thing on Arthur's desk on the far left? On reflection, I think it's an inkwell, but at first glance I thought it might be a yogurt pot, or maybe a takeaway espresso from Camelot's top coffee chain, Starbuckets: "Organic peasant flavour with just a hint of dung!"
- Mithian soon discovers that she's been roped in to star in Morgana's two-woman remake of Misery, probably so that Morgan can entitle it "Mithery". This involves Mithian falling over a lot, being tortured by tacky jewelry and trying to express the message "Help, I am being oppressed by my fake maidservant!" using only her tear-filled eyes, while Morgana glowers threateningly from beneath several layers of latex. I suppose it features a more subtle approach to acting than Morgana usually bothers with, but neither is it that interesting.
- While Morgana tries out her new Raventext delivery service (the fastest way to keep YOUR henchpeople up to date with your evil plans!), Merlin spots there's Something Going On (TM), but Gaius puts him off finding out what it is because then the plot would be over and we're only 10 minutes in. Meanwhile, Gwen's contribution this week is restricted to modelling a nice new nightie and asking Arthur if he's going off on a mad quest for revenge. Mad quests for revenge were presumably the cod-medieval equivalent of mucking about on the internet: not a great idea at bedtime.
- So Arthur and company set off into the Usual Forest on a hunt for Mithian's dad. The high point is probably when it looks like Morgana might have to talk herself out of an awkward date with Gaius, after he mentions what great shape she's in for an old bird. But perhaps he only wanted to know where she gets her mojo from and whether he can buy it online...
- Eventually, some plot development occurs when Mithian manages to send Merlin a secret message on a not-so-secret rock.
Oh, so THAT's how Morgana's been keeping herself in designer corsets for the last two seasons.
But before he can run back to camp and say "I told you so!" to Arthur, Morgana makes him headbutt a tree and finishes him off with a bit of unerotic asphyxiation. It's not one of his most heroic moments, but at least we get to enjoy a gratuitous view of his tightly clad bum as it bobs about on Sir Percival's muscular shoulder.
- Gwaine gets left behind with Gaius and Merlin for homoerotic nursemaid duties and Percival and Leon look VERY dismayed. Sorry lads.
Percival and Leon are disappointed to learn that they won't be getting wood this week.
- "Just a blow to the head, you say?" / "There's nothing to suggest anything more." - For a moment there, I thought Gwaine was going to suggest that giving Merlin a blow somewhere else might wake him up. But sadly it didn't happen. Instead, Gaius saves the day by slipping on his glow-in-the-dark contact lenses and waving some "magic herbs" about. Smokin'.
- Come on, everybody, hurry up and get to the
obvious traptomb for the finale! If it's any incentive, you'll get to watch Sir Percival being bent over as if he's about to be taken roughly from behind... ah yes, I knew that would make you get a move on.
- "My name is King Odin, you killed my son, prepare to die! Well, in a minute. Apparently your evil half-sister wants to make a gloating speech first." "Oh, just kill me now," says Arthur. I know how he feels.
- Meanwhile, in possibly the comedy highlight of this episode, Gwaine punches a hapless extra in the head while he's having a pee. (The extra, that is, not Gwaine. Gwaine's not THAT good at multitasking.)
- It's Merlin to the rescue! Strangely, he doesn't use the "turn the executioner's sword into a marshmallow" spell, and opts for the much riskier "bring the roof down, let everyone run about like headless chickens" plan. Amusingly, the polystyrene rocks play havoc with Morgana's hair AND Merlin gives her a taste of her own favourite spell by chucking her at a wall and knocking her out. If she wants to stop this sort of thing happening in future, perhaps she could start weaving her hair into some sort of rudimentary crash helmet?
- Look, it's the return of the Canyon of Convenience, that low-cost Camelot location for all your aimless running around and sword-wielding needs! The background music goes into melodramatic overdrive as Arthur and Odin swing away at each other, but it's all rather perfunctory. Then Merlin gives Arthur the standard "Revenge is bad, mmkay?" speech and as if by magic, everyone's friends again. Hmm.
- So Mithian and her dad are reunited, Gwen's turned on by the kingliness of Arthur, Arthur's
turned on bygrateful to Merlin, and Merlin's still fretting about the possibility of more tedious Morgana plots in the future. So am I, sweetheart. So am I.
- In conclusion: A very flat episode that seemed to have all the wit and sparkle unceremoniously squished out of it. I liked Mithian in her previous episode but in between looking scared and having her escape attempts foiled, she didn't have any chance to show a personality this time. The focus on her predicament also meant that Merlin himself was sidelined, and a lot of time was spent waiting for characters to catch up with stuff that the audience already knew, which is a tedious old trope. And that old Greek tragedy staple, the Eternal Cycle of REVENGIENESS! (TM) didn't work either, because anyone with half a brain can tell that Arthur's much too fluffy for savage fits of bloody vengeance. Snooze.
- Next week: A doom-laden trinket and a job lot of cheap hooded cloaks from Morgana's favourite Evil Fashion Emporium. Do these things add up to an exciting episode? Only time will tell...