Time for a weekly dose of Merlin, so here are a few thoughts on The Disir:
We start the show with three aging ladies in odd outfits doing strange chanting in the dark. No, it's not a Bananarama reunion. It's the titular Disir, who seem to be a Macbeth Witches tribute act. When shall these three meet again? Probably later in this episode, but first they have to poke a puddle with some vaguely phallic sticks and pull out a novelty commemorative coin thingy. Then they send it off to Arthur using the local Bloke-in-Cloak delivery service (slogan: "Prompt Postage for Portentous Plotlines!").
Back at Camelot, Arthur and Mordred are hitting each other with swords. No, Merlin's not having another weirdly erotic dream; Arthur is simply training his knights in the crucial skill of Dramatic Foreshadowing, and not surprisingly, Mordred's pretty good at it. Meanwhile, Merlin is practising his Jealous Staring skills because he now has serious competition for the coveted position of Arthur's Favourite Closeted Sorceror. However, he can rest easy that he's got no rivals for the rather less enviable role of Arthur's Favourite Temporary Coat Rack.
Sir Leon arrives with tragic news: the unexpected off-screen death of Sir Never-Seen-Him-Before, officially known as Sir Ranulph. Team Camelot is devastated, probably because it means they no longer have an excuse for singing "Ranulph the Red-Cloaked Rakehell" at the annual Saturnalia party (lyrics: "Ranulph the Red-Cloaked Rakehell / Had a very scary rake / When it was waved in public / It made all the maidens quake...").
Alas, the show still hasn't adequately resolved the issue of Finding Stuff For Gwen To Do, other than letting her rule Camelot when Arthur is out with the boys. This week, it seems she's pulled the Counsellor Troi card: giving obvious advice with lots of cleavage. Hmm.
Arthur cheers himself up by inviting his new BFF Mordred along on his very first homoerotic Knight-Out (TM), because he has "all the makings of an excellent knight". These include soulful eyes, attractively dishevelled hair, and extreme susceptibility to silly practical jokes about "melding the saddle". Yes, Vulcans may use their minds to meld, but the knights of Camelot use their bottoms. This comes as a surprise to nobody.
On the subject of taking things from behind, Gwaine and Elyan creep up on Osgar the sorceror and end up stabbing him rather unfairly. At least it's one of those fatal wounds that's leaves plenty of time for the passing-on of the Disir's novelty trinket to Arthur AND a nice long portentous speech about repentance and redemption and oncoming doom, so he should consider himself lucky. Most people Gwaine stabs just go "Argh!" and fall over.
While Merlin's burying Osgar's body in the woods, Mordred turns up for an unscheduled but fascinating closeted sorceror's convention. Mordred warns Merlin that he shouldn't be marking a sorceror's grave, but fortunately, Merlin knows that if Arthur can't spot the massive sign reading "OBVIOUS GAY SYMBOLISM HAPPENING OVER HERE!", he's unlikely to notice a small pile of rocks.
"The swelling should go down by morning." / "Let's hope so." - Unfortunately this scene's so dark that we can hardly see a thing, which is a shame because I reckon that watching Gwaine's swelling go down has all the makings of an excellent night...
Merlin's so sad and mopey that even Arthur notices and tries to cheer him up in the time-honoured fashion of British males, i.e. by taking the piss and getting tetchy when he doesn't laugh. "Your face resembles the back end of a cat" is rather ironic as an insult because Merlin's back end also happens to resemble the face of a cat: cute and eminently strokable.
As usual, Gaius has to explain the plot to everyone. Arthur has been tried and found wanting by the Disir, official interpreters for the Triple Goddess (not to be confused with the Triple-Breasted Whore of Eroticon 6). Bad things are probably going to happen, but nobody's knows what to do. Arthur asks for Merlin's advice, Merlin calls the Slash Dragon helpline, and basically, everything's as clear as mud. Well, maybe not to the Dragon, whose top tip is "Kill the new hottie!" Dammit, that dragon's a scarily hardcore Merthur shipper, even by internet standards.
Arthur is beyond the point where a gratuitous shot of Gwen's boobs can help him.
For the first time in ages, Gaius and Merlin are both awakened by a terrific banging in the night. It's Arthur, demanding another outing, this time to visit the Disir. However, he can't go anywhere without the help of a cod-medieval GPS, which stands for Gaius's Pathfinding Suggestions: "Go forward till you find a spring near some trees in the mountains. Then turn left."
Oh dear, Arthur's posse storm into the Disir's cave with their weapons out, stomp on their novelty twig ornaments and totally ignore the sign that says "All Breakages Must Be Paid For With Future Tragedy". This makes the Triple Goddess very peeved indeed and pointy sticks get tossed across the room. Mordred makes a flying leap and URGH! He's stolen the scene by saving Arthur's life. What more of Merlin's territory is left to snaffle? Is Mordred going to start wearing coloured scarves and going teary-eyed at the drop of a hat too?
On the way out, Merlin gives the Disir a flash of his magic, but they don't say anything. Instead, they stare at him in a significant "We know what's going on here but we're not going to out you in front of your boyfriend, we're just going to let you flail around until you out yourself, as is right and proper" sort of way. (Or maybe I'm reading too much into it?)
Back at Camelot, Gaius tries to cure Mordred in the time-honoured fashion, i.e. by taking his shirt off. Congratulations, Mordred, you're initiated into the Camelot Gratuitous Nipple Exposure Club. Shame you're not awake to enjoy it.
Gaius gives Merlin a stern chat about USE YOUR BLOODY MAGIC and DON'T LET THE NICE YOUNG MAN DIE NOW. But Merlin prefers to pout and brood, and even when Arthur comes over to take him on a special romantic plot-resolving mission for two, he gets all moody and WHY and DUTY and YOU WOULDN'T DO THIS FOR ME, conveniently forgetting that Arthur HAS done silly things to save him on multiple occasions.
This time, Arthur politely drops his sword and wipes his feet before popping in to see the Disir. "We have been expecting you", they say, making me wonder whether they stand there ominously all day. Maybe they've got set office hours and the rest of the time they put their feet up, watch Albion's Next Top Soothsayer and buy blue lipstick from QVC?
"Embrace the old religion, Arthur!" - Hmmm. If the old religion is magic, and if Arthur has to embrace magic... basically this means snog Merlin, doesn't it? What a surprise, the Triple Goddess is a slasher too!
And now it's time for Arthur and Merlin to sit down amid in the Forest of Vibrations for a serious fireside chat and the most heartrending Magic Un-Reveal in history. Look at Merlin's little face! Look at his tear-filled eyes! And his weird behaviour all through this episode is explained at last. He believes he can be accepted as magic, or he can have Arthur safe, but not both. And so he chooses Arthur. Bless, bless, bless.
In a slight anticlimax, Arthur trudges back in to see the Disir and says "Sorry, it's a big NO to sorcery. Mordred's hot but he's not as hot as having everyone think I'm great." "Bog off then, loser," say the Disir, while giving Merlin another meaningful stare.
Ta-DAH! It's time for the twist! The Disir have punished Arthur by saving Mordred anyway. Destiny has shot Merlin in the foot with an arrow made of dramatic irony! And Mordred is STILL Arthur's favourite closeted sorceror! Oh, diddums!
Overall: Blimey. A darkly toned episode that moved towards its target in a rather rambling way, and was slightly overbaked in the portentous dialogue stakes but had an emotional pay-off that really packed a punch and managed the trick of asserting the mythology yet still throwing out a few surprises. Bradley James was sterling as ever, and although I fear Colin Morgan will never win a BAFTA for this show, I hereby award him one in my heart. Or at least, amid the squidgy bits that were left of my heart when he'd finished breaking it. Wibble.
Next week: Morgana wants to play a little game that involves stabby things and flinging people through the air. Gwen isn't very happy about it. She probably prefers Scrabble or Twister...