And there's a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong
Time to polish your chain-mail sandals and duck to avoid any flying copyright writs from Stephen King, because I'm about to embark on another Merlin review, and this time it's all about The Dark Tower:
Oh look, the writers have remembered that Gwen and Elyan are siblings and have sent them on a day trip to visit their dead dad. Or at least, a scenic pile of rocks where their dead dad used to be, before Gwen's dad-in-law had him burned to death for something he didn't do. Ah, nostalgia. It certainly isn't what it used to be. Still, they get to have a nice little gossip on the way home with the rest of the Lovely Knights. And at last, it is canonically established that Gwaine fancies a man! Admittedly, it's himself, but come on, nobody can claim to be particularly surprised.
Oh no, it's Morgana, reviving her old obsession with cheap CGI reptiles by getting them out in public. If there weren't so many trees around, I'd be tempted to call her plan "Snakes on a Plain". She's also been working on her favourite spell, Makus Peepul Fallova, and has created an advanced version: Makus Peepul Falloffa-Hors!
Percival and Leon are down! Get them to Emergency Room Gaius! Alas, the bad news is that they've been bitten by magic snakes. The even worse news is that it's not one of those ailments that can only be cured by taking their shirts off. Darn it.
No, Gaius isn't staring at Percival's crotch. He's merely questioning his decision to create the world's first man/fruit basket hybrid.
When the cod-medical flapping around has finished, Elyan confesses that they appear to have mislaid Gwen. Arthur is less than happy, and demands a half-hearted pep talk from Merlin, a strangely pointless vow AND a bro-on-bro handshake before he'll rally his wobbly bottom lip and go out to find her. Some weeks, Arthur just gets on with stuff. Some weeks, he's required to make a Big Bloody Deal of every tiny thing. It seems this is one of the latter kind. How tedious.
Gwen wakes up in the forest and has to listen to Morgana's idea for a plot this week. They're going to play a little game and it's called "Guess How Much Arthur Loves You". (Didn't we establish last week that the answer is "Probably not as much as he loves that pouty little love-strumpet Mordred"?). It does involve a bit of light bondage, but it also involves being dragged behind a horse AND having to listen to Morgana's villainous clichés every five minutes, so it's not all giggles.
Now, the geography of the Camelot area has always been unpredictable, but here's one of its most startling features: Sudden Desert Syndrome! And it's even more sudden when Morgana and Gwen cross it. Has Morgana learned a super-advanced space-wormhole spell? Or is there a special high-speed Dragged-By-A-Horse lane that allows you to bypass the Impenetrable Forest? I think we should be told.
Over in the boys' camp, Elyan and Arthur's midnight guilt-a-thon is interrupted by more squealing. Have fangirls found the campsite? Is there a creepy-crawly in Gwaine's sleeping bag? No, it's Leon and Percival's matching snakebites, which have made them have a useful Plot Flash-Forward Nightmare. They're surely not the first people to have bad dreams after snakebite, but theirs are full of large phallic buildings and ambitiously high-budget special effects (rain falling like blood? Sorry, not this week, we've spent all the cash on Morgana's hair care AGAIN).
In probably the most amusing moment in this entire episode, Gwaine admits he was dreaming about eating cheese that tasted of apple pie. Since Sir Sigmund of Freud was not available to explain any sexual symbolism in this scenario, I can only conclude that Gwaine/Food is the love that lasts forever.
Morgana forces Gwen to stay in a specially decorated guestroom, hung with chocolate-coated mandrakes, last seen at the beginning of the third series. Mandrakes have a nasty tendency to squeal, which explains all the strange noises that keep Gwen awake. It isn't just Morgana screaming through the keyhole because she's bored and trolling on the internet hasn't been invented yet.
So how should the boys get to the Dark Tower? Yes, it's straight through the Impenetrable Forest. (Crikey, the Camelot Tourist Board needs to do something about these names.) Fortuantely, the Impenetrable Forest turns out to be surprisingly susceptible to knightly penetration. In fact, even the plants want to rip Gwaine's clothes off. Can't blame them, really. I also giggled at the we're-walking-in-a-circle angst, mainly because those guys spend most of their lives riding through the same bit of forest again and again and yet this is the first time they've ever bothered to complain about it.
Merlin gets woken up for a midnight rendez-vous with local hipster fairy Queen Mab, whose chat-up line is basically "Hey, hot warlock, I'm having an unexpectedly doom-laden poetry slam down here, do you fancy coming?" "Heed my words with due concern / For one of you will not return..." I confess, my heart sank at the thought that this lacklustre episode could possibly mean the end of a Lovely Knight (I assumed we could rule out Arthur, Merlin and Gwen from the equation) and my mind started to cast itself back to the start of the story, to determine who might have the most Foreshadowing attached to them...
The fairy intervention inspires Merlin to discover his inner GPS powers and he startles everyone by using them to find Mordor the mysteriously close desert. When asked, he claims he's using his nose, but it's a less than brilliant excuse. After all, if any part of Merlin's body is going to start picking up satellite signals, it's got to be the ears, surely...
Manfully they trudge through the desert, looking like some sort of cod-medieval lager advert, and hampered only by the fact that Percival gets a massive blister because he's forgotten his socks. The moral of the story is: always remember your socks, kids. (And yes, socks have definitely been invented in Merlinland: remember that business in the last series with a particularly stinky pair of Gwaine's?)
So what's Gwen up to while all this is going on? Basically, she's tripping her head off in a room full of strange cackling noises and ghostly versions of people she knows. To her credit, Gwen does act her socks off in these scenes (in fact, she may well have been responsible for knocking Percival's off too). Between hallucinations, Morgana keeps popping in, wanting to take her for dinner and hold hands and be BFFs again and have girlie chats about that time she was trapped in a pit for two years, even though neither Gwen nor the audience really knows what she's blethering about.
At long bloody last, our wandering heroes arrive at the tower and find themselves at the mercy of another one of Morgana's innovative interior-decorating ideas: novelty paving stones that shoot you in the head. Due to my advanced age, this bit reminded me heavily of The Adventure Game, a TV show of my youth, especially the part that involved not stepping on the Vortex.
Alas, Elyan is too good at the paving-stones game and rushes ahead... to his DOOOOM. At the hands of a... well, a thing with no hands at all. Yes, after years of getting the blunt end of the stick in Lovely Knight terms, the poor dear gets the sharp end of a sword. Oh. At least his death scene was quite nicely done, with Gwen's raging grief and everyone else keeping it low-key. Farewell, Elyan. May you find a BBC drama where they love you properly and give you more interesting things to do. You deserve one.
Avert your eyes, children, it's Gwen and Arthur in an actual bed together! But never fear, there's no naughty business going on here. Instead, there's Gwen getting up and... what the heck? She's being unexpectedly evil now and Morgana is her only friend?? Blimey, she's still tripping on that mandrake juice, isn't she?
Overall: Silly and unforgivably boring. Angel Coulby tried VERY hard with what she was given to do, but I'm afraid she can't turn twenty minutes of story padded out with endless repetition into a masterpiece. Merlin's presence was very subdued this week, Arthur was reduced to staring into the middle distance a lot, and the least said about Morgana's two-dimensional pouting the better. Elyan's send-off was probably the best thing in the episode, and even THAT was a case of "could do better, could have done worse". Frankly, they'd be better off turning Gwaine's dreams into plotlines. After all, who could resist The Quest for the Massive Tower of Cheese That Tastes of Apple Pie? An original storyline AND a great idea for a tie-in cookbook. It's win-win, innit?
Next week: Brace yourselves, kids, it's Attack of the EVIL GWEN! I do hope Merlin can put on his big white beard and sort the whole mess out for once and for all...