So with that in mind, here are a few thoughts on A Lesson In Vengeance:
- Oh, how sweet, it's a royal anniversary outing. Of course, as we all know, there are three people in this marriage, but that's no news to the Camelot paparazzi. Slightly more worthy of note is the fact that Gwen is of course Secretly Evil now, so her idea of a romantic anniversary is "I've secretly planned for you to fall off your horse and be murdered by bandits! Surprise, darling!" Shame, since if you want Arthur at his hottest, giving him a chance to manfully wield his weapon and get a bit sweaty is an excellent way to do it.
- Quick! Let's throw all the blame for this disaster on Arthur's stablehand Tyr, who's one of those Camelot folk who have been loyal and trusted and popular for years and years and yet somehow we've never heard of them before. (At least this guy has the excuse of being seconded in from the nearby village of Gameofthrones.) The poor perky chap is startled to find himself thrown in jail for the crimes of Treason and Suspicious Sewing Equipment. He ought to consider himself lucky for not being prosecuted for beard crimes. After all, the Camelot Rules of Facial Hair state that if your beard is less sexy than Gwaine's, the sentence should be Shave or Death.
- Gwen warns Arthur that his enemies are "very often the last person you would suspect". Foreshadowing AND dramatic irony in one scenery-chewing package, although I'm not sure it's entirely successful as an argument for why you should execute the FIRST person you suspected.
- This is Merlin's week for playing detective, and he's playing it old-school. Starting out with a trip to the dungeon to interrogate Tyr, his technique is mainly good cop, with a bit of bad cop, a side of moodily-muttering-in-the-shadows cop and second helpings of "It's an inside job, guv!" It's a shame the script pads out the investigation process to the point of silliness, but you can't fault his serious-faced commitment to the cause.
- If you fancy playing an impromptu drinking game for this episode, try taking a drink every time that Gwen does a Meaningful Stare. If the background music does an ominous tinkling thing at the same time, take 2 drinks. You'll be on the floor faster than a fatally stabbed stablehand.
- Gwen scuttles out to the woods for a meeting of the Camelot Cleavage of Vengeance Club (whose membership has doubled in the last two weeks) and gives Morgana a plot update: "The bad news is: I haven't murdered my husband yet. The good news is: I have at least managed to murder someone else. Yay me?"
- As an avid student of the creakingly slow development of Morgana's magical abilities, I was delighted to see her building on last week's new spell, Makus Peepul Falloffa-Hors, by adding a crowd-pleasing final twist that makes Gwaine hit the ground with his tightly-clad bum on prominent display. Although I suspect that a stunt bottom might have been used in this sequence, the basic idea is nonetheless a sound one and definitely worthy of further experiment...
Gaius uses his decades of anatomical learning to work out what Gwaine's right arm is for.
- The other good point about Gwaine getting hurt is that Gaius gets to grope his biceps for important medical reasons AND even orders Gwaine and Merlin to have a bit of alone time. Unfortunately, Gwen is lurking in a corner listening in, and she's not very happy about it. Maybe she's like me and misses the no-holds-barred Merlin/Gwaine shipping of days of yore. Alas, those days seem to be gone now, but at least Gwaine got in a few soulful gazes. (The one when Merlin was released from jail was my favourite, I think.)
- Morgana pops out to do a spot of shopping at her local branch of Bootes Ye Apothecary. She demands some poison, she throws her tip on the floor and she didn't bring her loyalty card. It's little wonder the shopkeeper grasses her up to the king at the end of the episode. A little more politeness when interacting with the service industries goes a long way, young lady.
- Next on CSI: Camelot, Merlin and Gaius find a telltale scrap of cloth stuck on a tree. However, CSI must stand for Criminally Slow-witted Investigation, because it takes an embarrassingly long time for them to work out that it's from a very posh frock, and that only rich ladies have posh frocks, and that therefore their list of suspects can be reduced to Any Rich Lady With Posh Frocks Who Hangs Around In Camelot A Lot. Now, who do we know who fits into that category? Hmmm. Let's have a nice long think...
- Hooray, at last it's time for Merlin to go rummaging through Gwen's wardrobe, leading to a bout of predictable hilarity when Arthur catches him at it. "Think I prefer Gwen's." / "I'm going to do everything in my power to try and forget that you ever just said that." was up there with some of their classic exchanges of previous seasons. (After all, nobody would ever suspect Merlin of preferring Gwen's ANYTHING.)
It's probably my age, but Merlin using Gwen's dress as a sockpuppet reminded me irresistibly of Rod Hull and Emu.
The puppety part was also weirdly symbolic of what's happening in the main plot. Basically, Morgana's secretly got her hand up the back of Gwen's dress and is making her mouth go up and down and say things like "Arthur sucks!" and "Morgana is my BFF 4EVAR!"
- I think Morgana's heard that Merlin's planning to don his old-man disguise later in this episode, because she turns up dressed as an old lady to pass the poison to Gwen. Maybe this is meant to recall the very similar Morgause-Morgana scenes of yesteryear, and even to suggest that Gwen and Morgana are now "sisters" in a way? Or maybe it's because Morgana heard me say something relatively flattering about her old-woman acting a few weeks back, and decided she'd try it again to please me. If the latter was the case: sorry, dearie. It did nothing for me this time.
- Possibly not for the first time, Merlin finds something startling in Arthur's underwear. This time, however, it's only Gwen's suspiciously torn cloak. Emergency! Emergency! Sound the Evil Queen Alert and run through the castle in dramatic slow motion! But alas, the slow-mo is just a smidge TOO slow and Arthur falls victim to the Eardrops of Death!
Arthur's one-man recreation of The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis. Never let it be said that this show does not open your cultural horizons! Or your shirt buttons, come to think of it.
- So Gaius correctly points out that Arthur's been poisoned and Merlin gets unceremoniously tossed in the slammer. (Oy, Lovely Knights! Where's your loyalty to your friend now, eh? Eh?) Meanwhile, Gwen goes into full-on Deceptive Diva mode and has a lovely time posing in moodily lit corridors and having woe-is-me sobbing fits by Arthur's bedside. "Who could possibly rule the land if Arthur dies? It could never be little me, could it? Now please tell me again how lovely I am, Sir Leon..."
- What can save Merlin now? Never fear, just call Gaius's magical cocktail delivery service! Frankly, anyone who can replicate this business in real life is on to a winner. There are moments when I'd kill to have a stiff gin and tonic discreetly lowered through a hole in the ceiling.
- I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but I'll say it again: Old!Merlin never gets old. It could easily become a tired schtick, yet Colin Morgan always puts so much gung-ho enthusiasm into it that it's infectious. The tirade directed at Audrey the irate cook was particularly hilarious: I'm sure Heston Blumenthal is trying out his own recipe for freshly laid frogspawn wrapped in pig snot as we speak.
- The bearded bonhomie lasts only briefly, however, because Merlin has to turn action hero in order to get himself to Arthur's bedroom, where he demonstrates his grasp of cod-medieval CPR, which in this case stands for Caressing of Princely Regions. (When he did the chest-pumping move, I couldn't help imagining him doing it to the beat of Stayin' Alive.) This could easily have got Too Silly, but Colin's tearful face always pulls things through at even the cheesiest of moments.
- Hooray, Arthur is alive and grateful and shares a nice moment with Merlin. Unfortunately, the moment isn't quite long enough for Merlin to broach that tricky topic of "I think your wife tried to kill you and frame me for it." I know you've got half a series left to fill, but surely some things are so urgent that they need to be blurted out anyway?
- Unintended giggles are the order of the day as Merlin and Gwen round off proceedings with a Meaningful Stare-Off. Both of them are thinking "I'll get you, my pretty." (I'd like to hope some of the knights are thinking the same thought too, preferably about each other.)
- Overall: given last week's damp squib, my expectations were VERY low, so in fact I was pleasantly surprised. Evil!Gwen is still a resolutely stupid plotline, but I sort of admire the decision not to resolve it straight away, and Angel Coulby does seem to be enjoying the chance to chew a bit of scenery. The rest was a bit overstretched, but just like his character, Colin Morgan always manages to pop in and save the day with his little moments of magic. Aww.
- Next week: The further adventures of Evil Gwen, now with a generous side-order of scowling character actors! Let's see what happens...