Time for another episode of Merlin, and blimey, we're more than halfway through the season now. Here are some thoughts about The Hollow Queen:
I see what you did with that episode title, BBC. You were trying to lure me into a sense of well-being by making me think of The Hollow Crown and thus filling my mind with happy thoughts of Tom Hiddleston in leather trousers, weren't you? Well, that won't work at all, I assure you... *drifts away in a Hiddestoned daze for several hours*
Okay, back to Merlin. Gwen, lest we forget, is still Evil (TM). She's certainly evil by fangirl standards because she dares to interrupt Arthur and Merlin's bedroom bonding by wanting sexytimes with her husband. In repayment for this hideous crime, Merlin stomps out to prepare a large tub of hot water in which Gwen can be boiled to death. Or a bath, as it's otherwise known. Actually, it's all a cunning ploy of Gwen's to get Merlin down to the kitchen so a young henchlad can surprise him via the back passage. Young Daegal (for that is his name) plays the "I'm just a poor druid boy in distress!" card, and Merlin knows that it's always worth helping druid boys, just in case they grow up to be hotties who'll be really grateful later.
"It's a long way north of Dangerous." - Yes, it's another useful piece of geographical advice brought to you by GPS (that's Gaius's Pathfinding Suggestions). Wherever Merlin's heading to, it's also southeast of Obviously A Ridiculous Trap, and slightly west of Who Cares, Arthur's Going To Take His Shirt Off In A Minute. But before Arthur does that, he's going to hang around in his bedroom for a while, being charmingly dishevelled and sartorially inept. Aww.
"I appreciate the effort, Gwen, but the experience of snogging a stubbly bloke is harder to replicate than you think..."
As usual, Gaius gets left to make excuses for Merlin's absence. Of course, I immediately thought "TAVERN", since that's the established running gag. But instead Gaius surprised me by coming out with a totally different, quite detailed and relatively convincing excuse... and Arthur STILL thought Merlin was in the tavern. Hee. Of course, Merlin's not boozing, he's out in the woods with Daegal, engaging in badinage over bandages. Which is about as close to bonding over bondage as we're going to get this week.
I laughed heartily at Gaius at being roped into a gratuitous slasharama scene with Arthur because Merlin wasn't not available. Poor man, his Eyebrow of Disapproval was working so hard that it almost popped off the top of his head.
Gaius pales at the thought of the caption I'll come up with for this image.
On the plus side, Gaius did at least try to get Arthur into crossdressing AND scored a few double entendre points for the complaint "It's too small...", so he's not as bad at this game as Arthur seems to think.
While the guys are being suggestive indoors, Gwen pops out (no, not THAT kind of popping out, despite her ever more vertiginous cleavage) and sends Morgana a note using the latest in cod-medieval messaging technology: Tree-mail! It's completely spamproof, but you do need to watch out for squirrel shit.
"They say he takes joy in impaling men." / "Not just men, sire." - Crikey. This week's guest villain, the Sarrum, is certainly well qualified to appear on this show. He's also a thoroughly murderous bad egg and apparently enjoys in making men wear cutlery in public, if his spoon-helmeted henchpersons are anything to go by.
A personal spoon-bearer is a must for any archvillain who never knows when a sudden craving for yogurt may strike.
Meanwhile, Merlin is getting suspicious of Daegel who can't hear his secret only-for-druids voiceover. But before Merlin can shout "Your sister is non-existent and your tattoo is drawn on with a felt-tip!", he finds himself being tossed through the air by Morgana, force-fed a mouthful of nasty gloop and pushed unceremoniously into the Canyon of Convenience. Whoops. The score is Bleeding-Heart Liberal Types 0, Ineptly Obvious Villainy 1.
Look, viewers, here's some information that is actually relevant to the ongoing plot! It turns out that the Sarrum is the guy who forced Morgana to star in his own personal remake of The Silence of the Lambs, co-starring Aithusa the dragon as Precious the poodle. Not only is he not a very nice man, but his idea of polite dinner-party conversation is positively gruesome. Fortunately Gwen makes a quick exit before he can start describing his other hobbies: pulling the legs off hamsters and competitive orphan-drowning.
Dear whoever came up with the idea of showing Merlin writhing on the ground with white stuff drooling out of his mouth: You DO know that this is precisely the kind of thing that ends up being incorporated into dodgy GIF sets on Tumblr? Good, just checking.
Back at Camelot, it's all go. Gwen gets to play dressing-up with Arthur, getting a bit over-excited about the leather parts! Arthur goes one-on-one against the Sarrum's leading leather-clad hunk! Gwen hangs around waiting for the Sarrum and says "Gosh, I wish someone would just KILL MY HUSBAND, hint hint"! Not only is Merlin still AWOL, but Mr Subtlety is missing, presumed dead of neglect.
Predictably but cheeringly, Merlin's non-druidic chum Daegal comes back to rescue him from certain death, a process that involves a few herbs, a bit of suggestive wriggling and a lot of sitting around in the dark. Suddenly they get attacked by random bandits, led by an even more random Mitch Benn of Proud of the BBC fame. Merlin's not a big fan of viral videos or Radio 4 comedy, however, and gives him a big ol' blast of Glowy Eyes. All the other bandits immediately think of somewhere important that they have to be, and don't hang around to give Merlin links to their YouTube efforts. (A shame, because it took bloody ages to teach the Gangnam Style dance to those squirrels.)
"You have magic, and you live in Camelot!" - Well done, Daegel, you've spotted the two salient facts that every person in the street knows about Merlin. Within the story, of course, nobody knows about Merlin's magic, except Gaius. And Lancelot, but he's dead. And Dudley Dursley, but he's wandered off somewhere. And Mordred, but we don't mention him because he's in the closet. And that bald Scottish wizard with the mad eyebrows but.... yeah, it's actually quite a lot of people, isn't it?
In possibly the least convincing of her increasingly unconvincing excuses for villainy, Gwen uses "Because Heterosexuality!" as a reason for why Merlin's not around. As if anyone's going to believe THAT. Arthur does, of course, but that's because "Gullible Pinhead" are his middle names. As if to prove the ridiculousness of Gwen's assertion, Merlin is at that very moment having his extremities tenderly fondled by a young man in the woods.
"What a momentous day this is for Camelot!" says Arthur. Indeed, for it surely marks the most blatant example of a Freudian weapon shot this show has ever seen! And that's an occasion that ought to be celebrated with rude songs and the sale of suggestive souvenirs.
Act now! This one-time special offer will not be repeated...
Predictably, Merlin saves Arthur from the Phallus of Doom but his little friend dies a tragically stabby death. For once, Colin Morgan keeps the tears under check and settles for a Serious Face. Daegal tried his best, poor lad, but he was never a massively interesting character, so it's rather hard to care.
If you thought last week ended with a major-league staring match, it pales in comparison to Merlin and Gwen's meaningful gaze-a-thon this week. Arthur, meanwhile, remains perkily oblivious to it all. I know that Elton John said "sorry" was the hardest word, but apparently "your wife has been hypnotized by your evil half-sister and keeps trying to kill you" are much MUCH harder to say.
Overall: Thanks to Arthur and Gaius's face-pulling skills, there were a couple of much-appreciated belly laughs, but everything inbetween was distinctly lacklustre. Evil!Gwen is now dull beyond belief, there was little real suspense and also a tragically low knight count: Leon got about two lines, Mordred stood around silently for a bit, and it was Gwaine and Percival's day off. Come on, people. You can do better than this. I know you can. Please do so. Please. For me.
Next week: gather up the budget and polish the best CGI in the house, we're going to get shot of this Evil Gwen business for once and for all! At least, I bloody hope we are...