Skip the hearts and flowers, skip the ivory towers
Alas, the time is upon us when every episode of Merlin brings us closer to the Big Day of Fateful Finale-dom, like some sort of semi-apocalyptic advent calendar. With the score for the series at 9 episodes down, 4 to go, here are my thoughts on With All My Heart:
Whoops, Percival catches Gwen sneaking out for a spot of evil girl-on-girl time with Morgana. When challenged about why she's walking the not-very-mean streets alone, she claims she's just trying to stay down with the kids and keep it real. What a shame she didn't burst into song, to this tune:
Don't be fooled by the frocks that I've got I'm still, I'm still Gwenny from the block Don't know where they're going with this silly plot My dress is pushing up my boobs to my eyeballs...
It appears Merlin has somehow managed to broach the tricky "your wife is evil, mmkay?" topic with Arthur. You can tell because he's now switched to Serious Sadface Sovereign mode. It also transpires that "She knows she's evil, he knows she's evil, she doesn't know he knows she's evil" is a recipe for a VERY awkward marital breakfast. Just add anachronistic tomatoes and leave to stew...
Alas, poor Leon's dialogue this week consists of precisely one word and it is "Sire"! Have the writers been reading my list of ideas for Merlin spin-off shows? I do hope so.
"Why did I promise to help Gwen..." - Merlin mutters to himself, probably after hearing the murmurings of the hardcore slash contingent who are thinking exactly the same thing. Never fear, Gaius has been catching up with the series so far on BBC iPlayer and has worked out that it's all the fault of the Teine Diaga. This is NOT, as I briefly feared, the name of some unfortunate celebrity offspring, but the proper name for that weird scene where Gwen was locked in the room full of squealing mandrakes, going slowly bonkers.
So, how do we fix this plot arc that's vastly overstayed its welcome? Well, Merlin's got to visit the Dochraid, the blind old witchy lady last seen in that Lancelot popping out of the lake episode. (Does she only turn up for lake-related plotlines? Maybe she owns shares in a company that makes algae-proof underwear?)
For a moment I feared that the Dochraid might mistake Old!Merlin's enquiries for a speed-date, especially when she became very keen to hold hands. However, she only wanted to get a whiff of his new cologne: the Stench of Enmity! (Available now at all good apothecaries, order early for Saturnalia!) Despite the fact that Old!Merlin is usually played for giggles, he's being very hardcore this week and has brought along Excalibur to give himself extra poking power. He soon finds out that Gwen's ailment can be cured by getting her to walk into a lake of her own accord. That doesn't sound too difficult: surely you only need to tell her that it's one of those fashionable fish pedicure places and her verrucas will never be the same again?
The strangest part of Mordred getting all suspicious is the fact that Arthur calls him "Mord" at one point. I was only sad that Mordred resisted the temptation to reply "Cheers, Arth!"
So, Gaius and Merlin explain to Arthur that they've got a plan all sorted out, and yes, it does involve magic which Arthur has technically banned, but hey, he's using it for totally selfish reasons which he's been happy to do several times in the past, so what's the problem, Your Hypocriticalness? Gaius has also got a tame sorceror lined up, and surprise surprise, it's.... A WOMAN.
The delicately raised eyebrow that says "YOU EXPECT ME TO GROW BOOBIES NOW, DO YOU? DO YOU? OH ALL RIGHT THEN."
But before we get on to the cross-dressing portion of proceedings, let's drug Gwen with Gaius's suspiciously large supply of rohypnol belladonna! Um. Don't try this at home, viewers.
A specially trained stunt loaf was used for this scene. Gwen's baps remained unharmed.
"You'd be amazed how much licence old age lends you, sire." - I believe Gaius when he says this. After all, nobody batted an eyelid when he went shopping for gothic ladies' dresses. He's also a dab hand at scaring handsome young men with his knowledge of contagious diseases you can catch from fondling bedsheets. I don't know what "red thrush fever" is, but it sounds dauntingly itchy.
Hmm, Arthur's complaints about the indignity of pushing the Queen around in a wheelbarrow sound pretty ironic when he's got no problem with flinging her unceremoniously over a horse so she's flapping about in the breeze like a shapely sack of turnips.
Whoops! Merlin and Arthur fall off a cliff, and Arthur thinks he's going to be stuck in a pre-watershed remake of 127 Hours (possibly entitled 127 Seconds: yes, they made decisions about on-the-hoof amputations quickly in cod-medieval days). Fortunately Mordred arrives before Arthur can give himself the chop, which delights Arthur but rouses Merling into a bout of "stay away from my boyfriend, you ambiguous minion of destiny!" staring.
"What's the meaning of these banners?" - Glad you asked that, Mordred. It's so that Morgana can find you on Google Maps, and send her attack poodle Aithusa to singe your carefully styled hair! Of course, it doesn't work, because Merlin dashes out and yells a few insults in Dragontongue (translation: "Bog off back to your mistress, Scalypants! I've seen better CGI on an Argos advert!").
Is it just me, or is Morgana's acting getting better? It's certainly subtler than it used to be, which is no bad thing, but it's still no defence against Mordred's hipster druid credentials and a taste of her own magical medicine in the form of Makus Peepul Fallova 2: Once More With Dramatic Irony.
And now for the climax of this week's hilarity as Merlin is transformed into the Dolma, a camp-as-Christmas cocktail composed of one part Monty Python to two parts Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. I often compliment Colin Morgan on his wonderful expressions, but this time, I'm astonished he managed to keep a straight face. (The actor who plays Mordred has already confessed that he couldn't manage it himself. Bless.)
I don't fancy yours much, Mordred.
"What have you done with my servant?" - For a moment, I swore I could hear Merlin trying not to answer "What people REALLY want to know is: What have YOU done with your servant?" I also sniggered a lot at the line "Reach that part of your Queen which has remained untouched by the evil of Morgana." He means part of her MIND, viewers. Minds out of the gutter!
At last, Arthur lures Gwen into the lake using the hypnotic power of True Lurve (TM) and several painful weeks of plot are brought to a relatively heartwarming close. If I had one complaint here, it would be addressed to Arthur, Frankly, the romantic symbolism of taking your wife's hand would have been MUCH better if you had bothered to take your bloody gloves off! Yeah, I know you were probably freezing cold in that lake, but come on. Gwen's putting the effort in, why aren't you? You could even have stripped down to the linen shirt and given us all the full Mr Darcy treatment, but did you do that? Alas, you did not. What a missed opportunity.
Crone!Merlin gives Arthur a sound talking to about the fact that sorcery is perfectly okay, thank you very much, and you're about to find this out SOON, and your manservant is very unappreciated and you're also about to discover this SOON, and have you grasped the foreshadowing yet, it's all about to come true SOON. Part of me doesn't want to the end of Merlin to come, but another part of me is insanely curious to know how it all pans out. I guess I'll find out. SOOOOOON.
In conclusion: The Evil!Gwen storyline has mostly been a series of damp squibs, but this was actually a decent little episode. Lots of fun from Gaius and especially from Merlin, but with a thread of seriousness from Arthur and Mordred to remind us of the doomladen Things To Come. And if Colin Morgan doesn't leave this show and become a Thespian Treasure, I will be having stern words with somebody. He's tragedy silver AND comedy gold.
Next week: Drama! Dragons! Bald Scottish blokes! And sharp stabby objects! Let's hope that these are clues to quality drama....