The Best and Worst of Merlin: Series 3

For previous installments:

 

Series 3 emphatically embraces Dark Morgana, as it will for the rest of the series, even though Uther and Arthur are seemingly blind to acknowledging her treachery.

Morgause is shown in the series to have both masculine and feminine characteristics, like commanding an army (masculine) or using magic (feminine), making her a formidable. However, like Morgana, her character represents the dangers of empowered, ambitious women as inherently evil, selfish, and murderous. During this season, we see both Morgause and Morgana scheme to take over Camelot, which is successful in The Coming of Arthur, albeit, temporarily, reminding us that feminism, or empowered women, are a threat to men and their kingdoms.

The Best:

The Castle of Fyrien, The Eye of the Phoenix, and The Coming of Arthur

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According to the Den of Geek review of The Castle of Fyrien:

Just when you thought Morgana couldn’t sink any lower, she does so here. But she also does so spectacularly.

Morgana arranges for Gwen and her brother, Elyan, to both be abducted by King Cenred and Morgause in a ruthless, calculated attempt to lure Arthur to his death at The Castle of Fyrien. Angel Coulby delivers a fantastic performance as the conflicted servant, reunited with her selfish brother and forced to make a decision between him and the man she loves.

We also are given a glimpse of just how Machiavellian Morgana has become, and left wondering just how much Morgause has corrupted her in her pursuit of power. Emilia Fox oozes menace as the wicked sorceress, and one wonders if she cares at all for her half-sister, or is simply manipulating her so she can claim the throne herself. I suspect there will be a battle between these two at some point, but that is just wishful thinking on my part.

When Gwen is sent back to Camelot, Merlin quickly spots how distressed she is and, along with Arthur, who unwittingly lets Morgana know of their plans, takes decisive action and they all set off together to rescue Elyan. Only Merlin is aware that Morgana is making sure Morgause knows everything, and thwarting their quest at every opportunity.

When Merlin confronts her in the woods, she shows no remorse whatsoever that she had Gwen and Elyan abducted, or that Arthur is certain to die trying to break in King Cenred’s castle. She reminds him that she had a friend who poisoned her, so why should she care about the others.

This was when I was beginning to sympathise with the witch, but her actions later in the episode left me in no doubt that she is cold and heartless.

Morgana and Morgause conspire to capture the group once they’ve entered the caves beneath the castle, and when they are outnumbered, are left with no choice but to surrender. Gwen and Elyan argue over his lack of empathy regarding his father’s death and you realise just how lonely this young woman really is. Morgana insists Cenred execute the prisoners immediately (see, how can you sympathise with her when she is so despicable?) but Cenred and Morgause want to extract information from the Prince through torture.

With a little help from Merlin, Arthur escapes, rescuing Gwen and Elyan, but heads back to find Morgana. When he does find her, Cenred pretends to hold her hostage until Morgeuse materialises and casts a spell which creates a cyclone of fire. Merlin, watching from behind a pillar, casts a spell of his own, throwing the flames back at all three of them and knocking them unconscious. Arthur goes to Morgana’s aid, much to Merlin’s chagrin. She feigns an injury so she can check whether Morgeuse has survived or not, but Arthur throws her over his shoulder and they escape.

This season so far has been uneven, if we’re being honest. The Castle of Fyrienworked because the episode focused on the themes of secrecy and family, and was far more satisfying than the previous episode because it gave all the cast something to really sink their teeth into. Especially Angel Coulby and Bradley James, who have great screen chemistry. But their story – although engaging – is secondary to the Morgana/Morgause plot and with Emilia Fox returning next week, it looks like their nefarious schemes are far from over…

According to the Den of Geek review of The Eye of the Phoenix:

This week’s instalment of Merlin is a rollicking good adventure, steeped in Arthurian lore, black magic, Gywverns and Destiny, and is bolstered by some fantastic performances from the cast.

Following a night of transcendental meditation, Arthur comes to the decision to go on a quest to The Perilous Lands, a decimated and dangerous wasteland presided over by an ancient sorcerer called The Fisher King. At first, Merlin attempts to discourage the Prince from carrying out such a potentially fatal mission, but Arthur is determined to do it, and no heckling from Merlin is about to stop him.

Of course, the vile Morgana soon learns of Arthur’s decision, and meets with a heavily disguised Morgause in the market square (who has obviously taken some tips from The Queen in Snow White), who gives Morgana The Eye of The Phoenix. That just happens to be an enchanted bracelet which, if worn too long, will drain and eventually kill the person who is wearing it. She wastes no time in delivering this gift to Arthur with kind wishes, but Gwen, who caught Morgause’s reflection in a mirror earlier (mirrors are apparently immune to he trickery of magic), is growing more and more suspicious of Morgana.

When Arthur is about to embark on his quest, Merlin spots the bracelet and wonders where it’s came from, Arthur proudly declares that it was a gift from the witch. Merlin discovers exactly what this ‘gift’ will do, and decides to follow Arthur, allying himself with the warrior Gwaine. The triumvirate are described later in the episode as “courage, magic and strength” by a magic dwarf, who guards the bridge to The Dark Tower.

Back in The Citadel, Gwen comes to Morgana’s room and almost catches her using magic. A furious Morgana screams at her maid to get out, momentarily letting the mask slip. The following day, Morgana is back to her usual sweet self, and offers Gwen some time off. Gwen plays along and hides in her room until she returns, and discovers that Morgana means none of them any good. It’s an interesting decision by the creators: Morgana is getting sloppy and finding it hard to paper over the cracks in her façade. Meanwhile, Gaius, Merlin and Gwen are all aware of her true nature, but who will be the one to stop her?

A foreboding, atmospheric and beautifully shot episode in all here, which leaves me in no doubt that the battle ahead for Merlin is going to be a difficult one. There are some superb set-pieces, most notably the King Fisher’s throne room, and a wonderful and poignant scene between Merlin and the ancient king (it’s a marvellous choice to cast genre favourite Donald Sumpter), who tells the boy wizard that this is not Arthur’s quest, but his. Their exchange is heartfelt, and ultimately raises many questions as we hurtle towards the season finale.

The Fisher King tells Merlin that at a pivotal moment he will “…save her…” So could he bring Morgana back from the dark side, or has she become too infected with bloodlust? Personally I’m with the latter. I doubt she’ll ever be the same again. Unless she is under one of Morgause’s spells, which to be honest would make me crazy.

In my humble opinion this has been the strongest line of the series to date, with the creators utilising location, story and characterisation to magnificient effect. And all of this is seamlessly tied in with the overall narrative arc of the season. This stands out as the strongest episode of this run.

As the mood of the show becomes bleaker, I can’t wait to see what devastation comes out of Morgana’s frustration at constantly being bested by Merlin. Will she discover The Boy Wizard’s true identity, and if so, what will happen? Onwards…

According to the Den of Geek review of The Coming of Arthur, Part One:

So, the season finale is upon us and Morgana’s greatest day is at hand. The Cup of Life (last seen in the season one finale Le Morte d’Arthur) has somehow fallen into the hands of the Druids since Merlin’s battle with Nimueh, and they use its powers to revive Sir Leon after Uther’s men are ambushed and slaughtered by King Cenred.

Sir Leon returns to Camelot and tells Uther that the Cup is still in existence. A panic-stricken Uther sends Arthur and Merlin to retrieve it. If a weapon like it was to fall into the wrong hands “Camelot would be all but lost.”

Morgana learns of their plans and talks to Morgause, who decides to ally herself once more with Cenred and use his resources and manpower to get it by whatever means necessary.

Arthur and Merlin are captured by a slave trader and are reacquainted with Gwaine. Unfortunately, Gwaine and Arthur are forced to compete in a brutal pit fight to the death, but the boy wizard has some sly pyrokinetic tricks up his sleeve and the triumvirate quickly escape.

Once they find The Druids whereabouts and make sure the Cup is in safe hands, they head back to Camelot. They are ambushed by Cenred’s soldiers and Arthur is wounded with a poison dart. Merlin tries and fails to get the Cup and it is soon in Morgause’s hands.

Morgause wastes no time in making an immortal, unstoppable army who march toward Camelot. She also wastes no time in betraying Cenred and having him executed. The army leaves a trail of carnage in their wake and a pleased Morgana tells Gwen she will be spared if she remains loyal to her.

With the poison working through Arthur’s system and Merlin’s attempts at reviving him failing, Camelot falls. They make it back, but realise they’re too late and there is nothing they can do but run. Arthur chooses to stay and fight, while Gwaine and Elyan take Gaius to safety. The boy wizard stays by Arthur’s side.

Uther is brought to the throne room and tells Morgause she cannot do this, that she has no right to the throne, and Morgana emerges from the shadows. She spitefully tells Uther she knows he is her father and her deception is revealed. Uther is lost for words and Arthur and Merlin helplessly look on as Morgana is crowned queen.

This episode was by far the best of the season, with multiple betrayals, a pace which never slowed down, and villains who finally revealed different facets of their characters.

Morgana’s bargain with Gwen offered us a glimpse of the woman she once was. I am under no illusions that even though Morgana has been crowned queen, Morgause is the real leader now and the new order in Camelot will be anything but a peaceful one.

Katie McGrath was given very little to do in the first part, though I expect that will change come next week. Emilia Fox shined in her occasionally flamboyant performance as the duplicitous witch, and it’ll be exciting to see where her character goes next.

Next week’s teaser promises The Round Table, the Lady of the Lake, Excalibur and an epic battle between Morgana and Merlin. Who will be left?

According to the Den of Geek review of The Coming of Arthur, Part Two:

The finale, then.

Morgana and Morgause have seized complete control of Camelot, while Merlin, Arthur, Gwaine and Gaius hide in the woods, defeated and alone. Sir Leon and the Knights refuse to swear allegiance to the new Queen and, if they don’t, the citizens of the city will not yield to her.

In a quietly breathtaking opening scene, Morgana has all the Knights lined up before a death squad. The Knights defiantly await execution only for the archers to turn their attention on the innocent crowd of women and children and open fire.  This was one of the moments during the episode when I knew that, wherever this story was going, it would be somewhere completely unexpected.

Something I never thought I would do was sympathise with Uther, but the writers have imbued the character with multiple layers. Maybe next season he’ll return to the tyrant we’ve seen so far, though I doubt it. Watching him looking on defenceless as bodies are removed from the castle ground and Morgana taunting him was devastating and utterly bleak and Anthony Head should be applauded for his portrayal of a grief-stricken, broken man who has been betrayed by the daughter he genuinely loves. I got the impression that perhaps now Uther will see the error of his ways?

It is Gwen who helps Sir Leon escape Morgana’s clutches and go in search of the others. But Morgause is one step ahead of her and uses a tracking potion so they can follow and eliminate her enemies.

Gwen is reunited with Arthur and they manage to evade Morgause and her men only to be trapped in a rock slide. Fortunately, Lancelot and Percival have heard word and come to their aid. They retreat to some caves where Merlin attempts to get some shuteye, only for him to accidentally break the vial of water given to him by the Fisher King. All is not lost, however, when he receives a vision of Freya and she tells him to go to Avalon and retrieve Excalibur. That this is the only way to defeat Morgana’s immortal army and save Albion.

Arthur makes a decision to knight Gwaine, Percival, Elyan and Lancelot, and so the Knights of The Round Table are formed in a well directed scene which is touching and moves the show out of familiar territory and brings it somewhere completely new.

The Knights, Gaius and Merlin return to Camelot to battle the wicked sisters and their army of immortals. Lancelot and Merlin quickly make it to the room where The Cup of Life is being guarded by half a dozen men. The men are easily despatched with one strike of the magical sword, but Morgause shows up and a battle between her and Merlin begins.

Gaius intervenes just as she is about to take the boy wizard out, only for the witch to turn her attentions on the old man. But Merlin throws her against a pillar, killing her. The Cup is destroyed and the soldiers vanquished. A distraught Morgana cradles her dead sister in her arms, and with the full force of her magic, brings an avalanche of rocks down on herself as Merlin and Gaius escape.

It was a fitting end to Morgana’s ruthless reign. even if she wasn’t found amongst the rubble. I sincerely doubt there will be as much emphasis on her character next year. Whether Emilia Fox’s character is dead or not remains to be seen. This reviewer certainly hopes not.

An episode which introduced new characters and brought back old ones in such a short running time could have been a monumental failure, but everybody was given something to do which gave the entire episode a speedy momentum.

There probably should have been a bigger confrontation between Merlin and Morgana, but I expect they’ll meet again next year. I’m glad the show has been renewed, even if it is at a reduced ten episodes.

Perhaps the creators will concentrate more on the myths of the show and spend less time on tongue in cheek, run of the mill standalones. I, for one cannot wait to see what they have lined up for us next year. Overall, a great season!

The Worst:

Goblin’s Gold, and Love in the Time of Dragons

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The next in best and worst is Series 2.

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2 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Merlin: Series 3

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Merlin: Series 2 | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Merlin: Series 1 | The Progressive Democrat

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