The Best and Worst of Merlin: Series 2

For previous installments:

 

With the sorceresses, Nimueh, out of the way, this series begins the rise of Morgana being the eventual main foe for the series, through the corruption from her sister, Morgause.

 

The Best:

The Nightmare Begins, The Sins of the Father, The Lady of the Lake, The Witch’s Quickening, and The Fires of Idirsholas

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In small pieces:

  • The Nightmare Begins is when Morgana suspects that she has magic, which eventually leads to her becoming the Arch Enemy of the show;
  • The Sins of the Father introduces Morgause in the show, with clear feminist leanings, but in order to maintain the status quo, her ambition are also a sign of evil intent;
  • The Lady of the Lake is a rather typical Damsel in Distress story (see Feminist Frequency‘s Damsel in Distress series) with the only love interest Merlin ever has
  • The Witch’s Quickening is an interesting story between Morgana, Mordred, and Merlin; and,
  • The Fires of Idirsholas has the return of Morgause trying to take over Camelot, through, you might have guessed, magic.

According to the Den of Geek review of The Nightmare Begins:

Now those of you who have read my reviews of Merlin know that so far, after two episodes of series two, there isn’t much in the way of positives that can be said to recommend the show. From weak scripts to dull and tedious ideas to a cast that really just cannot be bothered, – with even Anthony Head and Richard Wilson not even really trying, it seems – the whole concept on Merlin just seems to misfire on all cylinders. It comes across as really a bit of a dud and an expensive dud at that.

The BBC has put a great deal of money, time and commitment into the show and, as it is airing at the usual Doctor Who slot, the intentions are alike. However, just like Robin Hood, bad casting choices and flawed ideas make for a show that is at times just unwatchable.

So then onto this weeks’ show and for those expecting another round of abuse and contempt from me, be in for a shock, as really this week’s episode wasn’t actually too bad. For a show that is at times the visual equivalent to root canal surgery, this episode was the equivalent of the dentist stopping to change drill bits. You know the pain is coming back but for a few fleeting moments the terror and agony stops.

Moving away from the Merlin/Arthur relationship and the usual by the numbers Merlin saves Arthur with a bit of magic on the sly plot device that has been used week on week, we instead focus on the other members of the cast. Specifically Morgana who, as a character has, until his episode anyway, had little to no screen time this season.

Touched upon last season, it seems that, like Merlin, Morgana has magical powers which are latent in her and a bit uncontrollable. More wild and chaotic than Merlin’s powers, Morgana has little control over what she can do, which is evident in her growing pyrokenetic powers that nearly burn down her own sleeping quarters. Unlike Merlin, Morgana’s powers come from lucid dreams and portents of the future, with visions and seer-like abilities combined with an offensive set of Carrie-like skills.

Confiding in Gaius about her powers, Morgana is given medication to try and stop them, and to also stop Uther from finding out. Having another ‘good’ magic user within court, however, is too much for Merlin, who wants to confide in her and to assist her in using her skills, which, much to Merlin’s disapproval, Gaius decides is a bad idea.

So, as with every episode, when Merlin cannot make up his own mind or deduce a very simple plot device, it’s off to the Great Dragon for a bit of a chat. But for a change the Dragon does not come up with the Macguffin, telling Merlin to do something himself, which in this case is to track down the druids (first seen last series) to see if they can help Morgana out.

With a crackdown in Camelot by Uther, Merlin’s search is made a  lot harder (well, when I say a lot harder, there is a bit of sneaking and hiding behind stuff). And when, eventually, Morgana meets with the druids there is an obvious miscommunication and Uther orders an attack on the druids, whom he think has kidnapped his step-daughter.

With quite a vicious ultimatum, Uther wants Morgana back, not understanding that his wayward ward might have voluntarily disappeared, and via the power of plot exposition it’s revealed that Morgana might, indeed, be a druid and that ‘her people’ have had to flee due to Uther’s degree about magic.

With a showdown between Arthur’s troops and the druid leader Aglain, who is killed in the attack, the battle lines are drawn between magic and non-magic users, while at the same time Mordred is lurking around with the potential to cause a lot of problems in the future.

With a slight adjustment to the status quo, this episode moves things along plot-wise quite considerably, which after the past two weeks’ worth of treading water is a blessing. Morgana is now a fully fledged magic user with both Gaius and Merlin aware of her power, and for the first time it seems that there is actually an overall arc to the season, with some potentially good ideas and plot threads to look forward to if the season pans out well.

Overall, this is not a bad episode, with a few plot twists and the line blurring about who really are the bad guys and good guys. Throw in an unnecessary fight with some giant scorpions for good measure and the usual tedium of the show is lifted to be quite good rather than the usual dire.

The best of the season so far and probably the only episode worth catching up with on iPlayer if you missed it.

According to the Den of Geek review of The Sins of the Father:

Over-arcing stories are not something that Merlin has done successfully. With the suspicion that the average Merlin viewer has the attention span of a goldfish, the writers in the first season, basically, knocked out episode after episode with little in the way of plot development or changing the established status quo. However, with this season, subtle hints, undercurrents of tension and a real aim to deliver a deeper story have all been evident, with the main theme being the breakup of Camelot and a growing tension between Uther and Arthur.

We have seen the tension brewing through the most recent of stories, with Arthur initially disagreeing with some of Uther’s decisions and going as far as to downright refuse to do what he is told. This is not a child being impudent, but rather a growing king questioning a leader who, it seems, is losing the grip on his control of his kingdom.

From the wrong decisions constantly being made by Uther such as his enchantment by the Troll a few weeks ago to the need to bring in a Witch finder, everything he touches turns into the proverbial ‘brown stuff’, and while this is not a pot-shot at own leaders, the similarities to the current leaders are pretty apparent.

With this week’s show, then, we finally see what has been hinted upon over the past few weeks as finally Arthur confronts, and soundly beats, Uther as the father/son relationship climaxes in a duel to the death. And while there are outside factors once again controlling events, really all it takes this week is an emotional nudge to get the tension racked up to boiling point as a beautiful seer, Morgause, plays her hand in an attempt to take out the rulers of Camelot.

It seems that everyone is in the duelling mood this week, as the climax of the episode is triggered by an appearance of a helmeted knight and, taking a nod at the strong female characters in Lord Of The Rings, most notably Miranda Otto’s portrayal of Eowyn. We see that this skilled knight is the seer Morgause whom we saw in the introduction.

Played by the guest starring Emila Fox, the challenging Morgause proves a lot more than she seems, knowing a great deal about Uther, Camelot and the mystery surrounding Arthur’s mother and her disappearance (which is something that has been mentioned in previous episodes but cleverly side-stepped). And by beating Arthur in combat she will seek to gain some control over the affairs of Camelot.

In a bit of a nod to classical Arthurian lore, this episode also lets us get to know Geoffrey of Monmouth, who, for the most part, plays as a scribe and chief administrator to the laws and events unfolding in Camelot.  Stating that there are no regulations to say a female knight cannot challenge a male to a duel, Arthur accepts the challenge laid before him. However, for once it is Uther who is cautious, warning his son there might be a lot more going on.

Attending the duel with his renowned cockiness, Arthur actually loses and by sword point is given a reprieve by Morgause, who states that, to live, Arthur must accept any challenge she puts in his way.

With Merlin trailing, Arthur keeps his promise and meets with Morgause outside of Camelot to accept his fate, while back in the castle, Gaius probes a little deeper into Morgause’s past, finding that an enchanted gift she bestows on Morgana is from the House of Gorlois, the same ancient house that Morgana herself is from. That makes Morgause (surprise!) her sister. Well, actually, half-sister

Gaius then reveals (like he has just remembered) that many years ago he smuggled Morgause out of Camelot as a baby and gave her to the High Priestess of the ‘Old Religion’ for being potentially a magic user.

While this back story is, actually, quite compelling, the way all this info is provided is just daft. ‘Oh sorry, I forgot this really important bit of my life story and only remember it now when it’s needed’ is just lazy writing and very trite. Giving us this info in a clichéd soliloquy is just insulting and undoes all the good aspects, plots and ideas the writers have given us over the past few weeks, which is very disappointing.

Following on from this bit of bad scripting, Arthur conveniently let slip that he has never seen and knows nothing about his mother. Again, this is just plain lazy. Why talk to an unknown character you have just met about your deepest darkest secrets? Please, Merlin writers, come up with something a little better.

Still, this out of character bit of soul baring helps the plot out no end, as Morgause tests Arthur’s word and honour, rewarding him with a visitation from his mother, who, thinly disguised, is I guess supposed to be the ‘lady of the lake’.

Shadowed by Merlin, Arthur finds out that his mother Ygraine was a magic user and that he himself was born of magic. Imbued with this knowledge, Arthur returns to Camelot to confront Uther, leading to the inevitable showdown mentioned before. It is only with the calming influence of Merlin and Gaius that Arthur regains his composure, but more importantly, Merlin lies to his friend, stating that Morgause is a liar, and that the vision of Ygraine was an illusion. A lie backed up by Uther, whose hypocrisy and downright deception is plain to see.

Ironically, we finish the episode with Uther thanking Merlin, stating that in the young man he has found a kindred spirit in the fight against magic. And while Gaius and Merlin discuss that, if events had not been stopped and lies had not been told, Uther would not be alive, much to the dismay of Morgause. She, through her crystal spies, plans to take control of Camelot. For magic has been foiled…

According to the Den of Geek review of The Lady of the Lake:

I know I face accusations that I don’t give this show a fair hearing, as week after week I try and find something nice to say which, more often than not, ends up as a tirade of how lazy the writing is and how low-brow the show is. Admittedly, I enjoyed the last few weeks with mystical ladies of the lakes, warrior women and trolls, but this week’s episode is a huge step backwards in quality, feeling more like a cheap filler episode rather than anything groundbreaking, interesting or, indeed, fun.

While walking home for the evening, Gaius and Merlin walk past a cart on which a large cage is set containing a girl in rags. Much to Merlin’s protest that they should find out about her and why she is in that predicament, Gaius suggests they shouldn’t get involved and that there must be a good reason why she is in the predicament she is in.

And, indeed, he is right. We find that the girl, whom we later learn is called Freya, is a ‘cursed’ magic user who has been exiled from her druid home and caught on the orders of Uther by a bounty hunter who is the polar opposite of everyone’s favourite hired gun, the Fett, being a fat, slovenly pig-like character and, really, not very cool at all. (He hadn’t even got a jet-pack, pah!)

Not wanting Freya to be handed over and executed by Uther, Merlin sneaks out and releases her, and while this is a noble gesture, I am sure that there are other things on his mind as he helps the half dressed nubile young druid escape and hides her in the tunnels below Camelot.

Sensing a kindred spirit, Merlin opens up to Freya about who he is, and the power of magic, showing off a clever trick with some candle flames. Besotted with the young druid, Merlin lies to Gaius about knowing how she escaped and also steals food and belongings from Arthur and Gwen to assist his new friend.

Ignoring all warnings about her and even going as far as to nearly be tortured by the angry bounty hunter, Merlin doesn’t heed anything. Even when Freya herself states she is cursed, Merlin ignores everyone as he falls for her in a romance which is nearly as clumsy as the Padme/Anakin courtship in Star Wars, being as badly written and cringe-worthy as that classic mismatch.

Still lying outright to Gaius, and being all petulant around everyone, Merlin’s teen romance soon comes to an end as Freya does eventually show her true form, and the curse which she describes manifests itself, leaving a trail of dead bodies in its wake as we find that the young magician is actually a shape-changer with the ability to morph into a rather cool looking black panther with wings.

In a pretty impressive piece of CG we see Freya’s bones crack and body change before our eyes into a impressive looking creature. And, while not as hideous as, say, the classic werewolf transformation in American Werewolf, the shape-shift is the most impressive part of the show with the design team using every pixel at their disposal to make a rather good looking creation.

Attacking Arthur and his guards, the were-panther is eventually trapped and injured and it’s only with a quick use of magic from Merlin that the beast escapes. However, mortally wounded and dying, the creature reverts back to Freya, and is eventually found by Merlin as he helps her with her last wish and takes her back to her homeland to lay her to rest in an inappropriate Viking funeral, which is ironic, as she is a druid.

While the visual effects of the creature are impressive, they are used scarcely, with the majority of the episode spent watching Merlin moodily mope around all forlorn and love-sick, being a right moany teenager. And while an adolescent crush is obviously what the writers were trying to achieve, the emotion just isn’t there, as neither Merlin or Freya seem to have any spark or pizzazz in their budding relationship.

As said at the beginning of the review, this seems to be a filler episode with most of the cast having very little to do, with the majority being cameos and replaced by vapid scenes of teen love in tunnels.

Whether this episode was released to coincide with the releases this week of New Moon, or whether it was just lucky that a werewolf-based show happened to be on to appease the tween audience, I don’t know and, frankly, don’t care. It screamed of cheap filler with little or nothing to push the story of Merlin and co forward, with everyone from the screen writers to actors just treading water until the finale of the series.

According to the Den of Geek review of The Witch’s Quickening:

I was looking forward to this episode. Of all the bad guys, monsters and general ne’er-do-wells we have encountered in the series, none have really played out as well as the show’s creepy version of Mordred, a miniature wide-eyed evil counterpart to Merlin, whose destiny (as with the original myths) is to kill off Arthur and destroy Camelot.

The show has successfully touched on the mysterious druids on numerous occasions. The interplay between Mordred, Morganna and the druid mage Alvarr have been some of the strongest stories the series has told, with the idea that wild magic will eventually break Uther’s hold on the repression of magic in the land.

Relationships have been teased at and Morganna’s real allegiances have been tested up until this week, but with this episode we eventually see her take a stance and side as she helps provide the druids with a weapon that can bring down Uther, in the shape of the Crystal of Neahtid.

Hidden away in the catacombs of Camelot, the Crystal is an artefact which we are told is of great power and that many wizards in the past have tried to use it to no avail. With it stolen, Merlin makes the weekly trip to see the Dragon for a bit of plot resolution and info-dumping as we find the crystal’s power is to look into the past, present and future.

With Morganna helping Alvarr to capture it, the Dragon states that Morganna will have little success using it. However, when Merlin explains that it is Mordred that the druids intend to use to control the crystal, the Dragon becomes more concerned.

Importantly, for all this information, the Dragon also reminds Merlin that he still has the wizard’s promise to release him and that time may be soon (with two episodes to go, I guess very soon).

With a chase on, Merlin, Arthur and his knights track down the druids and a race to find the crystal ensues. Not knowing really whose side Morganna is on, Merlin keeps a firm eye on Uther’s ward and when she helps Alvarr escape, Merlin finally decides that Morganna is, finally, in league with Mordred and the druids, who are all are being controlled by Alvarr, using a combination of magic, psychology, guile and charisma to keep these two unstable magic users in his trawl as a malevolent cult leader. A sort of child-friendly, Saturday evening equivalent of Charlie Manson, if you will.

Eventually getting the crystal back after a secret magical battle between Merlin and Mordred, Merlin looks into it, seeing a potential future, a future that has the last Dragon escaping and laying waste to Camelot. This future, it seems, is caused by Merlin and his promise, and while Gaius states that this is only a potential future, it seems that the culmination of all the help and promises made to the Dragon will make this terrible future for Camelot come true.

With Merlin having these worries, on the other side of Camelot the royal family is also about to fall apart as the relationship between Uther and Morganna finally comes to an end with the young sorceress spurning her adopted father and wishing he would burn in hell.

As we finally see Morganna leave and Uther ‘cursed’, the episode finishes in the strongest fashion it has all series long, as the Dragon telepathically contacts Merlin, shouting at him that it is the time the magician has to keep his promise and that he is to free him now.

Impressive, fun and exciting, this week’s show actually provides all the elements needed to make a cracking episode and makes a far better show than the treading water and re-hashed plots we have been provided with over the past few weeks.

With the show’s finale coming up, the culmination of all the exciting plots and positives of the show are coming to fruition. Now, as long as they don’t finish the series with somebody using a love spell to win the day, then we should be in for a treat and a two part finale that will pull the series out of the lull it’s been in recently.

According to the Den of Geek review of The Fires of Idirsholas:

After last week we all know what will happen in the finale of this second series, with (spoilers on) Merlin’s vision of the Great Dragon being released from below Camelot and wreacking havoc on the entire kingdom (thanks to his own bargaining). But until then there are other magical malevolence on the horizon this week as we see the return of Morgause and we finally see the final fate of Morganna.

In a far away part of England lies the ruined kingdom of Idirsholas, a haunted place that has been abandoned for nearly 300 years. However, the kingdom, it seems, is not as deserted as it once was as the evil sorceress/warrior woman Morgause has taken up residence there with the notion of performing a magical ritual, incanting seven dead warriors back to life. Clad in black robes and armour, these dead knights are, or rather were, the very best warriors Camelot had to offer. And now thanks to Morgause these undead warriors are to be used to take back Camelot from Uther.

Cursed by the sorceress Medhir (whom one is to assume has some relationship with Morgause and Morganna), these knights are Morgause’s secret weapon against Camelot. However, her revenge and plan is twofold, requiring the aid of her sister Morganna to come to fruition

As the undead are picking worms from their armour, Morgause visits Camelot, finding Morganna. Morgause gets her to finally confess how much she hates Uther. In professing her hatred for her ward, Morganna’s wild druid magic is used as a catalyst by Morgouse to weave a spell that will enthral all of Camelot.

The effects of this emotive strong spell are felt throughout the kingdom as at first people start getting sick and then fall into a stupor, a deep sleep. This curse of a sleeping kingdom is actually a great nod to the fairy story Sleeping Beauty but, surprisingly for Merlin, it has a very nasty twist.

Tapping into this fairy tale actually works really well for the show and is actually quite inspired. With the Kingdom slowly coming to a halt, with even Uther succumbing to the sleeping illness, and with only Merlin, Arthur and Morganna to stop the invading knights and to try and find a cure, we get some pretty good action and some quite funny one-liners about where they should hide Uther’s body. Merlin’s comment on cushions shows that, at times, the show for all its failings is quite inspired.

However, for all the witty banter we still fall into the same trap with Merlin rushing off to the Dragon for a little magical help. This week, however, things get a little more sinister as, to release the spell and to awaken the kingdom, the magic must be stopped at the source, which is Morganna. And when the Dragon says stop, he means stop…as in to stop completely in the whole being alive way.

So, to save a Kingdom Merlin has to find a way to kill off his friend who has been duped into destroying Camelot by Morgause. Eventually finding a way to trick her into drinking poison, Merlin, who himself is slowly succumbing to the spell, has to sit there and watch his friend slowly die in his arms.

Surprisingly harrowing for a family show, both the slyness by which Merlin kills off Morganna and her cries for help are actually pretty moving and even with everyone recovering a little too quickly, the heartbreak felt by Arthur, Uther and the rest of the cast is pretty well played out.

With Morganna whisked away by Morgause, whom it dawns on has unintentionally killed her own sister, we are left with a situation that was quite surprising but which has been hinted at – the slow crumbling of Camelot and the house of Pendragon.

And talking of dragons, his time is nearly here, as the warriors from Idirsholas fall as the sleeping spell is broken, it seems that, as the warriors were cursed using old magic, the armour and swords of these undead warriors have a unique quality to them and with some enchantment can be used to cut the Dragons bond’s, which Merlin does with dire consequences.

Next week (thank goodness) we reach the end of this season which looks quite interesting as Arthur, Merlin and the kingdom try as much as they can to stop a siege from a very angry Dragon.

Although I hold out some hope the series will end on a high, I am not holding out much hope as even the Christmas edition of Radio Times has started to show its dislike for the series, being sarcastic about next week’s predictability as we are introduced to yet another deux-ex-machina in the shape of a hidden Dragon-Slayer who has a ‘past with Merlin’ My…. I wonder if we will get an Empire Strikes Back moment?

The Worst:

Beauty and the Beast, and The Last Dragonlord

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Briefly:

  • Beauty and the Beast is by far the worst story of the entire series, while also being the first two-part story for the series. The troll who, over an extended period of time, has become Queen of Camelot, eats horse manure. First, this story plays that being a woman who happens to overweight is somehow funny. Second, King Uther Pendragon during this story forces himself sexually onto the troll (out of love) for laughs. Rape is not funny; and,
  • The Last Dragonlord is the last episode before the show becomes darker and edgier. The dragon, Kilgharrah, is delegated to recurring appearances from here, while King Uther is written out of the show in the next story, The Tears of Uther Pendragon.

According to the Den of Geek review of Beauty and the Beast, Part 1:

With an episode entitled Beauty And The Beast, the subject matter of this week’s episode is self explanatory with the writers not even bothering with wry, witty or clever titles and saving all their skills for putting together the first episode in the series I have actually enjoyed.

The reason being is that, for the first time since the inception of the show, Merlin fully embraces that it’s a kids’ fantasy show with monsters, silly stories and daft characters.

Chock full of thinly disguised fart gags, gross creatures and wobbly drool-covered special effects, the episode is in some ways a nod to the Slitheen episodes of Doctor Who, containing all the things that kids like and, as such, works a lot better than the usual plots that take themselves too seriously.

With a spin on the original concept of Beauty And The Beast, (only without talking teapots and candlesticks) the plot focuses on a hideous Troll, played perfectly by Sarah Parish who once again is happy to sit in the prosthetic chair for her art after her performance as the Empress  of the Racnoss in Doctor Who which disguises itself as the beautiful Lady Catrina with the intention to woo Uther.

And, well, plot-wise that’s it. Pretty basic stuff, really, but then there doesn’t need to be anything else; it’s a simple premise that works within the usual Merlin framework  of the ‘more stupid characters don’t believe Merlin or Gaius and then are proved wrong’. But this time revealing the bad guy is a little trickier than usual.

With Lady Catrina and her manservant Jonas getting their feet under the round table of Camelot’s court, both Merlin and Gaius suspect straight away that things are wrong. However, with the help of a beauty potion and an enchanted pendan, the Troll/Catrina completely captivates Uther and, even when Uther states that the two of them are to wed Merlin, is incapable of stopping them. It’s all sort of like Shrek only with thinner and less well acted characters.

Unlike other episodes, Merlin’s magic doesn’t prevail. The usual yellow eye glow and wiggly finger routine is all but useless and having a bad guy that can match him in magic who cannot be defeated in one episode is really something we haven’t seen before.

We even get a bit of double-crossing with a plan that, for the dullards of Camelot is probably the best ‘cunning plan’ ever devised, which is a relief as we have had such basic plotlines over the past few weeks having a character or two with a bit of guile and depth to them is a relief.

With Camelot in trouble, Merlin not being able to counteract the powerful magic and, potentially, the most charismatic and best played character in the show so far (even though they are evil and look like me in the morning) ready to take the throne, we are left with a cliff-hanger and ‘to be continued final’e for next week.

While the episode does not really warrant two parts (that’s one and a half hours worth of TV focusing on a rubbish eating Troll bad guy) it will be worth tuning in to see where they go with this episode and what Maguffin Merlin will use to reveal Lady Catrina’s true form.

Overall, better than usual and actually quite good fun, a new story format and Sarah Parish’s character acting really make this episode.

According to the Den of Geek review of Beauty and the Beast, Part 2:

After last week’s episode that, for the first time since the series started, actually had me enjoying Merlin, it once again delivers on the fun. While this is the first attempt at a two part episode it could be said that the story was drawn out and a little thin on the ground to warrant a two part story. But all is forgiven courtesy of the superb work put in by Sarah Parish whose repugnant Lady Catrina Troll, whose laugh-out-loud lines and mannerisms made what could have been another contrived and basic story into a really great enjoyable episode.

With the cliffhanger from last week focusing on Uther and Lady Catrina finally betrothed and happily married, Merlin and Gaius are at a loss as to prove to Arthur that the new love of his father’s life is, indeed, a troll. And, with strong magic at play in the liquid form of a shape-changing potion and an amulet used by Catrina to confuse Uther’s mind, their job of finally showing Catrina for what she really is proves to be a whole lot more difficult.

With Catrina poisoning Uther’s mind, suggesting higher taxes and gold to fill the coffers, Arthur, too, becomes suspicious of Catrina’s motives and when Uther even goes as far as to change the linage of succession, cutting Arthur out of the line to the throne, he, too, begins to see there is something wrong.

It would have been easy to have just written the story like that, with Arthur finally finding out Catrina was a troll, a bit of fighting ensuing and a finale. However, instead of going the lazy route, which is what has happened in so many episodes in this series, the writers have some fun.

So they have Merlin expose Catrina within the first few minutes of the episode, replacing her transformation potion with a substitute that finally show her true form. The episode has Catrina ripping off doors, sitting on a round table meeting in a pile of dung and, even worse, having a very dubious romantic scene with Uther while everyone in court is able to see her. Uther, still trapped by the amulet and still besotted with her, even goes as far as to promise to cut off courtesans’ heads if anything is said about his new bride.

There is, of course, the obligatory need for assistance from the great Dragon and the usual mystical thing that Merlin needs to do to break the spell, but the generic and mildly dull clichéd ending doesn’t take away from the sight of seeing Anthony Stewart Head in a romantic embrace with a swill-covered monster that has, by far, got to be the best scene of the entire series, as everyone plays things so straight. And while the farts and burps carry on around him, Mr Head does a fantastic job of keeping a straight face in what looks like a really fun scene.

Add to this final revelation that his bride was a troll, plus his conversation with Arthur at the end of the episode when his son wryly asks questions about what was done in the marital bedroom, and we have a real winner of an episode.

And this, it seems, is what makes these past two episodes actually work. They have a sense of fun with the script, crew and, indeed, actors actually having a good time with the work they have been given.

In an episode where the monster is a drooling bag of wind, the situation ludicrous and the entire thing played for humour, the show finally clicks into place and it all works, as a fantasy show that is aimed for kids actually doing what it is supposed to do. It finally shows that Merlin as a show is supposed to be entertaining.

While I’m sure that the rest of the series will live up to the fun heights of this cracking two part episode, we can look forward to Charles Dance next week a Matthew Hopkins- like medieval Witchfinder General.

According to the Den of Geek review of The Last Dragonlord:

Last week’s cliffhanger saw the Great Dragon finally freed from the catacombs below Camelot, with Merlin being the instigator of his release. As you would think, being cramped up below a castle for decades has made the Dragon unhappy. And we meet him this week exacting his revenge on Uther and Camelot as he brings aerial flaming death from above to the kingdom.

Wow, what an opener – an entire episode mirroring the finale siege in Return of the King. This should be good, I figured. We haven’t seen a good Dragon battle on television in my memory, and the idea of a huge military siege, knights, horses, catapults and all manner of medieval weaponry bought on screen to be thrown against a huge fire breathing monster sounds epic. It could have been one of the television highlights of the year.

Alas this was not to be, as after the first assault, Uther is all for giving up, knowing full well that the knights and especially Arthur would be throwing their lives away in trying to tackle the Dragon. All it seems is lost.

Well, it seems to be anyway, until Gaius mentions that all the there is one last Dragon-Lord left, a character called Balinor who Gaius just seems to know a little too much about. Is it me or has Gaius not told Uther a lot of things? He knew Morgause was related to Morganna a few weeks back and forgot to mention it. And this week? He knows there is Dragon-Lord left and knows where to find him. There’s a surprise.

What is even more surprising – or should that be predictable – is that Balinor has a secret relating to Merlin, and it will come as no surprise or spoiler that yup, Belinor is Merlin’s father.

Right – I know this is a kid’s show and I know it’s aimed for an early Saturday evening television for all the family to watch, but good grief. The writing of this show would make primary childrens’ stories penned in their very best orange crayon look strong at times. The stories would be less predictable, that’s for sure.

For I can sum up the rest of the episode in one sentence  – Arthur and Merlin go to find Balinor in a rival kingdom asking for help, he says no, then Merlin says he he is as bad as Uther and ‘oh, I’m your son too’, then he agrees, comes with them and dies in an ambush. A long sentence, granted, but a sentence nonetheless.  Let’s not forget too that on his deathbed Balinor says that Merlin is also a Dragon-Lord too, and has ‘the power’. Merlin, Arthur and some knights then face the Dragon, knights die, Arthur is knocked out and Merlin tells the Dragon in a Dragon voice to go away. The end. Rubbish. Really rubbish.

The episode spends half of its run time with Arthur and Merlin taking cracks at each other and persuading Balinor to come with them, leaving only five minutes left to face the dragon, which then rolls over easier than a boxer in a rigged boxing match.

The entire season has been leading up to this quest, and the myths surrounding dragons and the whole notion of Dragon-Lords and the magic of the kingdom are all just hinted at. It’s so rushed, you wonder if it should have been a two-parter. Instead, Merlin and Arthur find Balinor at the first attempt, and even before you get to the Empire Strikes Back father/son moment, Balinor is worm food, and Merlin shows all the emotion of a plank at the reunion with his father, and his sudden death.

Even the finale and final showdown with the Dragon is underwhelming, apart from making KFC out of some unnamed Knights which is quite fun to see. It’s not helped that it’s only Merlin’s grown up voice that he has had all along that tames and controls the dragon, making the entire quest for Balinor and his eventual death pointless and unnecessary. Whether the writers ran out of time, the effects guys ran out of budget or the editors thought it would be a good idea to have a battle that lasts only a minute against the main protagonist for the entire show would be a good idea I don’t know.

Think about it, it’s like watching Doctor Who with the Daleks being scuppered at the end by a Chinese burn as the credits roll, Mr Fantastic getting Dr Doom in a headlock with added noogies until he submits or Luke Skywalker defeating Darth Vader after three films by telling him off and sending him to bed with no tea.

Surely the golden rule is that you don’t ever, ever scrimp on the finale of anything? This is what people have been waiting for, the ‘money shot’ if you will, the bit where good defeats evil and gives it s damn good spanking and such. After 13 weeks of Merlin, we get just a damp squib of an ending, leaving the series on a low.

Its been noted that there is a third season of Merlin to come next year. Please BBC (and more specifically Shine, the production company behind it) look at what you have. You are re-writing British legends for a new audience, playing about with the myths and legends that has been instilled through generations, using classical characters and stories that are part of our heritage.

Please stop writing for the lowest common denominator – people aren’t daft, kids are a lot more intelligent then you think, they can follow more well rounded characters and more than one basic plot line. Go on, add bit of depth to the show as really another series having to endure these wafer thin plots, two dimensional characters and cop-out ridiculous endings will be just too much for this reviewer, and many others, to endure…

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The next in best and worst is Series 1.

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One thought on “The Best and Worst of Merlin: Series 2

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

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