What strikes me with all three episodes is that
a) Merlin, who is supposed to be the most powerful warlock of all time, hasn’t used the 3 intervening years to learn anything about magic, anything about druids and anything at all about the ancient legends of Camelot. What’s he been doing for three long years? Darning Arthur’s socks?
King Arthur knows more about magic and the legend of the dark tower than Merlin the would-be warlock does! Yet, Merlin found a secret library full of books about magic and has a dragon at his disposal whom he can ask. Does this make sense?
b) having squandered their chance earlier on in a previous series, when the whole Lancelot/Gwen romance fizzled out and Lancelot got bumped off, the producers were clearly at a loss of what to do with the newly crowned queen. Hey, why not make her evil for a laugh and let her fall into the hands of Morgana? (The Dark Tower, A Lesson in Vengence) Not exactly the most original idea the series has produced so far.
c) as one Twitter fan observed, “Arthur’s Bane” may well turn out to be Merlin himself, since he’s constantly making the wrong decisions (see The Desir). Heart-breaking decisions must be made by Merlin and Arthur that will have far-reaching consequences – for once a well written episode that ticked most of the boxes for me and was immensely thought provoking.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say that the many inconsistencies and illogical plot twists in The Dark Tower and A Lesson in Vengence really got on my nerves. For example, Morgana, who was Uther’s favourite child and lived a pampered existence all her life, is supposed to utterly hate Arthur, so much so, she never stops searching for new and twisted ways to kill him and even goes so far as to turn his own wife against him. Why, what possible reason has Arthur given her for her immense hatred of him? None.
While Uther deserved her hatred, her half-brother’s sole crime seems to be that he’s the heir to the throne. This, my dears, is supposed to be a medieval setting, when girlies like Morgana would have expected to be overlooked when it comes to handing out thrones after daddy’s demise. Not getting the crown handed to her on a silver-encrusted platter was therefore very much an everyday occurrence. Worse, when Morgana had the crown briefly, she didn’t know what to do with it and spend her entire time slaughtering the local population. She sucks at being a ruler and she knows it, so would she go on with this farce?
She is supposed to be a powerful witch, yet every time she plots an attack on Camelot she has to enlist the help of some bloke and his army. Worse, in the latest episode she’s forced to BUY poison at a chemist’s, instead of brewing or conjuring up the stuff herself! Looking increasingly dishevelled and wearing more rags than riches, she’s hardly likely to turn the head of passing kings and princes with a grudge against Camelot, no matter how pretty Katie McGraw might be under all that pale make-up.
Answer: having done away with the original legends that deal with incest and Mordred being Arthur’s and Morgana’s love child, the producers couldn’t think of a plausible plot twist that would have really turned Morgana against Arthur…so they just didn’t bother writing anything and blame Morgana’s hatred of Arthur purely on his refusal to let magic reign in Camelot and on parking his bottom on the throne. Bad writing, guys.
Arthur, who sends out his knights to hunt down every harmless warlock called Osgar, Fritz or Taliesin, does nothing about his murderous half-sister and just lets her get away on every occasion – so, oddly enough, does Merlin, who has been told by Kilgharrah the Great Dragon that he should use every opportunity to kill the damn witch. Why would neither king nor servant even try to hunt her down? Answer: Bad writing, guys.
In The Dark Tower, we see Gwen being held in a room full of mandrake roots (about 100 of them dangling off the ceiling). In a previous series, Uther needed only ONE mandrake root treatment to lose his marbles completely…Uther, a strong, powerful warrior dude struck down with madness after sniffing just one mandrake’s magical odours…and wee little Gwennie needs 100 times that dose? Balderdash!
Having previously established Gwen as this strong, statesman-like ruler who can hold her own during Arthur’s frequent sojourns from Camelot, Gwen’s suddenly shown as this weepy damsel in distress after spending just a couple of days with the mandrakes. Not only does she know her Arthur and his knights will come to her rescue – they’ve done it often enough in the past – she nursed Uther and therefore knows about mandrakes generating hallucinations. Why on earth would she fall for Morgana’s lies? Utter nonsense and really badly written, guys.
Even if we are in a fantasy setting, logical sequences of cause and effect must still apply to the behaviour of our protagonists. Constantly twisting the characters like leaves in the wind from one extreme to the other really doesn’t do it for me and seems to have irritated quite a few critics so far. The whole series seems rushed so the producers can get to the very end of the Arthur legends.
On the plus side, the knights are finally being allowed to speak and get more involved in the story. About time, too!
A Lesson in Vengence was what exactly? Gwen’s taking vengence for what? A misleading title if ever there was one. Beautifully played though by Angel Coulby and Colin Morgan – I am not sure about the constant switch between drama and comedy in this episode, no matter how hilariously funny the scene between Merlin/Dragoon the Great and the dungeon guards was or the kitchen scene between Merlin/Dragoon the Great and the cook.
Some fine comedy moments from Bradley James’ King Arthur (Arthur pretending to remember his wedding anniversary) and finally Eoin Macken’s Gwain and Rupert Young’s Sir Leon get to do some lovely scenes.
On the whole, Colin Morgan’s superb acting stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, even out-acting the Great Richard Wilson himself, but it is not enough to gloss over the inconsistencies, entirely down to some of the writers not doing their job properly.
If I had to give a star rating, I’d give 5 stars to The Desir, and 3 stars each to the other two episodes (but only because young Mr Morgan’s so great in them).
My own Merlin fan fiction will resume next week, when I’ve managed to get my client work out of the way.