In this water-treading episode, Gwen continues plotting Arthur’s death while Merlin is conveniently out of the way, having been lured into a trap by Morgana using his weakness for Druid boys (teehee).
Nothing happened in this episode that wasn’t covered in the previous episode – yet again Gwen and Morgana are plotting against Arthur (although they both seem to think that the end result will be themselves getting crowned Queen of Camelot...) while Merlin wonders if he should perhaps deal with the evil queen that keeps trying to kill his mate.
Angel Coulby continues to deliver a compelling performance as Evil Gwen (she’d have made an interesting Morgana). Her scenes with the Sarrum are a particular highlight – they almost come close to adult political intrigue, demonstrating just how far the show has come from the early episodes of love spells and Monsters of the Week. All the political players have motivations of their own, including Arthur who is a mature and complex enough character these days to realise that treaties with war criminals might occasionally be necessary.
The episode also told us who locked Morgana and Aithusa up in a pit – it was the Sarrum. Sadly, the reveal ended up being a bit of a disappointment, with the Sarrum dying before Morgana could confront him. Her delivery of asking Gwen to make sure his final moments are agonising almost makes up for it, but ultimately it was a lame resolve to a plot line that could have given Morgana the depth that, let’s face it, she’s lacking at the moment. Instead, it seems to only have been used as an explanation as to why she didn’t manage to enact all these schemes against Camelot in the three-year gap between series’.
Where this episode was truly interesting, though, was in looking at how Arthur and Merlin deal with being separated. As Merlin is poisoned and lies dying in the woods (with the help of the treacherous not-a-druid boy), Arthur is left on his own, wondering who’s going to dress him. While Arthur gets a hilarious (if completely unbelievable) scene of Gaius attempting to dress him in Gwen’s nightie (and Bradley James clearly embraces the now-rare opportunity for some comedy), Merlin gets to be a bad-ass. Arthur clearly can’t cope without Merlin, who he relies on almost totally, but Merlin can cut loose away from Arthur. He doesn’t have to play the buffoon. Instead we see him give instructions on how to save his own life and hold off an entire band of bandits without lifting a finger. His snarled “I don’t need a sword” might just be his coolest moment in five years. Not only that, but he manages to return to Camelot with a gaping leg wound just in time to save Arthur. Guy has skills.
It emerged this week that the current series of Merlin will be the last – it will be bowing out with a two-part series finale. This means that all bets are off. I wish they’d announced that at the beginning of this series, as it would have given the various fights and confrontations more weight. The end is nigh – these characters could die at any time. We can no longer bet on Gwen being ‘cured’ of the malign influence Morgana has on her. The Knights could be cut down at any moment. Merlin can have a proper fight with Morgana. And Arthur will finally discover Merlin’s magic. Knowing that all that is on the horizon certainly makes me more excited about the final five episodes of this series. But it doesn’t change the fact that this episode was essentially covering the same ground as episode seven, and they can’t afford to waste episodes this late in the day.