Merlin and Arthur set out to cure Gwen’s brainwashing, with a good old fashioned quest! This week the producers wisely dispensed with any scenes of Merlin trying to persuade Arthur that Gwen has been corrupted, and instead got that out of the way in the pre-credits teaser. Earlier series of the show would have had Merlin agonising over how to make Arthur believe him for a good couple of episodes before doing something. And, admittedly, it has taken him a couple of episodes to tackle the Gwen problem, but that wasn’t out of fear of Arthur not believing him – it was because he was hoping to deal with it himself.
But once this episode got going, it moved quickly. Merlin (in his Emrys disguise) beat up an old woman to get the information he needed about how to cure Gwen (ah, she was a mean sorceress, she deserved it), and him and Arthur set off on a quest with the unconscious Gwen, with Mordred tagging along. It’s increasingly hard not to see Mordred, Merlin and Arthur’s relationship as some sort of bizarre love triangle, with Merlin jealous of the new magic-using man in Arthur’s life, but actor Alexander Vlahos gives Mordred enough ambiguity to keep the threat he poses alive. The scene where he knocked Morgana out, moments after claiming that she was too powerful for him to take on, was very nicely played. Did he just get that hit in because she was distracted, or is Mordred far more powerful that he’s been letting on? And why did he follow Arthur and Merlin in the first place?
This episode had a surprisingly comical tone, indicated from the moment Gaius promised Arthur a female sorceress and Merlin started accessorising with his goth dress. Considering that the mission they were on could’ve killed Gwen, Arthur and Merlin were in remarkably high spirits, bantering about carrying heavy objects. It all culminated with the bizarre sight of Merlin as an (unusually flirtatious) old woman. With this show, you’ve just got to go with it. And, to be fair to him, Colin Morgan plays a rather excellent woman. It’s just that perhaps the Merlin-as-old-woman story could have been used in a less serious episode. That said, we haven’t had any fun episodes this year, so it was good to have something to laugh at.
This episode sees the end of the Evil Gwen plotline, and now that it’s at its end we can see that... it didn’t contribute anything. It’s just been padding out the story for three weeks. Which makes me wonder whether the producers really knew from the start that this would be the final series? Surely they wouldn’t have wasted their time on such a pointless storyline if they knew that this was the end? I’d have rather they used the time to give us a Gaius episode (who’s been sorely underused this year, although he got some good material this week), and perhaps a one-off Evil Gwen episode (who am I to deny the world Angel Coulby’s Heaving Bosom of Evil?)
Many people have speculated that Arthur has known all along that Merlin has magic, and he’s just waiting for him to come clean. Arthur’s “you look familiar” reaction to Old Woman Merlin perhaps indicated that he’s known the truth all along and is encouraging Merlin to just drop the act. Personally, I don’t think Arthur knows. They’ve been in trouble so often that he would have ordered Merlin to do magic to save them by now. Plus, “Arthur, I’m a sorcerer.” “Yeah, I know,” doesn’t make for a dramatically satisfying finale.
It might seem like I’m being harsh on this episode. If perhaps it didn’t take the resolution of the Evil Gwen story particularly seriously, then that’s fine. As it turns out, it wasn’t a serious plot in the first place. It gave rise to some great performances from Coulby, but that’s about it. But this episode had a lot to enjoy: Merlin and Gaius as Arthur’s secret council, Mordred manoeuvring into a more integral position, a nice moment of doubt from Morgana about the lack of love in her life, some dragon action, and Colin Morgan as a woman. Now that Gwen is restored, hopefully the series can pick up the pace as we hurtle towards the grand finale.