After the best part of a series, Mordred finally goes Dark Side – all for the love of a not-so-good woman. The Mordred story has been drifting around the foreground of series five from the very beginning, keeping the audience unsure of his true motive. Quite often we were left on Gaius’ side, as he worries that Merlin is becoming unhealthily obsessed with a man who’s done nothing to warrant his mistrust, apart from appear in the odd prophesy. Well, it turns out Gaius was right – Mordred was loyal to Camelot and Arthur. But when an unfortunate chain of events puts his radicalised childhood sweetheart in Arthur’s path, Mordred is pushed to breaking point – and the producers finally remember that Mordred is supposed to be bloody powerful. It felt like the entire series had been building up to Mordred blasting his cell door off his hinges with a furious scream.
Alexander Vlahos has been an interesting addition to the cast, but he stepped it up this episode. He was excellent, deftly portraying Mordred’s conflicting loyalties and his desperation to save the woman he loves despite clearly not agreeing with her particular brand of druid terrorism. Having Mordred finally turn into the bad guy just because of a dead girlfriend seems like a bit of a cop-out (him being driven evil by Merlin’s unrelenting suspicions would perhaps have been the neater, and more tragic, solution), but Vlahos sells it as well as it could be. Whose heart didn’t break for the poor bloke as he pleaded with Arthur for Kara’s life? It also led into the scene that we were all dying to see: Mordred telling Morgana that Merlin is Emrys. That sets up the two-part finale very nicely.
As usual, Merlin has been proven right, and as usual he doesn’t look happy about it. He came round to Mordred’s side just a few moments too late, eventually recognising the fact that Mordred isn’t doing anything that he hasn’t done a hundred times before. There’s a nice parallel drawn between Merlin and Mordred – after all, back in series two Merlin himself tried to smuggle a dangerous druid girl out of Camelot. Perhaps if Merlin had had someone watching him like a hawk and reporting his actions to the King, he’d have resorted to the same actions Mordred took.
Ultimately, though, it was Arthur who unwittingly sealed Mordred’s fate by showing Kara leniency too late. Credit to Bradley James for making Arthur believable as the wise King of legend, in an episode in which he’s also calling Merlin a head louse. The way Arthur deals with Kara is absolutely spot on. Every major character finds themselves caught between a rock and a hard place in this episode, sympathising with the complaints of the druids but unable to condone their actions, trying to save Mordred even when his actions have backed him into a corner. James and Vlahos have given Arthur and Mordred’s relationship real warmth across the series, so watching that all fall apart despite their best efforts is genuinely moving. The whole episode had an awful feel of inexorable fate about it.
So the battle lines have been drawn, and we’re at the point the show was always heading towards: Morgana and Mordred versus Merlin and Arthur. We’re into the final stretch now – who will be left standing? If they stick to legend, neither Arthur or Mordred walk away from the battle of Camlann (Morgana’s fate varies wildly in different versions of the story). But will the family-friendly Merlin go for such a brutal ending?