Can our heroes seal the veil and save Camelot from the Dorocha? [Spoiler warning!]
4.02 "The Darkest Hour (Part 2)"
Writer: Julian Jones
Director: Alice Troughton
THE ONE WHERE The knights travel to the Isle Of The Blessed where a human sacrifice is needed to seal the rift. Meanwhile Merlin recovers from his encounter with the Dorocha, thanks to the water spirits, and Agravaine takes a dislike to Gwen's bolshiness back at Camelot.
VERDICT After last week’s scare-a-thon, the second instalment of this two-parter feels like it’s playing it a bit safer, even with a last minute death. With all the camping and cross-country walking it's like the knights are trying out for their Duke Of Edinburgh award; part one over-did the jump-scares and screaming ghosts, but it at least gave the episode character whereas, although it redeems itself later, this episode flounders at first, taking a good 20 minutes to find its direction. There are character moments here that are genuinely touching, though. Arthur was almost prepared to give up his quest to save Merlin's life; then Lancelot offers to take Merlin to safety despite his vow to Gwen to stick with Arthur. This apparent wavering in commitment shows how respected Merlin has become... even if the drippy spirits of the streams are a convenient deus ex machina to set things back on track. Solves that inconvenient problem of him being nearly killed at the climax of last episode, doesn't it? Though their involvement hints at Merlin's importance, I suppose ("[his] future has been written since the dawn of time"). One highlight of the week is the first appearance of John Hurt's dragon this series. His absence was notable last time and Arthur sprinting from a house into the forest and summoning the dragon to swoop down and save him and Lancelot was fun.
Back at Camelot, Morgana has never been more pantomime. I love Katie McGrath , but with her black eye-liner and baleful plotting against Gwen she all but cackles. "We must make sure she never sees another dawn!" Mwahaha! Agravaine on the other hand is delightfully creepy, and never more so than when he's being on-the-surface pleasant to Gwen - he's like an office manager who invites you to be honest in a meeting then (possibly literally) stabs you in the back.
The episode ends on a moving note: Arthur and then Merlin are both prepared to die but it's Lancelot who steps into the torn veil, fulfilling his promise and saving both of them. The first major character from the legend to die in Merlin , he gets a fitting funeral. But what does that mean for the legend? He'll have to come back from the realm of the spirits at some point, right?
HEAD COUNT At Lancelot's pyre there are 28 knights of the round table standing with Arthur, Merlin and Gwen, plus 132 guards and 36 robed courtiers. Not a bad turn out.
INFLUENCES There's a definite whiff of LA Confidential when Agravaine accidentally reveals he's in league with Morgana by asking if anybody knows Emrys. Rolo Tomassi, boyo?
UTHER LITE Anthony Head, as the weakened king, gets slightly more words than last time, a massive 11 ("Where is Arthur?", "Where is he?" and "When will he be back?").
DID YOU SPOT? Lancelot mentions having to ride through The Valley Of The Fallen Kings. This was first introduced in the third season episode "The Crystal Cave" where Arthur and Merlin were chased into the Valley by bandits and encountered the seer Taliesin in the cave within.
CHARACTER Gwaine's pratfalls are turning him into something out of Monty Python. His random encounter with the bees, his cape flapping around him, is just the start; whether it's him clumsily kicking a skull or mishandling the wildren attack, his smelly socks (which he sets on fire by accident) or his reckless attack on the Cailleach, Gwaine acts like a buffoon this week. Even he says, "Why am I always the butt?"
SLASH BAIT Merlin and Arthur gaze at each other, not knowing quite what to say, when he returns alive. "It's... good to see you Merlin," Arthur finally manages. They should kiss right there, but instead there's just a playful hand round the neck.
TRIVIA Wyverns in Merlin seem to have four legs but in mythology they usually only have two, that's typically what separates them from four-legged dragons. Here they tend to be simply smaller, more wiry versions of dragons. Merlin's dragonlord magic seems to work on them only partially or temporarily.
MERLIN: What is the life of a servant compared to that of a prince?
ARTHUR: Well... a good servant is hard to come by.
MERLIN: I'm not that good.
Merlin airs on Saturday nights on BBC One in the UK.
Previous Merlin series four review:
Merlin "The Darkest Hour" TV Review