Under the influence of evil magic, Merlin tries to kill Arthur...
4.06 "A Servant Of Two Masters"
Writer: Lucy Watkins
Director: Alex Pillai
THE ONE WHERE Morgana inserts a "fomorroh" inside Merlin that renders him her murderous puppet. With Gaius's help, he returns and battles her in his Emrys disguise.
VERDICT Assassination, brain slugs, magic battles... what's not to like? The episode benefits from an entertaining mix of light and dark - I'm not sure I've ever seen attempted regicide played for laughs before.
Colin Morgan does a superlative job of playing "bad Merlin". His voice and manner (including his rudeness and his dismissive comments) are excellent. Look closely at the expressions on his face, for instance, when discussing the crossbows - it's Merlin but it isn't Merlin; it's sinister but it's also funny. Is it my imagination or does his accent even sound a little off when he delivers throwaway lines like, "You never know when you might need to kill someone"? There are chills here - particularly when we realise that Merlin has not been cured - but also elements of pure farce such as the failed crossbow and bathtub traps. "Lucky for us you're such a bad assassin!" chuckles Gaius. I admire the ability to get both tension and gags out of this situation.
Merlin's use of magic seems curiously erratic this week. He uses his power to defend Arthur at the start, and later as Emrys he engages in a spell-flinging session with Morgana, but for some reason he is unable to defend himself when he's attacked. And he seems to forget he can use magic altogether when he sets about killing the king.
But we'll happily surrender that to the needs of the plot, especially since his appearance as old Emrys in the last half of the story is so badass. He single-handedly takes down four of the knights and then defeats Morgana in a battle of magic. There's a little too much reliance on the wind-punch spell that flings people away, I'd like to see a bit more Sith-style lightning and flames, but the deadly vortex spell is a welcome addition to the repertoire - this is the intimidating, no-nonsense wizard of legend. Having Morgana as a clear out-and-out villain lends the show a very different dynamic from previous series. But is she dead at the end of the episode? Surely not.
TRIVIA The poison aconite, which Gaius rightly points out is known as wolfsbane, is also called monkshood and is a member of the buttercup family. It is very toxic, although in small doses it was used as an anaesthetic right up into the 20th century.
KILGHARRAH LITE A quiet week for John Hurt - there's no sign of The Great Dragon. Him and the new baby Aithusa from a fortnight ago don't get a mention at all.
ARTHUR SHIRTLESS Bradley James gets his kit off a number of times this episode - in bed about 13 minutes in, in his bedroom with Merlin about 22 minutes in, and in front of Gaius and Gwen about 27 minutes in.
SLASH BAIT We've got Arthur carrying Merlin on his back through the forest and then pining for him when he's gone. Later he leaps out of bed saying, "He is my manservant and to be honest I quite like it that way..." Morgana notices that "Arthur's strangely fond of the boy", something we can clearly see in their joyful hug of reunion about 16 minutes in.
INFLUENCE The worm-like creature that's inserted inside a victim in order to influence their behaviour brings to mind the Ceti eels from The Wrath Of Khan . With the injury at the base of the neck there's a whiff of Invaders From Mars about this too.
THE TITLE "A Servant Of Two Masters" is the name of an 18th century comic play by Carlo Goldoni. It inspired the recent National Theatre production "One Man, Two Guvnors" starring James Corden.
RANDOM SHOUTY PERSON Our brief glimpse into the workings of the Camelot kitchens gives us a cook who shouts, "Back to work or I'll be using your face to scrub that pot clean!" I hope we get more of her in future.
Morgana: "We've a lot of catching up to do! After all, I haven't seen you since you condemned my sister to a slow and painful death, thwarted my plans to take over Camelot and forced me to live in a hovel."
Merlin airs on Saturday nights on BBC One in the UK.
Previous Merlin series four reviews:
Merlin "The Darkest Hour" TV Review
Merlin "The Darkest Hour (Part 2)" TV Review
Merlin "The Wicked Day" TV Review
Merlin "Aithusa" TV Review
Merlin "His Father’s Son" TV Review