Writer: Jake Michie
Director: Justin Molotnikov
THE ONE WHERE The knights fall under the spell of an innocent-looking girl who’s really an evil, magical tentacle-thing.
VERDICT Typical. Our usual Merlin reviewer, David Bradley , goes on holiday for a week so I get the chance to review a show that I’ve been loving all season. And guess what? It’s the weakest, most by-the-numbers episode so far this year.
Honestly, it pains me to have to give it such a low star rating, but “Lamia” – though far from bad - is wearyingly average, with nothing to distinguish it, and reliant on a bunch of tried-and-trusted Merlin tropes. It’s the very essence of filler.
It’s a shame, because, after a mediocre precredits teaser (a villager looks a little bit ill – wow!) there are signs towards the beginning that this might be a pivotal episode, for certain characters at least. Gwen is to the fore for the first time this season, and about time too. Hurrah, you think, finally she’s going to get a story spotlighting her. But no. Despite her rather perfunctory act of bravery at the end, she doesn’t get much to do in “Lamia” other than feed lines to others as usual.
Similarly, the knights may get more screen time, but it’s not a great episode for them, either, because they spend most of the time acting out of character, under enchantment. Isn’t it about time we had a story that gives them a chance to flesh out their characters? This could have been it, but instead the writers opt for yet another tale in which men are tricked into loving an evil monster (there really should be an embargo on evil love enchantments in this show), and all that’s required of the knights is to be a bit grumpy and shouty.
About the only interesting aspect of the episode is Gaius forcing Arthur to take Merlin seriously, and trust him on his mission to the village. But even this plot thread quickly fizzles out as the episode becomes lots of wandering around day-for-night forests and squabbling. Even the dialogue defaults to blandly functional for much of the time, with little of the sparkling wit we’ve been treated to recently. Indeed, the episode seems to be aiming for “dark, forbidding” tone, and that seems to mean a humour bypass. It’s left to the music and direction to inject some atmosphere into the limp plot. The results occasionally feel more pompous than dramatic, as the music reaches an overwrought crescendo when nothing particularly exceptional seems to be happening on screen.
The regulars work hard to keep things watchable. Colin Morgan is a great as ever; you have to love the way his voice subtly drops when he arrives in the village, desperate to be taken seriously. The final scene between Arthur and Gwen is sweet. You have to love Gaius for sticking up for Merlin. And the knights are very convincing as jealous, grumpy, shouty types.
It’s watchable. It’s not awful. It’s entertaining in places. It’s nice to see a bit more of the criminally underused Gwen. But “Lamia” feels a little too much like a season one episode that’s been awoken from suspended animation.
MYTHS AND LEGENDS Lamia is actually from Greek mythology: she was a beautiful queen of Libya who became a child-eating daemon, with the head and breasts of a woman and body of a snake However, in a related tale from Roman mythology, the lamiae were vampires in the form of beautiful women who enticed young men into their arms and fed on their blood.
REFERENCES The scene in which Merlin stumbles across Gwaine going for the call of nature (is Gwaine going for a pee supposed to be a running gag?), Gwaine says, “Slain with a fishing rod? That’s the stuff of legends, eh?” We’re not sure, but this could be a reference to a part of Arthurian legend (well, it’s in Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur , anyway) when Lancelot has to fish Sir Gawain out of a lake. Either that or there’s a deleted scenes in Monty Python And The Holy Grail that we haven’t seen.
Arthur: “So, Merlin, being saved by a woman? That really can’t feel good.”
Merlin: “Feels a lot better than being dead.”
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
Merlin "A Servant Of Two Masters" TV Review
Merlin “The Secret Sharer” TV Review