TV REVIEW Merlin puts on a dress in order to help Arthur free Gwen from Morgana's evil brainwashing.
Merlin 5.09 "With All My Heart" [REVIEW]
5.09 "With All My Heart"
Writer: Richard McBrien
Director: Alice Troughton
THE ONE WHERE Arthur learns about Guinevere's treachery and, on Gaius's advice, kidnaps her and takes her to a sacred lake in order to break the spell. Merlin pretends to be an old woman so he can help.
VERDICT So that was the resolution of the Evil Guinevere mini plot arc? I'm glad it's over so Camelot's story can move forward and in many ways tonight's episode was exciting with a couple of terrific performances. But it tries far too hard to be "fun" ( enough with the comedy music please! ) and it fails to satisfy logically, forcing our heroes to act in odd ways depending on the needs of the scene.
Perhaps knowing that the audience has been waiting for a big reveal, the episode refuses to do the expected. We learn that Merlin has told Arthur about Gwen's treachery in the first few moments (hell, it was in one of the BBC's promo clips ) and it's a dark, tense little scene. About 14 minutes in it looks like Gaius is going to reveal that Merlin is Emrys but instead he says, "I have chosen... a woman!" These moments actually give the episode some momentum - with the threat of revelation removed we can sit back and enjoy seeing how things unfold. In the past we've been frustrated that Arthur and Gaius don't listen to Merlin despite our hero uncovering a million plots in Camelot - this time, though, there's no messing about; everybody believes Merlin right from the start. And when Merlin is concerned that somebody is watching them and Arthur says "One of your funny feelings again?" that's clearly enough for him this time. A small but significant sign of Merlin's continuing growth in Arthur's esteem?
And yet later Arthur completely forgets that the Dolma is supposed to have taken Merlin hostage! It's bizarre that one minute Arthur would be prepared to literally leap off a cliff in search of his fallen friend, but half an hour later doesn't even notice he's not there. The showrunners are obviously playing it for laughs at this point, but it just comes across as random and unnecessary. There are other examples of this. One minute Arthur is entrusting Merlin with drugging the queen, the next he's putting in his place ("you're the servant!"). It could just be meant as examples of the comfortable banter between the two of them, but other characters suffer convenient memory loss too: when Mordred confronts Morgana she says, "My quarrel isn't with you Mordred!" Really? He stabbed her in the back and left her for dead then joined her sworn enemies on the Round Table, didn't he? That's cool now, is it? Meanwhile old Emrys, a character played for laughs the last time we saw him, is as serious as a schoolmaster when he confronts the Dochraid - he resorts to swordplay instead of sorcery and gives the old crone a couple of flesh wounds. Am I the only one who thought it was out of character for Merlin to respond so aggressively? Especially to somebody of the Old Religion, former ally of Morgana or not.
And part of the inconsistency this week comes from the mixed attempts at comedy. Gwen falling face first into a plate of bread seems out of place in a plot that is otherwise so dark. And then there's Merlin as Dolma, the sorceress. It's a funny idea, I guess, and it's important to recognise Colin Morgan's great voice acting, but this ancient sorceress shtick borders on parody. Merlin dragging up and sweeping his hair out of his eyes from time to time feels very pantomime. And is anybody there really falling for it? When he disguises himself as Emrys at least he has a beard to help the deception. Dolma just looks like Merlin in a black dress.
But Dolma does give Arthur a nudge towards reconsidering the role of magic. In an episode where Arthur has already accepted, while plotting with Gaius, that sometimes you need to fight sorcery with sorcery, it's significant that Arthur opens his ears to the idea that magic can be used for good.
GUEST STAR LITE You've got the Dochraid again, but there are no new guest stars this week - looks like the showrunners spent all the budget on location, Aithusa the dragon and Merlin's makeup. Okay, perhaps not much on Merlin's makeup.
THE END Unless you've been living in a cave like the Dochraid, you'll have heard by now that it's official: Merlin finishes for good at the end of this series. Despite earlier optimism , it was confirmed this week that the show is wrapping up after December's two-part conclusion. Here are a couple of links you should probably check out for more info:
That means there are just four further episodes left for them to wrap up the entire story. We're promised "a spectacular finale" and we can assume it involves the fight between Mordred and Arthur prophesied in " Arthur's Bane (Part 1) ". This week's conclusion of the Traitor Gwen arc points us back on track but there still seems like a lot of character development required before we reach a satisfying conclusion. Feel free to speculate in the comment thread below about what needs to happen. And in the meantime, if you're already anticipating withdrawal symptoms remember there's an official Facebook Merlin game you can join . Trailer here:
THE TITLE As explained 36 minutes in, the title "With All My Heart" is a reference to how Gwen replied when Arthur suggested they get married. It becomes a magic spell here to reach the undamaged part of her.
SPELLING TEST I wish their offensive spells were more than just the familiar air punch. Why don't they cast lightning or fire or do a Force choke or something more often?
HERBALISM 101 Our anti-Gwen conspirators use "tincture of belladonna " which Merlin describes as a "powerful and dangerous drug". Yep, this is better known as Deadly Nightshade ( atropa belladonna ) and is one of the most toxic plants in the world. Stay clear.
INFLUENCES At the start of the series, with all the snow and multiple viewpoints, people were worried that Game Of Thrones might be an influence on Merlin . But this recent run of Brainwashed Gwen episodes mean I suspect the showrunners have actually been watching Homeland .
Arthur: "Why would a recluse want to be paid in clothes?"
Merlin: "I don't know – she's a sorceress, she's not going to be normal is she?!"
NITPICK Why doesn't Mordred recognise what the path-side banners are? Merlin explains they mark the way for pilgrims of the Old Religion - but Mordred should know this stuff, he is a druid himself and grew up among them, raised by druid master Cerdan.
SLASH BAIT There's a growing connection between Mordred and Arthur isn't there? "I just wanted you to know I'm always at your service," says the lad. Could that frostiness around the campfire be caused, in part, by jealousy? Arthur seems to favour Mordred and Merlin doesn't like it. Although surely Merlin can't doubt Arthur's affection for him when he leapt after him over the cliff (see above). As an aside, I very briefly imagined something between Gwen and Percival: "I don't always wish to be 'your highness' Percival..." she says as they meet after dark.
A LITTLE DVD COMPETITION Let's see who's reading this far. I just so happen to have a brand new copy of this three-disc Merlin Series Five DVD box set. It's volume one, so it contains episodes one to six from this series, plus audio commentaries with cast and crew, deleted scenes and out-takes. It's available for about £14 on Amazon right now , but I'll give this one away free to one of this week's commenters. When you comment on this episode, below, at the end make sure you include a note that you've seen this and you want to be considered for the DVD. I'll pick what I think is the best comment during the week and dispatch this to that person. (Usual competition T&Cs apply, free to enter and no purchase necessary, my decision is final, and all that; I'll announce the lucky winner in next week's review. NB My thumb is clumsily covering it in the photo, but just so you know this DVD's age certificate is 12.) Get commenting!
THE LEGEND Today's quest takes them to the Cauldron of Arianrhod. Arianrhod is a Celtic figure from Welsh mythology, featuring in the Mabinogion . Some sources cast her as part of the Triple Goddess (in Merlin , that's the druidic deity served by the Disir and Morgana).
MORE IN PRINT Free Merlin postcards! New interview with Colin Morgan and Bradley James! Yes, if you want something else to read this week, why not pick up SFX magazine's new TV special ?
Arthur: "Merlin, you know what happens if you drop her."
Merlin: "I know, I lose my head."
Arthur: "So we're clear."
Dave Bradley @SFXDaveB
Merlin airs on Saturday nights on BBC One in the UK. It comes to the US on Syfy in 2013.