TV REVIEW It's the beginning of the end as a druid rebel divides the court.
Merlin 5.01 "The Drawing Of The Dark" [REVIEW]
Merlin 5.11 "The Drawing Of The Dark"
Writer: Julian Jones
Director: Declan O'Dwyer
THE ONE WHERE Mordred turns to the dark side because Arthur hangs the love of his life.
VERDICT Even though the whole set-up at Camelot is preposterous, I still enjoyed this episode overall. It has great atmosphere and momentum - but Mordred's descent into evil is too rapid and it happens because of a dead lover; I would have preferred it to spring from the long-simmering mistrust between him and Merlin. I was hoping that secretly he was harbouring some druidic plan, but no: he was a genuine good guy until his childhood sweetheart tries to kill the king. Feels like a bit of a cop out.
And then there's the whole conundrum of Arthur being the enemy of the druids in the first place. Sure, he told the Disir that he wouldn't authorise magic in Camelot... but we haven't actually seen him commit any of the same atrocities as his father - in fact, this series we've seen him rescue a woman who was going to be burned by the public; he tells Dolma that he will consider accepting magic; he makes druid Mordred a knight of the Round Table; he's openly used magic to save Gwen and made it clear that his problem with magic is only when Morgana uses it for ill. This episode he tries his best to be merciful, offering Kara a chance to save herself - and as he clearly states, she wasn't on trial for being a druid, she was on trial for murder. Arthur is at great pains to point out that "I have no quarrel with the druids" and that he's always thought of them as peaceful. So where, exactly, is Kara's evidence that her people are under threat from him?
These nitpicks aside, however, it's a well-crafted, moving, tense episode that sets us up for a gripping end to the series. Alexander Vlahos as Mordred is wonderful in this episode. The confrontations with Merlin ("Everything I do you think the worst!") are gloriously tense and you sense the frustrations that have been building between them since "Arthur's Bane", but his performance goes up a notch again when he's trying to reconcile his love of Kara with his service to Arthur. He seems genuinely horrified when Kara - portrayed as quite a vicious character, presumably so that the audience don't sympathise with her too much - slashes a guard's throat with a dagger. And you can't help but be moved by Mordred crying in his cell as Kara is hanged - moments before he blows the doors of in a pretty powerful display of magic.
The moral grey areas the characters are trying to deal with, the high stakes (have we actually seen a character hang before?) and the darker tone make this compelling. And with Mordred finally driven to the dark side, tonight's ending gives us the long awaited reveal to Morgana that Merlin is Emrys! Whatever happens now there's no going back from that.
NITPICK Why does Arthur ride into the forest to look for footprints personally - does a king not have knights for this?
HERBALISM 101 Gaius mentions lungwort ( pulmonaria officinalis ), also sometimes known as Spotted Dog, Jerusalem Cowslip or Bethlehem Sage. Its official name (both the English and Latin versions) come from its long association with complaints of the chest. However it does contain toxins and long term use isn't recommended.
PLAY THAT FANTASY MUSIC The incidental music in this episode varies wildly between being annoyingly cheesy (about eight minutes in when Mordred and Kara embrace in the forest) and unusually intense (later in the cells). We don't often get romantic guitar music in Merlin . Then we have the horrific drumming as the time of execution comes. Overall a little melodramatic, but it suits the tone of this episode so well that a quick round of applause for Michal Pavlicek, Rob Lane, Rohan Stevenson and James Gosling is due.
IT'S WOSSERNAME Kara is played by Alexandra Dowling, a recent graduate of the Oxford School of Drama and a relative newcomer to TV. She's taking up residence in the fantasy genre straight away though; after this brief stint on Merlin she's off to Game Of Thrones to play Roslin Frey.
Merlin: "I'm like a swan. Seems like I'm not doing anything but there's a lot of work going on underneath."
SLASH BAIT Both Merlin and Mordred spend time on their knees in front of Arthur this week, don't they? Alone in the forest (12 minutes in) Arthur forces Merlin to the ground at his feet, for a start. Moving on: it's a shame that Mordred and Arthur fall out; their relationship was getting very sweet. Gaius says of him, "He's fond of the king! The feeling is mutual!" and later Arthur admits, "You know there's nothing I wouldn't do for you."
THE TITLE The Drawing Of The Dark is a 1979 historical fantasy novel by the brilliant Tim Powers, which links the "dark ale" of a European brewery with the legend of the Fisher King from Arthurian tales.
Kara: "No matter what he preaches, he is no different from his father: a tyrant, a brute."
Dave Bradley @SFXDaveB
Merlin airs on Saturday nights on BBC One in the UK.