Will Gaius be forced to give up Merlin's secret?
4.07 "The Secret Sharer"
Writer: Julian Jones
Director: Justin Molotnikov
THE ONE WHERE Morgana and Agravaine mount an assault on Gaius - Agravane sullies his name around Camelot while Morgana hires wizard Alator to kidnap and torture him, in the hopes of discovering who Emrys is. But Morgana is wrongfooted by Alator's true loyalties...
VERDICT This has the makings of a political thriller as Gaius becomes the focus for Morgana's scheming, a plot direction signposted in previous episodes; but this episode struggles to maintain the pace of last week's duplicity and epic battles - and it also hits the reset button again at the end, leaving everybody's secrets safe. Boo.
It does pleasantly expand on the universe of the series, though, introducing us to the Arab-style Helva island with its bustling market place, chanting monks, tiger skins and gold Byzantine decorations. How far exactly has Morgana travelled?! Certainly less than a day's ride it seems and yet this is a very different environment from Camelot! It's here we meet the "Cathar" sect, who - like Merlin 's druids - are practitioners of the magical "old ways".
Back at Camelot, Agravaine is superb as the slightly ineffectual but still sinister bully. It feels like more could be done with Agravaine's questioning of Gaius about his knowledge of sorcery - the McCarthy-style witchhunt tactics are chilling and hark back to the era of persecution we know Uther instituted - and it would be nice to see more of Gaius being quizzed (even if Richard Wilson seems capable of just one expression). The direction here is wonderful; as Agravaine walks out Arthur is alone at the head of the table, emphasising how he's being isolated from his friends.
Where are all the other knights? Only Gwaine offers to ride out with Merlin. And is it just me, but I thought the "iron ore" clue on Agravaine's boots was horse poo from the stables where he set the white stallion free?
Gaius shows us that he can still summon up a spell, when he defends himself during torture. And it's unexpected that when he finally gives in and reveals Merlin's secret, Alator immediately switches sides. It's a well-played reversal, even if it does mean (gah!) that the series' status quo is restored immediately! In the final scene, Gaius's carefully worded reply to Arthur (" Morgana got nothing from me.") is important. He articulately explains his defence of Emrys too. His final line, "One day you will learn, Arthur! One day you will understand just how much they've done for you!" is meant to sound inspiring but to me it sounds creepy - he might as well just go and tell Arthur that he doesn't know anything and that his friends are busy behind his back.
KILGHARRAH LITE No mention or sight of the Great Dragon, alas.
NITPICK Why does Merlin blithely carry out Agravaine's instructions and deliver the dagger to Arthur's room? We know Merlin suspects Agravaine; weird that he just grins and says, "It will be my pleasure!"? Did he not think there might be something fishy going on?
ARTHUR SHIRTLESS He spends an entire early scene topless, first in bed and then talking with Agravaine in his bed chamber.
EVIL IS SEXY The talk in the SFX office isn't just about Arthur's physique, you know. All series Katie McGrath has smouldered in that low-cut Gothic outfit.
SLASH BAIT Merlin playfully forces a muffin into Arthur's mouth while he lies in bed. That might be a metaphor for something. No need to call Dr Freud for an interpretation though, because then he openly grabs Arthur's covers and wrestles him onto the floor.
IT'S WOSSISNAME Alator is of course played by famous Scottish actor Gary Lewis, acclaimed for his performances in Billy Elliot and Gangs Of New York . In our genre, you've seen him in the film Eragon and most recently in an episode of Outcasts .
TRIVIA Morgana calls Alator a Cathar - the Cathars were a heretical French Christian sect from the 11th to 13th centuries.
THE MERLIN UNIVERSE Agravaine mentions the "swordsmiths of Gedref" as the source of the dagger Merlin takes to Arthur's chamber. Gedref is mentioned in "The Labyrinth Of Gedref" in the first series, where Merlin and Arthur are sent after Arthur slays a unicorn.
THE TITLE Is somebody a Joseph Conrad fan? The Secret Sharer is a novella written by Conrad in 1909. In it, the captain of a ship hides a fugitive on his ship without the crew's knowledge then allows him to escape.
Arthur: "I never have any time to myself!"
Merlin: "I know, it's almost like having to work..."
Gaius: "The druids' legends are true: Merlin is Emrys, a man destined to greatness, a man who will one day unite the powers of the old world and the new, and bring about the time the poets speak of - the time of Albion."
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