The sequel to the previous movie (and there is news of a third movie in the works) bringing back Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams (briefly). Stephen Fry (veteran British TV actor and he pops up in The Hobbit trilogy) joins the cast as Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft. Jared Harris (Hodge in The Mortal Instruments movie, the father in Pompeii, and King George VI in The Crown) plays the conniving Professor James Moriarty. The soundtrack is once again entertaining.
The film opens with Watson typing, informing us that it is 1891 and the world is on the brink of war. Bombs have been set off in big cities and countries blame each other. Sherlock meets up with Irene once again, attempting to intercept a package. He warns her of men following her, turns out, they’re her escort. Sherlock beats off the four of them and races after Irene. She’s delivering the package during an auction and receives a note in return. Sherlock manages to stop the bomb from taking out its target, but Irene gets away. The victim is ultimately killed and Sherlock is on his next case. Sadly, Irene misses her dinner date, due to having lunch with Moriarty (whom Sherlock refers to as the Napoleon of crime…[I thought that was Macavity…we’ll get to that with the musical Cats down the road]). He chides her for succumbing to her feelings for Holmes and poisons her with a form of tuberculosis. We witness her pass out.
Watson visits Sherlock and discovers his map work of crimes tied to Moriarty, a shadowy game of cat and mouse. But before he can delve too deeply into the madness of Sherlock’s mind, they have plans for the evening, Watson’s stag party. He’s getting married in the morning and Sherlock Holmes is his best man. Sherlock uses it as an opportunity to work more on his case, so Watson goes off to the gambling tables. Congress Reel plays as Sherlock fights off a Cossack from killing a gypsy, whose brother is involved in Moriarty’s scheme. The gypsy, Sims, helps in fact; I always like it when they let a woman fight her own battles. Both Watson and Sherlock are worse for wear when they arrive for Watson’s wedding, but it goes off without a hitch. At the end, Sherlock is called to meet Moriarty. The mathematics professor reveals that Irene Adler is indeed dead, giving Sherlock her bloody handkerchief. And the only reason Moriarty has left Sherlock live so long is professional respect. And Moriarty intends to go after Watson, even though he no longer works with Sherlock.
Which means that Sherlock has to crash the newlyweds’ honeymoon. He gets Mary off the train (don’t worry, Mycroft picks her up) and he and Watson take care of the regiment of soldiers….It’s rather entertaining. Sherlock is in a dress. Then they’re off to Paris, to meet up with Sims. They try to ruin Moriarty’s plans at Don Giovanni, but that was a decoy from the bombing that covers up an assassination. (To the Opera is my favorite track on the soundtrack, because I don’t mind a little opera music in my life.) Watson and Sherlock deduce that Sebastian Moran is working for Moriarty (the middle man we keep seeing); an expert shot and once served with Watson. The mastermind’s plan is ramping up and next stop is Germany, which they have to sneak across the border. A moment of humor; Sherlock dislikes horses: they’re a danger at either end and crafty in the middle. Why would he want something with a mind of its own between his legs? (That could be taken another way…both movies are full of innuendos).
In Germany, Sherlock is captured and interrogated by Moriarty, which involves having a large fish hook stabbed into his shoulder, raised up, and Moriarty spins him about. The Napoleon of crime broadcasts Sherlock’s screams over a loud speaker. Watson faces off against Moran, ultimately using a bigger gun: “Come at once if convenient, if inconvenient, come all the same.” They meet back up with their gypsy friends and make a run for a train involving some excellent use of slow-motion. Once safe, Sherlock stops breathing. Watson thinks to use his wedding gift, a vial of adrenaline. They then meet up with Mycroft at the peace summit in Reichenbach, Switzerland. Morarity’s plan is to create a world war now that he has ties to everything from bullets to bandages. The final push will be an assassination of an ambassador at the peace meeting.
Sherlock leaves Watson and Sims to deduce which ambassador, determining that her brother’s face was changed surgically and he’ll take the fall. The genius moves Moriarty outside to play chess. He reveals he got Moriarty’s little red notebook which tracks all of his fortune and has sent it safely to Mary Watson and Scotland Yard. The two brilliant men are about to face off, each planning out their opponents moves and counter-moves, when Sherlock realizes that with his injury, his demise is inevitable, but he can take Moriarty out with him. Watson and Sims stop the assassination and Watson opens the door just as Sherlock pushes off.
Watson ends with Sherlock’s funeral. Mary checks on his progress and reminds him they need t leave soon for their second attempt at a honeymoon. But there’s a package first. Inside is Mycroft Holmes’ oxygen supply, which Sherlock had been toying with. When Watson runs out of the room, Sherlock reveals himself to have been catalogued as his armchair. Is this truly “The End?”
I enjoyed seeing Sherlock face Moriarty; they were well matched. Sherlock deserves, or requires a brilliant opponent, or else life is dull…and then he causes problems for Watson. The criminal mastermind did have a point; this is very similar to how the first World War began: tensions between nations rising before as assassination kicks it off. Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. once again play well off of each other, Watson always being right where Sherlock needs him. A good sequel, an equal to the first.
One of the most famous literary characters ever created. I am once again a horrible English major and have not read the tales. They’re sitting on my bookcase; I’ll get to them…eventually. There have been many incarnations of Sherlock and his faithful sidekick Watson throughout the years. Basil Rathbone from the Golden Age of Hollywood is iconic. Christopher Lee was involved as well. Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin from the original Star Wars), Christopher Plummer, John Cleese, Ian McKellen, and of course, BBC’s smash hit Sherlock made starts out of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. And I love that show, though along with new fans everywhere I was confused when the episodes ran long and at the end of the third one; “where’s the rest of the season?”
This iteration features Robert Downey Jr (this movie came out a year after the first Iron Man) as Sherlock Holmes, Jude Law (now part of the MCU with a role in Captain Marvel, he’s also recently portrayed a younger Albus Dumbledore in Grimes of Grindewald [which I still have not seen], and I adore him in The Holiday) is his partner John Watson. Irene Adler, “the woman” is played by Rachel McAdams (again, now part of the MCU as Christine from Doctor Strange [made even more ironic since Strange is played by Cumberbatch, she has now starred opposite two Sherlock’s. Oh, there are a bunch of fans who want the line “No shit, Sherlock,” to show up and Downey and Cumberbatch just look at each other], also famous from Mean Girls and The Notebook [that movie will not appear in this blog]). Mark Strong (we just saw him in Young Victoria, and know him from Robin Hood) made his mark as Lord Henry Blackwood, accompanied by Hans Matheson (Mordred in Mists of Avalon and Thomas Cranmer in The Tudors) as Lord Coward. And if the palm reader looks familiar, she was Isolde’s maid in Tristan and Isolde. The soundtrack is composed by Hans Zimmer.
We jump right into the middle of a case. Sherlock enters first and begins taking down the guards. I like how this movie frames some of his analytical thoughts, when he imagines how an opponent will react and plans his own defense. He finds a man practicing dark arts, ready to sacrifice a woman on an altar. Watson joins Sherlock and they capture their adversary, Lord Blackwood. Quick time jump, we’re at 221 Baker Street where Watson is preparing to move once he marries. First, he has to rescue his roommate from his own mind; Sherlock’s mind rebels at stagnation, he requires work. Taking down Blackwood was their last case, but they’ll attend his hanging together. Watson wants Sherlock to meet Mary.
Dinner…could have gone better. Mary insists that Sherlock make deductions about her, even though he and Watson protest at first. Sherlock, concerned for his friend, deduces that Mary has been engaged before, but assumes that she broke the engagement for better prospects. Actually, the man died, and Watson was aware. Sherlock finds his way to a boxing match (Rocky Road to Dublin is played underneath) and expertly takes his opponent down, despite a brief distraction from a woman. Come morning, Sherlock is Blackwood’s last request. Blackwood warns Sherlock there will be more deaths. The criminal is hung and Watson pronounces him dead.
Back at Baker Street, Sherlock has a visitor, Irene Adler. She has a case for Sherlock. When she leaves, Sherlock demonstrates he is a master of disguise and follows her, glimpsing her mysterious employer. His day is ruined when word arrives that Lord Blackwood has risen from the dead. Watson accompanies him, just until he has to meet Mary’s parents, and find a ring. Buried in Blackwood’s coffin is the man that Irene is looking for, which leads them to a lab that combines sorcery and science. A few thugs show up to tie up loose ends and there is a smashing fight between Watson, Sherlock, and the three men (one of whom is large). This carries on to a shipyard and results in a partially completed ship sailing into the water and promptly sinking. Watson and Sherlock are arrested.
They bicker like a married couple. “Get that out of my face.” “It’s not in your face, it’s in my hand.” “Get what’s in your hand out of my face.” Mary kindly bails Watson out. Sherlock has to wait until Lestrade comes with orders from friends in high places. They blindfold Sherlock, but that doesn’t prevent him from deducing where he is and who he is dealing with. They are a secret society with the intention to steer the world to their liking. Blackwood has grown too powerful and is a threat. Sherlock will stop him, but not for the society and not for a price.
Sherlock tries to warn Irene about the dangerous man she is now dealing with, but she drugs the wine. A bit hilarious later when a maid enters the room to find a naked Sherlock (modesty covered by a pillow) handcuffed to the bed. There has been another death, Blackwood’s father in his bathtub. Sherlock discovers a secret room. At a meeting of the secret order, another member dies, who opposes Blackwood. This leads him, and Watson, to a factory where they find and rescue Irene, only to be caught in an explosion, Watson more so than Sherlock. A friend on the police force finds Sherlock and warns him that there is a warrant out for his arrest, and assures him Watson is still alive. Sherlock briefly visits his friend, in disguise, and is encouraged by Mary to find the man responsible, Watson would say it’s worth the wounds.
Irene tries to leave her employment, but the professor will not allow it. She was supposed to manipulate Sherlock’s feelings for her, not succumb to them herself. He wants what Blackwood is working on. Sherlock descends down the rabbit hole (reference to Alice in Wonderland) and deciphers Blackwood’s spell. Then fills is in to Irene and Watson the next morning. It involves the sphinx and the four elements. Sherlock sends his two companions away so he can be arrested by Lestrade so he can see Lord Coward. The final puzzle piece fall into place and the trio prevent Blackwood from unleashing a chemical weapon upon Parliament. Irene gets away with the radio control feature and Sherlock faces off against Blackwood on the Tower Bridge, which is under construction. Blackwood does hang this time, permanently.
Mary and Watson stop by for a visit, Mary sporting a large engagement ring; a present from Sherlock, featuring a stone Irene stole. And Sherlock is on to a new case, involving Professor Moriarty.
This was my first true exposure to Sherlock Holmes and I was hesitant going in to it. But I love it. Robert Downey Jr. (this was also one of the first roles I watched him in, I didn’t get into Iron Man until afterwards) is excellent; the fight scenes are superb. Watson is serious and suffering. Sherlock is quirky and eccentric; Jude Law and Robert play off each other well. The music almost has a steampunk vibe to it, with the persistent tempo underneath and making use of some rather unconventional instruments. The story line keeps me intrigued. Overall, a very good film.
I’ll be honest, I watched this film originally because it has Orlando Bloom in it. And I probably only bought the DVD because I found it in a bargain bin at some point. Released a year after Gladiator, it is part of the early 2000s rash of “epic” movies. It’s an adaptation of Homer’s great epic poem The Iliad. Greek mythology is not what I tend to study, so I have not read this (I think part of it is that I can never keep their names straight; same with Roman names. They’re all the bloody same!) It has an all-star cast as well. Brad Pitt stars as Achilles. Brian Cox is Agamemnon, the king of the Greeks and Julian Glover is Triopas, king of Thessaly, an opponent of Agamemnon. Brendan Gleeson is Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, king of Sparta (yes, when I hear Sparta now I think of 300. Yes, I’ve seen the movie; no, we will not be covering it [that was far too much death for me; though it was fun to learn about it a bit as part of A.P. English class]). Diane Kruger (she’ll later be in Copying Beethoven and the National Treasure movies) is the famous Helen. Peter O’Toole is king Priam of Troy; Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom play his sons Hector and Paris, respectively. James Cosmo is back as Glaucus, Julie Christie is Thetis, Achilles’ mother. Oh yes, and that’s Sean Bean as Odysseus! It’s been pointed out that Odysseus stars in the sequel to the Iliad, the Odyssey, so he can’t die in this story. Huzzah for Sean Bean.
The film opens telling us these events took place 3200 years ago, with a scrawl setting the stage; Agamemnon has spent decades warring with the kingdoms of Greece and forcing them into an alliance. His greatest warrior is Achilles, but Achilles disdains Agamemnon and threatens all that the king has built. Sean Bean narrates part of the prologue, that we ask ourselves, will our actions echo across the centuries, will strangers wonder how bravely we fought and how fiercely we loved? The idea of being remembered for all time crops up throughout the film.
Achilles is called to defeat Thessaly’s hero in single combat. He does so in one move. He asks the opposing army “Is there no one else?” Meanwhile, Sparta is working on a peace treaty with Troy, tired of fighting all these years. Seems to be going well; until Paris meets up with Menelaus’ wife, Helen. They’ve actually been meeting secretly for several nights and they have fallen in love (apparently, Menelaus is a terrible husband). Now they wish to run away together. And they are dumb enough to do it. I get this is an epic poem and a literary classic, but reading and watching enough royal shows, I have to point out; they knew what they were doing was wrong. There would be terrible consequences and they really don’t want those consequences; and yet they did it anyway! Yes, they loved each other. But a war got started because of it. People died. You couldn’t have left well enough alone, Paris? Hector is a nice older brother and will protect his young brother. Troy welcomes their new princess.
Agamemnon doesn’t care about the slight to his brother’s honor; he’s just happy to start a war with Troy. But, he’ll need Achilles, however much the warrior annoys him. There is one man that Achilles will listen to: Odysseus. His argument to his friend is “this war will never be forgotten, nor the heroes who fight in it.” Even Achilles’ mother says the same; he could stay where he is and have peace and a family, but eventually forgotten. Or he could fight in Troy and win more glory and the world will remember him; but it will be his doom. We all know what Achilles chose. His ship is the first of the fleet to land on Troy. The Greeks take the beach and Achilles attacks Apollo’s temple and has a short encounter with prince Hector. He tells the Trojan prince “go home, tomorrow we will have war.” Another twist is thrown in; Briseis, the niece of the king is a priestess of the temple and is gifted to Achilles. He’s surprisingly gentle with her. But Agamemnon tries to take her for Achilles disobedience. Achilles is ready to defend her, but Briseis declares “I don’t want anyone dying for me.”
Paris challenges Menelaus to single combat to prevent more death. But he loses the duel, saved only by crawling to his brother and Hector killing Menelaus. Agamemnon attacks and Troy proves why they are so hard to defeat. Odysseus finally suggests retreat. He speaks to Achilles after the fight, insisting that the Greeks need him, the soldiers need the morale boost. Achilles rescues Briseis. He once again tries to care for her and she resists at first, holding a knife to his throat. Until he starts kissing her and she drops the knife. I swear, this movie is more about their connection than Helen and Paris. Achilles still insists that he is sailing for home; he will not fight for Agamemnon.
The Trojans attack at night with giant fire balls, which leads into the Trojan army advancing. Achilles joins the fight and faces Hector. Hector cuts his throat and reveals that it is Achilles’ beloved younger cousin. Hector declares enough for one day. Achilles’ second in command delivers the news. The next day, Achilles rides alone to the gates of Troy and demands Hector to face him. Hector, an honorable man, faces Achilles. And behind the scenes trivia reveals that Eric Bana and Brad Pitt did not use stunt doubles for the duel. (They also has a gentleman’s agreement to pay for every accidental hit; $50 for each light blow, $100 for each hard blow. Brad Pitt ended up paying Eric Bana $750; Bana didn’t own anything to Pitt.) It’s a good duel, but really didn’t enrapture me. Achilles defeats Hector, then ties his body to his chariot to drag back to the Greeks. That evening, king Priam comes to Achilles to beg for his son’s body, so he can have an honorable funeral. “Even enemies can show respect.” Achilles relents and allows Troy to have their twelve days of mourning, and lets Briseis return to Troy. Agamemnon is furious.
Odysseus has a plan; his men start building. He makes it look like the Greeks have left and they have left an offering of a large wooden horse. Paris advises his father to burn it. He’s ignored. His father ignored Hector’s advice as well. The Trojans drag the horse into their city and celebrate. At night, Odysseus, Achilles, and others emerge from the horse and set about taking the city down from the inside. They get the gates open to let in the army. Well, Achilles is off running to find Briseis, who is looking for Paris. Helen, Hector’s wife and son, and as many others as they can find escape through an old tunnel that Hector showed his wife (because he was smart and knew what could happen). Paris refuses to leave and passes the sword of Troy to a young man so the Trojans will always have hope and can start over. Paris joins the fight with his bow (which is hilarious, because Orlando Bloom is Legolas).
Agamemnon kills the king and tries to take Briseis back. She stabs him and Achilles finishes the guards. But Paris finds them and misunderstands the situation. He shoots Achilles in the heel, slowing the warrior down. Another four arrows strike him. Achilles manages to tell Briseis, “it’s alright. You gave me peace in a lifetime of war,” and sends her with her cousin Paris. He pulls the arrows out of his chest, but the one in his heel is left, so that is how he’s found. Odysseus burns Achilles and the movie fades out as he says “if they ever tell my story, tell them I walked with giants.”
This movie moves slow at times. And I swear it’s more about Achilles than either of the Trojan princes. Helen is not terribly developed. From a certain point of view, one can easily agree that the whole war is her fault. She was unhappy with her husband and a younger, more handsome man took interest in her and she ran off with him. Though Hector does later stop her from running away, knowing that it won’t stop the war that has already come. We witness more nuances of Achilles’ character. He’s more than just a hardened warrior; he cares for his younger cousin and is downright tender with Briseis (this is after seeing him willingly bed other women). Hector is noble; I prefer him to Achilles. Paris is an idiot, though he tries to make up for it at the end. Priam is a bit of an idiot as well, listening to other advisors over his experienced sons. Agamemnon is an idiot as well, the definition of warmonger.
Overall, I’m underwhelmed by the movie. The duel between Hector and Achilles was alright; but they’ve shown all those moves previously in the movie. I didn’t connect with the characters. No, the thought I had running through my head after I heard Sean Bean at the beginning was “does he live?” I put Pompeii on again afterwards. I watched it for the same reason that I did Troy and yet I became more invested in it.
We’ve come to the end of the series. I feel they rushed this series; maybe they were surprised how quick they would have to wrap things up. My one friend came back and asked me where the season was that they end up in modern times, since she had seen pictures of it everywhere (I can find them on Pintrest, maybe they’re on Tumblr; I’m not on Tumblr, I don’t know). Sadly, no, that’s not how this season ends. I feel that they should come back and do that season, or a movie at the very least.
Arthur’s Bane, begins the season in two parts. Three years have passed since Guinevere’s coronation. Arthur meets with his knights at the Round Table. Unfortunately, Gwaine and Percival are missing after an expedition. Morgana is suspected, even though they haven’t heard from her in the three years. Morgana is indeed behind the disappearances; she’s capturing men to work searching for the key to the knowledge of Arthur’s Bane, his downfall. Joined by Liam Cunningham whose character isn’t named until the second episode. (Since I’ve been wandering down the Game of Thrones path, when I saw his name in the opening credits I was surprised. I haven’t seen this season as often as the previous ones, so a lot of this was unfamiliar to me.) Arthur and his knights, and Merlin, go looking for their brethren. Merlin receives a vision that Arthur is in danger and even Gwen worries about Arthur going on the mission himself; he is Camelot’s king, he needs to be cautious. But Arthur is the type of king who will show his people he is not afraid of any task.
Sadly, Gwen’s new maid who is adorable with Merlin is also a traitor, for her father who is harboring Morgana. Her father (played by Liam Cunningham) ultimately rescues his daughter, but also dies in the aftermath. Morgana doesn’t seem particularly bothered, more concerned with the overarching search for Arthur’s destruction. Arthur is injured on their quest and he and Merlin are captured by Saxons, and a familiar looking young man. Mordred is back and now a young man (don’t think too hard on what ages they look). He shows Arthur and Merlin kindness even though Merlin does not trust him. Arthur saved his life as a child and he will repay that debt. Arthur and Merlin manage to escape and sneak into the castle where they find Percival.
Gwaine has been missing for a few days. An alien-looking being (really BBC? Let’s bring aliens into the mix) finds him and heals him after guards beat him. (And they’re all shirtless for no apparent reason. Again, does BBC really need to do this to attract viewers?) Percival starts gathering men and taking out the guards. Morgana comes across Arthur while Merlin is chasing after Aithusa. Mordred is with her and prevents her from killing Arthur. He recognizes that Morgana has gone a bit crazy; she has chosen hate. He has not. He carries Arthur to his knights. Merlin finds Gwaine and the creature. He is granted one question. Who is Arthur’s Bane? Himself.
Everyone is back in Camelot; Arthur knights Mordred. Merlin honestly likes Mordred, but doesn’t trust him. He asks why Mordred saved Arthur. “Because he’s right, the love that binds us is more important than the power we wield.” Merlin knows that for good or ill, the die is cast. Albion’s greatest trial has begun.
The Death Song of Uther Pendragon brings to light Arthur’s doubts whether he is being a good ruler. He does a lot of things his father wouldn’t approve of. He’s then gifted a chance to see his father again when he saves an old sorceress for a horrible death and no trial. And Uther is disappointed with his son. He knighted commoners, he married a commoner and not for an alliance for the kingdom. He feels that his son has failed to strengthen and protect the kingdom; he’s destroying Uther’s legacy. Meanwhile, we, along with Merlin, counsel Arthur that he is better than his father. His people love and respect him and his is a more wise and just ruler. But Uther’s spirit is released and haunts the castle. Percival is attacked. Gwen is almost killed. Merlin and Arthur set out to put Uther’s spirit back. Uther attacks Merlin and discovers that he has magic. Uther tries to warn Arthur, but Arthur sounds the horn dismissing the spirit before he is able.
Mithian’s kingdom is attacked, bringing her back to Camelot in Another’s Sorrow. It’s a ploy between Odin and Morgana. Morgana disguises herself as Mithian’s maidservant so Mithian will persuade Arthur to rescue her father. Merlin suspects the maid and discovers it is Morgana, but she knocks him out before he can warn Arthur. Arthur proceeds with the plan and walks into the trap. Merlin comes to, with magical aid from Gaius, in time to take Gawine and rescue Arthur. Arthur faces Odin and Merlin prevents his friend from killing the other king. There is a better way. Arthur asks for a truce; else, their blood feud will simply continue on. Odin accepts. And we start a trend this season of seeing Merlin injured more often. I think it’s good, because it shows that he is vulnerable and we like vulnerability in our heroes.
The Disir, the mouthpiece of the Triple Goddess, pass judgment on Arthur and find him lacking. He has persecuted sorcerers as a carryover from Uther. His fate is set; while Camelot flowers, already the seeds of its destruction are sown. Arthur argues he makes his own path, but he still wants to protect his people, so he appears before the Disir. He is not respectful the first appearance though and they attack. Mordred takes a spear meant for Arthur. Arthur now has a choice; to save Mordred, he must allow magic to be freely practiced in Camelot again. If not, Mordred dies. We can see Merlin struggle to advise his friend. Merlin desires for magic to return, for his sake and his people. But even Kilgarah warns him that Arthur’s fate is bound with Mordred. So Merlin tells Arthur there is no place for magic in Camelot, thereby sentencing Mordred to die. Yet when they return to Camelot, Mordred lives. This gets terribly confusing for Merlin; every step he takes toward not bring the future to pass actually helps it along.
Morgana kidnaps Gwen in The Dark Tower and tortures her in a way. She locks her former maidservant in a dark room with mandrake root, listening to screams, and seeing visions of people she loves. Elyan and Arthur mount a rescue attempt, though they are waylaid in a magical forest. Merlin trusts his magic and leads them out, but Elyan darts ahead to rescue his sister. An enchanted sword runs him through. At the very end of the episode, we see Gwen sneak out to visit Morgana. She now believes that only Morgana has her best interest at heart; after all, they were close friends for many years, they know each other best.
Gwen begins to work behind the scenes to help Morgana and bring down Camelot and kill her husband. Accidents begin to befall Arthur in A Lesson in Vengeance. (Yes, the stable hand is played by John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones. And due to when this season was filmed, he had already begun playing Sam. So we are correct to gasp, “Oh my gosh, it’s Sam!”) The stable hand Tyr Seward takes the fall and Gwen stabs him to prevent him from talking. Morgana gives Gwen a magical poison to slowly and painfully kill Arthur. She has no hesitation in giving it to Arthur; she plays her part as grieving wife well. Gwen next arranges for Merlin to take the fall; he’s close to Arthur and has access to cause him harm. Gaius helps Merlin out of the cell while Leon pledges the knights to follow Gwen who will succeed Arthur should he die. Merlin ages himself (we can see he is having a lot of fun in his Dragoon character). Only Merlin’s magic can save Arthur, but he doubts he has the strength for both the aging and the healing. Gaius informs his ward that the only one who doubts Merlin’s abilities is Merlin. Merlin cries when he thinks Arthur has died, but Arthur survives. Merlin sneaks back into his cell so he can be released the next day. Arthur never suspected Merlin. Well that’s good, but why didn’t the knights stand up for him? Gwen gets the credit when she finds a new suspect and pins the blame correctly on Morgana.
Arthur meets with potential allies in The Hollow Queen while Gwen arranges a distraction for Merlin. A “Druid” boy sneaks into Camelot and asks Merlin for help. He leads Merlin into a trap by Morgana (she and Gwen are just trying to get Arthur’s biggest defense away while Gwen arranges for Arthur’s assassination). She poisons Merlin and throws him into a ravine. The boy returns for Merlin; the young man had shown him kindness and helps Merlin heal. They make it back to Camelot just as the assassin sets up. The boy is killed helping Merlin. Gwen had fed Arthur the tale that Merlin was sneaking off to see a girl when Arthur began to worry about Merlin. Now Gaius and Merlin know that Gwen is working against them.
They come up with a solution in With All My Heart. Merlin helps Arthur spy on Gwen when she meets with Morgana. They know it’s Morgana’s magic this time betraying Arthur. Which means it will take even more powerful magic to undo the spell. Merlin gets the solution off of an old sorceress and must lead Arthur to a magical lake and summon the White Goddess. Gwen must enter the lake of her own will. Arthur and Merlin sneak Gwen out of the castle, keeping her unconscious. Mordred follows them, which was a good thing because both Merlin and Arthur fall off a cliff and Arthur’s arm is pinned. Merlin has to transform into an old woman so as to not arouse suspicion (though Mordred does note that Merlin is missing at one point). The magic works and Dolma (Merlin in disguise) asks that Arthur remembers that magic can save, as well as hurt. “She” tells him off when they almost forget Merlin and tells Arthur “one day, he will recognize the true worth of those around him.” Mordred finally realizes that Merlin has magic, but promises to keep his secret. They share the dream of magic returning to Camelot.
Alator returns in The Kindness of Strangers; Morgana has hunted him down and tortures him to reveal Emrys’s identity. He refuses, but has recruited others to his cause. An old woman warns Merlin that the great battle is approaching. Mordred and the other knights give chase when they discover the old woman, since Gaius does not trust her. She is not in league with Morgana, but Morgana finds out about her, so she too is hunting for the woman. Merlin goes to help and is injured. The woman sacrifices herself to protect Merlin and he is not discovered. He hears the prophecy of Camlan and receives word that Morgana has declared war.
A familiar face for us pops up in The Drawing of the Dark. Alexandra Dowling (Roslin Frey in Game of Thrones and Queen Anne of Austria in Musketeers) is Kara, an old friend [and love interest] of Mordred’s. She’s injured and Mordred tends to her in the woods. Merlin finds out, but Mordred swears him to secrecy. Arthur and Merlin discover Kara themselves, even after Merlin tries to lure Arthur away. Kara attacks Arthur and is arrested. She proudly defies the king; “I will not rest until you are dead and your kingdom is no more.” Mordred pleads for her life, but she shows no repentance. Arthur cannot risk her being free. Merlin even pleads on Mordred’s behalf, but Arthur believes Mordred will see that Arthur had no choice and eventually forgive him. Merlin suspects that Mordred will try to free Kara, Mordred throws in Merlin’s face, “wouldn’t you do the same for a woman you love?” We know that Merlin tried, but Arthur killed Freya when she attacked Camelot. And Merlin forgave Arthur and serves him faithfully to this day. Merlin does not tell Mordred this (there is a fanfiction story Love Lost by Revhead where Merlin does tell Mordred and changes the story a little).
Mordred breaks Kara out, she kills a guard along the way, but they’re captured. Arthur offers her one last chance, but she will not change her ways. Mordred is in a cell when she is led to her execution. His magic breaks him out of his cell and he goes directly to Morgana. He has information for her, which will lead to Arthur’s death. He knows the identity of Emrys: Merlin.
The Diamond of the Day completes the season in two parts. Morgana sends a mook into Camelot to sneak into Merlin’s chambers, planting some sort of slug. It attacks Merlin’s face and somehow steals his magic. While that happens, Morgana and Mordred attack on outpost. Gwaine rescues a young woman and they make it back to Camelot to give word. Arthur decides to ride out and meet Morgana and her army on the field, to keep the fighting away from the people and other villages. The best place is Camlan, where the path narrows. Merlin sadly cannot accompany Arthur on this great battle; he must secretly journey to the Crystal Cave in an effort to restore his magic. But Gwaine’s new friend is a spy for Morgana, she passes along the information about Arthur and Mordred surmises where Merlin is heading. Morgana is waiting for the warlock and causes a cave in.
Merlin is injured and when he wakes, he sees his father. Balinor urges his son to not let go, don’t give in. Merlin is magic itself; he cannot lose what he is. Rest, he advises, believe in the crystals. When Merlin wakes again, he is healed and sees a secret path that Mordred plans to cut Arthur off with. Merlin warns Arthur in a dream, then bursts out of the cave.
Arthur misses having Merlin with him; the man who has stood beside him in every other instance is now gone for this vital confrontation. Gwen has accompanied him, not to fight, though she will help behind the scenes, but so they can spend what time they have together. She knows there is a good chance that Arthur may not return from this battle. Arthur receives Merlin’s message (Gwen has already begun to suspect there is more to Merlin that appears) and sets the camp to business. Percival and Gwaine will meet the band coming around behind. Arthur rallies his troops; fight for a united kingdom, fight against tyranny. The battle has begun.
Aithusa spews fire on Arthur’s troop, but a sorcerer (an aged Merlin, his true Emrys form) calls him off, then directs lightning on the Saxons, saving Arthur. He knocks Morgana down. Mordred hunts down Arthur on the field and stabs him with a blade forged on Aithusa’s breath. Arthur kills Mordred. Merlin finds Arthur on the field, bypassing Mordred, and carries him off.
When Arthur wakes, Merlin is back to his normal form. Merlin apologizes to his friend; he thought he was in time to defy the prophecy. Arthur doesn’t know what Merlin is talking about. Merlin reveals he was the sorcerer.
Arthur…doesn’t take it well. He responds to Gaius, when the old man finds them, but shies away from Merlin. They need to get word back to Guinevere in Camelot. Leon is giving her updates; but they have not found Arthur. Gaius tells Arthur that Merlin is his friend; he needs him far more than he needs Gaius. The wound is fatal, due to the blade. The only place Arthur could heal is the Isle of Avalon. Gaius can take the royal seal to Gwen.
Back in Camelot, they realize that truth of Gwaine’s traitorous female friend. She is executed, after passing along misinformation to Morgana. Percival and Gwaine set out to take down Morgana. Sadly, she bests them, knocking out Percival, then torturing Gwaine. Percival frees himself in time to watch his friend die. And so starts the “how many stabs does it take to kill Morgana?” Gwen confronts Gaius about the truth of Merlin. She seems pleased and knows that Merlin will care for Arthur.
Merlin continues to care for Arthur, confusing the man. Arthur slowly comes around to the fact that his manservant has had magic all along, but it still takes time for him to get over the fact that Merlin lied about it the whole time he knew Arthur. Merlin insists, it has always been to help Arthur; he is proud of what he has done and he wouldn’t change a thing. Arthur finally apologizes for the way he has treated Merlin. Morgana finds them just as the reach the shore of the lake. Merlin faces her and stabs her with Excalibur. That does her in. He has brought peace at last to Albion. But Arthur is fading fast. “It’s too late,” he tells the young warlock and asks his friend to hold him in his final moments, and says what he has never said before: “Thank you.” We cry alongside Merlin.
Merlin calls Kilgarah one last time to carry them to the Isle. But it is too late, the dragon tells his young friend. Fear not, he has not failed. All that he has dreamt has come to pass. “I can’t lose him! He’s my friend!” Merlin cries. Some lives are foretold, Kilgarah counsels. Arthur is the Once and Future King. When Albion’s need is greatest, Arthur will rise again. Merlin throws Excalibur into the lake, caught by a hand. Again, we cry alongside Merlin as he lays Arthur to rest in a boat and sends it to Avalon. Gwen is crowned queen; Leon, Gaius, and Percival are alongside her in Camelot. The parting shot of the show is a truck passing the tower on the Isle of Avalon and an old man, Emrys, walks along the side of the road.
Gosh, the last two episodes hurt. Part of me expected, hoped, that it would turn out different than legend, that Arthur and Merlin would work together and see the fruits of their labors. There is a chance that Gwen was carrying Arthur’s child at the end, maybe the writers threw in her accompanying Arthur to the camp in order for that to be a possibility. I have no doubt she made a just and wise ruler, but it’s not the same as if Arthur would have been around. Yes, it’s a deviation from legend, but I prefer a happy ending where heroes get some peace and quiet and rewards. You make us love these characters and then you separate them. We have no idea if Merlin even returned to Camelot, or just stayed away. (Check out fanfics, we’ve got lots of ideas. And fixes!)
Heck, I was even beginning to hope that Mordred would turn out alright. Again, doesn’t follow legend, though I like how they wrote around the incest nature of Mordred. And Merlin’s reveal has so little time to sink in. (Again, check out fanfics!) I would have preferred at least another season to the show. Again, I think they were surprised at when they had to wrap and had to bring about so much to end it, it all ended up rushed. Did not like Gwen’s storyline for several episodes. You’ve already done the “Gwen is a threat to Camelot.” They keep her a good character since none of it is her actual fault, she’s always influenced by Morgana. Still haven’t gotten over her turn and sudden descent into madness. “Oh, I’m a witch, so I must turn evil.” I don’t buy it. Never bought that mentality. (That is why my female characters who have magical powers are good. Well, they fight bad ones, but they’re still good after wielding phenomenal power).
I still like the show and I love the portrayal of characters, most specifically the relationship between Arthur and Merlin. Banter is my favorite. Yes, they insult each other, but they genuinely care for each other and they see that, even though they don’t say it (until the end and that makes us cry). I just wish it had ended different. Please, BBC, do a movie!
Next Time: Continuing a bit with fantasy type movies, Knight’s Tale (Well, it fits with the medieval setting).
The intro to season four upgrades Merlin to “young man” instead of a boy. We pick up in the two-parter The Darkest Hour about a year after the events of season three. Morgana is walking with Morgause in a cart and is discovered by knights. They report back to Arthur that she is on her way to the Isle of the Blessed. Arthur has taken over the running of the kingdom; Uther is frail and aged; he has taken Morgana’s betrayal hard. Agravaine, apparently Ygraine’s brother has shown up to help Arthur as a promise to his deceased sister (why there has been no mention of him before, we’re never told). It is Samhain and Morgana sacrifices Morgause, ripping a tear in the veil between worlds, unleashing spirits of the dead to attack the living. Merlin feels this and collapses. Attacks begin in outlying villages so Arthur, Merlin, and the knights ride out, but they can do nothing against the spirits. Then Camelot is attacked. Not even Gaius knows how to defeat their new foe, but he suggests maybe a sacrifice on the Isle of the Blessed. Arthur, being the self-sacrificing hero who will take on any challenge to protect his people, volunteers. Merlin secretly plans to sacrifice himself in Arthur’s stead. Oh, and Agravaine is in league with Morgana, reporting that the throne will be open to the “rightful heir.” The knights of Camelot ride out, Merlin continues to protect Arthur, even jumping into a spirit and collapsing frozen to the ground.
Arthur sends Lancelot back with Merlin to Camelot, despite Merlin’s weak protestations. On their way, Merlin has Lancelot lay him next to a river. Those spirits heals Merlin so he can return to Arthur and fix the veil. There’s an adorable scene when Lancelot returns to the knights and tells Arthur “bad news…he’s still alive.” We see that Arthur has really come to rely on Merlin. They make it to the Isle of the Blessed and Merlin knocks Arthur out before he can make his sacrifice. But while Arthur is dealing with the old woman in charge of the veil, Lancelot has offered himself as a sacrifice. The world is returned to rights, but now Merlin, Arthur, and Gwen must mourn their friend.
Meanwhile, Morgana has begun to receive visions of a powerful old sorcerer, Emrys, who will be her downfall. Merlin overhears Agravaine asking Gaius about the sorcerer.
It is Arthur’s birthday in The Wicked Day (another title from Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga) and a circus arrives in Camelot for the occasion. Uther breaks out of his stupor to attend the festivities. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants of the castle, the circus owner wishes to kill Arthur. They drug him and then try to attack him. Uther steps in the way, taking the blade meant for his son. Arthur is desperate to save his father and considers asking an old sorcerer “Dragoon” for help. (Really, it’s Merlin in a disguise. Arthur actually almost sees through it; he recognizes the eyes). Meanwhile, Agravaine has gone to Morgana and she places a charm on Uther that will reverse any healing magic. So when “Dragoon” goes to heal Uther, the effect is reversed and Uther dies. Arthur blames Dragoon and Merlin feels like it is his fault. But a new day has come and he and Arthur must face their new roles. Merlin waits outside the great hall for Arthur all night, so the young man wouldn’t be alone. Arthur is crowned King of Camelot.
Merlin and Arthur are drawn into a journey to discover a dragon’s egg (if the thief looks familiar, he is; he played Bonaire, the thief in Musketeers) in Aithusa. Merlin manages to save the egg and takes it to Kilgarah. He calls to it in the language of the Dragon Lords, giving it the name “Aithusa.” A white dragon is extremely rare. Kilgarah tells the young warlock that it bodes well for Albion, Arthur, and Merlin.
Arthur is tested as king in His Father’s Son. Agravaine talks Arthur into killing the King of Carlion. Word gets back to his wife, who marches on Camelot. Morgana joins her, referring herself as Gorlois’s daughter and wishes payback on Camelot as well. Arthur decides to fight single combat against the Queen’s champion in order to spare lives; he’s reconsidering his earlier decision, starting to make his own decisions about what kind of king he wants to be. (He even tries to break off his relationship with Gwen, considering to be inappropriate). Merlin helps a little in the battle; Morgana is helping her side as well, so it’s not really cheating. Arthur gets his large opponent to the ground, but does not kill him. He seeks peace with the queen and she agrees. She has a few choice words for Morgana, telling her she clings to bitterness.
Morgana attempts to turn Merlin against Arthur in A Servant of Two Masters, using magic. Luckily, Merlin is very inept at killing Arthur (it’s a bit funny to see him try, and Leon doesn’t bat an eye when Merlin says he’s going to kill Arthur). Merlin manages to disguise himself as Dragoon, who Morgana takes to be Emrys, and destroy the mother beast that’s inhabiting him. There are a few endearing scenes; Arthur is genuinely worried about Merlin when he’s missing and sends knights out to find him. Even when he gets a more efficient servant, he misses Merlin and the banter they have. Gwen happens to see Arthur without clothes while she’s trying to knock Merlin out.
Morgana and Agravaine suspect that Gaius knows the true identity of Emrys, so they come up with a plan in The Secret Sharer to kidnap the old man and use a magical interrogator to wrangle the truth out of him. Agravaine makes accusations against Gaius, but Merlin won’t listen to them and goes after his mentor. He saves Gaius, but Gaius has unfortunately revealed to the interrogator (played by Gary Lewis, he is Colum Mackenize in Outlander and Hrothgar in Eragon) that Merlin is Emrys. But the interrogator is loyal to the old ways and won’t reveal his identity to Morgana. He helps Merlin escape. Arthur apologizes to Gaius; he knows the old man has always had his best interests at heart. Gaius tells the young king that there are others out there protecting him.
Arthur sends Merlin as a physician to a village in trouble in Lamia. Merlin quickly deduces that the ailment the victims are suffering is the result of magic. He and the knights begin to make their way back to Camelot, until they run into bandits who are tormenting a young woman. Proving themselves gallant, the knights rescue the girl. But she shies away from Merlin and Gwen. And then the knights start arguing with each other and turn on Merlin. (There are several fanfiction stories that detail the emotional toll that takes on Merlin; his friends, who have protected him against others, now scorn him). Merlin determines this Lamia girl is the cause of the problem and it’s due to magic. Indeed, Gaius informs Arthur when they go to investigate that the Lamia were created by the Priestesses of the Old Religion to control men, but they grew too powerful. The knights start falling prey to her; Gwen and Merlin to the rescue, well, Arthur helps a bit.
Lancelot is back from the dead in Lancelot du Lac. Morgana finds out that Arthur proposes to Gwen and decides to bring Lancelot back to throw a wrench in the works. Lancelot enters the jousting tournament held in honor of the proposal. Merlin and the knights are pleased that Lancelot is back, but Merlin quickly discovers all is not well. Lancelot doesn’t remember that Merlin has magic. (That’s because Morgana didn’t know, so couldn’t plant that information in Lancelot). Merlin starts to worry that Lancelot is after Arthur. No, Lancelot means to beguile Gwen, through an enchanted bracelet. Arthur discovers the couple kissing (with some help from Agravaine; it’s all a trap). Lancelot and Gwen are thrown in the dungeon; Lancelot, coached by Agravaine, drinks a potion to die. Agravaine counsels Arthur to put Gwen to the death for her betrayal. Arthur cannot see her dead, so exiles her. They were one day from their wedding; she had waited years, why could she not wait one more day, Arthur asks. Gwen cannot answer. She still loves Arthur but she couldn’t help herself around Lancelot. Merlin, who had figured out that Lancelot was a shade, takes his friend for funeral rights and rids him of the enchantment. Lancelot wakes for a moment to thank Merlin, dying peacefully again. Merlin knows Morgana is behind the events, but cannot prove it to Arthur.
An old mission comes back to haunt Arthur in A Herald of the New Age. The knights accidentally disturb a druid shrine; Elyan drinks from the well. He’s taken over by the spirit of a child who had been slaughtered and goes after the king. The other knights assume he’s acting out due to his sister being banished. Arthur in the meantime is out of sorts after visiting the shrine. Merlin and Gaius investigate the shrine and try to stop Elyan’s attack. Arthur eventually admits to Merlin that Uther had ordered Arthur to lead a raid on a druid camp. Arthur was not able to stop his men from killing innocent women and children, resulting in the restless sprits at the shrine. He was young and inexperienced and wanted to prove himself. Elyan, still possessed, confronts Arthur and Arthur apologizes, offering himself for the mistakes he made. The child spirit forgives Arthur and leaves Elyan. (A little jolt from the episode when I realized that they were using salt circles to repel spirits; a basis of Supernatural, lol).
We catch up with what Gwen is doing in The Hunter’s Heart. She has moved to a village where she has old friends; but it’s attacked by bandits. Their leader spares her and speaks to her. Unfortunately, he’s in league with Morgana. Morgana discovers that Gwen is at the camp and sets after her. She catches her and transforms her into a deer. Meanwhile, Arthur has made an alliance with the promise of marriage to the Princess Mithan of Nementh. Mithan is beautiful an kind and we really can’t dislike her. She gently chastises Arthur for causing Merlin more work. She genuinely likes to hunt, a favorite pastime of Arthur’s. Merlin tries little tricks to put Arthur and Mithan off each other, due to loyalty to Gwen. Then comes the hunt, and they cross paths with a transformed Gwen. Merlin realizes the disguise and goes after the deer after Mithan shoots her. He heals her, but Gwen refuses to return to Camelot; she understands the damage she did. Arthur has also found the ring that he had proposed to Gwen with, that Gwen was still wearing until her transformation. He is in no mood to continue the hunt. Arthur realizes that Merlin was right; he still loves Gwen, despite her betrayal, which confuses him. But he cannot marry Mithan. He draws up a new treaty, giving her the disputed lands. She graciously leaves.
Morgana’s plans come to fruition in the two-parter season finale The Sword in the Stone, bringing in more elements from classic legend. Agravaine signals the attacking army into Camelot. Arthur is injured, but Merlin drags him out of the castle, magically taking his will (though there’s not much left after seeing both Morgana and Agravaine at the head of the army). Gaius, Elyan, and Gwaine are left in Camelot to aid Arthur’s escape. Morgana tortures Elyan for information and makes Gwaine fight to win supper. Leon and Percival are in the woods with the townsfolk who could escape. Merlin plans to take Arthur to Ealdor. They come upon battle couple and smugglers Tristan and Isolde. Arthur acts as a simpleton until his will returns, but Tristan dislikes kings and they butt heads. Arthur also feels defeated; he must not be the king he should be if his family members keep betraying him. Merlin points out that it’s not his fault; they just desire Arthur’s power for themselves. Morgana sends Agravaine after Arthur (I can’t tell if Agravaine truly cares for Morgana or if he just doesn’t trust her and wants to stay on her good side).
Merlin and Arthur do make it to Ealdor, along with Tristan and Isolde. They reunite with Gwen, but have to run again when Agravaine catches up. Merlin offers again to hang back and protect the rear. Kilgarah comes in handy to destroy most of the force chasing them and in the caves, Merlin uses magic to defeat the rest. Agravaine is impressed by Merlin’s deception, claiming that they are more alike than they had realized. Another toss when he makes a move against Merlin and Agravaine is dead. Tristan is surprised that Arthur risks his life to go back for Merlin.
They reunite with the other knights, but Merlin still has to convince Arthur to continue the fight. He spins a tale for his friend, claiming it’s from Gaius, about a sword that the first king of Camelot had buried in a stone. When Camelot’s need was most, only the true king of Camelot could retrieve it. Merlin convinces Arthur to try. Arthur struggles at first, but Merlin urges him to believe. And the sword comes clean out (well, it was Merlin who had put Excalibur in the stone in the first place). Arthur is back and leads his knights into Camelot. Tristan and Isolde agree to fight alongside him. Sadly, Isolde is killed in a face off against the leader of Morgana’s army. Merlin had earlier snuck into Camelot disguised as Emrys and puts a burning straw doll under Morgana’s bed. So when he and Arthur face her, she cannot cast any spells. She flees. She faces off with Gwen and almost finishes the other woman, but Merlin secretly rescues her at the last minute. Morgana is wounded and flees into the woods.
Arthur mends his relationship with Gwen and proposes again. She is crowned queen. And the little white dragon, Aithusa returns and heals Morgana in the woods.
I liked the twist that the sword in the stone was more about raising Arthur’s confidence. Merlin keeps leading Arthur to his destiny to become the greatest ruler Albion has ever known. Gwen’s brief affair with Lancelot did not bring down the kingdom and it was more brought on by magic. Merlin is proving to be Arthur’s most loyal companion and I love that Arthur is recognizing that. There’s times he will be kind and sincere to his friend, but they keep up their banter. I don’t think they would know what to do with themselves if they weren’t giving each other and hard time and calling each other names.
My apologies that I forgot to post this last week.
We come back to Camelot a year after the ending of season two with the two-parter Tears of Uther Pendragon; Morgana has been missing a year. Uther refuses to give up on finding her. She wanders into a camp that Arthur and Merlin are investigating. And for a moment everything seems well. She’s happy to be home in Camelot, telling Uther she’s seen the evil he’s fighting and promises to be a better ward. She puts Merlin’s mind at ease over his worry that she’ll remember him poisoning her. Morgana forgives him; he was just trying to protect his friends. Then, the smirking starts. She rides out to meet Morgause, calling her “my sister.” Morgause has a spell that requires the tears of Uther, which Morgana has collected. They’re put into a cauldron along with a mandrake root, it emits a magical cry. Morgana is to tie the dripping root under Uther’s bed every night. It will twist his unconscious fear and make him lose his mind. Back in Camelot, the root takes effect; Uther starts seeing those who died at his hand, ghosts of the past haunting him.
Merlin stumbles upon the root, hiding under Uther’s bed and witnesses Morgana change it. He follows her and discovers her meeting Morgause. He’s subsequently captured, tied up, and left to die. Those creepy scorpions are back and sting Merlin. He cannot break the chains, even with magic. He calls Kilgarah and the dragon saves him. The dragon counsels the young warlock; the boys did what he thought was right, which takes courage. But his seeing goodness in people could be his undoing. Morgana is the darkness to Merlin’s light, the hatred to his love. Back in Camelot, Cenred’s army marches on the citadel (I equate it to Helm’s Deep). Morgause and Morgana are aligned with Cenred, Morgana their traitor on the inside. Merlin and Gwen show their support for Arthur, who has to take control while his father is incapacitated. Merlin tells his friend “it is your fate t be the greatest king Camelot has ever known…victory today will be remembered for every age until the end of time.” Gaius follows Morgana when she sneaks away and discovers that the young woman has raised an undead army. Merlin rushes down to stop her. Morgana makes the same mistake as Morgause and underestimates Merlin, not knowing he has magic. He triumphs and the skeletons collapse. Cenred leaves when that force fails.
Goblin’s Gold is a lighter story, after the dramatic start to the season. Merlin accidentally releases a goblin into the castle. When he tries to capture the devil, it flies into Gaius and overtakes him. He then plays tricks on the castle, at one point hilariously giving Arthur the ears and bray of a donkey. The goblin, as Gaius, frames Merlin for magic and he’s arrested. The young man escapes and takes refuge at Gwen’s home. They come up with the plan to temporarily kill Gaius to force the goblin out. Things get hairy when they have to scramble for the antidote, but everything is put to right. Arthur believed Merlin about the goblin and even laid a trap for Gaius; he knew that Gaius would never condone Merlin executed. It shows that he views his servant truly as a friend.
Gwaine is introduced in the episode named after him. He ends up helping Merlin and Arthur during a bar fight; he’s injured in the process, so they take him with back to Camelot for Gaius to heal. Merlin instantly befriends the young man. A melee is to take place in Camelot and two of the thugs from the tavern intend to kill Arthur for standing up to them, using magic blades that appear blunt but really aren’t, and crystals to disguise themselves as knights. As knights, they harass Merlin. He stumbles upon the truth and intends to get proof for Arthur. Gwaine helps and takes the blame. But Uther is firm in his knight’s code; a peasant cannot accuse a knight. Gwaine is banished from Camelot. Arthur tries to argue for his new friend, but Gwaine distrusts nobles (even though his father was one) and willingly leaves. During the melee, Merlin has no choice but to secretly use magic to protect Arthur. It ends up Arthur against the two thugs, though another knight steps into help. The thugs are killed and Gwaine is revealed. Uther holds to his decision to banish the man, even though that’s twice he’s saved his son.
The Crystal Cave recalls common elements of Arthurian legend. (The Crystal Cave is the first book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga series). While Arthur and Merlin are out in the woods, they’re attacked and Arthur is injured. Merlin tries to use magic to heal when an old man appears; Taliesin. He heals Arthur then shows Merlin to the Crystal Cave, where magic began. Merlin is a powerful sorcerer and can use the crystals to see all of time. Merlin sees a future where Morgana stabs Uther. Back in Camelot, Gaius cautions that all may not be as it seems. But things start happening that Merlin saw in his vision. Arthur gives Morgana a dagger for her birthday, matching the one that Merlin saw, at Merlin’s inadvertent advice ironically. When Morgana sneaks off to see Morgause, Merlin follows and causes her to fall down a flight of stairs. She’s slowly dying. When Merlin can no longer stand watching everyone else’s grief, he goes out to call Kilgarah. The great dragon at first refuses to help save Morgana, but Merlin uses his power as Dragonlord to force the dragon. Merlin has also overheard Uther reveal to Gaius that Morgana is actually his daughter, begging the older man to use magic to save her. Gorlois was away fighting and Viviane had gotten lonely, he explains. No one can know, for Arthur’s sake. We see Morgana’s eyes move minutely. Later, after Morgana is healed, she tells Morgause. The older woman realizes that this gives Morgana a legitimate claim to the throne. Now they’ll redouble their efforts to kill Uther. Merlin’s vision proceeds, he’s stopped nothing. He races after Morgana who decides no time like the present to kill the king. She uses magic and accidently starts a fire and blows a window, waking Uther, but smoothly covers, cowering like a damsel in distress. Life is more complicated now; Arthur is all that stands between Morgana and the throne.
The Sidhe return in The Changeling, the hid a faerie in a baby princess and twenty years later, she’s old enough to wed Arthur in an effort to permanently bind the two kingdoms. This will put a Sidhe at the heart of Camelot (and that can’t be good). Her nurse, Grunhilda, is played by Professor Sprout from Harry Potter. Turns out, Grunhilda is a pixie, servant to the Sidhe. Arthur struggles with his love for Gwen, which Morgana has begun to notice. Uther insists that Arthur for the sake of the kingdom, his own feelings be damned. Arthur goes through with the proposal. Merlin slips Elena a potion to eject the faerie, killing it, Grunhilda, and the leader of the Sidhe. An instant effect takes on Elena; she’s more polished and prim, but still her personality (which is kind of awesome). She and Arthur stand in front of Camelot, prepared to take their vows, but come clean to each other that they don’t have feelings for the other. The wedding is called off and her father tells Uther that Arthur has the makings of a great king; times are changing. Merlin tells Arthur he knows what it’s like to have a destiny you cannot escape, for everything to be planned out and have no say.
Gwen is reunited with her brother, Elyan in The Castle of Fyrien. She is kidnapped by Cenred as a way to get Arthur. Cenred threatens Elyan if Gwen does not bring Arthur to him. She doesn’t want to tell Arthur, but Merlin convinces her that the best way to have help is to tell Arthur. Merlin, Gwen, and unfortunately Morgana ride out with Arthur to rescue Elyan. They’re caught, since Morgana is a traitor and Cenred plans to torture Arthur. The young people escape, grabbing Morgana in the process. Elyan is reported to have been away for four years and felt like he couldn’t come home, even when his father died.
Arthur takes on a quest in The Eye of the Phoenix to prove that he is worthy of the throne. He is to retrieve the trident from the Fisher King in the Perilous Realms. Legends state that the Fisher King was a powerful sorcerer and when he was wounded and it became infected, so did his land. But he’s supposedly still alive. Arthur is to undertake this quest alone and unaided. Merlin worries for Arthur, but the prince orders him to stay home. Then Merlin spots the bracelet Morgana gifts Arthur and its strange stone. Gaius uncovers that it is a phoenix’s eye and it will consume Arthur’s life force. Merlin races after Arthur, but stops for help; Gwaine. Arthur, steadily weakening, makes it to the bridge in the Perilous Lands, guarded by a dwarf (we recognize Warwick Davis, famed as Wicket from Return of the Jedi, Professor Flitwick and Griphook from Harry Potter and Nikabrik from Prince Caspian). He informs Arthur “you must be Courage,” he will need Strength and Magic to complete his quest. When Arthur dismisses magic, he warns the lad not to. Arthur almost drowns, due to the bracelet and Merlin and Gwaine come to the bridge, meeting the dwarf. Magic and Strength have arrived. Back in Camelot, Gwen reveals to Gaius that she suspects Morgana to have magic. Wyvern, an offshoot of dragons, almost eat Arthur in the Dark Tower, but Merlin’s there to save him. He’s separated from Arthur and Gwaine and speaks to the Fisher King. The king has been waiting for the right time. This was truly Merlin’s quest. The real prize is water from the lake of Avalon. When need is greatest, it will show Merlin what to do. In exchange, Merlin gives the king the cursed bracelet so he may be released to death.
An old friend of Gaius’s return in Love in the Time of Dragons. Alice was his fiancée years ago, right before the Purge. Gaius helped her escape, but stayed behind to not draw suspicion. Now she’s returned to Camelot with magical remedies, and a creature in a box: a manticore. Merlin hears them speaking one evening and doesn’t trust Alice. Gaius won’t hear it. Alice helps Gaius with his potions, including one for Uther. She drops poison in it one day and administers it to Uther. At that point, Gaius believes Arthur and they rid the world of the manticore. Uther blames Alice (Arthur figured out she was the one to give Uther is remedy) and sentences her to death. Gaius cannot plead with the king, but still manages to help his old love escape.
Morgana tries to split up Gwen and Arthur in Queen of Hearts when she has a vision of Gwen as queen. She gets the couple to spend alone time in the woods (it is a rather romantic picnic), then arranges for Uther to ride by them, catching the couple kissing. Uther orders Arthur to end the relationship, Arthur refuses. Morgana then plants an enchantment in Arthur’s room, so Gwen will be arrested as a witch. Merlin plans to invent a sorcerer to get Gwen freed; he’ll disguise himself as an old man, Dragoon the Great. That part works. The changing back doesn’t. He’s arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake; though he gets a chance to tell Uther and Arthur off. Gaius works out a potion to change him back and Merlin escapes long enough to down it. This is the start of the running joke that if Arthur cannot find Merlin due to magical needs, people claim the young man is in the tavern. Gwen is free and the young couple’s feelings haven’t changed, but they cannot show it.
Another sorcerer comes to Camelot for a tournament in The Sorcerer’s Shadow. Ghillie (Harry Melling again [Dudley]) is tired of being bullied and uses magic to help in the tournament. Morgana has also pitted Uther and Arthur against each other (probably hoping that Uther will be killed in the tournament). When the two face each other, Arthur has to let his father win to save face. Then Uther has to face Ghillie in the finals. Merlin tries to get Ghillie to promise not to use magic, but Ghillie is enjoying the fame he’s gotten. He even shows the other man his powers; he understands how lonely it is to be more powerful than any man you know and live like a shadow. To be special and pretend to be a fool. Merlin has to make the choice; let Ghillie kill Uther, or protect Uther and harm another sorcerer. Kilgarah cautions that if Uther is killed by magic, it will harden Arthur’s mind. Thus, Merlin works against Ghillie. Uther spares the boy in the end (obviously not knowing about the magic). Uther reveals he knew what Arthur had done; he’s followed his son’s progress all along, but he’s grateful for the actions. Arthur is truly ready to be king.
Another two-parter ends the season, The Coming of Arthur. It opens on a scene of slaughtered knights, figures moving through them. They come to Sir Leon and heal him with a magical cup. Sir Leon returns to Camelot and reports that Cenred was responsible for the attack and it was the Druids who healed him. Gauis and Uther realize that the Druids have the Cup of Life, as Gauis informs Merlin, it was not destroyed on the Isle of the Blessed, it is eternal. Uther wants the cup and sends Arthur after it, for there is another legend attached to the cup; a warlord used it to create an immortal army. Camelot is in danger. Arthur doesn’t tell Merlin where they’re going but takes him anyway. Morgana overhears the plans and reports to Morgause, who instructs Cenred to be ready. But a slave trader captures Merlin and Arthur first. There, they’re reunited with Gwaine, whom Arthur has to face in a challenge. The boys try to throw the fight without appearing to do so, but Merlin causes a distraction that gets them out. The trio continue on the search and find the Druid camp. The Druids hand over the cup to Arthur, but really to Emrys. An attack from Cenred’s men injures Arthur and lets the cup fall into enemy hands. Morgause creates an immortal army, then kills Cenred and marches on Camelot. The trio does eventually make it back to Camelot to discover dead littering the streets from the attack, they discover Elyan and make their way into the castle. Arthur and Merlin go after Uther, the rest are to wait for them in the woods. Uther is being led into the great hall, facing Morgause. She takes his crown and Morgana steps out. She claims the throne, as daughter to Uther. Arthur is shocked by the news and he and Merlin withdraw.
The second part picks up a week after that ending; Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Gwaine, and Elyan are hiding in the woods. Morgana is trying to persuade the knights of Camelot to her side, but they resist. She lines them up in front of a firing squad and instead shoots the crowd. Gwen plays along as a loyal servant, but plans to help Sir Leon escape; Leon will know where Arthur is hiding and he is the only hope Camelot has. Morgana and Morgause eavesdrop and figure they can use Gwen as a way to find Arthur, a simple tracking potion in a drink does the trick. Merlin uses the water from Avalon that the Fisher King gave him, revealing Freya. She tells him that only one weapon can slay the dead, a sword burnished by dragon fire, which lies in the lake. Kilgarah still serves Merlin and helps the young sorcerer retrieve the blade, but has him swear that when he is finished with the sword, he put it where no man can wield it. If the blood is emptied from the Cup of Life, the immortal army will fall.
Arthur and his companions are forced to retreat once Leon and Gwen finds them. They’re aided by Lancelot and a new man, Percival (Merlin had sent word to Lancelot), taking refuge in an abandoned castle from the time of the ancient kings. Inside, Arthur discovers a round table. He instructs his companions to sit and speaks of the old tradition of equality for all. Tomorrow, he will rescue his father, who is with him. Lancelot is the first to stand. These men believe in the world that Arthur will create. All join him; well, Merlin tries to stay seated as a joke, but he doesn’t have a choice. Arthur then does something he know his father would disapprove of, he knights Elyan, Lancelot, Gwaine, and Percival. Lancelot comments to Merlin that evening that the servant is the bravest of them and Arthur should really be knighting him, but doesn’t know. The men make their way back to Camelot, Lancelot planning to help Merlin destroy the Cup. Gaius enters the fray against Morgause after she flings Merlin, giving Merlin the chance to knock over the Cup. The immortal army explodes. Morgana enters to find an injured Morgause and screeches. Her magic is out of control, the walls start crumbling and they disappear.
A new time is dawning. Arthur may need to take charge; Uther is very distressed by the events with Morgana and her betrayal. Gaius tells Merlin, since no one else will, “Well done.” Merlin follows his promise and sticks the sword in a stone.
I liked the inclusion of more traditional elements of Arthurian legend, such as the Crystal Cave, but Merlin does run into the problem that often arises from prophecies; as Yoda has taught us, the future is always in motion. This is one possibly future and Merlin gets consumed by it. In trying to prevent that future from happening, he almost causes it. But he also doesn’t get the best instructions. Downfall of many fantasy wizards: I’m going to warn you about this but be very cryptic. Like the dragon. The Fisher King story was a nice inclusion as well and more and more Arthur is being shown that magic is not inherently evil, but circumstances always come about that he can’t trust it. Woo at seeing the knights of the Round Table, finally! Arthur is coming into his own now. Merlin still staunchly supports him, even behind the scenes. They’ve come a long way from wanting to kill each other.
Now, my Shide and Fae are not like the ones in this show, but it’s good to see differing views, so I can craft my own. Pick and choose which bits I like. As much as Morgause is the enemy, there is something I admire in the way she deals with Cenred, an attitude I hope to emulate in my characters: commanding, she does not outright threaten Cenred until the end. She pulls him along and I swear Cenred wants to sleep with her and she may even let him, knowing that ultimately she has the upper hand.
First, let me apologize for the delay. I actually had this almost ready to post, barring my round up at the end a month ago; but life got complicated for a bit and then I found Game of Thrones (check out my other post today). But, I’m going to get back into this; enjoy!
Merlin: Season 2
The second season begins with Merlin dealing with The Curse of Cornelius Sigan, an evil sorcerer brought back to life when his tomb is opened. People being their greedy selves release the soul of Sigan into a living host, a bootlicker named Cedric (played by Mackenzie Crook, Ragetti from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) who manages to cause trouble for Merlin so he becomes Arthur’s servant in order to get a hold of keys to the tomb. Merlin bemoans “everything I do is for him [Arthur] and he just thinks I’m an idiot.” Arthur even throws him in prison. He breaks out so he can ask the dragon for help, but the dragon extracts a promise that Merlin will set him free in exchange for information. When Merlin faces Sigan, the sorcerer goes all Darth Vader, “join me and together we can rule.” Merlin, like Luke Skywalker, refuses. It is better to serve a good man. He’s almost consumed by the soul of Sigan but off camera gets it back into its crystal. Uther, being dense as usual, figures that they must renew their efforts to eradicate sorcerers. How ’bout, Gaius said don’t open the tomb and you wanted riches, so did so anyway?
In The Once and Future Queen, Arthur wants to be judged as his own man, not as the prince. So he concocts an idea for the upcoming jousting tournament. He won’t compete as himself; he’ll have an unknown man do all the public appearances and compete in the joust in the helmet so his opponent won’t pull up at the last moment in order to not harm the prince. (Bit like part of Knight’s Tale). Arthur secretly stays at Gwen’s home for the tournament, but still acts like a rude prince at times. Gwen stands up to him and he listens. Yet trouble still lies in wait; an assassin has been sent to kill Arthur. The assassin spots Merlin and follows the boy, finally discovering Arthur. The assassin takes the place of Arthur’s final opponent and uses a tipped lance to injure the prince. Arthur (with the secret magical help of Merlin) defeats the assassin; he still wants to prove to himself that he is a good and worthy knight. There’s a funny rant by Merlin in the episode of all his duties. He still has to clean the leech tank at the end, though.
Morgana’s magic becomes apparent in The Nightmare Begins. While she dreams, her eyes flash gold, starting a fire. Uther suspects outside magic, but Gaius knows the truth. Merlin deduces it as well and wants to help Morgana. Some of his actions are seen by Arthur, who interprets them as affection for the king’s ward. (We the fans have on occasion paired Merlin and Morgana together). Merlin thinks that the Druids may be able to help. When he asks the dragon for help, the dragon warns Merlin that the “witch” cannot be trusts and it would be better if she never knew the extent of her powers. Merlin won’t abandon her, so the dragon won’t help. Merlin manages to track down the answers and sneaks Morgana out to their camp. Which Uther sees as someone abducting his ward and sends Arthur and his knights to kill all the Druids. At the camp, Morgana meets up with young Mordred again and is so pleased to have some answers, she doesn’t want to go back to Camelot. She tries to flee but an earlier injury hampers her. Merlin secretly manages a distraction; Morgana is recovered and Mordred flees (but not before Merlin witnesses the boy’s power and Mordred calls him Emrys).
Lancelot and Guinevere are reunited in the next episode. Gwen accompanies Morgana on a day trip to visit Morgana’s father’s grave. On the way, they are ambushed by bandits. Morgana manages to get away, but Gwen is still prisoner. Uther won’t send Arthur after a servant and in public, Arthur agrees. In private, he prepares for a rescue. Gwen is held for ransom (believing her to be Lady Morgana) by Hengist (played by James Cosmo, who has appeared in Last Legion, Game of Thrones [Lord Commander Mormont], and is Father Christmas in Chronicles of Narnia). He likes his entertainment in the form of cage fights (cause those were a thing in fantasy medieval times). Who should appear and win his bout but Lancelot? He recognizes Gwen and knows that Uther will not pay the ransom, so he must get her out. He is aided by Arthur and Merlin (once they pass the wildren [“giant…baby rats”] by spreading gaia berries on their face). Arthur and Gwen are sent through the tunnel first, Merlin stays back with Lancelot so he can use magic more openly. Once they are free, Merlin notices that Gwen and Lancelot have shared some tender moments, and he knows that Arthur has feelings for Gwen. Lancelot and Arthur even speak about their shared feelings for the young woman. Lancelot, being the chivalrous knight that he is, won’t come between Arthur and Gwen, so he leaves again.
An “old friend” of Uther’s visits in the two-parter Beauty and the Beast, Lady Catrina, the last of a noble house. However, the Lady Catrina is actually a troll (who most likely killed Catrina and took her place). The troll uses a potion to look beautiful, but still prefers to eat rotten food and sleep in filth. Uther is utterly enchanted by the Lady Catrina – figuratively and literally; she enchants him to marry her so she will gain riches and power. Merlin figures out the truth of her and goes to Arthur. While Arthur is put off by the sickening romantic gestures of his father, he won’t hear Merlin call the woman names. Until she reveals herself as a troll when Merlin switches her potions. But Uther is blind. The only way to break the enchantment is for Uther to cry tears of true remorse, per the dragon (after he has a laugh). Arthur is not sure it will work; Catrina has dismissed Merlin for a crime (that Arthur knows he didn’t commit) and had Uther disinherit Arthur. Gaius knows that Uther truly loves his son, so concocts a potion that will make Arthur appear dead. Merlin just has to get him the antidote in time. (There’s a bit of a stutter there, when Merlin gets knocked out and vial smashed, but it turns out alright in the end). The plan is ultimately successful and Arthur stabs the troll.
In his continuing pursuit to rid Camelot of magic, Uther calls in The Witchfinder. Merlin was almost seen playing with magic. Aridian [Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones] arrives in Camelot and quickly finds three women who have also witnessed magic (which reminded me of the Salem witch trials) and accuses Merlin of being a sorcerer. Arthur scoffs and Merlin insists he has nothing to hide. Aridian “searches” Gaius’s chambers (more like destroys) and discovers a magical bracelet. He arrests Gaius and “questions” (read: interrogate) the elderly man. Aridian reveals that he suspects Merlin and Morgana and will have them exectued, unless Gaius confesses. Gaius confesses. But Aridian won’t hold up his end of the bargain with the comeback that he doesn’t bargain with sorcerers. Merlin (with some help from Arthur this time) sees Gaius. The bracelet wasn’t either of theirs. They realize Aridian is a fake. Now they just have to collect proof. With some help from Gwen, they uncover that the three women all had bought eye drops which caused hallucinations. Merlin magically leaves evidence in Aridian’s chambers, so he’s implicated upon a search. Then he helpfully falls out a window. Gaius is thus released and Uther attempts to apologize. Gaius calls his old friend out that he suffered at Uther’s hands, not Aridian’s. He was not the first falsely accused. Gaius shares a joke with Merlin after that the boy should promise to never save his life again.
Arthur finally discovers the true circumstances of his birth in The Sins of the Father. Morgause rides into Camelot as a knight and challenges Arthur. She almost has him beat in the fight, but extracts a promise for him to meet her later and submit to her challenge there. She also stops to speak to Morgana and gifts the young woman with a bracelet to help ward off bad dreams. Gaius sees the bracelet and realizes who Morgause is; Morgana’s half sister. The bracelet bears the crest of the House of Gorlois; Gaius admits to Uther that he was the one who smuggled the girl out of the castle after her birth to be raised by the High Priestess. (How does Morgana not recognize the crest on the bracelet?) They fear what Arthur will discover from Morgause and Uther forbids Arthur from leaving. Arthur of course sneaks out. His challenge before Morgause is to willingly place his head on an execution block. She swings the axe up, but sets it aside. As a reward, Arthur may have one wish. His heart’s desire is to see his mother. Arthur wonders, as Morgause casts magic, maybe his father’s view has been wrong. Merlin gets his hopes up a little; he and Arthur even bonded over never knowing one of their parents (Merlin never knew his father). Igraine appears to her son and admits that Uther used magic to aid in his conception and the Old Religion demanded a life in exchange. Arthur rides back to Camelot to confront his father. They fight and Arthur calls his father out. Merlin breaks in and stops the fight; claiming that Morgause lied. He has to protect Arthur and that means saving Uther. Arthur would never forgive himself for killing his father. Afterwards, Arthur thanks Merlin for showing him that magic is evil and dangerous. Uther is grateful for Merlin’s loyalty and views the young man as a “trusted ally in the fight against magic”. Gaius is proud.
Merlin meets a young Druid woman named Freya in The Lady of the Lake, locked in a cage, supposedly cursed. He frees her, even after Gaius warns him not to. Merlin falls for the kind girl, telling her she doesn’t have to be scared of magic. Unfortunately, a beast begins attacking people in Camelot, one that can fly and leave human footprints. Gaius discovers it is a Bastet. Meanwhile, Merlin decides to get Freya out of Camelot; he’ll go with her to protect her. But Gaius makes him see the truth on Freya’s condition. Arthur corners her in beast form and mortally wounds her. Merlin cannot save her, but takes her to a lake to die in peace. He sets her pyre alight, tears streaming (we cry too). Arthur sense Merlin’s sadness and tries to cheer him up with some jokes.
A visiting king tries to stir up trouble in Sweet Dreams, having his jester enchant Arthur to fall in love with Lady Vivian (played by Georgia Moffett, the daughter of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, married to Tenth Doctor David Tennant and played the Doctor’s daughter in the titled episode opposite Tennant…ain’t BBC great?) Vivian is rude at first, but is also enchanted to fall in love with Arthur so war will be declared between Uther and King Olaf (played by Mark Lewis Jones, who among other roles, was Uther in The Mists of Avalon…which makes it very funny to think that he’ll challenge Uther). Arthur’s enchantment also causes problems with Gwen, because he tells Merlin he wants to demonstrate his love to a woman, whom Merlin assumes is Gwen, causing Merlin to leaves flowers and a note for Gwen. Merlin eventually needs Gwen’s help, after Arthur breaks her heart a bit not showing for a date; true love’s kiss will break the love potion (just like in every fairy tale). It works! Arthur keeps the peace between the kingdoms. Vivian’s spell is not broken, but hopefully the right man will come along for her. Gwen tells Arthur that she cannot be his queen.
Morgana slides further towards the villain side in The Witch’s Quickening when Mordred sneaks in to Camelot to persuade Morgana to steal a crystal. Merlin hears the commotion and has Arthur knock on Morgana’s door. She refuses to let Arthur search her room, which makes Arthur tell Merlin off. Merlin knows that Morgana is the one who steals the crystal, rumored to show all time: past, present, and future. The dragon warns him that a union of evil is foretold between Mordred and Morgana. Merlin follows Morgana to Mordred’s camp where they plot against Uther. Gaius helps send Arthur in the right direction, reporting to Uther on Alva, a charismatic fanatic magician. Morgana warns the camp and Merlin leads the knights to the camp, where they’re ambushed. Merlin trips Mordred, but the boy shoves spears through two knights. He won’t forget what Merlin did, but still escapes. Only Alva is left standing. Arthur has Merlin guard the crystal; Merlin fears the power, but it compels him to pick it up. He sees a vision of Camelot in flames. Alva stands trail and doesn’t give away Morgana. Morgana confronts Uther and disowns him for hunting down sorcerers, then sneaks down and eases Alva’s escape. Both Merlin and Uther suspect her involvement. Uther issues a warning that his persecution of magic will continue. Merlin fears the future he saw and Gaius tries to comfort him; the future is not yet written, he’s only seen one possibility. But the dragon calls to Merlin to fulfill his promise.
The ante is upped in The Fires of Idirsholas. Like the Nazgul, the knights of Medhir are raised from the dead to bring doom to Camelot. Morgause uses Morgana as the host for her spell to put everyone to sleep in Camelot. Merlin and Arthur are away, investigating the knights. They’re the only two of their guard to escape and make haste back for Camelot. The dragon insists on another promise of freedom before he offers help. Merlin swears on his mother’s life; he’ll follow through. The dragon tells Merlin he must kill Morgana to save everyone else. He puts hemlock in his waterskin and gives it to Morgana. She realizes what he’s done and Morgause bursts in to save her half sister (Morgana still doesn’t know). Merlin bargains the antidote for Morgause to stop the spell. She agrees to save Morgana and magics her way out. There are a few funny bits when the three teenagers are trying to save Uther, and Merlin at first does not give away that Morgana has magic. Arthur is very brave when he fights the knights by himself. Gaius reassures Merlin that he did the right thing. And now, Merlin must keep his promise. He frees the dragon.
Which leads to the dragon attacking and burning Camelot (like the vision) in The Last Dragonlord. Arthur and his knights are no match for the dragon. They must find the last dragonlord, who Gaius reveals is Balinor (remember the visiting priest from The Musketeers?). Gaius comes clean to Merlin before he leaves with Arthur that Balinor is the boy’s father. At first meeting, Balinor is not who Merlin thought he would be. He needs the man’s help healing Arthur from a dragon scratch (the young knight received it saving Gwen). Balinor does not want to help Camelot; Uther betrayed him. He had Balinor call in the last dragon, under the guise of peace, instead to chain him up and hunt Balinor down. But Merlin reminds him of Gaius, so he’ll come. In the woods, Merlin reveals he is Balinor’s son. But they only have a few hours to enjoy their family; soldiers attack and Balinor is killed protecting Merlin. Merlin can’t even tell Arthur why he mourns the man; the son of a dragonlord would be suspicious to Uther. Arthur will make a last stand against the dragon. Merlin insists on coming. Most of the knights are killed and Arthur is knocked out. But Merlin is able to draw on the powers of a dragonlord (since his father is dead) to make Kilgarah stop. He shows mercy when Kilgarah pleads with the warlock to not end a noble race. Kilgarah feels that they will meet again. Arthur wakes after the dragon flies off and Merlin informs him that the prince dealt a mortal blow. Gwen hugs Arthur when they return and Gaius hugs Merlin, calling him “my boy.”
I liked the evolving relationship between Arthur and Merlin; they’re definitely friends, even if a bit lopsided. Arthur is comfortable enough to joke with Merlin, even if he doesn’t treat him with the best respect. This is the reason I love the show; the banter between Merlin and Arthur. Our characters are tested this season; you pity Morgana for her fear of magic. She’s raised by Uther to view magic as evil and then finds out she has it and cannot control it. I wish Merlin hadn’t had to poison Morgana; it would have been nice for him to have a confidant his own age within Camelot. And poor Merlin, to find his father and lose him within a few days’ time. Never completely trusted the dragon. He thinks that killing hundreds of innocent people is the proper recompense for one man locking him up?
As always, let me know your thoughts or questions. (I’ll add any further thoughts that come about)
In a land of myth, and a time of magic…The destiny of a great kingdom lies on the shoulders of a young boy. His name…Merlin.
Ran on BBC for five seasons from 2008 to 2012 featuring younger characters; young adults, before they became famous. For those who watch British television, it has some familiar faces and names (a whole bunch have appeared in Doctor Who). Colin Morgan (he was the teenage boy in the episode Midnight, and did go on to have a small part in The Huntsman: Winter’s War) leads the cast as Merlin with Bradley James by his side as Arthur. Angel Coulby (again, a small role in Doctor Who, The Girl in the Fireplace) is Gwen and Katie McGrath (a variety of roles; leading lady in A Princess for Christmas opposite Sam Heughan [before he became Jamie Fraser in Outlander] and Roger Moore, a small part in Tudors, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, she was Zara in Jurassic World and has had reoccurring roles in Dracula and Supergirl) is Morgana. Veterans Anthony Head (has appeared in Doctor Who, Buffy, Galavant, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters) is Uther Pendragon, Richard Wilson (who has also been in Doctor Who) is Merlin’s mentor Gaius, and John Hurt (The War Doctor, Ollivander in Harry Potter among over 200 credits and recently passed in 2017) voices the Great Dragon. It’s not specifically set in England; all of the place names being fantasy related. The show centers in Camelot, though the features a castle that actually exists in France.
We open with The Dragon’s Call, the dragon narrating that no young man, no matter how great, can know his destiny (this is before the opening was used before each episode). Merlin walks into Camelot just as Uther decrees a sorcerer executed. He has banned magic from his kingdom and they have enjoyed twenty years of peace. An old woman curses Uther and disappears. Merlin heads for Gaius’s chambers and demonstrates his innate magical ability when he saves Gaius from falling. Yeah, that’s going to be an issue; the boy was born with magic and cannot help it. And now lives in a city where he will be executed if found out. Morgana opposes Uther’s harsh law on magic (she’s not aware of her legendary abilities at this point), and shows herself to be a strong female to openly stand up to her guardian. Merlin meets Arthur as the prince is tormenting a servant; Merlin refuses to show proper decorum, referring to Arthur as a prat. He ends up in the stocks, twice, meeting Gwen as well, who is Morgana’s servant. The old woman from before has transformed herself into a famous singer in order to get into the palace (played by Eve Myles who is Gwen Cooper from Torchwood and Doctor Who and was Mrs. Jenkins in the Victoria series).
Throughout the episode, Merlin hears a voice calling him. He eventually ventures below the castle and encounters a dragon. The Great Dragon informs the young warlock that his and Arthur’s destines are entwined. Arthur is the Once and Future King, destined to unite Albion and bring magic back. Merlin’s role is to protect the young man; a duty that Merlin is not keen on at the beginning. Nevertheless, when the witch puts everyone to sleep and tries to kill Arthur, Merlin uses his powers to save the prince. Uther “rewards” him for his loyalty by making him Arthur’s servant; neither boy is terribly happy about the appointment.
Valiant brings a tournament for knights to compete. Arthur is expected to win since he’s the prince. The knight Valiant however has a magical trick up his sleeve to ensure his victory; a shield with three snakes that can come to life and do his bidding. Merlin eventually discovers the shield and tries to convince Arthur to drop out of the tournament. The servant manages to get the prince to believe his accusations, but they have no proof and Arthur is embarrassed in front of the king. He dismisses Merlin, but Merlin will see his duty through. Morgana also has dreams of Arthur dying and even tries to persuade him to save himself; Arthur cannot back down from the fight. Merlin discovers a way to bring the snakes to life on his own and quietly does so in front of the whole court. Morgana throws a sword to Arthur, who dispatches the snakes and Valiant. There’s almost a tender moment between the two after, but they bicker with each other. Merlin is once again Arthur’s servant and their lives carry on.
A plague breaks out in The Mark of Nimueh, caused by the sorceress Nimueh (played by Michelle Ryan who was in the Doctor Who episode Planet of the Dead). Merlin struggles to learn when it is appropriate to use his powers. (He is often in the position of: “Merlin, don’t do this thing.” And Merlin does the thing). He heals Gwen’s father when he falls ill, but that simply causes more problems. Gwen is accused of being a sorceress and Merlin tries to cover for her. Arthur talks him out of any consequences by saying the boy is in love with Gwen (they are adorably awkward around each other at times) [reminder, no Arthur does not know that Merlin has magic, he’s simply saving a friend]. Gaius and Merlin figure out it’s an Avank monster and gather Morgana and Arthur to destroy the beast. Gwen is saved, but Gaius and Uther both know the sorceress responsible.
The Poisoned Chalice is one of my favorite episodes, since it shows the tight friendship that Arthur and Merlin have already built. Nimueh sneaks into Camelot as part of King Bayard’s court, there to sign a treaty with Uther. Nimueh poisons a cup that is given to Arthur, then disguises herself as a servant and speaks to Merlin, spurring him to take the cup to save Arthur. When the poison takes effect after a moment, it drops him to the ground. Gaius figures out what the poison is and the antidote, but it’s a dangerous mission. Arthur barely hesitates, agreeing to retrieve the ingredients. Uther forbids his son from the mission. Arthur, encouraged by Morgana, disobeys his father and rides out. He battles a few beasts and encounters Nimueh, who leaves him to die by giant spiders (why did it have to be spiders?) While a fever rages through Merlin, he mutters magic, which Gaius has to cover in front of Gwen. He conjures a blue sphere to light Arthur’s way, and even urges the young man to save himself. Arthur grabs one vital flower and escapes. Uther puts him in the dungeon for his disobedience; he’ll just have to get a new servant when he’s let out (Uther has a habit of being cruel). Gwen manages to sneak in and get the flower and Gaius has to secretly use magic to make the antidote. Again, it takes a moment for the draught to take effect, but Merlin recovers. Huzzah!
We meet Lancelot in the self-titled episode (remember, played by a fresh faced Santiago Cabrera; later to be Aramis). He saves Merlin from a griffin attack and is injured in the process. Upon waking in Camelot, he expresses his lifelong desire to be a knight. One problem: the First Code. Knights must be from noble families; Lancelot is not. Merlin magics his way around that, including his friend in the lineage of a noble house. He encounters the librarian, Geoffrey of Monmouth (as in the writer of The History of the Kings of Britain, one of the earliest developed narratives of King Arthur). Lancelot proves himself in a test against Arthur and is knighted. But it’s all ripped away when Geoffrey discovers the lie. Arthur has no choice but to imprison Lancelot. Meanwhile, the griffin has come to the castle. It is a magical beast and can only be vanquished with magic. Merlin has a plan and is aided by Lancelot (who, upon being let out of prison by Arthur, insists on staying and goes to Gwen for weapons and aid. Gwen in turn fetches Merlin). Lancelot charges at the beast while Arthur lies knocked out. Merlin mutters his incantation and the lance glows, defeating the griffin. Uther refuses to reinstate Lancelot’s knighthood after his heroic deeds. While Arthur fights his father, Lancelot quietly reveals to Merlin that he knows of the boy’s magic; he heard the incantation. But he won’t reveal the secret. He does agree to leave Camelot.
Morgana becomes very ill, “all but dead” in A Remedy to Cure All Ills. A man comes to Camelot spouting that he has a remedy to cure all ills and will see to Morgana. In fact, the man is a sorcerer and caused the illness (with a creepy bug). He cures Morgana, which was something Gaius was unable to do, calling into question Gaius’s outdated methods and age. Uther offers the position of court physician to the man, retiring Gaius. Gaius intends to leave Camelot, though Merlin begs for him to stay; the man has been more than a father to him and Gaius admits he looks on Merlin like a son. The sorcerer causes Uther to fall ill next. Gaius confronts the young man, realizing he recognizes him; he was a boy during the Purges and his parents were burned by Uther for using magic. We also find out that Gaius knows the great dragon beneath Camelot. The dragon counsels Gaius that Arthur cannot unite Albion until Uther is dead. Merlin manages to rescue his mentor and reverse the sorcerer’s illness. Gaius is reinstated and Uther is none the wiser to the magical ailments that went on under his nose.
The Sidhe (an Irish term for faeries, a carryover from when they were considered gods) make an appearance in The Gates of Avalon. Merlin and Arthur are out hunting and come across bandits attacking and father and daughter. Arthur rescues them (with secret magical assistance from Merlin) and escorts them to Camelot. They’re invited to stay and Arthur clearly is infatuated with the daughter Sophia (played by Holliday Grainger. Among other roles, she is Anastasia in the updated Disney Cinderella movie). Arthur has Merlin cover for him so he can spend time with the young lady, landing Merlin in the stocks twice (this is the season Merlin spends in the stocks).
Meanwhile, Morgana has been having dreams of Sophia drowning Arthur; she saw Sophia before the young woman stepped foot into the castle. Indeed, Sophia is trying to drown Arthur; Merlin follows her father to the woods one evening and overhears their plan to sacrifice Arthur so Sophia can regain her immortal life as a Sidhe. Morgana goes to Gaius, who believes her and sends Merlin after them. He destroys the Sidhe and rescues Arthur. And still ends up punished.
The Beginning of the End (very ominous) introduces the Druids. A young Druid boy (who looks like a young Merlin) and his father are chased by guards; the boy is injured and the father is captured. The boy calls to Merlin – mentally, for aid, calling him ‘Emrys’. Merlin helps him and hides him with Morgana. Morgana quickly becomes attached to the boy, holding him as they hear his father executed. Uther demands the boy be found; any who harbor him will face execution as well. The boy’s wound becomes infected and Merlin is hesitant to bring in Gaius. Merlin seeks counsel from the dragon, and the dragon reveals that the boy will be Arthur’s downfall. Morgana, Gwen, and Merlin try to sneak the boy out, but Morgana and the boy are caught. Uther is furious at Morgana. Arthur is more sympathetic than his father and agrees to help get the boy to the Druids. Morgana will dine with Uther so she cannot be suspected. Arthur will get the boy out of the dungeon, but he needs Merlin’s help. Merlin almost doesn’t follow through, heeding the dragon’s caution of future danger. But he comes through and Arthur manages to get the boy to the Druids. Only then do we find out the boy’s name: Mordred. Uh oh.
Another element from the legend comes into play in Excalibur. Nimueh raises a knight from the dead on the same evening Arthur is officially crowned as prince of Camelot and Uther’s heir, now that he is of age. The knight breaks into the festivities and throws down a gauntlet. Sir Owain picks it up and will face single combat. Arthur would rather face the knight than have his knights be sacrificed. Gaius suspects and with the help of Geoffrey confirms the black knight is Sir Tristan du Bois, Uther’s brother-in-law, killed by Uther’s hand when Tristan challenged him after his sister Igraine’s death. Owain is killed by the black knight in combat and the gauntlet is thrown again. Uther stops Arthur from picking it up, instead, Sir Pelenor will face the challenge. He fares better the next day, but still falls. Merlin has noticed both times that wounds that should kill the black knight don’t. He’s once again dealing with a magical entity. Arthur this time throws down his gauntlet; he will face the black knight. Everyone tries to talk Arthur out of it; he will be killed. Nimueh visits Uther and we discover they used to be friends. Uther had asked for her help to give his wife a son. But she was not to know that it was Igraine’s life that would be lost to gain Arthur’s. This is why Uther despises magic. Uther finally goes to Gaius for help; a sleeping draught.
In the meantime, Merlin has been working on another plan. A sword burnished by dragon fire can kill a wraith. Merlin gets such a blade, promising to the dragon that only Arthur will wield it. It gains an inscription that reads on one side: Take me up, and on the other: Cast me aside. There’s a hiccup when Arthur is sleeping and Uther takes his place, including the sword. It’s does its job, but the dragon is furious. He orders Merlin to take the sword where it can never be found; the young man throws it into a lake (this is the sword from the opening sequence). Arthur confronts his father about his actions and Uther finally admits to his son that he is not a disappointment.
Merlin returns home during The Moment of Truth. His mother, Hunith comes to Camelot begging help; raiders are attacking their village. But they lie in another kingdom and Uther cannot send knights, it would look like an act of war. Merlin will return with his mother, intent on staying so he can look after her. Gwen and Morgana accompany him and they’re joined later by Arthur. Arthur encourages the men of the village to fight and stand up to Canan and his goons. One young man is outspoken against him, Will, Merlin’s old friend. His father had been killed serving a king and so he doesn’t trust nobles. Will incidentally knows that Merlin has magic and debates with him on using it, so he can spare the village. But Merlin must keep it a secret from Arthur. Gwen and Morgana join the men in the fight (wearing impractical mail). Merlin finally has to use magic, which Arthur witnesses. But Will was standing next to Merlin so it could have been either of them. Will takes a bolt for Arthur and as he dies, he takes credit for the magic; what can Arthur do? Kill him? Hunith talks her son into returning to Camelot; she sees that he and Arthur are friends; two sides of the same coin. The day will come when the truth will be known.
Arthur slays a unicorn hunting one day in The Labyrinth of Gedref, causing a curse to befall Camelot. Overnight their crops die, then the water turns to sand. An old man appears and tells Arthur he must face several tests to lift the curse. One evening, Arthur and Merlin, while looking for the old man, come across a peasant stealing food. Arthur lets the man go. Water returns. But when they venture to the woods, the peasant taunts him and Arthur fights him. The remaining grain rots and Uther decrees that the food must be saved for the army. But Arthur cares more for his people than for himself and refuses to give the order. Merlin persuades the old man to give Arthur a final test. Then follows Arthur through a labyrinth. At the end, Merlin sits across from Arthur at a table, two goblets, one filled with poison. Merlin tries to talk Arthur into letting him drink the poison; he is only a servant. But Arthur tricks him and drinks all the contents. ‘Twas ultimately not poison and Arthur wakes. The crops re-grow overnight and Camelot is saved. Arthur buries the unicorn horn and proving that he has a pure heart, the unicorn lives again.
Gwen’s father is caught consorting with a sorcerer in To Kill the King and sentenced to execution. Morgana takes pity on him for Gwen’s sake and tries to help him escape. He is killed. Morgana is furious for Uther for the way he handled the situation. If it involves magic, he loses all rational sense. He locks her in the dungeon overnight for her backtalk. Arthur pleads with him off camera in the morning to release his ward. So she decides that Uther must die and allies herself with the sorcerer. Under the pretense of visiting her father’s grave, Morgana gets Uther into the open. Merlin follows and takes care of the other men. But at the grave, Uther reveals he looks upon Morgana as a daughter and appreciates that she makes him question his actions, like her father did. From now on, he tells her, I want to listen more and quarrel less. Morgana no long wishes Uther dead and when the sorcerer attacks, she stabs in him the back as he tackles Uther.
The first season ends with Le Morte d’Arthur (like Malory’s tale). Arthur, Merlin, and his knights are in the forest, hunting the Questing Beast. They lose Sir Bedivere to the beast (like in the tale). Morgana has another dream of Arthur dying and in distress begs him not to go back out. He does and in a cave is scratched by the beast. Gaius states that a bite from the Questing Beast is fatal, there is no cure. Uther tries to carry his son to his room, but falls to his knees in the courtyard. Gaius tries to make the lad more comfortable, but Merlin searches for another answer. The Questing Beast is tied to the Old Religion and carries the power of life and death. Merlin goes to the dragon for help. He’s instructed to go to the Isle of the Blessed and strike a deal, a life for a life. Merlin willingly gives his life for Arthur. But he meets Nimueh on the Isle. She gives him water from the Cup of Life. With it, Arthur is healed. And Merlin strangely doesn’t die.
Instead, his mother arrives back in Camelot, gravely ill. Merlin is furious at the dragon for misleading him. The dragon insists that Merlin must do everything in his power to free the dragon, to free magic. Merlin tells the dragon he will not be back. Now, Merlin can’t find Gaius. He races after his mentor, who has chosen to give his life for the boy. Merlin strikes out at Nimueh, bringing lightning upon her. The balance of the Old Religion has been appeased. Gaius lives, Arthur lives, we see some tender moments between Uther and his son, along with a moment between Gwen and Arthur. Merlin tries to say goodbye to Arthur without really saying goodbye and being the men they are, they can’t really tell each other how they feel; that they’re friends and they’d miss each other. It’s another of my favorite episodes.
The theme of destiny runs throughout the series. The Great Dragon harps on it anytime Merlin asks for help. Gaius refers to it. Others speak to Arthur about his destiny as king. It’s a lot for two young men to take on, particularly when they don’t know the full extent. We as the audience know they’re ‘destined’ to become legends. For now, though, they’re teenagers. Merlin has to hide a part of himself from the person he’s supposed to protect. They all make mistakes. It’s fun to see these characters more human. Not as legends, but as young people, relatable.
Morgana’s costumes in particular have a modern flair. This is a fantastical take on the legend, rather than a historical take (Last Legion, King Arthur. Those have their places. This is fun). What made these characters into who they are? How did Arthur and Merlin have such a strong bond? It’s adorable to watch Arthur become protective of Merlin so soon. While he was raised by a sometimes-tyrant like Uther (he truly loves his son, he just has a funny way of showing it), Arthur is a different man than his father. He puts everyone else before him; well, he still gives Merlin a list of chores to do.
We will continue this discussion in Season Two next time.
Based on the book by Marion Zimmer Bradley; I read the book when I was doing research for my Morgan le Fae capstone project (in order to complete my Creative Writing major; and at 876 pages, I am pretty sure it is the longest book I’ve read). It has greatly influenced elements of the fantasy series I am planning: how the Faerie kingdom works, heck it’s influenced character names. I also made a deal with my brother; he said he wouldn’t read it since it was about women, I found that sexist. In return, I would read Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy and a Clive Cussler book. And after having Morgan le Fae vilified by almost every other version of the tale; mainly since she is a female with magic (Merlin has magic, but since he’s a man, he’s good…that bothered me a lot in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga), I cheered that this presented the characters in a better light (well, more so in the film than in the book; the book is heavily pro Morgaine and the Old Ways).
The film was actually made for TV in two episodes. It stars Anjelica Huston (she was the stepmother in Ever After) as Vivianne, Julianna Margulies as Morgaine, Joan Allen as Morgause, Samantha Mathis (she’s older Amy March in Little Women) as Gwenwyfar, Caroline Goodall (the mom in Princess Diaries) as Igraine, Edward Atterton (he plays jerkass Atheron in an episode of Firefly) as Arthur (he’s nicer in this role), Freddie Highmore (he’s the lead in The Good Doctor amongst other roles) as young Arthur, and Hans Matheson (Lord Coward in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes, and Thomas Cranmer in The Tudors) as Mordred. Loreena McKennitt’s Mystic’s Dream features in the movie several times (I was already familiar with the artist when I watched the movie).
The film is really told as a flashback by Morgaine. She tells us that most stories about Arthur are lies and the true story is not known. The story takes place in a time of violent upheaval in Britain; the Saxons are invading. They need one great leader to unite them all. A major point of contention is the Old Ways worshipping the Mother Goddess and the new religion of Christianity. The Old Religion embraces Christianity, able to coexist. Christianity…not so much. Morgaine’s father was a Christian man, Goloris, Duke of Cornwall. Her mother was Igraine, who still secretly followed the Old Ways. Igraine’s sister Morgause lived with them and she was more open about following the Goddess. Their eldest sister is Vivianne, the Lady of the Lake. She and Merlin come to Cornwall to speak to Igraine. The current king, Ambrosis is old and due to name a successor, but they’re looking further ahead to the future. They’ve seen one who will unite Britain, but he needs to be born to two who follow the Old Ways. Igraine is to bear the king, but not by Goloris; instead to one who bears a dragon tattoo. Morgause offers, but Vivianne shuts her down. Igraine refuses. But she and Goloris attend the king, where she meets Uther Pendragon, and man who bears a dragon tattoo. He sees her afterwards and they speak of a recognition they both feel; they were lovers in a former life. Igraine still tries to resist, but it doesn’t help that Uther is named Ambrosis’s successor. Goloris notices Uther’s interest in his wife and he is turned against the High King.
But Igraine later has a vision of Goloris attacking Uther and acts to warn Uther. The two men face on the battlefield. The magic weakens Igraine. The next day, Merlin comes to Cornwall with Goloris, who goes up to see his wife. Morgaine also has the gift of Sight and realizes that the man is not her father. Goloris’s men bring his body back to Cornwall and it is apparent that the man with Igraine is Uther. He takes Igraine and Morgaine to Camelot and makes Igraine his High Queen. They do seem to love each other and it’s cute when Uther sits alongside Morgaine as they wait for Igraine to give birth. Morgaine gains a little brother, Arthur, whom she loves dearly. Their time of happiness comes to an end when Vivianne and Merlin show up; both children must be fostered. Morgaine and Arthur both cry when they’re separated; Arthur goes with Merlin and Vivianne takes Morgaine to Avalon.
Avalon lies near Glastonbury, where the Christians have erected a monastery. To get to Avalon, one must pass through a lake covered in mist. A powerful priestess can part the mist. The Old Religion teaches balance between good and evil; the Mother Goddess rules over Nature and all Nature is sacred. Morgaine acquires power over the elements and joins the sisterhood. Igraine sees this and whispers to Uther “she’s been taken.” A visitor comes to Avalon once Morgaine is an adult; she hopes it is Arthur but instead it is her cousin, Lancelot, son of Vivianne (his father is never mentioned in the film and mentioned once in the book). Lancelot wishes to have his mother’s blessing to fight alongside the other knights against the Saxons; she wishes that he would stay in Avalon. She sends Lancelot and Morgaine to the Stone Circle. Morgaine is attracted to her cousin, but then they hear the bells of Glastonbury and Lancelot catches sight of a pretty young nun and asks Morgaine to part the mists. The young Christian is Gwenwyfar; Lancelot asks her to stay in Avalon a while, but Morgaine returns the mists. Lancelot leaves.
Morgaine is prepared for the Beltaine rights, the Great Marriage. She will play the Virgin Huntress and bed the Great Hunter. They are both masked. Afterwards, Morgaine hopes that the man was Lancelot…well, about a minute after that we see the man in question washing up. Not Lancelot. The man expresses his desire to see the woman again to Merlin, Merlin names the man Arthur. (Uh oh). Arthur must set out for Uther, who is the midst of battling Saxons. Arthur arrives in time to block a blow to the king, but he still dies. A vision of Vivianne instructs Arthur to take up the sword, Excalibur, a sword from Avalon; though he must swear to obey the Old Ways. He rallies the troops and wins the fight. Morgaine returns to Camelot for her brother’s coronation. He swears to deal fairly with both Druid and Christian; he will rule a kingdom united. Her aunt Morgause has wed King Lot of Orkney (in the Scottish Isles). Lot even mentions that if one man could save Britain, it’s Arthur. Igraine plans to retire to Glastonbury and ask for forgiveness for her actions against Goloris. The priest assures Morgaine that her mother has friends among the Christian community and they will take care of her. Arthur is thrilled to see his older sister again. He tells her that he intends to marry Gwenwyfar, but there is another woman that occupies his thoughts: he knows not her face or her name; they were both masked. Morgaine realizes with horror what happened. She confronts Vivianne, who holds that everything has been done in the name of saving Avalon. Vivianne hopes that Morgaine will follow her as Lady of the Lake. Morgaine rejects the offer; she will still follow the Goddess, but not Vivianne; she will never set foot in Avalon again. She will keep the child she now carries, but she will not let Vivianne train.
In the meantime, Arthur has put Gwenwyfar in the care of Lancelot. They are ambushed and once they escape, they speak of the brief moment they had between Avalon and Glastonbury. They cannot fight their attraction to each other and passionately kiss (more uh oh).
Morgaine takes refuge with Morgause in Orkney. Lot urges his wife to let the child die so their son will be Arthur’s successor (a nephew would take precedent over a cousin). Morgause, for some unknown reason, uses dark magic to curse Gwenwyfar; she will bear no sons for Arthur. The woman intends to follow her husband’s instructions, leaving the babe in front of an open window in the middle of winter. But in a fever after giving birth, Morgaine reveals to Morgause that the boy’s father is Arthur. Morgause has a cunning plan; be the influence on the boy and then when he ascends the throne, it will be her will done in the kingdom. Morgause dislikes Vivianne and doesn’t trust her (doesn’t make Morgause a good person, but it’s one redeeming quality she has, that she does not blindly follow what Vivianne decrees.) The Morgaine telling the story as flashbacks comments that it was this point that altered the fate of Britain forever; a new dreadful power was born. Several years later, Morgause suggests that Morgaine returns to Camelot to see her brother. Morgause will keep Mordred with her in Orkney (not the best idea).
So Morgaine returns. Arthur is once again pleased to see his sister again (I find it adorable, their sibling affection…we should all know by now that it’s one of my favorite relationships shown). Gwen attempts to befriend Morgaine, though she admits the other woman frightens her since she follows the Old Ways. She summons the courage to ask her sister-in-law for herbs and spells to help her conceive; it is her greatest wish and desire to give her husband a son. Morgaine visits Lancelot; she still harbors affection for the young man (though I notice that the adults of the film barely age, not till the very end). She also knows of the affection that Lancelot shares with Gwen. Lancelot declares he loves Arthur more. Unknown to the pair, Arthur is watching from above. Another of Arthur’s knights, Accolon catches Morgaine’s attentions. He too follows the Old Ways. At the next Beltane, Morgaine gives a charm to Gwen to help her conceive. Following the information he has gained, Arthur asks Lancelot to bed his wife with him (he’s also a bit drunk when he asks this, but states that he wouldn’t be able to ask if he wasn’t drunk). A child conceived in the king’s bed will be the king’s child; he feels he is at fault for their childless state (nope, Morgause’s fault). All three agree. Accolon follows Morgaine and they spend the evening together.
Afterwards, Lancelot is upset with Morgaine for the charm. “How can I go back to the way things were?” Morgaine counsels he is not to blame for loving Gwen. But to help the situation, Morgaine arranges for Lancelot to marry Elaine, a young lady who is attracted to Lancelot. At the wedding, Gwen confronts Morgaine that her charm failed, there is still no child. She feels guilty for even turning to magic and the circumstances of that night. So she plots. She notices that Morgaine seems happy with Accolon. Accolon’s father, King Uriens of North Wales attends at the wedding and is an important ally of Arthur. Arthur wishes to reward his old friend, who wishes to marry. Gwen suggests Morgaine as a match (this is when I begin to dislike Gwen). Arthur has his sister’s best interests in mind and they ask Morgaine, but Gwen deliberately keeps mum on who exactly Morgaine is agreeing to marry. Arthur is shocked at Morgaine’s acceptance, but announces the betrothal. Morgaine is surprised to find herself engaged to the father, not the son. But she carries on and moves to North Wales. She finds that she is actually happy there.
On Avalon, Vivianne knows that Gwenwyfar tricked Morgaine. She confronts Merlin, but there was nothing the old man could do. Sadly, the time has come for Merlin to die. (In the book, another young man takes up the mantle of Merlin of Britain). Merlin comforts Vivianne that they haven’t failed; they’ve always done what they thought was right for Avalon. But he urges her to find some small measure of happiness. Mordred is their best hope now.
Speaking of Mordred, he has come to manhood. Vivianne appears, asking him to be Avalon’s champion. Arthur cannot be relied on any longer, he is beginning to forget the Old Ways. And he does not have an heir. Vivianne tells the young man that he is the king’s son. Mordred says it cannot be; his mother is the king’s sister. To Vivianne, that doesn’t matter; his blood is strong in magic. When Mordred speaks to Morgause, she cautions that Mordred cannot take the throne now; Arthur’s flame has never burned brighter, his knights will tear apart anyone who challenges him. Instead, he needs to discredit the king. And the best way to do that is through his queen. Mordred weeps; he’d rather love his father like everyone else does. He’d rather love his mother, Morgaine. He is already weary of God and the Goddess and Fate (he’s sympathetic, for a moment). But he drinks to Arthur’s death.
Mordred goes to Camelot, asking to be one of Arthur’s knights. He wins his place when he bests another in a duel. Arthur embraces him happily as his nephew. They’re a bit surprised to learn Morgaine had a child; she does not speak of it as there was sadness in his making (that’s one way to put it). After a while, Mordred confronts Arthur about his due. He asks Arthur to name his successor and reveals the truth of that Beltane ceremony years ago. Gwen begs Arthur to dispute it, but he cannot. Lancelot later finds Gwen crying and she reveals the truth as well. Mordred has planned this and has knights waiting to arrest them when they’re found kissing. The couple escapes. Arthur refuses to pass judgment on the matter; he loves both Lancelot and Gwenwyfar. He leaves the matter to Mordred.
Morgaine intends to return to Avalon after Uriens’ death, but she is attacked and injured. She tries to sail to Avalon, but cannot part the mists. Instead, she comes upon Glastonbury, where a nun spots her. It’s her mother, Igraine. When Lancelot and Gwen ride from Camelot, he takes her to Glastonbury, where she sees Morgaine. She apologizes for separating the siblings, it is her greatest sin, coming between their love. Morgaine is brought up to speed and rides back for Camelot, to save her brother and her son. The Saxon’s final assault on Britain has begun. Morgaine meets up with Vivianne on the road to Camelot. Vivianne confronts her sister Morgause when they arrive. This is not what the Goddess intended. Indeed not, it’s Morgause’s will. Morgause tries to stab Vivianne, but instead she’s the one who falls to the blade. Mordred cuts down Vivianne in retaliation.
Morgaine goes to her brother and rallies him to take up Excalibur again and stand against Mordred. At the battle, Lancelot returns to Arthur, bringing more men, but the Saxons still outnumber them, now with Mordred at the lead. The two face off on the battlefield (why do they take off their armor? Idiots) while Morgaine rides from Morgause’s and Vivianne’s pyres to stop them. Mordred mortally wounds Arthur, and Arthur strikes Mordred down in return. Both have tears in their eyes. Mordred’s last word is “mother” as Morgaine holds him. Arthur asks “take me home, sister. Take me to Avalon.” They set sail. But the mists still won’t part for Morgaine. Perhaps it has been lost due to their disobedience. Arthur offers Excalibur, Avalon’s sword, as a sacrifice. Morgaine throws it into the lake. The mists separate for a moment. “We’re home, Arthur.” But Arthur dies. The mists cover again. The bell of Glastonbury tolls. Avalon has faded from the world of men; only Glastonbury marks the spot now. The Saxons overran Britain and the Goddess was forgotten. Though many years later, Morgaine wonders if perhaps it survived, as the Virgin Mary.
As I summed up in my paper on the characterization of Morgan le Fae, Mists of Avalon delves into greater detail on elements of traditional Arthurian legend. It explains why Excalibur is magical, it includes how the sword ended up in the lake and its connection to the Lady of the Lake. I don’t think it gives great reasoning on why Mordred became evil, aside from influence from Morgause. Honestly, Morgaine should have kept Mordred with her. That could have prevented some problems. He stated he loved his parents and literally a minute later is plotting their downfall. This story gives a reasonable explanation for how a child came from a union between brother and sister, without being completely *squick.* The whole “for the greater good” excuse is annoying. It’s annoying in Harry Potter and just about everywhere else it is used. Vivianne is portrayed as a grey character. She honestly believes what she is doing is right, but the methods are not great. And she didn’t know that Mordred was being raised by Morgause? How did she think that was going to turn out?
I typically have liked Gwen in other tales, naming my main character after her, but not in this retelling. She’s petty and whiny. The Gwen from Mercedes Lackey’s book is an excellent role model; but I have my character pretty well figured, though she, as much as my story, has evolved over the years. Heck, my plot has evolved since I wrote my capstone paper. After reading Mists of Avalon, my focus shifted to Morgan. And I’m still doing research!
Re-watching this film, after the mental evolution of my story, has changed my feeling on some other characters. Lancelot is mainly fluff, there because the legends say he is. Again, a reasonable explanation is given for the love triangle and I believe that Arthur is progressive, and a good man, to allow it to carry on. It does cause problems with his knights. I mean, overall, characters typically have good intentions in the beginning. But everything becomes complicated and scheming gets in the way. I like this portrayal of Arthur. He is truly a good man. The three women: Vivianne, Igraine, and Morgause (the book states they echo the Mother Goddess and I just realized that their inspiration for my characters make mine echo the Goddess as well…not sure how I did that, but nevertheless, cool) have good and bad sides, like good characters should.
Some of the costuming is better at times; what the ladies where in Avalon is…well, I understand they were going for a fantasy look, but I’m not sure it was the best portrayal. Some of Gwen’s gowns are pretty, as are Morgause’s. Some of Morgaine’s gowns are not as successful. The fur on Mordred at the end was ridiculous.
This ultimately is one of my favorite portrayal’s of the Arthurian legend (the other, you may be able to guess, is BBC’s Merlin series). It’s a complete story and aspects are answered. The movie does not delve too deeply into the religious differences (unlike the book). (I’m looking at you, First Night and King Arthur).
So, next time, we’re on to the first season of Merlin.
And if anyone has questions or is interested in my paper on Morgan le Fae, let me know!
Because Terry Jones is an Arthurian scholar, not only is it the funniest re-telling, it is also the most accurate re-telling of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (I’ve read the book, not my favorite, but yes, this film is very accurate). About the most famous of Monty Python’s repertoire; it’s also the only one I can stand. I’ve tried watching their other films and I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, or I just simply don’t get their humor, but I do not like them. Took me several years to talk myself into watching this film and I do find it funny. In 2006, it was adapted into a Broadway show, Spamalot. The main characters are all played by about six main cast members: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and John Cleese (who I first knew as R then Q in Pierce Brosnan’s run as James Bond; he’s also narrated Winnie the Pooh).
The opening credits are…odd to say the least. At one point, there is a title card signed by Richard Nixon, there are subtitles that may be Swedish discussing moose – they end up sacked – multiple times. Then there’s crazy music and a bit about llamas. Finally, we reach the movie, set in England 932 AD (filmed largely in Scotland). We hear galloping…turns out, they’re coconuts (apparently a gag developed since the movie didn’t have the budge for horses). Arthur, King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England, is looking for knights to join him at his court in Camelot. The first castle he comes to discusses swallows and coconuts. Then he rides by someone calling “Bring out yer dead!” He comes upon Dennis the peasant shortly afterwards, who goes on about systems of governments [I would not want to learn all of his lines] and points out “strange women lying is ponds distributing swords is no basis of government,” annoying Arthur, who “represses” him.
Arthur comes upon the Black Knight next, battling the Green Knight. Arthur must face him and cuts off an arm. “‘Tis but a scratch,” the knight states, carrying on with the fight. Arthur chops off the other arm. “Only a flesh wound.” Next it’s a leg and Arthur mocks, “what are you going to do, bleed on me?” when the Black Knight insists he can fight. Finally, when Arthur removes the other leg, the knight calls it a draw. A brief view of monks intoning “Pie Jesu” and whacking themselves in the face with boards, and we come across Sir Bedevere educating peasants on how to test if a woman is a witch. From there, Arthur gathers Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, and “Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film.” They ride to Camelot! (It’s only a model). On second thought, they better not, it is a silly place (after a song-and-dance number rhyming with Camelot).
God appears and gives Arthur the quest for the Holy Grail. They come across a group of taunting Frenchmen next (giving us the line “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” which I heard in high school from my boyfriend at one point; not that I had any clue what he was talking about). They try a variation of the Trojan Horse, except with a rabbit, that they have forgotten to get inside. They run away, and as a modern history professor announces, separate. The professor is killed.
First: Brave Sir Robin (and his minstrels)…runs away from a three-headed knight. Next: Sir Galahad, the Chaste, sees a Grail in the mist and comes upon the Castle Anthrax, filled with young women. Lancelot rescues him from the peril; Galahad would not have minded facing the peril. Arthur and Bedevere face the Knights Who Say “Nee,” who demand a shrubbery. In the midst, we have the Tale of Sir Lancelot, who receives a note to rescue someone from a horrible wedding. Turns out it’s a young man. Lancelot gets carried away and starts hacking at guards and guests. The boy’s father lets him drop out a window, except he’s not dead. As he starts to sing a song, Lancelot beats a hasty escape. Arthur and Bedevere acquire the required shrubbery, but now the Knights want more. Except they cannot stand the word “it.” Robin joins the pair and they ride away.
Animation shows that they meet up with Lancelot and Galahad. A year passes as they search for the grail (they eat the minstrels and “there was much rejoicing”). They discover Tim the Enchanter (sounding very Scottish) who leads them to a cave, guarded by killer rabbit. Yep, killer rabbit; only defeated by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (after some more running away). They discover a note inside in Aramaic, telling them where to find the Holy Grail. An animated monster, the Black Beast, chases them, but is taken out when the animator suddenly dies (lots of fourth wall breaking). Then, they’re on to the Bridge of Death, where they must answer three questions in order to cross. Typically, it’s name, their quest, and Lancelot passes when he answers with his favorite color. Robin perishes at “what is the capitol of Assyria?” Galahad messes up his favorite color. The old man falls when he asks Arthur about the “airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.” Arthur specifies which one. On the other side (from a brief intermission), Lancelot is nowhere to be found. The modern police inspectors arrested him. amidst holy music, a Viking-like ship (it has a huge dragon head prow) appears and carries Arthur and Bedevere to a castle (looks like Eileen Donan a bit). Except the French have gotten there first.
An army appears at Arthur’s request and they get ready to charge. Only for the police to stop them and arrest the two knights. The camera falls…and that is the sudden end to the movie. Apparently, budge had a hand in the affair.
It is a funny re-telling, but I have to be in the mood to watch it. I prefer more dramatic interpretations. There’s a short Merlin fanfic that intertwines with Monty Python: The Trouble with Legends by slightlytookish.