Merlin: Even the druids are afraid of her.

KT thinks this one should have been called “Beauty and the Beast,” not the troll episode.

MERLIN:  2.09 “The Lady of the Lake”

Oh dear.  Tell me I’m not the only one with damp eyes?

I think this is one of my favorite episodes so far.  It was a story well-told, and Colin Morgan and Laura Donnelly put in really touching performances.  It’s been a while since an episode really focused on Merlin, so this made for a good change, too.

Some things were a bit obvious:  of course Merlin was going to help the girl, of course Gaius would figure it out, and if even the druids had cast her out, it seemed fairly certain that things were not going to end well for her.

I wasn’t positive that she was the beast — she might have been cursed to be followed by the beast or to bring doom to those around her — but since she was, I was pleased that they didn’t just make her a werewolf.  The winged panther looked cool, and the CGI even looked pretty good this time.  It helped a lot that they didn’t use much of it — I liked the way they shot the beast’s earlier scenes from its point of view and we could just hear it breathing.

Sure, there are always a few nits worth picking, but they were small ones this week.  Things like:  couldn’t Merlin just pinch food from the kitchen where there’s probably plenty and an extra serving wouldn’t be missed?  And, does Merlin seriously think he’s fooling Gaius by lying to his face?  And, why is Merlin going through Morgana’s wardrobe when he needs to disguise Freya?  Morgana’s clothes are designed to stand out — go to Gwen instead and come up with a better story!

But when it comes to Merlin’s scenes with Freya, I’m not sure what to say except that they were fabulous.  I liked the pacing as they gradually opened up to each other — the way his wonder at having found a kindred spirit and her relief and gratitude led to the beginnings of romance.  I also liked the pacing related to her mysterious curse — it was slow and careful.  This episode just wins for writing and acting; the whole thing was pitch perfect.  I don’t know how Merlin did eventually get Freya out of Camelot, but her death scene by the lake was beautiful.

And yet, from the title of the episode and Freya’s dying promise to repay Merlin, I think we haven’t seen the end of her.  That’s definitely the same lake Merlin threw Excalibur into last season, so presumably Freya’s spirit will become the Lady of the Lake who gives it back to Arthur.  I look forward to seeing her again.

Merlin: Meet Morgause

KT thinks we should ask the horse.

MERLIN:  2.08  “The Sins of the Father”

This week, we reach into the bag of Arthurian characters and pull out Morgause.  I like the way they’ve crafted her into an ambiguous character.  She has an impressive set of skills (magic, swordplay, looks good in a dress), and an agenda: while she wants to turn Arthur against his father, she also wants to be in Morgana’s good graces.

In legend, Morgause turns up as Arthur’s sister or half-sister, but here things are less clear.  Uther says Morgause and Morgana are half-sisters:  their father was Gorlois, but we don’t know anything about their mothers.  Morgause certainly looks like she could be Arthur’s sister, but given that baby Morgause had to be smuggled out of Camelot for some reason, I’m hard pressed to guess what might have happened.  I think we have to assume that Morgause was simply lying when she said she knew Igraine very well, though.

On the other hand, Morgause (and the spirit of Igraine she conjured up) wasn’t completely lying, she just didn’t have the details right.  Last season, we saw Uther speak with Nimue about Arthur’s birth.  As I recall, we learned that Uther may have known that someone would have to die in order for Arthur to be born, but he didn’t suspect — and wouldn’t have sanctioned the plan if he knew — it would be Igraine.

Moving back to the episode at hand, I enjoyed Morgause’s talents as a swordswoman, though it seemed unnecessary for her to kill all those guards on the way in.  Between her fight with Arthur and Arthur’s fight with Uther, there was plenty of fun swordplay in this episode.

One last Morgause detail:  I enjoyed the short scene in which Arthur was trying to find a rule in the knight’s code that said he didn’t have to fight a woman.  But you don’t make rules for things you never expect to see.  Arthur’s bewilderment in general about fighting a woman — and being beaten by her — were amusing.  Wonder what Gwen would make of that.

I don’t know if it was the writing, the directing, or if Colin Morgan had a bad week, but something felt off about many of Merlin’s scenes.  Even with Arthur, their banter just wasn’t as fun as it usually is.  Heck, maybe it was just me.  But what I did like was Merlin’s impassioned appeal to Arthur not to kill Uther.  He came in just as the swordfight scene had overdone it on the yelling and growling and said all sorts of things he didn’t believe, all in order to save the life of a man who has made his life more than a little hard.  All for the stability of Camelot.  That was pretty cool.

Merlin: Faries, druids, and dreams

KT is catching up so we’ll be ready for a new episode this weekend.

MERLIN:  1.07 “The Gates of Avalon”
MERLIN:  1.08 “The Beginning of the End”

You know how sometimes a minor detail can completely distract you from the story?  I had that problem with the staves Sophia and her father were carrying around in “The Gates of Avalon.”  What did the characters think, that they splurged on matching walking sticks?  Didn’t those staves just scream “wizard,” or have I just seen Lord of the Rings too many times?  Of course they didn’t turn out to be wizards, exactly, but they were definitely magic!  But then, I guess Uther doesn’t have the benefit of Lord of the Rings either.

The most entertaining part of episode 7 was watching Merlin repeatedly fail at covering for Arthur and ending up in the stocks.  Colin Morgan played it up nicely, and Gaius’s fatherly resignation regarding the whole matter was great.

Does it feel to anyone else that Arthur’s life is in danger every other week?  That’s beginning to seem over the top, especially since we know he can’t die; he’s freaking King Arthur.

However, I really love the development Morgana gets in these two episodes.  I think we learned back in episode 1 or 2 that Gaius regularly mixes up something to help her sleep, and now we find out that it’s because she wants to get rid of her dreams — prophetic dreams, no less.  Even through Merlin and Gaius decided not to tell her that her dream had come true, I imagine Morgana has her suspicions.  Didn’t she later say something like What if a person doesn’t chose to be magic, but is just born with it, and I don’t think she was just talking about Mordred.  I imagine she’s more than a little scared of her own dreams.

I wonder if Mordred was able to talk to Morgana in her head because she is a seer or if he chose to speak to her because he recognized her magic?

Interesting that the druids apparently know of Merlin as Emrys, which is sometimes used as Merlin’s childhood name.  Heck, interesting that the druids know of Merlin at all — who gave them an advance copy of The Once and Future King?  Presumably there are seers among them, I suppose.  Although that doesn’t explain why this secretive bunch of magic users is lingering so close to Uther and his magic-related paranoia.

Of course, for Merlin, this confusing information just triggered another trip down to see the Great Dragon.  I don’t know why he bothers, since all he ever gets is Destiny!  You have it!, this time with a side of The cute kid, bad news he is! (No, I don’t know when the dragon turned into Yoda on me.  He’d be more useful if he were Yoda, frankly.)  Merlin seems a little fed up with this destiny idea, though, and good for him — although of course the irony demons see to it that he takes this stance during the Mordred episode.

The bond between Mordred and Morgana was an interesting thing, though.  On the one hand it makes perfect sense for Morgana to become attached to the boy after caring for him and hiding him and so forth.  On the other, the dialogue about “I’ve never felt like this for anyone before,” seemed over the top within the world of the story — in fact, it seemed designed to remind us that in legend, Mordred is Morgana’s son.  Also Arthur’s son, who in legend is Morgana’s half-brother, which makes that incest, which is something I guarantee we will not be seeing on this show.

I’m stuck on Mordred, I admit, and what puzzles me is this:  In legend, Mordred’s grudge against Arthur has to do with wanting to be acknowledged as Arthur’s heir, despite being illegitemate.  (And sometimes creepy and evil to boot.)  Here Arthur was initially leading the search for Mordred, but in the end he was risking a lot to help him.  I could see a lifelong grudge against Uther (not unlike what we saw with Edwin), but not against Arthur.  Yet, at least.

The Once and Future King’s Manservant

KT is trying to keep the history nerdiness to a minimum, promise.

MERLIN:  1.01 “The Dragon’s Call”
MERLIN:  1.02 “Valiant”

I heard good things about this Arthurian adventure series when the first season aired in the UK last year, so I’m pleased that NBC has picked it up.  I’m looking forward to it because Anthony Stewart Head (of Buffy fame) plays the tough, stern King Uther, and I’m looking forward to it because I have a soft spot for Arthurian stories

I admit I was a little put off when I found that this version of Camelot features a Merlin and an Arthur who are the same age (and oh, there’s more weirdness where that comes from).  But I suppose if anyone has the right to tinker with Arthurian legends, it’s the Brits.

And anyway, that’s the thing about legends:  when you get down to it, there is no One True Version, no author, no director’s cut.  The players and the events can be rearranged, re-imagined, re-interpreted, and this one says, let’s look at Merlin and Arthur as contemporaries, in a Camelot where Uther has outlawed magic for the past 20 years.

Because the basis for all this is legend, I don’t plan to be too hard on the show with regard to getting its history right.  The probable historical basis for King Arthur was a fifth or sixth century tribal chieftain, so definitely none of the clothing or architecture or social structures fit that period.  The Arthurian stories as we usually think of them come through the lens of the High Middle Ages (complete with courtly love, chivalry, and all that), which is closer to what we see here.

Mind you, that still leaves a big handful of anachronisms that pinged me between the eyes.  I’m thinking of things like the written sign that said “Court Physician” and the letter Merlin brought from his mother (people in Jane Austen novels bring letters of introduction; medieval peasants do not).  The existence of a celebrity singer was extremely out of place – as was her musical style, which belonged no earlier than the Italian Renaissance.

And how is young Merlin so ignorant of the class structures of his own time?  In the first episode he practically picks a fight with Arthur – even if he didn’t know Arthur was the prince, he obviously was a knight.  Bad call, kiddo.  And in the second, he grouses about having to work in a way that sounds natural for a 21st century teenager, but less so for a young man from the Middle Ages.  (This one could have been fixed, for note, had the writers put the focus more specifically on not wanting to work for Arthur.)  Unless his mysteriously literate mother is a noble (in which case, why has Merlin not had weapons training?), he has some strange gaps of common sense for being a commoner.

On the other hand, only a British production would pull out “Albion” as an old name for Britain, and that’s pretty awesome.

This is getting long, so meet me after the jump and we’ll talk characters…
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