TV REVIEW: Merlin - Arthur's Bane Part Two

After last week's doom-laden opener, Merlin and Arthur find themselves captured, Gwen is becoming a calculating warrior queen, Morgana is angry and evil and Gwaine has still not found his shirt.

Arthur (Bradley James) and Merlin (Colin Morgan) find themselves trapped and on their way to Ismer as captives, held by an old acquaintance, Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) who may or may not be Arthur's bane. Morgana (Katie McGrath) meanwhile has been having all sorts of nasty nightmares and as we know from previous series, that doesn't tend to end well for the people around her. Speaking of which, her new right-hand man Ruadan (Liam Cunningham) has found out that his daughter and secret agent Sefa (Sophie Rundall) is being held as a traitor and sentenced to death by Gwen (Angel Coulby). Gaius (Richard Wilson) still seems to have a dying wig on his head but is also acting once again as the conscience of the Queen while Gwaine (Eoin Macken) is being helped a mysterious glowing alien thing.

The darker turn that Merlin has taken this series is really working in its favour, upping the ante not only for the characters but also for the audience. I'm still quite impressed that a programme I had originally only watched for a bit of light entertainment when there was nothing else on has becoming something so interesting and involving. This is probably due to the improving quality on the show all round but in particular, the writing has become a lot more focused. Before, the action would have been punctuated with unnecessary comical scenes to lighten the mood which also succeeded in slowing the pace, but across this two-parter, each scene is tightly constructed within the wider episode. The trademark humour is still there of course, but it is grim and less frequent and the show is all the better for it.

Another way in which the show has completely won me over, particularly in just these two episodes, is how well they are writing for Gwen now. Finally, after four series of being saddled with lame romantic subplots, either with Arthur or Lancelot, Angel Coulby has been granted some excellent scenes and is really flying with them. She's still the gentle Gwen of old but with a new steely, royal exterior and is proving herself to be a fine tactician with her intentions to lure Ruadan to Camelot by threatening his daughter Sefa with execution. Likewise, Katie McGrath's Morgana has had a few years to stew in her anger and is all the more fun for it. The confrontation between Arthur and his wayward sister was such a fantastic scene and McGrath's performance has really grown from the evil-grinning of old into truly capturing the hatred that Morgana feels towards her family.

The alien thing turned out to be the Euchdag, the very thing that Morgana was searching for. I must admit, the scenes with this creature were the weakest of both episodes for me because, primarily, it looks like a cast off from Farscape and not the medieval magical creature I would have personally imagined. It's a small niggle but it distracted from what was going on elsewhere. I'm also not entirely sure why it picked Gwaine to help, other than for the writers to conveniently demonstrate that it was benevolent. Maybe it will come back later on in the series, leading to more of a focus on Gwaine if that relationship was to continue. It does some rather odd to set it up and then abandon it. The other actors playing the knights don't always tend to get much of a look-in bar battling alongside Arthur and it would be interesting to see a couple of episodes, not necessarily entirely focused on them (the show is called Merlin after all), but with a little more time given to the knights of the Round Table.

Another small niggle (and I am really nitpicking now but it did bother me) was the use of all the slow-motion in the fight sequences all of a sudden. Whilst it does, at odd moments, look cool, for example Arthur taking out one of the slavers in an impressive slashing move, it can also look a bit silly. During Ruadan's one-man raid of Camelot, the slow-motion at first did fall on the cool side, but then it carried on a bit too long. As he walked away, it stopped looking bad-ass and started looking like Liam Cunningham was attempting a bad Reservoir Dogs impersonation. On with the positives though, it does emphasise that the actors are the ones doing the fight sequences and they are therefore all the more impressive. However, can we not over-use it please? A couple of times, it looks awesome. After that, I want to hit fast-forward.

As I said, they're both small niggles and overall the quality has been so good that it's hard to see if the rest of the episodes are going to be able to match this fantastic opener. We've got plenty of plot-lines to pursue, particularly now that Mordred has become a Knight of Camelot (it's not going to end well, is it?) and Morgana is wounded and possibly even more rageful (that's definitely not going to end well). Also, now that Merlin knows what Arthur's bane is, what is he going to do about it? And will Arthur ever find out that his best friend has been saving his life all these years with magic? I really hope so.

Next week appears to feature a guest appearance from the Horn of Gondor with some shiny new resurrection powers which could mean that evil Giles - I mean Uther - is back in the picture for an episode. Family reunions eh? What a joy.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of Arthur's Bane Part One here.

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