Last week on Merlin, an epic desert slog happened, climaxing in Gwen’s badly set-up turn to the dark side. But all is not lost, they could still push on to better stories with Evil Gwen, and they’re going to have a go right now.
So, will she kill the King? Best watch the episode on iPlayer to find out, then meet me back here.
Saving The King Vs Shouting About Pies?
The action of A Lesson In Vengeance brings a welcome return to standard Merlin tropes: bromance banter, the revolving door of Camelot’s jail cells, a smirking traitor within the court who only Merlin suspects and, yes, aged Merlin (or Emrys).
The introduction of Emrys as Merlin’s regular secret identity last year was one of the most entertaining concepts this show has managed, and I’m disappointed it’s fallen by the wayside since. They’ve olded up Morgana lately, why not Merlin? I particularly enjoy the way Emrys serves as Merlin’s unchained id, easily distracted from his urgent mission to save the King by… finally yelling at the cook about her substandard pies. Brilliant.
The kind of warm humour in the face of action that Merlin does well. As a single-episode story about a traitor within Camelot, this was a good effort. Unfortunately, the nature of the traitor brings us to problems.
The Tragedy Of Unconvincingly Evil Gwen
Still no sign that Gwen has been mind-controlled or replaced, but she is stabbing innocent stableboys on her first outing as a baddie. No guilt, hesitance or early shakes, not even a monologue in which she fully explains her motives. For this reason, I’m assuming we’re headed for a mind control revelation, otherwise it’s clunky as hell. Even Morgana’s evil turn was handled more gracefully. And the actress isn’t doing great work with the material – either Angel Coulby doesn’t play evil well, or she too is struggling to reconcile her past warm, loving, likable character with this pitiless, smirking supervillain. If this is meant to be Gwen, without being replaced or enchanted… then that’s just stupid.
And it is a shame that, after being ignored for most of the series, this is all Gwen gets. By making her so cartoonishly evil, they’ve removed any emotional ambiguity, so it’s just another obstacle to be overcome. They really are struggling to find storylines for her, aren’t they?
But aside from the bemusing Gwen storyline, this genuinely wasn’t a bad episode of Merlin. I guess the producers have decided someone has to be smirking evilly behind the King – I’m just not down with their current choice. Also, they’ve now killed off two Game of Thrones actors this series – clearly not happy with someone else muscling in on the geek/fantasy TV scene.