The last three episodes of Merlin have been teeing up an epic showdown, with Morgana, Mordred and a horde of Saxons on one side, and Arthur, Merlin and the forces of Camelot on the other. They both made dramatic declarations, gave meaningful nods to their sidekicks, then assembled in a quarry to do battle.
Which brings us to this, the final episode of Merlin ever to be Merlin-ed. How did it go? Well, um, not like I expected. Big spoilery spoilers as ever, watch it on iPlayer first if this bothers you.
So This Is Merlin?
In the build-up to The Diamond Of The Day (Part 2), I’d been wondering how the writers were going to fit in both BIG ACTION and necessary character interaction – in particular, the inevitable “So, yeah, I’m a sorcerer” chat between Merlin and Arthur. Having spent the last few weeks hyping us up, could they serve these two masters?
No, not particularly. It gives me no pleasure to review this negatively, partly because I was genuinely enjoying the build-up and also, it’s Christmas so this makes me feel like a big Scrooge. Still, I sat there watching it, hoping to be gripped like I was during the previous few instalments, and instead it pottered along.
Don’t get me wrong, first few minutes were exciting, even if they did expose the obvious gaps in the effects budget. But then things kept happening in a way that left me thinking “… Is that it?”
Step Into Mordred
Case in point: Aithusa has been hanging around all series, his plotline is resolved by… Merlin telling him to go away. The inevitable showdown between Arthur and Mordred is all over in seconds, and there’s no dialogue, no pang of regret on either side, no acknowledgement of the whole series of moral ambiguity Mordred just had. Bloody Agravaine got a more satisfactory resolution.
And the final showdown with Morgana really wasn’t great. I know “Villain escapes big fight, strikes back later whilst desperate” is standard, but if her deadly comeback involves being casually skewered instantly, it stops being effective/scary and becomes… kinda tragically funny, actually.
The Merlin/Arthur magical de-closeting chat did get screentime, and Colin Morgan and Bradley James, who’ve been waiting for ages for this, do great work with the scenes, but the sense of urgency just isn’t there until the very end. Breaking off the action for a thirty minute walk in the woods is hard to pull off whilst keeping the tension, and although I enjoyed finally seeing those conversations, and did feel emotion at the ending, I also felt a little disappointed that they’d clearly decided all anyone cared about was that one conversation, so they could gleefully toss the actual plot aside.
Do They Know It’s Finale Time?
To be honest, they brought this upon themselves by waiting until now for Merlin to reveal himself. That was always going to be the star of the episode, forcing them to half-bake everything else. I don’t necessarily agree that he should’ve done this years ago, but a couple of episodes earlier, yes. Maybe last week, so they could have a chat about it there and spend this finale in urgent epic battle mode.
Perhaps the decision to conclude the series was made late in the day, hence cramming most of the ending material into a single week. We may never know.
And now, as a change of pace, some positivity! Nice to see Gwen get a role beyond looking pretty/worried, and at least Gwaine had a complete arc (betrays Arthur out of weakness, dies for his sins) even if few others did. And, yes, it took some balls to do the sad ending closer to the legends, instead of cheering it up for BBC One.
More to the point, the final tease in which Old Merlin waits for Arthur’s return in the modern-day UK? Arthur returns in 2013 as a Captain America-esque man out of time? Yes please. If that was a tease for series six, I’d be much happier – maybe in the possible future movies?
So there we are. No, I can’t say the Merlin finale lived up to the build-up, but perhaps it was never going to. Never mind, though – Doctor Who tomorrow. I’m sure that’ll make up for it. (No pressure, Time Lord guys.)