To be honest, I feel the BBC tricked me with this episode of Merlin. I was prepared for upbeat fun after last week’s dark sobbery, but that wasn’t what I got at all. In some ways, this was an even bigger downer. Which I will be spoiling, by the way, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know.
Does this mean Merlin has finally come of age? Or, worse still, is this the angry puberty of the show?
The King Is Dead
The worst part is, they did this to me with complete self-awareness. I mean, look at the opening scenes: a stranger comes to Camelot! But he has dark intentions! Bright, colourful images! Arthur is half-naked, but the bottom rather than the top! And then, as the baddie makes his play to assassinate the Prince, things take a different turn.
Of course, after all the reviews complaining that Merlin can be predictable at times, usually in the exact way I just described, I shouldn’t complain about an episode that subverts those expectations cleverly. Nor am I surprised that it’s written by the excellent Howard Overman, of Misfits and Vexed, not to mention many of the better Merlins.
And then, to further torture us, they dangle hope in front of our faces and… well, in spite of the shiny images in the final moments, the bad guys kinda win don’t they? For a family show, there are some unhappy messages here.
Long Live The Topless Man
As well as being a nicely composed episode, this changes things for the future. Anthony Head is gone from the cast, which is a shame, although does answer questions I had about his future usefulness as a broken man in a rocking chair. And Arthur is now installed as new, often-topless monarch, which is a big change.
Meanwhile, Merlin is here using his elderly self as a secret identity for when he wants to do magic in public. If that becomes a habit, it could be set-up for a series ending where he gets stuck in that body forever? If the rumours about Merlin concluding with the end of series five are true, they would want to start setting that up.
But, back in the present day, this was a strong episode of Merlin, possibly better even than the quite-good two parter they opened with. Join me next week to see if they throw us a shred of happiness, just for novelty value. Or relive the misery on iPlayer, then let us know below about how it made you feel.