Two more episodes of Merlin this week, and together they prove that the “Valiant” episode (the second one, which I hated) was an aberration. This is definitely a show worth watching!
Let’s take a look at the two episodes in turn, shall we?
Warning: These reviews contains plot-spoilers.
Episode 3: “The Mark of Nimueh”
Four Torches (Out of Five)
The Bottom Line: A terrific, thoughtful episode solidifying what seems to be two of the series’ grand themes: the danger and unpredictability of magic — and (in a major change from traditional Camelot lore) Merlin’s love for Gwen (or Gwenevere).
The sorceress Nimueh has created a magical plague in the kingdom of Camelot, creating a nice bit of plot symmetry between magic-suppressing tyrant King Uther and his benevolent alter-ego Gaius: Uther, fearful that people will turn to magic if the plague is not quickly eradicated, is determined to expose and kill the magician who created it; meanwhile, Gaius, just as determined to spurn magic, is convinced that the only way he and Merlin can combat the plague is with science.
Merlin, naturally, has a completely different idea than either of them: he embraces magic, using his own power to save those infected — a choice which leads to major consequences for Gwen when she is accused of being a sorceress.
There’s a particularly nice scene when, in order to save Gwen, Merlin admits outright that he is a sorcerer … and no one believes him. This is a little like when Clark Kent declares he is Superman, and everyone just laughs at how completely preposterous the idea is.
(Later, there’s also a nice “Lois Lane” moment when Morgana says she knows Merlin’s “secret,” and Merlin, flustered, assumes she is talking about his ability to do magic — when, in fact, she’s simply referring to his love for Gwen.)
Incidentally, isn’t Gaius contradicting himself when he says, “Magic corrupts — people use it for their own ends” — immediately followed by: “Magic is neither good nor bad, it’s how you use it.” Which is it, Gaius: is magic like money, in that it corrupts, or is it truly benign, a complete neutral?
The Dragon’s Wisdom: (1) “Trust the elements that are at your command.” (2) “You cannot do this alone. You are but one side of a coin; Arthur is the other.”
Episode 4: “The Poisoned Chalice”
Four and a Half Torches (Out of Five)
The Bottom Line: Another rich, thoughtful episode (this time with some terrific plot-twists!) that highlights the series’ other grand theme: the inter-connected destinies of Merlin and Arthur.
In the second episode of the evening, Nimueh is back to create a chalice full of poison, which she cleverly tricks Merlin into drinking (conjuring up a desired war between Camelot and a neighboring kingdom in the process). Merlin starts to die, and only Arthur can save him, by going on a quest to find the poison’s very rare antidote.
After four episodes of this show, I’m very impressed by at least four things, all of them subtle and interesting:
(1) They’re making Nimueh a cunning, interesting nemesis, not a cardboard cut-out. Unlike Darken Rahl, the villain on the recent syndicated fantasy series Legend of the Seeker, Nimueh’s plans leave me genuinely guessing. As a result, on some level, I respect her.
(2) They’re doing a great job of having Arthur and Merlin slowly realize how their destinies are intertwined, even if they — Arthur especially, because he doesn’t have a dragon to fill him in — don’t really understand why. Arthur starts the episode going off to save Merlin’s life; in the end, Merlin saves his life too. As the dragon might say, one can’t have an itch without the other scratching it. Intriguing — and very, very satisfying.
(3) At the same time that Arthur and Merlin are slowly realizing the bond they share, Uther is realizing it too and, even if he doesn’t quite understand it either, he is very threatened by it. This, along with Nimueh, is making for another very effective antagonist.
(4) All the actors are decent, but two stand out in particular: Colin Morgan, who is a delight as the impish, adorkable Merlin, and Richard Wilson, who is a real find as Gaius.
Only four episodes of Merlin have aired in the U.S., but I’m starting to think this is the television show that fantasy enthusists have been waiting for ever since Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. If the already-lackluster ratings have declined further this week, I’m going to be really disappointed.
The Dragon’s Wisdom: None this episode, alas.
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