Merlin Review: A Bittersweet Premiere
It was with bittersweet excitement that I sat down on Friday night to watch the fifth and final season premiere of Merlin, the little BBC fantasy show that could. Merlin has come a long way from the first episode, which saw the young warlock move into Camelot and become Prince Arthur’s servant. The rest, as they say, is history. And season five brings us closer to the Arthurian legend viewers are familiar with: Arthur is now King, following the death of his father in season four; servant girl Gwen is now Queen Guinevere, and Camelot has been flourishing under their rule for the past three years when season five picks up.
We begin the episode with a meeting of the Knights of the Round Table where we learn that Sir Gwaine and his pack of knights have disappeared during a patrol of the northern border of Camelot. It’s feared they’ve been taken hostage by Morgana, who is rumored to be holed up in a fortress called Ismere. Morgana is searching for something called the Diamair, which is supposed to be the key to all knowledge. She takes local villagers and Arthur’s knights as hostages to work in the mines underneath Ismere where the key is rumored to be. Her co-hort in all this is a druid man by the name of Ruadan.
At the end of last season, Morgana had found herself a baby dragon friend and was left an outcast after losing the battle for Camelot. It’s unclear what’s happened to her the past couple of years – there’s definitely no sign of the baby dragon. But we get the impression she might’ve been held captive when she talks about being old friends with “patience.”
Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting is a young girl named Sefa, who seems sweet and innocent enough. In fact, it seems pretty obvious both she and Merlin have a crush on one another. ‘Aw, another love interest for Merlin!’ I thought. Well, I should’ve seen it coming because Merlin has no luck with the ladies: Sefa turns out to be a spy for her father, Ruadan. She leaves Camelot one night to let him know of Arthur’s plans to invade Ismere by coming through an ally’s kingdom on the opposite side. Sefa’s treachery is discovered and Guinevere sentences her to death.
Arthur and his men are intercepted by Morgana and her cronies. Luckily, Merlin manages to escape with the King. But once Arthur regains consciousness, he’s determined to keep heading toward Ismere to save his men. Some – like Merlin – might find Arthur’s devotion to his knights to be foolish. But if there’s one thing this episode really emphasized was the fact that these knights are more than friends, brothers or family. Or, in TV terms, they’re not just supporting actors.
But the most important part of the episode took place midway through, when Arthur, Merlin and the knights come across a ransacked village. Merlin is drawn to a Druid Seer who warns him of Arthur’s Bane. The Seer shows Merlin a vision of Arthur being struck down by Mordred. Yes, a grown up Mordred! Goodbye Asa Butterfield, hellooooooo Alexander Vlahos. Merlin remains pretty shaken up by this prophecy for the rest of the episode, and his paranoia only gets worse when Mordred himself shows up to save them from a couple of bandits. And Mordred suggests they bring them to Morgana instead of killing Arthur and Merlin on the spot. Oh boy, this is going to be an interesting season…
Despite all the big changes that have taken place in Camelot, the heart and soul of the show, Merlin and Arthur’s friendship, has remained largely unchanged. The writers continue to balance the drama, action and adventure perfectly with some humor and lighthearted moments. The writers also gave us a chance in the premiere to see how Guinevere has become a strong and just Queen and an important member of the Round Table. She’s the perfect compliment to King Arthur.
Part 2 of the season premiere, “Arthur’s Bane,” airs next Friday on SyFy at 10/9c.
Season 5, Episode 1: Arthur’s Bane (originally aired January 4, 2013)
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Images courtesy of Fremantle Media.