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Review: Merlin S5E1: Arthur's Bane Part 1

REVIEWS - TV

Merlin seems to be growing up, but the same cannot be said for Arthur...

Review: Merlin S5E1: Arthur's Bane...

Arthur's Bane Part 1

[Spoilers follow]

Merlin kicked off its fifth season on Saturday, and whilst only a year has passed since it last graced our screens, in Camelot it's been three years. King Arthur and Queen Gwen are settling into their roles; and loyalty, respect and honour are the order of the day for Arthur’s knights, now orderly arranged around the infamous round table.

But wait! There are some empty chairs! Who's missing?

Sir Gwaine, Sir Percival and other uncredited extras in capes have stumbled into trouble on a worthy quest. Trouble's name? - Morgana of course. Katie McGrath's clenched jaw and piercing eyes are back, this time assisted by Liam Cunningham, as sorcerer Ruadan. I have always been a fan of Liam Cunningham, and he's certainly racking up the appearances this year, with Game Of Thrones and Titanic: Blood and Steel (yet to grace UK screens) under his belt. His role in Merlin is unlikely to test him, but he certainly brings some gravitas to this occasionally frothy show. Anyway, I digress.

With no trace of the missing knights, Arthur and Merlin set off on a rescue mission, travelling via the castle of his old ally Queen Annis (Lindsay Duncan). I assume this was not an appearance for appearance's sake, and we'll see more of Annis in future episodes. Whilst on their journey, there’s the now obligatory prophecy of doom and gloom, with Arthur seemingly in terrible danger from an unknown black-haired opponent, later revealed to be someone we've met before, albeit in a different guise, and who appears again before the episode's end.

"It's difficult to tell just from one episode, but as our characters mature it seems like the show is trying to as well"

In the meantime, Gwaine and Percival have been put to work digging. Digging for what is unclear, but it does provide an opportunity for a gratuitous shirtless scene (this writer will not complain). There's little to say about these scenes until it gets towards the end of the episode and Gwaine ventures off to follow a strange light. The source of the strange light appears to be what I can only describe as an alien.

Horror! Surely not! *Cue terrible flashbacks to the first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in the cinema and laughed out loud*...and it was all going so well. Did Merlin just jump the shark?!? I can only hope there is a more mythical and less extra-terrestrial explanation for what I witnessed.

Review: Merlin S5E1 ...Moving swiftly on, the final story strand of the evening unfolds back at the palace. Gwen's new serving wench, who initially seemed to be introduced as a love interest for Merlin, is revealed to be more than she seems, leaving Gwen to swift, strong justice. It’s a welcome development for the character, and provides an interesting contrast to the Gwen we see behind closed doors, still getting used to being served rather than serving.

It's difficult to tell just from one episode, but as our characters mature it seems like the show is trying to as well. The battle scenes had more brutality and the episode was much darker in tone than many I’ve seen previously, although I have no doubt there will be lighter episodes during the show's run. This is a welcome step for a series that leaned towards the frothy when it first hit our screens.

What was disappointing, however, was the lack of development in Arthur and Merlin's relationship. They do seem more comfortable and honest with each other, however Arthur continues to put Merlin down and question his courage. Surely after three years and everything that happened in previous seasons Arthur should be a little more trusting of Merlin? If Arthur's putdowns are merely being used as a vehicle to move the story along and ensure that Merlin is in the right place at the right time then it's rather sloppy writing.

In the meantime, Richard Wilson’s Gaius is reduced to a 'blink and you’ll miss it' appearance, perhaps signifying that Merlin is powerful and knowledgeable enough now to do without his constant guidance. This would certainly fit the timeline, but it does beg the question, what does Gaius bring to the table now?

I don't know how many seasons Merlin has left in it, but we definitely seem to be moving towards the final confrontation if Merlin follows the source material (although we know that significant liberties have been taken throughout its run), in which case the black-haired man will have a pivotal role to play.

See also:

Review: Merlin S5 E2: Arthur's Bane Part 2


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