Merlin Season 5 - Growing Pains

Merlin Season 5 Episodes 3-5
When it was revealed that Uther would be making a return appearance numerous eyes rolled at the prospect because somehow fantasy does not seem capable of keeping dead characters dead. Surprisingly though, `The Death Song of Uther Pendragon` works rather well as a mood piece that also places Arthur’s kingship under the microscope while also demonstrating how Merlin has become a stronger and sometimes far more serious character.

People were slightly concerned by the backing singers

In return for saving an accused witch from execution, Arthur receives a horn which will enable him to meet someone deceased. You have to clamber over this awkward premise to get to the heart of the episode. So don’t ask why Arthur doesn’t just chuck the thing away when he is so opposed to magic or notice that the old crone dies seconds later anyway. And definitely do not ask why Arthur is so intent on gaining the approval of a man he knows full well would probably not approve of his way of doing things. The meeting between the two is well staged in diffused light and some strong acting from both Bradley James and Anthony Head.
For the next half hour or so we can revel in the slamming doors, creaky armour, flying shields and braziers that flicker out when Uther’s spirit returns to the real world, apparently because Arthur looked back as he parted from the other worldly encounter. No, don’t ask why the witch didn’t mention this either. However hokey the situation is the execution is excellent with relatively simple tricks and turns giving the episode an edge. When we see his ghostly incarnation bathed in pale blue light, Anthony Head reveals his vicious side. It seems a little unfair though that the best scene happens when Arthur is unconscious.
Anyone who has watched the show from the start cannot fail to be moved by Colin Morgan’s acting as Merlin reveals to Uther all the magic that went on under his nose. It is what Merlin has always wanted to say and even though it’s not really Uther in a way, it is still a powerful valedictory scene. Bristling with indignation Anthony Head is great as well. For an episode built on shaky foundation the payoff is surprisingly strong.

"How long did you say to leave it in the oven?"

The fourth episode, `Another’s Sorrow` demonstrates how Merlin has become more assertive in giving advice and Arthur more willing to listen to it. At the climax when he has an option to kill old enemy Odin, Arthur pulls back from the deed initially at least because of Merlin’s argument. Almost imperceptibly the role of Merlin as advisor is being created. It’s a good episode, possibly even a pivotal one to overall matters starting slowly until it explodes into action for the last ten minutes or so. Bradley James’ performance conveys Arthur’s more regal bearing and while there is still banter between him and Merlin it is of a more restrained nature. The episode also sees Morgana more powerful managing to hold an ageing spell for a considerable length of time as she forces Princess Mithian  to lead Arthur into a trap.
You might wonder why Merlin does not recognise her trick- especially as Kate McGrath’s features are clearly underneath the make up- but he does spend the episode with increasing suspicions, again a more proactive Merlin than has sometimes been the case in the past.  Guesting James Fox seems under-used as King Rodor but there’s a meaty role for Fintan McKeown as Odin. The clashes at the end are excellently staged and shot and Merlin’s magic used to strong affect; whether it’s literal magic or the gift of wisdom he brings.
Episode 5, `The Disir` unfurls slowly but turns on some more scenes between Arthur and Merlin as the king’s destiny is in danger on two fronts. The dilemmas that Merlin faces in this episode are drawn out so well by writer Richard McBrien and acted with a subtlety that Colin Morgan brings to the key moments. In the one hand Merlin has been told Mordred will be responsible for Arthur’s death and as he watches them becoming friends and the king selects Mordred for a vital mission, the young wizard is clearly torn. Then when Arthur receives a negative judgement from the Disir, three hooded women of immeasurable power and goes to try to save a badly wounded Mordred, what’s Merlin to do?

There’s a scene when Arthur asks him what he would do and all these issues are fermenting in Merlin’s face; it is breathless stuff and you believe it because Colin Morgan believes it. You do begin to ponder why Arthur, who is clearly far more intelligent than the season one version, doesn’t put two and two together but this simmering situation is underpinning the season in a rewarding way. The Disir are based on mythical icons and command that sort of authority though the actresses don’t get their faces seen. If you want to sum up the season so far, it comes when Gaius basically asks Merlin what became of the clumsy would be wizard we were introduced to in season one. Merlin looks at him and says, plainly, “He grew up.”


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