27/11/2012

Merlin to bow out at its peak

The news that season 5 of Merlin will be the last means the show has succesfully reached its creative destination.
Since it was announced yesterday that season 5 will be the last series of Merlin there has been speculation as to why such a successful show is being, as the news items put it “axed.”  With ratings up on the early seasons and a general critical upswing it seems on the surface to be an odd decision. Perhaps the BBC can no longer afford to make a series that has a higher budget than Doctor Who and an extensive overseas location base? Maybe some of the lead actors have refused to sign contracts for further seasons unless they get a pay increase, something that can happen on successful US shows? The truth would seem to be that the series was always planned as a five year run so instead of being cancelled before it’s time, we should instead be applauding a rare example of a show reaching the fulfilment if its creative target, a show that will bow out at an absolute peak.


The real reason for the cancellation is that Colin was not impressed by the even larger red bib he was expected to wear.


It was always stated that the series was about Merlin before the well known mythical events of other Arthurian dramas so we might be surprised how far into the mythos the plots have travelled. Many expected it to end with Arthur being crowned; instead that happened in season 4. What the writers have wanted to tell is the unknown story of what happened before all the well known bits but by tweaking a legend that already has many different versions they have managed to include a lot of familiar elements anyway. Critics of the show have often cited the slow pace at which it evolves but maybe they would be even less satisfied had it simply been a retread of well worn stories. It is rare for a TV drama to improve both artistically and commercially as it goes along and Merlin has achieved that ending up such a strong presence that it is scheduled boldly against The X Factor and takes viewers from it.

What we will end up with is 65 episodes of a complete story that is told with an enjoyable modern angle but one that will not necessarily date too much. Of course what it means is we are now watching a grand finale unfolding and it feels as if the sixth episode is the beginning of that process.
`The Dark Tower` brings with it a foreboding; the title alone is enough to do that but it is a legend with a pedigree and you feel it has to be done well. So when we see it looking impressively brooding, it indicates that matters are taking an even darker turn.

The episode has symmetry about it; for once the death of a significant character is whispered beforehand rather than shouted (other shows take note!) and has all the more impact for it. To be fair, Elyan is not someone who has made a huge impact as a character, his wild ways soon tamed by a few lessons in chivalry but he is important to Gwen and that matters. Given little to do thus far in season 5 except look either regal or worried, Angel Coulby proves again that when handed something more substantial she delivers as brilliantly as her busier cast mates. The sequences at the top of the tower, as Gwen is menaced by imagined threats and howling mandrake roots is realised with aplomb  by director Ashley Way edging closer to what this year’s later slot can encompass. When she lets herself go, Coulby is fear and fearsome and a match for Kate McGrath’s black hearted Morgana who is in wicked form this week.
Now we’ve established the new house style, I am missing little moments of levity and also thinking that Merlin’s secret can surely not remains secret for too much longer especially now w know we are coming to an end. However Merlin is clearly climaxing in its imperial phase and once again- and this is worth repeating- Colin Morgan and Bradley James own their characters to perfection.

An episode with maximum mood and minimum plot `The Dark Tower` does have a humdinger of a twist at the end. Who saw that final scene coming? Careful though, if the series gets much darker, the BBC might have to apologise for it!

Evil Gwen's evil stare would take more work

It used to be Morgana who stole evil looks into mirrors when nobody was looking but now it’s Gwen, acting all innocent with Arthur while planning his downfall as `A Lesson in Vengeance kicks off. This development, not really properly explained in `The Dark Tower` (some sort of brainwashing)  appears to pull the show back to a place it used to be a couple of seasons back. The script never seems to know where it’s going; initially a groom is set up for the attempted murder of Arthur who is forced to sentence him to death. And the king was supposed to be learning from Uther’s mistakes? Then when the poor groom is killed by Gwen- it takes some getting used to seeing Angel Coulby being nasty- the Queen herself poisons Arthur’s wine. Now I’m sure we’ve had a variation of this before- Merlin is blamed, chucked into a cell without so much as an opportunity to prove himself innocent and nobody even bothers to say `hang on, hasn’t Merlin been pretty loyal for years?`.
Anyway what follows is a series of leaps in the dark. Based on one short conversation, Gaius concludes that Merlin was right- it is Gwen and so before you can say “comedy old man”, is dangling some potion for the young wizard to become the old wizard. For no real reason Merlin gets past the guards (who are especially dumb this week) and then manages to climb up the outside wall without being spotted just because he causes all the braziers to go out! And Arthur is soon cured by magic. Literally. This is really a first season sort of plot that looks out of place in the kind of show Merlin has developed into and the first real dip this season.


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