by Mark Greig
Howard Overman is probably the closest thing Merlin has to a Steven Moffat. When he's not pushing the limits of good taste on Misfits, he is regularly responsible for some of this series' finest episodes. 'Valiant' is not one of them.
When Prince Arthur and his useless servant aren't off on some dangerous quest, Merlin episodes tend to follow a set pattern. 'Valiant' follows that pattern exactly. A bad guy or girl will arrive in Camelot. Said bad guy uses magic to do bad things because he/she is a bad person, it's what they do. Merlin discovers what the bad guy is up to and tries to expose him/her without exposing himself (which is not as dirty as it sounds). He goes to the dragon for advice. Eventually the bad guy is exposed and defeated. And there is much rejoicing. Seriously, they have a feast like every week. The castle's catering bills must be enormous.
Away from all the swords and sorcery, this episode explored Arthur's relationship with his father and his new servant. The young prince's character seems to have undergone a complete overhaul since we last saw him. I guess the writers realized that the spoiled prat we met in 'The Dragon's Call' wasn't quite likeable enough to be the second most important character on the show. So he's been replaced by a far nobler spoiled prat, one who doesn't use and abuse his subjects (except Merlin) and has a difficult relationship with his disapproving father.
That Uther, eh? It takes a special kind of father to put tons of pressure on their son to succeed and then ignore him while lavishing praise upon his nearest rival. He's a serious contender for Worst Father in a Fantasy Realm Award. Although he'll have to work a lot harder if he wants to beat Tywin Lannister. That guy is like Meryl Streep when it comes to this award.
Will Mellor (Valiant) is better known for starring in such classics as Hollyoaks and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
This is the first time we get to see Arthur abuse Merlin during training. It's practically foreplay for them.
Notes and Quotes
--Merlin tells Gaius not to go into his room. So what's the first thing Gaius does? He goes into Merlin's room.
--Judging by the title, you'd be forgiving for thinking this episode was somehow connected to Hal Foster's long running comic strip. But Foster's work is still bound by copyright laws so, apart from sharing a character named Valiant, there is no connection between the two.
--I found it a little strange that Valiant is always referred to as Knight Valiant and never Sir Valiant.
--This episode was more action packed than 'The Dragon's Call'. We were treated to lots of montages of men with swords bashing and trashing at each other to some very pompous music. Respect to all the stunt people, they do put on an impressive show.
--Those two knights who flank Uther everywhere he goes have some seriously hilarious hair.
Arthur: “I wanted to say, I made a mistake. It was unfair to sack you.”
Merlin: “No, don't worry about it. Buy me a drink and we'll call it even.”
Arthur: “I can't really be seen to be buying drinks for my servant.”
Merlin: “Your servant? You sacked me.”
Arthur: “Now I'm rehiring you. My chambers are a complete mess. My clothes need washing, my armour needs repairing, my boots need cleaning, my dogs need exercising, my fireplace needs sweeping, my bed needs changing and someone needs to muck out my stables.”
Arthur: “That was some tournament final.”
Morgana: “Tell me about it. It's not every day a girl gets to save her prince.”
Arthur: “I wouldn't say I needed exactly saving. I'm sure I would have thought of something.”
Morgana: “See, you're too proud to admit you were saved by a girl!”
Arthur: “Because I wasn't.”
Morgana: “They all seem rather impressed by Knight Valiant.”
Arthur: “They're not the only ones.”
Morgana: “You're not jealous, are you?”
Arthur: “I don't see that there's anything to be jealous of.”
Two out of four pieces of very pompous music.