Merlin: Excalibur

“I have watched so many people I love die at your hands, Uther Pendragon. Now it is your turn.”

Flamin' typical! You wait all season for a great episode of Merlin, and two come along at once.

Since the start of the series, the writers have been gradually putting together the different pieces of the Arthurian legends. So far this series they've introduced Lancelot, Avalon and Mordred. Now we get a very different take on the origin of the sword we see at the start of the credits every week, the most famous sword of all time after Luke Skywalker's lightsaber; Excalibur. The creation of Excalibur was actually only a very small part of the episode. Instead, this is the episode that tried to make us like Uther Pendragon.

From his very first scene, Uther has never been shown in a sympathetic light. To be perfectly blunt, he's a complete bastard, a brutal tyrant who doesn't think twice about executing someone even suspected of using magic. While Tywin Lannister helps his dyslexic son to read, Uther Pendragon is quite happy to have his only son and heir thrown in the dungeon for disobeying him in order to save someone's life. In truth, the only thing Uther really has going for him is that fact he's played by Anthony Head. My eternal love for Giles will always prevent me from utterly despising him.

But despite his many, many, many flaws Uther Pendragon does have one redeeming quality; he really does love his son (dungeon incident aside) and is willing to sacrifice himself to protect him. Uther knows that it is suicide to fight Tristan and he will not let his son die for his mistakes. For the first time we see him show regret for his past actions and admit to his failings as a father. He knows that he is to blame for Arthur thinking he is a disappointment.

This episode finally shed some light on Uther's history with Nimueh. Turns out that the elder Pendragon, along with being a complete and utter bastard, is also the biggest hypocrite in all of Albion. He used magic to ensure that his wife would conceive a heir. But as Once Upon a Time likes to remind us every week, all magic comes with a price. His wife died because of his actions so he's spent the last twenty years making others suffer for his own sins.

The confrontation between Nimueh and Uther is terrific with both actors really going for it. Michelle Ryan finally gets to do more than twirl her imaginary moustache. It is easy to forget that many of the series' villains actually have a strong justification for their actions. They don't see themselves as villains, they are heroes. Uther slaughtered their friends and family. To them, he is the monster of this story and they might not be wrong.

Familiar Faces

Even though we don't see his face, Sir Tristan is voiced by Christopher Fairbank, who has been in all sorts but is best known for playing Moxey on Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

Merthur Moments

Often Merthur Moments are grand affairs. Other times they are more subtle. Like Merlin's little smile the second time Gwen tells him that he is proud of Arthur.

Notes and Quotes

--Look carefully and you can clearly tell that Anthony Head's stunt double is in better shape than he is.

--The other knights that Tristen fights are all nobodies that we've never seen before. They might as well have been called Sir Red Shirt 1 and Sir Red Shirt 2. Sir Red Shirt 1, in particular, was a rather cocky little sod who frankly deserved to get killed.

--The lake where Merlin throws the sword into is Speech House Lake in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. It's the same location where Arthur is drowned in 'The Gates of Avalon'. The mountains in the background were added in post production.

--In Arthurian legend, it was Merlin, not Nimueh, who was responsible for Arthur's birth. Uther was in love with Ygraine, the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Merlin aided Uther in seducing her by using magic to disguise Uther as Gorlois, thus tricking Ygraine into sleeping with Uther.

--The scene where Sir Tristan bursts into the hall on horseback and challenges the knights comes from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the Green Knight made a similar entrance.

--There are many stories as to how Arthur acquires Excalibur. Some associate Excalibur with the Sword in the Stone, while others have Excalibur being given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. As in this episode, Excalibur is engraved with 'take me up' on one side and 'cast me away' on the other.

Gwen: "So how does it feel to be servant to the Crown Prince of Camelot?"
Merlin: "Washing his royal socks will be even more of a privilege."
Gwen: "You're proud of him, even though you complain about him constantly."
Merlin: "I am not."
Gwen: "You are! I can see it in your face."
Merlin: "Those socks are very clean. Of course I'm proud of them."

Gaius: "You're not scared are you?"
Merlin: "No. Of old crypts. I wouldn't been seen dead anywhere else."
--Don't give up your day job, Merlin.

Arthur: "There cannot be one rule for me and one for all the rest."
Uther: "I forbid you to fight."
Arthur: "You want me to prove that I'm worthy of the throne. I cannot do that by being a coward."
Uther: "No, Arthur! This will be your death."
Arthur: "I'm sorry you have so little faith in me, father."

Uther: "Haven't you tired of revenge?"
Nimueh: "Haven't you? You began this war when you threw me from the court and slaughtered all of my kind."

Three and a half out of four very clean socks.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

2 comments:

Sooze said...

Still enjoying your reviews, Mark. Looking forward to Season 5, even though we won't see it over here for a while yet!

Olga said...

In truth, the only thing Uther really has going for him is that fact he's played by Anthony Head. My eternal love for Giles will always prevent me from utterly despising him.

ha! so very true :) same here...

thanks for another great review, helps with the waiting until the next season.