Merlin: The Labyrinth of Gedref

“When he who kills a unicorn proves himself to be pure of heart, the unicorn will live again.”

Well, that was disappointing. After giving us the best episode of the season with 'The Beginning of the End', Howard Overman follows it up with a tiresome tale of dead unicorns and pointless trials.

There just isn't a point to this episode. Maybe if it had come right after the pilot, where Arthur was primarily portrayed as a selfish jerk, it might've had some impact. But this late in the season, after we've seen Arthur selflessly risk his life for others countless times, this episode ends up feeling completely redundant. We already know what Arthur's worth is. We didn't need to be reminded.

So Arthur kills a unicorn. Gaius warns that killing a unicorn will bring about a terrible curse (because there's always a curse). Everyone ignores him because (sarcasm mode activated) Gaius is never right about anything. Except, you know, for all those times when he is. Sure enough, the curse hits and all the crops in the kingdom die overnight. And no one, not even Gaius, puts two and two together. The people of Camelot are incredibly thick. When are those Pendragons going to learn? Gaius is always right.

Arthur has to set things right. Sadly, this doesn't involve descending into the underworld, battling a demonic Tim Curry and getting off with Mia Sara. Instead he has to partake in a series of trials to prove his worth, each more boring than the last. All the classic are filled with this sort of thing, the most famous being the twelve labours of Hercules. Alas, Arthur doesn't get to fight a hydra, slay a lion, or clean a really filthy stable (actually, he's probably glad about skipping the last one).

Arthur's trials are far more low key. Like letting a thief go because he tells you a sob story (which only proves that Arthur is gullible). This gets tedious very quickly. All these trials are to test Arthur's character, resulting in a final Kobayashi Maru in which Arthur and Merlin have to work out whether it's the vessel with the pestle or the chalice from the palace that has the brew that is true. Or something along those lines.

This whole scene is right out of The Seventh Seal, except that no one had to play Twister. Oh wait, that not right, is it? Okay, I think I've just given away that the fact I've never actually seen The Seventh Seal or any Ingmar Bergman movie, just ones that take the piss out of them. The big problem with this scene is the complete lack of suspense. We know neither Arthur or Merlin is going to croak it. They're the stars of the show. Unless George R.R. Martin takes over the writer's room, it is safe to say that both of these guys are going to live until the end of series.

Familiar Faces

Anhora was played by veteran actor Frank Finlay. He's had a long and varied career but is probably best known for playing Porthos in Richard Lester's Three Musketeer films and Jane Tennison's father in Prime Suspect. Richard Riddell (Evan) has also guest starred on Misfits and Robin Hood. He and I were actually in the same media class at college.

Merthur Moments

The entire beach scene. My TV was practically oozing subtext during that scene.

Notes and Quotes

--While the location references The Seventh Seal, the final test itself is right out of The Princess Bride. All that's missing is a kidnapped princess, a big mouthed Sicilian, some iocane poison and a land war in Asia.

--The beach scene was shot on Bad Wolf Bay itself, known by the locals as Dunraven Bay, Southerndown in Wales.

--Tea made with bath water. Rat stew. Bugs that taste nothing like chicken. Unlike his previous episodes, Overman's unique brand of humour is more evident in this one.

Anhora: "A unicorn is pure of heart. If you kill one, you must make amends by proving that you also are pure of heart. Arthur was willing to sacrifice his life to save yours. He has proven what is truly in his heart."

Arthur: "I had no idea you were so keen to die for me."
Merlin: "Trust me, I can hardly believe it myself."
Arthur: "I'm glad you're here, Merlin."

Arthur: "We cannot let our people go without food."
Uther: "We must defend the kingdom at all costs."
Arthur: "What is the point of defending a kingdom when the people starve to death?"

Merlin: "I know that Arthur is pig-headed and stubborn and annoying, but he cares about his people-- more than he cares about himself. He will not forgive himself for making his people suffer."

Two out of four actors I know from college.
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Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

2 comments:

Mark said...

I agree this would have been much earlier, perhaps just after the pilot. The taunts the thief used on Arthur should not have worked, after what Uther said in "Excalibur". (And if we had seen this ep before that one, it pays off better.)

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.