Sunday, November 4, 2012

Merlin - The Disir - A Review

So about a month ago I started university and as a result simply haven't had the time to update this blog, even though I have been watching a lot of TV (probably a lot more than I should considering how much reading I have to do). But we can't be having any of that, so let's talk a bit about Merlin.

Series 5 so far has been a bit hit and miss. We had two bad (and, worse, boring) episodes in the form of the opening two parter, Arthur's Bane, and then we had an improvement in the form of the following two, The Death Song of Uther Pendragon and Another's Sorrow. Tonight's episode, The Disir, thankfully tipped this series' scales in the right direction.

The first four series (well, three and a half) were very much the precursor to Arthur's reign as King of Camelot. All the major events that happened - the placing of Excalibur in the lake, then in the stone, etc - built up to the moment where Arthur stepped into the role he was born to fulfill. However, the fact that he now is king has meant that this series has been forced to mould itself into a different shape and adopt a new overarching theme. Now the issue that presses most strongly upon each episode - even more so than it did before - is that of magic. It no longer feels as if the question is if Merlin's secret will be revealed, it is more a question of when. And nowhere was that more tangible than in tonight's episode.

The highlight of The Disir came in a real monumental, landmark scene for Merlin. Background information: three soothsayers give Arthur a choice - either accept the Old Religion, or continue repressing it and bring about the end of Camelot as a result. Faced with such an impossible choice, Arthur struggles to decide what course of action to take. And what follows are two absolutely incredible character-defining moments that come in a simple exchange of words.

Arthur: Perhaps my father was wrong. Perhaps the Old Ways aren't as evil as we thought. So what should we do? Accept magic or let Mordred die?

Merlin: There can be no place for magic in Camelot.

Those small pieces of dialogue say more about those two characters than previous whole series have. The fact that Arthur doubts his father's convictions about magic shows just how different he is from his him. We already know that he is a more lenient and just king, but the fact that he's willing to entirely reconsider values that he has grown up with and are at his very core for Camelot's safety demonstrates a wisdom, an openness and even a kind of altruism on Arthur's part. To me, it even highlights that despite Merlin's ongoing concerns that Arthur may not become the great king he is destined to be, actually he's already more of that king than he's given credit for. And as for Merlin's line... Well, the magic (haha) of the scene isn't so much Merlin's dismissal of the Old Ways, it's more Colin Morgan's acting in the moments before he does. It's a stunning performance. Don't forget, Arthur's suggestion of giving magic a chance is exactly what Merlin has hoped to hear for years; in fact it's pretty much the only thing his character has ever wanted. And as he hears it, in Colin's performance you see the hope and the relief that maybe, just maybe, the painful silence he's been forced to keep for so long may have been worth it. He has tears in his eyes and for a while he can't even look at Arthur. And then he says "There can be no place for magic in Camelot." If he'd said that straightaway that line would have been meaningless. But to see how much it meant to Merlin to hear Arthur's words, and for him to then stoically dismiss them anyway - that, in a nutshell, encapsulates the altruism that lies at the very heart of his character. There are no swordfights in that scene; there are no incantations, there are no dragons and there are no dangers. There are just two men talking, and it's one of the finest scenes Merlin has ever done.

"What would you do in my place?" Bradley James's Arthur contemplates accepting magic.

Colin Morgan's Merlin tells him he cannot.
Having already lauded Colin Morgan's performance in that scene, I can't not mention it in the final scene of the episodes, where Merlin deals with the fact that the counsel he has given Arthur has led to Mordred's life being saved, thus seemingly confirming the king's impending fated death. It's a very well-shot scene. In Merlin's eyes you see all the hope from the earlier scene gone, replaced instead by the unmitigated horror at the mistake he has made. But it's the directorial aspect of the scene that was most impressive, in particular the effectiveness of the way it was framed. I jut love how it shows the concerned Merlin watching over Arthur from a distance. Just as the dialogue from the earlier scene was indicative of the characters of Merlin and Arthur, likewise this scene - simply by the way it was framed - managed to encapsulate the relationship between the two. Job well done, Ashley Way. Job well done.

A concerned Merlin watches over the King.

The episode, admittedly, didn't do much to address one of my biggest concerns about this series so far, which is about what has happened to Gwen since becoming queen. Although she clearly still cares a great deal about Arthur, when it comes to everybody else in Camelot she now simply comes across as cold, uncaring and distant. I'll concede that this series hasn't had much time to focus on her yet (though this should be no excuse) so I'm hoping that next week's episode, which looks rather Gwen and Morgana centric, will resolve this problem. But that's for another blog post. As for this one, I'll simply finish by reaffirming what I've already said: The Disir was a bloody good bit of telly. Definitely one of Merlin's better episodes, and it did a great job of setting things up nicely for the episodes that will follow.

Thoughts/comments about this episode (or even this series) of Merlin? Let me know in the comments!

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