The Darkest Hour - Part Two

Another jolly good Merlin episode featuring absolutely everything we long-term fans love — the Knights of Camelot swinging swords wildly at magical thingies, Gwen looking pretty and being all great, Gaius frowning at serious things, Arthur a good bloke, a sad bit at the end and everyone loving Merlin. Oh, and we got the dragon this week, too. The only thing we didn’t really get was Arthur with his top off, which I’m afraid many people on Twitter have come to expect.

The dead thingies from last week are still there, killing things and being unstoppable unless either Lancelot, Merlin or Arthur sacrifices themselves at the Isle of the Blessed. They were a lot less scary this week, though, partly because they weren’t around as much but mainly because when they tried to attack Gaius he just frowned and waved a torch at them irately like he was swatting a fly. I rewound that bit and watched it multiple times. Just imagine them filming that, with a crotchety Richard Wilson waving a torch at a camera man. Do it, I’ll wait. It’s my favourite bit of the episode.

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The main bad magical creatures this week were giant rats that looked a bit like Raticates from Pokémon and were created from such spectacularly bad CGI that I laughed out loud. This isn’t really a criticism; I adore the crappy CGI effects the BBC occasionally come out with. The scenes they were used in were quite brilliantly tense and extremely gross, though.

And it’s not like they needed to be especially bad; Morgana is still around, being all gothic and scary whilst hiding in a cave like an Emo hobbit. The last few series have just seen her skulking around the castle and smirking; this series she just looks alternately shocked and ticked off. Oh and she occasionally looks like she’s going to start kissing Agravaine, which is a bit weird because he’s her Uncle. Well, it’s quite a lot weird actually. She does have quite fantastic hair and eye make-up though, which are very important features in a baddie.

But I do have a question about her powers. And in fact the powers of most sorcerers in the series. All they ever seem to do is blast people back off their feet. In the first episode of this series the Knights attacked Morgana so she blasted them back off their feet. When attacked Gwen and the Knights in this episode, she blasted them back off their feet. When Merlin needed to stop Arthur from sacrificing himself, he blasted him back off his feet. I'm sure Nimueh blasted Merlin back off his feet. I think Gaius did it in the rare instances we've seen his powers. They’re supposed to be super powerful witches and warlocks/wizards/whatever. Can’t they do anything else?

Anyway, Morgana’s focus of this series appears to be to simultaneously kill Arthur (obviously) and find Emrys, aka Merlin, and destroy him. At least she was Agravaine inside the castle to help her although, as Nick pointed out, he does have all the spying skills of Johnny English. He has already been rumbled by Gaius when he was trying to sneakily find out who Emrys is (i.e. he walked up to Gaius and said “Hey, Gaius, who’s Emrys?”) Then again, it did take Merlin a whole series to sort Morgana out when he found out she was evil incarnate, so he’ll quite possibly be hanging around for a lot longer.

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The sad bit at the end was very sad. Incredibly easy to see coming (yeah, like Arthur and Merlin are going to sacrifice themselves. Arthur can’t because that’s playing too fast and loose with legend even for the Merlin writers, and it’s a bit hard to have a series called Merlin when the character called Merlin is dead) but nicely done, with a distinct lack of fuss and overemotional final speeches that could have rendered it excessive and trite. For all its ridiculousness and light-hearted fun, Merlin knows when to give it a light touch to good effect.

So at the end of the opening two-parter, it seems this series is just a darker version of what has come before. Which, quite frankly, is brilliant. We can expect more Morgana being cross, more Merlin being awesome, probably a fair bit of snogging between Gwen and Arthur, hopefully no snogging between Agravaine and Morgana and Arthur still being utterly clueless that his best friend has magical powers. Awesome.

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