Despite all good intentions, I missed recapping last week’s installment of Merlin, the eleventh to last one we’ll ever get (sniff). So I decided that we’ll do two-for-one this week, twice the Merlin for half the price. Or however that saying goes.
First up, “The Death Song of Uther Pendragon.” Let’s just get right down to it as this episode not only revisits King Arthur’s lingering daddy issues, but also features the return of daddy himself, Uther Pendragon, and his portrayer Anthony Head. I guess going into what turned out to be the final season felt timely enough for Arthur to put the last vestiges of fatherly expectations behind him officially, and certainly “Death Song” didn’t disappoint in delivering some highly Oedipal payback with satisfactory results.
The episode opens with Arthur proving that chivalry isn’t dead by saving a woman accused of sorcery from a mob in a mood to burn. Ironically, the leader of the village tries to reason with Arthur saying that back in Uther’s day he’d stick around to help set the fire, but Arthur himself has all these “crazy” ideas about evidence and fair trials. He manages to save the woman from the fire, but her injuries are too severe and she passes away on the way back to Camelot. Before she dies though, she gives Arthur a gift: the Horn of Cathbhadh, a magical MacGuffin that allows the bearer a toll-free call to the afterlife.
The afterlife, of course, is at the front of Arthur’s mind these days. It’s the anniversary of his coronation, which not so coincidentally is also the anniversary of his father’s death. After much thought, Arthur decides to ignore Gaius’ warning about the danger of using the Horn and rides out to Great Stones of Nemetonm (cough*Stonehenge*cough) to have a parley with his father. But what’s supposed to be a beautiful reunion between father and son turns into an utterly not-hilarious roast on Uther’s part of his son’s decisions as king. Elevating commoners to knights? Boo! Marrying a servant girl? Hiss! Indulging a fetish for cornerless furniture? Why you little…!
Needless to say, it doesn’t go well, but it goes from bad to worse when Arthur returns to Camelot and strange things begin happeneing. A meeting of the Round Table is interrupted by a falling chandelier, Sir Percival is cut by a flying axe, and the Queen herself finds herself caught in a scene from Poltergeist. It all adds up to one thing, when Arthur went to the other side to see Uther, Uther must have followed him back. And like Viggo the Carpathian, Uther was out for some extreme, ghostly payback (but no mood slime).
Arthur and Merlin search the castle for the spirit of Uther so that they can get rid of him, or, in Arthur’s case, reason with him. Alone in the throne room, Arthur finally encounters his father’s ghost. Uther tells Arthur that he didn’t spend a lifetime building the great kingdom of Camelot to see his son piss it all away. Arthur’s incensed and tells Uther that he was the weak one, ruling through fear and mistaking it for strength, which is why he ruled alone, and what ultimately lead to his downfall. At this point, Uther’s had enough, of both the criticism and his son. Time to die!
But before Uther can kill Arthur for good, Merlin arrives. Uther gets on his high horse writing Merlin off as a servent, but Merlin gets to show Uther, for the first time, what he’s really made of. The dead king is taken aback, and while Merlin is able to get the upper hand, Uther manages to pin him with a pair of well-place lances. But Arthur recovers before Uther can finish Merlin off, and before Uther can spill the recently revealed beans about Merlin, Arthur blows the horn and returns Uther to the afterlife. Lesson learned, Arthur may never be able to please his father, but he believes in his own convictions and beliefs more than making his father proud.
Whoever did the ghost make-up for Anthony Head, I’m not sure whether their intent was to evoke Frank Langella’s Skeletor from Masters of the Universe, but if it was, good job.
Did anyone else think that Uther told Arthur that he loved him specifically so the young king look back and thus free Uther from the afterlife to wrench havoc. Of course, there was always a dark, calculating edge to Uther, but even for him, screwing around with his kid’s feelings like that, is cold.
Also, do you think it ever occurred to Uther to concrete some of his ghostly revenger powers on Morgana, the true architect of his defeat and death? Certainly she had something coming in the form of revenge, right?
And how great was that confrontation scene between Merlin and Uther? Both Colin Morgan and Anthony Head played it perfectly in my opinion, especially Uther’s realization that he had appointed a sorcerer to be his son’s own personal servant. These moments are nice to get, because I think the whole thing with Merlin’s secret is being dragged out far too much. Smallville, which was a primary influence on Merlin, was able to open up its world considerably when Clark started sharing his secret with his close friends. The drama about whether or not Merlin’s hat will be tipped and his secret unfurled is becoming far too contrived for my liking. Especially now in the fifth season.
Fathers and their children was also a theme in this week’s episode, “Another’s Sorrow.” which continued this season’s returning guest star parade featuring Janet Montgomery as Princess Mithian, Arthur’s rebound royal when he was stinging from Gwen’s betrayal last season. But Mithian’s return to Camelot had nothing to do with romance and everything to do with revenge. Not Mithian’s of course, but an unexpected – and unwanted – guest who’s returned to the hallowed halls of Camelot.
If the subtlety hasn’t hit you yet, I’m referring to Morgana. The witch teamed up with Odin to take the kingdom of Nemeth and King Rodor. His daughter Mithian, meanwhile, was able to escape with her maid Hilda, except that Hilda is really Morgana in a magical makeover to make her look older, and she’s using Mithian to recruit Arthur not for a rescue mission, but to lead the king into a trap. Naturally, the whole thing goes according to plan because Arthur’s doubly tuned up because not only is his sense of justice violated by Odin’s attack on Nemeth, but he’s got a personal score to settle against Odin. Remember, Odin was the guy that fatally injured Uther. “Odin. My name is Arthur. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
The Knights of Camelot set out, despite both Merlin and Gwen’s reservations about the mission; Merlin’s spider-sense in particular in going off the charts. Mithian attempts to warn the others, but to no success, and even when she does get through to Merlin, Morgana concusses him good so he can’t warn the others. So as Gaius and Gwaine remind behind to tend to Merlin, the others press on for the ancient fortress in which Odin is holding King Rodor.
Gaius, using whatever magic he has left, is able to revive Merlin, who despite being cancused remembers that Hilda’s really Morgana and that Arthur and the others are most likely… Well…
Exactly. And the trap is sprung. Odin gets Arthur alone in the tomb, and the knights are outside surrounded by goons. Morgana is very pleased with this turn of events and sheds the Hilda ruse, but before the gloating can segue into actual killing, Merlin and Gwaine catch-up to the others and are able to rescue everyone. Merlin channels his inner-Daisy Johnson to provide a distraction, and Gwaine shows off his prowess with a crossbow. Everyone escapes, with Merlin giving Morgana a good magical shove for payback, but Arthur and Merlin split off from the others to lead Odin and his men in one direction so that Rodor and Mithian can regroup with the rest of the knights with Percival.
Arthur and Merlin end up cornered, and Odin decides to settle things with Arthur mano-a-mano. Arthur beats Odin handily, but he hesitates before going for the killing blow. Odin wants him to do it (he wants him to do it – COME ON!), but Merlin convinces Arthur that it’s better for the future of Albion to make a truce, end the cycle of violence and make a clean start, a better future. Arthur sees the wisdom and offers Odin his hand, which is, albeit a bit reluctantly, accepted.
Back at Camelot, Arthur tells Rodor and Mithian that Nemeth has been restored and Odin is withdrawing. He’s also not mad about Mithian’s deception and concedes that sometimes you do crazy things for family when there’s danger. Gwen tells Arthur that she’s proud of him, but Arthur is humble admitting that Merlin deserves some credit too, continually proving that his servant is, at least sometimes, not as big an idiot as he appears. Morgana, however, lives to fight another day.
It was interesting to see Morgana go sly in order to get back into Camelot, but I’d hate to think they’re going to use this as a crutch to get her to sneak around unnoticed a la the Old Merlin routine from last year.
It was a nice callback to see Mithian get along so well with Merlin and trust him. It was really a sweet moment in Mithian’s last appearance where she talked to Merlin and asked him to give her a chance after the whole Gwen thing. It was nice to see that they still had a mutual connection and friendship.
Gaius on a mission – and using magic!? Weird to see, but it was cool to know that the old guy can still be bad ass when he needs to be (or as bad ass as Gaius can get).
Katie McGrath really seemed to loving the scenery-chewing villainy this week. She was a couple of notches out from Wicked Witch of the West territory, but we’ll cut her some slack since she had last episode off.
Speaking Morgana, I’d wish they’d out Merlin already so that there can be a proper face-off between opposing magical forces. I got the sense they were kind of teasing it at the end with Merlin and Gaius’ discussion of Morgana’s growing prowess, but Morgana seems to have completely forgotten that somewhere out there Emrys is throwing salt in her game.
Bradley James also did good work this week portraying Arthur’s cool calculation and his quiet fortitude. It’s not a flashy performance, but you could definitely feel the gravitas of a Once and Future King there. James has really grown into the armor over the length of the series and it will interesting to see what he does through till the end.
Next Week: Some compelling foreshadowing. And evil witches.