BBC1 - 10th October 2009 - 6.15pm
Howard Overman has been a bit of a hit and miss writer on the series but here he gets all the elements just about right. Another very enjoyable episode, maintaining much of the entertainment value of last week's stunning installment. This week the focus is very much on the price of love and the legend's original love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot.
It's also a very welcome outing for Angel Coulby who finally gets the lion's share of the narrative to herself and proves that when she's given the right material she can shine. It also isn't shy on giving Morgana another turn in the limelight with a suitably feisty performance from Katie McGrath. On the surface it might seem like a rather traditional damsel in distress tale with brave Arthur having to come to the rescue of yet another girly in peril. But it also throws Lancelot into the mix and there's a good deal of discussion about love amongst the classes and how marriage between the blue bloods and servants will never be in this medieval world.
When Morgana goes off on a pilgrimage to her father's grave, she and Gwen are attacked by the gang of savage outlaw Hengist (a barnstorming performance from James Cosmo). This is not before Morgana whups some outlaw ass and shows she's just as handy with a sword as she is with her growing magic powers. In order to allow Morgana to escape Gwen is captured by the gang and agrees to their leader's subterfuge to pretend to be Morgana for the nasty Hengist.
Alas Gwen ends up in the cells, her maidenhood threatened as she pretends to be Morgana, and Arthur, out searching for them, finds a ransom note from Hengist. However, Morgana is recovered and Uther, naturally enough for a King, will not pay a ransom for a mere slave. Hence, we have the moral of the tale in that unlike Uther, Arthur and Morgana value all human life and both have good reason to set out to rescue Gwen. I loved that scene where Morgana berates Arthur for being a coward and not standing up to his father where he finally manages to get a word in and demonstrate that he's already packing for the rescue mission. This also parallels nicely with the scene between Gaius and Merlin.
Angel Coulby displays some great skill here, remaining vulnerable yet gutsy as she endures Hengist and his hordes whilst incarcerated in the dungeon. The other dimension to the tale and her performance is the return of Lancelot (a very sexy Santiago Cabrera reprising his Series One role) who seems to have lost his way spiritually and is clearly a mercenary willing to fight for anyone. He finds inspiration and hope in Gwen and emerges from the episode as a better man.
But first he has to fight to the death in Hengist's arena. Being the honourable man Lancelot defeats the aggressor but spares his life. However, Hengist is having none of it and unleashes the monstrous wilddeoren, a rather disturbing looking, rat-like beast to chew up the loser. Again, the CGI creature effects here are pretty convincing, vastly improving on some of the ropier effects from Series One, and the beast is a perfectly revolting creation.
Hengist gets to the end of his tether waiting for Uther to pay the ransom and gives Gwen an ultimatum. Meanwhile, Overman indulges in some light comedy between Arthur and Merlin as they track Gwen down and face the horrid wilddeoren in the tunnels beneath Hengist's castle. The mood turns very nasty as the wildeoren sniff out our two heroes.
The episode is, of course, hurtling towards the moment when Arthur will meet Lancelot again and realise that Gwen has feelings for the man and thus inadvertently reveal his own affection for Gwen. Even Merlin confronts him about his obsession in finding Gwen earlier in the episode but when all three characters - Gwen, Arthur and Lancelot - cross at the conclusion of the narrative there is a palpable tension in the scenes. I have to say I was also impressed with the score on this episode, particularly the stirring theme for Lancelot as he fends off Hengist's men in order to allow Gwen to escape. Overman even avoids the predilection of the series continual undermining of Merlin by Arthur by developing a far warmer relationship between the two young men. And a platonic one at that.
A terrific romp of an episode with a sad coda that suggests that it will be some time before Arthur will allow himself to fully develop a relationship with Gwen whilst she herself is heartbroken by Lancelot's own departure. This reflects the legend as we know it and is played beautifully by Coulby, Cabrera and James.
The series really is on a roll now.
Episode 3 Review
Episode 2 Review
Episode 1 Review
Series 1 Reviews