The Lady Of The Lake / BBC1 - 21st November - 6.05pm
Well, alas, it seems Merlin's good run of episodes momentarily comes to a halt. There's nothing all that wrong about these two stories. It's just that they are a bit dull and predictable.
The Lady Of The Lake is Julian Jones' attempt to give Merlin a bit of romance. But we all know it's doomed as soon as he claps eyes on the shabby looking wench in the bounty hunter's wagon. So, naturally, because Merlin feels a stirring in his magic hormones he rescues her. Thus, Jones spins out the ill fated meeting between Freya and Merlin. Merlin steals food and clothes for her and does not realise she's a Bastet. No that's not a typo. I said Bastet. A nasty foul creature who randomly kills people at the full moon. A bit like Alan Sugar.
It's very tenderly played by Colin Morgan and Laura Donnelly and I certainly thought the climax of the story was very moving but it takes a long time getting there. In the meantime we get that rather lovely scene in the bedroom with Merlin heating up Arthur's bath. Yes, I know, more gratuitous Bradley James semi-naked shots but it perks up the episode no end and it wasn't just his bath water that reached boiling point. This is almost supplanted as the best scene in the episode by the Carry On comedy of Merlin stealing Arthur's sausage. Phnarf! It is very funny with the whooshing sounds each sausage makes as Merlin's magic whips them off Arthur's plate and into a water jug. Very amusing physical comedy there from Bradley and Colin.
Still, it does bring the Druids back into the picture with Freya being one of their kind and there is a heartfelt discussion about magic as a curse or a gift with Merlin. He even makes ickle candle flames float in the air to make his point. As you can see, I'm not entirely thrilled by the romantic aspects of the story. I can understand it being a contrast between Merlin's compassionate nature and the, let's face it, now very annoying knee jerk reactions from Uther (the hypocrite) about the use of magic for evil. Blah blah. Change the record Uther. But we all know that it's leading up to a snog between Merlin and Freya cos now that Arthur and Gwen have been snogging a bit it's time Merlin got a look in. Very childish of me, I know. But it feels calculated to me despite the strength of the two-hander between Freya and Merlin. As calculated as the ickle rose Merlin conjures up. I'd have preferred the strawberries myself. 'Will you stop that' grouches Gaius at the lovelorn Merlin. Couldn't agree more, love.
I might be getting a little paranoid but there does seem to be an 'Arthur and Merlin can't be gay' agenda in the series this year. A reaction to lots of gay fans overcompensating, perhaps? Toying with us, they are. There's that amusing scene with Gwen where Merlin is stealing one of Morgana's dresses which carries through to the nudge, nudge, wink, wink of his encounter with Arthur. D'you know, instead of playing a game of sexual cat and mouse why don't they just write in a gay character? Do a story about tolerance and acceptance instead of all this prick teasing.
So, persecuted Freya reveals her secret and Halig the bounty hunter tries his best to track her down. Richard Ridings is rather good as Halig, all grumbling anger and grizzled physicality. All ends in tears as each night Freya transforms and murders various extras clacking round a moonlit Camelot. There's only one explanation...all together now...'It must be the work of magical creature!' mutters Uther. But the clue is in the title of the episode and as soon as Uther's men corner the beast and wound it we know Freya's on her way to a stretch of water somewhere! Freya snuffs it, all very tenderly and movingly done, and the the end of the story sees Merlin send her off across the lake in a blazing Viking funeral. It's a good ending, very powerful and with an epic sweep. However, I feel it in my bones that she'll be back. Clutching Excalibur.
Sweet Dreams / BBC1 - 28th November - 6.05pm
This is simply a re-staging of the two part Beauty And The Beast and, whereas The Lady Of The Lake was saved by Donnelly and Morgan's performance and that grand, epic ending, nothing can save this. The most boring bedroom farce in the kingdom without any of the really laugh out loud moments of Beauty And The Beast. And it's also just a huge excuse to get Gwen to snog Arthur again. Sigh.
Uther is putting on the G8 of the pseudo-medieval world and kings from all over are arriving at Camelot. However King Alined (the ever reliable David Schofield) wants war and he's gonna use magic and the feminne wiles of a rival's daughter, Lady Vivian, to stir up trouble. So far, so yawn.
Alined brings with him a jester who quite honestly I wanted to murder by the end of the episode. Kevin Eldon is either a genius for making the character irritating or he's just...well...irritating. Anyhow, Eldon's character, Trickler, uses his powers to enchant Arthur into falling in love with Vivian which will have consequences for the peace conference. It boils down to being a rather limp bedroom comedy with lots of unimpressive shouty acting. And much as I like Bradley James (for all the wrong reasons, I know) I think I prefer the grumpy Arthur to the lovelorn one. But the chemistry between Colin and Bradley is still good as Merlin gets confused by Arthur's declaration of love and assumes he's going to announce his feelings for Gwen. Plenty of this 'oops, there go my declarations of love' stuff in the episode if you like that kind of thing. Personally, it bored me to tears.
Georgia Moffet plays Lady Vivian and manages the obvious comedy bits quite well, getting the best line of the episode, 'Go away and take your chicken with you' to Arthur just as Merlin appears behind him. Does she know something we don't? Angel Coulby gets a fair bit to do this week, further developing the relationship between Gwen and Arthur. No sign of Katie McGrath, alas. The plot then hinges on whom will use magic to enchant who, in a very similar way to Beauty And The Beast, and leaving the episode feeling rather like stale leftovers. All this Ray Cooney-like shillyshallying is simply a means to an end. Arthur gets to snog Gwen in a big tent to break the enchantment, stop the bickering and save the peace conference. End of.