MERLIN: Episode Four - The Poisoned Chalice

BBC1 - 11th October 2008 - 7.05pm

What's this, what's this? A decent bloody episode! Hurray! Ben Vanstone is the first script writer to actually get this clunky series out of first gear and he concentrates on getting the best out of the characters and the plot. He positions Arthur and Nimueh centre stage and whilst the plot isn't exactly mind-taxing he does manage to avoid all the sub-High School Musical teenage posturing that has blighted the series since it started. Arthur actually comes across as a decent chap and Nimueh is starting to appeal as a proper nemesis for Merlin. Isn't it ironic that Merlin is confined to bed for at least half of the episode? It doesn't say much about the character, does it, even though Colin Morgan is still very telegenic. Perhaps now is the time to make some adjustments and mature the Merlin character instead of keeping him as a cheeky, mop-topped Jedi-like buffoon.

Michelle Ryan is saddled with a rather unflattering blue towel wrapped round her head and she looks like she's just done an advert for Dove soap...
Anyway, there's some nice interplay between Morgan and Richard Wilson that opens the episode and that should be encouraged. I quite like the way Gaius takes the piss out of Merlin. Unfortunately, Michelle Ryan is saddled with a rather unflattering blue towel wrapped round her head and she looks like she's just done an advert for Dove soap or is channeling the Bathing Beauty (see my reviews for an explanation) from Battlestar Galactica. Nimueh plans to poison Arthur as the armies of Uther and Mercia get together for a bit of bonding and, of course, Merlin catches the eye of Nimueh, whilst wearing an equally embarrassing hat, and his hormones get the better of him when she hoodwinks him into taking the poison himself. Cue very loud, overdubbed glugging noises as he downs the concoction and then, presto, Morgan's thrashing about sweatily in bed for 30 minutes. Well, 'thrashing' is perhaps not the best description. Lying relatively still would be more appropriate. I was hoping for thrashing...thrashing and rending of garments. *Cough*...I digress.

Nimueh gets out of the castle without so much as a by-your-leave and yet when hunky Arthur disobeys Uther and heroically rides out into the night he's held up by guards! What kind of security system is that? The guards must be employed by Group 4 or something. What we get, ultimately, is a little quest story as Arthur goes in search of an ickle flower to cure his boyfriend...I mean friend. Uther's as hard as nails in this and Anthony Head is terrific, all brooding intensity and 'to hell with the servants' shouting. I tell you, this is UHT (Unresolved Homosexual Tension) gone mad with Arthur getting all butch and macho to save the life of his wall-flower servant Merlin. Uther smells a rat...I mean, you don't covet your servants like that. They're dispensable, he rationalises. I half expected him to turn round and say to Arthur, 'Do Merlin?'. Now, that would have been a kick in the pants for family viewing. least we're out of the castle environs and Arthur is doing what he should be doing - slaying monsters!
Off Arthur goes into some beautifully lit landscapes and all credit to director Ed Fraiman for taking over the reins from James Hawes and maintaining the high standard, visually. And at last Bradley James gets to fight monsters and things in big caves. Hurray! I wasn't totally happy with the CGI cockatrice (yes, I know it's a mythical creature but it's name is utterly appropriate) and Ed Fraiman was obviously limited by how many CGI shots he had at his disposal and had to do some rather clunky editing to make the battle between it and Arthur work. The bit where it leaps over his head was a bit nifty, mind. But at least we're out of the castle environs and Arthur is doing what he should be doing - slaying monsters! Better still, after he thwarts the cockatrice, and Nimueh bashfully flutters her eyelashes at him, he gets into the cave and locates the flowers, but has to contend with scuttling spiders on the attack. She's a nasty piece of work, that Nimueh. 'Who are you?!' cries Arthur and I half expected her to reply, 'I am your mother' and that's certainly the gist later when Uther discusses back story with Arthur back at the castle.

Bradley James wears a fetching top that certainly kept me distracted whilst Gwen undertook a bit of subterfuge...
The CGI spiders were rather good and along with the cockatrice provided a much needed sense of jeopardy. Good stuff slightly drained of impact by Merlin going all Jedi Knight and sending one of his light balls to help Arthur find his way out of the cave. The whole poisoning thing is a load of balls if he can use power on that scale. Can't he cure himself, then? Mind you, Colin Morgan, face all contorted, shouting, 'Faster, go faster' got my heart racing for all the wrong reasons. Sorry, back to the episode. Group 4's Camelot branch arrest Arthur on his return and there is then much arguing between him and Uther about servants, flowers are crushed and Bradley James wears a fetching top that certainly kept me distracted whilst Gwen undertook a bit of subterfuge (easy if you've got Group 4 on guard) to get the flower back. James was actually very good in this, capturing Arthur's headstrong righteousness with a passionate delivery. Watch out Colin Morgan, this man is about to steal your series.

In the conclusion, we get some nice hints about how powerful Gaius is plus the aforementioned backstory about Uther and Nimueh which heavily suggests that Arthur is Nimueh and Uther's son. Or is it Merlin who is their illegimate offspring? It's a shame that Morgana and Gwen are still being kept in the background and I feel sorry that Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath have been landed with weak scripts. Gwen is still a bit wet and Morgana, is I'm afraid, getting more and more unintelligible week by week. They really need to sort those two characters out. Other than that, a palpable hit this week. Next week, Lancelot and the Round Table appear years before Arthur was actually King. Ho-hum.

Catch The Poisoned Chalice streaming at Surf The Channel

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6 Responses to “MERLIN: Episode Four - The Poisoned Chalice”
  1. Anonymous says:

    I wasn't going to watch this, but your review makes it sound worth watching.


  2. Gwaaan, give it another chance!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Okay, I've watched it now and I know that your review was right.

    1) This is, mirabile dictu, a good episode. Actually looking forward to next week's now.

    2) You could cut the UHT with a knife!


  4. It was frothy and undemanding but at least it got on with the business in hand instead of stopping the action stone dead with longeurs about which teenage mythical figure fancies which.

    I'd say the UHT has curdled, then. Ewww. All we need now is the same to happen to Gwen and Morgana and the subtext will be complete! Everything will have turned to cheese. :D

  5. Anonymous says:

    See, this is what happens when you take a metaphor Too Far.


  6. You can never, ever take a metaphor Too Far. This blog would self-destruct should all metaphors remain in captivity and only be offered bread and water. It ain't natural, I tells ya. :D

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