Sunday, 25 November 2012

Review: Merlin 5.08 - The Hollow Queen


Minor spoilers ahead

We're now over half way through this season of Merlin and so far it's the strongest its ever been in terms of writing and acting. Guinevere is still in league with Morgana and Merlin is coming ever closer to doing something about it. The Hollow Queen continues Morgana's nefarious scheming, using Gwen as her pawn in an attempt to off Arthur once and for all.

While Merlin still feels like a family show, the subject matter of treason, politics and torture aims this story arc at older viewers. The episode begins with a druid boy, Daegal, breaking into the citadel in search of the young warlock in order to convince him to aid his dying sister. While Merlin at first flat out refuses, he's swayed by the young man and heads off on a treacherous journey into the Valley of Fallen Kings, leaving poor Gaius to make up an excuse to Arthur for his serving boy's absence. Predictably, Merlin's journey is a wild goose chase, as the only person waiting for him is an ever-vengeful Morgana, who poisons him and leaves him to die and the "druid" to collect his bounty. As a result, Merlin is pretty much out of it for the episode, leaving Gwen to carry out her treacherous deeds in the kingdom unhindered.

Shakespearean actor John Shrapnel makes a fantastic appearance as the Sarrum of Amata, a merciless ruler who makes an appearance in Camelot in order to sign an agreement with the kingdom. We discover that it was the Sarrum who imprisoned Morgana for two years in the pit with her dragon Aithusa, and it's clear that he relished every second of her captivity, describing in excruciating detail how the dragon grew too large for the pit causing its body to twist into a malformed mess. After witnessing Arthur's defeat to a warrior of Amata, Gwen convinces the Sarrum to assassinate the king in order to claim much of Camelot's land as a reward.

Although Merlin is on his back for a fair bit of the episode, he does show off the more bad-ass side we saw last season when he killed Agravaine. For instance, he faces off against a large mob of bandits, responding to the exclamation that he has no sword with "I do not need a sword" before blasting the leader across the encampment. He also flat out kills someone, showing that he's come a long way from the jokey kid who arrived in Camelot all those years ago.

Still, the episode is very predictable and Gwen's smirky creepiness is beginning to grate a little. From the teaser for the next instalment it looks like there's going to be a change to the 'let's all try and kill Arthur' formula of late, and it looks like we'll be seeing Mordred and Aithusa again.

Not the best episode, but a rung above mediocre - The Hollow Queen was enjoyable and saw a return of some of the humour that Merlin has been missing, for better or for worse, this season. But it does look like things are going to heat up this week, so stay tuned.

*****