TV REVIEW: Merlin Series 3 – Episode 8: The Eye of the Phoenix

Hats off to writer Julian Jones, director Alice Troughton and lead cinematographer Dale McCready for bringing glimpses from major action-adventure and fantasy classics like Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings. They’ve brought Merlin back to what this show should be – a gorgeous, atmospheric and suspenseful action-adventure drama. When the right tone is hit, the payoff is HUGE.

This week, a lesser known part of Arthurian legend is tackled (at least it wasn’t known to me), we see the return of Gwaine (Eoin Macken), who helps bring a sense of camaraderie and humor to the episode, guest stars Warwick Davis (WILLOW! Sorry.) and Donald Sumpter, and features fantastic performances from Colin Morgan and Bradley James to make this one of the best, if not THE best episode of the series thus far.

The episode opens with shirtless Arthur (woo!) preparing for a night of meditation aka yoga with Merlin’s help, entering the Great Hall and kneeling in front of the throne. Gwen and Merlin have cute bantering going and Merlin explains that this is one of the most important moments in a prince’s life; he has to transcend his body so his quest can come to him in a vision. Isn’t that kinda like you know…magic?! The next day, Uther awakens his son to see what his quest is and Arthur reveals that he is to enter The Perilous Lands of the Fisher King and retrieve his Golden Trident. When Uther states that he must complete this alone and unaided, Arthur is staring right at Merlin. That is a hint for “We know Arthur will not be doing this without Merlin!”

Gaius explains the story of the Fisher King to Merlin. In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King was maimed in the leg/groin area and as a result, his lands are as barren as he is. He is also the last keeper of the Holy Grail. Jones keeps to this fairly closely, as we’re not told where the King is wounded, but that an infection spreads through his body and the land. The Holy Grail business gets dealt with in another way later in the episode. In Prince Arthur’s chambers, Merlin worries (and hiccups) about Arthur, who gets frustrated as he can’t concentrate and reiterates to his friend that he must go unaccompanied.

Meanwhile Gwen & Morgana are in the market when Morgana is approached by Morgause disguised as a old hag (where’s her poisoned apple for Gwen?). The young witch is given a bracelet containing the Eye of the Phoenix, which drains the life-force of the person wearing it until they die. Upon returning, Gwen glimpses Morgause’s true form in a mirror and is confused as Morgana lies and claims the old woman needed money for her family.

The Arthur/Gwen kiss was a lackluster “blink and you’ll miss it” moment — however, NO VIOLINS! In the courtyard, after nodding in acknowledgement at each other, Merlin senses the magic in Arthur’s bracelet before he departs. He figures out what it is and goes to find help – which turns out to be Gwaine in the middle of another bar brawl. I love how Colin and Eoin play off each other, this was a fun scene to watch. They flee the ticked off villager and go to find Arthur.

Back at home, Morgana creates a voodoo doll of Arthur to link him to the bracelet. Gwen accidentally interrupts her, gets yelled at and becomes even more suspicious of her dear “friend”.  Later on, Morgana “apologizes” to Gwen, who smartly (finally!) doesn’t fall for it, spies on the witch and discovers Morgana is the enemy. She goes to Gaius to confide and holy cow am I so happy someone else besides Merlin knows this secret! I want more of the Servants Detective Agency please!

Arthur is clearly weakened and continues on where he meets Grettir, a magical dwarf guarding the bridge to the Fisher King’s realm. He is told he’s Courage, and will need Magic and Strength to fulfill this quest. At the mention of the former, he says he doesn’t condone it but is told to not dismiss it so easily. Passing through, Arthur falls into a muddy bog and starts to sink as he’s even weaker than before as Merlin and Gwaine reach the bridge, are given the warning not to deny the King his wish and pass through.

Eventually, the duo catch-up to Arthur at the Dark Tower who is being attacked by wyverns, relatives of dragons. They split, Merlin finding Arthur and using dragon-speak to get rid of the creatures. Removing the bracelet, Arthur recovers, yells at Merlin (your worry Arthur, it shows!) and before a rebel wyvern can attack them, Gwaine kills it. They work their way through the tower but Merlin accidentally trips a secret brick in the floor and is trapped by a stone door.

Inside is the Fisher King, who explains that he is there for Merlin, not Arthur, and bequeaths him with a jar containing water from the Lake of Avalon (meant to be the Grail maybe?). In Albion’s time of need, it will show him the way to save “her”. Whether he’s referring to Albion as female or someone else (Morgana?) is unclear. In return for the jar, the King is given the phoenix bracelet and his suffering his ended. Finally breaking into the chamber, Arthur gets the trident and all 3 head back towards Camelot, with Gwaine departing to the South as he’s still banished (BOO UTHER BOO).

As I do every episode, my “Woo hoo!” parts of the ep were:

  • Merlin & Gwen cute friendship-y goodness — their teasing of each other while watching Arthur meditate was adorable.
  • GWEN using her BRAINS! Noticing Morgana’s awkward behavior; spying to learn the truth and going to Gaius for help. So happy someone else knows!
  • Another GW — GWAINE! – Love that he was found in the middle of another bar brawl, the escape with Merlin, the hug after knowing Merlin was safe. Woe that he couldn’t follow them to Camelot — I really love his character (and he’s very handsome too :D)
  • Merlin having a friend in Gwaine, who’s there to support HIM first and foremost — the show is called Merlin after all! And that he gets a worried cry and shoulder pat from the emotionally-stunted Arthur (this is how he shows affection people) and a hug from Gwaine — oh boys!
  • How intertwined the quest was and neither Arthur nor Merlin’s can fulfill their destiny without the other. The Fisher King & Grettir essentially said that Arthur’s vision was Merlin’s quest, but the vision couldn’t be completed without help from the other — two halves of one coin.
  • Bradley James’ face. The whole “Are Gwen and Morgana here too? Are we going to have a SURPRISE PARTY?” line, the bugs (what is this..Fear Factor?) and his face at being called “Princess”…HAHA!
  • Merlin bribing Arthur into giving him a day off in return for not blabbing that helped. HAHA.

And my “Ugh, really?” parts of the ep:

  • Morgana. She wasn’t as overtly 2D this time, but her motivations of WHY she wants to be sole heir and eventually Queen are still unclear. If she’s been brainwashed, SHOW US and be done with it.
  • While Arthur was unaware of the evil plotses (sorry LOTR) happening, he didn’t appear stupid. Until he didn’t notice the Eye of the Phoenix bracelet missing. Or that he felt 100% better after it was gone. HALLO ARTHUR? Anyone home?

Merlin writers? Please please keep churning out episodes like this one and last year’s “Sins of the Father” — this is what makes the viewers (all 5.8 million of them in the UK) want to keep watching! Next week looks to be another Gaius-centric episode but there may be some drama between student and mentor to bring some more character development to Merlin.

Rating:

GS Reporter: Sharlene

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9 comments

  1. SnazzyO /

    Excellent review Sharlene! I totally agree, Arthur is EMOTIONALLY STUNTED. I need him to hug Merlin sometime soon and then play it off like it didn’t happen. Either that or risk his life for Merlin again, it’s been a while.

    On the failure to notice the bracelet, I’m going to give him a pass on this one. He was practically delirious and probably thought it was the land effecting him. After being in that bog, I could see him thinking he lost it in there… a fanwank but I bet that’s what he tells Morgana. Morgana who looked like she sucked on a lemon after seeing his return. Glad to see the smirk wiped off the face for once.

    • lightstarangel /

      Thanks much! Morgana did look like someone killed her puppy when Arthur came back alive – did you see that look Gwen gave her after she said she’d clean up the water? Girlfriend is on to you Morgs!

  2. anyusa /

    •Morgana. She wasn’t as overtly 2D this time, but her motivations of WHY she wants to be sole heir and eventually Queen are still unclear. If she’s been brainwashed, SHOW US and be done with it.

    i dont think thats true morgana and merlinhave the same goal they want to stop the persecution of magic and to restore margic to camelot,in the begining right from season two when morgana tried to have uther killed morgana believed that she could get rid os uther and take a chance with arthur to creat a different kingdom but she was away for an entire year with morgause whom we know is excelent at using the truth as a weapon, arthur despite being different from uther as been schooled in uthers ways from birth,with morgana realising that she is uther child its clear she does not have to take a chance on arthur and hope for the best she can actually do better be queen and bring her vision to life ,its the end justify the means a aproach and a sure morgause spent the year convicing her that the result was worth it.wanting to kill arthur is out of necesity sure there is some joulesy but i think morgana should have some regret even if just in private for this.

    • lightstarangel /

      I don’t believe that killing Arthur is necessary — Morgana is becoming just like Uther, except on the side of magic. She’s become no better than him in the end and I wonder if they’ll show her realizing this or not. I think she’s been brainwashed (with Morgause twisting the truth) because she shows no inkling that she might regret some of her actions. I agree that I’d like to see that shown.

  3. Cyndy /

    I’m pretty sure ‘she’ meant Albion as a female, but that was the first thought that pop in my head…save Morgana, I re-winded it and saw what he meant 🙁 Guess it was wishful thinking. I really, really hope Morgana is under a spell cause the writers don’t have to make Morgana completely evil, in some of the Arthurian legends she corrected her ways and made up with her brother and in others she become a healer.

    • lightstarangel /

      Yeah, I realized this after re-watching the episode — it’d be a nice twist if the “her” meant someone else as in a person, but I think you’re right.

  4. Liz /

    I’m not sure i think Morgana is brainwashed or under a spell but I do think Morgause is playing her. I think she has a lot of anger against Uther that, apart from the whole magic thing, he refuses to publically acknowledge her as his daughter. She’s not the first to follow a course of action in the hopes of gaining the power that comes with being queen and i think Morgause is using that to get her to do what SHE wants. She sees Arthur as an extension of Uther and wants rid of them both. I think also she thinks she’ll be able to control Morgana if she becomes queen thus giving that power to Morgause. Of couurse the fact that they constantly underestimate Merlin only works in his and arthur’s favour.

  5. archaeologist /

    Great write up on the episode. As for the ‘she’, my first thought was Morgana since he said she was growing in power and I can’t see Albion that way. Morgana’s Merlin’s enemy at the moment but that he’d still try and save her if given the chance I think. Also Morgana in legend is associated with Avalon (she takes Arthur’s body there after Camlann).

  6. Etienne /

    One of the best episode of Merlin, maybe the best! All the ingredients are there to make a great episode: aventure, fun, mystery, brotherhood, enigma, suspense, sadness, fear, rush of adreline, great music (the scene between Merlin and the Fisher king), the forest and the bridge, the way the History move forward (Gwen having doubts about Morgana) and I could go…
    I especially like the triangle between Merlin, Arthur and Gwaine: even if it’s a little easy to give them one word to caracterize them; it works well.
    I also like the way the bracelet was used all along the episode: it could have just be left somewhere or keep by Merlin, but it was usefull until the end.

    One minus: I would have liked to see Gaius telling Merlin about the discovering of Gwen, but that’s almost nothing!

    I have to say that it could have been a episode for a final season !!!

    Great job for this episode.

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