TV REVIEW: Merlin Series 4, Episode 1 – The Darkest Hour (Pt 1)

It’s that time of year again; Merlin‘s newest series is almost upon us! We were kindly invited to the world premiere of Series 4 at BFI Southbank earlier this week to watch the episode and interview the cast.

In attendance were cast members Katie McGrath, Colin Morgan and Angel Coulby, director Alice Troughton, producers Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy and most importantly, the fans!

We’ll be posting up our video interviews with the cast soon but first, a spoiler-free review behind the cut:

In the series opener, the first thing you really notice is what a difference filming on 35mm makes. The show seems more cinematic, helping up the emotional ante that viewers will feel. The audio was done in surround-sound for the screening; some things happen that will make you jump out of your skin and then possibly wonder how something so simple could evoke such a reaction! I’m hoping it translates just as well on TV. Additionally, the tone seems more mature. I hesitate to say “darker” because that’s been said every year but there’s an ominous undertone that peaked my interest. It may not be the same old Merlin we’re used to seeing.

Another year has passed and in that time, Morgana has become even more determined to bring about Camelot’s fall. By making a difficult decision, she tears open the veil between worlds releasing the souls of the dead. It seems like Morgana’s costumes, makeup and hair become more goth and witch-like the more evil she gets. Additionally, there are moments of vulnerability and doubt that begin to show another side of the former Queen – maybe to lend sympathy to what was a really 2D villain last year. However, we soon learn that she is not the only one who will have to make sacrifices in order to re-establish the balance of the world and prevent Arthur’s future from being destroyed.

In the castle, there’s a frenzy of activity preparing for Samhain celebrations. In typical fashion, Merlin is frantically running and dodging everyone in his path to complete an important task for Arthur. He gets positive support and protection from more than one person, which was refreshing to see. As for Arthur, we see him trying to step into the role of Prince Regent and once more, he may be putting his trust in the wrong hands. There’s a heartbreaking scene with Uther that leaves you wanting to give Arthur a good hug. There are also more glimpses of Arthur the man instead of Arthur the Prince – some honest emotion being shown instead of being told.

Speaking of Arthur and Merlin, the banter is still there but both have grown into their roles and responsibilities so the verbal sparring doesn’t seem childish or mean; they seem to appreciate one another and are still willing to lay down their lives to protect each other. For example, Arthur leaps in front of Merlin to save him from some nasty evil beings at one point and Merlin fully admits he’d die for Arthur – we’ve seen that in the past so it’s not much of a surprise. However, their mutual respect (even when calling each other names) shows more in this series than in the last. If it stays that way remains to be seen.

Meanwhile on the romantic side of things, Gwen isn’t in the episode a whole lot but for the scenes which she does feature in, there’s a sweet moment between Arthur and Gwen that made me smile. There’s also a scene with Gwen and Lancelot and it’s completely obvious that one side is pining a bit more than the other. There were also scenes shown in the trailer that make me really wonder how the writers are going to play out the love triangle. It’ll be interesting — or at least I hope it will be.

Overall, there some funny moments are interspersed between the some of the Knights that lifted the episode when it seemed it was becoming all doom and gloom. The Knights rock – they’re a very welcome addition to the show. My initial worry was that with more characters who need screentime, they might be shoehorned in just for the sake of giving them a “moment” for no good reason. Worries were unfounded as writer Julian Jones balanced the usage of the Knights perfectly; we get a range of scenes from heartfelt to funny to heroic – they mesh well with the rest of the cast.

And lastly, we have Ygraine’s brother, Agravaine. It’s quickly revealed that he has an ulterior motive in “helping” his nephew but what exactly is it? The episode ends on a great cliffhanger; though you can probably figure out the outcome, it’s nonetheless shocking and made me gasp. Looking forward to the next one – can’t come soon enough!

GS Reporter:

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  1. godannotook /

    Ahh promising …… series 3 did not always work for me, it felt somehow disjointed and didn’t flow naturally from the first and second series stories, but this sounds good, very good indeed.

  2. snow cat /

    Great review — hope the episode is as you described it! Cant wait for showing in US, but I guess I will have to view online first…..

  3. Myrddin J. Emrys /

    I will believe it when I see it!

    Myrddin J. Emrys

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